Are you planning a backyard ultra? How exciting! Let me talk you through everything I packed for a recent one and remember that luck favours the prepared!
Best of luck! Let me know what I forgot, and share your best tips please 🙂
Are you planning a backyard ultra? How exciting! Let me talk you through everything I packed for a recent one and remember that luck favours the prepared!
Best of luck! Let me know what I forgot, and share your best tips please 🙂
Watch my YouTube video about it:
And what questions or comments did you come across? 😆
As the marathon season began with Kipchoge beating his own world record, some of you might find yourselves heading towards your first ever marathon. How exciting! Let me help guide you through the mixture of thrilling anticipation and pure fear you are probably experiencing, and share with you a few thoughts I wish I knew before my first marathon:
That’s right – don’t worry! There is a decent chance that any healthy individual is capable of completing a (slow) marathon without any meaningful training, as numerous fools proved. (The most famous of those were probably the duo Jedward who claimed to have finished 2012 Los Angeles marathon with no previous training.) But that’s obviously not you – you were sensible enough to complete a training plan so you will be just fine!
If you have no idea what taper is – worry not: every decent marathon plan has a taper period built into it. While taper often starts up to three weeks before the race, in my opinion, the week immediately before your race day is the most critical. The lenght of your taper depends on how fast you generally recover – the quicker your body recovers and adapts, the shorter period you need to taper for. The bottom line is that taper is here to give your body a chance to consolidate your training efforts and rest sufficiently in order to take full advantage of the hard training you have undergone. During the taper period, you gradually reduce both volume and intensity in running. The golden rule is that no additional fitness can be gained from about 14-10 days before the race, therefore, it would be destructive to hammer yourself with efforts and long runs during that time.
The week before your marathon race day should be a true holy period that needs to be respected. Quite often, surprisingly, after hard training, easing off seems rather difficult. But don’t give in to the urge to keep going hard! Instead focus on resting and recovering. Running is still on but, as I mentioned, the volume and intensity should be low immediately before your race. I, personally, would take about three rest days and perhaps do an easy super-short jog with strides (short bursts of faster running) the day before my race. Easy crosstraining like swimming or cycling is good as long as there is not much effort going into it. Sleeping and eating well is key (I’m sure you heard about carbloading). Finally, I use that time for a mental preparation when I visualise myself running the race and feeling great doing it.
You’ve heard about hitting the wall, right? Sorry to be a bearer of bad news, but since this is your first marathon, it will happen to you, too. I personally only started avoiding hitting the wall after training consisting of running one ultramarathon per month AND incorporating marathon pace towards the end of my (very) long runs (which I appreciate not every can or wants to do).
So it is quite likely that you will hit the wall. It will happen. You can’t do anything about it, but what you can change is whether the wall will be made of bricks or marshmallows. If you stick to your target pace (don’t go out too fast) and consume calories approximately every 30 mins, it will probably be the latter.
When things start to get tough, first of all, rationalise it and tell yourself what’s happening. Don’t let it suck you into an abyss of misery. Instead, find something positive, something to celebrate – your body is just in the process of achieving an incredible feat, so yes, just like all remarkable things, it may feel hard and require considerable effort. These are the moments that will make you, so however hard they feel, the pain is only temporary, but glory, as they say, lasts forever. Continuing to fuel properly, carrying on with a constant forward movement (no matter how slow it may seem) and employing a positive mindset is how you get through this. Quitting is not an option.
Finally, I can promise you that completing your first ever marathon will be one of the most transformational events in your life. Crossing the finish line will feel like million dollars, regardless whether you are the winner or the last person finishing. In that moment you’ll realise you can do hard things and you will feel unstoppable and high on your newly found strength and confidence. This transformation, however, needs to be earned and you have to complete the whole journey leading up to it, including the painful bits. So embrace or even enjoy every moment of it, because this is the future you in the making!
(Don’t forget to tell me about your first ever marathon in the comments below ⬇️ )
Can you run your first ever 100 mile ultramarathon? The answer is simply: Yes! You can, because I could!
Let me tell you about my first 100 miles attempt a couple weeks ago. It’s a bit tricky distance to train for – not like you can do a 100K long run every Sunday. So instead of training specifically for this event, I spent the past eight months working on being “ultra ready” which to me means I am capable of running an ultra marathon anytime I choose. I am still a rookie of the ultra community having completed my first ultra distance only last year. During training, I focused on time on my feet including walking, a lot of double runs (running twice a day) and doing a monthly ultra (usually between 45 and 50K).
My first 100 mile attempt was at Endure 24: 24 hours long relays that one can opt to run solo (if mad enough). The route was a 5 mile trail lap with an aid station at around 5K and access to own supplies at the start/finish area. Hence, this was an excellent opportunity to have a go at a long distance while being able to access own nutrition and gear without carrying it all around.
Obviously, preparation was crucial (and somewhat stressful and exciting at the same time). I brought a crazy amount of gear and nutrition with me. As expected, I did not use most of the things I brought, but the comfort of having it all accessible unburdened my mind a little.
I set myself A B C goals. My C goal was to conquer 100 miles (even if it meant walking), B goal was running until the end of the event (I somehow always assumed that I would be able to fit 100 miles well within 24 hrs), and A goal was to be a top 3 female. I realise my goals were rather ambitious given the fact that it was my first time doing this kind of event and distance, but I felt they were still realistic enough.
Now let’s talk about mindset. In my opinion, the key to running long long distances is not to get intimidated and not to overthink things. There are terrible stories being told about DNFing due to all sorts of stuff: cramps, fatigue, stomach issues, injuries, the list can go on forever. One needs to be prepared for eventualities but not get fixated on them. I said to myself “How hard can it really be?” It may sound oblivious and naive, but in my experience, a little bit of naivety is goes a long way (check out my blog post about it). One just needs to carry on putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.
Some laps felt real hard and I though how on earth will I be able to carry on? And then the next lap came and felt easy and joyful. So I figured out it does not stay difficult forever and there is always an end to whatever pain one feels. I am lucky to be a natural survivor which is an important trait of an ultrarunner. I managed to keep my spirit up whether it was by smiling no matter what, my terrible singing through the night or a random shot of Fireball at 2 am.
When it comes to nutrition, after a couple laps I figured out I don’t need to carry anything with me as long as I have water and couple slices of orange (I have never eaten so many oranges in my life) at the aid station and something more substantial at the start/finish. I went with High5 gels, shortbread, salted crisps, bananas and rice pudding which together with Tailwind was my nutrition through the 24 hours. I kept electrolytes topped up with my favourite Totum Sport sachets. It comes without saying that everyone needs to find their go-to food for long distances.
I soon got into the rhythm of doing a lap after lap – and boy, did time flow quicker than I thought it would. I had set uphill sections which I walked and a specific point where I started pre-planning in my head what nutrition and gear I need for the next lap (to avoid unnecessary faffing at start/finish). I didn’t waste any time sitting or standing around – I ate either while walking or sitting in the portaloo (yuck!).
Speaking of portaloos – it was not all smiles and unicorns. During the first 30 miles I was going through some digestion troubles and there were times when I though I might genuinely poop my pants. I spent a lot of time in the toilet. Luckily around mile 40, it settled in, because (as I said) nothing unpleasant lasts forever.
When it comes to running itself, I started sensibly and made sure my breathing was easy on the first few laps when one is tempted to go fast (I didn’t really look at heart rate or pace). I managed to keep a decent pace until about 80 miles and then I started to struggle running. It was not due to specific pain or injury, my legs just got fatigued and I had a hard time lifting feet off the ground. So I grabbed poles (that I never used before) and started walking. Several times, I attempted to restart running, but my legs were not cooperating. So walking it was. I didn’t panic, I just accepted it as a fact and kept going, trying not to stab anyone with my poles because I clearly was a pole amateur.
At that time I also made my first and (luckily) the only mistake at this event: I stuck to my current nutrition routine of refuelling each lap at the start/finish, but because laps now took me longer to complete, I ended up consuming fewer calories per hour. This resulted in a drop of energy level and left me drained on my last (22nd) lap. I was worried I won’t complete my last lap before the cut off of the event. During the last few miles I cried, because I just felt emotional, especially when I realised I will actually make it and also bank 2nd female prize.
I could barely stand when the prize was given to me, but felt lucky because the winner spent the prize giving in the medical tent. Shortly after that, I fell asleep in my tent snuggling my trophy, only to wake up in an empty field because most of the participants have already left.
So back to the initial question: Can you do it?
I am not going to pretend it was easy, but I found running (walking) 110 miles easier than I thought it would be. All you need is to simply carry on with forward motion, no matter how slow, and keep smiling. There is something intensely magical about running through sunset into the night while most of the nation sits on a sofa in front of TV. For me, running ultramarathons certainly satisfies my love for nature and my lifelong search for unknown adventures waiting in the woods and mountains. There is something spiritual and elevating about sunset and sunrise on the trails, so if you are looking to starve your muscles but feed your soul, get out and do an ultra. I recommend ❤️
Marathon day. 20 miles in. Hitting the wall. Slowing down. Struggling. It’s going to look terrible on Strava!
So what on earth does one have to do to finish strong? While I have no perfect recipe, I can offer a few tips that worked for me and helped me achieve an evenly paced marathon (consisting of two 1:40 half marathons).
Now enough boasting, here we go:
A well-paced marathon seldom happens naturally. In my experience, it requires a thought-through plan that is executed with precision.
First of all, ask yourself: What is my target time? Be realistic, but ambitious. I, for example, aimed for 3:25, however, my secret target was 3:20. So I trained for this pace. Not only I did runs entirely at this pace (anything from 5K to 10 miles in the peak week), I also incorporated this pace into my long runs, especially towards the end when my legs were getting tired. An example of such a workout would be: (5K easy followed by 5K marathon pace) x3 = total 30K. There are numerous variations you can come up with.
Once you have a race plan – stick to it! Chances are, that at the beginning, your target pace will feel like easy jogging. That’s actually a good sign! Do not perceive it as a permission to speed up. I appreciate it’s hard not to start too fast. At the beginning of your marathon, you are buzzing, so are the runners around you, the crowds cheer you on and you feel amazing. Don’t get carried away and start running at a pace you won’t be able to sustain. Stay smart!
I know I just advised you not to get carried away by cheering crowds, but once things start to get tough, use the crowd to motivate you if that sort of thing works for you. Perhaps have your name on your vest so they can shout at you, or wave and they will cheer you on.
To be honest, I am not really a person who looks for support of crowds. (Unless they are kids. I usually go out of my way to high five kids.) Instead, my motivation rests in my carefully selected playlist. (Check the race instructions to see whether headphones are allowed so you don’t get disqualified!) I have a marathon playlist that I run to during my training block and then I listen to it during the race itself. There must be some sort of science behind this, because my body seems to respond in a positive way when my songs come on. In the last 5 miles of a marathon, it’s not the crowd, it’s my music that keeps me going.
Obviously, everyone is different so figure out what motivates you once things get tough and use it.
First of all, you need to start the race already fully hydrated, with glycogen stores topped up and electrolytes in balance.
During the race, you will need to keep replenishing your carbohydrates. My top tip is to consume a source of carbohydrates every 30 mins and most importantly, before you even feel you need it. Once you feel you are getting sluggish, it might often be too late. For me, this meant I consumed six full gels during my marathon.
Carbs alone are not enough. You need water for your body to carry on functioning correctly. If the conditions are cool enough and you don’t sweat much, you are in luck. I don’t think I drank more 350 millilitres of water during my marathon, if that, but I would have needed way more if the temperature went above 15°C. Little and often is always better than downing a pint of water on the verge of collapse. Have several mouthfuls at each aid station.
I also replenish my electrolytes through the race. Sucking on Crampfix once your muscles start to sieze up is, in my opinion, a little too late. I swear by Totum sachets. I have one at the start line and one approximately every hour. Especially during the later stages of the race, I notice my muscles feeling fresher once I take Totum, and this boost is not only physical but also mental.
If you are going for a sub-4:30, sub-4 or sub-3:30 marathon, chances are that there will be a pacer you can follow. This saves you a lot of pacing and strategising. For me personally, following someone you trust is a great way of saving mental focus on running itself, rather than on thinking about pacing.
Having said that, pacers are just people so do not blindly follow them (unless it’s your mate who you trust). A lot of running watches these days have built-in pacing, but for me it’s not the same as following the person ahead of you.
Now we got to the arguably most controversial point. You might not like what I am going to say:
Most training plans peak with a 20 mile long run. Let’s be honest – unless you start far too slow, your marathon will not have even splits if 20 miles is the longest run you do beforehand. Period.
To carry on at a target pace all the way to the finish line, your body needs to be conditioned for this and sadly, one 20 mile run will not accomplish it. I took eight minutes off my marathon PB in six months by simply increasing the distance of my long runs and incorporating marathon pace (or some sort of effort) in most of them, including my infamous three blocks of marathon pace during a 50K ultramarathon. It might sound like total madness, but training like this clearly works for me and gives me confidence and advantage in the later stages of a long race.
Now, before you set off on an ultra challenge, let me point out that most coaches would discourage you from doing any runs longer than 20ish miles as a part of your marathon training because the risk of getting injured offsets the benefit of this training. So you have to figure out for yourself what your body can handle… The bottom line is: don’t let a training plan limit your potential 🙂
Finally, your brain and mindset play an enormously important role in whether you finish strong or crumble. Besides running itself, I also practice discomfort which is a normal part of my training. I consciously place myself in uncomfortable situations. I run hard up hills; I run in rain, storm, mud, snow and heat; I try to get some trail runs and cross-countries in; I acknowledge and embrace pain. If your attitude to discomfort is “bring it on” as opposed to “poor me”, you already have a massive advantage. So tell yourself: bring it on! Put your heart and mind into your race, not just legs, and most importantly welcome some discomfort during your training because it will make you tougher and faster on a race day.
And what are your tips? ⬇️
So you fancied doing something extraordinary and entered the ballot for London Marathon….and got in! Now it sounds like you’ll have to run a real marathon. No panic! It’s actually much easier than it seems.
First of all, anyone reasonably healthy can conquer a marathon without a Kipchoge-style crazily intense training. I would lie if I said it was easy, but it certainly is achievable.
Let me tell you about my first marathon. I was a beginner runner, 6 months postpartum, not running more than 10-20km a week, and my longest previous run was a half marathon. Yet, I somehow managed to complete a marathon (walking and crying at times) just under 5 hours. And so I believe anyone can do it. Including you!
If you feel a bit stuck and are not sure where to start, here are my top areas to consider:
Yes, training certainly helps. If you aren’t a runner, start easy. Alternating running and walking is fine. Running slow most of the time is essential (trust me on that). Increase distance gradually. Run slow. (Oh did I already mention that?) Also, run slow!
To make your training more effective, try to get one faster run or an interval session and one longer run in every week.
Organised running events will help. Sign up for a parkrun (it’s a free 5K run every Saturday). Run-walking or just walking is absolutely fine at parkrun so it’s suitable for every novice. Then, enter a few races and increase distance from 5K to 10K to a half marathon. You should really try to get at least one or two half marathons in before the big day. Most training plans suggest doing at least one 20-miler, which certainly helps, but, in my opinion, is not essential as long as you are happy to go slow and walk a bit during your marathon. Having said that, the more longer runs you’ll do, the better you’ll get at long distance running.
If you’re really serious, you may consider joining a local running club. You can find more about running races and running clubs in my previous blog post.
No one can run 42.2 km without fuel. But worry not, there are plenty fuelling options for runners – from gels to sweets to carbohydrate drinks. Try some of them in advance during your training to figure out how your stomach reacts to them. Think about where to carry them on a race day. Practice consuming them while running or walking.
Some races provide nutrition at drinks stations but it’s smart to test that specific brand beforehand. Also, don’t rely on it too much in case they run out.
Footwear is the most crucial thing so you need to choose wisely. Will you run mainly on road and paths? Will you train and race in the same shoes? If yes, then you need to get shoes that can do both and are most importantly comfortable. My personal tip is New Balance 1080 but there is a plethora of other shoes available. Pop into your local running shop to ask for advice.
And then there is the rest of your gear: socks (do not underestimate socks!), shorts, top, underwear, hat if needed. Think it through and practice wearing your gear on longer runs. Also think how will you carry your nutrition and perhaps your phone and other necessary items. Belt? Hydration vest? Pockets?
Golden running advice is: nothing new on a race day! Those brand new socks may look fancy but are you sure they won’t give you blisters? Test and try everything beforehand.
Nothing is more important than the right mindset. Be honest with yourself: you will suffer during training and during the race itself. However, the sense of achievement as you cross the finish line will erase all your suffering, and I promise you, you will be proud of yourself like never before.
So how to get through the tough parts? It’s rather simple – make quitting not an option. No matter the weather, the pain, the doubts other people have about you, you will succeed. Be stubborn. Be brave. Be determined. You will do it!
(Okay, enough talking, off you go and start training!)
I love run commuting! As a regular run commuter, a running backpack is an essential part of my gear. When I first started running to and from work, I was completely clueless what bag to choose so I opted for one of the cheapest options – Karrimor X Lite 15L. Here is a brief overview of the bag and its features:
Key advantage: great price, fits a lot of things.
Key disadvantage: fits too lose for some women which means the bag bounces while running. For men this probably wouldn’t be an issue.
Due to the loose fit, the bag started causing me chafing, so I purchased OMM Ultra 12 which I have been using five days a week for nearly a year now. Its key features are:
Key advantage: the fit is just superb! No bouncing around, no chafing, very comfortable.
Key disadvantage: I struggle fitting my phone into the waist mesh pocket.
It’s worth nothing that both bags can accommodate a 14″ laptop and a set of work clothes and shoes (see my YouTube video) so they are excellent for run commuting. Personally, I prefer OMM Ultra 12 bag because it’s a much better fit for me (I am a UK size 10) and it sits comfortably without bouncing around.
Thanks for reading guys! Let me know if you run commute and what bag you use because there must be plenty great products out there (I hope).
It’s New Year’s Eve! Quickly come up with a New Year’s resolution! One that will make you a better and happier person and/or will make the world a better and happier place. One that you will never stick to.
Because, let’s be honest – when do we actually stick to NY resolutions? On average, it can take about two months to form a habit, so by the time the end of February arrives, life has gotten in the way and we barely remember what it was we wanted to achieve or change. So let’s do ourselves a massive favour and scrap any NY resolution. Instead, let’s admit to ourselves that by now we wasted enough time. Time living daily lives without a spark or passion, time feeling sorry for ourselves, time waiting for something or someone to motivate us, time searching for excuses. NY resolution will not cut it because it stands no chance against our daily life, lack of motivation, self-pity, excuses… Our search for excuses happens quite often subconsciously – our personal circumstances are an excuse, weather is an excuse, health is an excuse. Do you remember captain Tom Moore who walked 100 lenghts of his garden to raise money for a charity? He received an award as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year for this act. Being nearly 100 years old and relying on a mobility walker, gosh, did he have a list of excuses at his disposal!
So how about this time, instead of waiting to get motivated and setting a pointless NY resolution, we start to transform our lives and change who we are? Little by little, without any massively dramatic efforts, but consistently and with conviction, because little efforts repeated day in day out will have much bigger result than a grand NY resultion.
We can use our will to transform ourselves into almost anything we wish. But yes, you guessed it, it is our will that is our shortfall. Year after year, we are getting softer, less and less capable, and more easily offended and discouraged. We are told to be kind to ourselves, while in fact what we need is to toughen up. We can’t train our willpower by being comfortable all the time!
So here is my proposal – instead of a grandiose New Year’s resolution, try stepping out of your comfort, little by little, day by day. Minor personal sufferings repeated on a daily basis can be truly transformational. So try getting muddy, getting cold, getting hungry, leaving home without a phone, being kind to people you don’t like and eating things you don’t enjoy, carrying on walking when your legs ache. Obviously, in my case, it will be running while my body is over it (but my mind will be ready to rock’n’roll because of the discomforts I put myself through every day). So go find your courage to suffer a little, because it will take you further than joining your local gym (and quitting mid-February).
Speaking of suffering – I am just pouring myself a glass of not-yet-chilled champagne. Happy New Year everyone!
I can hardly call myself a real ultra-runner, having only completed one two-day ultra and 100k in a local backyard ultra. I am certainly in no position to give anyone any advice on how to run an ultra marathon (unless it’s a stranger on the Internet who is looking for an advice from strangers on the Internet). Having said that, there is one piece of wisdom, or rather an observation, that I would like to share:
Naivety is the way to success!
A controversial statement, I know. But think about the best things you’ve ever achieved – about the things you’re the most proud of. For me it is moving to a country without speaking its language (twice), taking the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, smashing my first ever ultra and winning my first ever backyard ultra. All these achievements have two things in common: 1) they were bloody hard; 2) at the beginning, I didn’t have the slightest idea how hard they will actually be.
If I knew in advance about the difficulties I’ll have to endure, the pain and struggles I’ll have to push through, would I (would I really) go for it? Would I truly have the courage to jump right in at the deep end? Or, would I be simply served with a plethora of reasons why I should not even try…
I’m leaning towards the latter.
In all cases, I was well-prepared, but, at the same time, totally oblivious to the difficulties I’ll face. Sometimes the less one knows, the better. It gives one edge and courage. They don’t call it beginners “luck” for nothing.
Before my first ultra, I kept amusing my fellow runners saying silly things like: “How difficult can it be? You just run a little farther than usual, until you get to the finish.” And that’s exactly what I did. Before my first backyard ultra I naively kept saying: “It’s essentially very simple – I’ll carry on running until I’m the last one standing.” I was certain I was going to hold that trophy at the end – no matter what. You can call it naivety. Or, you can call it positive thinking or visualisation. Arguably, it’s a mix of both.
Either way, I could see myself running all the way to the finish line way before the event took place. I could feel my legs working, my muscles engaging when conquering hills, I could feel the sweat on my face and taste the endorphins taking my pain away. Every night, when I lay down to sleep, I envisaged myself running far and achieving something incredible. I could smell the success, the personal victory, and I knew that no obstacle would be too big to stop me.
Recently, I read an interesting column in the Trail Running magazine. It spoke about something called “functional imagery training”. Aparently, one can think their way into finishing an ultra! They compared runners who used “motivational interviewing” against runners who used “functional imagery training”. In the first group, four participants embarked on their ultra and two of them finished, while in the second group all seven runners started and six finished. Coincidence? Perhaps. Whenever I confidently claimed I was going to win a backyard ultra, usual reaction was a hesitant laugh. Well, who’s laughing now?
So before your next ultra try this: Forget the distance. 50 miles? 100K? It’s a tad far, true, but it’s not really that far, is it? One just needs to keep going, putting one foot in front the other, one step at a time, just like on every single training run. So how difficult can that really be, huh? Victory is just around the corner. All you need to do is close your eyes and imagine reaching for that trophy! I promise you, if you are naive enough and determined enough, your dreams will come true…