25 Sep Andrea’s First Self-Supported Ultramarathon… All you need to know on how to plan and train.
It is hard to summarise such an amazing experience, but I did it!! I completed my first self-supported ultramararthon and I’m not going to lie it was tough.
With 90 days to go I signed myself up for The 2015 Roving Race held by Racing the Planet in Ecuador, I had had my eye on this race since 2010 when Gareth (my husband) and I went to The Atacama Desert in Chile to participate in our first Racing the Planet Event, it was an eye opener and the start of an unhealthy addiction. Gareth ran The Atacama Crossing followed by The 2011 Roving Race in Nepal and I was a volunteer on both races. Having watched both races from the sideline I finally decided I wanted to participate.
Racing The Planet Ecuador consisted on 250km ran over 7 days in 6 stages, a self-supported foot race where each competitor had to carry all their gear and food. The distances are on average 4 stages of 40km, 1 stage of 60km and the final stage 10km. The race was held outside of Quito at the foothills of the Cotopaxi Volcano and we followed the “Route of the Volcanoes”, the highest part of the course was 4100meters and the lowest point 725meters with some serious elevation gain and loss during each stage.
I am probably the fittest I have been in years, training regularly at Joe’s Basecamp. I have been introduced to weight training, boxing, strength and conditioning sessions and most importantly Joe kitted out his new gym with an intermittent hypoxic altitude chamber and this was a perfect excuse to give it a go.
With only three months to prepare for the race, I sat down with Joe and put together a training schedule. His first remark was “you know you will have to do some serious training for this event” followed by a “I want to see you at this gym most evenings and weekends for the next three months”. We put together a ‘realistic’ timetable, which consisted in
– Two Strength sessions per week, including deadlifts, weighted lunges, heavy front squats followed by box jumps, sled dragging and core exercises.
– Followed by 45min to an hour in the altitude chamber either continuous running or interval running at 4000mts.
– I also had two trail running sessions per week of 8-12km which took me up to North Head, Manly Beach, The Fairlight Walkway and the lovely Manly to Spit Track.
– On weekends I alternated a Saturday Group Session at Joes Basecamp (just for fun and to train with the rest of our great community) or a longer run 15-22-30km on the Manly to Spit Track, Circular Quay to Manly (most beautiful run ~30km all along the foreshore) or a few weekends in the Blue Mountains (Evans lookout to Pulpit Rock and back).
Training was tough, I am used to training with other people, I really enjoy the 5.30pm session at Joe’s Basecamp and all of a sudden I was either running by myself, weight lifting in one of the corners of the gym or stuck in the altitude chamber listening to some cracking tunes whilst running on the treadmill. My motivation when it came to training was that every session I completed before the race would make the 250km that little less painful….or so I thought.
Another challenge for this event was my nutrition, something you spend hours deliberating on and have to trial everything before you go to make sure it is worth carrying. Being self-supported you have to carry all your food for 7 days, the race organization provides cold water at checkpoints and hot water at camp each night. My race nutrition consisted on freeze dried porridge and an instant coffee for breakfast, I ran with Tailwind Electrolyte powder and would go through 2 x 750ml bottles per day and my other bottle had plain water. During the day I had a snack bag of jellybeans, skittles and jelly babies that I would snack on as I was running/walking and then at each checkpoint (10km) I would eat a small pack of pretzels, chocolate tiny teddies or BBQ chips. When I came in to camp I would have a Cliff Recovery drink and for dinner another delicious freeze dried meal. As some of you know I am a Dietitian, but when it comes to race nutrition for such a long event all the rules are obsolete, you take food you know you like and you know you will be able to stomach after a long day of exercise. Many competitors were unable to stomach their food or drink and that creates a huge problem because it is all you have and you can become very dehydrated or have low sugar levels, ending your race.
It is hard to summarise the event itself, each day we were given a course briefing at 7am and off we went.
The race started at the foothills of Cotopaxi Volcano taking us across the Andes. At the start there were 137 competitors from 37 different countries embarking on a 7 day adventure.
The first few days were challenging, my backpack at the start weighed 13kg and that was a lot more than I had been training with. I don’t know how many of you have run wearing the weighted vest, or been somewhere with a really heavy backpack, but it’s tough, you have no spring in your step and after a while it just gets incredibly uncomfortable. I have to say my backpack was great, distributed the weight evenly, but I did get terrible chest pain on the first few days because of the weight. I found it too heavy to run, so I power walked the first two day, we had a lot of climbs and with the help of my trekking poles I was powering up those hills thanks to all the strength work I had done at Joe’s Basecamp gym.
By the third day my backpack was a little lighter and I had got used to the altitude so I was able to run on the flats and downhills, a few aches and pains from blisters and the steep descents was pretty tough on the knees, but all in all it became a lot easier and quite a bit of fun.
The most magnificent day was Stage 4, we started the day on the valley floor with a few river crossings. Then we started climbing, 15km of steep, exhausting, ascent. It was a slow climb up a goat track and you could feel your legs burning. But it was worth it, words cannot describe how amazing it was to come over the ridge to Quilotoa Volcano crater lake. We trekked 6km along the ridge line with the most amazing views, you had to make sure you looked were you placed your feet so you would not end up over the edge.
I absolutely loved Stage 6 The Long March, a 60km day where most competitors would finish overnight. I was reluctant to spend the whole night on the course and I just wanted to get it done so this day I ran. I reached Checkpoint 1 in 40th position which amazed me, I had a spring in my step and was feeling fantastic. I loved the long stage, it was the only day I ran with music, some cracking tunes to get me through. I got the Checkpoint 6 at 7pm just as the sun set and it was too tricky to keep running as the course followed a rocky riverbed so I power walked the last 6km in to camp and did not have to spend too much time on the course in the dark, which was an advantage because all the mossies and bugs kept flying in to my headlamp.
All in all it was a great experience, it was an epic adventure and it all came down to my attitude towards this race. It was not 250km, I broke it down in to 40km days and even when that sounded a bit tough I told myself it was just 10km from checkpoint to checkpoint. It was not even a run, I spent more time power walking than running and because of all the strength sessions I completed before the race I found it easier to charge up the hills than to run along the flats and downhills.
An event like this just takes determination, I had all the right gear, I had prepared well and I had incredible support from everyone at home. When I was on the course and I thought it was too tough I would think of myself at Joe’s Basecamp Gym after completing “Barbara” a workout or WOD or one of the other horrible Conditioning sessions Joe has put us through in the last few years and the trail did not look that tough after all. I had the Joe’s Basecamp logo on my water bottle and whenever I caught a glimpse of it I would think of the Joe’s Basecamp gym, everyone training for an adventure and I would think to myself….I am on my adventure and its brilliant!
Andrea Hordon Andrews
Andrea is 30 years old and a dietician at Manly Hospital