60km Trail Ultra - Anthony Waller
HaSolelim Jerusalem running club
60 km Trail Ultra, March 7, 2008
Ramot Menashe, Israel.
Short summary: Best race of my life, in more ways than one.
I didn't have the ideal preparation that I had planned, when I thought about doing this ultra about 6 months ago. The ideal plan was build the base, then specialize with long runs, hills, and lots of kms. Just after I had a little base and a few weeks solid running I felt a twinge in my ankle, so I stopped running for a couple of weeks and hit the bike. One cold morning I took a turn too quickly, and the bike slid out from under me. I collected a nice knock on my knee which ironically didn't affect my biking, but left me unable to run for about 6 weeks.
So…that brought me to Plan B.
Forget the base.
Increase mileage gradually, but a lot quicker than usual (or generally advisable) . Compensate for this by only running 4 times per week (instead of the usual 6) and add 2 bike sessions (exercise bike) instead of the 2 extra runs.
Hit the hills straight away.
I started this plan in December. 125 kms (78 miles).
January 291 kms (181 miles).
February 306 kms (190 miles). Biggest week was 81 kms (50 miles).
Long runs went in successive weeks 16-20-24-28-32-36-40 on a hilly trail circuit.
2 other hill sessions per week starting at 7 repeats and up to 10 repeats of 600m up then down. The uphills were run easily with a gentle increase of pace. Downhills cruising.
1 easy session per week.
2 Exercise bike sessions were at low resistance and usually from 60-75 mins covering from 35-45 kms.
I ran 1 speed session. Two weeks before the race I ran a 10.34 km race in the National Cross-country championships. Ran around 42 mins and felt good
I tapered the last couple of weeks, and on the Friday before the race went for a massage session. I wanted some massage mainly for my right hamstring and left calf muscles which have troubled me in the past and sometimes flare up. It seems to have done well for the hamstring, but the calf felt tight during the last week, so I cut right back. The Friday before the race I had run 16km on the hilly circuit. From then I just ran a very easy 5k on the following Tuesday and some short, easy bike commutes.
So – Thursday afternoon I drove up to the race site with my wife and 2 youngest daughters. We were staying around 5 minutes from the start, and I went there in the evening for some pasta, to collect my number and chip, and to hear the final instructions. The chip was actually imbedded in the race number – first time I've had one like that – it was light and didn't bother me at all. One thing that did bother me that night was some cramping in my toes! Never had that before and no doubt it was entirely psychosomatic. I had been drinking mostly isotonic sports drink during the day and during the night I added some salt capsules…I only managed about 3 hours sleep…
The race was offering prizes and trophies for the first 3 men and women. No age-group prizes…It started at 6:30. I got a ride with a fellow runner and we got there in good time to put our bags in the feeding zone. We were to return here at 30km and at 45km. I had 3 litres (100 oz) of Isostar in my hydration backpack, salt tablets and dates in my pockets, as well as tissues and an anti-inflammatory tablet. In my bag I had bananas, jelly beans, dates, energy bars, tape, more anti-inflammatories (tablets and cream), vaseline, bodyglide, suntan lotion (with insect repellant (picked that up in Oz)). I had all the necessary tape on me, anti-inflammatory cream where I might need it, vaseline, bodyglide, suntan etc. I also had another 6 litres (200 oz) of isotonic drink, and plenty of salt capsules. The organizers provided water, a different isotonic drink, gels, pretzels, and bread. I was wearing regular lightweight training shoes (Saucony Sinister) and injinji socks (individual toes). I had trained with lightweight trail shoes (Inov8 Mudrock 290) and a pair of the "Sinisters" with screws, but the hot weather had dried out most of the course.
After a short pep-talk and words from some sponsors we set off exactly on time. The race favourite was last year's winner. A sub 2:40 marathoner and very tough competitor. He was wearing a fuel-belt that looked like it carried less than 1.5 litres (50 oz). I remember thinking that looked like too little for 30 kms. Originally the organizers had said that there were not going to be any intermediary fueling stations. But given the hot weather (maximum around 28C / 82F) they said that there would be a couple of points where you could refill your packs…
As we started off I was caught towards the back of the 106 starters. I gently eased my way through carefully drumming into my head: "Run slow, run smart, check that everything feels relaxed". I made it up to about 20th place, and then settled into the first few kilometers of easy paced mostly flat and downhill. The runners gradually separated. The leaders disappeared in the distance. We came to a water crossing. Most crossings could be bypassed on the side or crossed on rocks. Nothing too deep. A few times we got our feet wet, but my shoes drained quickly and the socks were brilliant. A few meters of squelching and then back to normal. There were also a few sections of "squelchy, oozy" mud. Again it was usually possible to bypass. Once I slowed down too much and sunk in a bit. Thankfully my shoe didn't get stuck. I eased past a few runners, and settled into a group of 4. Sometimes 1 or more of us moved forward. One of the runners pushed the ups and slowed on the downs. The rest of us were just the opposite. I had determined to "power-walk" all the steep uphills – there weren't too many, but it felt good to both get a short break, and know that I wasn't pushing the heart-rate up to where it shouldn't be. Two of our group had garmins, and they told me that we had reached 15km in 1:19:40. Just under 5:20/km (8:35/mile). Faster than I had planned, but it had been mostly flat and downhill up until now, and we had avoided the sun in the early morning relative coolness.
3 of our group at around 15km:
The second half of the first loop was harder. More uphills and less shade. Our pace eased off as we passed some stunning cyclamens blooming:
We made it to the half-way point in 2:45:40 (the 2nd 15km split was 1:26) and we were now averaging just over 5:30 pace (8:50 pace). I spent about 3 minutes in the feeding zone. I had almost finished my 3 litres, and added another 1.5 litres of Isostar for the next 15 kms. I also downed a banana, and drank some water and poured some water over my head. I made it out of the station ahead of my group, but stopped just after heading out of the stadium to relieve myself – a good sign…I was still ahead of our group. I was now in 14th pace. This section was more exposed, and the wind had sprung up. A hot "hamsin" wind. The course was marked very well, but unfortunately the wind had knocked some of the stakes down, and blown some of the arrows off some of the other stakes. This led to no small amount of confusion…I was managing to gradually haul in runners ahead of me. One by one. During this 15kms I passed 5 or 6 runners. One of them was cramping so I gave him a couple of salt tablets. I came to a junction. There were 2 right turns, sharp and regulation. But the arrow pointing right was ambiguous, and the other arrow there had been mangled. What to do? I waited for the 2 runners behind me (for about a minute but it seemed like longer) Together we reckoned that it probably means the regulation right. We ventured on and yes! Another arrow…Towards the end of this stage I felt some slight nausea, and the sweetness of the Isostar was starting to get to me. I realized that I should switch to water and salt tablets for the last stage. I started making mental lists in my head of what I needed to do at the last change. Try and finish what's in the backpack during these last few kms, fill up with water, take a salt capsule every half-hour, eat some jelly-babies, take an anti-inflammatory, rub some anti-inflammatory gel on the calf muscles. During the last kilometers of this section I passed 2 landmarks. My longest run by distance (42.2) and by time (3:48 for my 40km training run). At around 41kms I happened to pass a point that was close to the stadium and heard the race announcer say that the leader (earlier mentioned favourite) was coming in to finish the 2nd section. He was 4 kms ahead of me, and I made it there in about 24 minutes. The last kilometers of this section were tough. I had passed the last of the runners that I would catch in this section. I was now in 8th place, but the 2 runners running together were not getting any closer – if anything they were drawing away slightly. But I was running slightly uphill into the hot wind, so I didn't push. Still too early.
I made it back at around 4:16 – around 1:27:20 for that 15km (5:50/km or 9:23/mile).
I had slowed down, but it was a tougher section. I followed my list of things to do. I drank a lot of water besides filling my pack with 1.5 litres of water, and took a salt capsule. Lots of water over my head. I felt refreshed, and headed out on the final stage. The ultra also had races for 30 and 15 kms. The 15k race was the same course as our last 15kms and they were due to start about 10 minutes after I set out…
As I headed out of the grounds in a different direction to the first 2 stages, I met a runner who looked slightly desparate – he had got lost so I pointed him in the right direction, and we set off together. He told me that he felt OK and that there were 2 runners who were now ahead of him (the 2 that I had seen previously). He thought that prior to that he had been in 5th place, but he wasn't sure…We ran on. Despite the heat, the time and the effort I realized that I felt good. I was ready to start racing! I eased away from my partner and onto a single through some flowers. I came up to the 2 other runners and passed them also. One said to the other that I must be from the 15km race…I told them that wasn't the case. Onwards. The elevation map that the organizers had given us indicated that this last section was a lot flatter than the earlier ones. Wrong! A nice downhill, brought us into some beautifully shaded forest and then turned up to the steepest uphill of the day. Even in my "revved-up" state I knew that this was walking territory. At the top of the uphill there was A "T" junction. But where's the arrow??? As I released a loud expletive I looked (somewhat frantically I must admit) both ways. Maybe to the left there, possibly…I tentatively jogged in that direction as thoughts of wandering aimlessly around forced there way into my mind.
Yes – an arrow! So I continued although for a few seconds I thought that maybe I'd already run this section and that I would find myself running in circles! But I looked over my shoulder and saw that a few 100 meters behind were the 3 runners that I had passed. I now felt that I could run harder on the uphills. As I ran up the 15km runners were coming down in the opposite direction. I asked them how far I was behind the runner ahead of me. They shouted back – "about 300 meters". I came up to 2 other people who were clapping me and shouting encouragement. They said I had just over 5 kms to go. They told me I was 200 meters behind the next runner. Around another corner and there they(!) are – 2 runners. I recognized one as one of only 2 runners who had passed me running very strongly during the first stage. The other runner turned out to be his pacer. I was now running through the little water and mud without slowing down. Ahead of me looked like….the race favourite – he was barely moving and was a little incoherent when I asked him what position he was…
Not much further. I thought I might be in 3rd place but I wasn't sure. I was running the fastest I'd been running all day and feeling good. And then ahead of me I see 2 runners. I move up to them on the uphill and pass them. They tell me that we are in the leading pack…Later on it turned out that they were runners from the 15km race who (I hope inadvertently) took a shortcut…But I didn't know that at the time. These last 3 or so kilometers were the same ones as the last kms of the first stage. I came up to a lone supporter. She told me that I was in 4th place and about 4 minutes behind 3rd place! Oh well – nearly but not quite – I continued to press hard but knew that I had little chance of catching anyone. 2 kms to go, and then finally, the last kilometer. I approach the stadium and see my wife and daughters. I call out to my 11 year-old to join me for the last lap. She runs with me and I power on home. I cross the line and someone tells me that I finished third! One of the other runners had been another 15 km short-cutter…I had run the last 15kms in 1:21:10. Afterwards the first place runner told me that he thinks that he and the second place runner may have inadvertently taken a short-cut during that confusing middle stage. They had converged with the race leader at some point from different directions, and he had admonished them…This guy was a very modest, good sportsman and he had explained to the organizers what had happened. I think he also said that he may have run some extra kms at another point. He refused to go up on the podium or to receive his prize, even though I told him that he should.
The organization for this race was first-class. You could tell that runners were involved. The pasta evening was punctual, quick and with lots of the right food and drink. Instructions were clear and concise.
The volunteers in the feeding zone went out of their way to ask you what you needed and to deliver it quickly. The course was marked well – it was the strong winds in the second section that caused some confusion…
Special thanks to Carin Goldblatt for the inspiration and the determination to produce this special event, and to all who were involved in the preparations and on race day.
And extra special thanks for agreeing to hold the race on a Friday so that I and other religious runners could participate!
Anthony Waller. HaSolelim Jerusalem running club.