Recently, ASICS FrontRunners Admire Muzopambwa and Brendan Lombard finished second and third respectively behind Cody Reed at the 100km race at Ultra Trail Drakensberg.
While a 100km mountain race may not be on your schedule for the year (or ever) any runner can learn some valuable lessons from these ultra athletes on what it takes to push your own personal limits.
Below Admire lists a half dozen things that might sound super obvious, but are so often overlooked. These are his words:
TRAIN YOUR MIND AS MUCH AS YOUR BODY
If you're running 100 kilometres, you need to be as mentally prepared as physically. You need to be able to train kms that are close to that race and push through. For example, if it is 100kms (or 10 or 21 or a marathon) then that needs to be your benchmark, ‘I’m gonna train 100kms in a day’. Somewhere in that effort your body is going to tell you ‘we are done, we cannot do this anymore.’ That is when you keep grinding, you keep going, even if you have to walk. That is how you train your mind to overcome your body.
PREPARE FOR THE TERRAIN ON COURSE
Mental confidence also comes with knowing (and training for) the planned route. You need to prepare for walking long climbs (if there are) and running the shorter ones. You need to practice the technical elements such as river crossings, rock gardens, and wet, slippery sections. you have to prepare yourself.
PLAN YOUR NUTRITION
As athletes, we tend to focus more on racing and chasing the podium and sometimes forget to eat. That is the worst possible mistake you can make. For me, it is important to know that I am covered for the duration in terms of fuel. You are not always going to have your seconders or people around you to actually give you the food. So on Ultra Trail Drakensberg I carried nearly all my food but did stock up for the second half at 58kms.
The key is to have a feeding plan (according to the planned distance). For example, at which part of the route, will you eat a banana, an apple or have a protein smoothie?. Most races have aid stations every 10kms or so (depending on how easily accessible the place is and how they put their tables). At UTD I set my watch for every 5kms, at my pace, which worked out to between 25-30min. So every half-hour I ate something. It can be a small bite of a banana or a bar or a GU, anything that needs to help me get somewhere.
In terms of hydration what works best for me is to drink to thirst or strain (such as when going up a climb) like going up a hill. Do your power walk as you sip, as you sip, as you sip…then when it's runnable again, focus on the running. Also, watch what the top runners do and mimic that. When I was running with Brendon (Lombard) for example, I would watch him, whenever he drank his juice, I would also drink. He is a sports science graduate, so he is very well versed in how the body and muscles respond to replenishment. He knows how to take back the nutrients as he loses them. (*Thanks Brendon! I owe you buddy…)
In addition, it is important to train yourself in what to eat and drink - the aid stations might not have exactly what your body needs - I would therefore advise a runner who wants to run for longer, to do a time and distance set; every 5kms (if your watch can do this) and then eat at that ping in training. Eat the same food in the race, and never experiment on race day!
Exceed your limits, go out there, do a 40km or 80km, depending on how many km’s your next race is. For me it is all goal-related, when I want a podium, I know I have to train as hard as those guys in that range. If I just need to finish, I might train just a bit more than average, a little bit more than my goal time - so if I am looking to finish 100kms in 15hrs I won't be training on a programme that will give me 16-17hrs, I will train for anything from 12-13hrs. I’m actually training beyond what my target goal is.
Prepare your gear properly as well. You need the best shoes possible, I ran in the ASICS Fuji Lyte 2. Especially for trails, make sure you have the correct trail shoes and gear and have trained in it all. Train with your full pack that you will be racing with for a good few runs in the last three weeks before the race. Even if you’re not doing a long-distance training run, make sure all the compulsory gear as well as your nutrition and hydration is loaded so you get a full feel for it and become comfortable with the weight. In addition, it is important to pack it in a way that makes sense for you and then practice accessing what you need. For me, I know taking off my race pack and unzipping takes two seconds and I know that the food I need first is on top. I know where my softshell is, my headlamp etc.
*Featured image by Marzelle van der Merve / Ultra Trail Drakensberg