Training for any race has its difficulties.
It is usually the distance of an ultra-marathon that first Impresses someone.
“Wow, you’re gonna run 100km! In one day!”
Then it’s the challenging terrain or conditions.
“But someone’s going to transport your sleeping bag for you aren’t they?”
“Across the desert?”
“Up a mountain?”
The reality is however, that whilst the race is always going to be challenging, it’s the months of preparation and training that go in to any race that are the real challenge.
For example, my first multi day race was the Big Red Run which was 250km across the Simpson Desert. It’s usually the 250km that impresses most people. However that was the fun part. What most people didn’t realise was that I had trained six months for that race. Six months of living and breathing BRR and nothing else. I carried my pack with me everywhere. I dreamed of sand, sand and more sand. I talked of nothing but running shoes, hydration systems, freeze dried food options and sports gels.
I had no social life because my weekends were spent doing back to back long runs and I needed what little sleep I could sandwich in between those runs.
The main challenges I had to deal with during those six months of training was saying no to friends – especially those friends who weren’t runners and couldn’t quite understand how or why bourbon swigging, all nighter Tash who never ever said no to a party was all of a sudden calling 9pm a late night; and injuries –plantar fasciitis (what a bitch).
I found a way of dealing with both of those challenges. The first challenge was dealt with by combining my fundraising targets for the race with my music. My music pals were quick to get behind me and help me put on a couple of massive fundraiser gigs that saw us belting out some tunes together and raising a shit load of cash for type 1 diabetes.
The second challenge – plantar fasciitis, it turns out, was cured by running 250km across the Simpson Desert. The more I run, the better that one works itself out.
My other big race was The North Face 100. Four months of training went into that race and I loved every minute of it. I trained throughout Summer and the warmer months and didn’t miss a session, that was until three weeks out from race day, I shifted the small bones in my foot which caused excruciating nerve pain with every step. I kept a positive mind set and enjoyed my extended and restful taper and come race day, I was good to go.
So now it’s Atacama.
I gave myself four months to train for this race – June till September with the race starting on 5th October. So I am two months into my training plan.
I had some pretty big goals given I have developed a really strong base over the last few years of running. My training hasn’t been too bad. In fact, when I look over my training log, it’s been pretty good. Last weekend was the only key session (my long run) that I have missed and given that the weekend before was the impromptu ‘Jan’s Birthday Ultra (52km with 1700m of ascent),’ well it was pretty understandable that I was feeling a bit tired. However, I feel like I have been letting myself down. I constantly feel like I should be doing more and this leads me to revealing my biggest challenge in this training block ….depression.
That’s right, the old dirty black dog. This is the first time I have had to train through Winter with a key race looming over my head. 2012’s key race was in July as was 2013 meaning I have had most of Winter to recover. Winter is the time of year I dread. It brings melancholy, fatigue and a sense of doom.
This Winter, the alarm goes off at 4:45am. It’s so dark out that no one can see the black dog trailing at my heels. It’s still dark when I finish my session and get ready for work. Sometimes, that filthy dog follows me all day.
Come 6pm, it’s dark again and it’s usually time for session number 2 (I either CrossFit in the morning and run at night or run in the morning and do some sort of cross training in the evening). Once again, that filthy dog is at my heels.
There have been morning’s I haven’t experienced my ‘runner’s high.’ On these morning’s I tick my session off in my training diary, but I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much.
There have been a few mornings where I haven’t made it out of bed. I’ve let my running pals down on those morning’s I’ve arranged to meet them and I’ve let myself down because I haven’t done what I set out to achieve. I will always get the session done – that usually means being three hours late to work (I’m beyond any excuses anymore) and doing the session a little later in the morning or still being three hours late to work, eventually convincing myself that the world isn’t going to end, getting through what’s left of the work day then running at some absurd time of the night terrified that every noise in the bushes is a serial killer or rapist.
I have also put on weight this Winter. Not a great deal – 3 or 4kg and the truth is that it’s not making me any slower – I’ve timed myself. However the part of the self that lacks any sense of rationalisation thinks this also makes me a failure.
So there you go, the secret is out, Atacama’s biggest challenge is not the miles, not the altitude training, not the back to back’s, the lack of a social life or the lack of wine. Yes, these are all mini challenges in themself, but have nothing over the black dog.
So now that I have let the dog out of the bag, I will endeavour to treat it just like any other challenge – acknowledge it and work with it. It might mean that I need an extra rest day here and there. It might mean that I don’t hit all my goals and targets. However, it does not mean that I will back down and give up. I will keep training, I will keep pushing and I will show that dog who is boss.