Brijesh Gajera, our guest columnist and ultra runner talks about how he trained for his longest Ultra trial run, the Vagamon Ultrail 90k.
“And suddenly you know … It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings”.
Not so long ago, I was grappled by the scare and challenge of my longest ultra-marathon – The Vagamon Ultrail 90K.
So how did I prepare for the toughest endurance challenge of my life? Here is how I approached the training:
- Know the Conditions and Train for them:
There are all kinds of ultra-marathons-stadium runs for hours on end, a long loop of few kilometers, a road or a trail ultra without loops or repetitions and so on. Once I signed up for the Vagamon Ultrail, the first thing I did was to study the race conditions. That meant knowing the weather around the race time, the type of trails (soft, hard, rocky, grassy), the elevation profile down to every km, the cut-off stages and times, the aid stations and the volunteers’ support. The most striking thing about it was the cumulative elevation gain of around 3000m and some steep rocky sections of hills during the hardest part of the day. The weather promised to be cool in the morning and hot and humid during the day before cooling down later in the evening.
There were no trails in Bangalore where I could train that was anything close to the race trail. During my training, I focused on running the toughest or steepest sections of the trails in Cubbon Park or Lalbagh or Turahalli forest. I did a couple of runs in Nandi Hills but instead of going up 7 KM all the way, I used to go a couple of km up, come down a km, and repeat that to simulate a rolling course.
To finish the actual race, one has to run throughout the day. To be able to achieve that, I started training at unusual hours from 9 AM to 1 PM, 4 PM to 6 PM or 6 PM to 1 AM. All these runs conditioned me to run at any time of the day in all weather conditions.
I do not believe in doing very long runs during my training. The longest training run was a 52K in the hills. Timewise, I did not do anything longer than 7 hours during my training runs. I did run a lot on tired legs though – running a 15-25K run on Saturday followed by a 25-35K run on Sunday. Or sometimes running 3 times in the span of 30 hours.
- Throw speed out of the window:
Once you start training for an ultra, the first thing to do is to forget speed, especially if you are coming from marathon background. This is even more important when you have trained mostly on the road and your race is going to be on a trail. Honestly, this is harder than one thinks though. Spending a long time on my feet without looking at the pace or running slow when the legs are still fresh and sprightly takes some mental effort.
- Train the mind:
Running for long hours, mostly alone, is mentally taxing as it is physically, if not more. Running at different times of the day, running in different weather conditions, running on back to back days – all these worked towards training the mind as much as the body. Many of these runs I did alone to put myself in situations where I had to not only tolerate myself but even motivate myself to go on.
I regularly read about ultra-marathons or ultra-marathoners and I listened to some podcasts related to ultra-marathons to understand what others do to overcome the challenges. Mind you I did not overdo it though. Like my mileage, I kept this at a manageable level. You do not want to be overwhelmed by it all.
- Food and Hydration Matter:
Food is something which tends to be overlooked for a marathon training. We rely on gels or energy drinks mostly during marathons. For ultras, that will not work. Our ability to consume and digest solid food while running may be one of the most important factors to successfully finish an ultra. It was essential to make food part of the training all the time. I did a few runs after having breakfast or lunch. I carried food in my hydration pack along with water during some of these runs. I trained to eat food which would be available during the race.
Did it all come together on the race day? I think so.
Of course, I still did not climb uphill like mountain goats or rushed downhill like a stream but I managed to finish my race, in one piece, all smiling and thanking my stars. Did I cover all the tracks in my training? Certainly not.
An ultra-marathon is your tryst with unknowns, quite similar to life itself. The training helped me to face them and find a way to keep going and helped me tackle any adverse conditions or situations I was faced with.