After finally unpacking and relaxing with a cup of tea, I’ve decided to do a quick post on some hints and tips around training and selecting kit, for anyone else wanting to take on the mountain. Again, different things work for different people, but here’s a list of some of the things that have worked for me in the build up to the day and and then post-race.
- Practice running with a pack
You don’t have to go full Rocky Balboa training montage from day 1, and run up a mountain with a huge log, but it’s important to get used to running with extra weight. I started small, using my old gym backpack and carrying a big bottle of water and towel, and I noticed a difference in having to concentrate more on my stride, and adjusting my posture, and not put so much weight on the front of my feet.
If you’re going to be using a hydration pack for the race, it’s good idea to get one early and train with it as soon as you can, to get used to the extra weight of the bladder pack shifting around. I used the Camelbak Ultra 4 hydration pack, and it was perfect for the event. It held everything I needed, and the bladder pack was fantastic. TheGingerRunner gives a great review of it here.
- Don’t bring the kitchen sink!
Rat Race always make a point of checking mandatory kit, to make sure you have everything you need, especially in an emergency. But as I found on my run, going lighter is definitely better.
Waterproof kit: 1 week before my run, we got confirmation that as well as a waterproof jacket on the mandatory list, we must carry waterproof bottoms as well. It didn’t seem like too much of a problem, but with the kit list growing, taking anything too big would have added unnecessary weight. Also, running in thicker tracksuit bottoms isn’t the easiest thing to do! I managed to get a fairly cheap and light set from decathlon. You don’t need to bring waders and hiking boots, so be smart in what you bring.
Emergency bag: When I first went through the kit list, I opted to buy one of the big, orange survival bivvy bags about a month before the race. As I started to pile the items up in my room ready for packing, it was clear it was never going to fit into my running pack. Solution? Get the smaller, silver emergency blankets. They’re about the size of a deck of cards, and half the weight of one. You can pick them up at most outdoor places for less than £5. I picked mine up at Blacks.
First aid kit: Again, you just need to make sure you have the essential plasters and strapping. I bought the smaller red ‘Yellowstone’ travel first aid pack online and it did the trick. I also used the extra pockets in the pack to store the emergency energy gels and bars, as per the mandatory kit list
Trail shoes: I also can’t stress enough how important it is to get a decent pair of trail shoes. I came across every possible weather/terrain combo on my race day, but I rarely slipped, and was grateful I had traction going both up hill, and through the wood trails later in the course. I did notice a few of the ultra-runners wearing hybrids, and they’ll no doubt have their own view on what works for them, but I think we could agree that road shoes just won’t cut it. I wore my Salomon Speedcross 3’s, and they were more than up for the job. I felt comfortable right the way through the run, especially going downhill when grip and stability really counts.
Places like Sweatshop are great for getting advice on which type of footwear works best for you.
The clue is in the race name. The run is about 80% off-road running, with the occasional pathway, curbs and car park thrown into the mix, and a 10k-ish run on pavement and light trail at the very start. The off-road running is a crazy combination of mild trail, rocks, grit, swamp grass, mud and slate. You name it, its there. Training and running 20-mile distances on a treadmill is one thing, to build up stamina, but if you’re not used to running on undulating train, go and do it! And in different weather conditions. It’s a challenge in itself getting out of bed on an dreary, rainy morning, or a cold evening after work, but it’ll pay off. Getting used to warming up properly and keeping yourself going really helps.
- Leg training
With most of the race heading up hill, you need to prepare your legs and lower back. In the 5 months before the race, I picked up a niggling bout of achilles tendonitis, which my physio had put down to both over training, and not strengthening the correct surrounding muscles.
From then, right up until the day of the race, she put me on a treatment plan of squats and calf dips, with steadily increasing weight and reps, and then a series of glute and hamstring stretches to do, ideally, 3 times a day to gradually build up strength. It’s also important to watch your running style, with shorter steady steps better for the big inclines.
- Energy gels & nutrition
Nutrition is absolutely key in the training of any sport. Again, I’m not an expert, and most of my meals and plans came through trial and error, but I found that it’s best to try things early on, and not wait until the day before the big race to eat double your body weight in pasta.
Energy gels are also a tricky one. I’ve tried a few different brands, and experimented with taking them a different times in practice runs to get the most out of the energy boost. Don’t wait until the big day. Different gels have different ingredients, which can be harsh on sensitive stomachs. I felt like Sonic in overdrive the first time I took tried the SiS packs, and so it took some time to get used to the right balance. Food – Gels – Water – Training: they all go hand-in-hand.
Runner’s world and MensHealth have some get tips on prepping and fuelling before and after races. Hugh Morris at the Telegraph also gives a pretty honest view of an amateur runner’s experience taking gels:
- Don’t completely stop
I mean, if you’re injured or feel sick then obviously stop! But, the biggest mistake I think I made during the run was completely stopping at the first drinks point, at 8 miles in. The legendary Rat Race food/drink stalls didn’t disappoint – they had every kind of energy snack you could think of, and cups of tea! – but by stopping and queueing up, my legs were beginning to cool down.
I’d occasionally jogged and walked in some of my longer distance training sessions, but I’d never completely stopped, so what made me do it during the run I have no idea. That, combined with being told by one of the marshals that the course would likely change and probably wouldn’t be the full 22 mile (disheartening!) almost took the edge off of things too much. If you feel tired or shaky then of course you need to take a breath, but I think in races like this is always better to keep moving forward, even if it’s just walking. You’re still eating up the miles and trying to keep warm, which will help prevent the muscles from seizing up.
It’s always important to stretch and warm down after a race, but honestly, the first thing you’ll probably do after finishing this race is have a couple of cans of beer, and a big greasy cheeseburger. It’s all part of the reward! But once you get back to your hotel for the night, trust me, spend at least 30 mins stretching out the calves, hamstrings and hips before heading to bed, and then again first thing in the morning. You’ll feel so much better for it, and the morning after won’t be as hellish. Runner’s World have got some great examples here, all using a foam roller. If you can, work these, and roller balls into your running routine, so you get used to the idea of working up the muscles and relaxing them after each run.
- Foam roller
This is easily one of the best bits of kit I’ve ever bought. If you’re really getting into long distance, trail or road running of any kind, you need one of these. If used properly they can help shift knots in the legs and back, and generally help with posture. You can pick up a decent one from Amazon for about £10.
That pretty much makes up my list of must haves for now. Again, it’s what I found works for me. I’m still learning through trial & error, and it’d be great to hear other people’s tips for taking on the mountain.