Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Thoughts On Sundown 100km

Alvin said I was too long-winded, like I was writing a composition. :p So I decided to give my comments separately.  Some people might be unhappy.  Some people might be discouraged.  But this is not my aim.  My aim is to share that little bit of knowledge that I gained through running ultramarathons since Dec 2006.  And if anyone (new or experienced runners) could point out my mistakes or wrong views expressed herein, I would be most delighted if you could tell me too.  :)  We are all here to learn from each other and also to enjoy the journey of running.

Signing up for an Ultramarathon - A journalist for a South African publication reported (after this year's race) that it was irresponsible of the TV commentators to urge South Africans to put on their running gear and train for next year's Comrades Marathon.  Apparently, that was part of what transpired between the reporters during the 12-hour live streaming of the world's biggest ultramarathon - Comrades Marathon.  The journalist, who was a runner himself, commented that as South Africa also faces the problem of increasing obesity due to poor diet, the TV commentators should highlight the importance of eating a healthy diet and starting an exercise regime to keep fit.  Urging common folks who had not been eating and exercising well to take on the challenge of Comrades Marathon was not practical at all.  Yes, it is true that everyone would get caught up by the atmosphere, the adrenaline, the joy, the tears, the triumphant feeling (after the race) while watching the live streaming of the race, but to attempt it and succeed, one must have some years of running experience.  Otherwise, you may just give up as quickly as your initial excitement.

Personally, I agreed with the journalist's observation.  When I looked back, I remembered taking part in the annual Army Half Marathon for about 6 years, before I signed up for my first Singapore Mobil International Marathon in Dec 2001.  (Actually, I signed up in 2000 but that year's concept was such that runner could stop at 10km or 20km or 30km or at the end of the marathon.  After 30km, I was so tired that I decided to stop for good).  After 3 years of running a marathon a year, I started tackling multiple marathons a year, starting from 2 in 2004 to 6 in 2005.  By 2006, after another 5 more years since I started running marathons, I decided that I was ready to tackle the ultramarathon.  Even then, the first ultramarathon that I signed up was the time-based rather than distance-based 12-hour MR25 Ultramarathon, although you need to run a minimum of 5 laps of a 10.5km loop.  I did 6 laps.  My next ultramarathon was the Addo Elephant 50 Miles in Apr 07 - my first 50 mile race in South Africa, followed by a modest Great Ocean Marathon 45km, Australia in May 07 and Vermont 50km, USA in Sep 07.  I ended 2007 with another 12-hour MR25 Ultramarathon in which I completed 7 laps.  In 2008, I DNFed in both 100M trail races.  I was demoralised and took a step back in 2009.  When I came back in 2010, I had mixed results - success in road ultras but failure (again) in trail ultras.  I started looking for trail races with a more lenient cut-off time and did more strength training and in 2011, bingo!  I succeeded in completing two 100km trail races in Hong Kong and Philippines!

What I'm trying to say here is not that I'm a coward or someone with no guts.  But perhaps I'm a coward.  But I'm also not stupid to think that I could suddenly transform myself from being a marathoner to an ultramarathon in just a year.  I know my strength / weakness and I know success takes time.  Hence, I needed confidence building, i.e. I needed to take baby steps.  Unfortunately, some runners were too caught up by the adrenaline of signing up for races or for the finisher medal or finisher tee given out at the end of the race, that they plunged straight for a race that they are not prepared for, mentally and/or physically.  I admired their fearless attitude but at the same time worried about their well being.  Running an ultramarathon is really no joke, especially any 3-digit distance with a KM behind.  I believed in depositing the mileage through months or even years of running so as to prepare ourselves.  Then you can savor the result - completion of your first ultramarathon.  Of course, there will always be the exception.  But unless you are that someone with special talent, you should build up your confidence and mileage.  Enjoy your run before the run breaks you.

Training for an Ultramarathon - I became aware of how a fellow SGRunner was training for his Sundown 100km.  He was a wise 50-year old runner and he was extremely talented.  At least, that was the impression he had given me.  He trained almost everyday and on weekend, he ran/recced along the Sundown 100km route and shared with fellow SGRunners on his observations of the route and what to look out for.  I was appreciative with the info given as I didn't have the time to check out those part of the route that I was unfamiliar with.  Yet at the same time, I wondered how did he recover from his run at such a fast rate although he was already - as what he said - "half a century old".  After the race on Sunday evening, the 50-year old man posted in the forum that he had to withdraw at the 70km pitstop due to muscle cramp and fatigue.  He also mentioned that by 7.30am, the sun was getting hot.

I admired his spirit but wondered if he were to train differently, would the outcome be different?  Maybe.  Maybe not. A number of runners I know, are obsessed with raking up huge mileage, especially when preparing for ultramarathons.  I choose a different approach.  To me, training for ultramarathons is different from training for marathons, especially for races like 100km or 100 miles.  I trained by time or heart-rate rather than by distance.  The main reason is because I find it hard to recover from a 60km run as compared to a 4-hour run (which I may only cover 30km thereabout).  Also, by doing back-to-back long run, I would be still be able to reap the benefits and stress my body on consecutive days while also giving it a little more time to rest.  However, if I were to run 60km at one go, I wouldn't able to do a back-to-back run and I would definitely need more time to recover.

The other way to look at it is this: a fast runner and a slow runner training for an ultramarathon.  Both logged a back-to-back 4-hour run on consecutive days.  Yes, it is true that the fast runner would cover more distance.  But if they are both running at the same % of their max heart rate, then their "training gains" would be perceived to be equivalent or thereabout.  Make sense?  What this means (at least to me), is that if the slow runner was to run the same distance as the fast runner, he would be deemed to have put in more effort on the back-to-back training since he would spend more time running.  Also, he is not allowing his body time to recuperate for the next running effort.

: I completed the Sundown 100km in 16hrs 21mins 45secs, with my longest LSD being the 2 sessions of 17km runs I did at Pulau Ubin, 3 and 2 weekends from the event.  While I can't say that it's a respectable time and I didn't meet my target of completing within 16 hours, I couldn't complained as I had some hydration issues towards the end of the race.  Of course people may point out that I had the luxury of using my last ultramarathon as a LSD, the important point is that I still need to get ready for Sundown, i.e. to manage my mileage to ensure I train just enough instead of getting burnt out.  Just like now, I'm happy to use Sundown 100km as my LSD for my next race!

Disclaimer: This is not an attempt to show how well I train.  I'm also not trying to imply that one has to register for ultramarathon race and use it as a LSD training session a month before a ultramarathon.  What works for me may not work for you!  :p


Cabbey said...

Great views! Well done on the's a long way ;-)

Ripley said...

Thanks Claire! I did quote some views from others. :) All the best for your Bangalore Ultra.