Training towards an event for almost an entire year to then meet the day at the height of your abilities and then fail. It sounds quite sombre. But if we always accomplished every single thing we did we would probably lose our drive and our passion very quickly in life.
We get to choose from this failure. We can either wallow in self pity and make excuses for as long as we choose. Or we can reset and recalibrate our training and get after it again.
My failure was an attempt at running 100 miles (161km) in 24hrs or under. I’d previously walked for 24hrs the year before and gotten through that well enough. So I then wanted to run as much of it as possible a year later. Planning began within a month of finishing up that 24hr walk.
Because I was coming back from knee issues and excess weight I had to firstly focus on dropping several kilo’s before I could seriously look at conditioning my knees to the constant pounding I was intending on making them become accustom to. This took 6-8 weeks while I then started to work on HIIT sessions accompanied by strength and hypertrophy sessions. But this biggest thing was what I was putting into my mouth!
intermittent fasting became my weapon 5-6 days a week which I got used to surprisingly quickly. Often eating between 11am-7-pm at the absolute latest. This system really made keeping my calories down a lot easier and I honestly maintained, even, increased my energy!
The new year dawned and I quite literally hit the ground running on new years day by starting up my running again with 3km jogs. Finding that I needed to start steadily with the distances to give my joints in my knees time to adapt to the loads over the weeks ahead.
I fell back in love with my training over the early part of 2020 again. Training 6 days a week with variable speed running, medium distance running, weight training of varies kinds and just walking on my rest days. Throwing in my reading of an average of 30 pages a day and journaling, I was on top of my life.
The Covid period only upped my intensity with me now throwing in bike/run intervals that absolutely primed my leg strength for LSD running and hill runs. Hypertrophy became a favourite of mine for a good 12 weeks during this time also.
Fast forward to June-September and this period was spent accumulating more km’s most weeks with my running distances increasing steadily and strongly. Mid July to September saw me averaging 65km a week. At this point in time this was easily the highest volume of running I had ever maintained! I then began honing in on my power training at the beginning of most workouts throughout this period. Everything just worked for me throughout this entire year so far!
Ultra run attempt
The time eventually came where my ultra run that was just a loop around my parents property in a quiet country town was finally upon me. It was October 10th 2020 and I was as ready as I could be! Slightly nervous, but I did have confidence in the way I had trained leading up to this.
So the running side of things went absolutely perfectly (for where I was currently at). I was hitting my target km’s each hour for the first 8 hours and knew I could keep running for at least another 4 hours or more! My knees were perfect, which was my main concern.
The body was sore in general, but it was all soreness that could very much be ran through!
But it was soon that I quickly became aware that I was eating very little to nothing as the run went on. I couldn’t stomach anything. But the equally big problem that I faced was that I couldn’t stomach fluids either…
The heat was tolerable that day, but because my body had no way of keeping itself hydrated and cool I began to shut down very quickly. There was no physical way I could put the energy back into my body that I was expending. So by 72km in I suddenly hit a wall where everything felt hot in me and I couldn’t do anything but chuck water on myself, not in.
So here I was approximately 2km away from my station where I could recover if I just turned around. But with trying not to faint for the next 4km in my hazy mind, I decided I’d slowly walk through this challenge with about 400ml of fluids on me…
This journey took me an hour to push through. With multiple sit downs under the shade of trees and countless outbursts of uncertainties in my making it back without losing consciousness, I’d eventually found myself bursting through my parents house, grabbing a cold Powerade and sprawling out on the cold kitchen floor with almost no clothing. Moments later dad had fixed me up a cold flannel to place over my head as I spent the next 10 or so minutes trying to regain full control of my body.
It was at this point of my big time bonk that several friends had decided to make there way out to visit me. As much as I felt like a failure, my ability to think anymore than outside of getting my regularity back took precedence. I slowly made my way out the house on two occasions to say thanks for coming and sorry for the lack luster affair they were currently witnessing. They were obviously very supportive and understanding, and through the brief conversations I had with these people I was already plotting my next push as soon as I had my body up and running to a tolerable level!
It must be added that I had quite a few people rock up for support and even some laps with me a little earlier this day! All adding to my getting as far as I had up to this bonking point!
It was approximately 75 minutes after my crash out that I made my way back out on the track with my dad joining me for the first lap. I went in with the mindset that I may not quite reach my 161km target if I walked from this point on. But at least I’d be able to get further than my previous 24hr walking target.
By the time I’d completed a couple laps on this second phase of my journey I had 2 different people accompany me both solo and then together as I pushed through at steady enough pace that I could rest my hat on for todays set back.
Fasting forward after a good 30 odd km’s of this second faze my body started to feel similar effects of my previous bonk. Even though the temperature was somewhere around the 10-11 degrees mark, I found it near impossible to eat and drink again. This in turn made it significantly hard to press on with the little energy I had to move.
It was finally around the 113km mark that I pulled up for the last time and called it a day when I’d given it another hour of sitting around trying to calm my stomach, hoping that I’d get out there for the final 6hrs and at least finish the 24. But finishing 18hrs in held enough data for me to analyse after this attempt.
Failure brings knowledge
As much as pulling the plug at this juncture hurt, I knew that my future self would benefit from the experience eventually.
The hardest thing about all of this journey was knowing that my body was absolutely up for the task, in fact the next day I could have happily ran a half marathon…Okay it would have been a little sore, but my body was ready for this. Unfortunately my stomach was the ruler of my demise.
I was back to training almost right away for a month before hitting a snag which forced me to utilize all my running time on a spin bike instead. (more on this in a not too distant blog).
The lessons I learned from this particular trial were:
Protein intake: As much as it is important to consume protein throughout your event. You need to really dial down the quantity in each consumption period. I was eating anywhere between 15-24g of it nearly every 90minutes. Your body gets insanely busy trying to help you run continuously for such a period that it wants easy to digest nutrients, eg, carbohydrates and fats. Since the trail I have since experimented with low protein, high carbohydrate and moderate fat combination foods.
Fluid intake: Now I’ve always had trouble with drinking enough fluids during training. During training I always find that it doesn’t take much for me to still need to go to the toilet even if I’m not drinking a great deal of fluids. The mystery still goes on with why I go to the toilet so much as apposed to other people. But I know I need to up my fluid intake in the future by scheduling sips on a 5-8 minute basis regardless of how thirsty I feel. As they say, waiting to drink until your thirsty means you’re already dehydrated, and I can 100% vouch for that!
Electrolytes and sugar: These bad boys I was somewhat on top of. But the sugar component not so much. You need sugar to regulate your energy. So eating ‘clean’ with oranges and berries during a ultrarun will only take you so far. Getting gels into your body at well timed bouts will put you in good stead for preventing bonks. Admittedly, I still get the timing wrong on occasions!
What the future holds
So I’m writing this almost 9 months after these events took place. Since then I have had a lot of training changes with significant volume increase. But I have also had a major shift in what I can eat arise since the very beginning of this year. All my current challenges will be discussed in a blog not too far from now after I attempt my next 24hr event in under 2 weeks from now.
It won’t be easy, and the new found challenges involving my stomach will ultimately be the deciding factor on if I will reach my 161km/100 mile goal. But succeed or fail I will keep this pursuit for more going.
Do not fear failure but rather fear not trying.Roy T. Bennett
Self awareness is progress