This is one of the questions I get asked most frequently. And to be honest, before I started this journey, I had no bloody idea! But over the past year, I have learnt a thing of two.
I've run several marathons and ultras – some with the guidance of a coach and others without. But a 3,000km run was way over my head, which is why I enlisted to help of expert ultra-coach Andy Dubois, from Mile 27 Coaching.
We started training together in Jan and there were two distinct phases:
1) Pre-Buffalo Stampede
2) Post-Buffalo Stampede
I had entered into the marathon at Buffalo Stampede which acted as a nice little milestone in April to work towards, whilst still keeping my eye on the long game of NZ.
In the lead up to Buffalo, I ran 5 days a week and averaged between 55 – 80kms per week. I typically also threw in an easy bike ride, 2 x gym sessions and a yoga session (although I was a little slack with the yoga and probably only did it every second week). A sample of my weekly training was:
Mon – Rest day OR easy bike ride
Tues – Easy hour run + gym
Wed – Hills: 15mins warm up, then 6x (4mins hard running/2mins hiking), 15mins cool down
Thurs – Gym only (no running)
Fri – Intervals: 15mins warm up; 7 x 4mins hard with 90s recovery between; 15mins cool down
Sat – 3 hours with mixture of runnable and steep hiking
Sun – 90mins easy running with last 20mins fast finish
Something you might pick up is that all of my sessions were time based, not distance based. This is a shift from what I have done previously and something I really liked. It meant when I went to do my easy run, I actually ran easy. It didn't make any difference if I ran quicker or slower - the session was still X number of minutes. It was also easier to schedule. For example, I wasn't trying to cram a 14km run into a 60min block.
The result? I raced Buffalo Stampede on 13th April and snagged myself 2nd place! You can read my race report here.
I had a weeks recovery before my training really ramped up. I started averaging between 90 – 120kms a week, with a few peak weeks where I hit 130-150kms (more on that later).
I started doing more adventure specific training, including lots of hiking hill repeats. These were done on both steep inclines (+25%) but also on less steep inclines (10%). I would normally run up the less steep hills but the reality was, in NZ, I would walk/hike these which meant I had to do it in training. I forgot about my ego and walked up those little hills.
I also incorporated some hill sessions with a weighted 7kg pack to replicate the days when I had to stay out in backcountry huts and needed to carry all my food, sleeping system and clothing. These were a nice little taster of what was to come in the South Island.
Finally, I ran every day from June 29 until the start of November. This was to get used to the repetition of what NZ would be like.
“What have I gotta do today?”
A sample of my training for this phase is below.
Mon – Easy 30mins + gym
Tues – AM Easy 30mins; PM Easy 60mins
Wed – Hills: 15mins warm up, then 3 x 15mins hard hiking hill repeats with a 7kg back pack; 15mins cool down
Thurs – Easy 30mins + gym
Fri – Intervals: 15mins warm up; 2 x 20mins at 4:10-4:15 mins/km with 2 min recover between, 15mins cool down
Sat – 4 hours with mixture of runnable and steep hiking
Sun – 2 hours easy running
To better mimic NZ, I had 3 training weekends which featured higher volume and time on feet. This was perfect opportunity to test out kit and nutrition, plus get an indication on how my body would feel in NZ.
It was also an opportunity for Tommy to get a taste of what crewing is like – making sure food was ready, gauging how I was feeling at night and understanding my moods.
Below is what I did for my final training weekend:
Fri – 90mins in the AM then 90mins in the PM = ~30km
Sat – 6 hours with mixture of runnable and steep hiking = ~42km with 2500m vert
Sun – 6 hours of mostly runnable with some road running = ~55km with 900m vert
I also made this final weekend a little tougher by sleeping in our tent in the backyard on Fri and Sat night to mimic staying in backcountry huts. This was fun but geez I was glad to get back into my bed on Sunday night!
Build me up, buttercup
A strong running body isn’t built by just running lotsa miles. Yes, this is really important but for multi-day adventure, where your body is getting pounded day after day, you need a strong, injury resistant body. This is why I religiously went to the gym twice a week. And the result was zero injuries on the trail.
I following an online strength program from Andy. It included 10 workouts which got progressively harder, along with a taper week. I typically spent 2-3 weeks on each workout before progressing to the next week. I LOVED this program for a few reasons:
It complimented my running, meaning I could still go out and run hard. The workouts make me work but I didn't end up with massive DOMS
It hardly uses any weights and no machines. It is mostly body weight, which made it easy to do anywhere. Once I reached week 10, I had only just graduated to 3kg weights!
The exercises mimic running and I noticed a massive improvement in my balance and stability. My ankles and feet got a lot stronger, which I believe is why I didn't have any feet problems (aside from pesky blisters in the first week!) during my adventure.
This girl grew herself a booty! Unfortunately I lost it by the end of the North Island! Hellooooo pancake bum.
For the first time in my life, I also focussed on my recovery. And to my surprise, it actually wasn't that hard. There were really only three things I did:
SLEEP! This is something I have gone on and on about to anyone who listens. Easily my number one recover top. I made sure I was getting around 9 hours sleep every night. When I didn't get as much sleep, like when travelling down to Melbourne, I noticed my performance really suffered.
Spikey ball rolling: I did just15mins of this most nights when in front of the TV. My calves & glutes are notorious for getting tight so I really focused on them. I am a terrible stretcher but for some reason, I find I don't mind rolling around on the spikes ball.
Massage: In the final couple of months I got a massage once a fortnight. I have a brilliant masseuse in Bright who knows my body and totally annihilates it. This really helped to keep everything in working order.
Consistency is key
We have all been told this at some point but I have now come to realise how true this is. I was 100% committed to this adventure which meant that I didn't miss a single session in the 11 months I trained. That's right. Not. A. Single. Session.
I did every easy run. Every interval session. Every hill session. Every long run.
Sure, I swapped a couple of sessions around to make sure they fit into my schedule and I cut back one session due to a sore hip. But otherwise, I was the perfect student.
But it wasn't easy. I was travelling to Melbourne (a 4hr car trip) every fortnight, which meant a 3:30am wake up call. But I would still fit in my sessions, running during lunchtime or after work. Sometimes I did them straight out of the car. This was far from glamorous and I was often tired. Dead tired. But my mindset was that this was perfect training because I would be dead tired in NZ.
Some of these sessions were triumphant, where I nailed all my paces. Others were pretty terrible. But I never let it get to me. I just did the best I could do that day. I learnt that one crap session didn't mean the next session would be crap, so I just got on with it.
I ran the Te Araroa Trail in 66 days and 7 hours, which is nearly 4 days faster than my target time of 70 days.
The more impressive thing is that I did it with zero injuries and virtually no niggles. The only small niggle was a sore plantar fascia in my right foot in the final 2 weeks which was caused from a tight calf muscle. But this wasn't something that impacted my running - it just made it a tiny bit more uncomfortable. The only other issue was a severely sun and wind burnt lower lip because this ginger ninja was clearly not sun smart enough!