Landing back in the UK after completing the 2015 Marathon Des Sables, knowing I had pushed my body and mind to the limit, was an amazing feeling. Since then I have come close to experiencing that feeling but have never quite reached that level of fulfilment. It took me a while to find something that would push me as much as the MDS, but one day it just clicked and Castle to Castle was born.
1,130 miles over 22 days, visiting the castles of all the UK and Ireland’s capital cities. From The Tower of London to Edinburgh Castle, Belfast Castle, Dublin Castle and Cardiff Castle, before returning to The Tower of London. The preparation for this Ultra of all Ultras is in some ways unique, however, many elements of my normal training regime still apply, elements that can help you to have a successful event.
My advice to anyone with an Ultra in the diary is to make a plan and set goals. To safely complete your race, I would suggest increasing your mileage by 10% each week, aiming to reach 60-80 miles three weeks before the event. Having this as your end point allows you to determine when you will need to start your training. Along with your weekly running you should include some strength training to ensure your body can withstand the pressure of high mileage events. In addition to this, a weekly yoga or Pilates session will ensure your flexibility and core strength are at their peak and your posture is on point.
Training Events – Taking on an Ultra is a huge challenge and training needs to be broken down to manageable chunks. Enter half-marathons and marathons in the months leading up to your final event to allow you to set mid-term goals. These events will also serve as check points to evaluate whether your training is going as planned. As the mileage for Castle to Castle is so high I’ll be doing some Ultras as training events, including Race to the King, a double marathon hosted by Threshold Sports, the amazing team behind Race to the Stones.
Nutrition – It is essential that you look at what your consuming before, during and after each training run so that you are aware of what your body requires to be efficient. Along with the food you are consuming you should also explore your hydration strategy. Carry out a hydration test to see how much you need to drink during each hour of your race. You can do this by weighing yourself (unclothed), running at a strong pace for 60 minutes, and weighing yourself (unclothed) again. The difference in weight is the amount of fluid lost. e.g. A loss of 1kg = 1kg of water needed = 1ltr of water.
Recovery – Sleep is so important when training. Solid nights and maybe the implementation of a day time nap where possible will help the body to recover and develop in the way it needs to be able to execute such a high volume of training. Along with good levels of sleep, a regular sports massage can help speed up the recovery process. Every four weeks would be my general recommendation.
Kit – Taking your running to the Ultra distance brings with it many new requirements. One of the better ones is the need for new kit, such as a race vest or rucksack to carry some food and water. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with this element of preparation. Getting it wrong can ruin your final race, which is why I advise practicing with your kit and tweaking it if necessary. When you find what works – stick with it. Also make sure you look at the route and terrain of your race. Often these events are off-road and underfoot conditions can be pretty variable so have a couple of trainer options in case of a change in weather conditions.
Psychology – Like any other endurance event the Ultra brings many mental hurdles to jump over. My advice is to not ignore this but train to overcome them. Like the mileage, it can be prepared for.
The three tips to overcome mental walls are:
- Break the event down into smaller chunks. People often break it into first half and second half, but this is too much. I would break a marathon into four achievable chunks and an Ultra into even more.
- Reward yourself during the event. Give yourself a favourite food or drink to celebrate reaching certain points of your run.
- Find a new friend. One thing I love about Ultra events is the friendliness of the participants. The route is filled with a community of runners, organisers and volunteers, all willing to encourage you along the way. When the going gets tough, don’t be afraid to spark up a conversation or stop at a checkpoint to refuel and receive some words of encouragement from the crew.