Tips for running adventures

Through efforts to run the Te Araroa trail, The Jurassic Coast (dressed as a dinosaur) and Hadrian’s wall (dressed as a roman soldier) as well as other shorter jaunts, I have inadvertently amassed a significant amount of information about preparation for, and execution of, long distance runs. And seeing as how that information is no use to anyone just hanging out up in my brain n’all – I thought I’d lay it all out here. So below are real questions from real people that I’ve been asked over the past year.

Most of these responses relate to the Te Araroa run, but some are more general. And I will reiterate that these are just how I did things, I ain’t no elite ultra-runner, and by no means an expert.

 So here’s a list of questions included so far. Click on the one that interests you the most and it’ll take you to the answer, as if by magic. If you’ve still got a question after reading this little lot, email me  and I’ll add in in here for all future adventure-runners to benefit from too.

TRAINING:

ON THE ROAD:

KIT/GEAR:

OTHER

Q: How many miles should I run in a day?

A: Allow more time than you think you need. I set a semi-hefty daily mileage of 20 miles a day, which didn’t really account for the fact that NZ has mountains and things (clever). So within the first 2 weeks I had to adjust my daily mileage target. In hindsight (a fine thing) tip number one would be train on similar terrain to the run itself – i.e if your run is 200 miles along a soft sandy beach, training on tarmac might not tell you as much about your speed and distances as you’d like.

On a personal note I always (always) always wanted more time in a place than less. You will have physical and mental highs and lows – make time to rest up when both of those hit. (back to the question list)

Q: How often did you take a day off?

A: I had originally planned to take a day off once a week, but I found that whenever I took a rest day, my legs / ankles swelled up as if I were on a plane. Running with swollen kankle stumps the next day was just horrible. So I switched to taking less days off, and instead weaved in some shorter/lighter days.

Often rest days are of more benefit for your mind than your body. If it’s a really long run you’re planning (1000 miles +), I’d consider allowing time to take a few days off the trail at some point.  You’ll leave the trail dying for a rest, and soon be dying to get back out there. (back to the question list)

Photo 17-12-2015 17 14 00

Running in wind and rain on the Jurassic Coast, and so so HAPPY!!! 

Q: How much training do I need to do?

Training for distance running is as much about learning to understand your body, as it is an attempt to be ‘fit’. I’d say that the former is more important than the latter. Use your training to work out which parts are going to break down (because they will), and explore your aches and moans.

Understanding the difference between pain and an injury is key to knowing when to push on and when to rest up on a long journey. Remember that no one (not even a coach) knows your body better than you. Be curious, test it, ask it questions and by the time you start the run you’ll know it inside out. (back to the question list)

Q: Can you give me an example of your weekly training plan for running almost 2,000 miles?

My top tip would just be to practise time on your feet / moving. For NZ my aim wasn’t to get super speedy fit, but just to understand my body better. So that when / if the niggles appeared I knew them well, and how to deal with them. Also the best piece of advice I got was to go for time on my feet – not miles to start with. So I spent 2 weeks going out for an hour every day with the aim to just ‘move’. That takes the pressure off running at any speed. 

I’d also recommend throwing in the odd speedy fun bit – like a park run!

I ran around 60 – 80 miles a week in the leading up to leaving. That would normally be something like this:

Easy week

  • Mon: 8 miles (Lunchtime)
  • Tues: 15 miles (to work)
  • Weds: 3 miles (at lunchtime)
  • Thurs: 5 miles (Lunchtime)
  • Fri: Off
  • Sat: 5km park run
  • Sun: 10 miles

Medium week

  • Mon: 10 miles (Lunchtime)
  • Tues: 15 miles (to work)
  • Weds: 8 miles (at lunchtime)
  • Thurs: 10 miles (running home)
  • Fri: Off
  • Sat: 15 miles
  • Sun: 8 miles

Hard week

  • Mon: 15 miles (to work)
  • Tues: 15 miles (to work)
  • Weds: 8 miles (at lunchtime)
  • Thurs: 10 miles (running home)
  • Fri: Off
  • Sat: 20 miles
  • Sun: 8 miles

From my experience of multi day running, I think you’ll be bloody amazed – the first few days are tough, but suddenly your body wakes up and BOOM!! you’ll be feeling super strong midway through! And I’m sure you know this, but using your commute to train ROCKS. On my 15 mile days I was done and dusted by 8am. Leaving the whole day to feel smug. I loved those early morning shuffles to work 🙂 (back to the question list)

Q: You mentioned [in a podcast interview] that you had tried to train for marathons before and had struggled with injury… I was just wondering how you modified your training to overcome this?

A: Yes indeed, part of the reason I decided to do a long distance run was because I struggled repeatedly with shin splints. I couldn’t run more than 3 times a week and it drove me NUTS. I did approach training differently – I went out with the mentality to just ‘move’ for an hour at a time. So I didn’t think I was ‘running’, more just spending time on my feet at a faster pace than a walk. Doing that meant I bounded a lot less and so it helped reduce the impact through on my shins.

I also only ran on trail – that made a massive difference. Road is so unforgiving for injuries of any form. (back to the question list)

Q: How do you prepare for a long run, mentally?

Know that you will never be ready. Do as much as you can to build confidence, and research the terrain / weather so you have the right gear, but as far as the challenge itself goes – you will likely leave with a load of fears in tow. Embrace them. Fear means that what lays on the other side (when you make it there) is GLORIOUS. (back to the question list)

Q: Did you have to train yourself to be able to run after eating? This is something my body doesn’t really agree with!!

I’ve never struggled with running after eating but I know others who do and yes, they have just adapted gradually to be able to cope. I’d always try to allow at least 30 mins after a massive meal – i.e breakfast, but that 30 mins would be me packing up my tent so it works out just fine. I also tended to keep my ‘lunch’ light, or sometimes it was non-existent. So I’d have big meals at the start and end of the day and just snack in between.
And whilst running I’d be careful not to eat too much in one go during the day. Little and often is the key. (back to the question list)

Q: Did you do any stretching?.

I am terrible at stretching, but I figured that this run was different. So I was given a set of mobility exercises by the Athlete Academy. They took me around 30 minutes to work through every morning before starting the run and made a massive difference to keeping injury at bay. Being stuck all day, every day in a running position really jams your body up. The routine I had was a way of me ‘checking in’ on various areas of my body. For example, if I could touch my toes one day, and not the next, I knew I needed to keep an eye on my hamstrings. (back to the question list)

Q: Which backpack would you recommend?

I really like Osprey and am incredibly loyal to them as a brand. They have a lifetime guarantee on their packs and the level of detail, like a safety whistle and waist pockets are just a cut above. I ran with their 33L Talon the whole way and it was great. The only advice I would offer is not to overstuff the bag (as I did). Then the foam backing buckles and can start to cut into your back. (back to the question list)

 

Anna McNuff - Roman Run

RUNNING HADRIAN’S WALL

 

Q: How do you cope mentally, on the road – running for hours at a time?

I always approached the day just one hour at a time. And the months, just one day at a time. Be patient with yourself, listen to what your mind is saying rather than fight it. Some days you’ll be flying and feel like a rocket, other days every minute will feel like an hour. Such is the life of a challenge. (back to the question list)

Q: What did you eat? Were you careful with your nutrition?

I ate what I craved and never got bored of noodles and chicken soup! Fresh food is scarce when there’s a long time between resupplies, so it was reduced to packet things. Here’s a typical day:

  1. Breakfast: 1.5 packets of instant porridge + nuts + raisins + dark chocolate
  2. Snacks: Haribo (which seems to be the only thing I can stomach while running), and fruit/nuts
  3. Lunch: Peanut Butter & Jam or Cheese and Salami in tortilla wraps
  4. Dinner: Super noodles (1.5 packets) + 1 pack of chicken soup mix + small can of tuna + Cheese
  5. Desert: 200g of Whittakers Chocolate + coffee

I always packed 3 carrots when I left town, that was as much weight as I could sanction, but to have one of those to crunch on for the first 3 days did wonders for morale. (back to the question list)

Q: Where did you sleep on your New Zealand run?

I camped mostly, or stayed in back country shelters / huts so I never needed to book anything as I could sleep anywhere. Even if you’re not taking your camping gear – just roll with it, there’s nothing worse than ‘having’ to be somewhere because you’ve booked in. You never know what might happen each day and you’ll always work it out. (back to the question list)

Q: How much water did you carry?

A: I never ran with more then 1.5 litres on my back as things start to get rather heavy past that point. I would always check the map and look for streams on the trail ahead – the South Island of NZ is no problem for water, there’s glacial streams everywhere. The North island was a bit more tricky and I had to rely on knocking on doors in many places. (back to the question list)

Q:What shoes did you use?

Men’s Brooks Adrenaline ASRs. I ran in 1/2 a size up from normal shoe size, and in wider mens shoes to give my feet a bit of space. I also had them tied quite loosely. They worked a charm – I only wound up with 4 blisters in 1,911 miles.

The only thing I would have changed about my shoes was to opt for ones with a little more grip on serious trail. (back to the question list)

Q: How many pairs of trainers will I need?

I went through one pair every 400-500 miles. (back to the question list)

Travers saddle

Double thumbs up for the postcard perfect Travers Saddle 

Q: How much clothing/dry gear did you need besides your running gear?

A: I had one non running t-shirt and one pair of tracksuit bottoms, and a jumper, plus a down jacket. That was it. (back to the question list)

Q: What other kit did you take?

A: Check out the running kit list here 

Q: I’m preparing to run through the mountains in early Spring, and I know it’ll be chilly. Any key things I should consider with this time of year?

A: Just make sure you’ve got a good waterproof and base layers. Keep the rain out and the heat in. As long as you’re warm and dry in the evening, being cold in the day shouldn’t be a problem. And PLEASE wear a high-viz jacket if you’re on roads, especially if it’s raining. Cars can’t see sh*t in the rain, and that includes you!! (back to the question list)

Swamp running

Swamp running – a wee bit of a challenge

 

Q: Did you approach sponsors with your NZ run and how receptive were they with your plans?

A: I don’t really go actively in search of sponsorship. If someone comes to me, then great and I’ll have a chat to see if we see the world the same way before accepting anything. But I have always found that chasing sponsorship is an awful lot of effort for what you get in return. And I never like to compromise my plans too much.  In my view – I can just work a bit more / longer save up the money myself and have ultimate freedom. But a that’s very personal approach – lots of people like using sponsors. (back to the question list)