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Ultra and marathon runners

12 seconds was all that stood between me and an ultra-marathon. I must have the part of my brain missing which decides "it's a crazy idea, say no".  It's how I ended up riding one of the toughest Grand Tours in the last decade. But that story is for another time. This time I had just completed my first marathon after joining a running club to meet people (I'd just moved to Cape Town), I would be the one eating a sandwich at the start of our weekly runs and only went out 4 times a week to train.

Someone said, "you should do the marathon with us". Yes, why not. So I ran on 3 months unstructured training - I just followed others on their runs. Of course I found the marathon hard and was ecstatic to cross the line in 4 hours 14 minutes and 48 seconds. That's where those 12 seconds got me into trouble. A club member said "you've qualified for the Two Oceans Marathon, you should come and run it". 

So another two marathons in the space of a month and I was "trained up" for an ultra. In all my epic events there's only one thing that's carried me through - believing I will get to the end - I imagine crossing the finish-line, having a nice cold beer and a large steak and fries. There's no point in starting if you don't believe you will get to the end. Oh yes, I did finish the Ultra (35 miles in 5hrs 45min - the seconds didn't count here) and the cold beer was like nectar to a bee.

Make those hard decisions

Believing and being able to get to the end are far apart yet closely linked. Believing you can get to the end, but not being able to can be very hard to deal with mentally. Being honest about what training you have achieved and readjusting your goals may seem like failing before you start, if your training hasn't gone to plan making the decision to run a slower time or delay your event may be a better option than pulling up in the event. Believing you can get to the finish is key, half the battle of a long distance event is mental, the other half is physical. A mental game-plan can help you break up the event into manageable parts and give you tools to dig yourself out of the gutter when you just want to lie down.

Remaining injury free

Possibly the most important aspect to ultras is remaining injury free and avoiding illness so you can keep to your rigorous training plans. Most of the injuries we see are either from doing too much too soon, making up lost training when life interferes with your plan, or having muscle imbalances that usually only show up when the mileage kicks in.

Making up for lost training

If you fall off your plan, don't squeeze in the lost mileage, accept its lost and readjust your plan sensibly. Listen to your body, if its saying its tired, give it a rest day, you'll get more benefit from training on a recovered body than constantly doing poor efforts everyday. Use cross training (such as cycling or a cross trainer) as an aid to recovery and doing endurance efforts if you are struggling with niggles.

Get to the bottom of those niggles

I suffered chest infections every two months until I worked with an Osteopath who specialised in pathophysiology and nutrition. My poor eating habits were the cause - a change in types of food and when I ate cured my chest infections. This allowed me to keep to my training plan but also meant the better quality of food allowed me to recover quicker and train harder.

Getting a check-up (such as our marathon MOT) can help identify areas you can work on to improve your biomechanics or identify where you may need to gain more flexibility or strength in your tissue (such as muscle and fascia). These issues can sneak up on us and rear their heads when the training miles ramp up. Learn to distinguish between good pain and bad pain and seek help sooner rather than later.

Keep up the good work of nailing those ultra challenges, nothing is more satisfying than completing something you thought you'd never finish when you first started training. As I believe "Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it".

Peta McSharry

Peta McSharry is an experienced Sports and Remedial Massage therapist living in London who has been treating clients since 2004 and teaching bodywork since 2006. Her therapy is based on a good grounding in sports along with a structural approach to resolving issues.

Sports Massage Zone

Sports Massage Zone - Moorgate, Liverpool Street, Bank EC2
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1 Throgmorton Avenue
London EC2N 2JJ

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