Reflections On An Ultra
by Josie Parkinson-Cribb
Friend of Dryad, Josie Parkinson-Cribb, ran the Valley Ultra in New Zealand’s beautiful and rugged Craigieburn, in November ‘21. Read her reflections on the event, including some tips for anyone thinking of training for an ultra.
‘So that’s all over! Wow, so what happens now? How do I structure my weeks? How do I get my energy? Can I keep up the 5am starts without a goal at the end to keep me going?’
Many thoughts came into my mind at the end of the 50k Valley Ultramarathon across the Cragieburn range in NZ. Some were welcome, some were not…
‘Did I do it fast enough? Did I come last? I’m not a proper runner, it’s actually all just a myth - so much of that time I was just walking, I definitely didn’t do it properly’…
Reflecting on the run a month later, there are a few misconceptions I had previously held about ultrarunning that it’s worth dispelling. For anyone who is thinking of taking the plunge, listen up!
It’s all about slooooooowwww running and that’s absolutely fine. PBs at parkruns quickly became a thing of the past. Consider the pace you consider a solid good effort run. Then half it. This new ‘all-day-long’ pace became the new norm for me. If you’re considering signing up to an ultra, you should really question if this pace of running is something you’ll actually enjoy!
Trail running actually involves a heck of a lot of fast trail walking… A LOT of trail walking… and everyone does it, they just don’t talk about it! People ask how can you run for 8 hours? It’s because I’m not actually running for 8 hours. Pretty much all of the hills are walked, and even some of the flat when you just feel like it!
Energy comes from energy. So the speed of running is low, but the frequency is high. Towards the last 10 weeks of training, I was running 6 out of 7 days with 2 strength sessions a week as well. The hidden trick here is that the runs actually GIVE you energy, they don’t draw energy. After a morning run you feel supercharged for the day, and it’s the days you DON’T run that are the sluggish, tired days.
Actually having a plan really did help! You don’t need to spend mega-bucks getting someone to help you with the basics. I worked my plan on no more than 10% distance and elevation gain each week, and did it in blocks of 3 weeks on followed by 1 week rest (ladies - I recommend you schedule rest weeks to fall around potential PMS times). My longest training run was 35k and I split the whole thing over 5 months.
By having a plan, I no longer had the choice of ‘maybe I will, maybe I won’t’ go for that run. Having it structured and written down told me what I needed to do without the internal effort of discussion.
Last but not least, no one warned me about the post-event comedown. My energy source, and structure of life had suddenly vanished – yes I could keep up the daily runs, but without the tangible end goal – motivation is very hard to find when the alarm goes off at 5am. I had a structured plan for the past 18 weeks, and then suddenly that’s all over! How do people structure their weeks? How do they wake themselves up? This is the reason that people sign up to the next one. It isn’t anything to do with the event itself, but the lifestyle that training for an event brings, and the sense of focus it provides which helps with all areas of your life.
Hopefully the above helps reduce potential anxiety, and the mystery of what is involved in ‘running’ long distances. I’m aware this is subjective, and we will each have our own reflections, but the only way to find out is to sign up to that event and make it happen!