training for my first ultra marathon
with less than one month until my first 50 km ultra marathon, I thought I would share some of my experiences and insight within the last few months of training. I can hardly wrap my head around how quickly the time as passed from winter running to spring and jumping straight into summer. all the hours spent training, running on the trails, cross training and strength building, stretching (and some times lack there of), and continually learning more as I dive deeper into the sport.
while I have be a ‘runner’ for most of my life (my passion sparked from going out running with my dad at the ripe age of ten years old) the world of ultras is still relatively new to me. it has actually been so fun and very humbling to find myself in the role of a ‘beginner’ again. from running cross-country and track at a young age, completing a handful of road half marathons and other races, my desire to transition into ultras and longer distances began within my first year of university. however, later on when I signed up and was training for my first 50 km during the summer of 2015, I had to drop out prior to toeing the line as I dealt with other ongoing challenges in my life at the time. while training, my health was simultaneously deteriorating from being in the depths of a serious eating disorder. continual check ups and meetings with my doctor indicated that the health of my heart was at far too great of a risk to even attempt putting my body through that stress.
heartbroken, angry, and scared, that was a big wake up call for me as I continued on the path of recovery and coming face to face with what was really going on. as I took as step back from training and put my energy and focus into the resources available to me during recovery, I began to heal my body, mind, and soul. in hindsight, while I was devastated at the time, I am grateful for these challenges as they allowed for some pretty intense growth and self-understanding along the way. with that said, looking back now, I think it has only made my passion for trail running and ultras grow deeper.
as I continued healing and my love for the trails grew, I ran to my hearts content. but from 2015 up until this year, I hadn’t signed up for any ultra distances as other opportunities and experiences in my life presented themselves that didn’t allot for the most consistent training to take place. the thought of running ultras momentarily, and ever-so-shockingly, left my mind while doing other activities such as riding my bicycle over 10,500km for seven straight months. that being said, I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences, devoting more time to other passions, extended travels, and the people I met along the way for the world.
as I returned to canada this past fall, fell into a more structured routine, and was actually staying in one place for a little while I jumped on the opportunity to train for my first ultra. fuelled with excitement, I signed up for two 50 km ultras in alberta and british columbia this summer. speaking honestly, after signing up and researching different training plans, training tips, learning more about specific work outs, nutrition fundamentals, and so on, I felt incredibly overwhelmed. there is so much information out there, and while it is wonderful to have so many great resources, it can be easy to get lost in the haze of it all. mixing training places, training harder instead of smarter, not knowing what information to use and what to disregard, going too hard too fast, comparing to what others are doing, and getting overwhelmed with all of it in the meantime.
it has undoubtedly been incredibly beneficial to learn from so many of these resources, listening to endless running podcasts, and getting stellar advice from some very experienced trail running friends, but ultimately I’ve really needed to listen to my body, trust the work I’ve been putting in, and respect the entire process. some days I’ve been fully inspired and wanting to run further and stay on the trails forever and on other days I’ve struggled to find the motivation to simply get out for an easy run. these past months I’ve also had a few little niggles in my body such as a bit of knee pain, a never-ending tight hip flexor, and recently a brutal chest cold that had me out flat and sounding like a weezy old man for over a week. during this time I’ve also been learning more about recovery and trying to respect the demands placed on my body, understanding to an even greater extent how vital good sleep is for recovery, playing around and working on dialling in my nutrition and fluid intake on longer runs (a continual process), balancing an ongoing love-hate relationship with foam rolling, and really tuning in to how damn wonderful deep yoga asanas can be for the health of my little muscles and also bringing calm to my running mind.
I’ve also come across some other little bumps along the way. living in a relatively flat place, lacking high elevations and mountains similar to what the races with be I have been left wondering if I’ve done enough. some days this has meant running up and down the same hills for quite some time to get in a proper hill training session or looping around the same small scale trails for five hours to get in the distance in a place somewhat similar to the race and trail conditions. while I’ve been able to drive out to the mountains a couple times for bigger training sessions, not owning a vehicle has meant these days are few and far between (that being said, it has also made the times I have been able to run in the mountains that much sweeter). but if I stop and recognize the hard work I’ve put in over the past months, the early morning runs, hours on the trails, getting out in -40°C back in the winter months, hill repeats, little bouts of speed work, consistent cross training, bike commuting to work daily, yoga, nutrition, and so on, I know I have continued to show up, stay consistent, and put in the work. the reality is, all of these experiences, the ongoing lessons, the set backs and many joys, and the endless snot rockets that have far surpassed perfection are all pieces to the puzzle that make up the entirety of trail and ultra running.
ultimately, I am doing this for my love of the trails and being out in nature, my passion for running and outdoor movement and all while fuelling the excitement and nerves of pushing my body, mind, and spirit past the depths of comfort and what may be perceived as possible. as the dates of my two races inch closer, I am so incredibly grateful for it all - the beauty found being outside, the early mornings on the trails and fresh air in my lungs, the body’s incredible ability to be pushed hard, adapt, and recover, the power and will of the mind, the wonderful people in the trail running community, and for a true love of the sport that has only grown deeper with time.