First Solo KA50K

The only time prior to yesterday that I attempted the Kakamigahara Alps 50K trail run course by myself was in October. On that occasion I DNF’d at 44km after 11 and a half hours.

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Since then I’ve done it twice with a group, finishing both times in about 13 hours, but failing to meet the course time limit of 12 hours.

And so yesterday I set off by myself with a 12hr target to beat. Here I’ll summarize the good and bad points about the run:

The good

Instead of running faster than in previous attempts, I stuck to my “walk uphill, run downhill” rule, conserving energy and saving my climbing legs for later. This worked very well as I found I had enough in the tank to push the last 20K and finish inside 10 hours! 9:48 to be exact, smashing my best time by over three hours!

I shaved those three hours off the run time by skipping all breaks. I walked through all the observation spots without pause, and I ate lunch on the move instead of spending half an hour eating ramen at a small restaurant in the mountains. I also saved precious minutes by refilling my water bottle from fountains and springs instead of messing around with money and vending machines.

My new Altra Olympus shoes were awesome. The extra cushioning protected my feet from 50km of rocks and I didn’t suffer from any foot problems at all… quite unlike in previous attempts.

I finished with an average pace of 11:20/km, well inside the 12:00 pace I will need to maintain to finish the three big races I’m doing this summer.

The bad

Course conditions were just too good! I didn’t need my lights, rain gear or any extra layers besides a windbreaker. I carried only 500ml of water up front, with an emergency 300ml in my pack. All this meant that I could leave my 20L Ultrabag at home and go with my smaller and lighter Ultimate Direction SJ pack instead. While this lack of weight was great, it’s not ideal training for Nagano where my pack will be twice as heavy.

My new shoes didn’t have the traction on loose rocks that I’m used to with my Inov8 Roclites and Trailrocs. I slipped a lot and lost confidence on the steep descents. I feel like I should get a skateboard or something to practice free-sliding down hills!

Two months to go…

With just eight more weeks before the first (and hardest) of my three races, I’ll take my full pack to some 1~3,000m mountains to get used to long, sustained hikes. I might still do one more very long run over some gentler terrain as well.

Open Letter to Keith: Your First Trail Race

Hey Keith, so great to hear you’ve signed up for your first trail race. I thought I’d share some experiences from my first race so that you can avoid the mistakes I made.

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Last August, I took part in the “Utsukushigahara Trail Run & Walk”, a 70km trail race in Nagano. A few months earlier, I ran the Kakegawa Marathon and unnecessarily injured myself to the point where I only managed two hikes and two runs over 15km in the four months prior to the race. I did keep running, but I seemed to think that regular 10Ks on my local trails would prepare me for a 70K. I was so wrong!

In addition to a lack of race-specific training, I suffered from a lack of experience. I started the race too high up the field, which meant that when we reached the single-track trail, I felt pressured from behind to keep running at the same pace as everyone else. As it was early in the race, I still felt quite fresh and thought I could go with them, but I paid heavily for that later.

You may say, “Well, my race is only 32km, 1500m elevation gain, with a 9 hour time limit”, but let me remind you that I retired from Utsukushigahara at the 37km mark after 1900m in about 7 hours with one hour left before the cut-off, so it’s not so different from yours. I ran a bad race, but fortunately I have the chance to do it right this year and this is how I’m approaching it:

1. Moving time

Trail racing for guys like us is all about “moving”, whether it be walking, hiking or running. Nine hours, or longer in my case, is a long time to keep moving so it’s important to train for it. I’m trying to do a long-duration activity every other week.

2. Walk uphill

This year I’ll stick to the “walk uphill” rule. Races like these are far too long to risk wearing out your climbing legs by running uphill. With that in mind, hiking is something to practice, preferably on mountains that match the elevation of those in the race.

3. Practice walking

Walking uses different muscles to running, so it’s a good idea to practice that for long durations, too.

4. Master downhill running

Running downhill is another skill which I have yet to master. There are ways to run downhill to minimize damage to your body, and also to increase your resistance to muscle fatigue.

5. Train with your race gear

It’s important to get used to the gear you’re going to race with. For example, no backpack is perfect. It can take a while to become proficient at reaching into back pockets and managing water on the move.

If you’re taking poles, practice using them in advance.

Have confidence in your footwear. My feet were all blistered and sore in Utsukushigahara. If you’re moving for twice as long as you do in a marathon, you’ll want to be sure your shoes and socks are up to the job.

Train with a full pack. Extra weight on your back places extra stress on your body so you need to get used to it in advance. You’ll almost certainly need to carry rain gear and a first aid kit, so check you’ve got everything you need and practice using it.

6. Know the course

You don’t have to run the course in advance, but study the maps and elevation carefully. You need to move at a pace you can handle for the whole race, so knowing what big climbs are ahead of you is vital.

I hope you find these tips useful. I’m sure I’ll see you, and even run with you, before your race in June, but I wish you all the best for it anyway!

2014 Training Progress Update #1

I’ve been trying hard this year to avoid posting boasting about my training on social media, instead leaving my workouts where they belong, on RunKeeper and Strava. But please let me indulge myself a little on my blog. :-)

Three big races

I have some big goals this year and am doing some big runs to prepare for them. The three big races I’ve set my sights on are:

1. June 14th: “Mt. Asama to Sugadaira Trail Mountain”, a 90km race in Nagano with over 5,500m of elevation.

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2. July 5th: “Utsukushigahara Trail Run & Walk”, the same 70km race I did last year. Hopefully I won’t drop out half way through this time!

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3. July 20th: “OSJ Ontake Ultra Trail 100K”, a long one on rocky, mountain roads around Mt. Ontake.

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I wasn’t expecting Utsukushigahara to be sandwiched between the other two, but it’s been moved from the end of August to the start of July this year, and I had already signed up for the others.

Training so far

I’ve put “running” aside for the most part and instead am concentrating on “moving”. That means running, hiking or walking, it doesn’t matter just as long as I’m moving for as long as possible. I’m not an elite athlete and can’t be expected to run for 20 hours straight! With that in mind, the big “runs” I’ve done since the KA50K in December are:

1. Jan 2nd: a 10hr, 76km run beside the Nagara River railway.

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2. Feb 1st: the 2nd KA50K – 13hrs and 52km of trail running in the Kakamigahara Alps.

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3. Feb 28th: a 15hr, 52km overnight run in the Kakamigahara Alps.

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4. Mar. 15th: a 12hr, 86km road run from home to Tarumi station and back.

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I’ll try to do something big every other week, and as the snow melts I’ll head a bit farther north in Gifu to get my legs used to hiking up mountains bigger than the 300 meter ones here in Kakamigahara.