Preparing for Northburn as a 100 mile virgin

I entered the Northburn100 (miler) a couple of years back. Unfortunately they had an incident with a fire on the build-up to the 2015 edition and didn’t offer the 100 that year so I’ve had an extra year of terror just thinking about the thing. As a bonus, they’ve put that year to good use by adding a couple of thousand metres of vertical and an extra kilometre to the course.

So the mental state over the last couple of months has constantly alternated between excited anticipation, and the why? Why? Why did I enter? Part of the why is the trail-100-miler? Tick, aspect. Honestly if there were an easier trail 100 mile event in NZ I’d have entered it. At this point I’d actually feel pretty secure, happy even, going into an ‘ordinary’ 100 miler. But then Northburn isn’t very ordinary. I’ve stopped reading the race reports because they are a bit disturbing.

Breaking Northburn down there are some pretty clear requirements with respect to training and preparation. As far as I can tell the specifics of the event are: hills, endurance, hills, fatigue, hills, darkness, hills, rocky/stabby/uneven-terrain, hills, varied-climatic conditions, hills, nutrition/hydration, hills, load-carrying, hills, personal care, hills, and mental state. In the build-up I tried to cover off these as best I could within a 6 month average of 10hrs running a week (supplemented with fixie commuting and family hikes).

Hills: keeping a low-carbon family-friendly programme I largely resorted to local neighbourhood hills (lots of repeats of steep 40m and 80m climbs). Have managed just over a 2000m per week average since the start of October. The most vert I managed in a week was 5000m. Ideally I’d have hiked some big long climbs with a silly heavy pack but it never happened. Quite a lot of the hill work was power hiking between 500-1000 metres/hr, that’s gotta be good for me right? 10,000m of vert scares me, have no idea if I’ve done enough.

Endurance: Biggest run I managed was 15.5hrs on a +140km week. Took that big day really slow, carried full gear/water load, and felt like I had a fair few hours still in me at the end (though was only around 3000m of vert). Got in a good number of +8hr runs, and some 100km weeks. Recovery after these big runs has been great, even managed some solid sessions in the week following them. Pretty happy with endurance then.

Fatigue/Darkness: A Rangitoto Island Dusk till Dawn hill set tested my night ops. I actually rather like being out and about in the dark, often wish sunrise was a bit delayed on early morning sessions. Plus I’ve got a headlamp that’s plenty powerful and good for +10:30hrs without having to change batteries (almost feels like cheating). Also tried out a 40min power nap on Rangi after 7hrs on the feet, while I didn’t actually sleep, and restarting was an unpleasant experience I felt great once I warmed up again. I’m also getting the kids to throw a couple of totems in the TW (half lap) drop bag as a bit of lift if/when things go psych-dark. No fear here, psych/electromagnetic darkness spectrum covered.

Rocky/Stabby/Uneven-Terrain: Mostly past experience and gear selection here. With most of the recent running occurring in confines of Auckland city, Rangitoto and Tarawera were main forays on the trail. My first choice shoe-gaiter combo was taken on the family hike around Lake Waikaremoana in January and they worked out great (same combo as Rangitoto and Tarawera). In summary, confident with the terrain

Nutrition/Hydration: Have paid a bit more attention to eating/drinking during the build-up, especially on long runs. Seems to have worked pretty well and have been able to eat solidly on the long low and slow outings using a combination of sports nutrition and normal food. Planning on carrying mainly gels and Farmbake Peanut Brownies, plus a few other solid (savoury) snacks. Drop bags will have a various other treats in them. I’m calling it the Brent 30hr gel chow down.

Varied-Climatic Conditions: Been a bit tricky this one, as the summer has been hot, humid, and rather wet at times. Tell the truth I’m not at my best in the midday heat when I’m fully loaded. Doesn’t look like it’ll be as hot and humid down there though – overnight lows of between 6-8C at base, who knows what’ll be on the tops in the middle of the night. At this point it’s looking like rain is threatening. Was looking forward to a gorgeous Central Otago sunset/sunrise but prefer rain to baking heat.

Load Carrying: Done all of my long runs and a fair number of hill sets fully loaded. The compulsory gear list means carrying a couple of kg of water and quite a bit of bulk. I’ve played with packing options a bit and current setup seems to work well for the kind of running (walking) I’ll be doing at Northburn. Been running with wizard sticks for the past few months, they are great on the combo of climbing with a load. Got options here, no real cause for concern.

Personal Care: Look after the feet, tend to any chafing early, carry sunscreen and toilet paper. Changes of clothes and shoes at base. Common issues covered then, though keeping on top of chafing is a nagging concern.

Mental state: +30hrs in trying conditions? How do you prepare for that? I’m going with the ‘what would DKR do?’ approach. Three runners that often come to mind when I need a bit of inspiration or fortitude are Dawn Tuffery, Ruby Muir, and Kim Allen (DRK listed, of course, in no particular order). At which point you say, wow, that’s enlightened, and not weird at all for a man in his mid 40’s. Yeah, yeah, I could throw in Mal Law but his inspiration membership is already fully subscribed. I think I can work through any issues of resolve or inner darkness, and have a powernap on hand for hallucinations.

Finally, to put it all together on the day(s) I’ve got a plan. The plan being designed to get me to the finish, hopefully only experiencing one sunset.

Race, ahem, event-survival plan: This is pretty straight forward four point plan.

  1. Limit running to the easy terrain on the first lap (ie. cap effort)
  2. Don’t stop unless you’ve got a task that requires stopping (a nap is technically a task)
  3. Keep on top of nutrition/hydration.
  4. Mantra: belief, resolve, endure, entry-fee

Prediction: I’ll finish. I’ll cry at some point. I’ll want to withdraw soon after. Those gels are going to get nasty. But I think I’ve done enough to finish.

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