In June 2016 I finished my first ultramarathon: The 10 Peaks in the Lake District. In this article you can read about my preparation and how I experienced running 73 km and climbing 5600 metres in one day.
Training for an ultramarathon
At this point I had been running at a running club for almost one year. I had done a few half marathons and a few shorter runs. Although I had done several long mountain treks, serious mountain running was new to me. My biggest problem was that I live in the Netherlands, a place devoid of any hills, let alone mountains. In order to be ready for running up and down all these mountains I needed to have an ambitious training plan. I came up with the following weekly schedule:
- 1 long endurance run (2-3 hours, 20-30km)
- 1 interval training (1.5 hours, including warming up)
- 1 tempo run (consistent, quick pace, between 10-15 km)
- 1 boot camp (high intensity strength and cardio)
- 1 gym session (leg strengthening and treadmill uphill walking – this was not the most inspirational part of the schedule!)*
* please note that this was my ideal schedule, I have to admit that sometimes life got in the way of executing it fully!
These were more or less fixed. Next to this I would also try to get as much little runs in as possible. For example, I would jog to the boot camp (another 10km there and back) and if I would go for a coffee with a friend, I would run there. The boot camp would function as a way to get my leg muscles stronger for going uphill and to be better able to deal with the impact on my knees when going downhill. I also trained in the dunes a lot, as running on sand helps to strengthen all the little joints and muscles in the feet, which is also very beneficial for running on rocky paths in the mountains. To prepare for the big race, I also ran two hilly 40 kilometer trail runs in the Ardennes in Belgium. In the last months before the race I started to do back-to-back long endurance runs to get my body used to running for hours on end.
You can read more about my training schedule here.
The evening before the race I report for duty at the registration. We get a GPS chip pinned to our backpacks, so we can be tracked by family and friends during the race. We also receive a map of the area with the route on it, although we have some navigational freedom, as long as we prove we reach all the 10 mandatory peaks and we “punch” the boxes on top of them. The race organization also checks our kit. The Lake District obviously isn’t the Alps, but they are serious mountains nonetheless and the weather can be harsh and unpredictable. We have therefore brought a whole range of mandatory kit, such as a compass, survival blanket, first aid kit, whistle, headtorch, and waterproofs. There are only a few support points, so we also have to carry all our food and water.
After a short night in a tent, we get to start the race at 4 o’clock in the morning together with 120 other competitors. I quickly stop being nervous after we depart. Even though I am still unsure whether I can make it, I only think about the current moment and I just want to go for it! We start with the ascent of Helvellyn (951 m). Even though I have only slept for a measly 3 hours I feel fit. On top of Helvellyn we have an impressive view of the whole mountain range and I realize that we will be crossing all those peaks that day. We run quite fast on the descent and overtake quite a few people. We decide to go a bit slower, as we still have a whole day to go.
Registration in Keswick.
Going up the first peak: Helvellyn
The view when descending from Scafell
We reach the finish in the middle of the night and although I’m feeling happy and euphoric, I am also completely exhausted. All my joints and muscles ache and I’m starting to develop “trench foot”, because my feet have been wet for hours on end. We are very happy to see our family again, and the pizza and hot chocolate are very welcome.
The finish in Keswick in the middle of the night.