My first ultra distance trail run (96kms) and improvements for the next one

Two weekends ago I completed a very challenging, yet rewarding event – the 96km Kokoda Challenge. This event takes competitors through the Hinterland of the Gold Coast in QLD, Australia. With elevations reaching 550m, this is not an easy event. According to the organisers, the 96km Kokoda Challenge Gold Coast is hailed as Australia’s toughest endurance event.

Kokoda Challenge Elevation Profile Overview

Teams of 4 make their way through the 96km course consisting of fire roads, 12 creek crossings and 5000m of vertical elevation. The event is in honour of the Australian troops during World War II who battled on the actual Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. In order to qualify for a place the entire team of four must start, reach each checkpoint and finish all together.

Kokoda 2016 winHere we are as the winning ladies team

I am pleased to say that our team was the first all ladies team and was third overall. To put this into perspective there were 55 all ladies team and 330 teams in total. We finished with a time of 15 hours 14 minutes. The overall winners finished with a time of 13 hours 57 minutes. The second placed ladies team finished with a time of 20 hours 1 minute. So we pretty much smashed our closest rivals (yes, I am a tad competitive).

Kokoda 2016 finishThis is us just after we finished – did I mention that it rained for over half the event?

Enough bragging. So now I will provide some details about how we, myself in particular, completed the race and improvements I will make for my next ultra distance trail running event, which is back-to-back trail marathons on Saturday August 13 and Sunday August 14.

  1. Foot care is paramount. My biggest mistake was not wearing good trail running shoes. The longest run I had done prior to the Kokoda Challenge was 5 hours. The shoes I had were OK for that period but not for 15 hours! In fact, I should have anticipated that I would have some trouble as even after 5 hours the shoes I was wearing were uncomfortable. I went out and bought some Hoka Challengers the very next day. I was using a foot balm to prevent blisters but the shoes I was wearing were not made for the ultra distance. Experiment with shoes before hand and make sure you have a quality pair of trail running shoes made for ultra distance. You do not want to end up with a blister the size of the one I had (see below photo).IMG_1496
  2. Keep your nutrition simple. Although I try to avoid refined carbohydrates in my every day diet, and this is because they are easy to over eat as they provide little fibre and nutritional value (I am by no means perfect, however, and do enjoy the odd pizza and corn chips), when it comes to racing I go for simple, easily digestible carbohydrates. I like to train on weekdays with little carbs and generally keep my carbohydrate intake low to become more fat adapted, but during races I consume what ever I need to allow my body to perform the best that it can. At checkpoints I was eating caffeinated gels, lollies, white bread sandwiches, salted potato chips, bananas, instant coffee and an oat slice. In addition, I was consuming an electrolyte mix called Tailwind. I really like this product. It is made by endurance athletes and consists of dextrose, sucrose, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. The flavours are not overly sweet and this product dissolves rapidly and quickly. Running with food in your stomach sucks so you need to find nutrition that you can quickly get down and will not cause stomach issues. Other members in my team were also using Tailwind along with gels, noodles, biscuits, rice and even chia pudding. Nutritional advice for racing can vary widely depending on opinion. I recommend experimenting and finding out what works for you. For me, although this seems in complete opposition to just about all the recipes I post on this blog, I go for easy to consume refined carbohydrates while racing.
  3. Invest in some good poles if there is a lot of steep hiking. If you are planning on entering an ultra event that has a lot of steep uphill sections, I recommend a decent set of poles. Having poles on the really steep sections takes the impact off your legs. I would only recommend them for races with very steep climbs. A set that can collapse and be placed into your backpack is ideal.
  4. Have a great support crew. There is nothing better than having a well organized, caring and motivating support crew. If you are doing an event that requires support crew, it is ideal to have members who have experience racing or supporting. They will know the questions to ask and the items to have ready for you. It can really make a huge difference to your race.
  5. Keep mobile the next day and eat well. I woke up the morning after the Kokoda Challenge pretty dam sore. My legs were sore all over, my feet were swollen and I had little sleep. However, I found that the more I moved the better my legs felt. So keep lightly active the days following the event. Try to avoid long periods of time sitting down to prevent pooling of fluid in your feet and legs.
  6. Allow yourself adequate time to recover before getting back into training. This may seem obvious but I always find after I do well in a race my immediate thoughts are about preparing for the next race. You need to control yourself and allow yourself to recover. I don’t think this is being ‘soft’ but I believe this is being sensible. I may have jumped back into training too quickly and I am now having some foot pain. Also, catch up on lost sleep.

So there are my tips on how I will improve for my next ultra distance trail event. I am by no means an expert at this point in time, but I have been performing consistently well in trail running races and hope to continue as I increase the distance of my races in the future.

Kokoda 2016 startWe love posing for the camera

7 thoughts on “My first ultra distance trail run (96kms) and improvements for the next one

  1. Fine at the moment but my mileage is still low. I did keto for 3 months before I started training, so was already somewhat fat adapted. I never trained before on carbs, so have nothing to compare it to. Plus I train using the MAF method so it’s at a really easy pace. Only issues I have had is from weak calves. Which I am trying to solve.

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    • So will you consume carbohydrates during your race? I highly recommend that you do. Don’t deny yourself carbs if you need them, especially towards the end of the marathon. Those last 10kms are very challenging mentally and physically – trust me. Do what ever you need to to finish. The latest research (using elite endurance athletes) suggests that the ideal fueling strategy is a combination of ketone bodies and carbs, meaning athletes have all the benefits of a state of ketosis but without the decrease in performance due to carbohydrate restriction. Check out this study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27475046 Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes.

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