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Three Peaks Ultra - Racing during Covid-19

Author: Bryan Galliford

With the COVID-19 pandemic events and races were cancelled, I found myself struggling to find motivation – what would I be training for anyway? I started seeing people online and all around me setting personal challenges, such as when one friend ran 50km in laps around his block (about 1km loops), and in particular when Jamie randomly decided to see how far he could run in 24 hours.

I thought to myself – what can I do that is a challenge worthy of this kind of example, but something I can feasibly work towards? I had never run more than a flat road marathon before, and that was 2 years ago. I was meant to run my first ultra last September, but the race organisers made the difficult decision to cancel last second due to bush fire risk. I was then again booked to run my first ultra in July 2020 – which was then postponed to November due to COVID-19. Then I thought – If people like Jamie can run 200km+ in 24 hours and I was planning to run an ultra marathon anyway…why not just do it myself? Thus my ‘Three Peaks Ultra’ was born.

I talked with Jamie from FitTribeOz. Jamie had helped me with events and training ideas in the past, but this time I wanted to do it properly. I had tried finding training plans online before, but even when I did follow them, I didn’t progress as much as I thought I should. Jamie suggested we work together; he would become my personal coach and help me get ready.

I found this to be so much better than anything I could put together myself or find online. Even better than a personally prepared plan. By having Jamie involved not only did I know exactly what I should be doing, and when, but also, how.

The ‘how’ was the most transformative part for me.

Jamie looked at my previous training data to determine just how hard I should run, how fast, and for how long. One thing I learned was the reason I wasn’t getting faster, is that I was running too fast! That might sound crazy, but it is true!

Having Jamie as my coach meant I knew everything about the what/when/how of my training…which was great. But a key unforeseen benefit was the added accountability. I would stick to this plan, because Jamie was monitoring my work and I didn’t want to let him down. That added accountability means it was nearly impossible to slack off and cheat. While I was committing to the schedule, Jamie was behind the scenes, checking on my progress and perfecting the next step in my plan. That is something no googled running plan can give you. That, and telling people what I was doing meant I couldn’t hide from it – was the recipe that led to my ultimately achieving my goals.

I found I trained more frequently, but overall for fewer hours then I would if I had followed a more ‘traditional’ plan. Having more structure and planning specifically catered to me meant that I was recovered and ready for whatever the session was. I saw increases in speed, endurance, and general fitness almost right away. On previous runs where I would sit on a pace for an hour, I would now do that same run, but 15-20seconds faster per km – but still feel the same.

Although I could see a measurable improvement in my fitness and overall progress, I was discouraged being stuck at the back of the pack when my trail running club (Mountain Goat Trail Runners) did their Wednesday night group runs. But I trusted the process and kept pushing ahead.

As ‘race day’ approached I found myself nervous. That usual nervous feeling you get as race day approaches, but also worried that I had not done enough in the previous nine weeks. Based on my previous understanding (or misunderstanding rather) I should have been doing longer and longer runs – but Jamie assured me my progress had been good, and that I would be fine. Jamie also contacted me right before race day to talk strategy as well as offer encouragement. I had my doubts, but Jamie didn’t – and his confidence really helped in filling the confidence gap that I had in myself.

On race-day I was lucky to have a running buddy. At the start I was worried I would slow him down, but I wanted to finish strong and I kept my strategy Jamie and I discussed top of mind. I really started to worry about 2 hours in when I started feeling fatigued. We were less than 20km in, the idea that I wouldn’t make it past 25km, much less 50km kept circling in my mind.

As much as it was good to have a running buddy it was taking something away for me. Instead of enjoying what I was doing, I was worrying. Worrying about the impact my perceived slowness had on my buddy’s enjoyment, worried about my ability to finish, and letting everybody down – all the people I told that I was doing this.

My mind started coming up with reasonable excuses for why I didn’t finish. But with my running buddy there, and knowing that a lot of people knowing I was out there – I pushed on. I thought to myself “If I am this tired already, how am I going to do another 30km? As time went on though, I realised I wasn’t ‘too’ tired. I was tired – but I had been running for 2 hours, so of course I was going to feel some fatigue, but it never progressed beyond that. I just kept going.

After another 2 hours my buddy started feeling fatigued, so as much as I started worrying about slowing him down in the first half and I kept going to stay with him, in the second half it was about me supporting him to keep pushing. In supporting him, I supported myself. Funnily enough, I think the fear of failing kept me going in the first half, helping my friend push on kept me going in the second half.

As we made the return leg of the 2nd peak (Mt Gravatt) with about 10km to go I remembered something Jamie said, “The race will start about 35km in”. at 40km, I felt great. Yes, I was fatigued and a little sore. But I was only a little sore, not completely broken. A very different fatigued to what I felt running my road marathon a couple of years ago. I was going to do this 50km… easy.

We finished in just over 7 hours after hitting Mt Coot-tha Lookout, Mt Gravatt Lookout, and Whites Hill Lookout.

I finished strong, I almost sprinted the last 1km to my house (and the finish line).

I finished strong and recovered fast. I wasn’t completely broken. Not even the next day. Sore yes – but not broken.

Now I am thinking…what can I do next? How far can I push this next time?

Not only did I finish but it felt easy or at least easier than running 50km including a couple of mountains should feel. If not for my running buddy I might have quit at the start, but in the end, I finished as strong as I did because of the training and support from FitTribeOz.

I am already wondering what we will do next… Maybe an Iron Man Triathlon? watch this space.

A few things I learned.

Running too fast will actually make you slower.

Don’t worry so much about others, run your own race.

Have a little faith, your mind will quit long before your body does. Especially in my case.

Rest and recovery – such as stretching and yoga really does work.

Find a coach that will work with you – a coach does more than tell you what to do, they also help hold you accountable – which is great if you have a tendency to lose focus. No plan in the world gives you that.

Train for your life. I could do this because I was ready – always be ready. The ‘how’ was the most transformative part of this process for me.

Do you have some race goals and not sure if you're ready to tackle them? Contact Fit Tribe Oz today to discuss your training to deliver the best of you at the starting line! Contact Fit Tribe Oz today

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