Josh “Goggins” Stevens is training for the UTCT 100 Miler trail ultra-marathon in Cape Town with no prior ultra-running experience. This is his second training diary entry. Read the first one here.
There is a three-part approach to training for this UTCT thing. 1st and most obvious is time on the feet. “If you don’t run now, you won’t finish later”. 2nd and my biggest challenge is nutrition (I fucking suck at eating, which you’d think after 24 years I would have gotten the hang of). 3rd is the mental game that underlies it all, the training of your mind to do the hard things.
Time On The Feet – Lots Of It
From the (arguably limited) research that I did it would take me about 6 months to train for 100-miles from my average weekly distances (which was about 40 – 50km) in May.
I hopped onto Google and then found a training plan that fit my timeline. I got one from relentlessforwardcommotion.com. They give a great plan and a comprehensive breakdown of what you can expect and will need to do to finish a 100-miler. I’m just ignoring the part about having ‘completed at least one 50 mile ultra before attempting a 100 miler’. I have used this as a good base around which to structure my training. I have used it more as a guide to minimum required running each week and for the most part, done my best to keep to the 10% rule – don’t increase your distance by more than 10% each week to avoid injuries – and my body seems to be holding up relatively well!
During the early weeks, the training plan consists of three weeks on, followed by one week off. Later in the programme as the weekly distance is ramped up to 100+ km there is increased emphasis placed on rest and I will shift to two weeks on and one week off. During “off” weeks I run 3 or 4 times and will do about 50kms in a week with my long run being roughly a half marathon.
I find my “off” weeks a little jarring. I think it’s because I get so accustomed to just having to run all the time that my body gets confused when I can’t? I feel out of whack and have to exercise immense levels of self control to stick to the plan and not absolutely total myself by not resting properly.
After the first month I did have some anxiety with this original plan though. I have often heard that your body can handle anything you do in a week in a single day. And this training plan maxed out at about 120km a week. That is about 40km, well actually 50 in this case, shy of where I aim to drag myself in November. I have done a good job of creating a logical fallacy; thinking that I will most likely not cover more than 120km in a 24 hour period of the race so this shouldn’t affect me. With even a just little bit of reasonable thinking this feels comically stupid, but I kinda back it..
I then come up against my goal of going sub 28 hours. For my (erroneous) thinking to hold up I would have to then run the final 50km in 4 hours, which honestly feels unlikely if I were to start fresh and run purely on road, downhill … so I decided that I needed to make adjustments.
I have been flexing my training plan, pushing bigger weeks, and now including Friday runs to increase mileage and get more acquainted with running on tired legs. I now aim to max out my weekly distance at around 150 – 160km 6 weeks out from the race. That will be followed by a long taper to leave me with my best chance on the day(s). I am still observing my down cycle weeks and trying to listen to my body, but I am certainly finding that decidedly difficult to do.
This is partly due to my fixation with meeting my training plan but mostly just because my body always hurts now. Doesn’t really matter what time of day or what I am doing, something is in pain. The level of pain varies from a kind of annoying stiffness to me sometimes wondering if I have just ruptured a ligament while walking to the fridge. It’s less than ideal but it’s manageable 99.98% of the time. It’s actually during my runs that seems to be the only pain-free part of my day so nothing can be seriously wrong? Right?
I have noticed my body begin to adapt to what I am asking it to do. My legs are getting more muscular, I am trimming down (fucking deluxe), my resting heart rate has slid into the 40’s (only just), my feet are starting to look gnarly and I now have abs. Side note: abs are great, I would highly recommend you get some if you don’t already have.
Now that we have a grasp on my running, let’s look at how I am trying to fuel it.
Nutrition – How Not To Do It
The bain of my existence. I hate eating ”to have to eat” (or “utility eating” as I call it). Like don’t get me wrong I would give up naming rights of my future first born for a Cousin’s pasta, but eating because my body needs “fuel” just kinda feels like bullshit.
Bad nutrition on my day-to-day is hampering my recovery and not eating on my runs is causing my digestive system to shut down which makes refuelling almost impossible. Refuelling is pivotable to survival out there. To combat this, I am:
- Making a concerted effort to eat at least 3 meals a day, and drinking a whey protein shake every day. I know this sounds fairly normal, but for at least the last 5 years, I’d normally eat like.. 1 meal a day. Breakfast is overrated, and I find that I usually forget about lunch. I generally remember that food exists sometime during the late afternoon so then I just wait until dinner. (Admittingly, I know this isn’t entirely normal and I have dealt with some body dysmorphia issues. This has been exacerbated by a perceived lack of control in life which has led to me undereating (and controlling this) as a way to regain control. It is wild what an ill human mind will do to deal with a chaotic world around it.) This habit has often left me with v low energy, but it has made my fasted runs incredible (which I am aware is not an achievement). But I will receive no awards for passing out after 7 hours at UTCT so I have been practising eating while running in order to work out my race nutrition plan.
- I have found an interesting challenge. You have to find food that is both calorically dense (so that it’s easy to carry) and easy to consume over a long period. I am a big fan of fruit on the go. Throwing a couple naartjies in the bag is always a good idea. I love to mix in a Powerade or two as a treat and an electrolyte replacement. I have found this is good for 4 or so hours but anything more than that and the wheels start to come off. My nutrition plan needs more work but it is definitely getting there. Small wins.
The Mental – Becoming Fucking Hard
And finally, and arguably most importantly is callousing your mind. It’s all good and well being the strongest runner to have ever lived with the ultimate nutrition plan but if your mind isn’t up to the task, you just aren’t going to finish. This is a mental game. It is wildly unlikely that everything is gonna go your way for all 170kms, so you need to be prepped for time in the pain cave. I have already booked my stay 😉
I feel I am pretty good at this already. My experience as a boarder at Merchiston and Maritzburg College, and the other curve balls that life threw at me, has left me feeling mentally indestructible. But I feel this applies more generally to life than to a hyper-intense physical challenge over a day or so.
My long runs are building my mental resolve but it hasn’t been incident free. I often spend ages trying to hype myself up for a run. My Saturday mornings are particularly hard because I have been starting early to get used to headlamp running. It is always cold and dark and more often than not raining when I start. I know I am making a choice to run in the dark so I expect many of you have absolutely no sympathy for me but I do appreciate those of you who are currently feeling sorry for me. #biglove
I have thrown a good few tantrums with myself while cold, wet and tired. So far I have managed to bring them all back. I was laughing about this with a friend the other day. During my long runs I have the time to have a severe loss of my sense of humour, then sulk about it for half an hour before I start to deal with it. I then consolidate and negotiate with myself over the next hour or so before I pull myself out of my grumpy little mood and then I have a 2-hour run home.
In the past, I would have viewed this as weakness and beat myself up about it. I used to have massive negative talk issues which took me nearly a year of therapy to deal with (Byron if you’re reading this I both miss and am incredibly grateful for you). Now I view this cycle as a massively important skill. I am gonna find myself in some incredibly deep holes. It WILL happen. If I can’t dig myself out of them then no matter how tough I am, when I fall in it’s over.
My First 100k Week – Daunting
My three prong approach is serving me well. I am able to run further and more often. My 1st 100k week felt like a daunting task to undertake and I found it really overwhelming, it felt so far and kinda impossible. This sent me into a little bit of a panic because 170km is significantly further than 100. But I stuck to the plan and it was actually kinda easy, except for my Sunday run which was probably worse than death. The week was: Mon – Rest / Tues – 17km / Wed – 14km / Thurs – 8km / Fri – 11km / Sat – 42km / Sun – 9km.
I had a cool boost to my motivation levels running a marathon PB (5h59m50) on the Saturday. I was so stoked with this! Being able to do that on tired legs must means good things are happening.
Things seem to be going well. A down week coming up before a big 215km two week training block that includes my first proper ultra distance. Many unknowns to come and so much more to look forward to!
I am be keeping a bi-weekly journal that you can find here of my running endeavours, throwing in some stories from the mountains, updates on me and what I am learning. There will also be social media posts on the WILD AIR Running channel so give us a follow; you can stay up to date with the day-to-day of my training through my personal Instagram (@joshstevens27), my Strava and see what weird and wonderful soundtracks I am listening to on Spotify, the superior streaming platform.
No Risk, No Story
Live Fast, Die Last
And Yours in Suffering