August 31, 2017

My training for the GORE-TEX® Transalpine-Run

How does an adventure runner train for one of the world’s most epic multi-day mountain races?

How do you train for the GORE-TEX® Transalpine-Run” is a question I’ve been getting a lot since I have told people exactly what this multi-day race entails. With 7 days of back to back near marathon distances with a combined vertical ascent of just over 15,000m, equivalent to nearly two summits of Everest from sea level to the peak, people can’t fathom how you’d prepare and to be honest its something I have had to get my head around.
Running long distances back to back is something I have had a lot of experience of but from an adventure runner’s perspective, not as a competitor in one of the world’s most difficult multi-day races. My RunningTheAmericas adventure had its fair share of long distance, multi-day stretches, including 13 days running 713km over the Atacama Desert, 6 days running 422km while crossing the Andes and finally the last 28 days running 1537km without a break. After I returned I ran the entire 700km of the British three peaks in just under 14 days and 430km of the Scottish isles in 9 days. But all of these were different to the challenges posed by the GORE-TEX® Transalpine-Run. For those, I was free to start and stop when and where I wanted, I was alone and not dependent on or supporting anyone else and most importantly, it wasn’t a race. For the GORE-TEX® Transalpine-Run it’s all change for me and that is why training and preparation are key.
When I first started my training, I had a very detailed and complicated plan in mind, but as with most good intentions life got in the way. However, I knew what was important and prioritised my weaknesses.
There are two key aspects to getting ready for an adventure or in this case a race – the physical and the mental – I will have look at how I have dealt with each:

Getting the legs ready for the mountain trails

For all my past adventures, my main focus has been on having a good general fitness that peaks at the start of the event. I try and run every day and if possible try to make sure it is at least 10k but preferably closer to 20km. I also try and include as much cycling and swimming as possible as this builds endurance with less risk of injury. It may be a personal thing but I find swimming helps regulate my breathing when running so whenever I can jump in the sea or a lake then that’s a bonus.
The big challenge of preparing for a mountain race is getting proper time in the mountains to train and this is especially difficult when you live somewhere like the UK. To get around this, I arranged a few road trips to places that would provide the appropriate terrain to help get my legs in shape for the challenges ahead.

My first port of call was Chamonix, where my running partner Kev lives. When we agreed to run together we had never actually run together so I spent three days running parts of the GTC route with some of his mountain friends. On this trip, Kev took me to the mountains and showed me his training ground, epic mountains and gorgeous trails. Here I managed to test my body on very similar trails to those we will experience in the race and got to see how running with Kev would be. I have always been a solo runner and have run over 18,000km alone, so running 263km with a comparative stranger had the potential to be big a challenge for me. Luckily, it turns out that Kev and I have a very complimentary way of running together and our approach to big days is very similar. This made me even more excited about my first race with a running partner and put some fears to rest. After three days it was reassuring to feel that I had the overall fitness to cover long distances but realised I could work more on my steeper ascents and that on the technical descents was prone to going over on my right ankle. I think Kev decided to focus on speed in the flatter sections as his training is 99% up mountains.
So, with a bit more understanding about what I needed to work on I made a trip to the French Pyrenees and spent most of my time working on long ascents and technical descents. I used different running shoes each day to assess which shoes were giving me the confidence I needed to attack the trails at speed and with the least possibility of injury.

I then returned to the UK and took myself to North Exmoor where I practised running on different terrains and up and down relentless coastal paths. The 20% climbs hurt but in a sadistically satisfying way. There was access to some craggy rocks and scree slopes which was also excellent preparation.

I had to return to London and this gave me the opportunity to gauge any improvement. I have a run that I use as my neutral and each time I run it I can assess how my other training has been improving my overall running. It is a 11km loop from Crystal Palace to Brockwell Park and involves a nice long uphill, though nothing compared to what I will experience in the Alps. My latest run was my quickest to date with the hill section being a clear personal best but what was reassuring to me is that I felt more comfortable than past runs. The mountain and trail training was clearly having a positive impact and that in turn helped me mentally.
With two weekends until the race I went to the Love Trails running festival in Dorset and entered as many of the longer distance running sessions as I could. Due to large group sizes, the speed was slower than what I was used to but this allowed me to get used to running with other people running at a different pace to what I normally dictate and experience spending longer periods of time on my feet, something that is very important and can be hard to include in a training plan. It was helpful to be able to do an ultra-distance and then follow it up with another long run on challenging climbs the next day.

With just a week to go and feeling in good shape I opted for a weekend of hiking along part of the Jurassic Coast. While the distances weren’t long, I was walking with a heavy backpack and attacking some decent hills but without any real risk of getting injured.
It’s now just a few days until the race and while I am tempted to keep my distances up, I realise that arriving at the start line fit and healthy is my number one priority. I will keep jogging each day but bring the distances down and spend more time working on leg strength and flexibility.

Getting the head in the right place

All the serious ultra-runners I have spoken to have stressed that mental preparation and attitude going into the race is often what makes the difference between finishing or a DNF (Did not finish). This is something I more than realised when running through the Americas and have been trying to work on for the GORE-TEX® Transalpine-Run.

This is my first time running a multi-day race but for me it is no different from running a multiday adventure. The distances are long, the statistics scary but the key to success is believing that you can overcome what lies ahead. You need to arrive full of confidence that you are going to make it to the end and that you have the training and support you need to do it in style. You need to breakdown the big numbers and make them manageable in your head and at no point do you question yourself. This is a challenge and adventure that you signed up for, you trained for and you want to complete. All that is left to do is to run, climb and scramble to the finish. There will be people making it sound scary and maybe people questioning what you can achieve but they don’t know what you are capable of and truth be told neither do you. This is just another test and another hurdle on our journey as a runner. I have set myself challenges that no-one thought was possible and I have yet to fail. I am not going to let the GORE-TEX® Transalpine-Runchange that.

What I need to remember on race day

Race day is just around the corner and everything I have been working towards is about to be put to the test. Kev and I need to make sure we stick to our game plan, communicate with each other and agree how we are going to overcome potential race obstacles. We are both very independent which is a positive but we also need to know when to ask for help and be willing to make small sacrifices to ensure we manage to complete the course as a team. We started this journey together and we will finish together.
GORE-TEX® Transalpine-Run – we are ready!

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