Tag Archives: race

42 km training run, anyone?

Long back-to-back training runs are an obvious part of ultra-training, but for me it was not till I ran my first longest ever 42 km training run this Monday that I realized that I am on my way to ultra. All my previous training runs before never exceeded 35-36 km, though I would do something like 36 km on day 1 and 20 km on the second day.

This week called for a 40+ monstrosity… I was supposed to do it on Sunday, but unfortunately Middle East weather gods decided to send us a nasty sand storm which made even a 5 km run impossible, leave alone a 4-5 hour adventure. This is really frustrating when you are mentally prepared to do something this challenging and you have to postpone it because of weather. I woke up at around 4: 30 am on Monday morning with a very strong desire to stay in bed and not go anywhere. I had a secret hope that when I look out of the window it will be windy and sandy and totally inappropriate for running. Unfortunately it was not and I had to literally drag myself out. Banana and almond butter for breakfast and off I go.

The plan was to practice a run-walk strategy, taking a walking break every 40 – 45 min. I decided to do so every 8 km as I like having a sort of a structure and a kilometer mark ahead to run to. Unfortunately the route was alongside not a very pretty road from Al Hamra Village to Dreamland water park in Umm Al Quwain, but I had to stick with it for the sake of just finishing the run and be done with it. Training mental toughness, you see lol.

Kilometer 1 to 8: “Gosh, I don’t want to do this. Its too early and dark, my legs are not listening to me. And I have to do this for another 4 hours? Seriously, why did I even sign up for this race! Like there is nothing else exciting in my life!”

First 2 min walking break: “Walking already? I don’t want to walk now, I have just started running!. It will slow me down!”

Kilometer 8 to 16: “Its not too bad actually, feeling good. Could do that for hours! Bring on a break, time for some chomps!”

Second walking break: “Chomps are so much better than Gu gel. Like candy. If another idiot in a passing car honks or flashes at me I’m gonna do something crazy! Like ….. nothing…. What can you do to them?”

Kilometer 16 to 24: “Hmmm… Its still cool, looks like I will be be lucky this time and won’t fry myself on the tarmac. I have just actually run from one emirate to another – how cool is that. Wondering if t qualifies for Guinness book of records! Probably not 😦 Now turning back and its just a stretch home”

Third walking break: “Too lazy to get a banana out of the back pack, better stick with Gu. Yuk, this one is chocolate  mint flavor. Hate it! Not even close to real chocolate. Wish I had a peanut butter gel though, its awesome!”

Kilometer 24 to 32: “My feet are tired. Can I walk a little earlier, no one will see anyways! No, I will see, don’t be such a girl, just run. One foot in front of the other – come on, stop wining. You can have nice eggs with salad for breakfast. And nuts. apples and even some chocolate – just run!”

Fourth walking break: “Jeez, walking hurts more than running. Calves are tight. Can’t run any more… I’m hungry”

Kilometer 32 to 42: “Last 10 km… Sip some water. 9 and a half… 9 to go. Gosh, only one kilometer covered? You joking? I was running for like 10 minutes after the last break! There is something wrong with GPS! Its definitely the aliens! They attacked our planet and destroyed all the satellites and GPS is not working! 7 km to go – aliens, definitely aliens. This stupid Garmin! 5 to go – come on, you know you’ve got it! 3…. 2…. 1 – just count down in hundreds, almost there, there is the gate. Eggs are waiting. And chocolate.”

The rest of the day was aimlessly spent on the couch, cuddling with the dogs and the cat and feeling proud of the achievement. The irony of the whole thing? – It looks like I am not running the 100 km ultra in June because of some life getting in the way…

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Gear review – Ultimate Direction Signature Series SJ Vest

Since starting my training for a 100 km ultra in June I’ve been having a pleasure of spending ridiculous amount of time … no, not running, though I do that occasionally too…  researching all the awesome trail running gear! Apart from the obvious shoes, clothes and head torches, the next most important thing is of course your backpack!

I find that women have been really deprived in the backpack department, it is a sort of trail running discrimination going on here. Every backpack that I have tried and tested just does not fit. Yes, you guessed it right, it does not fit because of boobs. You see, unlike all the awesomely fast and lean female ultra-runners that do 100 milers for breakfast, I am not that lean and pretty gifted in the boob department which becomes a problem when choosing a backpack. Gosh, I think I am talking too much about boobs now and I will surely get some requests to prove my words with photos.

Anyhow, after some research and loads of deliberation I had a choice between Salomon SLab 5 and Ultimate Direction Signature Series SJ vest. My dearest BF has got himself a Salomon and absolutely swears by it, but being a rebel that I am I decided to be different and get SJ vest. It has absolutely nothing to do with me thinking that Scott Jurek is awesome (despite being vegan) and is my ultra-running hero. So very well-calculated and informed decision was made here.

I was finally able to order it online on Amazon and it arrived a couple of weeks back.  I took it out on quite a few road and trail runs of up to 4-5 hours as well as a 36 km race I ran last weekend.

Fresh out of the box!

Fresh out of the box!

Now you must be telling me, Tania, STFU and finally get down to the actual review. Ok ok, here is goes.

Positives:

  1. It FITS AMAZING! I got a small size as this is the one according to measurements on Ultimate Direction site and it is just like a glove! I didn’t even have to adjust anything. No bouncing, no chafing – you basically do not notice the damn thing when running. It has stretchy straps on the front that you can slide up or down to adjust the fit so should not be a problem for anyone.
  2.  Separate word on front bottles. My initial fear was that mounting water bottles on the front over my boobs will make me look like Pamela Anderson impersonator, however surprisingly enough the bottles feel comfortable and do not annoy me at all.
  3. The Vest comes with 2 bottles and I absolutely love them, especially their kicker valve, and it also comes with a whistle that is normally a mandatory requirement for the majority of trail races.
  4. The vest is extremely light and well-made – craftsmanship and materials are pretty impressive. Cuben fiber that they are using for the vest is extremely strong and light as well as moisture resistant – simply perfect. The vest dries very quickly and is super-breathable. Side and back compartments are made of stretchy material and can accommodate a tonne of stuff! It is actually surprising how much fits into the back pocket and how expandable it is – according to the site the total capacity of the back-pack is 9.2 liters. I didn’t measure it, so I believe them.
  5. The vest design is well thought through. It has so many pockets and compartment for everything – ipod, phone, money, gels, bars, valuables – you name it.  One of the back compartments can accommodate a bladder as well. It also has holders for trekking poles and Ice Axe – which is an absolute necessity for me as I use an ice axe on my runs in a desert in 30+ degree heat like.. all the time!
  6. I read in some reviews that people find it difficult to access mesh side-pockets because they are positioned somewhat towards the back. It was not a problem for me, but could probably be related to how flexible you are.
  7. Last but not least is the price. 125 $ for a vest of this quality, including 2 bottles – not too shabby!
Me wearing the vest during last weekend Big Stinker

Me wearing the vest during last weekend Big Stinker

Negatives (yeah, there are some):

  1.  Hydration pack does not come with the vest and is not easy to find one that fits into the very short back pocket. I am using some cheap Quechua bladder that seems to be fitting well, but most of the bladders that I see around, something like Camelbak or North Face, seem to be too long.
  2.  If you keep your full bottles on the front and do not carry anything equally heavy in the back compartment (like a hydration bladder) the vest tends to pull forward. Not a big problem for me as I drink like a camel and always have a bladder at the back, but it could be for someone who wants to run with only 2 bottles.

Verdict: I’d give it 9 out of 10 – super comfortable, practical, lightweight and very reasonably priced (stingy 9 only because the vest does not include a hydration bladder). Definitely my choice for an upcoming ultra!

Race review – Urban Ultra Big Stinker 2013

The last 2 days all I was doing is sitting on the couch, foam rolling, eating ridiculous amounts of fish oil and then foam rolling again. Why such a meaningless existence, will you ask? Well, my friends, I am sore, Very very sore. Painful-to-sit-on-the-toilet kinda sore. And all of this thanks to a little race here in UAE, called BIG Stinker, organized by Urban Ultra. Stinker Indeed. Or I would rather call it Puker, because that is what many of us did during that race, Including moi. But lets keep all the juicy details for later.

The race was a 12 km loop, 6 uphill and 6 down, and you had a choice to run 1, 2 or 3 loops. Me and my BF have obviously chosen 3 loops and thought it would be a great preparation for an ultra in June. Easy peasy, you will say, just 36 km! Wait till you see this:

Stinker profile

This is the elevation profile. Now all those of you who live in some places like Boulder or French Alps with gorgeous mountains and hilly trails can stop reading right now. Here, in Dubai, we live on a pancake. We run on a pancake as well. What does this mean? Exactly – speed bump on the road is considered a serious hilly obstacle and 600 m climb over 6 km IS a problem for us, sissy UAE runners. Occasional weekend runs in Hajar mountains do not count as serious hill training. Add 38 degree heat to that and you get what you call a real “Stinker”.

We checked part of the course once with Al couple of weeks coming to the race and knew that it is going to be a tough cookie.

The race started at 7:30, which is fairly late for this time of the year in the desert, it was close to 25 degrees and temperature was slowly creeping up. We came to the start point at 6:30, checked in, got our numbers, had a quick banana breakfast and met some friends. Looking around I saw some super-fit people in awesome gear that looked like they meant business, like this one girl with the most amazing quads I have ever seen in my life (i’m not gay, she really had great quads! She actually won the women’s 36 km race with some amazing time for the course!)

Anyhow, enough about legs. It was 7:30 and off we went. The first 2 km of the course go through some little farm and are pretty flat, so everyone went out fast. And then – BOOOM! Comes the first incline. Most tried to run up it. I knew what was coming further, so I jogged a little and then  mostly power-walked. The next 1.5 km are small rolling hills going up, pretty runnable, and then came the second big incline going up to the 6 km check-point. I was trying to power-walk and get up there as fast as possible. After the check-point, that was basically a car with some water, isotonic and oranges in the boot, the course is looping back to the start line with 6 km of downhill. Running downhill kills your legs, if you didn’t know. But I flew down that road like there is no tomorrow, overtook a bunch of people and was kinda trying to make up for the time lost on the first 6 km uphill. 1 loop done, 2 more to go!

One of the inclines. Thanks to Alex for the picture.

One of the inclines. Thanks to Alex for the picture.

2nd loop was less crowded and I would say pretty lonely, with just a couple of runners in my sight. It was obviously slower and harder than the first, my legs were getting tired but it was manageable and I was trying not to die completely before the 3rd final loop. I passed several guys who were walking and complaining of muscle cramps and was really happy that my little legs are still working the way they should. It was getting really hot by that point and my back was burning under the backpack. I quickly refilled my bottles at the checkpoint, stuffed my running bra with ice, which made people laugh (seriously – its an awesome way to cool yourself down. For women obviously. Men don’t wear running bras I think. I might be wrong though) and took off for the last loop. A friend of mine, Alex, was there at the checkpoint and told me that BF had passed through around 15-20 minutes ago. Fast bastard, I thought, no way I am catching up with him on the third loop.

Me filling up before heading for the 3rd loop. Thank to Alex for capturing this glorious moment

Me filling up before heading for the 3rd loop. Thank to Alex for capturing this glorious moment

3rd loop was a real torture. It was hot, my legs were very tired and refused to run, I had a blister forming and both the inclines seemed like a vertical wall. Then I saw some poor guy puking his guts out. And it made me feel better, No, I am not a total heartless bitch as you might have just thought – I asked him how he was, offered him my water and electrolytes, but I also told myself at that point “hey, you see, you are just tired, you are not that bad! Keep moving and stop wining!” The last 6 km down were actually the hardest. Legs were aching and I had to slowly trot down the major inclines. No more flying at that point. My stomach also started playing up, I was beginning to feel nauseous and was afraid that the first thing I do crossing the finish line is puke. Luckily it didn’t happen then, it happened later in the evening. Not joking. Heat exhaustion I guess.

Crossing the finish line was really awesome! There were not many people left, but those who stayed back were cheering up like I have broken a world record. What I later found out is that more than half the runners who started the 36km race bailed out and finished only 1 or 2 loops! So it somehow happened that I managed to finish 3rd woman, my first ever podium finish (insert drum roll here).

BF did great as well, finishing 4th despite feeling like shit for the second part of the race! That is true determination.

Great race overall, rarely you can get an opportunity to race on trails in Dubai and I think the organizers did an awesome job! It is also one of the last races in the running season here, so definitely a must-try for anyone in and around UAE.

Things that could have been better:

  • Start a little earlier – 7 or 6:30 AM will be perfect
  • Race has no medals. I mean, come on, you need a medal! Its just weird to race and not get a medal. Nuff said.
  • The second check-point on top of the mountain was running out of water towards the end. Its hot and as a rule people under-estimate how much they drink on such a challenging course and need to refuel.

2nd Marathon done and dusted

First I would like to thank everyone for all support and encouragement! I did not feel very confident going into the race and sharing my doubts and thoughts worked as a great therapy.

To start with, I could say that this was probably my best race ever. Not because it was the fastest, though I did PR by approximately 9 minutes as compared to last year, but because of the way I felt throughout the run. Everyone who has ever run 42.2 km knows what it is a long and winding road from start to finish and you can go from feeling great to being totally miserable in less than a minute. I can say that I felt great 90% of the race, and that was absolutely awesome!

The race morning I woke up at 4 am, had my breakfast of coffee and 2 peanut butter toasts, got dressed and we headed out at around 5:15 am. That morning was extremely foggy and by the time we parked and started walking to the start line it was around 6:45. There was a huge crowd of 10k runners that were starting 30 min after the marathoners and the start line looked to be still pretty far away, so I decided to leave my boys and run to make it on time before the gun. I think that little run worked as a good warm-up and I was able to settle into my goal pace of 6:00 min/km (not per mile unfortunately lol) pretty much from the very beginning.

The start and finish location of Dubai marathon for the last 2 years it pretty spectacular – right near Burj Khalifa – a great landmark that you see in front of you for the majority of the second half of the race and it gives such a great mental boost almost “seeing” a finish line!

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

The first 2-3 km where the usual hype with people chatting, trying to settle into their paces, some brave (aka stupid) souls sprinting  through the crowd, and just enjoying the whole atmosphere. And then at around 3rd kilometer a disaster struck – bbbbbaaaam! my sports bra strap got unclipped!  Boys can skip the next paragraph by the way…

I run in Shock Absorber bras – and I totally love them! This is the only running bra that does not chafe and it is also super-comfortable and supportive. Unfortunately I’ve had this problem of their straps getting unhooked at the most unsuitable moment several times before.

Shock absorber bra

Anyways, by the time I managed to inspect the damage and hook the straps back together again, while still running, I was super pissed-off and sweaty. I am sure people around me were wondering why this idiot woman is wriggling like a worm on a hook and what exactly she is trying to do.

The next 30 kilometers passed by very fast.  The course is out and back on Jumeirah Beach Road, and while the road itself is not particularly impressive and lined up with villas and numerous dental and laser surgery centers, it was great to watch elite runners zoom past on their way home. Watching all the fast guys and girls kept me busy for several kilometers.

My major fear was to get GI problems. Every race-related nightmare that I have is about me running down a street lined with screaming supporters and volunteers, desperately searching for a porta loo and not finding any. Thankfully Digestion Gods were kind to me and my stomach held up pretty well.

Last year I was a total miserable bitch throughout the run and was not really happy with that, so this year I had a goal of being as sociable as possible.  I met a couple of friends and chatted with them on the way, hi-fived kids and tried to thank as many volunteers and supporters as I could. Also met a triathlete Ed Hawkins who was running his second marathon on that day as part of the self-supported Ultraman Challenge to raise awareness for diabetes – this guy is a real hero! I truly believe that this attempt of trying to be grateful paid back in terms of the amazing energy I was getting from people and I did not really notice how I hit 36 km mark.

This is when my left knee and right ITB started hurting pretty bad just as was expected. It was only 6 km away from the finish line and I was not bonking so I knew I could run though the pain and finish strong. And that is exactly what I did – tried to overtake as many people as I could and sprinted the last mile to the finish line.

One happy marathon finisher!

One happy marathon finisher!

I saw my boys right before the finish and was super happy to spot a medal around Jo’s neck – he ran his first ever race of 3 km and finished sprinting in 19 minutes – not a shabby time for an 8 year old kid! 

Crossed the finish line, got my medal and goody bad and then legs seized up – hams and calves refused to cooperate! I tried not to stop and keep moving around to ease the pain and finally found  quite an unconventional remedy – a cut of vanilla ice-cream! Seriously, ice-cream never tasted better and even the pain subsided! Benefits of “icing” after the race are undeniable!

I am not an experienced marathon runner as I ran it only here in Dubai, but I can say that the race organizers did a great job! There was more than enough water and Gatorade on the course, in fact there were water stations every 2.5 km, so water was never a problem. Unlike last year they were not giving out GU gels on the course but that did not bother me much as I carried all my food with me.The start and finish areas were pretty well organized, there were enough washrooms and showers and human traffic was directed well. The only disappointment was the finishing chute for the marathoners – just like last year it was a narrow corridor since the majority of the road was fenced off for 3 and 10 km races, though I do understand that there are many more people running 3 and 10 km and the finishing times are overlapping.

Now, analyzing my previous and this year races, I do believe that our attitude plays the major role in a way you feel and perform during the race. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t train hard and just go there with positive attitude hoping to break the PB! Most of us do it for fun, because we love the purity of such a simple primal activity as running, because we enjoy the challenge. Getting PBs is important, but it is even more important to just enjoy and be grateful that you can do it! Another thing that I realized is that I need to give back – this year I will definitely volunteer for some of the races that I don’t run to help out on the course or marshalling.

And I am also thinking now …  may be sub-4 next year? 

Pre marathon thoughts

Its Thursday evening and tomorrow 7 am I will be at the starting line of my second Dubai Standard Chartered Marathon. I wish I could say that I am ready and confident, but I am not. I have mixed feelings about this race. And it is not really about my training – of course I could have done a little more and a little better, but this is almost always the case. I still know I did the runs that I was supposed to do, some of them were good and some – well, not so much, but this is what running is all about.

It is always simpler when you do something for the first time – you don’t really know what to expect and you just do it. But now this is my second marathon race and I kinda know what I am in for, and that makes me think too much.

I think I haven't forgotten anything... Whats left now is just to run.

I think I haven’t forgotten anything… Whats left now is just to run.

My doubts and concerns are more psychological  I guess…

What if my IT bands starts playing up again? Last long run I started feeling it at 20k, I do nope it will keep silent for at least 2/3 of the race. 

And my left knee – it has not been behaving well this year….

Did I make the right choice about shoes? Nike Frees are awesome shoes to run in but for marathon distance? Well, too late to think about it now.

How will my stomach hold on? GI problems have been haunting me for the past couple of months and it could completely break my run.

I read so much about race strategies of other runners. Bummer – I don’t have a race strategy! Just run and try to stick to my goal pace for as long as I can!  I will be pretty upset if I run slower than last year. I keep telling myself not to think about time, after all I am definitely not the fastest runner out there, but I love to compete against myself and do better than I did before. And that is my major goal for tomorrow’s race – do it stronger and faster than last year. I know that If I have a good day – I can do it! The question is “Am I going to have a good day tomorrow?”

I know that all my doubts will be gone when I am standing there at the start line. Once the horn goes off – you just run and try to make it to the finish line as soon and strong as you possibly can.

So I say – bring it on!