One way to tell you’re on the way of becoming an ultrarunner

Please don’t read any further if you are podophobic. There are some graphic details below!

Good you are still here.

It’s the second time it’s happening to me and I guess this time I jumped immediately to the last stage of grieving (acceptance). The first time I definitely hit the first stage (disbelief). My tip: be prepared and accept the fact it will happen to you too.

So what’s this bad thing that will happen, and why should you grieve?

Toenails. And the loss of them.

Why we loose toenails and/or why they turn blue/black is explained beautifully in this post by Runner’s World.

And, as I don’t believe in TMI, here’s mine right now…

Black toenail, trying to hold on to it…

Rookie mistake

Facepalm, rookie mistake 1
Tuileries Garden, Paris near Louvre

I’ve been running in the mornings lately, but due to work/family related stuff needed to do my long run (30K) in the evening last Friday.

I started running around 18:15 and felt bloated from the first steps onward, bit nauseous even. It’s not my first rodeo and normally these bloated, nauseous feelings subside in half an hour to an hour or something.

Not this time…

The run was a struggle from beginning to end. My intestines cramped continuously. I needed to stop several times to let one go, couldn’t even do that running. After 20K i was a couple of hundred metres from my house, but still decided to finish the run (28.5K) but afterwards part I wish I hadn’t.

When I got home after almost 3 hours of running, the cramps cleared pretty fast, but I was beat. I had a bad night sleep and I didn’t recover during that night. Saturday I was still feeling bad and tired.

Fortunately my run on Sunday was fine again.

Looking back I probably ate way too much during the day on Friday. I had a warm meal during lunch and I fuelled up 2 hours before the run with a teff shake. I usually do that in the morning before a long run. My gut was probably still full when I started running. I’m not sure why I thought that was a good idea. Afterwards I definitely felt like a rookie!

Fortunately, every mistake during training (and during a race) is an opportunity to learn!

Not so boring after all

Sometimes training can feel like ground hog day. Just another run around the same course you ran a gazillion times before. These days it can be especially hard. With the different types of corona lockdowns we have around the world, ground hog day is a common feeling. 

Today I ran the same course I did many times before.

It’s a small 3k path (with a 1.5K detour in the middle) designed for horses from the riding school nearby. It’s nothing much. It’s on sand (so at least I’m not running on the pavement). It has a total elevation of 1 meter or something. To be frank, it’s boring as hell!

Not today though…

Today I briefly had the experience of trail-running on that boring as hell round. It has been raining a bit after 6 weeks of drought. The gras and weeds and stinging nettles have exploded to life. The sand was a bit wet, the grass and weeds wore soaked. The horse path became a single track. I couldn’t see where my feet landed, so I needed to adjust constantly. My feet were wet after 1k. 

In short I HAD A BLAST!

Delegate!

I juggle with time. I’m a father, husband, freelancer, book and film enthousiast and last but not least, runner. Life definitely happens. There’s not enough time, or, better, if I want to do it all, I need to be efficient with what when. I need to be both effective and efficient. 

Side step

Efficient is not the same as effective by the way. Example: When you go into an elevator you have two choices:

  1. Press the floor you want to go to and then press “close the doors”.
  2. Press “close the doors” and then push the button for the correct floor

They are both effective, but option 2 is more efficient.

One way to be more efficient is to delegate tasks. Although I love the science behind training plans, the puzzles and figuring out the right training from day to day, week to week and month to month, it takes up too much time. And I’m not an expert, so it takes up even more time to figure everything out. 

If you are someone who just wants to run 3 times a week and maybe finish a marathon once in your life, delegate your training to an online training plan. Stick with the plan and you’ll finish the marathon, no worries.

If you are a pro-athlete, you have probably delegated way more than just your training plan. You probably have a whole team of people that will help you out day by day and with everything going on. Dietician, physical therapist, coach, trainer, massage therapist etc, and so on. Or at least have very easy access to them.

Personal Coach

If you are more like me, aspiring to run ultra’s (requiring a lot of training etc.) but not a pro athlete, you don’t have all the time in the world. Delegating your training to just a static online training plan, won’t help either. Delegate this to a personal coach! He or she doesn’t have to be close by the way, online is fine, but it needs to be personal and tailored to your personal life. That means at least a weekly update although I prefer the daily adjustments if needed. And I love the conversations and the understanding both physically and mentally with what you are doing. The rest of the world thinks I’m crazy anyway. 

It will cost money. I know. But the payback is huge! The time I’ve spend on my own training, figuring it out, the mistakes I’ve made and all those kinds of things have cost me way more money and time. There’s definitely a return on investment, both in money and in time spend on feet.

Run a few miles more on your shoes. Don’t buy that new shirt, the old one is just fine. Do you really need that new race vest? Get a coach!

Recovery debt…

One of the challenges I have is what I call recovery debt. I’ll explain.

A normal training-week looks like this. I run 5 days a week. Friday’s are my long run days as I don’t work and the kids go to school (8:30-15:00) so after dropping them off, I can run. The other four days are Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Sunday during the day and the others in the evening usually after 20:00 with Monday after 21:00.

The build up

Let’s say I start running at 20:00 for a 1,5 hour run. I’m back at 21:30. I drink, eat a bit, and relax. Feet up, watching some Netflix or reading a book. After 1,5 hours (probably a bit earlier) my heart rate is between 60-70 bpm ( I have a ~51 average rest heart rate) and hopefully my adrenaline and endorphins and what have you, are loosing their influence on my body. I shower and am in bed by 23:30. I sleep for about 7 hours because I have to get up at 6:30 again (family and work).

Those 7 hours seem enough, but because my heart rate remains a bit elevated during part of my sleep, I don’t get 100% quality of sleep. I monitor my heart rate also during sleep and my resting heart rate at wake up might be 56 bpm instead of 51 bpm. During the day it goes down further to my average, so my body seems fully recovered before I run again.

I do this 3 days in a row and that means I built up a bit of recovery/sleep debt during those three days. I see this in my waking up average rest heart rate, but more importantly I feel slightly more and more tired every day. I can fully function, it’s not that bad, but I do feel it.

Of course I need to recover and I do. Thursday is a rest day. No running! I’m a bit tired during the day, but I try to get to bed earlier (no later than 22:00) and I can sleep until 6:30-7:00. That gives me ~9 hours of high quality sleep and I feel much better.

I do have to make sure the other days I rest as well and have good nights sleep, so no partying every day during the weekend. (As if I would by the way 😛 ).

Alternatives?

Of course there are alternatives to this schedule, I can hear the following questions…

Q: Why don’t you run early in the morning before work? 

A: Although I’m a morning person, getting up at 4:00 to do a 2 hour run before work is a bit too much at this time. Furthermore I don’t want to wake up my wife as well, because she will have a broken night then.

Q: Why not run immediately after work?

A: Family time (my kids are 7 and 9) and I’m the cook at home. I sometimes can cook early on Tuesday, my wife and kids have dinner without me and I’m back to tuck in the kids. We can to this 1 day a week, sometimes.

Q: Why not reschedule your days so you don’t have three night runs in a row?

A: That’s because my wife has a life as well :). Furthermore, Saturday is the day my kids have games (field hockey) and I help out, so no running on Saturday. 

Remember, I’m the guy with the weird hobby not my family and in this way I try to minimise the impact they have of all my running.

My question(s) to you

How do you deal with scheduling, recovery, sleep etc. when having a full family life and work? What’s your challenge in this and how do you cope? Please tell me!

Here we go…

This is me:

  • Father (Fien & Bram)
  • Husband (Irma)
  • Freelancer (Clear&Done)
  • Runner

Nothing special, except for the fact that running is a bit different for me than for most people. I usually say:

I’m a runner, but a bit on the extreme side of running. I like to run distances over a marathon and preferably in the mountains… ultra trails.

People look at me like I’m crazy, and I probably am…

A Dutch guy running in the mountains is weird anyway. It’s the Netherlands. It is flat, really flat.

I’m a normal guy, trying to combine a full family life (priority 1) with a 32-40 hour workweek (priority 3) with a 5-6 day a week training and running schedule (priority 2). I’m trying to live as an athlete (living, working, training, eating vegan/vegetarian, repeat) without the full support a professional athlete has although I do have a wonderful coach Danielle Snyder.

In this (hopefully weekly) blog I’ll write about my challenges and my highlights, my questions and my answers to the complexity of this combination of priorities. I know there are more people like me, facing the same challenges. With this blog I hope we can combine our collective knowledge and experiences to help each other out. And I’m hoping for your input.

Me during the 80k Trail des Templiers 2018