I love multi-day races as you get to combine running with seeing the world; however the nature of running with all the belongings you need for a week on your back, means that training for them has to be very specific. And after four self-supported multi-day races in 4 years, I was basically fed up of training with a 7-8kg load of chickpeas on my back!
Step forward supported multi-day races. Which follow a similar format to self-supported, with six stages of running, including a long stage, but the big difference is you only have to run with a day pack, and the rest of your belongings (up to 10kg) are transported from one camp to another. You even have meals provided with you….which means no eating freeze-dried food with a spork!
Although my main running goals this year are road marathons in February and December, Crawley 24 hours in April, and Grand Raid des Pyrénées Tour des Cirques in August, I figured a supported multi-day race could fit in between my races and basically serve as a high mileage training week. Bhutan has always been high on our places to visit, so it made perfect sense to us to sign up for Global Limits Bhutan, a 125 mile race through the Himalayas, with a lot of the course run at over 10,000 feet altitude.
My main focus in the first few months of the year was running round a track for 24 hours, so my training had been mostly on the flat, but then my race in the Pyrénées is at the other end of the spectrum with 23,000 feet of ascent over 75 miles. Therefore, I’ll be spending May to August getting my mountain goat legs back, and Bhutan fits perfectly within my training and should serve as a great week of running in the mountains in a place I’ve always wanted to visit.
As previously mentioned, the biggest difference between self-supported and supported multi-day racing is that you don’t have to carry all your belongings with you. So this essentially means the joy of no training with a 7kg load of chickpeas on my back!
Alongside the lack of chickpeas, my training for Bhutan hasn’t been that different to how I’d train for a single-stage long ultra. With only 7 weeks between Crawley and Bhutan, I knew my endurance was in a good place, so it’s mainly been a case of introducing some specificity into my training with some hillier and more mountainous runs. I had a big weekend of back to backs in the Brecon Beacons, a 26 mile run on the South Downs incorporating lots of hill reps where I racked up 6,000+ feet of ascent, and I’m also running the NDW50 on Saturday as a hard training effort.
As always, Ian has emphasised quality over quantity in my training, so I’ve only been running around 70-80 miles a week. And despite only having 3 weeks of focused training after Crawley recovery, I managed to rack up 40,000 feet of ascent in these 3 weeks, and reassuringly my legs have adjusted from flat to hills quickly (thank you legs!). I have also been doing weighted rucksack hikes as a low-impact way of building up quad strength like I did for CCC training last year, and which I’ll continue with up until the GRP.
So whilst I’ve got a long way to go to get into full-on mountain goat shape for GRP, I feel happy that I’ve done enough for a solid week of running in Bhutan.
The one factor I can’t train for in the UK is the altitude; however I’ve raced a couple of times before at over 10,000 feet and have also done a lot of high altitude trekking up to 21,000 feet and have never suffered with altitude sickness in the past. I know that the effects of altitude can hit at any time, but I’m quite confident that I have enough experience at altitude to minimise any risks of it.
Packing for a self-supported multi-day race meant I became obsessed with weight saving techniques as I tried to get my rucksack as light as possible. As I can have up to 10kg transported for me from one camp to the next in Bhutan, I have gone to the other end of the spectrum and got a bit pack happy! Yes I know there’s no need for 5 different running outfits….but because I can, why not?!
I’ve even gone for two pairs of trainers – Hoka Speedgoats and La Sportiva Akashas, which I know both work well in the mountains and I’ll use accordingly dependant on weather conditions.
There’s a smaller mandatory kit to what I’m used to in previous multi-day races, but basically encompasses all the things you’d expect for a multi-day race (head torch, survival blanket, basic first aid kit, etc).
My Marmot Phase 20 sleeping bag which Likeys got in for me and which I have previously used in Tibet and Patagonia will be coming with me as it can withstand freezing temperatures, which we are likely to get at night at high altitude, and my trusted Thermarest NeoAir sleeping mat will be coming to its fifth multi-stage race. Anyone who’s ever shared a tent with me in a multi-day race knows how much I value sleep on multi-day races, so a good quality sleeping bag and mat is something I’ll never scrimp on.
I’ve also invested in some Leki Micro Trail Pro poles (I’ve previously used the Mountain King Trailblazer poles but figured if I’m taking this trying to turn myself into a mountain goat seriously, then it’s worth getting the Daddy of poles). The course profile shows that there’s some long steep climbs where poles will be invaluable, and I also want to get more practice in at using them ahead of the GRP.
For my day pack I’m using the Salomon Advanced Skin 5l which I’ve used up to 100 mile ultras before, so I know it will carry the fairly minimal mandatory kit I’ll have to run each day with.
I’m even taking a few ‘luxuries’ like dry shampoo, a family size pack of baby wipes and a change of clothes for camp (instead of wearing the same clothes for a week!). Basically if I ignore the fact I’ll be running 125 miles at high altitude, it all sounds a bit like a holiday!
As someone who loves food as much as I do, living on rations is the thing I find hardest about self-supported multi-day racing! For a week you’re waking up calorie-deficient every day and a 800 calorie freeze-dried meal is as good as it gets. In contrast in Bhutan we will be given three meals of ‘proper food’ each day, and just have to take our own snacks.
I’ll be taking Mountain Fuel Energy Fuel, Recovery and Night Fuel and for snacks I’ve got Longhaul pouches, Nakd and Torq bars, 32GI sweets and nuts. And probably the thing I’m most excited about is the prospect of not having to use a teabag 3 times!
So we fly out a week on Thursday to Paro via Delhi (don’t even get me onto the saga of getting a Transit visa for India!), and then start running on Sunday, for what I’m pretty sure is going to be a pretty special week of running in an amazing and unspoilt place.