The Himalayan 100 is a stage race comprising 5 days of running - 24, 20, 26, 13 and 17 mile stages. Day 3 is actually the Everest marathon and a full distance of 26.2 miles.
But like any ultra event, the distance is only part of the challenge. The terrain in the mountains will be rough and rocky and the altitude will be a major hurdle to deal with. The highest point is around 3500m, which is high enough to cause some issues, possible mountain sickness and headaches. Then there's the issue of lack of sleep, change in food, risk of stomach upset and dehydration.
At only 4 weeks away, I'm in that horrible phase where I can't afford to catch a cold, get ill or pick up an injury. I'm eating, breathing and sleeping the Himalayas and my entire life is being consumed by preparation and training. It's a very fine balance between doing enough training but not too much which will tip me over into injury. If you've ever run a marathon or an ultra you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. 30% of people who enter a marathon never make the startline. I'm pretty sure most of them will be because of injury, doing too much too soon or pushing too hard and burning out/getting ill.
I'm a firm believer that training doesn't need to be complicated and to a certain extent that 'less is more'. Having run the Jungfrau marathon only 12 months ago I know that I can still do the distance and on challenging terrain. But this isn't just one marathon. It's effectively 4 marathons split over 5 days. Piece of cake then..
So, what sort of training am I doing? Well it's not as you might think. I'm not following a classic 'marathon' training plan, or indeed any sort of plan. I'm pretty much making it up as I go depending on how I feel and how I'm recovering. All my running is at a comfortable pace and I'm running through lovely countryside and challenging terrain. No speed work and lots of jog/walk on the trails. Training really doesn't need to be difficult.. keep it simple. Just think about the demands of the event then match your training to those demands.
So, I'm trying to focus on building up my long trail runs, up to 4-5 hours. Just easy steady pace, walking up hills and concentrating on time on my feet, not on distance. Much of the Himalayan 100 will be un-runable due to the altitude and elevation, which suits me as I'm quite happy hiking up a mountain in the Lakes for hours on end. To address that I'm doing lots of squats on my TRX and plenty of walking outside of my running training.
But it's not just the 'long run' that needs focus. I'm also trying to build up consistency and the ability to run long back to back. This requires rapid recovery after a run, then out again the next day for another long trot. This weekend just gone, I did 2 hours on Saturday, then 3.5 hours on Sunday. Then a 90 min hike after that. I have no idea if this strategy will work! I'll let you know in 5 weeks time..
But staying injury free is the biggest hurdle. Putting in the miles is all very well, but the stuff we do outside of training is just as important. I'm virtually living on my foam roller and trigger ball and try to spend 30-60 mins a day doing various exercises and myofascial release techniques. I'm fairly sure this is the only reason I can still run well and (touching wood) injury free so far. If you're a runner and don't own a ball or foam roller, then you're missing a trick. Go and buy one immediately! My weapon of choice is The Grid from Trigger Point therapy and also the trigger ball by the same company. Great products and great online advice.
It's true. The more we run, the more 'stuff' we have to do outside of running to support the extra training. Massage, strength work, nutrition, sleeping and foam rolling all takes even more time, but it's worth it for an epic 'once in a lifetime' event.
Yes, preparing for an event like this is overwhelming and stressful. There's so much to think about and so much that could go wrong, not just now, but at any time over the next 4 weeks and during the event itself. It's like living on a knife edge and I could fall off at any time (I did back in 2010 when I was training for the Ironman, got ill and never made it). All I can do is prepare, get organised, look after myself and pray that nothing goes wrong. But with each successful run (and recovery) my confidence grows and I'm beginning to feel like this might be possible. All I need to do is stay balanced on that edge.. and not fall off.