I just love Ann Trason. She is a bit of a hero of mine and a real inspiration. I first came across her, like perhaps many not in the ultra running world, when I read the wonderful Born to Run (my review at the link). Now, many people have criticised Ann’s portrayal in Born to Run, saying it painted her as mean and solely focussed upon winning, which was not at all what she is like (she says that in order to do well in races she has to get in the “zone” and block out everyone else, that this doesn’t come easy to her and she feels really bad about doing it – she doesn’t like that part of her but its necessary to race).
The main thing that came away from it for me though, wasn’t her personality as depicted in that book, but just that here is a woman – a woman! – doing things that for years we were told we couldn’t. She has won the Western States 100 mile race 14 times, she broke 20 world records in ultrarunning, , she raced and often beat the top men in the sport. I just thought her achievements were incredible.
Then, recently, I have been listening to the Trail Runner Nation podcast. Now, I’ve had a bit of a rant about this podcast before and there are still definitely parts to it that really annoy me, but the last two episodes I have listened to have been FANTASTIC and the reason for that is (1) Ann Trason and (2) the fact that the hosts are so in awe of Ann Trason that they just let her talk, and ask her loads and loads of questions.
I’m about to say two really cliched things so just prepare yourself – she is just so humble and she is just so down-to-earth. I have this sneaky suspiscion that a lot of ultra-runners are pretty arrogant, especially about their community. They spend a lot of time talking about what wonderful people ultrarunners are, and how they are so laidback, and so relaxed, and so nice, and just so much nicer than triathletes…..(!!) but if you are going to spend that much time bigging up your group of people then I think there’s a little bit of arrogance in there!
They also seem to hold very strongly to this concept of what ultrarunning is – a niche sport undertaken by diehard ultrarunning athletes who are in it for life, all part of this community, not motivated by money, or rankings, or anything like that, just the love of nature and the love of running. That is a really beautiful idea. The other ultrarunners on the first podcast I mentioned above spent a bit of time complaining firstly about people entering the sport, doing one ultramarathon and then never doing another one (this is a bad thing as apparently if you do one ultramarathon you have to keep doing them for the rest of your life and god forbid if you decide you actually prefer triathlon or 10ks… chip on my shoulder? me?!) They were then also complaining about this ultrarunning website which gives all the ultrarunners a ranking depending on their times in races. Apparently this is distorting the reasons why people might do the sport.
Ann Trason said “well, I’m an eccentric but…” and went on to say that it doesn’t matter to her why people run an ultramarathon. If they are motivated by improving their ranking on that website, well, great! Whatever works for you! If you try an ultramarathon and decide you’d rather do something different in future, if it has become a bucket list thing to tick off, well great! There are more people trying it! Whatever works for you! “But, you know, I’m eccentric”. I just wanted to shout at her “ANN YOU ARE NOT ECCENTRIC YOU ARE WONDERFUL!”
Her whole attitude just seems to be so fantastic – whatever works for you, whatever gets you motivated, the important thing is that you are passionate about something. In her second podcast someone makes a joke about people who have quilting as a hobby, and she points out that at least they are passionate about something.That’s a philosphy I really subscribe to – it doesn’t matter what it is, or why you’re doing it, what’s important is to have something that you love to do and that you are passionate about.
She was also giving out lots and lots of advice about ultramarathon running, a lot of which I think applies to any endurance sport, from a triathlon to a marathon and beyond, so I thought I’d replicate some of her points here.
- Think about what motivates you. You will need something to make you push on when it is really, really hard. This varies so widely for everyone but its important to know why you are doing whatever race it is you are doing. I had to really think about this one – why do I do it? Why do I want to finish? The difficult thing is that one of the reasons I do it (“it” being endurance sport) is just because I love the training and I love the routine. I love the endorphins and having something else to DO with my day. But that won’t make me finish a race…. Then I thought about how much I love the whole atmosphere at the race, both at the start and at the finish line. And I realised the reason I do it is because of how fantastic it is to cross that finish line with your head held up high, a ridiculously silly grin on your face and pain in every area of your body. If I am ever thinking about quitting, I need to visualise the feeling I get when I finish and that will hopefully motivate me to continue.
- Have a race plan. Ann Trason mentioned having a spreadsheet! (Did I mention I love her? And also that last week Trail Runner Nation was making a joke about triathletes having to have spreadsheets for everything?) The advice is to think of your three goals – the goal that is just out of reach, but only just, and perhaps not at all, a goal you know you can achieve if everything goes well and you really try,and a goal that’s the minimum that will make you happy. Then look at the course, look at where the hills and aid stations are. Work out at each point, what you need to be eating and how much. Or what you should have eaten by that point. What should you have drunk? What splits you need to achieve at each of the aid stations in order to make your goal. Plan out the race like that so that it makes it a lot harder to just “forget” to eat or drink. This is perhaps more relevant for the really long distance races like an Ironman or ultramarathon but I think it trickles down. Especially with the fact I have a half Ironman coming up I really need to think about this. At the moment I only have a (c) goal – to finish, so I need to try to work out what I want my other goals to be. Then I need to think about how many calories and what type of calories I want to take in on the bike and on the run, and when I want to take them. Spreadsheets-at-the-ready!
- Keep mentally running through your body from your toes to your head to check you are okay. “How are my toes feeling? How are my ankles feeling? How are my shins feeling? How am I doing?” etc etc etc. This not only keeps you focussed, but will keep your form better as you concentrate on those parts of your body and means that you will spot when anything is going wrong sooner. It keeps you thinking about what you need to do in order to take care of yourself. Again, perhaps more relevant for the longer distance events, but I did this throughout my marathon and it really, really worked. It was more a motivational thing,as by thinking about those various parts of the body in turn I realised I wasn’t feeling that bad around the 20 mile mark, which surprised me and gave me a bit of a boost! And at the end when my quads were killing me, it was the surprise that it was my quads and not my knees that hurt and allowed me to say “well its only my quads so its not that bad” and keep on running. Mentally it was a great trick.
- At the end of every race, write down three things that went well, three things that went wrong, and three things you should have done differently. I do this in a way with my blog race recaps, but I think in future I will try to be more disciplined with the lessons I take away from the races as I want to keep on racing and I think that will be really helpful.
So there you go! A few little tips from the master herself. I can’t think of a female form of the word “master” that would fit here, mistress clearly doesn’t have the same meaning! She is really wonderful and I would urge you to listen to the podcast episodes linked above.
I was listening to all this on an “easy” bike ride today. It’s a rest week and I had the afternoon off work (August in Madrid) so went out for two hours. I was following advice I’ve read many, many times on the Fit Recovery cycling blog – keep the easy days so easy you would be embarrassed if anyone saw how slow you were going. Now given I’m quite slow anyway and not easily embarrassed, that’s hard to achieve without actually just freewheeling the whole way, but I kept that in mind and did not push myself at all.
However, I still felt awful. I have no idea why, but I felt really empty and low on energy, feeling cold even though it was pretty hot and a bit shaky. I had several shot blox in an attempt to stave off the empty feeling but they didn’t seem to work. So I stopped at McDonalds on the way home for a Big Mac….!!!!! I would not recommend this as a fueling strategy or as good nutrition, and in my defence it was my first McD in over a year…. but oh it was so good and just what I needed at that moment! More rest is in order (and better eating, I promise)