Train For The TerrainThe terrain on the Routeburn track is technical (as we in the business put it), in other words, it can be rough as hell. Your knees, ankles and hips need to learn to balance and negotiate over shifting gravel, loose rock, slippery surfaces, ankle-breaking-tree-roots, mud, and steep slopes. The more training that you can complete over similar terrain, the better prepared you will be. All off-road, trail type running is beneficial in preparation. Try seeking out some tough trails in your training territory, or look for alternative ways of strengthening and preparing your legs: try practicing running on rocky river beds, rock-hopping around rock-pools at the beach, or even running in pugged (rough, rutted) paddocks or 4-wheel drive tracks.
Go The DistanceFor me, the Routeburn was going to be my longest official race distance, and I was scared that I wouldn't have the stamina to make it. So to be sure that I could do it, I took myself off of great long training runs (40+ km), and also upped my weekly distance to around 80km a week in the lead up to the race. Covering those sorts of weekly distances was something that I had to build up to, and I did some yoga and strength training to help. Rest was also important, so days of running and plenty of sleep were also a priority. It took a while, but after training for a few months, I finally felt that all the leg-work (pun intended) had paid off, and with about a month to go, I knew that I could go the distance. As Kiwi ultra, and trail running legend Malcolm Law says: "you have got to have the miles in your legs to be a successful endurance runner".
Walk The WalkI did boat loads of running training for the Routeburn Classic, but I neglected my walking training. It is possible that you might end up walking some, or lots of the Routeburn Classic, so it is advisable to train your walking muscles as well as your running muscles. Once again, training for terrain is key, so try to go for some challenging day walks, or tramps that will get your walking muscles going, and stand you in good stead for the race. I am not so sure about advising for frequency of walking training, but I did read a training plan for the Kepler Challenge that recommended completing walking training at least once a week.
Enter RacesI found that entering races was an excellent training tool for me. Not only did I get to see and run in some spectacular parts of New Zealand, I met some really cool people and learned lots from the experience of others. Entering races helped to keep me on track when I started training, by giving me mini-goals to aim for while I was training. Because I do pretty much all of my training solo, entering races gave me an opportunity to get more used to running amongst other people. Racing also gave me ample opportunity to trial my gear, race routine and nutrition before the Routeburn Classic.
Racing is different to training. I always get a flash of nervous excitement before the start, and probably push a bit harder than I do during some of my training runs. I also found that racing taught me to focus on what I was doing while I was running, and not worry about the speed or progress of others. Some people choose to only run a couple of races every now and again, but I run as many of them as possible. Mostly racing is just as a part of my training, so I am not as attached to the outcome, but from time to time I think that it is fun to try for a personal best - this is a nice way of affirming that my training is amounting to something.
Practice, Practice, PracticeAs my wise mother once (or maybe many times) said: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again". Practicing for running is really important-and not just the putting one foot in front of the other. Learning to eat and drink enough while I was running was/is something that I am still perfecting. I have practiced with different sorts of food, and drink, as well as different delivery systems (solid food vs gels, Camelbak vs drink bottle, Powerade vs water, being able to carry the weight of the compulsory gear etc.). I also did lots of trialing of different running clothes and shoes, finding what was comfortable and what chafed and caused blisters.
One example of practicing, was when I decided to give running in merino a go. I was a bit dubious about running in wool, thinking that it would be uncomfortable and that I would overheat, and get drenched. I tentatively bought a merino base-layer running top on clearance, and wore it on a freezing trail run...and instantly fell in love. Not only was it supremely comfortable, but it was an incredible temperature regulator. Now I am hooked on merino gear, and have quite a lot (although I still have a few items on my wish list).
Never try anything new in an important race. Always know your gear and your food, and consider having contingency's for if things turn to custard (sometimes, and quite randomly, energy gels upset my tummy, so I carry GU Chomps, as they don't cause problems). If something is niggling at you early on, change it or fix it. Early minor discomforts can turn into painful disasters over distance.
NutritionGet yourself a nutrition plan from Trailblazer Nutrition. These guys offer excellent value for money, as well as tailored nutrition advice, meal plans and race day fueling information. I learned heaps from my plan, and will continue to utilize my nutrition plan for training and racing. Nutrition plans are usually available at a specially discounted price through the Routeburn Classic website. Try and purchase your plan at least a couple of months before the race, this will give you a chance to practice during training and under race conditions. The nutrition package involves further consultation after you receive your plan, allowing you to have your questions answered and iron out any niggles well before you run the Routeburn Classic.
The Routeburn Classic is an amazing event, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a passion for trail running through the ridiculously beautiful mountains of New Zealand. I have decided to leave this blog here, as a detailed log of my journey to running the 2013 Routeburn Classic. If you want to find out about my latest running adventures, check out my new blog : The Thrill of the Chase.
In the mean time, if you have decided to run the Routeburn Classic, all the very best with your training. I hope to see you there next year!