Some of you that are reading this, will have heard about my rather impressive implosion and eventual DNF at The Coastal Challenge (TCC) in Costa Rica earlier this month. For those who haven’t though, let’s just say that my stubbornness and competitive drive far overpowered logic and any sense of personal safety in this brutal six-day 230km ultra race. So robotic and single-minded were my actions, that after five days of running, I was pulled from the race before the sixth and final stage due to medical issues, and flown straight to a hospital. My lack of stage racing experience, coupled with poor ‘hot weather’ camping skills, were the major factors in my gradual decline from overall race leader to a stumbling, incoherent mess. I don’t at all regret pushing myself so hard, I just wish that I had prepared better for the non-running part of multi-day stage racing in the heat.
With that said, I learned a lot from the experience, and below is a compilation of (hopefully useful) thoughts on multi-day stage racing. It’s based mostly on things that I did wrong, and on things I would change if I had a do-over. There were also a few things that I did quite well, so they’re in the list too. Obviously not all multi-day races are the same, but I’m hopeful that a bit of what I have to say is universal to stage racing. So, here it is…
1 Get to the destination early
It sucks to be in a rush. It sucks to feel like you’re forgetting something important, and don’t have time to solve it. Do yourself a favour and get to where you’re racing ahead of time. I know it’s tough with family, work, money, etc… but giving yourself an extra day (or five) will reduce a ton of your stress.
2 Know the course that you will be racing on
Kind of a no-brainer. Do your homework and understand not only the terrain, but also the environment/weather. This is fundamental to choosing the right gear, approximating your time on course, and especially how to plan your recovery.
3 Understand what happens after each stage
Knowing whether you will finish within steps of your cushy hotel, or relatively alone on a sun-scorched beach, will let you plan your post-stage activities properly. The last thing you want is to be surprised and unprepared after stage one, and already falling behind on refuelling and relaxing.
4 Recovery is as important as running
Racing breaks your body down (obviously). Sleeping, eating, drinking… RECOVERY… builds you back up. I was the perfect example of not enough recovery. Problems just compound in stage racing, and I was grinding myself apart as I kept the pedal to the metal. I was running each of the day stages at full-gas, hardly sleeping and just digging myself into a deep hole.
5 Have a Plan A, a Plan B, and then be prepared to toss them out the window
This was definitely another one that I got wrong! I love structure and following a plan. So much so, that I held tightly to the train I was on, even while it was clearly off the tracks. If things start to go sideways with your current plan, be prepared to make adjustments. Problems will only compound and grow as the days pass, so be prepared to adjust early on.
6 Don‘t sweat the small stuff
I’m horrible for sweating the small stuff. I find comfort in organization and planning. I wish I had some great insight to help you guys with this point…but I don’t.
7 Over pack race gear, and under pack non-race gear
What I mean is that you should have spares for your spares when it comes to your race kit. As far as post-race clothing and gear for after the event, you’ll never use all the stuff you want to bring. Most likely you’ll be a dirt-bag and wear the same clothes for way too many days. This is really due to convenience and lack of time… just go with it.
8 Bring (some of) your own food: At best, you can assume that the catering for any multi-day stage race is mediocre – it’s just the reality of multiple days, lots of racers, volunteers, location, etc. Even if you have an iron gut and can survive on bark and snails, having some of your usual comfort food is worth its weight in gold. In some cases (like mine), being almost fully self-reliant would be the best way to go.
9 Be prepared to use Mother Nature: We are all aware of the pre-race queues that form for the toilets. That situation will likely only get worse (due to timing and lack of cleanliness) as a multi-day stage race progresses. I’m really just suggesting that having a reliable ‘Plan B’ (e.g. the forest) could save you a lot of grief.
10 Befriend and emulate those that seem to know what they‘re doing
Ok, I’m not saying to blindly follow what the girl next to you is doing; we are all individuals, and what works for her may not work for you. BUT…don’t be afraid to mimic some of the things that are working really well for her. Maybe it’s a gear choice, maybe it’s where to grab a quiet nap, maybe it’s where you can find a relaxing warm shower…
11 Be selfish
Let me explain. I’m not saying that you should be a jerk and hog all the brownies at the dessert table. What I am saying is that you need to make yourself top priority and take care of yourself first. Once you are sorted out, then it’s much less stressful helping out someone else who is struggling… and at least this way, you will be able to think straight.
12 Race Hard
I’m a firm believer in racing when you’re at a race. Very few people will actually be trying to win the event you are at… BUT… everyone should be trying to get the most out of themselves. You can’t control what your competitors do, you can only control what you do. If you truly challenge yourself, and you’re honest with yourself, you’ll likely accomplish something that you didn’t think was possible.
I hope that some of these points are useful to any runners a multi-day stage race. If you’re like me though, you’ll probably laugh at this list, then do your own thing anyway (…. which didn’t quite work as I had planned). I’m hoping that some of you have things to add to the list, so please feel free to post them in comments box.
Thanks to Ian Corless for a couple of the photos in this post.
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