1. Pick your races carefully
Race no more than once a month. This is extremely important in terms of ultra running. In my experience, it takes at least three weeks to recover from any race, be it 10km or 100km. Sometimes it can take far longer, even months. It depends on the conditioning you did pre-race, how your body bounces back post-race and the difficulty of the course. A 10km race may actually put more stress on your body than a 100km event, so be careful not to underestimate the wear and tear a short, fast race can put on your body.
2. Monitor your heart
Wear a heart rate monitor and regularly assess your resting heart rate. If your rate becomes elevated at rest it could be a sign of over-training. The best time to check is when you wake up in the morning. An irregular heartbeat is also an indicator that your electrolytes are out of whack and your body is under stress. So keep a close check on your heart and when it comes to racing… (see tip three)
3. If your heart’s not in it, don’t take to the start
I’ve done this before and learnt the hard way. Five times during the 2013 season I ended with a DNF next to my name. I was toeing start lines knowing that my heart was just not in it. As such, my body and mind wouldn’t respond. The worst time was at the 2013 UTMB. It had been my dream to finish the world’s ultimate trail running race, but in truth I’d run out of energy before I even started. I’d over-raced, over-trained and my heart was just not in it. The end result was inevitable… a DNF (Shona retuned to the UTMB one year later and finished 10th woman in 30hrs 04mins).
4. Throw out the weighing scales
Yes, I have thrown out my scales! I grew fed up of trying to weigh a certain kilo as I found this just brought more pressure. Instead I focused more on my diet and less on my weight. A strong diet will help you avoid burnout. I’ve changed to a high fat, low carb paleo diet with plenty of brain-nourishing, depression-busting Omega-3. Think small oily fish, heaps of avocados, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil and nuts.
5. Ease the pressure valve
Heaping unnecessary pressure on yourself can leave you feeling exhausted and upset. I’ve been there. I remember a time when the thought of another race had me in tears. It seems amazing that your favourite past time can make you so upset, doesn’t it? That’s what unnecessary pressure can do.
6. Enjoy a social life away from running
Keep your social and family life pumping! What can I say? Go out and spend time with your family and friends. Reward your successes and reward your family too. Throw a party, have a BBQ after each milestone and enjoy your social and family network. Life shouldn’t only be about running.
7. Get lots of sleep
Seven to nine hours a night is optimal. Some people can survive on 7 hours, perhaps less, and be just fine… others need more sleep. It’s all about what your body requires. If you don’t get enough sleep your body doesn’t get the time it needs to recover.
8. Beat insomnia, beat burnout
Insomnia or adrenal fatigue is a direct symptom of over-training. It happens because your system is overloaded. Take a week off training and cut back on caffeine and sugar. Clean out your diet to avoid eating foods that can cause a reaction in your body. Cut out dairy, gluten, sugar, sesame, peanuts and soy. Eat a small amount of food, something like a vegan protein shake, just before bedtime and relax.
9. Focus your mind on technique
Injuries are a red flag for any runner. They are a sign that something is not right with your body and mind. If your mind is fatigued your body will start to come undone. Overuse injuries are also an indicator that your technique may need to be assessed. Slow down and take time to fix your technique. It’s not worth going for extra speed in the short-term when the long-term result is that your body will suffer. Go back to basics. Do your running drills, only run with good form and cross train. If you can’t hold your form when running then stop and walk. Wait until you recover then run again with good form. On top of that, jump in a hot salt bath four times a week, stretch, roll and rehab. You will return even stronger.
10. Rest and reward yourself with an off-season
It’s a good idea to have one rest week in every 10 weeks of your programme. This will help you rebuild and restore your body. Typical of us Aussies we tend to run all year round and find it hard to give it up. Yet the truth is it’s crucial to take rest to prevent the onset of recurring injuries. A word of warning: sometimes it’s when we are feeling unstoppable that we actually need to rest the most. This includes taking an off-season. Seven weeks should do it. Scrap your running programme for these seven weeks and enjoy life. Still lace up your X-TALONS and go for some gentle runs, yes, but let your legs -or your dog -decide how many km’s to do. Leave your watch at home and rediscover your favourite trails or seek some new trails. Reignite your passion for adventure and empty your mind of competitive running.