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Five lessons from my Sussex ultra

I’ve done it, yet the best is still to come. Well hopefully the best is still to come, as the Dolomiti Extreme Trail is my main event for this year. Sussex was a test. A test to see if I could run 50 kilometers. So, let’s see what five lessons I can learn from the Sussex ultra.

Find better fuel

Let’s start by being critical. I have to find better fuel. Better food. I used Maurten gels during this Sussex ultra. I tested them in other races, they are okay. They give me energy, yet they are very sweet. So I need something savory.

I also had Holyfat bars and gels with me. I wanted to test them in Sussex. I know, an ultra is probably not the best place to test a new gel, but I decided to look for some salty stuff after my last big run in Spa. After that I didn’t go for a long run anymore.

The bars are tasteless. I tried to eat something every half an hour. I don’t know about you, but after a couple of hours running, I don’t feel like eating. So tasteless bars aren’t very appealing.

The gels are weird. Very oily. Like taking a spoonful of peanut butter. Maybe at home that’s nice, but not while running. I prefer something that’s easier to swallow, and doesn’t require lots of water to rinse away.

So food wise I am back to the start. I have to find something to eat that is easily digestible, besides Maurten gels. I think I will experiment with making my own energy bars. I used to make power snacks in the past, so let’s give it a go again.

Sports drink

This was my first trail run in England. All the races I’ve done so far had aid stations with sports drinks. During this ultra we only had water. To make sure we had enough electrolytes the aid stations had tablets. That was new to me.

I brought my own electrolytes tables, so I was fine. However, I only had a liter of Isostar with me, and I couldn’t get a refill. I ran on water. Together with the electrolytes tables that did the trick. Yet, next time I should bring Isostar tablets as well.

Maybe that’s a good idea anyway. There are a lot of sports drinks that I find too sweet. Bringing some Isostar tablets will solve that problem.

I can run 50+ kilometers

I finished the ultra, with energy to spare. I admit, my legs didn’t really want to run anymore, but I was fine power walking. The days after the Sussex ultra I didn’t have a lot of muscle pain. Yes, I definitely felt my legs walking up the stairs, but that’s it. Even Peter, my massage therapist, said my legs felt fine. So if I maintain this training schedule up until June, I should be fine during the Dolomiti Extreme Trail.

I have to do more altitude training

Having said that, I do have to focus on altitude training. One thing I’ve learned from all the podcasts with great ultra and trail runners is that it isn’t the distance that kills you, it’s the altitude.

Last Saturday we had one more big, steep climb after 43 kilometers. I stopped twice during that climb to give my legs a little rest. Yet, this climb was nothing compared to what is awaiting me in the Dolomites. So it’s time to focus on altitude training.

Running poles make a difference

I used my running poles from start to finish. I had my Quiver with me to put them away, but we were constantly climbing or descending. Having the running poles made a big difference. First of all, it was very slippery. They gave me more grip. Not just on the uphill, but also on the downhill. Secondly, I never had the feeling I had to push on my thighs to keep going. Generally I do that on long ascends.

Funny thing; the day after the race I felt my biceps. That’s how much I’ve used the poles. It just means they take the weight of my legs. So they are definitely coming with me to Italy.

Work in progress

I think this is it. These are the five lessons from my Sussex ultra. Slowly I start to understand what works (my Brooks Caldera 6 shoes for example), and what doesn’t work. What needs improvement, and what is already the way it should be.

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