|Team Ireland at the 24 hour World Championships 2013.|
With the 24 Hour World Championships (incorporating the 24 Hour Irish Championship) taking place in Belfast on the 1st of July 2017, John O' Regan answers some of the commonly asked questions about Ultra Running. (This article was originally published in Irish Runner Magazine)
How does a time-based race such as a 24-hour differ from a fixed-distance race?
In what we would call a regular race the objective is to cover a set distance in the shortest possible time; in a time-based race the objective is to cover the maximum distance allowed by the clock, in this instance 24 hours
Are breaks and time-outs permitted?
Yes, you’re allowed to take breaks and there are no limits as to how long or how many, but you must inform the race referee and rejoin the course precisely where you left it. Ideally, you won’t take breaks unless of course, you need to use the toilet or for some other pressing reason. For the most part, you need to keep moving forward cause every step counts.
What do you eat during the run?
Again this is highly individualised, but the short answer is not as much as you might think! I’ve heard people talking about how many calories they plan on burning during a race and how they will make up the deficit by consuming the same number. This is neither sensible or practical; much of the energy used en route comes from fat stores and replacing it on the hoof is likely to mean a too-full stomach.
Fuel requirements vary with intensity, and because a 24-hour race should be run at the lower end of your aerobic capacity, your need for carbohydrate should (if you are properly conditioned) decrease as you enter the fat-burning zone. Under such circumstances, you don’t want to be ingesting a fuel that isn’t being utilised; it will sit there and increase the risk of gastric discomfort and cramps.
How do you train?
I doubt you can train specifically for a 24-hour race. It requires more than just a training cycle; the groundwork needs to be done over many months and even years. It is possible for someone without that base to get through an ultra run, but if you want a good result while avoiding injury you need to have the foundations laid and thousands of miles in your legs
Generally, I like to train at a faster pace than I plan to race at, which allows me to step back into my comfort zone on race day. But as the race gets closer I will practice my race pace to get comfortable with the shorter stride and all that goes with it
To maximise my training time I include strength work in the gym, focusing mostly on running strength, which is training the movement and not just the muscle.
How do you recover?
This varies between training and racing. In training, I tend to do only enough to induce a training response, and not so much that I lose the training effect by requiring too much rest. Recovery, in that case, can be an easy run, but between runs, I make sure to get sufficient rest and pay close attention to what I eat
On gym days I tend to increase my protein intake and in the days prior to a long run I eat homemade granola or old-fashioned porridge, and I think doing these little things can start the recovery before the training even begins.
Following on from the 24-hour World Champs I won’t be in any rush to get back to training and from experience, I think I’ll know when the time is right. You’ll hear it said that ultra marathon is mostly mental, but unless you’ve worked hard on the physical the mental can take only so far; it needs the strong body to work with.
If you have a strong mind but a weak body, you are more likely to get injured. There are no shortcuts- to be successful you need to train and put the work in
By John O’Regan