A 32k trail run with around 650 meters through the hills of Limburg. The King of Spain, I ran it on a supper of ‘bitterballen’ and a baguette herb butter. Good preparation is half the job. At larger events and longer distances, nutrition, hydration and your overall state of mind influence the outcome of how and if you’ll make it to the finish line. In the run-up to my big challenge this year, the 51k Eiger ultratrail, the King of Spain (starting point Gulpen) seemed like the perfect moment to test my entire setup and mindset. 32 Kilometers is the longest distance I have ever run (or walked!) in succession. Warm weather and climbing so many meters turned out to be tough but good.
Training for a 32k trail run
The schedule that I run now ticks 40 to 50 km per week spread over 4 to 5 days of running. Longer distances at the weekend, sometimes 2 days in a row, mixed with hill and interval training. The so-called ‘back to back’ training days in particular are a good test for your willpower. Surprising your body as much as possible during training days is the best thing you can do. Running outside in a varied natural environment helps enormously. In week 15 my training was interrupted by a move to a new home. A lot of hassle where the focus on totally different things was needed. But the King of Spain had been a clear anchor in my training for weeks so I would start anyway.
Fat for fuel
Every day I skip breakfast and in the morning I can go run a half marathon on an empty stomach. My body is now quite set to use fat as an energy source. Nevertheless, I know that for an ultra-challenge later this year, eating must be done at set times because your body burns up a good amount of calories that have to be refueled with food. You don’t want to collapse halfway. You will never be able to do a tough run entirely on burning fat, certainly not when climbing and descending. For the time being I don’t feel the need to maintain a special nutritional regime where you eat extra carbohydrates for a great effort, like ‘normal runners’ do.
32k Run on Bitterballen
My hotel was a few kilometers from Gulpen. The evening before the race, starting numbers could be picked up at the Gulpener Brouwlokaal. That seemed like a good idea to me so after eight o’clock I thought I’d pick up my starting number. Big mistake. Thought it was in and out, but no, the King of Spain turns out to be quite an event. The row of runners swung completely through the backyard of the Brouwlokaal. Due to a lack of ‘signage’ I was also in the wrong line with a few people. An hour later, number in my pocket, back to the hotel to have something to eat.
The next surprise was waiting. The kitchen was already closed after 9 p.m. Helpful as the bartender was, he didn’t want to send me to my room without food, so he offered to arrange some baguette with herb butter. A portion of bitterballen was my main course. Luckily I was able to laugh about it. With this grande dinner I became very curious about how my body would function the next day. Because I don’t normally eat breakfast, I thought it would be best not to start now. The only care post would be after 14 kilometers and I would normally reach that without breakfast easily.
It was a hot day. In the beginning the group goes through large gates past gates and the first climbs. Around 8 kilometers I have the idea that I am not really running smoothly, but oh well the care post is at 14k so we’ll see. Once at the care post I handle my eating moment with both hands. Bananas, mango, some flatbread with hummus … I finish it with a few Clif blocks. The tastiest and most expensive winegums ever (must have!).
My next mental goal is the half marathon point. Once there, I realize that my longest run ever was 26k … let’s go get it. After that I get the feeling that I am getting cramp in the legs from climbing, it does not persist and it turns out to be a mental test. At this point I see many people who stop running. The last kilometers I only think that 6 kilometers is really nothing, that everyone can run that. And that’s how I finish my first 32k trail run that day.
Your body can become very efficient at converting energy from any source. As long as you don’t have to set a record, you have enough fat in stock to be able to move forward. Supplementing with electrolytes and sugars while running longer distances is enough. My gear was mainly black in color, I hadn’t thought about that in the weather forecast. This was extra hot and not handy. I had the extra weight of compulsory clothing for the Eiger Ultra with me, but no trekking-poles with me. It clearly wasn’t the lightest pack. See if there is anything to fine tune here.
Am I ready to walk through the mountains in 1.5 months? I think so. Why not. From post to post, enjoying nature, you will get there naturally.
Update! Read how I did finishing 51k on Vibram Five Fingers.