According to Instagram, I ran my first ever marathon approximately 70 weeks ago. It was the end of 2020. There were no events in the foreseeable future, and so my fate was set. I would run a self-motivated 42.2km, starting at around 5am, arriving home 4hrs and 41 min… a generous handful of dates later (indeed, the dried-up shrivelled things. Good on a run. Nowhere else.)
I loved that first marathon. But still, I wasn’t going to force what happened next. I’ve always sought to approach running (and many things in life) passion-first. It’s how I know I’m doing something for the right reasons, not because it’s the “next natural step” or because of external pressure. If it’s meant to be, I trust the interest will develop. And when it does, I’ll do a better job. I’ll get to where I want to go, and importantly, I’ll enjoy the process. That’s what happens when you know your why, and you’re certain about it.
It’s an approach that’s served me well to date. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here… getting ready to run my first ultra distance! In just a month’s time!
For the sake of catching you up to speed, I’ve now run a 3.35 (ironically incidental) marathon, and a handful more in between. After training myself for some time, I started pondering what might be possible with a coach. So I got one… equally, to ensure I was doing this thing right.
The longest distance I’ve ever clocked consecutively is 43km. Technically speaking, that’s an ultra distance. So too is anything over 42.2km. But #runnersrules, when you end a run at 17.79km, you don’t just stop. You clock the driveway three times. It is what it is. The same goes for embarking on this feat.
My goal going into last year (before a minor calf strain) was 50km, which felt like a reasonable next step. Alas, sometimes life has different things in store. With no 50km events in the near future, this left the Great Ocean Road Ultra Marathon. 60km.
Because what’s an additional 10km, right?
I’ll tell you what it is – it’s incentive enough to take preparation seriously. So without further ado, here’s what I’m doing. I hope you find a gem in the list that supports whatever goal you’re chasing!
1. I’m building a bank of mental strategies.
I put this first with intention – because I think it’s one of the most underrated forms of prep there is. My coach (legend), Lucy Bartholomew, often speaks to how the longer you go, the less the distance matters. What matters more is the power of the mind. Mental strategies matter. So do small wins along the way.
For my first solo marathon, I broke down the run into 20-minute blocks. Short enough to feel achievable. Long enough to feel a sense of progress. Little hacks like this are game-changing for mentally sustaining a long run… and well, anything.
For every 20 minutes, I’ll mentally enter a new block. And with it, a new head space. It’s like running out the door for the first time. You let go of whatever happened in the last 20 minutes… whatever narrative you were spinning about tired legs. You shift your focus entirely to this “new” run. All in all, a 4-hour marathon will include 3 x 20-minute blocks, repeated four times. The theory being, you’re working with smaller, more digestible numbers than the 42km you started with.
In general, I find working to time far easier than focusing on pace or distance. At the end of the day, you focus on time… you focus on putting one foot in front of the other, and the distance will tally itself. If you’ve put in the work prior, you’ll honour the pace that’s right, and the rest is history.
That’s just one strategy, of course. Over the next month or so, I’ll be using every run I go on (interval, easy or long) to build further strategies. Mentally, I’ll enter the 60km multiple times, even if I don’t edge close to the distance. I’ll ask myself… if today were the race, what are the thoughts I’d be cycling? The storylines I’d be telling? This way, when I get to the start line, I’ll have read the chapter before. I’ll be familiar with the words. I’ll know exactly the place in my head to go, in order to reach the final page.
A strong mental foundation will always be of equal value to what you build physically.
2. I’m using my genetics to optimise nutrition, fitness, mental + hormonal health.
A lesson I’ve come to learn through taking any goal to the next level, is how important is to focus on yourself. Your own body, your own capabilities, your own need for rest, your own nutrition, your own history with training and so much more. Outside of running, I’m pretty good at ignoring competition, and focusing on what I need, in order to be my best. That’s a good start, but the next step is to increase self-awareness. To do more than just stay in my own lane – but to carve it out.
Last year, I completed a DNA test (saliva-based) with SelfDecode. It took a matter of minutes. I sent it away to their lab, where I can only imagine a team of scientists gathered around to discuss my strengths, my weakness, and the best solutions to harness my personal DNA.
Kidding, I very much doubt that happened. But the amount of data available via my personal dashboard could certainly convince you otherwise. After informing SelfDecode on my lifestyle, my training, my goals and also, the genetic answers I desire most, I’m now privy to hundreds of custom wellbeing and health reports. These let me know where my genetics lie against the general population, in areas from brain function, respiratory health, hormone health and nutrition, to bones, joints, muscle growth, heart and blood vessels, skin, gut… the list goes on.
As for revelations that made a lot of sense? My predisposition for being a morning person; for presenting excellent respiratory health (thank you, genetics); for forming fast-twitch muscle fibers. Those are the fibers that support power in our strides. They benefit our ability to sprint, jump and throw. Of course, whether I express these fibers in reality depends on training and lifestyle habits. But when I look back at how my body has responded to heavy loads, and even progressed with HIIT training in the past, it sounds about right. My ability to recover from high-intensity sessions may well exceed average standards.
Here’s something I had no intention of finding out. It turns out I’m leaning towards the 64th percentile for ADHD… not the highest… but certainly not the lowest. It’s funny to consider how this may present itself in my life. My impatience comes to mind. So does my innate desire to do several things at once. Satisfaction for me has always come from investment in several areas, and this likely explains why. Not to mention how valuable this is for maintaining progress and inspiration in my training.
Now for the productive part (my favourite), each report includes a list of prioritized recommendations for mitigating, regulating or optimising genetic data. Knowing that I’m on the higher end of the spectrum for joint pain, I’ll be looking into supplements recommended by SelfDecode, as well as increasing my avocado/soybean intake. Fun fact: these feature unsaponifiables (fatty acids) that support healthy, functioning joints. As a vegan, this part should be easy!
Needless to say, I highly recommend completing your own DNA test and diving into the data, whether in training or otherwise (feel free to use code KENZIE15 for 15% off). This seems like it should be vital for every human, simply to maximise personal wellness.
3. I’m matching recovery to my running.
The more I train, the more I’m determined to honour recovery. When it comes to endurance distances, doing the bare minimum just doesn’t cut it – not if you want to truly look after yourself and progress at the same time. I live and breathe my Normatec recovery boots as is, and now that I’m closer to the beach, I’ll be hitting cold therapy several times a week. I’ve set a goal to stretch for 20 minutes every day. Beyond this, I’ll be using ClassPass for the odd sauna, ice bath (see: Recovery Lab Richmond) or massage to aid in recovery from running and strength work.
I’ll see you on the other side of this 60km! I’d say my fingers are crossed, but when you prepare mentally and physically, you have more than “hope” to work with. You have a foundation. And so comes the final block.
Features paid partnership with SelfDecode. All opinions are my own.