Let’s talk about long distance running (with three great long distance athletes)

17 May 2021
by Kelvin Slesser-Marriott

How far can you run in a day? That’s the question that encouraged us to connect with David Kilgore, Lucy Bartholomew and Travis Hawkins to talk about their individual experiences as successful long distance athletes.

But first, let’s try to define what we mean by long distance.

Open ended and, for the most part, accessible, this is a sport where the line between exercise and adventure is pleasantly blurred. Usually, over five or ten kilometres, form, age and training will predict your performance. This is also the kind of running where most of us will benchmark our athletic ability.

But what happens when we look further, to marathons, ultras and beyond? Well, because they can be such epic endurance tests, we tend to focus more on, and take more satisfaction from, simply finishing.

Lucy Bartholomew by Bryan Hynes
Image by @bryanhynes_

Fatigue, fuel and weather are likely to contribute, plus the training required to reach any kind of competitive standard doesn’t easily fit into the schedule of a full time job and low key drinking habits. The beauty here then, is that pace comparisons fall away.

Outcomes are replaced by experiences, and the feat of a double-digit hour or multi-day running event becomes a spectacle that can define any runner's year, or even lifetime. It allows race organisers to innovate outside the box of point-to-point, single terrain, solo racing - such as the 10km road race.

Look at Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra, The Barkley Marathons or The Speed Project - unorthodox races defined by their winners as ‘special games with fantastic rules’, or sometimes #NORULES as is the motto for the latter.

So, inspired by this question ‘how far can you run in a day?’, we’ve built a long distance event to push individuals, or teams, into this realm of self-discovery and adventure. David, Lucy and Travis are here to guide us through to the start line.

Warning: this may provoke you to run really, really far...

For someone running their first ultra race, what are the common mistakes? What are you most likely to forget?

David: Definitely nutrition is king. A lot of ultra runners joke that an ultra is an eating contest with a little bit of running involved. So before you toe the line make sure you are dialed in what works well for your body. Also don't forget batteries for your head lamp and some band aids for your nipples.

Travis: There are so many mistakes to be made! Sure, beginners will likely make more of them... The longer the race, the more opportunity there is for everyone to make mistakes though. The difference I see with beginners versus experienced athletes is the ability to stick to a plan when mistakes (inevitably) are made. When things start to go wrong, beginners are most likely to forget the plan.

Lucy: Usually people are so anxious and nervous for their first ultra that they have everything and anything they might need!! The common mistake is that they have so much stuff that they get overwhelmed and forget something as important as anti chafe or sometimes their shoes!! My advice here is to get the basics sorted and don’t complicate it.

Lucy Bartholomew by Josh Lynott
Image by @joshlynott

Presumably your kit will be different to racing 10km, so what are you packing for an ultra run?

Lucy: For sure there is a difference in what you need for say 40min for running in a 10km compared to a possible full day on the trails for an ultra. In my pack is usually wet weather/wind jacket, a long sleeve thermal if I am in the mountains, a small first aid kit, lots of snacks, water, maps if I don't know where I am going, my phone, a hat, a buff, sunglasses and the most important thing: a good attitude.

Travis: It’s easy to get overwhelmed.I try to make all of the decisions ahead of time. I obsess over the weather in the days leading up to a race - decide what I will need, then try to forget about it. For years, I took notes after training workouts listing weather conditions and what worked and didn’t. This was really helpful in creating my own personal quiver of gear. For instance, I can handle almost anything with warm wind blocking gloves, a rain vest and merino wool socks. I am almost never comfortable in a jacket. I won’t even run a 10k without vaseline to prevent chafing. The longer the race, the more I keep on reserve.

David: Man, a little of everything. I feel like it's like going on a quick camping trip. So either a race vest or some handheld water bottles (pick your poison). People usually do a vest if they are going for the long haul with little to no support. I like to pack mine with snacks I may need when out, a phone, water bottles, flashlight, water filter, maybe a mini speaker for some of your favorite tunes, and weather gear in case the weather turns.

David Kilgore by Johnny ZhangImage by @jzsnapz

Our race starts at sunrise, close to the summer solstice. So, It’s 4am, you need to get up and get moving. What’s the plan?

Lucy: Damn, that's early haha but there is something so magical about that time of the morning and waking before the sun, running into the sunrise and into a new day. For a race that early I wouldn’t be waking up 2 hours before to eat something before the race like I would do for a later start. I would probably wake up around 3am with my gear laid out the night before, have a banana and a cup of tea, plug some music in hype up and get ready to make the most of this day that lays head!

Travis: That’s my kind of start time! I’m an early riser. I try to get a lot of sleep in the nights leading up to a race. This way I don't stress the night before the race - If I don't sleep well it's ok, because I know I'm well rested. I will also try to get up and get moving as early as possible on the days leading up to a race with an early start. Even if it’s a rest day- i’ll get up early and go for a light spin or swim. On race day, I like to get up early, have coffee & breakfast without rushing.

David: I am a pretty quick riser, especially at the time of day. I usually get as much sleep as I can. I usually have my gear prepped the day before, throw on my stuff, grab a little snack, head out the door and get some fun music going to start the day.

How do you handle diet and nutrition during the ultra run?

David: Everyone is different so it's really a guess and check sort of thing with each person though of course everyone needs carbs, electrolytes, etc. it all depends on how you want to get them. Some of my main go-tos are potatoes, snickers, and Maurten.

Lucy: For me, simple is best. I use Spring Energy gels as they are natural ingredients and my body recognises them and enjoys them. I try to eat small but consistently; around every 30-45min. The longer the race goes I add in more real foods, warm foods, salty/savoury meals to keep things interesting and not get palate fatigue. Food is such a motivator in an ultra - energy in is energy out, and I want to go fast!

Travis: Like with training, you have to be consistent and be patient. Everyone's gut is different and your own gut is very different under different circumstances. I don't have any secrets though. I follow a plan for as long as I can, then drink coke and water. I think the Maurten product is pretty great right now. I mainly like it because it has the mildest flavor. I can't stand the way so many nutritional products taste!

Lucy Bartholomew by Josh Lynott.png
Image by @joshlynott

When (if ever) you start to lose the mental battle on a long run, where are you able to pull inspiration from?

Lucy: ‘If ever’… more like ‘all the time’ haha! We train so much for the physical side of running but rarely think much about the mental side. For me it’s about bringing myself back to the present moment as when I start to falter mentally it’s because my mind is creating stories of what could happen and how bad it could be. In reality we only have ’the now’, so I really just try to focus on that and what I can control; which is usually my effort and my attitude. From my many years of racing I have also built a tool box of ways to raise myself back up when I am in a hard patch; mantras, gratitude, eating, talking to others if they are around, games to play out there, music…. You need to find what works for you!

Travis: Inspiration is great for creating a plan, but when things go wrong and it gets dark, it's not inspiration that's going to get you across the finish line. Sticking to the plan and focusing on the moment is what matters in those dark times.

David: Really just being in the moment and enjoying where you are at, even in the tough spots. Most of the time these races are in incredibly beautiful spots. Also phone a friend or talk to someone in the race that is near. People are the most important and nothing can lift your spirit higher than connecting with another person or the natural world around you.

Travis Hawkins by Johnny Zhang Image by @jzsnapz

What’s been your favorite race, and what race is your goal race?

Travis: I don't really have a favorite race. The first time I did a triathlon was Escape from Alcatraz. That blew my mind open. The first time I ran the OSR Midnight half (through the streets of NYC at midnight) my mind was blown open again. Every Ironman finish line is incredibly special.

David: That's a tough one! I will go with my favorite run ever. I ran 100 miles last year through my hometown in Florida, where I ran all of the paths and everything in between that I grew up running on. I did it all with the support of my family and great friends and chatting with people globally. On top of that we raised $20,000 for run specialty shops during the pandemic. Definitely something that will always be near and dear to my heart. Next big one is the Speed Project, the 340 mile race from LA - Las Vegas. Lets go!!!

Lucy: That's such a hard question! I love so many races for different reasons. Some have challenged me more than I thought I was strong enough to endure, some have been those beautiful days where everything clicks, some are just filled with the most epic scenery. I would say I have always had a place for the ultra trail Australia in the Blue Mountains as it is my local, always around my birthday and it feels like a party with every-one I would want there sharing the blue mountain trails.

Image by @jzsnapz

Post-race, what’s in your cooler?

Travis: A cold beer!

David: Ooooohhh you already know some caprisun! haha (JK but not really). But really post runs, definitely a big smoothie or shake guy!

Lucy: Watermelon! Duh. Before heading to dig into a big burrito, pizza...

And finally, there are many, many things you could choose to do with almost seventeen hours on a Saturday instead of an ultra run. So... what’s the point?

Travis: If any of us knew the answer, I don't think we'd still be doing it.

David: Hahaha good point... hey man it's the little things in life, the things that make you tick. Find those things for yourself and go after them. It's a feeling where you feel like you're supposed to be there. Mine unfortunately is just running an absurd amount of miles 😉

Lucy: That's for YOU to know. Your WHY in the sport of ultra running is so important. Why did you decide to sign up? Why are you going to sacrifice hours in your day to run? These answers are so important. For me, it’s about bringing out the best in me, watching myself rise to challenges, move my body with self love and connecting with nature and the community that shares the trails with me. But, you need to know your ‘WHY’...

As you’ve made it this far, we’ll ask again:

HOW FAR CAN YOU RUN IN A DAY? [+Free Maurten Race Kit]

Register for Chase The Sun: Long Run - a long distance race on Saturday 19th June, supported by Maurten.

David Kilgore (@davidkilgore) used to run to catch crocodiles. Now he’s an On Running sponsored ultra-distance runner, has represented the US at the World Trail Running Championships and most recently became the American record holder in Red Bull’s Wings for Life charity race.

Lucy Bartholomew (@lucy_bartholomew) is a prolific Australian runner, Salomon sponsored athlete, former world ultra-junior trail running champion, and, if you ask us, champion of the good life. She’s run everything from Ultra Trail Australia to Western States.

Travis Hawkins (@travhawkins) is a former professional Ironman triathlete, three time winner of New York’s unsanctioned ultramarathon, OSR30, and a full time fitness and performance coach.

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Words by Kelvin Slesser-Marriott (@kelvin_ksmksm), co-founder of West Coast Runners: “They ain’t short shorts, they’re long long legs. It’s a look”

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