Kokoda Spirit Racing

Trials and tribulations of the KSR trail running team.

Preparing For The Kokoda Challenge: Training For Toughness – Dan Nunan

Firstly, I’d like to issue the same disclaimer my teammate Ben Duffus did in the previous article in this series – I’m not a qualified anything (sports-wise, anyway). This advice comes from 15 years of competitive distance running, and more importantly, 15 years of listening to the advice of runners, hikers and other endurance athletes who have much, much more than 15 years experience behind them!

On the Kokoda Challenge, fatigue is a major issue for everyone, not just you. Whether you’ve had a shocker or you’re flying along well ahead of schedule, 96km of punishing terrain is going to be tough on your body – and your mind. That’s just inevitable. While Ben’s addressed how to approach this challenge on the day (or days!), this advice is for all the time leading up to the starting gun.

Team KSR during the 2013 Kokoda Challenge.

Team KSR during the 2013 Kokoda Challenge, Dan (right) expertly demonstrating physical fatigue.

Don’t Just Train – Prepare!

Unless 96km hilly training sessions are ‘your bag’, rarely will we feel what we feel at the business end of the Kokoda Challenge. But you can get a taste of that fatigued feeling in training, and training with it will make you mentally (and physically) stronger during KC14. Here’s two ways you can get there:

1)   Many ultra runners and walkers will peak their training with an extra long training session 3-6 weeks out from the event. This isn’t just a good training run, it’s also a dress rehearsal; carrying all the gear, trying to replicate the terrain conditions, and pulling back the speed to something closer to race pace. By the looks, many of you have already done this at the Brisbane Kokoda event the other week. This session should leave you tired, and may show you where some of your weaknesses are – and that’s a good thing. This is an opportunity to truly prepare for those KC14 conditions so you’re not shocked by how your mind feels on race day.

2)   Outside of that last long training effort, you can replicate that feeling of deep fatigue by (occasionally) shortening your rest period between training sessions. Walking/running twice a day or doing two relatively long sessions in two days can be a great way to train without that rested zip in your legs. That second session is invaluable for preparing for the second half of the KC14!

The Kokoda Challenge terrain isn't quite this hairy, but it's good to be prepared!

The Kokoda Challenge terrain isn’t quite this hairy, but it’s good to be prepared!

Pain Does Not Equal Gain (Not Necessarily, Anyway)

1)   Those gym memes have been lying to you. While it’s true that most gain comes with some pain, the equation just isn’t as simple as that. Injuries are both painful and not good for your training, and respecting the difference between ‘good pain’ and ‘bad pain’ is vital for staying fit and healthy through training and on the all-important race day. Tiredness is a by-product of good training, so don’t be concerned by a general feeling of fatigue, or even a localised fatigue in individual muscles.

Provided you’re not pushing yourself to injury, the pain you feel is your body reminding you that you can’t keep walking up that hill forever. That’s really just confirmation that you’re pushing yourself, and every time you feel that it means you’re even better prepared for the event than you have been. As we all learnt when we finally accepted that broccoli was a healthier option than a bowl of Wizz Fizz, things don’t have to feel enjoyable to be good for you.

2)   Sometimes enjoyable things ARE good for your training. Getting enough sleep is vital for helping your recovery between training sessions, and helps reduce the chance of getting sick, too. Re-fuelling (ie. eating well) after a session is also hugely important. There’s no pain with these activities, but you won’t see any gain without getting these steps right.

Post-run grass bath.  Like an ice bath, but lazier.

Post-run grass bath. Like an ice bath, but lazier.

Pushing Through The Urge To DNF

Emotional fatigue can be more harmful to achieving your goals than physical fatigue is, because – excepting serious injury or illness – it’s how you feel about your physical situation that usually determines whether you keep running or walking. It’s not your blistered feet or stinging quadriceps that teases you with visions of comfy beds and warm baths. That distraction comes straight from your head and speaks directly to the part of your brain in charge of searching for comfort. But the good news is that feeling is conquerable!

A discussion I had many years ago with multiple Kokoda Challenge winner and Australian ultra-running legend Don Wallace about embracing fatigue while avoiding injury led me to take up the mantra ‘It’s only pain’. Whenever I find myself questioning whether I should end my session early and walk home, I ask myself whether I’m pulling out to reduce the chance of injury, or simply succumbing to the temporary pain that everybody else goes through to achieve their best. If it’s the latter, it’s ONLY pain (ie. the ‘good pain’), and it will end when your body has done all that you’ve trained it to do. Come race day, the pain of knowing that you gave less than your all in your training will sting a lot more and a lot longer than your legs will. Trust me.

Dave and Ben (Dan in distance) 200m past last photo, hiking the first Austinville climb! At 30% its a train wreak if you run it!

Ben, Dan and Dave soaking up the ‘good pain’ in Austinville.

Go Team <Insert Your Team Name Here>!

You have three teammates on the Kokoda Challenge. And they’re your teammates before the race as well. Train with them whenever you can and learn what motivates them. Every team member should be part of the team’s cheer squad. You should be encouraging all of them and they should all be encouraging you! After all, that’s what Kokoda’s all about!



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This entry was posted on June 11, 2014 by in Advice.

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