Always challenge yourself! A trail adventure in Portugal

Michelle Maxwell Coaching, Marathon, Nutrition, Psychology, Racing, Running, Ultra Marathon

Our very own Coach Nicky took herself off an adventure to the hills of the Peneda Geres National Park in Portugal. A tough 4 day trail event through beautiful scenery and varying terrains. Read on to find out how Nicky trained for the event and what she learnt about trail running and longer distances out in the hills…..

Nicky’s words: “This year I was given the most amazing opportunity to go on an adventure in Portugal to compete in a 4 day stage race with my family Peneda Geres Trail adventure, at the time I had no idea what this entailed but thought that will be a nice holiday. When this opportunity came along my training was all geared to athletes getting through the Spring Marathon season, therefore I had a good base for running long distances, but not a lot of off road experience. I had several questions:

What training would I need to do?

What kit would I need?

Would I be able to complete this as a novice?

What would it be like running 4 days back to back?

 

I didn’t have to worry too much; I have the most amazing coach and experienced Ultra runner guiding me through. Michelle set me back to back runs with some good elevation and also helped me with the off road routes. We talked about the kit that I would need; the first thing I needed was a running vest to carry all of the essentials that I would need on the course (you must check your race info for a kit list, some events will not allow you to run without this kit). Being on the small side it was essential that I got this right. Shop around and find the one that is suitable for you. Armed with a new pack I couldn’t wait to try it out, running belts can be so annoying if you don’t have the right one so was eager to find out how this would be. To start with I added one water bottle to see how that would feel and went on a short run wow what a difference running with a pack can be, definitely test it out before a long run. I had a pair of off road trainers and a pair of trail trainers, I opted for the trail as I wasn’t totally sure of the terrain I would be running on and they have more cushioning like my road trainers. Comfort is a must when running for 4 back to back days. I then used my standard running wear Shorts, Skirt, t-shirts, lightweight jacket, long sleeve tops etc. Next up was food – what fuel was I going to take with me, especially given my various allergies. I opted for a carbohydrate and electrolyte drink in my bottles as these work well for me and Go Bites these are a great size for your pack. (Michelle has some great options for both in her new shop Long Day Out).

Given that I have never done anything like this before I was bit nervous, running in Portugal it must be hot right and for 4 days on the trot!!!!

Day 1 – A Night run (the only one) 15K this was a nice easy start to the 4 days a nice flattish route along the river and back, headtorches on and off we went they had a check point at 8k which had a water and food station I knew then I wasn’t going to have to worry about running out of water or food on the longer days. At the end of the run they provided you with a lovely buffet meal and transported us back to the hotel at around 11pm

Day 2 – 10am start – 16K which turned out to be 17.3Km with 2361ft elevation, I don’t think I need to say that this was a harder day than yesterday. To start with it was undulating with some fun sections, they added in a river crossing that was ok for everyone else at above their knees for me I was hip deep in freezing cold water. At the half way point this got tougher and tougher it’s more a mental strength that you need on a tough terrain that goes up and up and up had to keep telling myself what goes up must come down, and yes it definitely came down. The ground under foot was hard going fine & dusty mud that had you slipping and sliding all over the place. Now I see why most of the runners there had Trail Gaiters, a must as you do end up with grit and stones inside your trainers.

Day 3 – 8.30am Start – 29K with 5330ft elevation, this was the toughest and most technical day of all, we were assured it was the most beautiful, that I am not able to confirm 100% as the weather was fairly poor, which in a way was a blessing, I couldn’t imagine doing it with the sun beating down. My legs today were feeling the hills, so I chose to wear calf sleeves these where a blessing as they did help. Another must for me on this kind of adventure.

Day 4 – 8.30am Start – 19K with 1990ft elevation, the sun was shining brightly today and everything looked so beautiful, I was feeling very tired today but very upbeat and happy to be running the final day, something I noticed is that everyone including experienced runners are feeling day 4 in the legs and are feeling tired, Some runners run with poles this is another obstacle to get around especially as when tired they become a trip hazard for themselves. The terrain again was very technical so concentration is required at all times, a moments lapse in concentration could send you in the wrong direction or cause you to fall.

What I have learnt on this trip:

What kit would I need? The pack was essential, good comfortable trainer a must, Trail Gaiters would be nice; Calf sleeves are a god send; if you want help you could use poles – I prefer to just run and find my own way. Food is key – I got hungry out on the routes, its not like road running and you out there for longer due to the technical terrain and elevation.

What training would I need? Definitely practice running back to back, eating on the move and carrying a pack. Run when you can, walk if you have too. Practice a night run and running the next morning, late nights and early starts. Running 4 days in a row was fabulous, very tiring, but worth every minute.

Can you do this as a complete trail novice? Absolutely, all the other runners are very supportive and will help, encourage and guide you. It’s a wonderful experience that has made me want to return and complete the Advance 4 days 125Km and progress to the 7 days eventually. I have also come away believing that I can run different races back home too; so one day I shall run an Ultra!               Nicky Finch