Opinion: The surprisingly 'woeful' side to ultramarathon training

Newshub reporter Isobel Ewing is taking on her first ultra-marathon in March- the 72km Ring of Fire Ultra at Mt Ruapehu . Here she documents her training progress, or perhaps, lack thereof...

OPINION: Pausing to peel our packs away from our damp backs, we look up and catch a glimpse of Taranaki's peak through the swirling mist.

Turning our backs on the mountain we can see where the west coast curves north in a bluish haze.

Isobel Ewing, pictured here not running.
Isobel Ewing, pictured here not running. Photo credit: Jack Ewing

"This counts as training," I think to myself, as my calves work overtime to haul my pack and I up the loose scree.

I probably should have been running this weekend. After all, in just seven weeks I'm running a loop of Mt Ruapehu.

Seventy-two kilometres, much of it on jagged volcanic rock similar to the stuff that's currently sliding underfoot like ball bearings.

Te Henga walkway, thigh gains galore.
Te Henga walkway, thigh gains galore. Photo credit: Isobel Ewing.

So when my colleague Ryan Bridge asked if I wanted to go tramping, I should've said "I'd love to but no, this weekend I'm going for a four hour run".

But I love tramping, and I couldn't miss a trip away, and anyway I'd already thought of a hut I wanted to stay at since I lived in New Plymouth.

"Fantham's Peak", I suggested to Ryan in an email.

And that's how I came to be reasoning with myself on a scree slope that "really, this was a great exercise in building thigh muscle, and I'll go for a run next week".

Next week came around, and Waitangi Day should've been a running day, then a friend asked if I wanted to walk the Te Henga walkway.

Of course I said yes, we both work long hours and trying to catch up can be a nightmare navigation of clashing schedules.

I reasoned that an 18km hilly walk would contribute favourably to my thigh gains anyway.

A sunset on Fantham’s Peak, where Isobel Ewing did not run to.
A sunset on Fantham’s Peak, where Isobel Ewing did not run to. Photo credit: Isobel Ewing.

But it's not just my inability to say no that's been sabotaging my training efforts.

I've also encountered some unforeseen obstacles such as a minor bout of plantar fasciitis (healed with some rigorous rolling with my spiky rubber ball, and a pair of new Inov8 Roclites) and a summer cold that ripped through the newsroom and wiped me out for two whole weeks.

Beset with panic about the vast backward strides I was sure the illness was having on my fitness, I attempted an easy 10km.

Bent double and wheezing at the traffic lights, my body succeeded in demonstrating to me that it was not yet done with dispatching the invader, and I returned home in defeat.

Opinion: The surprisingly 'woeful' side to ultramarathon training
Photo credit: Isobel Ewing.

Thus, my training has provided some key insights.

My ability to follow any sort of strict training regime is woeful.

I adopt a haphazard, hope-for-the-best approach to training (similar to some work days actually - I hope my bosses aren't reading).

And following strict training regimes is actually really tough when life is there to keep getting in the way.

Whether it's lingering illness, eight-day work rosters, BYOs, the allure of adventures with friends or just a mentally strenuous workday; hurdles to a sturdy training schedule abound.

And that's made me reflect on the respect and admiration I have for all the people who manage to train for an ultramarathon while juggling families and jobs.

These people are athletes only part time, but need to find time for long runs, cross training and ensuring they're eating the right stuff to optimise performance

For example, yesterday about 8km into a 17km run I realised I'd consumed just one thing that day - a V energy drink.

I'm aware that sounds terribly non-athlete and organ-poisoning but I'd scripted and edited two stories for the 6pm news bulletin that day and there just hadn't been time to first locate and then consume something nutritious.

But then I read stories like this one about a mother who set the record for the 105 mile Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc recently, and did it while stopping to pump milk for her baby.

I really have no excuse.

The sunset from Syme Hut was absolutely worth sacrificing a run.

Now all I need is for no-one to invite me anywhere between now and March 23 and everything will be just fine.

Isobel Ewing is a TV reporter for Newshub.