Training the Body For Multiday Races
Thoughts on Training by Satyajit Saha
(first published in Ez6 vol.3 2006)
With eleven weeks to go before the start of the Self-Transcendence Six Day Race, there is still much to accomplish in your training. Everyday renew and maintain a healthy and sane respect for the challenge of multiday running. Everyday ask yourself how you can prepare yourself. Do not let a day transpire without using it as an opportunity to make yourself a better student of running and self-transcendence.
The most important factor in your training is consistency: unswerving dedication to daily, weekly, monthly, injury-free running habits. There are two things that can keep you focused on your training:
1) the awareness that diligent daily training will reduce or even prevent most of the problems that will challenge you in a multiday race.
2) an appreciation of just how special the race can be.
I will share a few of my own experiences to illustrate these two points. My first multiday race was a four-day race, 200 miles. At that time I was a four-hour marathoner training 35 miles a week. This race came unexpectedly and I did it on inspiration. The first day I ran 60 miles. After the first day my muscles were filled with lactic acid and I felt it was impossible to run the second day. So I walked and struggled for the next two days. I somehow managed to remain cheerful using a Walkman to pump good music into my ears and nervous system. I finished the race and completed the distance but everyday was a tremendous struggle.
The third day of the race I completed 26 miles, which gave me a total of 140 miles. With 24 hours left in the race I had 60 miles to go to reach the goal of 200. I decided to surrender any expectations of reaching the goal and to simply concentrate on being happy. From 7 o’clock in the morning until 10 p.m. I just tried to enjoy being on the racecourse with the other runners. We walked and talked and sang and hobbled and ran together with the camaraderie of ‘survivors’ on a great adventure. At 10 p.m. I was within 26 miles of the goal. A light went on within me. I was suddenly inspired to run. It was as if I had found water at the end of a long desert. I knew I could run a marathon and I took off. I ran as if my life depended upon it. The exhilaration of finishing this race made a permanent impression on my heart, my soul, my psyche.
Two years went by before I had the courage to try another multiday, – a 5-day race. This time my training was about 50 miles a week. Once again I was not strong enough to avoid a serious energy crisis on days 2 and 3. For 48 hours I walked without running a step. Feeling nervous and insecure from the beginning, I ran too fast on day one. On the third day I was so discouraged I left the race and came back six hours later. This kind of energy swing from day 1 to day 2 and 3 can subjectively feel like a total collapse and can be very, very discouraging, yet it is very common. How to avoid it?
In my third race, a 7-day race two years later, I was determined to have a better race experience. For four and a half months I ran over 100 miles per week. My goal in training was to run 10 miles twice a day, 7 days a week.
I came remarkably close to fulfilling this goal. This time of my life I had as much fun with my running as any time in my life. Training was not just training, it was an ongoing challenge that completely invigorated and consumed me. As difficult as it was, it was a pure joy.
By doubling my mileage in training I avoided the collapse and depression that had plagued me on the second and third days of my first two races. For the first four days I was running 65 miles a day. I was actually running too hard, putting too much pressure on myself. My running was too aggressive and I had to pay for it. Serious blisters plagued me the last three days of the race. It would take yet another race to learn the art of steady pacing. So the race was not a complete success from beginning to end, but the increase in my training definitely paid off.
For the next few years I enjoyed training 90 to 100 miles a week. In 1996 I had my best race experience in the Sri Chinmoy 10-day race. My running, my pacing, my focus, my emotional demeanor and spiritual outlook were consistent throughout the race. I was on an even keel and ran 30 miles every morning and 30 miles every afternoon. Totaling 603 miles at the end of ten days, Grace descended and it was a very special once in a lifetime experience.
This brings up the second point. What makes the race so special?
Transcendence! Self-transcendence is the essence; the quintessential core of what multiday running is about. During a multiday transcendence event all the trivial nagging minute forces of human frustration and sorrow that dog mundane, habitual living melt away and dissolve in the one-pointed focus and mission of covering at least one more mile before taking pause, or giving in. The struggle of running becomes the sole mission, the all-consuming purpose of the runners’ consciousness. The runners’ consciousness becomes clear, uncluttered and untrammeled in its singleness of purpose. Just run one more lap. One more lap. One more lap. Nothing else matters. The body aches, the nervous system is taxed to its limit. But the mind is clear. The heart is clear. There is nothing to prove to anyone. No place else to be. No bonds, no cares, no worries. Just run, or walk, and be free. The rest of the world takes care of itself. Just run one more lap.
It seems to me that the other runners feel this and commune with this Spirit which percolates through the struggles of each. It is unspoken, but the runners know, and they know the other runners know. In certain ways they feel connected to each other more than they can possibly express. The only expression of this unexplainable oneness is to push for another lap-run another mile, and another mile. And when it is all over, even before the body and mind have fully recovered, the hints come up from the subconscious; images, memories of something very, very special – the hunger to run another race, the call from inside to return to the Source, to run another mile, one more mile. That’s multiday running. And the training becomes a daily celebration of what it truly means to be alive.