Endurance Camps Make Life Better by Ole Brom
A New Year!
A New beginning!
A Fresh Start – a chance to dust off the New Year’s Resolutions of last year (and the years before) and REALLY do it this time around!
That’s a common thought at this time of year. In the weeks leading up to January 1st, the intentions to really make it happen this year are really there. But when it comes to actions people fall short – they continue to put it off… More often than not, most people’s resolutions never even get off the ground. At best, the well intended resolutions fall dead within weeks.
A group of goal-oriented legends, however, knows what they want and are working hard to get better every day of the year. This is how dedicated they are; they spent their festive holidays taking part in Endurance Camps in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah, running up to 6 hours a day, sleeping under the stars, no luxuries, dealing with fatigue, pain, suffering, but in so doing improving their mindset, which is the most important asset and variable you can invest in. They are trail & ultra runners.
Ultra runners are the crazy few who push themselves onwards and upwards each day of the year with the aim to be able to run distances longer than 45km, often day after day. They know that wishful thinking alone leads nowhere. They know that to truly get better at life takes dedicated discipline, consistent hard work, resilience, and being willing to ‘grab the bull by its horn’ – really get uncomfortable. Showing true grit consistently is the only way to smash the limits of your own comfort zone and get better. In so doing, though, they get to experience the most magnificent sunrises and sunset, the beauty of the UAE’s wadis and mountain tops, the camaraderie around the open campfire under the stars, sleeping on the ground while shooting stars dance on the clear night sky above.
New Year’s Endurance Camp – Mountain Edition – what went down.
Prior to the camp, each athlete received a rough overview of expectations, the plan, equipment needed, so as to be on top of the admin stuff and therefore better equipped to control the variables.
The Admins are all things related to equipment; your shoes, your socks, your run clothes and hydration pack, your hydration and nutrition solutions, night torch, emergency kit, and so forth. These are important elements to make a long run of 6 or more hours comfortable. Not taking care of your Admin will cause you pain.
There are many variables that you can control in trail and ultra running, such as your Admins. But there are some variables that are out of your hands to control. The weather conditions can’t be controlled, nor can race- day terrain or route, or last minute changes if Race Director deems
such necessary. If it’s too hot or too cold, or too many steep hills, or too much sand, or if your team mate is snoring like a growling rhino, you just have to deal with it. So, too, other people’s complaining and negativity. Other athletes who moan and complain and are showing constant negativity can be a pain to be around, especially if they are people you have to share a tent with during a week long 250km ultra stage race. However, when you have developed an ultra-mindset, your ability to control your attitude towards all these external factors, then you’ll be much better prepared to endure and succeed.
For this Endurance Camp, the main objective was to Train The ‘Right’ Mindset: Pain is Temporary, Victory lasts Forever.
Often times, in ultra running as in life, when we face obstacles, or unforeseen circumstances arise and you’re in agony, in pain, it can be tempting for many to give up, stop, quit. In most cases, although excruciating at the moment, the pain you feel will reside and disappear only days after the race. If you quit, you will forever regret it. Mid-race, when you struggle and are in a world of hurt, if you take the time to reassess where you are and think logically about your situation, you will be able to continue, endure the pain, and therefore become a better version of yourself. This is work in progress. Doing this over and over will improve your ultra-mindset and make you better at sport and life.
Other objectives covered include race strategies for multi-stage ultras, as three of the athletes are training for Marathon des Sables and similar, as well as strategies for a 100 mile race later this year, and other shorter distances, too.
Part of each Endurance Camp is ‘Test your race fuel’. It’s in training you need to test the fueling and hydration you plan to use during your race. NO NEW THINGS on race day! Each training, each long run, we test as much of our nutrition as possible, so that we know when to eat and drink what.
Leave nothing to chance.
The Expectations. This is simple: Be on time. Be friendly. Take garbage home with you.
Be cool. Be positive, no complaints, and do your best.
Friday January 1st, it’s 10:45am, location is somewhere in Ras Al Khaimah, close to Jebel Jais. The location pin was sent to each athlete the day prior. All 6 athletes are getting ready for take-off.
Today we are running part of the Hajjar 100 route. We start at the official START and run 7.5km on a jeep track with Jabel Jais mountain towering over
us on the left side and Jabel Yanas on the right side. We stop at 3km for dynamic stretching, before continuing.
At 7.5km (CP 1), we’re taking a sharp turn to the right, which is a steep steep steep climb up a jeep track that only the best 4 Wheel Drives can do. We are climbing up Yanas Mountain.
For most, this is the first time here. This monstrous climb takes the breath away from them – literally. Despite someone’s mention of torture, they all get to the top – even the 1km off-the-beaten track scrambling up the mountain side where only goats roam.
The magnificent views at the top – after a 5km steep ascent – are just mind- blowing. Behind us is a small village where goat herders still live. In front; majestic mountains towering over small settlements at the bottom of the valley, some scattered clouds on a mostly blue sky. We are truly privileged to be fit enough to experience this.
After a quick photo session and re-fueling, it’s time to get moving. After up up up, it’s time for some technical downhill run. A fast and fun run on single track rocky terrain down to the next settlement, over some patches of farmland, before we continue about 6km on undulating technical trail where one step wrong or an unfortunate stumble could be the last thing you’ll ever do.
After a fantastic trail run with the best views you can hardly imagine, at last we reach what is CP 2 of the Hajjar 100 route, a gravel/jeep road. 17.5km, and it’s time for a quick refueling, regrouping, and then same route back.
One may think that an out-n-back trail run would be boring. It is not. When it’s with great company, in demanding terrain, and all your focus is needed for each step you take, it is still absolutely thrilling. Even after having been here 30 or more times, it is still such a great area to run and explore.
As we leave nobody behind, we have the next regrouping at the top of the steep monstrous climb, now getting ready for the downhill run. This is by all means not easy. It’s demanding on your quadriceps, knees, ankles, back, and great caution and focus need to be taken so as not falling or getting injured.
Finally down, we only had one small tumble, just a little bit blood shed from a knee – nothing major. Part of the mandatory kit in all races – and these camps, is an emergency first aid kit with some anti-bacterial solutions, wipes, plasters, etc. So, all good.
Finally, back at the car, we have covered about 32km, done 1250m of elevation, and had about 6hrs on feet. Remember, this is an endurance camp, not a race, where-in coaching is taking place.
After a long stretch, recovery fueling started, we transfer 25km by car to our camping spot.
Base Camp. Night time. Camp fire. Boiling water on camp kettle. Dinner; freeze-dried foods. Fun banter. Stretching. Recovery. Legs up. Sharing race experiences. Sleeping under the stars. Full moon. Enjoying the clear moonlit night sky and shooting stars. A good handful hours of rest. Up at 5.30am for next part of the Endurance Camp.
7am. Race briefing.
This is an important part of preparation and ensuring we all know what is expected, remind ourselves of what is needed, and to detect if there are any injuries, aches, or pains that need extra attention. This is the time to ensure that we have enough water for the expected time out, under very demanding conditions. Have you checked your admin; shoes, socks, hydration vest, salt tablets, electrolytes, water, food, sun protection, emergency kit, mobile phone fully charged, and so on?
From base camp, we are running 2.5km on undulating jeep track, at which point we take a sharp turn to the right and climb a MONSTROUS mountain – about 1300m of elevation, between 20 and 28km total milage. On tired legs from Day 1, this will be felt – both up and down. It will also make each athlete stronger, physically and mentally.
At 2.5km, our steep climb commenced. With the effects of yesterday’s 32km on feet, this was hard. Only a km or so up the mountain, there were some huffing and puffing, and now I was being accused of torturing them…
… but that did not last long. Another km or so up the mountain, we gained on a local farmer who was carrying a 5meter long, 40kg iron beam on his shoulders. He was not much slower than us. THAT shut them up. All jokes aside, this guy was a beast. And he was not the only one. There was yet another one a bit ahead of him, also with the same weight on his shoulders. Admirable. It put things a bit in perspective; we are climbing this mountain for fun with 5liter on our backs, huffing and puffing, and these guys having 1.5l of water and a steal beam of 40kg on their back making a living…
At the first village we stopped and admired it’s location and the views. It took the last of us about 40min up those first 4.5km, and the guys with the steal beams came just minutes after us. Epic!
As we continued upwards on what is now between CP 3 and CP 4 of the Hajjar 100 route, we were rewarded by more majestic views and picturesque settlements. It looks like ancient villages from a time long gone. You have to see it to believe it.
10km from where we started, we had another regrouping. This was the goal
– 10km up and 10km back down. And one athlete – against all odds – had forgotten to bring his food, taking only a few gels. Hardly enough calories to avoid hitting the wall. So what should one do in such a situation? If you’re in the mountains, alone, and you discover you have no more food left, it’s a good idea to return back, reduce the intensity to avoid using too much energy and water loss. In our case, as we moved as a team, those who knew they had extra shared some food. If it should happen to you, don’t share so much that YOU will get in trouble. Rather, get yourself back to the start, get more provisions, or call to get extra help.
We decided to split the group; 4 had had enough, while 2 wanted to continue to what is CP 4 of Hajjar 100, about 4km further on. Passing through several goat farms, beautiful villages, idyllic looking settlements, we finally reached our goal about 1300m above sea level.
As the past 12km had been up up up, now it was time for a fast and furious downhill run on technical terrain. SO much fun. The first part was not too steep, but when we reached where the locals had been carrying those steal beams it was challenging. Very steep and too fast, it was a close call for a serious tumble a couple of times. As we neared the bottom of the mountain we met the rest of the group who each had been pushing through – despite certain struggles – and without any complaints.
Back at the base camp, it was yet again time to stretch, get recovery fuel in, hydrate. As with briefing, debriefing at the end is just as important.
What worked, what can improve? Which lessons made the biggest impact?
Coming into this camp, each had their personal goal. It was much more than just an Endurance Camp; it was testing of specific nutrition, fueling, equipment, and strategy. To some – and more importantly – it challenged the most important variable – the most valuable asset; the MINDSET! Some refused to be victims of fatigue, another vowed to defy the fear of heights and run steep and technical downhills – despite being scared. Some had never done 2500m of elevation in 2 days. Through and through, each got better through their own personal struggles, overcoming fear.
Many think a new year offers an opportunity to start anew, with great big plans, great new goals. And it does. But so does every single day. Each day is a new start, a gift, an opportunity to be better than yesterday, to improve some skills.
So this year, treat 2021 like an Ultramarathon – each day represent a kilometer, and each day you can do something better than yesterday; even if it’s only 0.1% better. When you control your Admin and Mindset, that will accumulate to an immense impact by 2022.
And lastly, no matter the struggle you will go through – whether in sports or life, never make a decision while emotional. Use rational and logic in decision-making.
Pain is temporary. Victory lasts forever. See you on the trails.
Dubai, January 2021, Ole Brom, Ole is a run coach based in Dubai. https://www.sported.ae/coaches/ole-brom/ @olej.brom, Ole J Brom