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Sky running: From illness to ultra-marathon

posted on Wednesday, 13th August 2014 | find under Tamara
Sky running: From illness to ultra-marathon
Four years ago SB Ambassador Sarah Russell was critically ill with life-threatening peritonitis. In October, she’ll compete in the Himalayan 100-mile Stage Race, a five day run described as the ‘most scenic race in the world. With views of Mt Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu (four of the five highest peaks in the world), Sarah will race through isolated jungle, remote villages and cross glacial rivers. She tells Sweaty Betty about her running career, why the mountains are calling and her training for the event…

Endurance events: a way to travel the world
SR: I’ve done all sorts of running and triathlon events all over the World but this is the first time to the Himalayas and I’ve never done a ’stage’ race before, where you have to run day after day. The mountain theme is pretty strong throughout my favourite events. I’ve done the Lakeland 50, a non-stop 50-mile ultra in the Lake District which required navigation and running at night over the fells and mountains. Other favourites are the Helvellyn Triathlon (a mile-long swim in Ullswater, a 42-mile bike ride and 9-mile run to the summit of Helvellyn) and my all-time favourite, the Jungfrau marathon in Switzerland which I did last year with my husband. I also loved the Quebrantaquesos (the ‘bone breaker’), a 140-mile cycling event in the Spanish Pyrenees which was pretty spectacular. 

Going the distance: Sarah’s training regime laid bare
SR: I’m not following a ‘marathon’ training plan but instead I’m mixing up my training with road cycling, long trail runs, and back-to-back runs to get my legs used to the stages. To be honest, at 42 years old and after five abdominal operations, just staying injury-free is actually the biggest challenge. After all my surgery I’ve had to work hard on rehab’ and getting my core strong and injury-proof again. I train at home with a TRX and body weight circuits and do a lot of walking too. I think the worst thing to do at this stage is panic, overtrain and get injured. 

Ultra nutrition: refuelling at altitude
SR: I’ve been picking the brains of friends who’ve been to Everest and a mountaineer friend told me to expect a diet of rice, dhal and yak – those big, furry, cow-like animals that roam the mountains. He suggested checking out my local Indian restaurant to get some practise in! Hydration will be my biggest issue, so I’ll be running with a Camelbak filled with electrolyte fluid and will use Cliff shot blocks for energy during the run itself. Appetite can change at altitude, so I’ll just have to hope for the best and see how my body responds. I’m in the process of testing out some freeze dried meals to see how I get on.

Run like Sarah: how to do a multi-stage event
SR: I think it takes a few years to build up the foundations to tackle multi-stage running events - avoiding injury and being able to keep going day after day are very important. Running fitness is import for sure, but having strong muscles and being ‘generally’ fit  and mentally tough is far more important than being a fast runner;  I’d suggest a focus on strength with core training and weight training as well as mixing it up with cycling and hiking. People make the mistake of doing too much mileage - even those just training for normal marathons do that too - then they never even make the start line. Mental toughness is also key, so some practise races where you run at night, early in the morning, in extreme conditions and over tough terrain for long periods is probably a good idea. 

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