Following on from her insight into living with an Olympian, Karla Borland gives an insight into her own training and racing.
It’s been a big couple of months of training (and racing) for me. I’m training for my first 100-mile race in May – the Centurion Thames Path 100 – and I’m equally terrified and excited.
My longest recent run was just under 30 miles and it blew my mind that on race day I’d still have 70 miles to go. Training has been going well and I managed to run a marathon PB (2.57.11) in the midst of training, which still seems like a dream.
Alongside a more-than full time job I’ve been averaging 65-80 miles a week as well as some strength sessions. This might seem like fairly small fry for all the high-mileage athletes out there but I’m pretty knackered. I’m normally a voracious reader but at the minute I’m lucky if I can get through a few pages of my book before bed and I’ve taken to having a nap on weekend afternoons.
The day job
My day-job is as a veterinary anaesthetist. There aren’t many of us in the world (approximately 150 in Europe). To become a veterinary anaesthetist, it’s sort-of similar to the consultancy training pathway that doctors follow with some key differences.
Most vets qualify as the equivalent of a GP and then, after some time in practice, a small subset apply for training posts at specialist hospitals in their area of interest. I was lucky (and mad enough) to get a training post in Edinburgh some years ago and I qualified as a specialist anaesthetist in 2016.
These days I work 4 long days (10+ hours as a minimum) per week and a 1-in-4 on call rota which means that one of my long days is followed by being on-call overnight. I also work 1-in-4 weekends where I’m on duty from Friday morning until Monday morning.
Veterinary practice is much like human medicine in that it’s unpredictable, often hilarious and occasionally chaotic. Unfortunately, the unpredictability doesn’t always tally well with my training program so there’s a fair number of runs that are shifted around and quite a lot of getting up too early.
The importance of good communication with your coach
Tom Craggs, my coach, is endlessly patient with late night texts to say that I’ve missed a run because of some disaster that’s arrived out of hours. For me, being awake between 11pm and 6am has a disproportionate impact on my fatigue levels, whether that’s due to work or training.
Every minute I’m up before 6am seems to require 30 minutes of extra sleep and sadly that’s not always possible. To those athletes who work night shifts, I salute you!
Double runs require careful negotiation with my husband as it means I can’t fit in a morning dog walk with Goose, our English Pointer, and he has to do it instead. Even on single days it often makes sense to run early as it means training isn’t dependent on getting out of work at a decent hour.
That said, my early morning dog walk is balm for my soul – I love walking with him beside the river before the rest of the world is awake. Unfortunately, there are two swans nesting on our usual route at the moment. Goose isn’t interested but they try to attack anyone trying to walk past – it makes our morning wander a lot less relaxing.
Fuelling the bigger workload
With all this training, there’s a lot of extra fuelling that’s necessary. My Italian colleague at work is constantly disgusted by how much I shovel into my mouth between cases. Apparently, I eat like an Italian builder.
I’ve taken that as a complement but from his facial expressions, I’m not sure that’s how it was meant. The anaesthesia snack cupboard at work is legendary although much of it would not be considered nutritious – it’s mostly sugary sweets and doughnuts. I’m guilty of getting to 7pm and then inhaling a chocolate bar in an act of desperation.
There are a couple of things that have really helped me survive quite an intense period of work and running. As I’ve mentioned above fuel is key. All mealtimes have gone out the window – if I’m hungry and fancy a panini in the afternoon, two hours after lunch, then I eat it.
After my recent marathon I had a bag of chips as an afternoon snack and felt a lot better about life.
Following some tough runs, maintaining my strength and conditioning sessions has been essential to getting my legs moving again. I’ve also been doing my best to get more sleep – Instagram scrolling is the absolute worst for keeping me up. Before I know it, I’m searching for nonsense and am wide awake.
Instead, reading a book makes my brain switch off from work and running. And finally, the most important thing. Wine. I’m not going to break any world records and running isn’t my job so if I fancy a large glass of red then I have it. I’m sure all those antioxidants are useful for ultra-training.