Laps . . . mind bender or bonus?
Before I ran at Naseby Great Naseby Water Race (GNWR), I thought the course format of 10km laps would be a real mind numbing challenge - how wrong I was!
Laps can be several things, including such training techniques as hill repeats where you run up and down the same stretch of hill, but for most people it's a circuit that you repeat. It doesn't have to be circular, just have the same start and end point and be repeated. Many people think that running loops/laps will be boring, but why would we design what we think is an amazingly awesome course if laps were boring?! I can say however that before I ran my first 100 kms race at Naseby GNWR I was dreading having to repeat something I'd already run multiple times. I thought it was going to do my head in! Where was the fun in that? But wow was I wrong. And I thought it might be helpful to share my experience to show others the benefits of lap running.
At Naseby I actually found the format of running laps really really helpful. It meant I didn't think like “OMG I've still got 70km to go”. Instead it was “I've got 7 laps to go, and 7 is a small number – easy!” It sounds silly, but it really did help. And if/when the mental or physical going got really tough you can break the lap down into ¼ lap and smaller portions along the lines of “Once I get to that spot up there I've only got a ¼ lap to get back to the aid station - I can shuffle along that far and quit then” and then of course you get to the aid station and you have worked through that particular bad patch and buoyed along by the spirit of all the supporters encouraging you, there's no question of quitting!
And logistically it's easier for you too – no need to carry all that gear with you in case the weather changes umpteen hours after you started. By passing through the same point regularly, you get to leave everything except the immediate essentials in the car/tent. Navigation is easier too – you don't have to worry so much about going off course and getting lost in the dark. It's still possible I guess, but the simple fact of having trotted around it a few times by then makes it much less likely.
And it's sooo much easier for your supporters. They get to hang around with the luxury of time to make whatever preparations are needed for your next pass through, instead of having to chase you all across the countryside with barely enough time to get ready for you at each stop. They get time to talk to the other supporters and to offer encouragement to other runners too. It makes the whole atmosphere so much more enjoyable.
AND ... a loop course allows the shorter distance competitors to run right alongside the longer distance runners. So what you say? When I got to Naseby the day before my 100 km race, I joined some people watching the milers trotting along in a little bit of awe. When asked what I was doing I replied "Just the 100 km."! And I found everyone else was the same as if we were apologising for doing "less" than the people who were already running! Come on people - in what planet is running 50 km "just" anything?!! We are all at our own stage of the journey and doing our own best - climbing our own Everest!
To translate that - I've found that when you're starting out you tend to think that anyone who runs 100 km or 100 miles must be superhuman, but then when you soak up the atmosphere of a 100 mile race by running in it and having the chance to see and talk to the longer distance runners, you can realise that they're "ordinary" people. Nothing specially different about me from before I ran 100 miles and after - same old person really! So the opportunity to expose "new" runners to the longer distances and show them it's not impossible may just inspire them to greater efforts - to break down their own mental barriers and achieve their full potential. That was, and still is, something that we want to do more than anything.
There are some "Timed" races which capitalise on this concept of laps - the 6, 12 & 24 hour Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence races are a good example. You have 6, 12 or 24 hours to run as many laps of the course (usually a 400m stadium track) as possible. An athletic race track is surely the most boring thing for any self-respecting trail runner to run around for 24hrs right?!! But many trail runners do this as an annual part of their running calendar. It's the challenge of how far can you go in the set time. And the time is the same for everyone.
If you think about it, we probably all run "laps" at some stage for various reasons. I ran laps of the Halswell Quarry track when I wanted to work on hill climbing but the kids were sick and I wanted to stay close to home in case I had to cut short - a bit hard to cut it short when you're 3 hours into the back-blocks with the same distance to get back! Another time I also ran a zig-zag course back and forth over the sand dunes from Rocking Horse road up to the New Brighton Pier - I had planned to go off solo into the mountains but the weather was unsafe and so I figured the sand dunes might give me an elevation work out as well as a workout for my legs in terms of handling the sand. Right on both counts - with sand dunes of only 2-4 metres high, I logged over 600m elevation on that run and my quads screamed afterwards! Laps sure can be a useful tool !!
Don't get me wrong – I love a good point to point run but for a race where I'm pushing myself to a new level of achievement, I find the lap format races very helpful, and generally also have a great atmosphere.
There's a time and place for everything, and while they may not be for everyone, in my opinion a good “loop race” definitely has a place – which is exactly why we designed the Krayzie K's course with laps in mind. We sure hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Photo credits: Stephanie Berry, Great Naseby Water Race (Richard)