Did you do the Ultra-Trail Australia this year and think you could shave off some time next year, but are wondering how the champions still manage to run all those stairs even late in the race?
Lithuanian Andrius Ramonas, who’ve been living in New Zealand for the past year and a half, is a sports and exercise medicine physician who is currently doing his PhD in exercise physiology in Auckland. He’s won and set course records for the NorthFace 50k in Australia (now the Ultra-Trail Australia), and the The Hillary 80k and Tarawera 50k races in New Zealand. He has frequently placed in the top ten in many other ultras and came 5th this year at the Ultra-Trail Australia 100k. Ramonas’ best marathon time was 02:32 in London in 2009. Here he shares how he prepared for running in the Blue Mountains where the UTA 100k distance features accumulated climbs of over 4,500 metres and many, many stairs.
How do you specifically train for this race compared to other events?
The UTA is not that technically difficult, it’s really runnable and has the specific element of stairs. What I did to prepare was that last month, I changed from doing lots of off track and off road and complicated trail running to more road running and even introduced track running sessions just to increase my speed and improve my stride.
I also concentrated more on core stability and glut muscle strength as well as leg muscles to avoid excessive fatigue on those stairs. Racing in the lead pack usually means you don’t have that time to tackle those stairs slowly, sometimes you really have to push hard, and if you have good running biomechanics and core stability, sometimes you can even when you’re really tired run those stairs. As I remember from last year, I was still able to run the Furber stairs at the end of the race. As we saw today, two runners were just 20 seconds apart, meaning they were fighting on those stairs. So if you can run them, you have a huge advantage.
I also looked at my gear, because the list of mandatory gear is really extensive, so making good choices makes gear more lightweight and compact. Sometimes it’s easy to stick to the same items, but there are a lot of new things coming out on the market.
With a race that has to many stairs, do you have to train on stairs or are there another ways you can prepare?
That’s an individual choice I think. One way of training for stairs is to think about what elements in your body support running uphill and up stairs. If you think about it, it’s core stability, it’s glut muscle strength, and nice running biomechanics. If you focus on those elements it’s possible to avoid excessive training on stairs. You can use just some resistance exercises and weights to strengthen those muscles.
Which exercises do you do?
If I think about glut muscles, there are a few standard exercises that bodybuilders do, like squats, and single-leg squats which could be done using a box where you step up. That focuses also on core stability. I also do exercises with weights, such as a hip thrust where I do a bridge lying on the ground with elevated shoulders so that there is greater range of motion when I push up my hips. I use really heavy weights for that, because the idea is to not just build pure endurance but power and strength.
How are you preparing in regard to nutrition?
I still base my race nutrition on carbs, but what I did in recent years is that I reduced my carb consumption due to gastrointestinal symptoms. With that reduction I haven’t been getting that problem. I like energy gels for carbs, because it’s easy to know the amount of sugar you are getting. Sometimes in longer races, I prefer some solid food, which is usually just banana and raisins. I like to be simple and not think too much about other food choices, so I just stick to my plan. If the race was much longer, I would probably mix in some savoury foods, but in races up to 10 hours, I usually just stick with sugar.
Also, I am careful not to overload too much in the days ahead of the race. It’s really easy to underestimate how much athletes eat, especially in the last week when the training load is much lower and it’s very easy to gain fat. So I just try to be sensible and not eat complicated foods and only eat what I’ve tried before.