Epona 100 Training Debrief

How the last 6 months of training have gone as we enter the final taper phase of my first 100 miler

Epona 100 Training Debrief

Well we're here: 6 months of training later and all the folks taking on the Epona 100 Ultra are entering their tapering phase 3 weeks out from the event. Over the next 18 days we'll all be reducing our volume, resting up, eating all the things and getting ready for the big day.

I wanted to spend some time going over what it's been like training the last 6 months, covering the highs and lows, the wins and the let downs.

The graph above is from COROS showing my base fitness (yellow line) improving over time, with the blue sections showing the stimulus that increases it. Large spikes are activities of high intensity (long runs, races and so on) with the dips being periods of rest.

I started training in January and in total have covered 2,418 km on foot with 47,367 m elevation gain, through a combination of running and hiking. Almost all trail running, mostly at a gentle pace, and the vast majority in the shoes I'll be wearing on the day.

Almost all the training was done in HR zones 1 and 2, with a bit of time in tempo and very little (not enough really) time pushing towards threshold / anaerobic.

My longest run during training was the Hateful 8: a looped ultra which ended up being 73 km total. I did want to do another 100 km event as training but it never materialised due to availability.

Here's a breakdown of how each month went through the year.

End of 2023

Focused on maintaining a good base mileage through winter and doing recces of the course. A fair few of us got excited and started exploring the route almost a year in advance, eager for sure, but it did mean we knew a little of what to train for in the new year.

First recce: Sugarloaf, Skirrid Fawr & The Blorenge
Second recce: Brecons & Tor y Foel
Third recce: Night loop of the Black Mountains (it was freaking cold!)

Lessons learned:

  • Each recce built the realisation of just how nuts what we were taking on was. Individually they were tough days out, but to add them all together?! Insanity
  • How important getting mountain legs used to lots of climbs and descents would be to success
  • How important the community built around the Epona would be: a big shout out to Mike Jenkins here for bringing everyone together
  • We'd need to get used to running in the mountains at night

January - Build Build Build

434 km travelled, 8,220 m vert

Officially started the plan on Jan 2nd, focusing more on setting a weekly time goal to hit rather than distance, doing more hiking for time on feet, and mixing in hill reps, some speed work and long runs each week.

Two adventures during the month: a 38 km mudfest over Cheddar and a 50 km RTTS recce with Paula, David, Jac and Leah.

RTTS Recce

Felt good throughout and starting increasing the weekly volume. Big focus on elevation gain and running trails.

However at the end of the month I did a recce of the second stretch of Black Mountains, and it all fell apart. At the time I didn't quite know what was wrong, I'd woken up with a horrid headache and cold, thinking I'd push through it, yet halfway round the mountains all my energy had gone, I'd felt like I'd lost my fitness, and spent the rest of the recce in a death march back to the car.

Lessons learned:

  • The type of training plan and build up I'd need to do over the next 6 months
  • Not everything will go to plan, life happens

February - Like The Worst Month Ever

365 km travelled, 8,178 m vert

After getting the worst run of the year out of the way, I took a little time to rest up, thinking it was just a flu. Felt better a week later and started to stubbornly return to training for the rest of February. Even managed to get a base run done round the mountains.

Black Mountains, facing Table Mountain

It wasn't to be though, night sweats when sleeping, coughing fits after each run, and even a gentle pace felt hard with a compromised lung capacity. My resting heart rate had shot up, my watch pulled my VO2 Max down by 4 points, and I really struggled for the majority of the month. We had a great punks meet up to do the Not Afan Forest Half, and it was so bloody hard, felt like I'd lost a year of training.

Always fun to see the Punks though 🤘

Realised this wasn't going to get better without rest so relented and stopped running towards the end of the month. I think it was the 100 day (whooping) cough that had become so virulent in the UK this year, and rest definitely helped.

End of Feb risked another recce with the Epona crew after feeling better. It was a great day, lots of chatting away and trading tips, and I felt like my strength was returning. Due to a nav error it ended up being a trail marathon, and despite some very achy legs I was pleased that my lungs felt much improved.

Another recce of the Abergavenny 3 Peaks

Left February hopeful I could resume training, but concerned I'd put myself back a bit. Still, 4 months to make up for it.

Lessons learned:

  • The best plan in the world can't cater for a long bout of illness, I was lucky it was only a few weeks
  • Humility!
  • Rest is often better than stubbornly pushing through
  • That I can be really indecisive, especially when it comes to shoes! Locked in the pair I wanted to run in on race day in the end, but it took a lot of faffing

March - Recovered, Let's Go

538 km travelled, 10,424 m vert

Entered March feeling renewed, which was great as I had my first event of the year coming up: the Hateful 8 Ultra. This looped course ended up being 73 km on feet, great training, though I absolutely wrecked my nutrition plan and ended up fuelled exclusively by cola.

Only went and won the thing!

For me this was a big turning point too: no regression of the lung issues, kept stable throughout and was able to push hard. Back on track.

In terms of vert I was happy with the hill reps and long gnarly trail runs so far. Definitely helping strengthen my legs. My biggest weakness, and this continued throughout, is not taking on any real speed work. I did a fair bit of tempo running, and hard lung buster hills, but no sprinting intervals or threshold work.

Ended the month taking the Bristol Punks round Cheddar for a heck of a day out

Spent a lot more time hiking this month, doing plenty of commutes in to work and lunch plods round the harbour.

Lessons learned:

  • Time resting doesn't always set you back, often it's exactly what you need
  • Still have plenty of time to build

April - Back We Go

472 km travelled, 7,815 m vert

This month was mainly just "more of the same" training wise. Kept building and increasing the time on feet each week, stayed consistent with it.

The Big Moose Ultra Fun Run 50 km was a blast. I wore the Agility Peak 5s to see how they'd feel after hours of hard tarmac. Not wonderful is the answer, road shoes would have been wiser!

God tier support from Colin, Kath and Rebecca

My big highlight was returning to Llanthony: the Black Mountains horseshoe where I broke down last time. When I was first there it was cold, wet, couldn't see a thing through the mist. It had built up to a bit a gremlin on my shoulder so was keen to go back when I could. This time it was glorious, my fitness was on form and I got to spend the day enjoying the beauty of Wales.

Lessons learned:

  • It will get better
  • I'd need to be much, MUCH more gentle on the legs then I was in the mountains. Pushed too hard on descents when I should have been focusing on a light, floaty pace. Ended up pretty achy at the end

May - Final Push

561 km travelled, 12,046 m vert

Biggest volume month, most elevation, and plenty of long runs.

First up was the HOWUM: a 48 km ultra from Pegasus in the heart of Wales going to the source of the Severn. It was a lot of climbing followed by a lot of descending, a real test of leg strength. Pushed myself hard on the race and ended up very happy with the time, and very sore 😅

Part way through the month I felt run down and started feeling ill. I'd be getting up early to fit runs in before work, leading to less sleep than I needed, and after a few weeks it all came to a head. The last part of the month I focused more on being well rested and it made such a difference.

To round the month off I did the Minipona Night Ultra: a solo adventure over 55 km doing the first Black Mountains horseshoe through the night to get used to doing it in the dark, along with finding out what it's like to run sleep deprived.

Lessons learned:

  • The HOWUM was another lesson in preserving my legs, keeping things gentle rather than sending it. It was ok over 48 km, but 160+ km I'd be crawling by the end
  • It also taught me the value of all that hill walking I'd been doing. Long stretches of climb felt easier due to those hiking legs
  • Running at night is a whole different ball game! Your body goes weird, everything slows down, it's dead quiet and a bit creepy
  • Rest is so important, prioritising getting 7+ hours a night is better than some additional running volume

June - Taper Time!

Up to the present day: the rest of the month is for tapering, reducing volume week on week until we set off on the 22nd June.

I've locked down my pace and fuelling plan and am pretty happy with it, though am still questioning my sodium plan due to how hot the day may turn out to be.

Whilst I'll always think I could have done more (like, well, ANY strength training 😅) I think my body is prepared and, so long as I'm sensible and ensure I'm gentle on my legs, I believe it will hold up.

Now I've just got to survive 3 weeks of taper tantrums, not catch anything from the kids and arrive to the start line in one piece 😱