First-Time Advice from a First-Time Whale finisher

Three years ago, Bryony McCormick lined up at the start of the Merrell Whale of Trail. It was her first ever ultra, and despite her training and preparation, her heart rate was skyrocketing and her nerves resembled jumping beans in her stomach. Reflecting on the journey and the run now, Bryony brings you seven tips and insights to the big day that might help you get to the finish line slightly less stressed than she was!

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1. Pack the night before

You’ve probably heard it before, but I cannot highlight this enough – pack your backpack and check your gear the night before. The absolute last thing you want to do is wake up on the morning and discover your shoes are still in your cupboard at home, or you’ve left all your race food in the fridge. At least if you discover something like that the night before you have enough time to make-a-plan. On top of that, being prepared and ready to rock and roll before you hit the sack means a stress-free morning, a longer lie in and a better start to the day.

2. Easy does it

Take the first section slowly and use the climbing to warm up your legs. There is little point in sprinting off into the mist at the start, knowing that you have 53km to cover overall. By being conservative in the beginning, you’ll not only save your precious sense of humour, but also energy for the undulating coastal paths, as well as the beach section and believe me, you’ll need all the extra energy for that! Take it easy and enjoy the views in the first section and be sure to glance upwards every now and again – you never know, you might be lucky enough to spot a Cape Vulture.

3. Don’t run out of water

There are ample check points along the way (with water) as well as two water tables. Some check points may require you to walk a little distance off the path to refill, and when this is the case, never under any circumstances sacrifice your water supply for laziness. If you are out and pass a tap or table, fill up. The last thing you want to do is be caught without! Dehydration will put an end to your day.

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4. Take a moment at Noetsie

In my mind, getting to Noetsie (CP3) was a major mental achievement, as it’s the junction on the route that you physically turn and point towards the finish line. Look, the sand dunes at Koppie Alleen (the finish) are miles away, but the very act of running in the direction of home seems to supply a welcome boost of energy and motivation. Don’t let the surge of excitement deter you from soaking in the beautiful coastline you’ve just reached. The vast cliffs, blue ocean and playful whales are worth a moment, so take one and soak it all in before you tackle the coastal path towards the dreaded beach.

5. Stop. Eat. Run. Repeat.

Unless you’re going for the win, the best way to get to the finish line is to manage yourself (as in don’t just try to run flat out from the start to the finish). When you feel like you literally cannot take another step, then take a short breather and rest. Eat some food, look at the view and take a picture. When you’ve eaten a few mouthfuls, and are feeling good to go, start with a walk before breaking into a jog again. If you need to, walk the ups and run the flats and downs. Whatever your strategy, make sure you move efficiently, keep eating and drinking, and never stop for too long!

6. Stop stressing about the beach

It’s just a beach, seriously, and you will get over it. If you get there and the tides work for you, then try to alternate between walking and running to make it pass sooner. If the tides are against you, try and walk with as much intention as you can, but without hurting yourself. Keep an eye on your feet regarding sand and blisters, and don’t let any rub as you still have a long way to go. Empty your shoes out at the water table and pat yourself on the back for a job well done when you get there.

7. Pack a ‘home-stretch’ treat

The last section goes on for a bit longer than you think, and includes a few soft beach sections and short but sharp climbs and descents. By this stage your legs are done, as is your mind. A few things that might help you get through the pain cave are reminding yourself why you entered, what you’re going to feel like when you finish and how good that beer is going to taste. I’d suggest packing a decadent treat for a little pick me up in that final seven kays – something that will genuinely excite you and motivate you to get to the finish. I find a Barone works for me – every time.

I’ll be at the event taking a few snaps and covering it live on the day – so if you need a pep talk, a pick me up or a sneaky Bar One – look out for me!

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