Training Tips from a Champion
Read how Namib Race Champion Robert Ripley prepared to take on his first RacingThePlanet event as a competitor. Follow the series of blog posts from Rob, covering everything from sand training, tapering and the final countdown to race day.
Sand Training – 2nd Oct 2021
Nancy and I spent the last few days on the Oregon Coast. In addition to fish and chips and the soothing sounds of breakers on the beach, I was there to practice running in the sand. South of Florence and North of Coos Bay lies the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It is, according to the website, “one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world.” Sedimentary rock from the coastal range has been eroded into fine grains and washed out to sea by the rivers and then thrown back on land by the winds and the tides to form sand dunes. In other words, there’s a lot of sand, and it has been sculpted into interesting and challenging shapes.
The Oregon coastal sand is of finer grain than how I remember Namibian sand. And, since it has been raining on the coast, more damp. These two factors mean that the sand is more compact and, for the most part, easier to run on. I was able to find sand that had been chopped up by foot traffic, horses, or dune buggies and this sand was softer and more unstable to run in. And, as the dunes get steeper, the sand becomes less compact bringing on the familiar “one step forward, two steps back” phenomena known to desert runners.
I was able to spend a couple of hours a day plodding across the sand, climbing carefully up the dunes and sliding down their backsides. I worked on what I think my best sand stride is: quick tempo with a flatfooted strike. It’s still more work than running on a firm surface, but I think it’s doable.
I was a little worried that my chosen shoe, the Hoka Carbon X, would be a little stiff for the sand but they seem to handle the sand well. And my Raidlight desert gaiters worked well to keep the sand out. I’m looking forward to seeing the course and finding the surprises Carlos is going to throw at us.
Team Ripper does the Bend Beer Chase – 29th Sept 2021
With less than a month to go before the Namib Race, I thought it was time for tune-up race so this past weekend I found myself running the Bend Beer Chase! 55 miles running in between multiple breweries in Central Oregon. Fortunately, the Beer Chase is a relay so I only had to run 2 legs (7 and 6 miles) which left me a bit of spare time to taste the beer samples.
Most of the relay teams were made up of 6 runners but I only have 4 brothers so we were forced to run the relay with only 5 runners. Fortunately, I didn’t get stuck with the extra leg. Another thing that set our team apart was an average age of nearly 59 and a running history dating back to the early 1970s.
After months of slogging through the woods with a pack trying to keep a 6-minute kilometer, it felt good to leave the pack behind and push the pace for a few miles. According to Mr. Garmin, I managed to run my fastest 10km of the year.
And the team of brothers did pretty well, too! We finished just out of the top 10 (11th out of 113 teams) and second in the masters category. We managed an 8:10/mile average pace. Not bad for a bunch of old guys!
After a year of loss and isolation, it was good to get together with my brothers and celebrate life in the best ways we know how—running down the road and hoisting a pint. I am thankful that I have such good men as friends and brothers and that, despite our challenges, we are all still healthy enough to tie our own trainers and get out and pound the pavement.
2 Weeks to go – 10th Oct 2021
I may be crazy, but I think this race might actually happen and I may actually be able to complete it. Knock on wood.
Just a few more hoops to jump through: I’m looking down the barrel of 40 hours of travel and dealing with British Airways changing my flights every few days, not to mention the Covid testing requirements of 4 sovereign nations. I went and got a practice Covid test (it was negative!), and the turnaround time was under 24 hours, so if I time things right I may be able to pull off travel to Namibia with just one test.
Training wise, I’ve begun a hardcore taper. When you are out plodding through the woods hour after hour until your feet bleed and your mind goes numb (or vice versa), the idea of a taper might sound really good to you. But when you actually start the taper, you find yourself with all this extra energy and time and nothing to do with them. You can only spend so many hours a day on the couch.
I’ve been taking some long walks with the dogs. And getting our little ranch ready for winter. And stressing about race details. Should I wear the clip on front pack (it’s an extra 120gm, but the weight equalization makes the whole load more comfortable)? What’s the best adhesive to glue the velcro for the gaiters onto my shoes (I’ve been using “shoe goo” with moderate success, but is there a better option)? Am I going to have enough calories to survive the week? (Fortunately, I have been gaining weight since starting the taper, so I should have a few extra calories stored in strategic places.) I am thankful to have made it to this point healthy enough to compete in a race like this.
I am thankful that Nancy is putting up with me during this long process. I wish all of my fellow competitors, as well as the race team, good health and safe travels.
3 More Days – 21st Oct 2021
Good morning Swakopmund!
After some frantic packing, a precariously timed COVID test (thankfully negative), and over 40 hours of travel, I have arrived in Swakopmund, Namibia. Happy to be here. Really happy.
I used to be able to sleep on airplanes. One of the many things I could do when I was thirty that escape me now. Fortunately I was able to get some solid sleep last night. Until 4am.
But I’m feeling pretty good now after a little jog on the beach.
My task this morning is to get my freeze drieds and powders moved over from their heavy original packing to lighter, more packable plastic.
I am thankful that all my race gear and food made it here intact. (Although the multiple packages of powder stoked the suspicion of several TSA officers, the one in Bend swabbed almost every packet for explosive residue). But it could have been worse. One of the volunteers was transporting freeze dried food for a couple of racers and his bag was impounded by Namibian customs officials. Last I heard he was being levied with duties equal to roughly half of the cost of the food!
I am also happy to report that all my food and stuff fit in my 25 liter race vest (with a small front pack). Somehow it feels heavier than I imagined.
The last final hurdle is another COVID test this evening. If that’s negative, then I can go out to Camp 1 tomorrow afternoon. Just in time for forecasted high winds! Should make for a peaceful night sleeping in a tent!
Rumor has it that the potential for high winds has made Carlos rethink much of the course. And the rumors seem to indicate that these changes are not going to make the run any easier.
But, maintaining ignorance has always worked well for me, so I figure it will be what it is and I’ll see it when I get there.
Through happy coincidence, I wound up sitting next to Jack Fierstadt on the flight to Walvis Bay. Jack is a veteran of many RacingThePlanet ultras and a wealth of information and tales. Jack also has the notoriety of being the only racer here older than I am.
Anyway. Hopefully I haven’t picked up any stray virions in my travels. I have been so nervous about this COVID test that I wore a medical grade N95 mask for most of my hours of travel. We will see if my paranoia pays off if tomorrow I find myself one step closer to the start of the race. Wish me luck.
Some of you have asked if I am doing any fundraising along with the madness. And, as a matter of fact, yes, I am trying to raise money for patients undergoing cancer treatment at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (which is where I received treatment for my NK cell lymphoma).
Feel free to help the cause.