On Sunday evening, 22 December, Kim Allan of Tuakau completed a 500km run.
Let that sink in for a moment. Five. Hundred. Kilometres.
This was her second attempt at the female world record for longest run without sleep, having missed it last year by over 100km. But this year she was armed to the teeth with tactics for overcoming blisters, the heat, and even the hallucinations that she knew would be her greatest challenges.
During her successful world record attempt at the Auckland Domain, I caught up with Kim at the 60km mark for a 3k jog and chat about those challenges and how she has trained to overcome them.
So what does your training look like for an event like this?
I’m not one of those people who go out and do 160 kilometres per week or crazy stuff like that. I try to use my events as my building blocks.
Each week I’ll do a three or four hour road run. I don’t worry about kilometres, it’s just time on my feet. If I run/walk, that’s okay. I just get out there.
Then for the next time I’ll mix it up. Out where I live is Mt William, which has a 20 per cent grade. I go up and down twice then go over to Puketutu Trig. It’s a lot of hills and trails.
I try to do hot yoga two or three times a week. Just stretching out. You know it’s great. I do [a style of yoga] which is half standing and half lying down. And I try to do one class a week of yin, which is all lying down and you hold the stretches for five minutes. So you go into them deeper as you go along. They’re really great.
You mentioned that you use other events to build up to things like this. What have you done in the lead up to this 500k attempt?
I did a double Hillary Trail (77km one way) in August. I was the first female to do it, and the second person to do it.
In May, I did the World 24 Hour Race, where I did 203,809m. I did the [NZ 24-Hour Race] in August but pulled out after twelve hours with knee niggles. I got to 110k-still good training though.
And then two weekends ago I supported my friend Tracey in “Coast to Kosci”, a 242k road run [in Australia that runs from sea level up to Australia’s highest peak]. I did about 11-12 hours running with her and it was hilly. Not all in one go, we did it in four-hour blocks. I was pretty tired because I was awake for 50 hours.
Since then I came home and the most I’ve done is an 8k run and some yoga. I mean, what am I going to do in a week and a half? I’m probably better off just recovering.
So are you planning to run even splits throughout the run or are resigned to the fact that after 500k you’ll start slowing?
I’ll slow down. But I want to get a good consistent first 24 hours if I can. Unfortunately you never know.
Is your approach different to last year at all?
I’ve got different preparations this time. I’m not wasting time stopping doing unnecessary things. This year I’ve got a Port-a-Loo just for me.
Last year I went out too quick. I need to walk to keep my times down and let my body cope with what I’m doing. Let the muscles recover a bit. So every lap I’ll do a walk over the speed bumps.
Okay, blisters. You must be quite the expert. Tell me about them.
They’re the bane of my life. This year I have different shoes-these Hokas, which I got from Australia. Whenever I get a hotspot I just tape it before a blister comes.
I’m going to get them. Last time I got them five and a half hours in. I’ve been going slower this year but at the five-hour mark, this time I made up half an hour not having to dress my feet. Last year I wasted so much time, dressing the blisters and every time I put my shoes on I’d crawl while I adjusted. I lost every toenail last year.
[Maybe time for another pause to let that image of losing every toenail due to blisters sink in!]
Did they grow back?
Yeah, but they’re a bit munted. I don’t look that great wearing sandals.
Food must be another major challenge.
I don’t eat gels. I think they’re great for marathons when you’re out there for a short time. But try to run for four days on gels and your stomach will hate you.
So you’ve got to have real food?
Yeah. So far this morning I’ve had some porridge at 4AM, an LCM bar, some ricey custard with fruit, a sandwich with hummus, and those little yoghurt suckies. They’re a kids’ snack, but they’ve got a good carb and protein balance. They’re very high in sodium so I’d never give them to my kids, but ideal running food. And great for keeping you cold.
Overall, I’m eating higher carbs, with a good amount of protein and make sure I’m getting magnesium, calcium, sodium, all those.
Do you have any strange cravings when running these long distances?
No, but I ate the most and the best on the last day. My mum rocked up with some avocado sushi (I’m a vegetarian) and I thought I’d have a couple of pieces and the next round I just scoffed the lot.
I’m pretty healthy. But I’ll get my son to get me some McDonald’s chips. Stuff I wouldn’t eat, but the salty carbs are good [when running].
Do you train for the lack of sleep or is having four kids enough of an education in that department?
My youngest is 16, but you can’t train for it. It just mucks up your sleep pattern and you just get tired for normal life. In all honesty it’s just mental discipline. You’ve just got to get your head around it.
Which is all good and well but unfortunately last year when it got on to the last day, when I had been awake for 80 hours, I had no idea why I was here. I didn’t know what I was doing and why these people were making me walk and I was saying to them this is insane, who would make an event where you’re not allowed to sleep. That’s just dumb.
Then I thought I was in France doing some adventure trail event.
I stopped over there where the bus things are and I was wondering what bus to catch. And then I said, “I’ve got to send a fax.” But who sends faxes these days?
Once you loose the understanding as to why you’re here, you’ve got nothing to motivate you.
Speaking of motivations, can you explain your connection to fundraising for the NZ Spinal Trust?
My friend Claire broke her back in a horse riding accident in September 2012 [and is now paralysed]. My original reason for doing it was actually I had a compound tibia-fib break from a fall. I ended up having bone grafts and all that. It just made me appreciate how much we take for granted just getting out of bed and walking. I had a walking frame and had home help. When I was in that state I said I’m going to appreciate every moment of putting my leg out of bed and walking.
You’ve got to be careful what you say, but people tell me they could never do a half marathon or a run a marathon and I look at them and say, “Why not? You’ve got two legs and they work. Don’t say you can’t. Fine, say you don’t want to, but don’t say you can’t.”
And you only picked up running in the last few years. Can you explain where you got the self-belief that you could do this?
In 2010, when I thought about doing the Oxfam 100 all I had done was walk a half marathon. I thought I could do Oxfam, but then on the motorway near Papakura it said 95km to Hamilton and I thought, “Holy sh#t I could never do 100km!”
But then I went on the Oxfam website and saw the photos of all shapes and sizes completing it. So I thought, well if they can do it, what’s stopping me?
We were in a walking team and I was worried about letting my team down. So six weeks beforehand I entered the 100k solo in the Great Lake Relay. I entered as a walker and did that in 15 hours 30 minutes. Then six weeks later I did Oxfam and thought, “I like this challenge”. That’s when I got into running and run-walking.
I entered the 50k race walk champs, as a non-champ so if my knees were slightly bent they’re not going to disqualify me. I was the only lady in it and I actually won it, I beat all the guys.
[This year] I went over to the [24-Hour] Worlds in May and I ended up being the first Kiwi female. So I’m now qualified for the next Worlds. I want to do the 24-Hour Worlds one more time and try to work on my speed a bit more.
Is race-walking something you do a lot of alongside your running?
I’m actually going to more race walking [after the 24-Hour World Championships]. I’m 48 and it’s good to have something else to fall back on. Running’s not everything.
Race walking doesn’t really get you fit for running but running gets you fit for race walking, with the cardio. But what race walking does do is in ultras like this you can still keep up a good walking pace. You’re still walking with a purpose.
Kim Allan completed the 500km run in 86 hours, 11 minutes and 9 seconds.
This year she plans to run the World 24-Hour Championships again, the Spartathlon Ultra Race (the legendary 250km run of Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta before the battle of Marathon) and a 6-day ultra race.
To follow Kim’s progress, see inspiring videos of her 500km run, and support her charity, please visitwww.facebook.com/ultrarunner.nz