6-day World Championship - 2 x gold medals, a WR and a Canadian Record
GOMU (Global Organization of Multi-Day Ultramarathoners) was founded in 2021 to keep records and organize prestigious championships for multi-day ultramarathoners. This 6-day World Championship was the first ever such event. Athletes from 17 countries participated which is very promising for the future of this niche discipline and GOMU itself.
The race was organized in Policoro, Italy, in a camping where athletes were placed in bungalows right on the course. Start was on 12th March at 3pm and finish time was on 18th at 3pm.
Map of the camping and the course
The first lesson I learned is that it is not very pleasant to train high volume running in the Canadian winter and that if I can avoid it, I should. However, there is a chance that next year's 6-day World Championship might again be in March, so I will be in the same situation - I'm not looking forward to it. I will have to figure something out. Maybe add a bit more cycling volume instead. It was just very hard mentally.
I feel that if anything, my training was spot on. We did everything right, volume, intensity, trying to be flexible when the weather was unfavourable so that it didn't put too much unnecessary mental stress on top of the training stress - I hate the cold and even more so the rain. I also strongly dislike the treadmill but I luckily have an indoor track nearby, the only problem is that it is only 226m / just over 8th of a mile, so running there for 4 hours in the same direction put too much stress on my hips. Coach Gregg was a superstar, sometimes modifying the plan several times a day and always trying to keep my head above the water, not letting me get too deep. I'm sure on average he got 5 text messages a day from me. And when he didn't, he sent me one asking how I was feeling because I was suspiciously quiet.
High volume training in the middle of winter in Canada, in -15C / 5F or significantly colder is no fun for me
For the first time since I started triathlons 8 years ago, we let go of the swim for 3 months. I had a lot of anxiety around this decision, but I am confident it was the right one. I'm a weak swimmer anyway, I will have plenty of time to pick it back up until the Ironman Worlds in Kona in October and that time was better spent running in this block as I have no triathlons on the schedule until October. I already started some easy swimming the week after the race.
We kept the bike training up just enough to provide a little distraction, with 2-3 hard but short sessions a week, usually as the 2nd workout of the day. I loved these sessions, they kept the enjoyment factor high.
I went into the race in the best shape of my life. If TrainingPeaks numbers mean anything to you, my chronic load (CTL) was at 152, my acute load (ATL) was at 90, with a training balance ("form") of +51 points. I was feeling great physically and mentally.
The only issue was a cold that I caught 2 weeks before the race. With my asthma, this is a tricky one because the most innocent cold can turn into pneumonia with the stress of a race like this, and the day before the race I was in full panic mode, because I started to feel it turning already, and I was convinced that there was a 100% chance of ending up with pneumonia by day 3 or 4. Luckily, the race doctor gave me antibiotics that I started taking right before the start, a very strong dose that cleared my cold and lung infection up by day 3 and I never had any issues with my breathing throughout the race. Catastrophe avoided. (I always check everything against the WADA list, the medication was allowed in and out of competition.)
GOMU vice-president, Yiannis Kouros with the individual and team World Championship awards. Photo: Trishul Cherns
Arriving to Italy for the start of the race was a big challenge in itself. That weekend my daughters all had a gymnastics competition which ran from Thursday to Sunday. Luckily, two of them competed on Thursday and one of them on Friday. I really wanted to see them compete, so when she was done at 6pm (and won every event plus the special award), I headed to the airport for 7pm to catch my 10pm flight. I was flying to Zurich where I had a 90-min layover, but we took off an hour late which made that connection almost impossible to make. Luckily, a lot of us were taking the same route, so Air Canada held the second flight for all of us to be able to get on. I didn't know this when we landed in Zurich, so I sprinted to the other gate for the Rome flight!
But now the problem was, that my second connection in Rome, where I was supposed to pick up my luggage and re-check it, was going to be very tight - originally 90 mins. We were already making B and C plans with my crew! Luckily though they made up the delay in-air so we arrived right on time and I could comfortably make the transfer.
Arriving to the Bari airport at 5:20pm on Saturday, I met my two crew members, Zoli and Attila, who were flying from Hungary. We picked up the car and got to Policoro Village right for the opening ceremony at 8pm. Once that was over, I passed out and had a great night of sleep until 10am race morning. It all worked out really well.
Opening ceremony with the 6-day competitors. Pasquale Brandi, race organizer kneeing in the middle, behind him in white shirts left to right: GOMU's president, Trishul Cherns and two vice-presidents, Viktoria Brown and ultrarunning legend Yiannis Kouros. Photo: Zoltán Schmidt
Not being adjusted to the local time zone was a huge bonus, not sure how I could replicate this next time, but it made running through the first night a breeze! By the time it was midnight in Canada, it was 6am in Italy and the sun was up!
I knew that this course wasn't likely to allow for really high numbers, before this race nobody achieved 800km or more even from the men's field here but I wanted to have a plan for the "ideal" situation and then just modify it down as needed based on the circumstances. I think this was the first mistake I made. A more realistic pacing plan for 800km would have probably helped me avoid the day 4 meltdown that inevitably happened.
In the guy's heated race, eventually 3 of them went above 800km so it is doable, just not easy. I believe that is within my reach on this course. A significant part of the course had paving stones for uneven footing, I fell on the 2nd night of the race, scraping my knee quite badly. (What does the best crew in the world say when you show up with a bloody knee at the end of your lap and crying? "It's ok, you can cry, but there is nothing stopping you from running while you cry, right?") The course also has a lot of turns and some parts were not lit at night.
I wanted to try a different strategy in terms of sleep patterns but the basics stayed the same as for my first attempt. The difference was that my body held up extremely well this time, so after this attempt, I'm comfortable to say that although this is the way historically big performances have been achieved, it is not the best pacing and/or sleep strategy for me. Now, to figure out what is then, is the million dollar question. Or maybe it is simply the case that I am physically not capable of as high a performance as I had originally hoped, but that remains to be seen.
What I knew when I planned my pacing was that:
- Yiannis Kouros covered 254km (157 mi) on day 1 of his 6-day record. Yiannis' best 24h performance is 303km (188 mi). So his 254km is about 84% of his 24h record.
- Joe Fejes covered 220km (137 mi) on day 1 of his American 6-day record. Joe's best 24h is 252km (156 mi). His 220km is 87% of his best 24h.
- I don't have Sandy Barwick's 24h split for her 6-day world record, but I know that she ran through the first night non-stop. So my guess is that she was at least where I was because she was a faster runner.
I don't know what my best 24h would be at this time, but I estimate it somewhere in the 240km range (149 mi), +/- 5km (3 mi) although I might be way off, I really don't know. The 210km (130 mi) that I scheduled for day 1 is 87% of 240 km.
GOAT of ultrarunning, Yiannis Kouros, GOMU vice-president fires the start gun at the first ever 6-day World Championship. Photo: Trishul Cherns
Heavily front loading the 6-day is one way to go about it, not the only way, but historically this resulted in the best performances, so nobody has found any better. And despite what I thought right after the race, which is that I need to throw out the pacing strategy and go back to the drawing board, I'm not sure I'm ready to give it up yet. I think it is more the sleep plan that needs modifications and not necessarily the front loading.
I know that Budjargal Byambaa only ran 183km on day 1 of his 907 km performance at the Dome in 2021. But he only took one longer break of 55 mins, otherwise he was running non-stop, just slower, although his pace was insanely fast on later days relatively. He barely slowed at all and he slept very little for the rest of the whole race.
The problem is that the only way to find out is to try. Which you can only do in a 6-day race. And that is a very costly experiment physically and mentally. It is just so darn hard.
I was able to pull off the 210km target easily for day 1 and even with the day 2 target of 150km, I had no issues. I ran 211km for the first day and 153km for the 2nd day, slightly overshooting both, which I was fine with.
That landed me a new Canadian National Record with 364km, up from my previous record of 353 km from the Dome. I'm quite excited to see what I can do in a 48h race because this time I spent 2.5h off the course in the first 2 days and I obviously wasn't pushing it as hard as I would in a pure 48h race. We'll see at the 48h World Championship in August.
We made kind of a big mistake in the first 2 days which resulted in me getting dehydrated and experiencing a lot of pain in my mouth. I'm not even sure what I was thinking, since we knew the exact sweat numbers we were supposed to be working with, yet, I significantly undershot it from fear of being overhydrated which is a common problem for me because I sweat very little.
So when we saw that I was taking too many bathroom breaks, we kept reducing the fluid intake. Even several clear cues didn't tip us off, like the fact that when I took cranberry pills then I lasted a bit longer without a bathroom break or that the irritation to have to pee was there the moment I came out of the bathroom. These signs are so obvious that if I think for a split second, I can't miss them. By now, I know that there are only two things that can cause frequent urination, too much or too little liquid, that's it. It has nothing to do with electrolytes.
Maybe it is not surprising that I didn't clue in for 48h, since I was running, but my crew also had clear instructions what to pay attention to and they missed it completely too. Eventually I solved the problem by drinking a full can of Monster energy drink, 500ml / 17 oz, because I was very frustrated and I wanted to see if this was what was happening. But the mouth pain lasted for several more days. I was rinsing with mouth wash and that eventually cured it but it took days and each rinse was very painful.
Left to right: Attila Buki and Zoltan Schmidt on crew duty
For day 3 we planned 140km and that is where it all fell apart and I don't even know why. I think it was the sleep deprivation that caused the slow down and although I like to think of myself as someone who does well with very little sleep, it turns out that I just run way better if I manage to get some more sleep in. So much so, that a short sleep break would be quickly made up for by the increase in speed. We didn't know this on day 3 yet, we learned that lesson on day 4.
I guess that is another way of looking at this race, that can be a more positive tone: I learned a ton because of the way it went, because my big lead allowed for some experimentation with what might work better and there was no pressure for records after day 3 - and that was my choice, I didn't want to stress over anything, I just wanted to win and enjoy the process.
I took a page from Sandy Barwick's book (literally!) and planned 2h naps at night in one go - as opposed to 1h naps every 12h last time. But I couldn't fall asleep at 32h when I first lay down, so I decided after an hour to go back out and try again later. Around 38h I gave it another shot but I don't think I slept at all.
Eventually, we settled for 45-min naps with a total of 1h spent off the course for most of the race. I naturally woke up after this amount of time, which seems to be one sleep cycle for me (as opposed to 90 mins for most people) and I was ready to go, so I called out to Zoli and off I went.
After breaking my own 48h Canadian record, I threw the original sleep plan out the window (sorry, Michele, not your fault!) and went down for an hour.
Breaking my own 48h Canadian Record, 364 km covered (previously 353 km). Photo: Attila Buki
I originally planned to sleep only at night, taking advantage of my circadian rhythm but we scraped that too and took the naps whenever my pace slowed too much, be that day or night.
At 48 hours I still don't think I slept, my Whoop shows 4 minutes of total sleep time, but I was content with it, feeling a bit better after. It helped a lot that I wasn't stressing over not falling asleep during my sleep break. I had two more 60-90-min naps on day 3 and I finally started feeling like myself after the last one. Overall the pace was just very slow throughout the day and again, I'm not sure why. I slept way more overall in the first 3 days than at any of my previous 3-day or 6-day races, yet I managed to cover more distance. This might be a good lesson that for me personally, the "when you snooze you lose" mentality might not be the most optimal, even if that is how the greats achieved what they have.
I remember having a really good nap at 72h, going through two full sleep cycles with a total time of 2h off the course, the sleep part was somewhere between 90-100 mins, the rest was eating and pulling myself together for the second half of the race.
On day 4 I was quite discouraged having fallen off the planned pacing and my mentality changed to just wanting to enjoy the race. I didn't think I was going to get to a really high mark for the full 6 days, even though a lot of secondary targets were still well within my reach, including the age group world record of 773.9 km. But I really didn't have the motivation to shoot for it. I had 100km lead over second female, I walked a lot instead of jogging or running, and I had another big 2.5h nap when the night came around and one more before the sun came up.
This time around there was very little dancing - unlike last time. There was still a little bit haha... but there was way more singing. Of course nobody dares to tell you to shut up when you just broke a world record and are leading the race outright! I have this habit of putting the same song on repeat for hours and hours. Now that surprised even the music expert! He said: "if that doesn't bore your socks off..." haha... nope, it doesn't!
Race director, Pasquale Brandi marking the partial lap for my 72h World Record of 471 km (up from 467 km). Photo: Zoltan Schmidt
In the morning I went for a massage that was great, my mood started turning from the sun being up, the pampering of the massage and all the sleep that I got. What was really surprising was that with my day 4 distance of 71km, I still covered 1km more than my Romanian opponent, Mara, who was running in 2nd place. This also boosted my mood obviously. I do like to be way ahead and have the liberty of calling the shots - making the decision of pushing myself to aim higher, to shoot for records, or just doing the bare minimum that is enough.
And now the TMI part, guys, feel free to skip the next 2 paragraphs! Just like in my first 6-day race, my period showed up on day 2! Great haha... but at least I had a plan and I knew that I had been through this before. I was also well prepared with a million triathlon shorts to swap between. The guys were warned in advance that there was a chance this would happen, so it didn't come as a surprise. They had the dirty task of washing my shorts one after the other and drying them on the heater so I always had a clean and dry one to put on.
I knew that this was the way I wanted to handle it, it worked the first time around, I just didn't bring enough shorts that time. Having learned that lesson, now I was well prepared and it was all seamless. My flow is also much weaker now, I think I'm perimenopausal, and I can't wait to not have to deal with periods any more. I was most happy when it was over on day 5!
I had a breakthrough on the blister front. Last time was a disaster but I have been experimenting with toe socks in my long runs. I had strongly disliked the feel of them when I had first tried them, but I got a gift card from one of my sponsors, the Running Free store for Injinji products, so I stocked up on toe socks determined to give them another chance because previously I had tried everything and nothing seemed to work. What I discovered was that if I sized my shoes up then I quickly forgot about the feel on my toes. And then a miracle happened. No blisters. No blisters whatsoever. So here I had a solution for my problem and I was super happy. It all worked out brilliantly in the race.
Thursday 3pm came about and with day 4 behind me, and my mood coming around, I still felt that I wanted to enjoy what I was doing. I went for an hour long massage at 4pm and then for a big nap. But even before the massage and the nap, I knew that I was ready to get out there and be myself again.
I told my crew that when I got up, I wanted to run. I didn't want to slog around half-asleep, I didn't want to walk - I don't enjoy walking to begin with. I enjoy running.
It was up to them, Zoli and Attila, to check the numbers, and let me know what was still possible when I woke up. My own 6-day Canadian record of 736 km was still well within reach, the age group 6-day world record of 773.9 km was definitely out of the question, and the Hungarian National Record of 760km was borderline but maybe doable.
We were 4.5 hours into day 5, I was basically just starting the day, having wasted the past hours on the massage and sleeping and the game plan was to see where I got by the end of day 5 and then reassess. I covered 40km in the next 7.5 hours including a 90-min nap. What I knew based on the day before was that to feel the way I wanted to feel for the race, I needed more sleep.
I'm fully capable of going for the whole race with 8 hours of total sleep - that is what I did for my first completed 6-day race. But I felt absolutely miserable and I hated the whole thing. What I realized on day 4 of this race, was that it doesn't need to be that way. I can feel better AND cover more distance if I'm better rested. My pace was so much better after a short nap that I made back the time spent sleeping in about 2.5 hours. This was a huge discovery. 1h nap + 2.5h running, so less than 4 hours later I was ahead in distance and was feeling great instead of miserable.
I was always running better and felt happier with a little more sleep. Photo: Attila Büki
For that reason I took another 3h nap before the end of the night and was still able to cover 60 km in the second half of day 5. This was a big deal for me, having spent 8 hours of the day off the course but still putting up a 100km day. Compare this with my previous race, where I covered 90km on day 5, felt horrible and only spent 2.5h off the course. But of course, we can't forget the million physical challenges that I faced in that race while this time I had absolutely zero physical problems until the end of day 5.
This was what changed my mind about retiring from 6-day racing too... seeing that there are other options that might work better for me. On day 4 of the race, having only covered 106 km on day 3 and not knowing the reason why my performance was so bad, I felt that I was just not physically capable of covering more distance in later days of the race, which meant that there was no point in going through all this suffering of a 6-day race, leaving my family behind for 10 days which is very hard on them.
After day 5 I felt that with the right balance of sleep and time on the course, maybe I can put up a good performance one day. Even if it is not as much as anybody has ever done, but at least something I can be proud of, a performance where I don't feel that I failed. But it will certainly require a different approach, a different pacing and sleep plan. Just because you can do it (going without sleep), doesn't mean you should - or that it is the most productive for your goals. That was the main lesson I learned.
I kept rolling with the same mindset into day 6, but now the plan was to nap whenever I felt sleepy. Basically I ran for 3 hours and napped for 45 mins which with the overhead was 1h off the course, ran for another 3h, napped, waking up from these naps refreshed and naturally, no alarm needed. This was working brilliantly until about midnight that evening and I was exactly where I wanted to be. However, that night ended up being the coldest night of the race, with the temperature at 2C/ 35F and a cold wind. When I went out to pick it up after my nap, I just felt absolutely miserable with no desire to continue suffering. I felt that I learned a lot, the World Championship title was already in my pocket and I knew that I could just sleep for the rest of the night and it wouldn't make much difference. Even if I ran the rest of the night, I still would have felt that I didn't do enough because of how days 3 and 4 went.
At this time I was also thinking that I would almost certainly not leave it at this, I would give it another shot or two in other 6-day races to be able to put up a performance that I'm happy with. There was just no fight left in me for this one. I went back to sleep and slept for another two hours.
When I went out again, all was still not lost, but I didn't feel any better. My pace didn't improve and I ended up just walking around instead of even jogging. I'm sure that if I had the motivation I could have stayed out there at this point and even maybe after just the 1h nap. If there was someone threatening my win, there is no question that physically I had tons left in me. But I chose comfort because there was no reason to suffer.
I went back and slept for 5 more hours until the morning, at which point we checked the tracker. With 9 hours left of the race, my lead was 70km. Even I couldn't make that gap up so there was zero reason for me to go back on the course. I finished that partial lap as our bungalow was about 200 m from the finish line, and I handed my chip in.
Signing age-group certificates as vice-president of GOMU while the race is still in progress. Trishul Cherns supervising. Photo: Attila Buki
I set by the course and just enjoyed the sunshine, tried to say encouraging words to the ones still out there, although I wonder if it hurts more than helps - for them to see me sitting by the course bundled up and cozy while they are still going.
All in all, I came to become a World Champion and I did, it was also important for me that we win the Team Championship with Krisztina Drabik. She fought really hard, came 3rd and we claimed the team title. Records and everything else were secondary, but I was happy to improve on my own 48h Canadian and 72h World Records. On the other hand, I can certainly do much better in a 6-day if I manage to put a good race together and I'm 100% certain that the age group world record is within my capabilities as well as an 800km+ (500 mile+) result. If I can do much more than that or not, will remain to be seen but so far only 3 women have ever gone over 800 km, so that could be a promising first goal to shoot for.
Team Hungary: Gábor Rakonczay won the men's race and the men's team came 2nd. Left to right: Szilárd Fodor, Krisztina Drabik, Gábor Rakonczay, myself and Benjamin Forest Török
I have a lot of people whom I would like to thank for their help:
- My family, husband and kids, my mom and sister and all my friends supporting my journey
- My two fantastic crew members, Zoltan Schmidt and Attila Buki
- My coach, Gregg Edelstein from Team MPI
- My sport psychologist, Viktoria Faludi
- Nick Tiller, senior researcher from UCLA, for all his invaluable advice
- Costas Karageorghis, from Brunel University for his advice on the use of music
- Alan McCubbin from Monash University for his advice on nutrition
- Michele Lastella and Dean Miller from Central Queensland University for the sleep plan
- Borja Martinez Gonzalez from the University of Bologna for the caffeine plan
- John Vonhof and Carey Lynn for teaching me everything I need to know about footcare