At the recent Salomon Sunset Series trail race in Edinburgh, we were fortunate enough to meet Lucja Leonard – known as Running Dutchie – an inspirational ultra runner who’s known for taking on the entire length of The Netherlands in her underwear! Lucja’s been using the BLACKROLL Yoga Set and Duo ball as part of her recovery and training.
Raising money for the Pink Ribbon Foundation, she’s gone on to compete at numerous ultra races both within the UK and worldwide, including the highly acclaimed Marathon Des Sables.
She’ll be taking on the Great Glen Ultra next week, so we had the chance to catch up with her to get some advice about training for long distance and the importance of recovery.
You took the challenge to run the length of The Netherlands in only your underwear! What inspired the 500km journey and what did you learn from it?
Marina and I became friends after meeting at the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in South Africa, I was coaching her and we became really good friends. We started hatching a plan as we both wanted to go on an adventure, but we couldn’t afford to do a far flung epic for 6 months.
We wanted to do something achievable in a week, then it came to me that Holland was only 500 km and so I called her up and she didn’t even think about saying no.
The event itself was brutal; a lot harder than what we thought. We assumed we’d just be able to crack on. Day 4 was the worst as Marina’s knee was really painful and she was in tears, I was on a bit of a high as Dion my husband turned up, but she was really struggling. I wasn’t even sure we’d finish.
It actually took the rest of the year to recover. I tried to race the UTMB 4 weeks after finishing, but DNF’d and eventually had to take most of the year off. I hadn’t recovered in the body or the mind, I was a wreck and it I just took so much time to heal. I couldn’t be motivated to do anything and I remember having to cancel quite a few races.
Despite the pain, the memories will hold forever and now we have a really close knit group of women out of it, always planning the next adventure!
What advice would you give for recovery from ultra distance?
Recovery is so important, you had to have rest days and let the body take on the improvements and I definitely believe in having at least one day off, sometimes more. It depends what you’ve done but after a big ultra, I’ll do very little in the way of running. Instead I focus on foam rolling, massages and lot of stretching and yoga. A hot bath and eating well too is vital.
I’ve been using the BLACKROLL aids, the MINI, Ball and the Duo Ball – they’re great as they are also really compact.
Nutrition post-race is also really important; I always have a milkshake when I’m done with a race. For Goodness Shakes or even a standard milkshake is really key. Some races I might be finished in the early hours of the morning, but making sure I have a proper meal really helps with recovering. Protein, carbs and lots of veg really help, without it your immune system gets damaged.
Mental recovery and sleep is also something to think about. Your mind takes a battering too, so making sure you can take some mental rest post-race and plenty of sleep is worthwhile.
What events are you taking on this year?
I’ll be competing next weekend at the Great Glen Ultra in Scotland, 73 miles from Fort William to Inverness and i’ve just been accept to the North Downs 100 in August. Then I’m off for a holiday race in Spain, a fully supported race called the Burgos Ultra Stages: The Way Of Legends. They’ll carry our kit everyday, which will be a luxury after the Marathon Des Sables!
You also coach, focused mostly on ultra running for women. Do you find there’s a difference between men and women when it comes to training and preparing for ultra racing?
There’s not that many female coaches out there focusing on the ultra distance events, and I do think women have a different mindset. There’s also female specific elements to discuss, like time of the month and what bras to wear! I coach mainly on the side of my full time work and it is mostly focused on long distance events, particularly the MDS.
There’s more to it than just being fit, it’s about training for the heat and working out what to pack, given you have to carry all of your kit.
I’ve been twice now. In 2014m then in 2016 and the second time I came within the top 10%, so the changes I’d made to training really made a difference. Although I’m not winning, which I think can scare people looking for advice, I can relate to runners on all levels.
Good luck Lucja!