Ultramarathons are only for the toughest runners, but everyone can train and build up to running for long hours without stopping. FirstRun got a chance to spend some time with Shayamal Vallabhjee, sports scientist to the stars in the world of sports, who has run a few ultramarathons over the years. So how does he train for the extremely long runs?

An avid runner, Shayamal has run over a dozen marathons and over 25 half marathons. Entrenched in the world of fitness, Shayamal answers 10 running related questions that help you dive deeper into the workings of a runner’s mind.

What do you do?
I’m a sports scientist and an EQ consultant, who works with professional athletes on performance enhancement and injury management. As a sport scientist, I study the physiological and training parameters that could give an athlete that 0.5% advantage over the rest of the field. The EQ component helps study the mind of the athlete with the core focus on managing emotions, handling pressure and transitioning into the zone for optimal performance.

When did you run your first marathon?
In 2001, and my first ultra marathon – Comrades 90km race – in 2006.

How many marathons have you run?
Probably about 12-15 marathons, over 25 half marathons and 3 ultramarathons.

When did you realize that you were going to take up fitness as a profession?
I used to be a semi-professional cricketer in South Africa but due to the Apartheid system, opportunities for people of colour were few and far between. Being passionate about sport, I wanted a career in it, so I choose to focus on the science of sport instead, a decision I will never regret. The journey has transitioned from being a technical coach and trainer, to a thought leader and performance coach in the field of sport.


‘Getting to the start line is already an achievement': Shayamal Vallabhjee
‘Getting to the start line is already an achievement’: Shayamal Vallabhjee


How often do you run and how much?
I cover on average 40-50km a week, which is spread over 4 runs.

Do you follow a specific diet?
I have always been a vegetarian but in the last few years in following a more vegan and raw food diet. It was just a conscious decision to eat clean.

How do you prep for a marathon?
Marathon prep spans over a few months. As a general rule of thumb, you should be averaging close to double your race distance in weekly training ie: if you running a marathon 42,2 km, you should cover between 70-90 km per week. My prep for London was not ideal as I was unwell during the core weeks of prep. However, I did manage those 40-50km a week with 3 strength-training sessions in between.

Which has been the most demanding marathon you’ve ever run?
The Comrades Ultra Marathon – 90 km in South Africa. It’s called the toughest road race in the world. The hills are daunting and the mid-day sun beats down on you hard. I trained for a 7:30 hour finish but a few errors in nutrition cost me. Finished in over 10 hours. In marathons and ultramarathons, the smallest mistake could mean you are out there for a lot longer than you anticipated.

Have you ever run in extreme conditions?
Yes. I’ve done trail runs, desert runs and when I lived in Iceland, lots of runs over frozen terrain. They all bring their own unique challenges but it’s something most runners cherish.

What would your tip be to a first time marathoner?
Start slow, hydrate well, and use the crowd to pull you through. Most importantly, getting to the start line is already an achievement. So enjoy the experience.

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