While preparing this interview I learned that Coach G had already started preparing for his 2nd race of the year – this time a 24hr trail race to be held on June 27-28 in Redding, UK. Considering that it’s a second ultra in just 2 months – I’m amazed! But let’s start from the beginning.
During 2 days of April 25 and 26, 2014, Gil Cramer an ultra runner and a running coach from London, UK, embarked on an amazing adventure of conquering a 90-mile nonstop trail ultra-marathon from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in Israel.
The “Sea to Jerusalem” route is second to none in the Middle East area when it comes to scenery, weather and setting. This year the trail went from sea level in Tel Aviv to the trails of the eastern Yarkon river through the single track forest of Ben-Shemen area to the halfway point at the remote industrial area of Modi’in and then, after 70k, the hills. From there the route went through southeast Beit Shemesh and ended in the city of Jerusalem. It was hot and humid at the start, windy during the night only to get hot once again in the early morning of next day.
Now that we have a backdrop of the race – let’s see how it all went down to bring Coach G to an impressive 2nd place finish.
Lana Romanov: First of all, congratulations are in order! That was a fantastic achievement and an impressive finish. I thought I’d give you about a week to recover after the race before torturing you with questions and all, but apparently you were out and about just a couple of days after the race!! I saw your photos on Instagram! Evidence!
Gil Cramer: Haha, busted. It’s true, my crew and I went out to celebrate that evening. Though there was no drinking for me and we weren’t out too late (as most restaurants close early on Friday night). The next day was pretty much the same as most except for the bruising under the balls of my feet and the fact that I had to walk backwards down steps. Lol
LR: that’s funny, what’s up with walking backwards? You have to explain.
GC: It takes pressure off the quads (front of the legs) and will always give you right of way when going down stairs.
LR: Ah! So, how many ultras have you done prior to this one?
GC: I have completed 2 ultra-marathons before this, both where 24 hour circuit trail races. During the first ultra, I completed 14 laps (= 87miles) and placed 14th overall. Next one was the following year where I completed 16 laps (=100miles) placing 6th and joining the unofficial 100milers club – people that have completed 100miles off-road in under 24 hours. This year was the point to point race, placing 2nd in a time of 18h 14m 37sec
LR: You’re something else. That’s fantastic! Congrats on the “membership”! Are you all about ultras now? Is that your favorite distance?
GC: I appreciate the sentiment. I like running big distances more for the experience, and manly to see if my body can do it. Racing is just a small part of that. I don’t have a favourite distance when training, I just love being in the outdoors and in the beauty of nature. But I think my team will agree that my body gets going after 80km, so races that are 100km or longer work well for me. I also like the 24hour races as they are very tactical and you need to know your body well to make a go of them.
LR: What motivated you to run your first ultra?
GC: It was just a test, really, I had read the book Born to Run which had taken me from being worried about running a marathon to doing 45km/50km each day on the weekends. I knew I could go further but needed a safe way to do so. So I entered a 24hour trail race. There were a lot of firsts in that race… First time I’d run that distance, first time I’d run that long, first time I’d suffered disorientation due to sleep deprivation and the first time I’d been surrounded by so many crazy people doing the same thing as me. I should have known then that I was crazy too as I seemed to fit right in with that bunch of mad men and women.
LR: That’s when the truth comes out! Just kidding. I suspect you were in athletics since childhood? Am I right?
GC: Yes, I was always sporty, trying tennis, swimming, football (soccer), cycling which I still enjoy, field hockey, in fact pretty much anything I could try and could talk my mom into giving me a lift to, but I wasn’t really into running. It was only in high school when my younger brother invited me to join a track session that I thought about running as a sport. Cross-country became the love of my life and I was made team captain the last 2 years of school.
LR: The captain of the team – that’s when it all started. I see. So, give us a brief account of this race.
GC: Ok, here’s a recap from my point of view. This was a race not without a few problems, and almost missing the start was the first one. We hit a bit of traffic on the way to the start and had to run to the start line, but once there I could settle in and the race was on.
The first stage was a beautiful 6.3km stretch along the Tel Aviv beach with a pretty strong head wind. After getting to the first aid station the race headed inland, the wind died down and the trail lead me through the green areas of the city and out the other side. By the time I reached the second aid station Roman was there waiting for me. We had a quick chat and I was off again.
The sun was totally and truly gone by now but the temperature was no cooler yet. My headlamp lit a patch of ground a few meters wide and that was my world for the next 6 hours. A few more aid stations came and went and all was good until about 1am.
It was the industrial area, not much around, the trail turned to road and a few meters later the aid station. There was a lot going on at this station as it was the end of the 50km race. It sounds like it would have been good to see loads of people but I was in a state of neurosis, tired and I just wanted to stop. I took the wrong route and was ushered into the 50km finish line. I tried to get out but my mind was elsewhere so I found it hard to get my question answered. Eventually one of the marshals recognized me and helped me back onto the right path but not before shoving a huge chunk of the tastiest watermelon into my hands (I spent the rest of the race trying to find another piece).
Shortly after that, the neurosis took over and I had to stop. As I had planned for this I did what I needed to do and carried on. Next challenge came at around 2:15am. I arrived at a T-junction. My mind was so stressed and I was struggling to concentrate or problem solve. I started off in one direction but soon started to doubt myself so I turned back and went in the opposite direction. After not finding a route marker for 15 min I became worried so I called Roman and hoped he could help and he did. Fist he calmed me down. Next he told me to head back to the last place I was sure of, which I did, the T-junction. Then he told me to take a minute and think about it and to choose the route that made the most sense. After about 5 min and loads of talking to myself I picked a route and went with it. It had worked and I was off on my way again.
Everything started to look up again as the sun started to rise and I could see the beautiful mountains that lay ahead of me. The up hills started and I could feel my energy returning. The magic happened at around 85km, fist I saw a group of ultra runners that had started the race 4 hours before I have. This was a great boost. Next I got a call from Roman with more good news… The second place runner was out of the race, which meant that I was now in 4th place. It started to look like I could be on the podium. But I would have to work and work hard to catch up.
Roman was waiting with great up-to-date info on the runners ahead of me which kept me motivated, and I knew it was only 2 more aid stations before he could join to pace me to the end of the race. I turned up the gas, power walking up the hills and running down the other sides. I took as little rest as possible.
Finally it was time for Roman to join me with 4 aid stations to go and now in 3rd position with 32km to go. This is where my run turned into a race. ‘So I’m not going to lie to you, you’re not going to catch the 1st place guy. He is way too far ahead’ said Roman ‘but 2nd place is about 20 minutes ahead, think you can manage that?’. I half nodded yes and with that the chase was on.
We pushed hard and it was great to have someone with me after almost 12 hours of being on my own. At aid station 13 we were only 15 min behind 2nd place. A short break and off we went. Up to the top of the highest climb and it was hard! But it was not a time to slow down. At the top we were welcomed by good news at aid station 14. Not only was there a 5 km downhill to the last aid station but we were only 8 min behind 2nd place.
It was on! I had made my mind up that we would be in 2nd by aid station 15. So we pushed on and after a couple of kilometers we came around a corner and there he was, halfway down the last stretch of downhill. Roman fell back and let me take the lead. I headed down at the fastest pace I could handle. As we passed him I waved and said ‘great work mate, see you at the finish’ and with that he disappeared into the distance behind us.
The next 8 kilometers to the finish was a bit of a blur as my mind shut out the pain of the heat mixed with unrelenting road uphill. I can tell you is that the last 300 meters where hard…really hard but I ran every step crossing the line with Roman right behind me.
LR: Epic! I know you got great photos from the race, but they obviously don’t do justice to the true events that went down. So, how quick was your recovery after such a grueling effort?
GC: I find that my muscles recover reasonably fast. Within 3 days of the race my body was back to almost 100%. The bruising on the balls of my feet took another 2 days to fully recover. The last to recover and is still a little tender is my knee. This is where I need to practice patience, as the rest of my body is ready to train again I often get too excited and can push just a little too hard too soon.
LR: I know your technique is good but during such a race the body takes a beating. You seem to recover rather fast though. It’s quite obvious you’re blessed, but still what specifically did you do for your recovery sessions if you don’t mind sharing that?
GC: That’s completely fine to ask. For the first week I spent resting and allowing my mind and nerves to relax. I tried and get in as much sleep as I could and visit my massage therapist Stuart at least twice a week. Loads of foam rolling and exercises and this year I am trying electro therapy but it is still too soon to tell if it works.
LR: Let us know how that works out. I know you were taking advantage of local cuisine while you could, again, I saw your photos on Instagram of some delicious looking dishes, but did you find any specific local foods or specific dishes that you thought were great for your recovery?
GC: There is some amazing food in Israel. I am really fond of Hummus, and the fruit & salads there are incredible. Everything is so fresh and Roman took me to some amazing restaurants, most where really accommodating when it came to adjusting the meal to suit my needs.
LR: What would you eat to recover if you were back home?
GC: My usual routine is to keep hydrated with a supplement call NUUN (an electrolyte tablet), I’ll drink around 2.5l per day for a few days after a race. Getting my weight back up as quick as I can is also important (this race I lost around 5kg). I usually stick to a no wheat, no dairy eating plan but for a week after a race it’s all about calories no matter where they come from. Though it may shock you to know that I don’t eat chocolate as I don’t really like the taste (I get asked that question a lot). Sadly I suffered the effects of a tummy bug 2 days after the race as my immune system was low, which took a lot out of me and slowed down both my food intake and my all around recovery.
LR: But you look great now, so as I mentioned earlier, your ability to recover fast is quite amazing. Tell us about the people that helped you get this incredible accomplishment done. You had Roman Spivak on your support team who himself was a 2nd place winner last year?
GC: That is true, Roman ran an amazing race last year. We met at registration before last year’s race and became friends there and then. We planned to run the race together but I was suffering from a chest infection and was pulled from the race at 35km by my crew as safety precaution. I wanted to watch Roman finish so after a quick nap I headed to the finish line and saw him finish the race in amazing style.
In my mind, your crew are the people that determine the outcome of your race. After 6 hours of concentrating on the ground, heart rate, water intake and a load of other things, your mind goes a little funny. You need people you can trust and that understand what happens to your body during a race, to be there when times get tough. He was the first person to know that I was planning to run the race and we spent quite a lot of time on Skype chatting and planning. I don’t know how he did it but Roman managed to get a top Israeli photographer Elad Nissim to join us (hence the beautiful images from the race).
LR: Ah! Now I know whom to thank for those. Great photos! He captured the feeling of the effort and the unfolding story. But I’m sure there were all sorts of moments and situations during the race. Anything hilarious or dramatic you want to share?
GC: There are always highs and lows both physical and mental. For me the drama was at the T-junction where my mind just couldn’t deal with the decision that I had to make. The other moment that stands out to me the most is being in the hills of Jerusalem looking out over the most beautiful terrain I have just covered while the sun was still rising and thinking to myself ‘this is why I do what I do, to share moments like this with other runners’.
LR: That sounds amazing and dramatic at the same time to experience such drastically different emotions during one race. You mentioned neurosis – what’s your game plan for that?
GC: Probably not the most glamorous part of this type of event. I do take a more aggressive approach to this situation as I’m racing and don’t have time to wait for antacids to work, a finger down the throat once or twice usually does the trick. However I don’t recommend this for everyone and use it as a last resort, when I can no longer stand the discomfort.
LR: Ouch. This is an interesting topic, I’d like to dig in deeper at some point, but let’s move on to lighter things for now. One of your specialties is running technique. Tell us how that has helped you in preparation for and during the race?
GC: That is right, the understanding of how to create a smooth effortless running motion is very valuable when covering this type of distance (in fact any distance) I do while training and racing. I have to cover a lot of miles during training so I need to have as little stress on my body as possible. I also need to be injury free to make sure I can run/train as often as I can. Pose technique allows me to go on long runs with minimal effect on my body that in turn helps to reduce energy waste. At the moment I am a level 1 POSE coach (Running Technique Specialist) but do plan to progress further.
I use my turbo trainer for heart rate training and late night sessions and now that summer is here, I will be in the pool swimming again. I do Crossfit sessions to build strength and try new tools and equipment to see the reaction, at the moment I’m teaching myself slacklining. It takes an amazing amount of concentration and balance.
LR: Ha! I can imagine! Sounds good. So how’s training for the upcoming race going?
GC: My endurance is still good from the race in Israel so my main focus will be ‘explosive power’ before I start a short taper period. I have a few hill repeats on Boxhill and some interval sessions on the turbo trainer planned along with swimming to work on my lung strength and breathing efficiency. Oh, and this weekend I have a 10 -12hour power hike planned.
LR: You sure stay busy! Do you offer coaching for ultras?
GC: I have started working with ultra athletes. One of my athletes has placed in the top third of the field on his first multi day race which happened to be the famous dessert race called The MDS (Marathon Des Sables). Proud coaching moment.
LR: Yeah, I agree, congrats. Well, thank you for your time Coach G and all the best with the upcoming race! Going to keep my fingers crossed for the win!
GC: It’s a pleasure, and thank you for allowing me to share this amazing experience with all our POSE friends.
To get in touch with Gil Cramer aka Coach G please use the information below
Phone: +44 7501703757
FB: Running Coach G
Photos by Elad Nissim