Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Man Who Fell to Earth...With a Bump

It had to happen. There I was, far too pleased with myself for having survived my 50k, chuffed with my improving times on the road. It was about time someone, or something put me back in my place.

That thing, was Pendle Hill. I forgot how tough this thing is. Fell running is bloody hard!

Go back a couple of years, and I was knocking out a 3,000ft hill session every Sunday like it weren't no thang. Today, just over 2,000ft, over 7.7mi and I'm absolutely buggered! True, it might not have been sensible doing today after a very heavy leg session in the gym yesterday (walking tomorrow and Thursday will be, er, interesting...)

It was the climbs that did me in. Not surprising, nature of the beast and all, but I mean that it wasn't my lungs giving in. It was more like my calves initially, and I had to keep stopping to let the tension ease off. Later on, as I was running off Ogden Clough, I could just feel the energy leave my legs and moving them was a constant battle. I even felt a bit of a bonk come in towards the end of the run. Luckily I 

I started in Barley and was aiming to follow the Pendle Cloughs route from CP4 to CP8. In the end, after bludgeoning my way up from CP5, taking a direct line through the heather, I decided that I could see CP6 from where I crossed the wall on the path up from Deerstones - which was enough for me, so turned right to Ogden Clough. I also decided that it was sufficient to glance up to my right as I crossed Boar Clough to where CP7 would be, and I know where CP8 is, so buggered off home. I suppose that's the good thing with these runs: even when you want to give up, you've still got to run 3 miles back to the car, with a bloody big hill (or two) in between.

Now I'm sat feeling the creaks and aches seep into my knees and ankles, and rediscovering bits of my feet I'd long forgotten about: all the tendons and ligaments feeling very tender.

But I loved it. I saw only 2 people while I was out, the sun was shining, the evening air was cooling... I'd also forgotten how much I enjoyed this. 

And from here on in, I can only get better. Every turned ankle tonight means my ligaments will be stronger next time; every misplaced footstep means quicker thinking in future; every wrong line means better judgement. And of course, my hill fitness will improve.

But for today at least, it's Hills 1, Gary 0.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Return of the Knack?

So, long time no blog. Partly because of work, but also because there has been nothing of note in terms of running adventures. Following my last attempt at an ultra (2012 Ultra Race 100...2012?!), when my ITB struck me down…again, I spent a great deal of time trying to redress my biomechanical problems: neuro-muscular firing patterns, strength & flexibility, etc. When I decided to put ultras on the shelf for a while, whilst I got my body together, I thought I would try to get some good shorter distance times benchmarked whilst I was still relatively in my prime (e.g. a decent marathon time, having never done a conventional road marathon).

Along the way, I picked up a couple of other injuries which knocked me back – a stress fracture in my shin, a calf pull, mainly due to my impatience in regaining fitness – and more importantly, pace – post the previous injury and trying to come back too fast too soon. For instance, in 2013 I entered the 2014 Yorkshire Marathon, but had to withdraw about 8 weeks prior. I have learned the hard way that although I still feel (and act) 18, my body is not. I am still on the comeback trail from my last injury, but I am now taking things slow and steady.

Which brings me to the Canalathon. I booked into this in 2014, thinking 50km would be a nice distance to start off with: not too far, but still a test given my most recent ultra experiences. Though I had got further previously (40-50miles) my ITB had kicked in long before that and I suffered my way round, and then had to have a long lay-off as I recovered.

The run itself traces the route of the Rochdale Canal from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge. There are longer options: 75km, which does an additional 15mi loop to Brighouse Locks and back; & 100km, which starts in Sowerby Bridge and reverses the 50km route to Manchester before retracing its steps back to Sowerby Bridge. But with my new sensible head on, I thought I would start off easy and test my progress.

The route
So far, so good. Post-Christmas I was beginning to see my pace and fitness approach what I consider to be normal (though even now, it’s still off), with a plan to ramp up my training in March for this event. My carefully thought out plan was undermined by the fact I thought the race was in May sometime. It was only in February, when trying to make arrangements for a family do in May, and checking if it clashed with this race, that I realised Canalathon was actually scheduled for March. I knew my fitness was not going to be where it needed to be, but thought I’d have a go anyway.

So on Saturday the 21st March, after a long, heavy night’s drinking a couple of nights before (not the best preparation), me and the Better Half pitched up in the car park of a Manchester retail park for the start of the race. But no-one was there. After a quick text to the RO, and checking the details on-line again, we established I had got the timings wrong…again, and was a day early.

So on Sunday the 22nd March, after making a t*t of myself the day before (not the best preparation), me and the Better Half pitched up in the car park of a Manchester retail park for the start of the race. Today, lots of people were there. All struggling with safety pins, sorting kit out, pacing nervously…I missed this!

My ultra plan is generally to average 10min/mi. I had originally wanted to try and run this a bit faster given it was relatively short, but given it had snuck up on me a couple of months early I thought I’d just try my 10min/mi and see what state I finished up in. To the first CP (at 11-12mi) I’d settled in to a gentle 9-9:30min/mi running with another runner and chatting easily as we went along. It was quicker than I intended but it felt comfortable enough. At the CP he ran off, but I wanted to reintroduce some discipline and return to plan A, so I made sure to take on some food, stripped off a bit (it was a lovely warm sunny day), rearranged my bag, and set off a bit closer to my 10min/mi target pace.

After this point I started suffering with the heat a bit and realised I hadn’t been drinking enough, so there were  plenty of times between CP1 & 2 where I slowed to a fast walk as I felt myself beginning to overheat & tire. As well as lack of water, this was definitely where my lack of training was beginning to make itself felt. I surprised myself when I resisted the temptation to pop into The Stubbin Wharf, a pub on the canal in Hebden Bridge about 6mi from the end, because I swore I would over the few miles before it, having justified it to myself as a virtual medical emergency. Luckily there was another feed station about a mile along from it where I was able to take on some more fluids (mainly Coke) before the final push.

In between my walking phases to cool down I was running at a decent pace so I didn’t lose too much by way of average pace over the distance. For the last few miles I was pacing using my iPod: running for 2 songs, walking for 1. In the end I finished quite strongly, and was pleased with my time (5:33 - 10:44min/mi & 43rd out of 97). I wasn’t too far off my target at the start, and feel that had I got it right and had a couple of extra months to train for it, I would have been able to do sub-5hrs quite easily, which is the benchmark I had in mind at the time I booked it.

Nearly there...
But my overall aim was to survive uninjured. How did that go? Well, I had no jip from my ITB, nor any of the other hot-spots I’d injured in the last couple of years. Bearing in mind I was hobbling for 40+mi of the Ultra Race 100 last time I tried it from about 7-8mi in, this was a massive improvement. Incidentally, I’ve been experimenting with minimal shoes (NB Minimus) to try and get my muscles working harder and – in conjunction with my other gym work – correctly when I run. For this I knew I’d need more cushioning so was looking at things like the Hoka One Ones. I had my gait analysed at Sweatshop which showed me as having a neutral stride. Previously, I was always an over-pronator. I don’t know if this represents a ‘fix’, but it’s got to be reflective of some sort of progress? I ended up with NB 980s

Anyway, the only problems I had after the race were a touch of heat stroke (developing a bit of a fever that night) and tender ankles, reminiscent of when I go back to the fells after a break – quite a bit of the canal path was cobbles, or hard-packed trail. I’ve done hardly any fell-running in the last couple of years (which makes a mockery of my moniker!), and I intend to remedy this as I get fitter.

All in all then, I am viewing this as a success. And I’ve noticed an interesting thing happening… over the last couple of years, as I see ultra event and competitor posts pop up in my Facebook and Twitter timelines, I have sadly passed  them over, thinking ‘it’s not for the likes of me’. Yesterday I added the Dragon’s Back website to my favourites after I saw a post on my Facebook, and this morning I saw someone post about the Spine Race and my thought was once again, ‘ooh, that looks like fun…’.

The difference this time is rather than add them to my to-do list within the next 1, 2, or 3 yrs, I am thinking more in terms of 5-10 years. Next year I intend going no further than 75km. Well, maybe 100km…

With age comes wisdom. Sort of.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

This Sh*t Just Got Real

Or, 'Just the Wake Up Call I Needed'. 

We've been here before
This weekend saw my second attempt at the Ultra Race 100, the 100 mile road race from Stratford, looping through the Cotswolds. Last year's event ended in disappointment, for me at least. (See my write up here.) My more recent attempt went the same way (another DNF due to ITB) and - in conjunction with my training and preparation for this event -has resulted in a lot of hard-learned lessons and left me reflecting on my life as a runner. Sounds a bit melodramatic that, but if I don't change the way I do things but expect my ITB problems to disappear, then according to Einstein, that would be utter madness. And who am I to argue with him?

Now, when you complete an event like this, the phrase ‘never again’ gets bandied about a bit, but then after a while, the pain and the low moments are forgotten, and all you can remember was the feeling after you crossed the line. When you don’t finish one of these events because you were in pain you tend to think along the same lines, only it now works against you. At the time I knew I was doing the right thing: I couldn’t bend either knee on the ups or the downs, and there was 50mi of ups and downs yet to go. But thinking back now, I’m asking myself if it really was as painful as that; and whether I couldn’t have got back on the road, at least for one more CP and seen where it went from there…?

The mind is a funny thing.

Anyway, before getting into all that, I thought I’d start with some more positive reflection on this weekend's run. 

The Good 

Seemed to work fine. I was having a 750ml carb/electrolyte drink every 10mi, having a quarter every 2.5mi. The first 3 10mi stages I used SIS PSP22, switching to Maximuscle Viper Active later on, hoping the caffeine & guarana would keep me going through the night. In addition, I had made a batch of smoothie (a mix of oats, protein, fruit & veg - I may post the recipe on here separately) of which I was drinking a quarter of a bottle at CPs 1, 2, 3 & 4. Essentially, each 500ml bottle is c750kcal of low GI carbs, protein and fats. I was dipping into a zip-lock bag of mixed nuts, fruits & seeds as I left each CP; a handful or two at a time. Also had a slice of gala pie at CP2 (was getting hungry as opposed to any blood-sugar problems), with the odd bit of (home-made) flapjack & malt loaf for good measure. 

The plan was to continue this pattern through the second half of the race having stashed more of the same in my drop bag at CP5, with a bit of a splurge when I got there: a whole bottle of smoothie, another bit of gala pie, more flapjack, a 150g stick of salami... 

My hip flask (filled with Jura whisky) was intended to be sipped at each of the CPs from CP5 onwards, just to keep my pecker up. As it was, when I finally collapsed on the floor at CP5 I had a good glug! On the way back to my accommodation that night once my Better Half had picked me up, I stopped at a roadside burger van for a greasy quarterpounder cheeseburger. Filled a hole. 

I awoke the next morning with my stomach screaming out for food, so I took my unused drop-bag downstairs to the lounge and just started scoffing, and didn’t really stop all day. 

But, during the race at least, at no point did I feel lacking in strength, or get that dreaded 'bonking' feeling.

I was going to say more generally fitness, but given that my body let me down due to some inherent weakness, I clearly wasn't fit enough. However, at the end of my race, sat in the van, waiting for my Better Half to come pick me up, I didn't feel tired at all, and if it wasn't for my knees I feel I could have kept on for some while after. I had plenty left to give, I just didn't have a body to take me there. I've no doubt, that had I carried on, I would have faced a deficit of energy at some point, but certainly at 50mi I felt I could have carried on for another 20-30mi no problem. 

Adaptability & Sensible Decisions
This is easy (mile 1)
Reading reports of successful and less successful attempts at these sorts of events, one of the key differences between the two is how willing a person is to adapt to the circumstances on the day. My plan, initially was to run/walk 5min/1min until I could run no more, & ‘speedmarch’ the hills (40 strides running/40 strides walking). Once I was reduced to a walk to switch to more comfortable shoes than my inov8 f-Lites (adidas Kanadia – a trail shoe, but the only other running shoe I have with any cushioning, all the others being fell shoes). My target before giving up on the run/walk was 50mi, by which point I thought it would be dark; walk through the night, by which point I would expect 20-30mi remaining; then grind out those last few miles. 

As it happened, I quickly switched to 4min run/1min walk as I felt there was still plenty of time to play with, and decided to walk all the up hills. When my ITB kicked in with an innocuous niggle as I came in to CP1, I did briefly toy with the idea of persevering for as long as I could. I realise now this would have probably seen me retire at CP2 rather than halfway round. Instead, I switched to my comfy shoes, and resolved to walk the rest of the way, sticking to sub-15min/mi pace. 

This was the key decision behind me getting to the 50mi mark in under 12 hours. Otherwise I would have been out earlier, and in much worse shape. 

Despite having to abandon my initial strategy and being in some degree of pain throughout most of my race, not to mention a prolonged period of very heavy rain and spending most of the race on my own, I had a blast! I was able to keep my mind from wandering to the dark-side: singing along to tunes; calculating how many songs to next CP or 2.5mi sip of electrolyte, based on current pace and average length of song; working out likely finish time based on time taken so far and likely pace over each of the next checkpoints. 

Are those...moobs?!
The Bad
Obviously being struck down by ITB so early on that it meant I couldn’t finish. Last year was the first time I had ITB in my left knee, and until an aborted attempt to run home from Leeds along the Leeds Liverpool Canal all my concern – and indeed, my entire ITB history – was with my right knee which had been niggly since upping the mileage in March. I was about quarter of a mile out from the first CP (at just under 10mi) when I felt it go again. And this was pretty much the last I would run again. 

The Ugly 
The only thing that really qualifies as ‘ugly’ was my wandering round Stratford the next day. Because of my severe groinal chafage, I decided to Vaseline up before getting dressed to make getting about a bit less painful. My family took great delight in observing half-way round, that it looked like I had a leaky arse as the Vaseline had gone through my undies and light coloured trousers. Not a pretty sight, but I’m relieved to say that no photo exists (that I know of). 

Onwards and, er, downwards? 

So, what are we to deduce from all this? I’ve recently taken to characterising my problem as having a perfectly workable engine attached to a crumbling chassis. Unless I start to do something about the chassis, all the cardio-vascular fitness in the world isn’t going to get me to the point where I can run more than 50mi without injury. 

Whilst I have been focusing more on lower body strength at the gym over the last few months in an effort to complement my running - deadlifts, barbell squats, explosive box jumps, rowing, etc. – recent work with my new physio has uncovered that these have been falling wide of the mark. Fundamentally, my glutes don’t tend to fire in sequence, so other muscles are taking the strain. Therefore, even doing these exercises that ostensibly work the glutes, aren’t having the desired effect. I’ve got to go back to basics and do some smaller, more concentrated moves to get my glutes firing in the right sequence before progressing to these bigger, compound moves. I’ve been prescribed these concentrated moves before, but they bored me and I thought if I went bigger it would be more interesting (it is) but would still work the required area (it hasn’t, for the reasons above). 

On camera: the last running I did coming into CP1
Finally, I think I need to address my approach to footwear, running style, etc. I moved to minimalist shoes and a more natural running style, all self-taught (what could possibly go wrong, right?): running on the mid- to forefoot, footfall directly under my body, shorter strides/higher cadence. I thought this would address things, but it hasn’t. My feet still have a tendency to over-pronate, causing my knee to track in.

I am quite hippy (in that I have wide hips, not that I hug trees) and have been reading recently about the Q-angle – the angle between the hip joint and the knee. The greater this angle (i.e. the wider the hips) the more likely you are, apparently, to suffer with these kind of injuries. Given my wide hips, and that my footfall does tend to be directly under the centre-line of my body, maybe this is adding to the problem? A wider stance/running gait may be beneficial, looking to keep my footfall closer to the line of my hip joint?

In short there’s plenty of work to be done: things I know and can be doing straight away; other things that require more research and possibly further professional help. My intention now, is rather than persevere with my ultra goals, I am going to put them on hold for a good 12 months or so while I work on these basics. 

When I nail the basics, I will then probably look to build myself up slower to the big distances setting smaller progressive goals – 50k => 50mi => 100k => 100mi+ - giving my body more time to adapt. 

Not a total loss then, I am still pleased with my results from this race. More than that though, it has probably been the kick up the arse I needed to take this stuff more seriously and give it the respect it deserves.

ITB rolling at CP1
*You'll note my time here is 12h20, but i forgot to stop my Garmin at my last CP. The results show I took 12h49 to get there.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Eat My Goals: 2012

We've been here before, but what the heck, let's give this another go, shall we?

In no particular order...


- Spartathlon qualification
- Bob Graham Round
- Ultra Race 100 (sort out my unfinished business!)
- Lyke Wake
- Injury free!


- Sub 7-min 2k row
- 30 Pull ups (not going to say 50, let's get to 30 and take it from there)
- Bodyweight bench press (5 sets of 5)
- 1.5 x bodyweight deadlift (5 sets of 5)


- Write a book - not aiming for a literary masterpiece, but there is something in particular I reckon I could do some damage with. It's in the early stages. In any case, will be under a pseudonym.

All in all, sounds like a bit of a wish list, and it may be that going for one or more of them will mean I don't get round to some of the others. Not really thought through that far.

No doubt it'll get whittled down over the coming 12 months as time/money/body gets its say.

Whaddya reckon? Doable? And what do you have on your list for 2012?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Ultra Race 100: Unfinished Business

Or how I registered my first ever DNF.

Well, where do I begin?

It turns out that between my last post and the start of this race, I was essentially out of action. No more than the odd couple of miles here and there for 7 weeks. You could look at this in one of two ways: I was either starting this race very well refreshed, or grossly under-prepared. It turns out it was the latter!

The day before I'd travelled down to stop at a farmhouse in the grounds of my company's head office, which just happens to be in Stratford, where this race started and finished. That night, me and the missus went into town for some pre-race stodge (fish & chips) before coming back to the room and getting all my kit sorted into 4 categories: wear, carry, drop-bag, pre-race. 

Next morning I got my 'wear' stuff on - including Compressport calf sleeves to manage my existing injury (which wouldn't give me any grief throught the event), packed my 'carry' stuff, and started eating my 'pre-race' stuff. The 'drop bag' would be given to the ROs who would take it to CP5 (52mi). Morning food consisted off porridge, wholemeal toast with honey, a sweet tea, two packets of biscuit browns (to stave off calls of nature), and a Powerade. It wasn't all scoffed at once as the race started at midday. This just gave a good opportunity to fuel up beforehand, hopefully avoiding any mid-run bonking I've experienced in the past on long runs. 

We got to Stratford Race Course to register and started to mingle with other nervous runners. As ever at these things, everyone seemed very nice, and there was a lot of anxious chatter about training, food, race strategies, etc.

This goes here...

What?! How far?
Playing it cool

After some last minute checks, the RO briefings and last minute goodbyes, it was time to line up. As midday came round, the horn went off and so did we; round and across the racecourse and on to a cyclepath, before we finally settled onto the country roads and lanes that would take us away from Stratford.

What are we waiting for?
And they're off!

My plan was to use my Garmin to keep me at or around 10min/mi for as long as I could maintain that pace, and to hang on for as long as I could with any kind of forward movement once I couldn't. On the whole, I managed to stick to this. My mile breakdowns and Garmin details are here. The only wild deviations from my ideal pace were miles 12, 22, 32 (checkpoints); 28, 33 (loo breaks - more of that later, but not too much more!!). After mile 39 my pace started to deteriorate as the wheels inevitably fell off, but all in good time...

At the first CP I replenished my PSP22 (planned to go through one of these every stage), had a quarter of a porridge/banana/soy milk/protein powder smoothie (planned to have a quarter at each stage until a full one at halfway and picking up another bottle for the second half of the race). I then left the CP at a walk as I knocked back half a buttered malt loaf (planned to alternate this with 3 pork pies at each checkpoint). As I broke into a trot again I was pleased with my CP routine and my discipline in sticking to my pace meant I was feeling great. 

After that though, things one-by-one gradually started to go wrong. After 13/14mi my stomach started feeling a bit dodgy. This was in spite (because?) of the biscuit browns I ate, and may have been down to the quantity of food I was eating. I managed to keep this at bay until mile 28 (phantom loo break) and mile 33 (real loo break). After this, I felt better but still not 100%, and by this point I'd already abandoned my eating plan, missing out my second malt loaf half at CP3.

As I left CP2 (mile 22) - where I also rolled out my right-ITB with my portable roller (beer bottle) as a preventative measure - the bone in the outside of my right foot became very sore as it made contact with the ground and got worse as the race progressed. This has continued to cause me problems long after the race and I suspect it is a bruised bone.

At around the 32mi mark (CP3) the warm humid air had given way to rain, and more bits started breaking: this time my left-ITB (never had a problem with before, it's always been the right one) and the inside of my groin, also on the left; both possibly as a result of trying to take pressure off my right foot.

I was still able to plod on though, until the final nail in the coffin: getting lost. At 35mi I had fallen into a bit of a rhythm with two other runners, and we stuck together for a few miles. After mile 40 or so, we realised we had not seen a route sticker for some time, and began to question ourselves. With the RO's words from the briefing ringing in our ears ("if in doubt, straight on"), we continued. At mile 42, we should have come across CP4, but we didn't. At this point we sat down and got my phone out for a bit of Google Map-age. After a call to the RO (who found our predicament very funny - another snippet from the RO briefing came to mind: "you'd have to be an idiot to get lost on the course") we established we were well off route. However, with RO's consent, if we could make it to CP5 by whichever route, we were back in the race.

Now, here is where I look a bit foolish as what happens next is pure schoolboy navigation error. To get to where we needed to be, we needed to head East along the A40. One of us recced ahead from where we were sat and had found the A40. Knowing our route was generally South, and none of us recalling crossing the A40 previously, we quickly decided to turn left once we hit the A40. However, it turned out we had unknowingly crossed the A40 before, turned North and therefore were approaching the road from the South; meaning our left turn 'East' was actually taking us West. Our mantra should have been (as it is on the fells) 'if in doubt, compass out'.

Before we realised any of that though, I had already made the call to quit. After having been sat for 20 minutes or so as we sorted all this out my body went into recovery mode. Basically, as we started off again my knees and groin had siezed up, my foot was unbearable on impact and to add more injury to injury, my ankle ligaments were very sore as well. So my plan was to make it to CP5, then retire. Up to this point I had covered 42mi in a respectable if not mind-blowing 8h17.

The next 3 miles were a very slow and very painful hobble along a main road in the rain. A far cry from the easy running through lovely Cotswold vilages only a few hours before. We came into a town and on a whim, I thought we'd call in on the petrol station to check we were going in the right direction. They had never heard of where we were heading. They got out a local A-Z and it was at this point we realised we had gone in the completely wrong direction. 

My compadres who up to now were planning on carrying on once they got to CP5 also decided to call it a day. So I put a call into the missus to pick us all up and collect our drop bags from CP5 before heading back to the farmhouse. We waited in the chippy next door to the garage and had a nice sausage in batter and chips, all served up by some friendly staff - though they did wonder if we were all sane. All over after 45mi and 9h46.

The next day me, the missus and my folks (who, rather optimistically, I got up to see me across the finish line) had a lovely day in Stratford in the sun: drinks, good food, and plenty of comedy at my expense as I made a right spectacle of myself, walking like a 90 year old and taking rest stops every 10 yards or so. 

Since then, I've done some investigating and realised the precise moment we went wrong. At 38mi, we all missed a crucial sticker on a signpost directing us to follow the route. I have even found the offending sticker on Google Streetview! (The small yellow on black stickers on the post below - incidentally, we carried on following the road to Cheltenham)

He went thaddaway *points*
Overall this was a great event, a lovely route through a lovely part of the world (albeit all on road). It's got a great atmosphere, and I will definitely (maybe? GUCR plans notwithstanding) be back to try again next year - this time with some training under my belt! Ultimately, I think this was too much to ask of my body after 7 weeks no running. Live and learn...

I was supporting my work's team attempt at walking the Yorkshire 3 Peaks the weekend after the UR100. I went up Pen-y-Ghent with them - evenstretching the legs for a bit of a run off the summit. Being sensible, I then missed out Whernside and met them with tea and cakes with the rest of the support crew at the final road crossing before Ingleborough. I decided I was still feeling okay, so thought I 'd do the home stretch with them as well. Was great going up and managed to drag a few people along with me, but coming down, my foot and left ITB flared up again. It was a long painful slog back. 

Complete rest methinks for at least 4 weeks. This throws out plans for a 3-day recce of the entire BGR route I had lined up for 4-6 August. Also makes my plans for a BGR attempt 16-17 Sept very doubtful. Still, I will listen to my body. Planning a busy year next year. I may still be able to do everything I want to if I go sensible with my recovery in the second half of this one.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Of Mice & Men

Remember the blister I got from the 7 Trigs in my last post? Well, it's had a bit of a far reaching effect...

For the first time ever really, I've been working from a training plan. I figured that the transition to running a 100 mile ultra might need a bit more of a structured approach than I usually take. After consulting various resources (most from the very helpful ultramarathonrunning.com) I put something together that took me from 45 miles to 75 miles per week over 8 weeks - with a rest week thrown in - before a two-week taper to the Ultra Race 100 on the 24th June.

Following my blister however, I couldn't get my trainers on over my feet, and so I was already being steered off my training plan by nefarious forces. In order to keep some semblance of mileage up, I got a couple of runs in my flip-flops. Only 4.5mi worth, but enough to keep my hand in.

Suitable Running Attire (i)
The following week - the week before last - I can finally get my shoes on over my heels again and I hit the roads once more, putting in a good 60 mile week, with two 20 mile(ish) runs back to back on the weekend. Overall there was nearly 7,000ft of climb, with just short of 3,000ft apiece on each of the weekend runs. (Garmin stats: Sat Apr 30 / Sun May 1)

I ended each run feeling strong, and with plenty left in the tank. 

So I was a bit miffed when Monday morning I wake up with a shin-splint-like pain (turned out to be shin-splints, funnily enough) in my left shin, on the posterior side. This means that I am now at the end of a rest week that looks like it will be the first of several.

But how's this related to the blister? Well, after a bit of consultation (albeit on the distictly non-BMA affiliated FRA Forum) I came to the conclusion that it might be down to the running I did in flip-flops. One of the reasons I only got 4.5mi done in flip-flops was because there was a soreness when running down the front of my legs. Not sharp like shin-splints, just like a build up of lactic acid. I put this down to the fact that when raising and extending the leg, to keep the flip or the flop on your feet you have to extend your toes slightly, which creates a tension down the front of your leg. So I gave this up and thought no more about it. But it appears that by adding a load of miles to the problem a week later, I've crocked myself.

I've now added to my collection of sophisticated physiotherapy equipment and bought an ice-pack, which I've been using nightly. Now with one week of resting behind me, I'm looking forward to at least another one.

Physiotherapy essentials:
Ice Pack

ITB Roller

After that? Who knows. I think the best I can hope for would be to slowly build myself back up to the kind of mileage I was doing last week, whereas I was hoping to use last week as a base to get some even bigger miles under my belt. We shall have to wait and see. Whatever happens, a new training plan is in order.

P.S. It's not all bad news: I've treated myself to some new road shoes to replace my fading Inov-8 f-Lite 195s: adidas adizero Mana 5. I was looking at the new Inov-8 Road-X range (the 233 in particular), until I found out the price! £90? When I only paid £55 for the f-Lites? No thanks!

Suitable Running Attire (ii)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

So that was the first big weekend of the summer...

Having fully committed myself to my first ultra in preparation for a 2012 Spartathlon entry, I thought I’d better get some training under my belt. 
The ultra in question is the Ultra Race 100 in June. Previously known as the Cotswold Ultra 100. A 100 mile loop around the roads and lanes of Warwickshire and the Wolds, starting and finishing in Stratford. (Look, here I am in the list of runners!)
With this in mind, I thought I ought to start putting some decent back-to-back mileages together at the weekend. 

So, first up on Saturday, I did my regular 5-and-a-bit-mile road run and decided to do it twice, but experimenting at trying to keep to what I hope will be my ultra-pace: 10min/mi. The weather this weekend was great, and allowed for my first topless run of the year (don't worry, it's mostly on deserted country lanes and farmers tracks!). The way the loop works it meant that despite one loop being over 5mi, two left me just short, so I tagged on another half a mile or so to take me over the 10mi mark. It felt awkward holding back my pace, and I was consciously reigning it in all the time. It did mean though, that by the end, despite averaging 30secs/mi faster than I would have liked, I hardly felt tired at all. Which is the idea given that, come race day, I'd have another 90 to go at this stage.

The Cult of the Trig
On Sunday, I hooked up with a few other runners for a bash round the 7 Trigs route. There were 5 of us in total: Steve the organiser, Duff and Antisocial of the FRA Forum, Steve's mate Ash - a late convert to fell-running from cycling, and me. The 7 Trigs is a 28mi circular route around the moors above Heptonstall, Widdop, Boulsworth, etc. (see Garmin details). The route is very off-piste: there are few distiguishable lines, and most of the time is spent bashing through heather, or bog-trotting. The effect of this - combined with the unusual unbroken sun and heat - was very, very tiring.

Bridestones nr. Trig 2
Steve and Anti at Trig 3
By mile 8, after the second trig, I felt my energy levels go through the floor - I was bonking. I had eaten a large bowl of porridge in the morning, with a cup of sweet tea, followed by a mug of coffee and a few squares of brownie provided by Steve, the organiser, at the start. At each trig I had had a handful of mixed nuts, fruits and seeds. On top of that, there was a fuel dump at each road crossing, and the first of these was before the second trig at 6.5mi! At this point I had eaten more brownie squares and some jelly babies.

This left me hanging on until the next fuel stop at 12.9mi where we crossed the Widdop Road. Here, I necked a couple of bananas, had half a dozen squares of rocky road, as well as topping up my bottle with some squash (I was also using a bladder in my OMM rucksack). I should also say that we lost Duff by this stage to a recurrence of a calf injury. After this brief stop, I was beginning to feel much better in my head, and after a few minutes running up towards Boulsworth Hill, I felt the energy find its way to my legs too, and my blisters - another story, see below - start to go numb.

From near to far: Steve, Anti & Ash climbing up to Boulsworth
l-r: me, Ash, & Anti at Trig 5 - Boulsworth
Despite this stop, and despite me continuing to dip my hand into my nutsack - stready! - and having eaten a chocolate covered cereal bar, my strength started to wane again after mile 16. Luckily - for me at least - Ash was struggling with his knee and by mile 19 had to slow to a walk. It sounded like ITB, so as we walked to the final road crossing and fuel dump at mile 21, I was able to dispense the benefit of my ITB experience with him, as well as gather myself for the final stretch. I gobbled a load more fuel at the road while we waited for Ash's missus to collect him. Again, another couple of bananas, some rocky road, jelly babies, and more squash

Trig 7...finally!
The final stretch largely follows the route (or one of the lines, at least) of Tanky's Trog - so Antisocial and Steve were telling me. Once we hit the final two trigs, which were quite close in succession, it was mainly a dash downhill into Hebden Bridge. This was across farmers fields and well-worn trods and so was a welcome relief from the moorland heather. The final climb back up to Heptonstall was short but sharp, and I could feel my body overheating. At one point as the path zig-zagged up Anti and Steve were about to break into a jog, but I was just far too hot. I stuck with it to the top though, and as we hit the cobbled streets of Heptonstall, it was a short 50yd dash (shuffle) to arrive back where 5 of us had started at Weaver's Square some 6hrs 43minutes & 27.16miles earlier.

After a quick finishers' photo:
C'est fin!
Me & pint, after a long, hot run = heaven!
And a quick change of clothes, I necked a smoothie I had made in the morning before heading back to the pub for a celebratory pint of Wainwright (& some dry-roasted peanuts and a packet of Mini-Cheddars) with Steve.

Steve: the man with a plan...and a pint!
Steve's got a plan for a sub-5hr attempt in May. I may well be up for it, but I need to improve how I keep myself fuelled for these things. It may have been that I hadn't refuelled enough from my efforts on the Saturday. It certainly felt like I was constantly running in calorie deficit, and the fuel stops only briefly brought me back into the black. It may have been the heat, but I went through a 1.5l bladder of water, 1.5l of squash, and a further 0.75l of weak squash with a pinch of salt. Not to mention the water & squash I drank straight from the big bottles - and therefore couldn't measure - at the fuel stops.

Certainly, the next day - sunburn, a touch of heat-stroke the night before, and blisters* aside - I felt fine. My legs were moving freely and felt strong, and if I could have gotten my shoes on, I would have been out for another run in the evening. This bodes well for progress towards my ultra ambitions.

In whichever way the run may have gone better for me, it is better to learn these lessons now and refine my training & nutrition early on than learn them in the race itself. I am now in touch with a nutritionist who has been introduced to me by a mutual friend at work, and I will see what advice they might be able to offer. 
That said, I know you lot are into the same sort of stuff as me, so assuming you've read this far, if you'd like to chuck in your tuppence worth, all advice would be greatly received!
*I think this was due to wearing thinner socks than usual with my Walshes, in which I have survived longer runs - in terms of both distance and duration - with no problems.
Blister. Just in case you were unsure.
P.S. Hope you enjoyed the soundtrack to this entry. It was either that or Little Fluffly Clouds by The Orb, as that's what all the pics remind me of. In fact, stuff it, I'll spoil you: