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 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:

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Streak in the Peak

Blogs, eh? None for months, then two in a matter of days. Don't know how I forgot to mention this in my last post; this is perfect blog-fodder (blodder?).

Yup, this was pretty much as it says on the tin. A streak, in the Peak District. A fell run, sans kecks.

Not that we need an excuse, but there was a reason behind it. Jan - fellow forumite, Dark Peak Fell Runner, book swapper extraordinaire - was due to emigrate to Enza (and at time of writing, has). He therefore decided that now was the perfect time to do something the DPFR crew had threatened for a while: to trod their regular stomping ground as the Good Lord intended.

The crowd in the mist
As a result, the night before, there were 19 brave souls, ready to battle the elements in the nip. However, as dawn broke, 8 men realised what they'd signed up for. And then there were 11.

We rendezvoused at Snailsden Reservoir with a worryingly large number of spectators about (amazing what these Dark Peakers think constitutes a wholesome family day out!). Jan also invited a mate, Lee (who's own thoughts on this escapade can be found here) who put a report in to Roch Valley Radio Sports Breakfast show. The weather was grim: 4 degrees, misty, & drizzle. But I'd left home after having scraped the car in -3 degrees, so I thought it positively tropical. And besides, the mist might be best for all concerned!

The route was out to the second trig due SW from there and back. In the spirit of SITP I ran unencumbered by Garmin (just plain forgot it) but from others' I think it was 4-5mi: 2-2.5mi each way. Due to the cold, we agreed to do the outward leg fully clothed to warm up. Trig, strip, and run back. So we did.

The moment of truth, far from being awkward, was surprisingly easy to do. Resigned to it as condemned men, committed as we were? Though it did render the handshakes that we greeted each other with at the start as introductions were made unnecessarily formal. We took some pictures - just for proof, you understand; we're not weirdos or anything - and headed back.



Can't stop the bumrush
The 'end' in sight (note dog looking at my danglies - a scary moment!)

And it was quite a nice feeling! Running along with nothing between you and the air. Now I'm not saying I'll take to this on a permanent basis (er, or at all, actually*), but I'd recommend if ever you get a chance to: give it a go. No? Oh well, each to their own...

We got back to cheers and whistles and minimal milling about before getting our clothes on again. Jan made a nice presentation to each of us: a certificate & keyring with 'I streaked the Peak' on them, a bottle of Rescue Ale, a Peperami, and a Tunnocks. Then it was all back to Holmfirth for a few restorative beers and some grub. Obviously someone ordered the jumbo hotdog, though under the circumstances a Walnut Whip might have been more appropriate...
Oh! The irony

All in all, a great day out, and a great send off for a thoroughly decent bloke.

To Jan!
Jan, resplendent
And if that weren't enough for you, there's a video, here. This is heavily edited. Only those who were there get the unedited, director's cut. What goes on the Streak...

*After this, my better half was told at work that there are reports of a bloke who furtively runs Pendle in the buff on a regular basis. She's not convinced that this person isn't me!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Radio Silence is Broken

All been a bit quiet my way, hasn't it? In my last post it mentioned I got a new job, and this has unfortunately left me with less time to do stuff like this (I don't get to 'work' from home as much).

Quick run-down of goings on at chez UFM.

- Pendle Monster completed
- Forgot about Tour of Pendle
- Not making it back in time for runs with Clayton

So not too great. Running has mainly been fast, flat 4mi+ runs before work in York, then hitting Pendle for some major hill sessions of a weekend.

Plans for 2011? HPM if I can get on a team, Fellsman would be nice, a late BGR (if my knee survives the former). I've got an eye on a 2012 Spartathlon, so may need to do other events, as it has got strict qualification criteria regarding 100km & 200km experience.

Also just about to start my own business with a friend in the next few weeks, so no let up.

Watch this space. Assuming I get the time to write about it!