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:


  1. impressive blister :) ....not that i know a lot but for what it's worth, the heat/sun probably had more of an effect than anything else. when it's like that i think i read somewhere that it's even more important to drink than eat-do you ever use energy drinks, probably have a bit more carb than squash and salt? good running though!

  2. I have used energy drinks powders and gels in the past (which have more carbs in). I pretty much lived off these during my MdS and survived that with no such problems. You could be onto something there. Will invest in some of this stuff and experiment. Cheers!

  3. Wowsers, Spartathlon eh? Just started reading the Robin Harvie book by co-incidence.

    My first ultra is going to be next week - marshalls run of the Sandstone Trail - not fit, not trained, not got food sorted properly. It'll be fine :)

  4. Sounds like perfect preparation. This training malarky's over-rated: I've buggered myself up on it!