Tuesday, 27 March 2012

My Golden Mile

With the recent publicity regarding the Sport Relief Mile, it got me thinking what my favourite mile of running might be. This could be anywhere; road, trails, fells, track, parkland, undulating, flat, downhill, uphill, thick mud, soft grass, part of a race route, a regular training route, anything! If you could only run 1 special mile for the rest of your life, where would it be?

I gave this some thought but fairly quickly came to my decision. My Golden Mile would be the section of path forming a terrace above the River Greta on the way back into Keswick at the foot of Latrigg Fell.

This is a lovely singletrack with lots of tight corners, short uphills and descents. It is great for working on your running gait, trying to be smooth, adding in little accelerations. You can run it as a tempo effort or simply cruise along enjoying the view over the river. I always look forward to running it and often plan a run to finish with this mile section. I finished my run tonight along the terrace and filmed the route so you can get an idea of the terrain. (The video is speeded up - It is a shame I can't run that fast!)

I thought some of you out there might give this idea some thought and share your favourite mile run with us all via your blogs; it doesn't matter where in the world you are or what standard of runner you are, which mile puts a smile on your face? I think the "Golden Mile" you choose says much about the kind of runner you are; psychoanalysts get ready!

Monday, 19 March 2012

One year ago

I completed an excellent week of training yesterday with a 20 miler, essentially out to Dockray along the Old Coach Road, returning via St John's in the Vale. Another wonderful day, though I ran out of water for the last half an hour, having only planned to do about 17 miles. Unfortunately, the drought came on as I ran through farm land back towards Keswick and there were no suitable streams; to say I was a bit thirsty when I got home would be quite an understatement!

Again, the hills looked beautiful and I made every effort to take in the view and appreciate the fact that I can train in this landscape every day.

Towards the end of the session, my legs started to get that ache/tiredness associated with hard training. Up to this point, I have not really been doing enough training to get that feeling as I have had more to worry about with the heel/tendon. In many ways, it is nice to get that "You're an athlete" feeling again and is another sign that I'm no longer recovering but am definitely back in full training. This is also a nice little prompt to remind me to take a much easier week over the next seven days, something I had planned as I have a particularly busy week at work.

The title of the post refers to the fact that it was exactly one year ago that my heel finally gave up the ghost after 10 years struggle. At the time I was devastated, especially as I had had such a good winter and was confident of breaking 20 hours for the West Highland Way Race. As we all do, I tried to carry on, telling myself that things would clear up, take a few weeks off and everything will be fine. It doesn't always work like that but hindsight is a wonderful thing. If I am honest, I think I am now in better shape than I was this time last year and I have very much started the countdown to the Highland Fling Race. Just talking about racing again gives a small buzz even though it is still six weeks away.

Must quickly add congratulations to two of my athletes. Simon and Adam both ran in the Lakeland Trails series race at Cartmel at the weekend in ground conditions described as "like the Somme". Both were trying new race tactics; Adam went for a faster start and knocked 8 minutes off his PB in a race of only 11 miles, while Simon just tried to hold things back a little to even out his effort during the race, finishing strongly instead of hanging on for dear life over the last couple of miles. Well done boys!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

This is why we do it!

What a fantastic morning! There are times when you are out on the trails that stick in your mind. This morning will be one of them.

I had planned to do about 10 miles around Derwentwater which is picturesque even when the weather is bad, but today was a stunner. I'm putting together a really good week's training and, so far, have coped well, even to the point of holding back a bit. I did my first tempo run since the operation on Thursday evening along the old railway and really enjoyed running a bit faster. My legs felt a bit tired after that so I had a relatively easy run last night before going to a talk by a mate who cycled John O'Groats to Land's End last summer. A great evening.

This morning, things just fell into place. My legs felt much fresher again, the trails had dried out after the rain last night, did not feel the need to carry a jacket in a bumbag, the sun was out, the Lake District looking her best and me bouncing along, trying to stop myself from running too fast. I love it!!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Hoka Bondi B shoe review

A friend of mine who suffered a stress fracture in his femur bought a pair of Hoka ComboXT shoes back in November 2011. Qiute simply, he needed something to give maximum cushioning as he got back into running and is, in fact, running the Highland Fling Race in April. He raved about the shoes so much, it got me thinking; could these shoes help me in some way, either in training, racing or both? I am now 150 miles into the shoes and I thought I’d pass on my thoughts.

You basically have a choice of three shoes in the range. The Mafate is the full trail shoe, with a more aggressive grip pattern but I found these much too wide across the toe box area. The ComboXT was my preferred choice, being the intermediate shoe (recently superseded by the Stinson), unfortunately, I was not able to get a pair in my size. This left me with the Bondi B road shoe, which at least came in a more conservative colour scheme.
Out of the box, there is no denying that these shoes are unorthodox but don’t be put off. When I initially tried on the Mafate trail shoes I was a little concerned with the lacing system that uses small webbing loops for eyelets. I am sure they are strong enough to cope with the rigours of ultra-racing, but I much prefer the more standard lacing system on the Bondi B and ComboXT/Stinson models. There is a loop on the tongue to thread the laces through, something I always use in my running shoes, just to help keep everything in place.

The uppers have a number of reinforced areas, including the toe box, main flexion points and the sides, linked to the lacing system. Despite the fact that these are designated the “road” shoe in the range, they have proved to be very resilient. Apart from the mud, the uppers show no sign of wear and tear, even after two particularly long runs on the West Highland Way and the Lakeland 100.

The top of the shoe is literally only the tip of the iceberg; it is what happens below this that makes these shoes special. The mid-sole is up to 2.5 times thicker than most trail shoes with the aim of dissipating up to 80% of the shock associated with foot strike. This is what jumped out at me when I first started to look at the shoes. Recovering from an operation to both the heel bone and Achilles tendon, anything that might ease the pounding was worth a shot.
The first real surprise is just how light the shoes are. These shoes are no heavier than most of my other running shoes (Yes, I’ve got quite a few pairs) and when they are on your feet they certainly don’t feel clumpy in any way. In fact, with some of the other attributes, you actually feel lighter out on the trail – go figure!?

Despite the size of the mid-sole, you don’t sit 6cm off the ground; you are partially sunk within the shoe which, I feel, is rather clever. What this does is hold your foot in a really stable position so that when out on the trail, even along technical single track, you never feel that that you are running on soft sponges and the shoes feel surprisingly responsive. You do not feel as in touch with the trail as you would in a minimalist shoe but that was never the aim of these.

When you first run, you assume that you will be forced to heel strike but nothing could be further from the truth. The shoe has a very small drop from heel to toe (4mm), this means that you run with a natural mid-foot strike but still get all the benefits of the cushioning – win:win?!

I have noticed that the shoe has “loosened up” as the miles have been clocked, particularly in the flexibility of the mid-sole; further adding to the comfort.

My main worry when buying the road shoe was the grip; would a road shoe give enough traction to run with confidence on the trails? I spent some time in the shop comparing the grips from all three shoes in the range and, whilst the Mafate do have a more aggressive grip, I thought that at the speed I move at in an ultra race, I could live with the Bondi B grip. Out on the trails, I’ve had no real problems apart from the adventures in the snow, though I doubt even my old faithful Salomon Speedcross’ would have coped with that. The footprint of the shoe is huge and this certainly helps with the grip and the stability, installing confidence on all surfaces.
When you first put the shoes on and start to run, they feel  different, as I’m sure you would expect. I started with small strides and concentrated on a smooth mid-foot strike and within just a few miles I felt very much at home with them. After a long day at work, I find the comfort of the shoes quite refreshing and the thought of training on tired legs is less daunting.

The shoes are especially good on rough, rocky terrain where you would normally suffer with the pounding, feeling every rock and bump. With the Hoka’s you tend to run over this type of terrain worrying less about where you place your feet. On my two 30+ mile runs, it has been  the cumulative effect of this  stress free running that I think has made all the difference. At the end of these runs, my legs have definitely felt less pounded, with a little more life in them. Now, I am quite happy to acknowledge that all this could just as easily be psychological, rather than physiological, but I will take any benefit I can, especially after 80+ miles!

Downhill is a dream. I would not consider doing a fell race in them but that is not what they are designed for. The type of descents we get in ultra races suit this shoe down to the ground. Again, you don’t have to worry too much about where you put your feet, the shoes simply take the sting out of the trail, meaning your quads take less of the strain. Think; how will your legs feel towards the end of your ultra? Think; how would you like them to feel?

That final thought is the one you have to keep in your head. These shoes are not for everyone; if you are a minimalist runner, walk away from these. If you are really that bothered about how your shoes look, perhaps you should walk away. If you are on a budget, walk away. If you are looking at running fast 10kms or half marathons, walk away. I am a runner recovering from surgery who wanted a shoe to allow me to race and train ultra distances. I asked myself what is most important to me and the answer kept coming back to “enjoyment of my running”, these shoes give me that.

I now have a dilemma. When I did the West Highland Way Race, putting fresh  shoes and socks on at the halfway point was one of the best decisions I made. I am definitely going to wear the Hoka’s for the Highland Fling 53 mile race in April, but what to do for the Lakeland 100 in the summer? Do I wear the Hoka’s for the full race and forego the magical shoe swop at Dalemain? Do I wear my Speedcross’ for the first half and then change into the Hoka’s? Do I get hold of another pair of Hoka’s (I still like the look of the Stinson B combination shoe)? What’s a boy supposed to do?

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Lakeland 100 recce and recovery

It has just been one of those busy weeks. After last Sunday's run with John Kynaston, I managed to get a video done on the Sunday evening and have been meaning to get the write-up done all week, however, as usual, things conspired against me. So here we are.

John and Katrina arrived on Saturday evening and we had a lovely meal, partially credited to me by John in his report, though I had better come clean and admit that the lasagne was Tracey's work, not mine! Within minutes of finishing the meal, the table was cleared and the maps were out; just how every good evening should be spent. It is strange how a familiar route (as most of this section is to me) takes on a different perspective with new company and a whole new reason for running it.

As I looked out of the window on Sunday morning, I was pleased to see no rain and assumed we would be in for a reasonable day, weather-wise. An hour later as we drove over Newlands pass towards Buttermere, I was thinking that just some rain would be fine. Thick snow, with more dropping and laying, would make this an interesting day.

Although I have run over the fells along the section from Buttermere to Braithwaite, I have not taken the lower path, following Sail Beck, so it was nice to run something new. We were both mindful of the fact that this section will be in the dark during the Lakeland 100 and were keen to spot landmarks along the way and especially at the significant path junctions. I'm sure I would have been less careful if I had been running on my own, assuming that I would remember the route. Looking back, having John with me really helped concentrate my mind on the route and I'm sure will have made this a more productive day.

We went through a patch of almost complete white-out but were soon at the highpoint of the section at Sail Pass, followed by the long descent into Braithwaite. Somehow, we both only slipped over once each during the run through the snow; fortunately (unfortunately?) we did not have the video cameras filming at the time. Part way down, someone switched the TV from black and white to colour, or at least that is how it seemed to us. It transpired that we took a slight wrong turn through the small paths and roads into Braithwaite, I have since had a walk out there again, filmed the correct route and will send this to John so he can familiarise himself with the route from his armchair in Glasgow. (Is that still training?)

There follows a flat road section to link Braithwaite with the other side of the valley. Neither of us particularly enjoyed this but after 35 miles of racing over rough ground in the summer, would probably like not having to pick up our feet for a short time.

During the long walk up around the back of Latrigg, we took time to eat; me with my gels and John with his magic mash potato. I am fairly particular with regard to what I carry (read "kit nerd"), every gram counts, so you can imagine my reaction as John asked me to get his mash out of his rucksack and I pulled out a Tupperware box and spoon. I had a good rummage around for the tartan rug, pork pies and baguettes but assume John forgot to pack them. In his defence, John did say that during the race the mash would be in a small food bag which made me feel better.

I enjoyed showing John the next section along Glenderaterra, returning on the Blencathra side of the valley to the Blencathra Centre. This is one of my often used training routes and offers a bit of everything, running-wise.

As the next section drops down into the valley again, we took off our jackets, which I never dreamed was possible two hours earlier. Having built John up for the quagmire that is the climb from Newsham farm to the Old Coach Road (Bob Graham runners know what I mean), it was almost a disappiontment as it was only soggy and not the usual shoe eating monster. The Old Coach Road was equally kind to us and we made good progress towards the next checkpoint near Dockray. John was having his first run in a pair of Hoka shoes whilst I have been living with them for a while now. It is along sections like this that they really come into their own. In most shoes, these rough, rocky tracks give the soles of your feet a real pounding but we both commented on how comfortable we felt and I could sense John was being rapidly won over.

The highlight of the day for me personally came during the next section, contouring round the south side of Gowbarrow Fell. This is not an area I have been in before, though I will certainly be going back. It is quite simply trail running heaven; technical single track, twists, turns, short climbs, drops and a view to die for over Ullswater. If we hadn't got more to recce, I would have turned round and ran it again.

Much of the last 5 miles to Dalemain are on country lanes and again the Hoka's did their job, bouncing us along to the finish. We spent a bit of time getting the correct route through a few fields just before Bennethead; we miscounted the number of stiles we had crossed and the position of the footpath on the OS map was slightly different to the actual stiles on the ground, but we got there. The Lake District had one more thing to throw at us with a hail storm about 1 mile from the finish, not long enough to require jackets, just a slight zipping up of the man suits.

What a wonderful way to spend a day! Great company, awesome scenery, new running routes, bouncey shoes and every possible weather condition.

I said in a previous post that I hoped to recover more quickly from this run as it took quite some time to get over my February run on the WHW. I am happy to report that it is mission accomplished. I took the early part of the week really easily, partly enforced by football training sessions, fixtures and a parent's evening, but since then I have been enjoying my running and have had a couple of cracking runs over the weekend, 13 miles yesterday and 10 miles today with no ill effects. This has given me great heart for the build up to our next Lakeland 100 outing in three weeks time when we go from Dalemain to Ambleside. Can't wait!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Lakeland 100 Recce video

Had a fantastic day out with John yesterday. Full report to follow but here is a taste of the day.