Saturday, 29 November 2014

These are a few of my favorite things....

My name is Dave and I am a kit nerd! There, I've said it, it feels good to get that off my chest. A new item of kit is like knocking 5 minutes off your race time. This is still a relatively new sport to me and I keep discovering shiny bits of kit that I don't yet own - child, sweety shop, etc.

Thought I'd put together a run-down of some of the kit that has served me well, made me smile, ignited my mojo (or maybe even helped me to perform better).

Skechers Go Run Ultra shoes
For the couple of years after my operation, I was a Hoka man. I felt that I needed the comfort and protection that they provided. I have since been working on my running style, having at least one session per week devoted to style (a great way to make use of a run that could otherwise be just junk miles). What I wanted was a shoe that would still give me some of the cushioning of Hoka's but would be more flexible, softer and, dare I say, more like a normal trainer. Flash back to earlier this year when I stumbled on a blog from an American runner raving about the Skechers Go Run Ultra. 20 minutes later, I had found a pair on eBay and won the auction for £20. Result!

I don't want to turn this into a long winded review, but to give you some idea as to how much I love these shoes, when they arrived, I put them on, ran 4 miles along the old railway line, came back in the house and said to my wife "These are the shoes I've been looking for." Within two weeks I had brought a second pair (as I often change shoes during a 100 mile race) and I simply find them a pleasure to run in. In the Hardmoors 110 earlier in the year, I actually ran in the same pair for the whole race without any problem and then just a couple of months ago they lapped up the UTMB route which is about as good a reference as you can get.

Ultimate Direction Signature Series race vests
Being from a fell running background, I initially used a bumbag for my ultra races but when the race vest bandwagon came trundling round the corner, I was intrigued as to how it might impact on an ultra, particularly avoiding any tightness around the stomach and having all your bits and bobs up front for easy access.

Once again, eBay to the rescue. Now, depending on the day's adventure, I use either the SJ race vest (the mid range pack) or the PB race vest (the larger pack in the range). Snug, stable and accessible - everything I need. I've even rocked up at fell races with the SJ pack.

Berghaus Vapourlight Hyper Smock

I kid you not! This fully waterproof jacket weighs only 87g (including storage pouch). I think it is the world's lightest waterproof jacket, yet still has taped seams, an integral hood and a zipped pocket. It packs down to about the size of a tennis ball and is so minimal that I often just carry it in my hand when out on the fells.

It feels like it is just Pertex and I was sceptical as to how it would cope with some spicy weather 2500m up on some Alpine col, I even carried an extra waterproof just in case the Berghaus smock wasn't up to the deal. That turned out to be overkill; despite the weather during the first 6 hours of UTMB this year, I was snug-as-a-bug in this jacket. The material is soft enough to be comfortable when running yet still keeps the worst of the weather out. A comfy runner is a happy runner.

(NB - This product was a prototype of the jacket now available to buy which I was lucky enough to receive from Berghaus)

Berghaus Vapourlight Hyper Therm FZ insulated smock

Continuing the theme of super light yet practical usability, this insulated pull-over is well tricked. Weighing in at a svelte 160g (including pouch) and packing down to a ridiculous size, there is no excuse for being unprepared out on the mountain.

This top has a trick up it's sleeve (literally). It's reversible. Black side out absorbs any warmth from the sun and has a windproof outer layer, keeping you toasty, however, if you warm up you can reverse the jacket with the red side out and it allows more air to flow through. BOGOF!

(NB - This product was a prototype of the top now available to buy which I was lucky enough to receive from Berghaus)

Mountain King Trail Blaze poles
Quite simply, I'm not sure I would have finished UTMB without theses poles, or I would have been out on those cols for many more hours than I was. I always said that if I managed to get a place in the race I would invest in a pair of poles. I only use the poles on the long climbs so didn't want or need a more robust/heavier set, so went with the Mountain King Trail Blaze 4 piece poles which link together rather like a tent pole.

Light, quick to assemble and easy to store, all the boxes ticked without breaking the bank. A word of note though, if you intend to use the poles on descents, you might want to look for something a little more sturdy.

SJ1000 mini video camera
I wanted a video camera to capture the flavour of my races and training adventures and, yes, like most, I wanted a Go Pro but I just couldn't justify that kind of money. As ever, the 'tinterweb came up with an alternative; the SJ1000. It will capture in full 1080HD, though I work mainly in 720HD just to make the editing, formating and uploading that little bit quicker.

It only captures 30 frames per second, so slow-motion is a little blurred, but I can live with that. On the plus side, you get a ridiculous amount of accessories with the camera, including a waterproof case, all for about £50.

I have been using this camera since August 2013. You can get an idea of the quality by having a look back at some of my race videos on this blog, making sure you have the YouTube settings on HD.

Suunto Ambit2 R GPS watch
I've only had this watch for a couple of months but I love the amount of data that I can get from it. I have even stopped using my trusty spreadsheet for logging my training and just upload straight to my Suunto Movescount account. You can customise the watch from the website which makes things so quick and easy, even changing how often the watch takes a GPS reading, potentially taking the battery life up to the 24 hour region, though I had yet to try this out.

There are a ridiculous amount of screens you can have for any given activity, so I have mine set up to record data for trail running, core workouts, turbo trainer cycling and normal cycling. I can add extra activities as I start to use them. Usefully for me, I can also add training sessions to my account even if I wasn't wearing the watch. This is important for someone who does navigation races such as mountain marathons where GPS devices are not allowed.

Interestingly, you are also able to download apps for the watch to monitor various parameters - something I need to investigate further.

My only negative comment is that the smaller data fields on each screen (top and bottom) are not as easy to read on the run, especially in the dark with a head torch. I have my device set up so the important data is in the middle of the screen with the large figures. I can live with that.

Just had a thought - with Christmas just around the corner, Troman's Top Kit List might need updating in a short while. Watch this space ;-)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

UTMB nutrition report

The chaps at Mountain Fuel have been supporting me over the last few months with regard to my nutrition in both training and racing. Their advice has been a mix of reassurance that I'm doing some things right, suggestions as to how I could improve the package and outright disgust at the errors I have been making.

I wrote a brief report for them after UTMB, detailing my preparation and race nutrition, again, giving them the opportunity to look for areas for improvement. I know I still have a lot to adjust with regard to my race nutrition, but I really feel that I am now moving in the right direction and, more importantly, feel more confident about what I'm doing. I thought it would be nice to share that report with readers of this blog.

Nutritionally, the preparation for this epic was a mix of “out of my control” and “spot on.”

We spent a week travelling through France, doing our own WW1 battlefields tour, staying in hotels along the way, inevitably eating out for every meal and having cooked breakfasts every morning. My best laid plans of a perfect nutritional build-up were out of the window, but I knew I would arrive in Chamonix four days before the race and, being self-catered, I should have time to get things back on track.

As soon as we were in Chamonix, it was straight to the supermarket to get some basics: lean chicken, couscous, potatoes, rice, you know the kind of stuff. I had brought my breakfast essentials with us so I could start each day with my normal portion of jumbo oats, flax seed, dried fruit, mixed seeds and maple syrup.

Lunch each day was some kind of cold meat/cheese combination along with the obligatory baguette. I was only doing some light training during the week and made a real effort to modify my food intake accordingly, though, once the nerves started to kick in, my appetite dropped off a little anyway.

I made sure I drank a bottle made up with Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy Fuel on each of the three pre race days along with plenty of water, trying to make re-hydration a long steady process rather than a last minute drinking-fest.

Race day, I tried to keep things familiar, but nerves really started to kick in big time, and taking in food did seem more of a chore than a pleasure. Breakfast and lunch were as normal, I also had a bottle of Xtreme Energy Fuel in the early afternoon. With a 5:30pm start time, thinks were a little more difficult to plan after lunch. In the end, I went with a small bowl of porridge oats at about 1pm and then a portion of Mountain Fuel Morning Fuel mixed with soya milk at about 3:30pm. I love the taste of the Morning Fuel and the small portion is easy to get in and quick to digest.

In hindsight, I probably needed a little something to eat in the final few minutes before the start as we had to stand around for 45 minutes or so before the off. I did not drink any more during this time, mainly due to the lack of opportunity to take a pee!

The most important part of my preparation for this race was getting my head around the fact that I could get most of my race energy from the Xtreme Energy Fuel. Prior to this, I felt that I needed to throw in gels to get me round my ultra races. I had a particularly bad experience earlier in the year and can trace the problems back to too much gel use. This time I was confident in my nutrition and happy that the Mountain Fuel products would get me round in good shape.

Between each of the feed stations, usually 2 – 3 hours apart, I carried 500ml of Xtreme Energy and 500ml of water which comfortably saw me through each section. In addition, I nibbled on Chia Charge bars, which again I just love the taste of, but probably only ate 3 bars during the whole race.
At each checkpoint, the organisers provide an array of cold meats, bread, biscuits and cakes, along with a salty noodle broth, and various drinks. My life-saver was the salty noodle broth. I avoided the cold meats as this would have been a break from the norm and I did not want to get the sugar rush associated with the cakes and biscuits, so at every station, I would have some broth, and as the race went on, I would manage to eat this when nothing else appealed.

Drinks-wise, I found that I wanted something sharp, in contrast to the Xtreme Energy Fuel and plain water I was drinking out on the course. What seemed to hit the spot was varying cups of carbonated water and Coke – this became my routine in each checkpoint; refill bottles ready for next leg, collect a bowl of broth, drink 2 or 3 cups of carbonated water/Coke. A couple of times I mixed up a mug of Morning Fuel with cold water, just for some variety, but I think I much prefer either warm water or milk for this mix and just didn’t really have the time/inclination to sort this out.

Most interestingly, I probably only took 6 or 7 gels during the whole 33 hours of the race and these were more likely to be a psychological crutch rather than a requirement.

The times where I felt nauseous seemed to be associated with altitude (2500m) and I felt slightly better once back down at the feed stations. Energy levels were generally good for the duration, certainly better than I was expecting and must have been a contributing factor to the positive attitude I held for the whole race.

As I was nearing the finish, I was planning my recovery, so I must have been in fairly good condition to be thinking about this! The plan was to get at least 2 servings of the Mountain Fuel Night Fuel in to me before I went to sleep, hoping to catch the optimum recovery window, unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Initially, I was caught up in the emotion and euphoria around the finish area and then, once back at the apartment, sleep was the only thing on my mind.

The following morning, it was back on porridge and all the trimmings, but I didn’t have the same desire to just throw in any old junk food as I would normally have after an ultra. The HUGE mixed grill I treated myself to that evening actually defeated me – not a phrase I utter very often!

This whole event and the positive experience I have gained from it, has really increased my confidence with regard to my nutrition and I cannot thank Darren Foote enough for his advice on all matters nutritional; my first two hour conversation with him was a real eye-opener and a key moment in my development. In addition, having Rupert Bonnington as a sounding board, right here in Keswick has been a great help. When we first spoke in July, the guys talked about marginal gains; these improvements I have made to my training and racing nutrition feel a lot more than marginal gains.