Friday, 14 August 2015

Supporting C2C cycle ride

Well, I'm back in the land of runners again after a nice break post Lakeland 100. I totally switched off from running for a week and had a good recharge, physically and mentally, and since then I have just been doing some steady running, keeping my heart rate at a very comfortable level.

We did get away for a few days in the camper van and enjoyed some great weather over in Filey which gave me the opportunity to have a run on the final stages of the Hardmoors 110 route.

I have decided that I'm going to stay in this easy mode for another week so that when we go out to Chamonix next week I will be in a position to make the most of the trails out there. It is strange to say this, but I felt that I missed out on the trails in the Alps last year as I was resting before the UTMB race, so this time round, as we are there to spectate (and drink cappuccinos), I am intending to make the most of the awesome trails.

Although this is primarily a blog on running, I have to post a massive congratulations to my step-father, Paul, who has just completed the C2C cycle ride in only 12 hours. He has acted as support crew for me on many occasions and it was great to be able to repay him with road support for his adventure. It was not without drama as his rear gear cable snapped just before Penrith, but I zoomed ahead and primed the mechanic in Arragon's cycles to be ready for a quick repair. To be honest, Paul didn't take much looking after and Tracey and I just seemed to spend the day driving round some wonderful countryside, drinking cappuccinos and hot chocolate and occasionally telling Paul to drink a bit more. Apart from getting up at 5am, it was a fairly easy job. Not bad for a 68 year old!

I put this video together for Paul but thought I'd pop it on here too - it might inspire a few of you to have a go at the challenge.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Lakeland 100 race report

The Lakeland 100/50, since it's first running in 2008, has grown in numbers and prestige, and rightly takes it's place as the UK's premier mountain ultra race. I've now run the race twice and watched once, seeing the race atmosphere grow from year to year. There is such a great buzz surrounding the event; from the pre-race social media frenzy to the moment you grudgingly drive away from the camp site on Sunday afternoon.

I had some great recce runs on the route (with John, Jonny, Marco and Rick) and felt really well prepared physically and confident in my ability to run the whole route without need to look at a map.

John and Jonny arrived in Keswick early on Thursday evening and we spent the night talking about the race and enjoying a lovely chicken lasagne (thanks Tracey). All my kit was packed ready for the drive down to Coniston the following morning. I find it interesting how little you pack when you have to carry everything yourself in the race (plus one drop bag) compared to the ridiculous amounts you throw into the car for a supported race like the West Highland Way Race.

We headed down to Coniston mid-morning, hoping to avoid any queues for registration and wanting to start soaking up that electric atmosphere. Within moments of arriving I was back to being either "John's mate" or "The guy in the videos" - well, I suppose it's better than just being a number. Then I registered and was number 296 ;-)

It was lovely spending a few hours chatting to friends and putting faces to social media friends. I even had a chat with a couple of runners over from America who introduce themselves after recognising my voice from the videos John and I made during our recces of the route in 2012. It was surprising how quickly time passed and before I knew it we were making our way into the pre-race briefing. I thought I was fairly calm until I came out of the briefing with race director Marc Lairthwaite whipping the runners into a frenzy - thanks for that.

Myself, John and Jonny pre-start. Photo Rick williams

Then suddenly I found myself on the start line. Time to put this plan into action.

It was no secret that I wanted to get back to Coniston in under 24 hours, I felt I was in good enough shape to do this but needed to put my game plan into operation. A disciplined start was needed, particularly as  the first three legs are relatively runnable. Although I have been training recently with a heart rate monitor, I decided not to wear one for the race and just run what felt like a comfortable pace. The Walna Scar Road is a perfect opening trail; not too steep and nice under foot and I felt great as I topped over the col and started the descent to Seathwaite (CP1). A nicely uneventful first leg.

A couple of miles after the start. Photo Debbie Martin-Consani

In 2012, I found myself in an early dark spot on the second leg, but this time I was skipping along nicely, enjoying the improved path alongside Grassguards Gill and through to the col below Harter Fell. One part of my game plan was to run well on the rough rocky sections. I have identified this as one of my strengths and figured I would play this card as often as possible, meaning I could conserve energy on the big climbs as I would be able to make time on the rough stuff.

I arrived at Boot (CP2) roughly on my expected time, but feeling great and, once my bottle was filled with water, I was on my way, running most of the way through the woods out on to the fells towards Burnmoor Tarn. I slowly caught up my friend, Dale Mathers, little knowing that we would be running together on and off for the next 16 hours. Once again, the sunset over Burnmoor Tarn was stunning, almost worth the entry fee alone with the surrounding fells basked in a red glow.

I knew that I would be turning my head torch on somewhere near the top of Black Sail Pass so wanted to get some warm food in me before night drew in. As I came into Wasdale (CP3), I was met by a club mate, Steve Angus, who informed me that another team mate, Andrew Slattery, was well up the field in 4th place (even though he had been suffering with illness in the build up to the race). I knew I was feeling good and took great pleasure in stuffing some soup and bread in.

The long climb to Black Sail Pass seemed to go without stress and I picked a great line down the technical descent into Ennerdale. I had only had the head torch turned on for 20 minutes, but on the climb to Scarth Gap I felt that my legs were losing power - I was putting in too much effort at this point in the race. At this point, I was just allowing myself to be dragged along by Dale and was glad to get onto the rough path down to Buttermere as it gave me an excuse to slow the pace down, hoping to recover somewhat. Unfortunately, once on the flat path along the lake, I was back to the struggle and to compound matters I started to feel a little nauseous. This was not part of the game plan, especially this early in the race.

At Buttermere (CP4), I managed a mouthful of soup and a swig of coke, hoping some caffeine might wake me up. I also made the decision that I would just use some Mountain Fuel Xtreme energy drink over the next section and not try to put any solids in at all. I needed to try and settle things down a bit as I was starting to lose my positive frame of mind - I should be enjoying this more than I actually was. I felt I should not try to keep pace with those around me but run my own race at this point; pushing on at this point could prove disastrous later.

I don't remember much about this leg, but do recall turning my focus back on to pick up the correct path to Barrow Door (always a good moment) - I guess it was just a grind. I hoped I might feel better once I got to Braithwaite (CP5) and walked in with the intention of eating some rice pudding. I sat down, looked at the bowl and knew that there was no way any was passing my lips. OK, same again, swig of coke another bottle of Xtreme energy and off we go.

Although I was feeling like crap, I was still covering the ground OK - not as fast as I wanted to be, but still putting one foot in front of the other and I knew that the easiest few hours of the race lay ahead of me, hopefully giving me time to get through this patch. At this point, I felt that I had lost more than enough time to make the 24 hour target fairly unlikely and this did little to brighten my spirits.

As far as I can remember, it was just more of the same through to the Blencathra Centre (CP6) but I had made another decision - I would try a new flavour. I forgot that I had some beef jerky with me and thought I would try that. Even if I couldn't stomach the food, I would at least chew the jerky and spit it out. The first few bit stayed in my mouth for ages but eventually I spat them out - it felt like progress. I had one other thought on my mind; lets see the sun come up.

I played a little psychological game with myself here. In 2012 I turned my head torch off as I stepped onto the Old Coach Road. This time we had started 30 minutes later, but I had turned my torch on at the same point. If I could turn my torch off at a later point, I must still be generally running faster than last time so I made the point of covering a mile or so of the track before turning off my torch. As the sun came up, I managed some more beef jerky which was swallowed; I'm going in the right direction. I managed a couple of small Mountain Fuel Power Pancakes which are really easy to eat and felt that I would leave things like that until Dalemain. A bit more coke and a few minutes sit down at Dockray (CP7) saw a bit more of a recovery and I set of with renewed vigour towards the drop bags at Dalemain.

Issues started to sort themselves out on the leg as a few elements conspired to aid the situation. The sun was coming up, I had my favourite part of the course to run on (the terrace path round Gowbarrow Fell overlooking Ullswater), I had managed to hold down the pancakes and jerky and my drop bag was waiting.

As I approached Dalemain, I knew I was really starting to get things back together, though I was still behind the time I felt I needed to run sub 24. I thought I would sort all my kit out first before even thinking about food - but I had a plan.

The marshals at Dalemain, and at every other checkpoint for that matter, were just amazing, nothing was too much effort for them and you had the feeling that you were the only person that mattered to them at that moment. What a wonderful event!

During the UTMB, I had Clare, on the Lakeland 100 I had Tom. Sometimes something just happens at the perfect moment which makes a huge difference. As I came into the tent at Dalemain, my friend Tom Sutton, who I met and ran with in the 2012 race, was there to give support. We chatted as I sorted my kit out, he said all the right things and he provided a familiar face just when I needed one. I can't thank you enough Tom.

I used my "Must do, might do" list, which everyone was very impressed with and by the time I had sorted my kit out, I was ready to think about food again. In training, I had been experimenting with using a Mountain Fuel Morning Fuel mixed with chocolate soya milk and had prepared the right mix of milk for one portion which Tom sorted for me, with everyone enjoying the paper party bowl I had in my drop bag.

Looking back at the results, I was in 23rd place at Buttermere as I started to feel rough and, despite easing back on the gas through the night, I was up to 15th by Dalemain. I stood up after a 14 minute break in the checkpoint and knew I was back in the game - time to get back into the sub 24 hour groove!

Everything was just so different now. I timed my departure to leave a few runners to chase in the early part of the leg to Howtown and felt like I was in a race now. I passed a couple who were taking a mile or so to get their legs moving again and pushed on trying to catch another friend, Richard Lendon, who was having a storming run, well ahead of his time from last year. I didn't hammer it to catch Richard, but used him to draw me along towards the checkpoint on the long drop down. Just before the CP, I finally caught my club mate, Andrew, who was starting to suffer. I have just found out that, not only did Andrew suffer with illness in the run up to the race, but he twisted his ankle somewhere in the first 25 miles, and has just been confirmed with a broken metatarsal. This is a tough race, but you try doing 80 miles of it, over that terrain with a broken foot and still come in 15th place overall! #machine #legend

Andrew and I approaching Howtown. Photo Andrew Slattery

Another friendly face at Howtown (CP9) as I was greeted by Mike Raffan and I quickly left with Richard for the longest leg of the race, up Fusedale, over High Cop and along the side of Haweswater to Mardale.

I do like this leg. That's the only attitude to have. Simple plan; don't go into the red zone on the climb up to High Cop so you can run most of the rest, especially the technical single track along Haweswater. I could see some runners further ahead which gave me something to chase and I just found myself in that comfortable zone, covering the ground and, most importantly, smiling. I knew I was going well and the results show that I was 3rd quickest on this leg. Just as I approached Mardale (CP10), I finally caught up with Dale again who still looked strong, which made me feel better still.

If I'm being truthful, I really used Dale to drag me along for the next three hours or so. He was looking smooth and covering the ground well, so I was able to just concentrate on my running style and tried to do some calculations as to whether sub 24 hours was back on the cards or not, but I wasn't able to get my head around that so thought I'd wait until I was nearer Ambleside. On the ridiculously long descent to Sadgill Farm, all I could think about was the fruit smoothies at the Kentmere checkpoint. It was quite warm at this point and I was craving a different flavour.

Dale and I arrived together and I looked on enviously as Dale threw down a bowl of pasta. I stayed a minute or two extra to enjoy my smoothie and some coke and then headed out, once again using Dale to drag me up to Garburn Pass. At times, Dale pulled away from me, sometimes out of sight, but I felt that I was running the pace I wanted to and was still feeling OK. Every MOT I gave myself was a pass; head, shoulders, stomach (just), legs and feet. If those elements stayed as they were, I was going to finish strong.

I caught Dale again as we approached Ambleside (CP12) and I was able to make some calculations. A nice easy training run would see me take about 3:20 to 3:30 hours from Ambleside to Coniston. As we arrived in the town, we had 3:45 hours to break 24 hours. The game was on.

In Ambleside. Photo Rupert Bonington

I had one final boost at the checkpoint as my friend Rupert Bonington was there to cheer me on. Rupert, who is part-owner of Mountain Fuel, really revved me up and gave me some information on those runners just ahead of me. I was in 8th place, but more importantly the chance of sub 24 hours was there and, possibly, a couple of extra places to grab.

The leg to Chapel Stile is relatively flat and short so it's a bit easier on the psyche and I left Ambleside feeling like I was on my way home. I lucked out here as I left just behind Lawrence Eccles who has a metronomic gait, perfect to drag me through the flat tracks past Elterwater and into Langdale. My plan was to make a move on the rougher ground after the Chapel Stile checkpoint as we made our way into Langdale.

I arrived about a minute after Lawrence but, as ever, the marshals did a fantastic job and by the time I had swigged some coke and had a few mouthfuls of stew, my bottle was ready and I was off. I hoped to open a small gap and then make use of the rougher terrain in the valley. It was great to be on my own again and running well so close to the finish, but as I approached the first of the big wooden stiles, I caught up with Kevin Perry who said he was going through a bad patch. You know you must be doing well if you are anywhere around Kevin; his record in this race over the years is phenomenal - 6th, 5th, 7th and 4th! This put me up to 6th place and I, stupidly, assumed that I would just waltz off into the distance. Kevin had other ideas. I would run on for a while, look back and there he would be. He hung on magnificently for a while and it wasn't until after the dibber on the gate above Blea Moss that I finally started to pull away.

I enjoyed the small climb and drop round to Tilberthwaite (CP14) - it really is a gorgeous, quiet part of the Lakes. My eyes flicked between the trail and my watch as I ran round the road to the CP. Could I make the 24 hours? In 2012, it had taken me 59 minutes to complete the final leg and as I arrived this time, a quick glance showed that I had 1:02 hours to break 24 hours. This is sooooo on!

I already had my poles out ready, dibbed, got half a bottle of water and set off up the stairway to heaven/road to hell (depending on your physical and mental state). It was all about rhythm; if I could get into the right groove, I would cope with the climb and still be able to drop like a stone back into Coniston. I didn't want to be cutting it fine, I wanted to enjoy the finish.

It didn't take too long to climb the steep part and, most encouragingly, I was able to run some of the lesser climb up to the start of the final descent. The poles were already stowed away as I crested the brow and I quickly got that short, fast step gait going to make an efficient drop down. In no time, I was on the tarmac road going past the Miners Bridge, swinging round past the parked cars and onto the main road through the village. Great support from the beer gardens of the pubs put just that little bit extra spring in your step and I crossed the finish line in 23 hours, 47 minutes and 18 seconds.

I managed a hug with Tracey on the way to the line and was greeted by a smiling Andy Cole. Then you get to experience on of those special touches that makes this event so good; you are taken, by your own personal marshal, through the canteen area where you are announced to receive cheers before being taken into the hall to be awarded your medal and finishers t-shirt. That marshal will only leave you once they are happy you are OK or they have passed you onto someone else who can look after you - a lovely touch.

Tired but happy!

The camper van bed was all set up ready for me, so I had a bit of a chat with Tracey and a bit of a doze, but within 40 minutes, I was ready for a shower - which was fantastic!

It was time to be on the giving end, so Tracey and I went into the canteen for some food and had a nice meal and chat with Tony Holland and family. Congratulations to Tony, who smashed 10 hours in the 50 race after being injured for much of the year. It's great, having a conversation that is broken every 2 minutes by applause and cheers, then you just carry on as you were.

What I would say is that I know some hellish good runners - congratulations to my friends who kicked some ass over the weekend; Jayson Cavill winning the 50, Matty Brennan sprinting to take 2nd in the 50, Debs being the machine she is taking 2nd, also in the 50, Marco grabbing 2nd in the 100 and Paul Tierney for getting the big win.

We waited for John to finish and had our fingers crossed that he would break 30 hours and we didn't have to wait too long as he rocked in at 29:36 hours - much bigger smiles than last time. I couldn't quite wait for Jonny as I was too tired, but was delighted to find out the next day that he had completed in just over 36 hours.

This event, and ultra running in general, was kind of summed up at breakfast the next day. I sat there in the sunshine, eating my fry-up, around the table we had runners of every ability from those delighted to finish the course to Great Britain internationals - you gotta love that :-)

Like every runner, I have to thank the whole crew that put this event on; from Terry and Marc to every marshal at the checkpoints to the event centre staff. This event is special and long may it remain so. I will be back... I'm not sure when, but I will be back.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

It's the final countdown

It's the final countdown - diddy der der, diddy det det der..... sorry, I couldn't resist that ;-)

Well, there has been a fair bit of water passing under the bridge since my last post and I've had a few great adventures in the final stages of my preparation for the Lakeland 100 which is now less than two weeks away.

Racing-wise, the season continued with yet another podium place, only this time I managed to get on the second highest podium (still not the top one though). In the middle of May I raced the Keswick Mountain Festival 50km trail race. The route was a cracker, with a bit of everything and despite starting and finishing in Keswick, it still took me to a few trails I hadn't run before. As has been the pattern this year, I ran a solid first half and then really pushed on over the latter stages, finishing really fast. In hindsight, I had probably left myself just a little bit too much to do at the end. With about an hour and a half to go I was about 8 minutes down on the leader, closing in to just over two minutes at the finish. This was a great boost to my confidence and I knew that I still had another block of training to fit in before the Lakeland 100.

At the finish of KMF 50km

Through June, I managed to cram in three fantastic weekends, all very different but equally pleasurable in their own right.

Firstly, I was joined by John, Marco and Jonny for a Lakeland 100 recce weekend. We somehow managed to put together the logistics to get down to Coniston on the Saturday morning and run the route back to Keswick, some 37 miles. We had some fantastic weather and I found it really useful to look at those sections again, most of which I haven't seen since the race in 2012.

I was pleased with my memory of the route and am confident I can shove the map in my pack on race day but how the hell did Marco win that race last year when he made sooooo many navigation errors? All we seemed to talk about for the last two hours was how much chicken we were going to eat when we got back. When we finally did make to home, we were confronted by bowls of nachos and cheese (thanks Tracey) which have now gone down in history.

The following day we covered another 30 miles from Keswick to Dockray and then returning via Sticks Pass over the Doods back to Keswick. Unfortunately, the weather was not so kind for the majority of the day, but as is always the case, just as we were finishing, the sun came out.

A cracking weekend with some big miles covered and I really felt my mind was now focussed on the big race.

The following weekend, I again made the pilgrimage to Milngavie for the West Highland Way race, like last year I was on support duties. A work colleague, Adam, was having his first shot at the race and I jumped at the opportunity to join him and his wife Kate for the weekend. To cut a long story short, Adam had a great race, arriving at Fort William in 21:45 hours for 27th place and I had the pleasure of running with him for the last 35 miles of the race, cajoling him on to finish in daylight (which we did). It was great to catch up with so many friends over the weekend and wonderful to be a part of the emotional roller-coaster  that is the WHW race prize giving.

And so to my final adventure before the Lakeland 100 which was The Billy Bland Challenge. To quote from the challenge website

The Billy Bland Challenge relay is based on the five legs of the 24 Hour Bob Graham round, starting and finishing at the Moot Hall in Keswick. It covers about 66 miles, 28,000 feet of climbing and 42 peaks. The challenge is open to all teams of 10, split into five pairs. Each of the pairs is designated one of the five legs and a baton is passed from one team to the next. The relay is to be completed at any time in the month of June.

Keswick AC were attempting to break the male vets record held by Dallam at 17:10 hours. Well, to say we had a good day out would be quite an understatement. We set a rough target of 16:50 hours, but I think we all knew we might be able to go a bit faster than that. What we actually did was blow the record out of the water. We finished in 14:35 hours! This was so much faster than we dared hope for that we stood around at the Moot Hall (the start/finish point) at the end, double checking the times. We were, in fact, only 11 minutes off the seniors men's record. Chuffed? You bet!

Photo Steve Angus
 As you can see, we we left nothing out there!

Photo Kirsten Ogden

What it did bring home to me was how pathetic I have become at running downhill on really rough terrain, something that was always my forte when fell racing. I suppose it is a case of horses for courses.

Anyhoo, these adventures have brought me to a point where I think I am ready to do battle against the iconic route of the Lakeland 100. I am now officially in taper mode and can already feel myself turning into a cranky hypochondriac, I'm off to write out a list which will itemise all the lists I have written and I might do another kit pack as it's been over an hour since my last one. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Sum fings wot I have lernt

I've been walking around with a sheet of paper for a while now, trying to write down a few bits of advice that I wish I had known 5 years ago when I had my first go at ultra trail running.

For someone who has been running and racing in one format or another for over 30 years, it would be easy to assume I'd got my head around every eventuality and knew every trick in the book - WRONG! Almost daily I learn something new, a little gem from someone which might help me in making some progress.

I thought it might be nice, for my own benefit, to jot these thoughts down in one place and see if it might spark some further contributions from others. So here, in no particular order, are a few thoughts from me - feel free to comment and add your own pearls of wisdom. This goes with the usual disclaimer that these are just my own thoughts - feel free to take on board what you want and ignore everything else.

At some point in an ultra marathon, especially a 100+ miler, something will go wrong, you will have to adapt from your original plan, you might miss a turning, your support crew might be lost, a shoelace has broken, etc, etc. Deal with it! There is no use getting wound up; there are enough physical stresses on your body, don't add mental stress to the mix. In almost every case, there will be a way of coping.

When you start ultra running you turn into Imelda Marcos - you can never have enough shoes. There is always one more pair of trainers that you need, this will be the pair you use for the 700yds of the climb after Balmaha on the West Highland Way, this other pair I'll need for the run into Filey on the Hardmoors 110, obviously I'll have to use those for the first mile of the Lakeland 100..........

During a race lasting 20 hours plus, there will be weather. Make sure you have the kit to cope with it. Remember, with the lower intensity of effort in an ultra, you will not generate as much body heat as in a swift 10k race. Once you are cold, it is a slippery slope to hypothermia. In contrast, be aware of the problems associated with heat and don't forget sun block; you will be out in the glare for many hours.

Consistent blocks of training are far better than hammering a few weeks, breaking your body then taking a few weeks to recover. Rest and recovery need to be built into your training programme and the older I have got, the more R&R I need.

When facing more technical, rougher trails, don't fight it. Be smooth, be comfortable, roll with it, keep the stress levels down.

If the race involves dropbags, have a "Must do, might do list". On numerous occasions, I have been a mile or so from the dropbag point, planning what I'm going to do, then, in the heat of the moment at the checkpoint, I forget most things, only to remember again a few miles later. I now use a list of what I MUST DO and some things I MIGHT DO depending on conditions. This is the one I prepared for UTMB......

While we are on the subject of kit - test it all out on some long training runs, you don't want a rogue seam chafing, trainers need to be well broken in, rucksack/bumbag should not bounce, etc. Do your training with the full kit you have to carry for your race.

If you are coming from a road racing background, get your head around the fact that in a mountain trail ultra it's OK to walk. Think more about energy conservation rather than speed.

As you start to really tire and should be looking after yourself carefully, you lose the desire to do so; everything just becomes too much effort. I think this is one of the reasons why "race vest packs" have become so popular recently as they have pockets and pouches all up front giving you every opportunity to pamper yourself.

In a similar vein, I like to give myself an MOT test every 30-60 minutes in a race. I start at the head (how do I feel psychologically/positivity?). Any tension in my shoulders? How is the stomach feeling, am I still able to eat? What about the old pins; muscle fatigue, cramps? Finally, feet; hot spots, blisters, pains? If you can stay one step ahead of these issues, life is full of roses.

A 100 miler will be an emotional roller-coaster. You might get lower lows than you thought possible but, equally, the highs are beyond my my ability to articulate. The bad patches wont last, you will get through them; an hour after thinking you're about to quit you could be floating along the trail with a big smile on your face wondering what all the fuss was about.

Stay positive, be nice to everyone, thank the marshals, high five anyone willing to join in, give your support crew a hug, crack a joke with other runners, feed off the race positivity. The moment you start getting down on yourself, the negative emotional spiral kicks in and it's a tough cycle to break.

Sudocrem is the ultra runners friend.

Don't get caught up in the social media game of "look how many miles I've run this week". Being fresh, rested and raring to go is a better state than being jaded and tired. I'm not saying you don't have to put in the hard work in training but everyone is different and I know it's easy to think that because he/she is banging out x miles every week, I have to as well. This is one of the main reasons I have not signed up to Strava. For some folk, this can be a great motivator, but for me I'm sure I would start to stray from my plans too frequently.

Back in the good old days I used to have a bit of a turn of pace, but spent a couple of years turning myself into a diesel engine when I first had a go at ultras. This last year or so I've tried to get a bit of speed back in my legs and have reaped some rewards for this. I've changed my view on speedwork for ultras; I used to think there was no point as I wouldn't be running that fast in a race, however, being able to run faster just seems to make the grind of an ultra so much easier and I also have another gear when I need it.

Much as you might crave them, try to avoid refined sugars when racing; blood sugar spikes and troughs are not good.

There are many things that can go wrong in an ultra - control what you can and try not to worry about what you can't control. Beforehand, play the "what if game". What will I do if....... Like a good cub scout - be prepared.

Now, my list goes on, but I'm aware that this post is going on and on so perhaps it's time to leave a few pearls of wisdom for another time and give others an opportunity to debate/disagree/scoff/tut/add to this list.

If you could go back a few years and give yourself some advice, what would you say?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Hardmoors 55 race report

Training has certainly been a bit up and down since the Hardmoors marathon race in February. I was more jiggered after that race than I thought I'd be and was forced into a really easy week following the race. The confidence boost I got from my performance in the race easily outweighed the lack of continuity to my training and the week after that I was right back on it with my biggest week of the year so far, including my first back to back long runs over the weekend.

What I was very concious of was the relative proximity of the Hardmoors 55 which I had targeted as one of my main races for the year; I had only five weeks between them and was keen to get in at least two bigger weeks of training. As I've got older, I have realised how much I need to listen to my body and make the required adaptations to my training. I try to think in terms of long blocks of training which need to be done, rather than each individual session - if I need to make a change in order to allow me to keep training, so be it. I made a few adaptations, still keeping my main sessions in and managed to get from those weeks what I wanted.

I might have just bitten off more than I wanted to chew on the Sunday before the race when I was out training with some mates and what should have been a 2:30 hours run turned out to be an hour longer than that. I was very good, realising this was a bit much for me as part of a mini taper, I told the lads to run on ahead of me and I backed off the pace with one eye on the Hardmoors race a week away.

Not hard to see why I overdid the taper run on a day like this!

I spent most of the final week before the race making sure I was properly hydrated and getting enough protein in to repair my muscles after a good training block. Even though I knew I have had a good winter and was running well, enjoying the benefits of speed sessions with Keswick AC, I still found that my head wasn't really focussed on the race, getting a bit too stressed out about work and wondering if running a race of this severity was a wise thing to do. However, as I knew, and as everyone said, once the gun goes, I would be in race mode and forget about everything else.

One factor that did play into my hands was the logistics of the race day. Last year, I slept in the camper van at Helmsley, woke at 4:30am to catch the 6:00am bus to the start. This year John, Katrina, Tracey and I stayed with friends of ours in Yarm, only 30 minutes from the start. Soooo much more sociable. We arrived at the race HQ at about 8:00am, were processed efficiently and spent a relaxed half an hour chatting to Andy.

This year my focus is to try and "race", start nearer the front, not carry my mini camcorder and worry less about splits. I'm trying to think about those folk around me and how am I going to beat them, which seems to take my mind off the nitty gritty of putting one foot in front of the other. I think it has taken me a few years of running ultras to serve my apprenticeship and the speed work I have done this winter means I now have the confidence to have-a-go. In the two races this season, I have been running faster at the start but, fortunately, I am still able to push on and have a good second half to the race as I have always done - maybe I was holding too much back in previous years!?

I'm not doing a step by step account of the race but will report on some of the significant points of how the race panned out. I settled into the top 12 or so, like most others, watching Kin Collison and Paul Nelson disappearing off into the distance - I'm more confident now, but not that much. Things were uneventful until the first dropbag point at Kildale (1:40'ish hours) where we were informed that due to a problem, the bags would be further round the course. Initially, I didn't know what to do; my whole race plan was out the window. As part of the "racing" strategy, I had parred my kit, including nutrition, down to a minimum and was only carrying what I would need for each section between dropbags. I have been working over the last year with the guys at Mountain Fuel, trying to improve my race and training nutrition, one of the key features is that I'm trying not to take very sugary foods so I can avoid blood sugar spikes; I'm working on a more consistent blood sugar level. I realised this was going to be a problem over the next 10 miles due to the options available. I popped in some flapjack, filled my bottles with water and grabbed two gels. I must admit that this played on my mind for 30 minutes or so, but I was running well, picking off runners and starting to enjoy myself. I was later told that I was 13th'ish at Kildale.

I made good progress with the wind behind out to Bloworth Crossing and was quietly impressed with the min/mile pace I was keeping up. I met Jayson Cavill not long before Clay Bank and he informed me that the dropbags were there. Phew!

Photo by Jayson Cavill

After that bonus I was well-up-for-it as I hit my favourite part of the route over the Three Sisters. As soon as we started going up, I pulled back a few more places and found myself running with my friend Adam Stirk who I know from mountain marathons. By the time we reached Lord Stones Cafe, we were in equal 3rd with no one immediately behind. Game on!

Adam and I shared the lead over the stretch to Osmotherley and in my head I was getting myself fortified for a push out of the village, on the climb to Square Corner. I suffered a bit on the climb last year, but was feeling much more positive this time round. To add to the good vibes, Tracey and Katrina were in the village hall in Osmotherley, helping out with the drop bags in the checkpoint and it was great to see them and get some hugs.

I left the checkpoint about a minute before Adam and decided to make a bit of a push up the hill to see if I could open a gap. I plugged my MP3 player in as a little treat and by the top I had pulled away a little but knew I needed to maintain this for a couple of miles if I was really going to break the elastic. By the time I got to the marshals at High Paradise, I was chugging along nicely, thinking I was just going to take it home from here for 3rd place; the final 15 miles were going to prove anything but a cruise in.

Firstly, at High Paradise, I was informed that I was less than 10 minutes behind Paul Nelson. Right, time to put my game face back on. I set off with an outside hope of catching him, I thought I could give it a go since I was secure in 3rd place. WRONG!

I tried to estimate how far ahead I could see along the escarpment edge, hoping to catch a glimpse of Paul, but nothing doing, so started to play it safe for 3rd place again. However, I took a look back as I went through one on the small gates and noticed, to my horror, that a new beast had entered the fray. Casper Kaars Sijpesteijn was closing fast. This was one almighty great kick up the backside. Well, I suppose if I am adopting a race strategy, at some point, I'm going to have to race. Time to see if I have another gear. Fortunately, I was able to find a little something left in the tank.

I spent the last 12 miles of the race working hard to hold Casper at bay, telling myself not to give him any psychological boosts by reducing the gap. It became important to get to each corner before he could see me. This was a bit stressful, but also good fun and extremely motivating. Only in the last mile did I allow myself a smile of satisfaction as I finally felt I had managed to hold him off, though Casper had run the section from Osmotherley 11 minutes quicker than me - and I thought I was going well!

Photo by Jayson Cavill

I was obviously delighted to get a podium finish, but to run 8:24 hours, some 33 minutes quicker than last year, was way beyond expectations. Tracey commented that I looked a little shell-shocked after the race and I think part of that was just trying to get my head around the time I had run. Well-chuffed!

John had a great run too, and his tactic of running to heart rate has kicked off a very interesting debate about ultra running strategy. Check out the comments here. As I watched the race unfold, there seemed to be a number of strategies playing out at the front. Kim, as the class act in the field, obviously had the confidence to set off fast from the start, run solo and smash the course record. Paul too, is a quality runner and seems to like the race approach, mixing at the front of the race from the gun. Casper had a much more conservative approach for the first half of the race but finished like a train, running the 2nd fastest split from Osmotherley. I seemed to be somewhere in the middle, racing those around me in the first half but still having a strong finish (just).

There were a few things that I was particularly pleased with for this race. I really enjoyed the buzz of mixing it at the front end of the race and I'm sure that head to head racing is dragging me along to a faster times. My finish time was way beyond expectations and has given me a real confidence boost going forward into the rest of the season. A few years ago, I think I would have got really phased when my race nutrition strategy was compromised, however, this time I coped pretty well (after the initial panic), trusting that my body would cope. I loved the fact that I got myself ready for a push out of Osmotherley and was able to execute it and then, when required, I was able to lift it over the last 12 miles to keep that podium place. Lots of positives!

I've now got a couple of months to my next race; the 50k trail race at the Keswick Mountain Festival. I've built in a couple of weeks of recovery before I start my next training block and am ready to get more of a focus on 100 mile training with some big back to back sessions in preparation for the Lakeland 100.

Happy running everyone :-)

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Where was I, where am I and where will I be?

I guess blogging is as much about habit as running. I have got out of the habit, so thought it was time to bring things up to speed.

Firstly, UTMB sucks your mojo! It was such a long build up to the race from the moment I knew I had a place, it formed a big part of my consciousness for 8 months and when it was finally gone, I had a bit of a hole in my life. I was buzzing for a week or so, in fact I was very emotional for a week, but then had an almighty psychological crash, becoming very apathetic. I slowly got back into doing some running, just the odd 3 miler if the weather as good. September and most of October just got put aside for a good regroup.

I had a few wonderful runs out in some spectacular terrain, just enjoying the moment, not really considering it training.

Loch Lomond

Above Braithwaite

I even slotted in a rare appearance at a fell race, running for Keswick at the Fell Runners Association relay champs.

FRA relays (photo by Andrew Slattery)

By the time I got to December, I had built up my training and started the long build up back to race fitness. It is at this time that I like to sit down with a blank year planner and piece together a battle plan for the next year.

My A race for the year is the Lakeland 100 which I ran back in 2012 as my comeback 100 miler after my operation. Last time out I came 10th in 25:52 hours and said after that I didn't think I could better that, but I think I'm smarter and better conditioned now, so I have set myself a personal target for that one; more of that at another time.

I have blocked off the year into a number of sections, trying to get a nice mix of training and races, with one (enforced) change to the original plan, though, I think the change is actually for the better. December, January and February have all been good solid months with a couple of new focuses; core stability and speed work. So, as I have slightly upped my training mileage, I have been trying to have at least one core session, one speed session and one turbo trainer session per week. Things were going really well up until a couple of weeks ago when I finished a particularly big week for me (65 miles) and realised I felt pretty trashed. I'm old enough now to know that I had just over-cooked it and needed a recovery week, even though the plan had something more substantial. In fact, I eased back for two weeks which coincided with my build up to the first race of the year, the Hardmoors, Osmotherley Trail Marathon which took place this last weekend.

I wasn't really sure what to expect after feeling very jaded on the build up, but come race day, as the competitive juices started flowing, I found I was really ready for a proper race. It was a fast start and I just had to let the leaders get on with it, settling into the top 10 until the bigger climbs over Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and The Wainstones where I started to push on, moving up into the top 5 and then into a share of 3rd place.

30 mins into the race at Scarth Nick (photo by Ann Brown)

I was really starting to enjoy this, running much faster than in an ultra, trying to mix it with others more used to the marathon distance. What I was most pleased about was the comfort I had while still running fast (for me). Over Cold Moor, I tried to pull away from Jerome, making a bid for a podium place and maybe even higher but we were both still locked together at Chop Gate. We were told that the leader was 10 mins ahead and I got quite a lift from this, thinking I still had a chance if he wavered at all. I finally pulled away from Jerome on the steep climb out of Chop Gate and started to put the hammer down on Blisdale West Moor, knowing I was inside the last 90 mins of the race.

1.5 miles to go (photo by Jayson Cavill)

Over the last hour, all I could think of was the finish of the Osmotherley Phoenix where I was leading until cramp hit me in the final mile. Run relaxed became my mantra. I had no problems this time round, finishing 3rd in 4:18 hours for the 28.4 mile course, closing to within about 6 mins of the winner. Absolutely delighted with that! Speed work must be paying off.

With Jon Steele, race director (photo by Tony Holland)

So, that's where I am now; getting faster, confidence up, enjoying racing. Where am I going? Well, I have just over 4 weeks to the Hardmoors 55 which I did last year and really enjoyed it. This will form my longest single run before the Lakeland 100 in July, but I have a 2 month block of training planned after the H55, giving time to recover and then kick on again, I'll be toeing the start line of the Keswick Mountain festival Ultra (50km) in mid May, again giving another 2 month block before the Lakeland 100. During these two training block, I intend to spend lots of time on the Lakeland 100 route - I want to know every blade of grass personally, big back to back weekend runs will be the order of the day.

One final point to mention is the phenomenon that is Parkrun. I absolutely love my Saturday morning fix of 5k, whether I'm having a blast, taking it easy or, as I often do, volunteer as a helper. Whatever the role, it has given Saturday morning a focus. I gave some thought as to how I could incorporate the event onto my training for 100 mile races and came up with a routine that seems to work well for me. I try to do an easy 45-60 mins before the start, do Parkrun (in whatever format) and then carry on and do another 90 mins of trails. A great session and all done by 11am.

After such a good race at the weekend, I'm confident that the tweaks I've made to my training are sending me in the right direction. My next focus is now the Hardmoors 55, which will help to keep my mind off the Lakeland 100 which is still too far away to fully concentrate on yet. I've got some recce runs for L100 planned with John and Marco, which I'm really looking forward to and generally feel pretty good about the year ahead.

Bring on 2015 :-)