Things to do before I’m 30

The last time I committed to stuff on here I got on and did it… so here’s an attempt of getting some things done in the next 12 months. I’m not entirely sure how realistic they are, but the MdS wasn’t realistic 2 years ago. So here they are. Some chosen by me, some by Lucy and some we picked together. I’ve grouped them, but I’m pretty sure you’d have guessed without my help!

 

Chosen by me (feel rather optimistic):

  • 19min 5k
  • 40min 10k
  • Sub-3:20 Marathon
  • Learn to front crawl properly
  • Complete my first Triathlon

 

Chosen with Lucy:

  • Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant (I’m thinking Tom Kerridge’s Pub!)
  • Take Lucy for skiing lessons (in the UK… ready for the Alps)
  • Babysit my niece/nephew
  • Weekend away in a random Eastern European country
  • Go to a local comedy night

 

Chosen by Lucy (can you tell?!)

  • Learn to play the guitar or the drums
  • Tell Lucy how beautiful she is every day (even when she has a cold and a red nose)….
  • To stay in a cosy cabin in the middle of nowhere
  • Husky ride in the snow
  • Sort the photos from the Isles of Scilly (the holiday we went on in 2013)

 

Hmm… I had best get cracking….

Marathon des Sables; The Final Update!

A week on from completing the 2014 Marathon de Sables I’m still not quite sure how to describe or explain the experience. It was everything I imagined and more. And in some cases less (but not many cases of that!). Here is an attempt of describing how it felt on the final day.

The Finish

After 18 months of training I was stood at the start line of the most exciting marathon I have been involved in. It doesn’t take much, considering I’ve only run 2 marathons before (if I exclude the ultras). Nevertheless it was promising to be an interesting day. The top 200 were being held back by 90 minutes. Disappointingly I was position 201 going into the final day. To say I was gutted is an understatement! I wanted to be with all the quick guys chasing the rest of the pack down! However, that all changed as we were milling around at the start line and one of the guys from tent 110 announced to me that I was the fastest guy on the start line. The fastest guy out of 800 people! Oh shit… I’ve never been the fastest guys at the start line before. And most likely I’ll never experience that again! For a very brief second it was excited, then I had an “oh shit” moment at the prospect of navigating (well following the pink rocks) with with lots of people following! The reality is there were plenty of people around me who are quicker at marathons, it’s just my cumulative time over the first 4 days was a few minutes quicker – I think my double marathon nudges me ahead of some guys who are quick at the “short” stuff. I had no doubt there would be faster runners who would be keen to lead the group off and set the direction. Just like the other 4 days, I planned to let them shoot off and then chase them down as the day went on. I wanted to run a 5 hour marathon and hoped to beat the front of the elite group home. I was assuming they would run 3:00-3:30 marathons so it would be pretty tight (almost impossible) with a 1hr30 lead – but figured it would be exciting to try!

Before we knew it music was blaring over the speakers, helicopters swooping over our heads and we were off. The final marathon was under-way! The chase was on! Run! At the first check point I was still feeling fresh and the temperature was still cool so I pressed on. A  number of runners were stood refilling water bottles, so I continued with my week-long tactic of always moving. Even though it means carrying the empty bottle in my bag, I wanted to save that precious minute in my attempt to stay clear of the elites. Over the next 11km we ran on some awesome trails and flat stony plains. Having taken 80 mins to get to the first CP I spent the whole of the next leg thinking of the elites that would now be chasing me down. Not that they knew they were chasing me but it certainly helped keep the legs turning. As I checked in at CP2, I noticed that there were very few foot prints in the sand and not too many bottles in the waste bin; I seemed to be doing OK. I grabbed my 1.5L bottle of water and poured half on my head (much to the amusement of some cameramen and the check point officials) and half into my drinking bottles. In all the excitement of running I hadn’t been drinking as much as I should have done. it also meant I hadn’t been taking much salt on. So I swigged down a belly full of water and 3 salt tablets. All of these checkpoint shenanigans lasted no more than 20-30 seconds and I was on my way again.

Early morning miles

 

With my legs starting to burn and my hands throbbing (a sign of dehydration) I set off for the final CP whilst slurping on my carb drink. This was may favourite leg of the whole race. Perhaps in my life. Bold claim, I know! But it was truly epic, the route, the company, the solace, the views, the climb up to a jebel pass and then a few km up high before a fast decent into a lush green check point I ran hard. I was still ahead of most of the 800 in the early start and none of the elites were in site. In fact, I could barley see anyone in front of me. As I arrived at CP3, I received a huge applause from some families that were in Morocco to see their friends/family finish. The CP staff were also extremely attentive and rushed… I got the impression I was near the front and they did everything they could to get me in and out as quick ad possible. I declined half of my water ration in an attempt to save time and repeated my speedwalk and water admin departure from the CP. This was going better than I had planned and I could sense the finish.

No more CPs left in the MdS 😦 no more “beep” as I cross the CP entry gates, no more practising my pronunciation of  “Bonjour, six deux six”. The next “beep” would be as I crossed the finish line! Best a get move on. For about 3-4 km we were running along a dried up river bed… I say running…. it was a jog! My shuffle was still reeling in one or two of the front runners of the early start. I could see them in the distance in the river bed. As we neared the end of the river bed I was overtaken by a camera crew in a Jeep who jumped about 400m ahead and set-up their tripod. Surely not for me…. nope, just the winner of the day, Abdelkader el Mouaziz! His PB for a marathon is 2hr06min! I could see him in the distance behind me. Minutes later was I running alongside him, albeit for a matter of moments… what an phenomenal athlete! His exit from the river bed was effortless, he dashed up the side of the rocks to climb onto the plateau.  I clearly looked bemused as the Camera crew pointed me towards the trail of footprint I should be following… there were 5 maybe 6 sets of foot prints in the sand.

With 5km to go I crossed the “stony plateau” described in the road book. I could smell the finish. I could also sense a couple of elites not too for behind me. One of the marshals gave me a great a cheer and  said “they’re about a half a km behind you. you’ve got 5km to go!!”. As I started the descent down the rocky hill I kicked a rock so hard I screamed. And swore. I swore lots! but F#@K it.. I had lasted all week… there was only 4km to go I wasn’t going to stop and check it now! From a quick glance over my shoulder and I could see Danny Kendall and Carlos Sa – the fastest two Europeans in the MdS (British and Portuguese respectively). 300m behind.. and they seemed to be speeding up. As we hit the final descent onto the last 2.5 km of dunes Danny flew past me. Shortly followed by Carlos. I felt like I was stood still – I think they were locked in a head to head race for the marathon stage (if I remember rightly Danny needed to beat him by 5 mins to over take him on the overall GC). As I crested the first dune and I could see the finish… I overtook one last person and then ran as hard as my legs will let me for the last 2 km of dunes.

250km later!

Choked with tears, excitement and some dehydration I collected my medal, tried to smile for the camera and gave Patrick a big sweaty hug! I then hobbled to the water tent to collect my 4.5L ration of water before slumping in a heap to recover. I had a brief cry (not sure if that was pain from the marathon, the relief of finishing the MdS or disappointment that the best 18months were about to be over). A few harsh words with myself and I soon realised I should gather my shit together and cheer in the rest of tent 110! We had been together all week and the best part for the others was just about to happen. By the time I dropped my kit at 110, Andy was also home and dry. We wandered up and cheered in the rest of the troops. First Chris, then Gerrit… a short while later Tom, Matt and Adrian made it over the finish line of the 250km hammering.

So that was it… the last day in the MdS. How did we get there? Well, I had intended to write a detailed review of  each day when I got home. But in all honesty I have been pretty tired and still trying to get my head around what happened over those 10 days. When I finished the race and for the first few days after the run I didn’t feel like I had been running at all. Let alone 250km in the desert. By Tuesday I was tired, the adrenaline and endorphins had all died away and I was left genuinely exhausted. I’ve been napping most days and having lots of sleep every night. Recovering is the easy bit: eat, sleep, stretch, eat, sleep! So, there’s my excuse for not writing a full report of the week. Also, I kind of like the short summary that I sent from the desert. It captures it as it happened…. so there you have it. the MdS 2014.

Thank you

There are countless people I want to thank. so in no particular order… here goes.

The office – thank you to everyone in the office. You have put up with a lot of running chat (sorry, but that will likely continue). The support has been phenomenal!

Mum and Dad – I know you didn’t really want me to do this when I first signed up. I blame dad! He did Kilimanjaro – that got me hooked!

BMHAC – great club, great coach and great Sunday morning runs!

Ruth & Luc – The endless lunchtime running chat, the company on the treadmill, stretching, Wednesday runs to work, kit chat, all the stuff that non-runners hate. Awesome work at London by both of you! Ruth posting a “good for age” time and I think Luc securing a “Championship Start”! Both huge achievements!

Mike – Epic training partner. Enough said!

My mates – all of the guys I should have been out drinking with for the past few months… it’s time to catch up on those nights out!

Tent 110 – you know how much fun and pain the week involved. Awesome tent mates.. looking forward to a catch up beer soon!

Lucy – a HUGE thank you to you. I know I have been obsessed with the MdS for the past 18 months. Thank you for being so patient (most of the time ;)) and putting up with all my stinking kit, washing and early mornings. I’m looking forward to a few normal weekends just as much as you are 😀 xx

What next?

No idea. I haven’t planned anything yet. I’ll perhaps run a few road races and work on my speed over the summer.. I popped to ParkRun this weekend and found it hard going, so need to get back down to BMHAC soon.  I’d like to run a sub 1:30 half and maybe a quick marathon. who knows. In the meantime, lots of food, sleep and rest is needed.

Until next time…. no, not the next MdS, just the next adventure….

Rob

p.s I’m still counting up the cash donations… looks like we’ve smashed £6k… will update tomorrow!

MdS 2014; Day 6

I did it! Today was the marathon stage and after dropping out of the top 200, I was determined to smash this one. With a few shot bloks saved & my favourite flavour carb drink, I took to the start line. The first leg went well; the speed demons shot off and i hung out just behind…waiting for them to blow up. Through CP1 I jumped about 20runners and decided it was time to press on. I got some music on an opened up the taps…. edging past a runner every km or so. CP2 I was in such a hurry I declined half my water ration to save weight. Looking at the empty bottle bin I was well placed (for me)…so pushed harder. In the 3rd section there was an EPIC singletrack…. after all my trail running and descent work I made good time here. Into CP3 I was gagging for water. Restocked I was ready to smash the last 10km….I think I did-I was ruined as i finished; couldn’t have given more today. Felt amazing to finish and the collect medal (2mo is the charity 8km(not timed)). THANK YOU EVERYONE!x

MdS 2014; Day 4-5

That was a tough days running! I think my first 3days of running have caught up with me. I set off well to make the most of the cooler part of the day. Felt great up to CP3; ran enitre first sector and steady run/walk for the next 2. From CP3->CP4 I had the biggest low of the week. 3.5km from the CP I hit the wall- people streaming past me. If you run, you’ll know the feeling… add to that 40degrees, a headache, feeling sick, no energy gel and climbing 2 jebels that felt like PenYFan. Oh and down to my last 200ml of water for 4.5km. Boardline tears. As I plodded into CP I got myseld sorted:carb drink, scoffed some salty mini cheddars and 2 shot bloks… HEAVEN! I plodded on. Within 10 mins I was back to normal:) Got music for a big power walk-I ended up marching the last 3 sectors with Andy. Placing wasn’t as good today…now 201 overall. Pretty gutted as this year they are setting the top 200 off 1.5hr later for the final marathon 😦 missed by 30s…nevermind, still loving it! 😀 x
xx

MdS 2014; Day 3

3 stages down, 3 to go. Today was a good one, I seem to have acclimated and can get moving reasonably well in the midday heat. I start steady and pick up the pace as the day goes by. Finished the last ~8km quite strongly- made up a handful of places. Even had a friendly race over the last K with a French guy running for team WAA. He splashed me with his water as I overtook :D. Not sure where I came – perhaps top 250, hard to say. Legs feel great. One blister on little toe – not an issue though. Some chaffing on my hips from the bag – all of the sweat/salt has mad the bag go hard and scratchy. Some big strips of tape will sort that ready for the 80km stage. Todays run was a corker – beautiful scenery, long flat river beds and some occasional dunes. A nice mixture to keep me entertained. Could have pushed harder today (maybe should have done?) but want to make sure I clear the 80km in a good time.

This is EPIC!

Right, time for freeze dried lasagne! 😀 miss u all (& my bed) lots!xxx

MdS 2014…here I come!

Here it is. The final pre-race update.

Tomorrow I will be flying to Errachidia, Morocco. From there I’ll be heading a few hours by coach into the Sahara desert to the first bivouac camp of the Marathon des Sables. The race doesn’t start until Sunday so I have Saturday to settle in to desert life and run through some admin checks before settling down for a nervous night’s sleep (and there have been plenty of those this week!). I will be self-sufficient from the moment I get up on the Sunday morning.

A few of you have been asking how to track my progress. Whilst I am away you can follow me here http://www.marathondessables.com/en/ . When the race starts a link will become available to “track a competitor” – you can find me using my name or my race number, 626. The page should give you my timings as I cross each check point and my overall position. On that website you should also find a link to “write to a competitor”. This will enable you to send a message to me during the race (text only) – I will get a  print out of the messages each evening! Mildly offensive, motivational emails are just as welcome as the pleasant, emotional ones! SdW – no work emails!

I will also have the opportunity to send one email to one recipient per day which is limited in words/characters. I have arranged for Lucy to post it here.

Finally, a word on the fundraising . Earlier in the week I hit my £5,000 target and the donations continue to come in! Thank you so much!  I’m utterly amazed that I hit the target before leaving; great motivation for the inevitable low moments!

See you on the other side,

Rob

MdS 2014; Day 2

Hello,

I haven’t heard from Rob since the completion of his first run…!

However, it is evident from the tracking system on the MdS website that Rob finished the second stage with another good time of 5hrs, 51mins.

I will hopefully hear from Rob regarding his 3rd stage later this evening…however, as a sneaky update…it looks like he’s already finished that stage as well, in 5 hrs and 27mins….

His general position at the moment is 182…out of just over 1000 competitors. He’s doing himself and others proud I think!

MdS 2014; Day 1

Bonjour!That was an interesting first day; amazing sand dunes, an active mine and a dried up river bed! The most amazing place to run. I found the conditions ok – heat didn’t seem too bad. The sand dunes (12km!) of Erg Chebbi were hard work on the quads but great fun to run down, then walk up! Spent some time running with Chris from our tent; great guy & good to have some company. Left  Chris at CP1; the middle sector was more runnable, so tried to get a run/walk/run combo going. Good sector. Approaching CP2 at the mine, a fellow brit took a tumble – looked painful, but he got up and pushed on! The next sector was also good to run on. Caught up with Andy from our tent, but pressed on. None of us were enjoying the heat at this point. Towards the end of this sector we had another 3km of dunes in Erg Znaigui, the heat was crazy – from the sun & the sand! At the crest of the final dune I could see camp – amazing! Not sure on place just yet-felt like top half.missing u!xxx loving this! 🙂

Marathon des Sables; Injury Prevention

With so many training miles going into the legs, making sure you are injury free is critical. It’s the only way to get to the start line. I personally know 3 people who have picked up injuries that have stopped them from taking part in MdS 2014. It must be devastating after so much hard work. So far, I have remained unscathed….apart from one toe nail and the occasional blister! 1 week left… I hope I haven’t tempted fate!

As you might guess, most of the injuries I’ve heard of/seen are leg and knee related. A really good friend of mine has torn his ACL and did some damage to the meniscus. Two guys who I work with have also picked up injuries: one with a very bad calf strain and the other also has knee ligament issues. As I scroll through Facebook posts on the MdS group I see it is littered with people picking up injuries form all the mileage. In some cases it is purely bad luck. In others it’s perhaps over training after leaving the mileage to the last minute. In some cases is a re-occurrence of an old injury. Now, I’m not professing to be an expert in training for ultra-marathons or multi stage races. Nor am I any whizz when it comes to injury prevention, but I’ve managed to stay injury free, so thought I would share few thoughts

Top 5 Tips:

  • Start slow and steady. I had only run a  half marathon 2 years ago, so spent the first few months following a marathon training plan and then built it from there with my own adaptation of a 50km ultra training plan. From there the mileage crept up to 40-80 mile per week depending on races and work commitments.
  • Cross train. Build in at least 1 cross-training session per week. For me this was normally 1 hour of circuit training per week. Towards the end of my training I also added in a swim – it really helped my legs freshen up the day after a long run. It also meant I could use the sauna for heat training!
  • Train with your back pack sooner rather than later. Even if it only has a small bottle of water in it. The sooner you can build some good core strength the better. Also make sure you run without it. In my opinion, you need to make sure you keep some faster, pace work in the plan and work on good running form. Variety helps mentally too.
  • Listen to your body. I tend to run through little niggle – I find it usually loosens up during a run. However, if it is still there the next morning, I get it looked at. Take a rest day or do something non weight-bearing.
  • Rest. Yes, I’m regurgitating stuff I’ve been told by my coach at BMHAC and that I have read in every good running book/magazine… but that’s because it’s true. You need rest days to allow your body to recover, rebuild and become stronger and fitter. I’m guilty of not taking enough rest days – going for a 50 length swim isn’t a rest. It’s a good cross training session and will help your legs recover but it isn’t true rest. I try and take 1 full rest day per weekI often use it that day for 20 mins of stretching and doing race admin (there’s plenty!)

Two other things that I introduced to my training towards the end were hot yoga and sports massage.

I have been going to hot yoga classes since the middle of February and absolutely love it. I go to Bikram Yoga Fleet (http://www.bikramyogafleet.co.uk/). The team there are great and have had many MdS runners train there in the past. My flexibility and core strength has improved loads. I really notice the difference when trail running and carrying pack. If time permits, I’ll try and do the occasional session after MdS – it’s a great way of switching off after work!

For sports massage I have been seeing Elise Beechen in Reading (http://www.elisebeechen.co.uk/index.html). I am absolutely convinced that the sports massage has played a huge part in keeping me injury free. I used to be really cynical about this kind of thing, but I genuinely believe it helps.  I helps to ensure that those awkward niggles don’t turn into a proper injury – I’ve had plenty of niggles, but nothing that has stopped me running. There have been a few occasion where I suspected my ITB was flaring up, or my hips were getting tight, pain in my glutes… all the usual stuff runners get from time to time. A good massage later and all is fine! Yes, it may have sorted itself out anyway, but why risk it? aside fro the injury prevention, it’s also a good way to relax and take you mind off running for a while!  Elsie has also hooked me up with a great stretching routine that I’m supposed to follow each day in the desert. I’m not sure if I will have the energy, but I must make the effort – it will play an important role in keeping me supple and “fresh” for the next day. I definitely intend to try… I promise.

As I say, I’m not an expert in injury prevention or training methods. This is just what worked for me. I’m yet to find out whether it will get me across the desert, but I’m pretty sure it will get me to the start line. And from what I’ve heard, it would seem that getting to the start line if one of the biggest challenges!!

 

8 days until I fly. That’s 4 runs, 5 hot yogas, 1 swim and a massage. Oh and lots of sleep!

 

Fundraising for The Evelina Childrens Hospital

The fundraising is all going to plan, with over £4,000 on the Just Giving page and a few hundred quid in cash donations! Thank you to everyone who has donated so far.

To stir up a little extra support at the office we had a coffee and cake sale whilst Adrian (@MDS_Runner) and I did a presentation on the MdS and the charities we are running for. Much to the excitement of my boss and some of our colleagues I had somewhat foolishly agreed to having my head shaved in the build up to the MdS. Well, with a boss volunteering to be a barber and a generous audience willing to throw a few quid into the charity pot, Thursday seemed like the perfect time to do it. Here’s how it went:

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Shaving my head after 8 years of having long hair was a pretty big deal. In fact I was more anxious about doing that than I am about the MdS. It’s all for a good cause though. You can find out more about the Evelina here: Evelina London

If would like to donate (either for the head shaving or the running :)), you can do so at http://justgiving.com/running-for-evelina  

Thanks again everyone!

2 weeks to go….and now the sun hat fits! Perfect!

Marathon des Sables; Sand Dune Training

It’s been a while since I blogged, so will try and rattle out 2 or 3 in the next day or two to fill in the blanks. First up sand dune training and hill work.

Sand Dune Training – 8th March

With 4 weeks to go until I am in the desert, I wanted  to do a full dress rehearsal to test my gaiters, hydration, bag, shorts, t-shirt, snacks, camera, hat and perhaps most of all… running on sand.

A quick dash along the M4 into south Wales and through Bridge End eventually brings you to a great little village called Merthyr Mawr. Methyr Mawr is the home of a big sand dune,  so it’s an ideal place to train for the Marathon des Sables. On arrival I started to get the feeling I should have done it sooner; aside from the Big Dipper, there are great sand trails to run and some stunning views.  Never mind, too late to worry about what I could or should have done, I need to use the time to train. So I get kitted up to a few funny looks from some tourists that are here for casual weekend walk.

Gaiter Options:

After taking the plunge and buying the Sandbaggers knee lengths gaiters last summer, I recently discovered the shorter ankle height options from Raidlight and RaceKit. They look better (not that looks are important in the desert – but they did catch my eye 🙂 ) and look less “flappy”. Though they might not keep all the sand out when I am ankle deep in the dunes. Being keen to make sure everything is just right for the MdS, my credit card took another hit and I ordered the RaceKit  gaiters (pictured below)

RaceKit Gaiters

The plan was to run an hour of hill reps in each style of gaiter in order to pick my favourite. I set about a my first hour of hill reps on the Big Dipper. I ran the first rep before realising that the energy sapping sand quite simply prevents you from running more than a few yards. I could have managed running the second one at a push, but it really wasn’t effective… you waste a huge amount of extra energy for very little gain. At the top of each rep I added in a  200m loop along the undulating trails to get the legs moving more quickly and get a feel for the gaiters whilst running. After thee or four reps I started to get a cramp in the bottom of my left foot- I’ve never suffered from cramp here, so suspected the gaiters were a possible cause. I slackened off the ankle strap and continued with the hill reps. This helped a little, but still didn’t completely clear it… I pressed on until I hit 65 mins. Time for a  check point style break. As brief as possible, but enough time to get the next set of gaiters on and drain some of the sweat that was accumulating underneath my waterproof jacket .Pretty disgusting, but the sun was getting warm and the extra layers were doing a good job of raising core temp!

With the Sandbaggers strapped on I start knocking out another hour of hill reps on the Big Dipper. They feel quite airy as the wind blows and the silk moves around my calves. Also the cramps seem to have stopped and no sand gets into my trainers. Whilst it isn’t conclusive that the RaceKit gaiters were the cause of the cramps, I don’t want to risk it during the MDS. It’s perhaps as much psychological as it is a physical difference. come to think of it, I’ve never got on with wearing my Compress Sport calf guards whilst running- felt like they were squeezing my Achilles tendon. I love them for recovery after long runs though… real or placebo? I’ll take any benefit for the MdS.

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After a legs sapping two hours on the sand dunes I’m still happy with all of my kit. A good morning of testing. My bag, water bottles, the 0.5 size larger trainers, t-shirt, compression shorts and socks all feel great. The only things that doesn’t work for me s my raidlight cap… it’s too bloody tight and doesn’t come down onto my head enough. It feels like it will blow off! Still, of all the things not to work I’m happy it’s only the hat.

For those of you that are interested, I’m going to post my full kit list at some point. Maybe one night during the taper when do a dry run of packing,

Brecon Beacons

No rest for a wannabe ultra runner…from the dunes of Merthyr Mawr I drive straight to the Brecon Beacons to meet training partner Mike at the Storey Arms and hit some more hills!

By the time I arrive in the Brecons I have cooled down a lot and started to stiffen up – the wind is blowing hard when I step out of the car and get the shakes within seconds. Time to layer up and hit the fells. Mike and I kit up and get straight out on the run, we’re aiming for a 13 mile loop that takes in Corn Du, Pen Y Fan, Fan y Bigg and Cribyn.  For those of you know the Brecons well, we hit the long slow 2 mile climb to the left of the Storey Arms. For those who don’t know the Brecons quite so well, the Storey Arms isn’t a pub. I was very disappointed the first time I discovered that!

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Having covered part of this route during the 10 Peak we were keen to make sure we got around it more quickly than we did on that epic 36 mile adventure. We made good progress but the serious headwind and my 9kg pack slowed the pace – mike was setting a great pace. I think we managed the first 2 or 3 peaks quicker than we did during the race, but the “flat section” after Cribyn around the crescents to the top of the reservoir felt slow. The mornings sand dune reps were starting to take their toll and I was reduced to a plod. Great training!

As we descended down to the reservoir we got some protection from the icy wind that had been whipping over the lip of the peaks; there was still some snow lying on the high grounds. The descent was over all to quickly and the quads had taken a beating. We skirted around the reservoir, past an old pump house (I think that’s what it is) before starting the tough, slippery climb back to the ridge. This was familiar ground- we did the climb during the early hours of the 10 Peaks ultra; it was better in the dark…. I couldn’t see the climb that I had ahead! After a few “oh shit” moments where earth/stone slipped from beneath me, we were back on the ridge traversing back towards Pen Y Fan. With all of the earlier peaks in view we took a sharp left to take the speedy descent back to the road. Although the picture doesn’t show it, Mike was taking it easy at this point after rolling his ankle on the descent to the reservoir

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And that was it. A little jolly along some tarmac and we were back at the car. 12.9 miles – a perfectly planned route by Mike!

Actually, on the subject of Mike. I owe him a big thank you. He has been a great training partner during the MdS prep- we’ve completed 2 ultras together, 4 or 5 adventure races and a good handful of long Sunday runs. Mike isn’t running the MdS, so I hugely appreciate the effort he’s made. It must be frustrating for him at times; running a at a slower pace because I’m hauling 9kg, or because I’m tired from the weekly mileage. When I’m back from the MdS  I’m looking forward to dropping the pack and getting some speed back so we can attack the L50 again! We’ll home before midnight this time Mike!!!

The Evelina Childrens Hospital

With 25 days until I head to Morocco, I figured I should direct some focus to fund raising. We’ve made great progress so far and we hit £3,000 at the weekend, but would love to get to my £5,000 target. It will make a huge difference at the Evelina! if you want to help me on the way, you can do so here: http://www.justgiving.com/running-for-evelina

It would take hours to explain how good the Evelina Childrens Hospital is. In fact, I cant do it justice in a blog, so figure I’d just share a few videos and let you judge.

Reading Half Marathon 2014

Two years ago I was sat here worrying about my first ever half marathon (Reading 2012) … where do I park, what drinks do I need, what should I have for breakfast, how long will it take me, where do I pin my number? It went OK, I ran a 1:54 and finished it asking the guy next to me “how the hell does anyone run back the start”.

Two years on and I’m staring down the barrel of the biggest challenger of my life – in 5 weeks time I’ll be stood in the middle of the Sahara Desert waiting to run 250km! How times change!

Tomorrow’s half is a training race – I never thought I would be saying such a thing. I’m out to enjoy the race and make the most of the atmosphere. Reading Half is always well supported and the steel drum band under the bridge is a highlight – it’s perfectly places at about the halfway mark. I’ve had so many months of long, lonely training runs, it’s going to be great having lots of people out supporting the race.  I can’t wait! 

I hope to knock out a 1:45 with a few kilos on my back…. let’s see, it’s just a training run and staying injury free is the key!

Kit ready, drinks prepared and legs rolled!

All set and ready to go!

All set and ready to go!

Rob

Thames Trot 2014

Ok, with 9 weeks to go until the MdS,I had hoped the Thames Trot would go much more smoothly. As I’m lying in the sofa thinking about where things went a bit pear shaped and how I missed my target by so much and ended up slower than C2C (where I was wearing a 6kg pack).

I finished- that’s the important thing! But, it took me 9 hours (target was 8) and my last two sectors were horrifically slow – I’m waiting to see the results to see how much time I lost and how my pace averaged out.

So where did it go wrong. I can think of three things I fell victim to:
1) Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
2) Never use food/drink for the first time in a race
3) In a self navigation race, don’t blindly follow the person in front of you

So here comes a dissection of the race. I’ll spare you the usual checkpoint by checkpoint story. Other than to say I felt like I was having a great race all the way from Oxford to Abingdon, Benson, Goring, Purley… It felt like I was strongly in the middle of the pack! Then boom – doors off! catastrophically!

So what was the cause? I hope thinking about this, whilst it might be a bit boring to read, will help me prep for the desert and will help me mentally when it gets rough in Morocco!

#1 Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
I probably didn’t have enough rest going into this race- it’s only 3weeks since the last ultra. I also did quite a bit during the week – 1500m swimming, 14miles running (inc hill reps) and yoga. Great MdS prep in the long run… But not ideal prep for the Thames Trot. Also, the day before the race I got my planning all screwed up- I accidentally skipped lunch as I was on a conference call and I didn’t have a proper, carb load meal in the evening!! I was meeting friends in London so ended up with a KFC for dinner! Not a great meal at the best of times, but definitely not a pre-Ultra meal! Stick to the Pasta!!! Then after a good evening in London I ended up on the last train home, then had or fetch my car and so don’t get into bed until 1:30am!!! I’m normally in bed at 10pm pre-race! With the alarm going off at 5:30 meant, I only had 4 hours of broken sleep! Urgghhh! So, not much sleep and low on calories. A lot of gels, carb drinks, fruit cake and nuts were needed on route! My poor planning also meant I didn’t have my usual Nuun tabs and high calorie savoury snacks to balance out the gel/sugar overload!!

#2 Never use food/drink for the first time in a race
Ok this is ridiculously stupid and something I always bang on about to people who talk about gels for race day – Never use a gel/bar/drink that you are unfamiliar with during a race! At the Purley CP, I stupidly forgot this age old rule. The marshal kindly offered me a Gu electrolyte tab and I happily dropped it in my bottle (instead of getting my usual powder out of my bag- I had three left (one for each CP) in a very easy to access pocket- I didn’t even need to take my pack off!).

Anyway, I set off on this penultimate sector and within two miles of the CP my stomach was in knots- the drink tasted fizzy and wasn’t sitting well. Three miles after the CP I was violently sick! I’ve never been sick like that from exercise- ever! It was like a bad hangover. It was bad- I spewed my guts everywhere twice in the space of 200m! Thank you to the runner who stopped and kindly offered to help with his drinks and some “proper food” – fellow runners are awesome!

#3 In a self navigation race, don’t blindly follow the person in front of you
I knew the middle 30 miles of the race like the back of my hand! I have run/cycled/driven all of those sectors countless times since living in and around Reading. No help needed with navigation- bonus! At the start there are always a enough people to play ‘follow the leader’ with a reasonable amount of confidence! And if someone goes wrong there are plenty of people to debate it.. And if you are all wrong… It has not significant impact on the positions. The final sectors is always much more sparse. When running with Mike we are usually pretty hot on our Nav- usually Mike more than me, but we always have the course in hand and have never been lost (well, there was one adventure race… But that’s a blog entry on its own!). However, after a spate of vomiting and simply plodding my way to CP5 (with the company of Luc and Ruth) I wasn’t really thinking clearly. I followed the bunch in front who had it about 90% right.. Up until the last 2 miles…. We found ourselves knee deep in the Thames on the footpath in Henley! We had taken the old route…. Not the updated, diverted route! Bollocks! I had to back track half a mile, cut up to the road and the run hard to the finish. After the 8 hour goal had slipped through my fingers, I was desperate to hit 9 hours! I think I clocked 9:04! Bugger! Without the detour at the end I might have just made it – note to self, trust your own Nav! The group I was with had decided to walk along the flooded path using the benches as markers- braver than I am! I was too knackered to risk tripping up in the Thames 🙂

I have never been so pleased to see the finish line of a race! And the best part- Lucy was waiting at the finish (she had been stood there for a good hour – based on my original target of 8hours! Ooops!). It’s the first time she has seen my finish an ultra – she now questions this bizarre “hobby” even more!

Knackered!

Knackered!

Finally, I owe a seriously big thank you to Ruth and @lucjolly! They are both training for London and decided to meet me on a stretch of the Thames near where we live. Unfortunately for them, they joined me about 10 mins after the vomiting episode! I was running on empty! Luc did a sterling job of keeping me company whilst Ruth clocked some marathon training miles in the opposite direction before looping back to chase us down! Luc had already knocked out 20miles by meeting up with various different racers that he knew and was happy to keep my company at 11min miles rater than his usual 5:30-6min/miles! My request that he should “just talk at me – I haven’t got the energy to reply… But I am listening!”… led to some good chat and MdS motivation! I can’t remember much of it, but I’m sure it was good! Ruth hunted us down much more quickly than I had hoped- the training is paying off Ruth! We knocked out a few miles as a trio, before Luc departed for a shower and to spruce up or the six nations. I was so close to DNFing myself and joining him! A burger, chips and a Guinness would have sorted me right out! Ruth and I plodded all the way to Sonning bridge, navigating many stretches of shin deep ice cold water! As we hit the final CP, Ruth was at 14 miles on her training run and was “only” planning to do 18-19. So when the marshal told us that it was 8 miles to Henley… I’m not sure who was more gutted! The re-routing of the race, due to all of the floods, meant that last leg was a lot longer than the planned 5! Ruth VERY kindly joined me for the last 8! Legend! She could have easily popped home and had her planned 18/19 in the bag! Instead she got an insight into the final leg of an Ultra! So that’s both Lucy and Ruth well and truly convinced that Luc and I are both stupid for entering these ultras!

I was so close to DNFing myself after spewing up- the company and motivation to meet Lucy at the finish was key! Huge thank you to Ruth, Luc and Lucy!

So, all in all, it was my worst outing at an ultra! By a long way! I had an awesome first 30 miles but the final 15 were pure hell! I was probably a little complacent going into it and let some basics get in the way!

Right time to rest and recover- a quick power nap before Super Bowl tonight – I’ll be making sure I recover well and replace all those missing calories!!

Another huge lesson in ultra running! But I think I’ll be stronger at the MDS because of it!

Rob

10 Weeks to Go!

Two weeks on from the Country to Capital and I’m sat reflecting as to whether I’m in the right shape for the Marathon des Sables. With only 10 weeks to go until I’m at the start line, I’m starting to feel as if I should have done more running. Typically I run 30-40 per week. Sometimes it nudges 50. If I run an ultra, it peaks to 70. Each week usually has a swim and a circuits class thrown in for variety. I suppose, most people will always feel like they could have done more – whether its Reading Half, a local 10k or the MdS.

I try to keep reminding myself that I have to be realistic. I’m there to finish, not to be in the top 100, or 200 for that matter- when I signed up for this thing, I had only just finished my first half marathon! After the Country to Capital race, I felt as if I had come a long way in terms of running fitness…. but that confidence has gradually faded over the course of the last two weeks. I’m starting to squeeze in a few extra sessions here and there, whilst also trying to not over train and injury myself. I’m nervous.

Today I’ll start off with a “quick” 9 miler around the villages near home and then finish of the day off with either a swim or a hot yoga session. Tomorrow will be slow 13 miler and some race admin. The MdS nerves have kicked my ass into gear!

It’s fair to say the journey to the MdS is up and down!

Country to Capital 2014

The plan was to use the Country to Capital as a dry run for the long stage of the the big race. Trainers. Pack. Pace. Clothing. Nutrition. Hydration. I would be simulating the MdS long day as close as possible.. well, minus the heat!

Pack: Invo8 race pac with 6.2 kg of dead weight (importantly I packed it with stuff I want/need to keep, so I couldn’t wimp out and ditch some weight!)

Nutrition & hydration: 1 x peperami, 20g sports beans, 40g nuts/seed, 20g pork scratchings. 4 x shot blok cubes, 1 x SiS energy gel, 1 x High 5 energy gel, 3 x Nuun electrolyte tabs.

Clothing: Under Armour Draft compression shorts, Nike running shorts, Under Armour heat gear T-shirt, Injinji socks, Asics GT-1000s and dream tape for any blister repairs!

Pace: slow and steady 🙂

As always, pre-race nerves dictate that I prepare everything in detail the night before. I packed and repacked, weighed and re-weighed, drank and drank some more. All set! I even got my breakfast out the night before: I decided to try the Expedition Foods asian noodles. At a whopping 800kcal per portion, this will be one of my evening meals in the desert.

All set the night before!

All set the night before!

Another early alarm and I was on the road at 5:30 AM. A quick stop at the station to pick up a fellow MdSer, Andy Massey gave me chance to scoff some rehydrated chicken and freeze dried noodles – actually pretty tasty and no “ill effects” during the run ;).
The race started with a mad dash down the street in Wendover… it caught me by surprise as I was still fiddling with my laces as the hooter went! I soon discovered why there was such urgency amongst some runners- the first mile or two was peppered with gates and stiles. Not to worry – the plan was slow and steady. So I stuck to the plan and kept knocking out 10-10:30 minute miles… with a 6kg back pack that would be tough going after 45 miles. The human traffic helped steady the pace and temper my usual early race excitement. What didn’t help was a lack of signal on my Garmin – I started out frustrated as I couldn’t work out my pace on the go. I soon realised this was good MdS prep – I’ll be sporting my £9.99 casio in the desert!

The journey to the first checkpoint was pretty eventful, a few groups getting lost and plenty of ankle deep mud! Great terrain, stunning views and plenty of hard work to condition the legs!

Perfect running conditions from the ankle up

Perfect running conditions from the ankle up

The next 10 miles are a complete blur, I got into a nice rhythm and have no real recollection of the route. I seemed to find that sweet spot of maintaining a good pace and not really caring about the miles. Before I knew it, I was thundering into checkpoint 2. I say thundering… it wasn’t fast, I just was running ahead of pace for the last mile :). Everyone appeared to be quite relaxed and there was no sense of urgency, the front runners had been and gone so the mid-packers were happily scoffing fruit cake, jelly babies and Gu gels. Meanwhile, I topped up my water, nibbled some nuts and a quick bite of peperami. Delicious!

Some rather casual looking Ultra Runners.

Some rather casual looking Ultra Runners.

With water restocked and a handful of snacks inhaled, I set off from this CP with a brisk walk- giving the food chance to settle. Having spent the last few miles chatting to random folk, I set off alone… slightly anti social, but it was nice to take in the views and have a bit of time listening to some music (loving the shuffle – thanks Lucy!). The music really helped drag me from CP2 to CP3 and onto CP4. Those two legs were the hardest mentally… I crossed the M25 shortly after CP2 but still had the  best part of a marathon to run! Denham, Cowley, Uxbridge, Southall…. and so on…all the way to Little Venice!

The Grand Union Canal

The Grand Union Canal

I was now following the canal form CP3 to CP4, passing a few people here and there. Others passing me. The miles were ticking away nicely!  At the time it seemed like the repetitive nature of running 20 odd miles along the canal would be good prep for the repetitive nature of running through sand dunes in the desert – I know the desert will be physically more demanding… but it was pretty demoralising to see bridge after bridge, barge after barge and many fisherman relaxing by the water side! I think I have the wrong hobby! The Grand Union Canal. Having been there once, I feel I have seen enough of it to last me a life time… well perhaps a enough to last me until next year :).

By this stage my pace was dropping and I was alternating run/walk over the final stages into CP4. A gel, some sports beans and a chew on some peperami soon fixed the energy levels. Note: perperami tastes strange when your mouth is dry and you’ve just had an energy gel-  but it did my energy levels loads of good! CP4 finally arrived and I was on the final straight. just a  a half marathon run run. “Just”!

Unbelievably, as I set off from CP4 I felt the best I had all day. My feet were in good nick, hydration/energy levels were good and I was still self sufficient with my stash of snacks. The dash from CP4 to CP5 was much shorter than anticipated – I’m not sure it was the full 10k they had originally planned. Either I was close to the finish than I thought or 5 to 6 was a long one!  

I had hoped to be home and dry by the time the sun had set to avoid the mandatory head torch… but it was getting dull and the marshals kindly asked me to wear my head torch and pair up with the next runner. I was buddied up with Emily for the final 6 miles. It was great to have some company again – some well qualified company at that. Emily was telling me about her iron man training in 2013. A very welcome distraction – we were trotting along at what felt to be 10:30min/miles for the first few miles. I had to put in a walk – she had the stamina to keep going. Determined not to fall behind and lose sight – I gulped down my final gel and shot blok- and picked up the pace. I clawed back the gap and overtook her and couple of others with about a mile to go. However, I couldn’t keep the pace going- they overtook me with about 300m to go along with another guy who I had been targeting since CP5. A final 200m dash with lots of cheers from other racers/finishers and some bemused embers of the public and I was all done in 8hr34mins.

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On finishing, I felt in pretty good shape. I could have run some more if I needed to, not that I wanted to! No blisters and no cramps – couldn’t be happier with that!

Actually, happy is an understatement, the only “injury” I picked up was where the mud from the early morning trail section had dried around the top of my socks and then rubbed  and grazed my ankle for the next 6 hours. Yes, I could have run that race a lot faster, but that wasn’t what I set out to do. All in all, it went exactly as planned.

A quick cuppa doped up with sugar and I was off to the train station…. the journey home was the most tedious part of the whole day!

All in all a great race.  Definitely an ultra I’d like to do again – maybe next time i’ll go without the pack and try and post a good time!!

Mortimer Gut Buster

Having volunteered as a marshal at this race last year (because I was too disorganised to get a race spot), this was a “must” for 2013. It’s in my neck of the woods and I know some of the trails well- the views are stunning.

The race comes as a 10 km or 10 mile option. It seemed that most opted for 10miles, but either way the route is petty gruelling and a perfect way to blow the cobwebs off after a few days of Xmas merriment.

Since signing up for the Marathon des Sables, I have lost a sense of perspective; today is a good example to prove that point. Not being content with “just” a 10 mile race for my long Sunday run I decided it would be better to run there as a warm up, race and then run home. A warm up… so, maybe a mile or so? Nope! 6.4 miles! Yeah, a full 10k as a warmup. Run – eat/drink – Run – eat/drink – Run. Great training for the checkpoints at the MdS.

With this perfect plan in place and nice route in mind, I set the alarm for 7am.

7am came and I was regretting the late night KFC on the journey home from London. If there is one area I can improve my training in 2014- avoiding food binges is it. A zinger tower burger, BBQ beans, chicken popcorn, a mini fillet, large fries and large coke at 11pm is not prefect race prep. I saved half of the coke, let it go flat over night and used it as my pre-race drink! (See earlier Lakeland50 blog for my love of coke as race fuel- shame I can’t take it to the desert!)

Bag packed, brekkie half digested and with the sun rising, it was time to warm up! And boy, I needed to warm up! It was below zero when I left the house.

Beautiful running conditions; cold, crisp and firm underfoot (mostly!)

Beautiful running conditions; cold, crisp and firm underfoot (mostly!)

A perfect start to the day.

The warm-up was largely uneventful. Well, except the frozen slushy flood that covered a 20m stretch of the road. The only route around was a 2 mile detour… Or shimmy along the embankment whilst gripping hedgerow! Ouch! Oh and I got lost… the 10km became 10.5.

I arrived at race HQ puffing and panting to the few puzzled looks for fellow racers sipping their pre-race teas, coffees and lucozade. Great organisation by the guys at My Sporting Times meant number collection, bag drop and a quick toilet break all went with out a hitch. Awesome work by the all the helpers and marshals! very friendly!

With 15mins to stretch, stay warm (yeah right!!), slurp some KFC Pepsi, say hi to a few familiar faces and then stiffen up,  I was starting to regret that “warm-up”!

And we we’re off

The front runners were off like rockets. I tried the usual game of looking for a bunch of people who “look” to be similar level (a dangerous guessing game- always some surprises!). I avoided looking at my watch for the first 5 miles and tried to run base on “feel”. My aim was 1:20:00 so I was trying to feel my way to 8min/mile pace on 6 mile old legs.

The road sections were icy, lots of slipping around corners. The muddy fields were stiff- plenty I opportunity to roll and ankle and the rolling hills were energy sapping. As we reached the 4 mile marker, I had 10 miles in the bag. Done! Well, not quite! As I approached the 5 mile marker I allowed myself a quick look at the Garmin. 7:50 splits. Happy!

At 6-7miles there was a tricky climb where the recent rain had washed a gully into the path. That combined with a bit of fatigue and some trainer sucking mud, my pace dropped of a lot. From there we had some nice down hill and flat open fields to trot across! The 8min/mile average was back on. At the 8 mile marker my Garmin was reading 7.73. I was ahead of schedule, brilliant! I held that thought for the next 2 miles. Until I got to the final, “9 miles” marker… That final mile felt like the Longest mile ever. The sun was up and melting the frozen mud, enough people had covered the ground that it was getting boggy! My pace was fading, I was regretting the 10k warmup, I was regretting the choice of road shoes (which had been prefect until now) and I was regretting the KFC. That “final mile” was more like 1.2 miles and felt like 1.5! urgh!

I crossed the line in 1hr21min.

Slightly behind plan, but it placed me 77th/259 overall and 40th/80 in the men’s under 30.

Job done!

Job done!

I avoided the mince pies and mulled wine at the finish line- not ideal prep for the run home! With the temperature still low I started to stiffen up. With a few layers back on, a feeling the cold I figured it was probably best to get a lift home; I wimped out of the full run home and opted for a 10 minute jog to “cool down” and meet Lucy.

All in all, a good days training. Three 10s – 10km warm up, 10mile race, 10min warm down.

A special mention for a friend, Lucy Jolly, who blasted around the course in 1hr 1min and won the race! Epic running by Luc – nice job mate!

I’ll definitely be going back next year, without the warm-up to try and post a quick time (though, I thinks Luc’s time is perfectly safe!). It’s an awesome, picturesque race that’s not too big, a good range of running abilities and some great support from locals dotted around the villages and farms! 

In the mean time, lots of [good quality] food to help recover ready for tomorrows training run…. a home made half-marathon!

Rob

MdS Heat Acclimation

A big factor when running the desert is the heat. That’s pretty obvious. How do you train for it? Easy – you spend as much time as possible running and exercising in the heat. How do you do that when you live in England and it’s Winter?… not so easy.

Well, I have three things in mind:

  • Bikram Yoga (Yoga in a hot room
  • Running on a treadmill wearing lots of layers and with the heaters on
  • Use heat acclimation chamber

I’ll share some more the first 2 when I have actually tried them. For now, I wanted to share with you my first experience in a heat acclimation chamber.

The Prep

I spent most of Wednesday eating well and hydrating myself ready for a 1 hour session in the heat acclimation chamber at Kingston University. I drank about 3 Litres of water during the day and ate pretty well, some good carbs and the old faithful banana just before running. Perfect prep, well that’s if you don’t end up sitting in a car for 45 mins trying to get across London. Nature called… luckily, like most avid runners, my car is full of bottles. So, at the next set of lights I dashed to the boot a grabbed a 500, then changed my mind and grabbed the 750ml! I hoped back into the front and proceeded to top-up” the old 750ml race freebie. I’ve had pre-race nerves before, but never pre-training nerves!

Pre-Run Blood Analysis

Pre-Run Blood Analysis: haemoglobin and heamatocrit

On arrival I was met by a great guy called Chris. He gave me a decent intro into the session and proceeded to record some pre-run stats.

  • Haemoglobin – 15 g/dL (normal range is 14-18 g/dL)
  • Haematocrit – 48 % (normal range is 40-54 %)
  • Naked body weight – 86.3 kg (despite shedding 15kg for the MdS, I’m still kinda heavy for an ultra runner)
  • Resting Core Temp – 37.1 ºC
  • Resting heart rate – 90 bpm (usually 43 – I must have been nervous)
  • Water content of bottles – 1500ml
  • A signature to say I won’t blame him if it goes wrong

The Run

Well, I wasn’t expecting it to be easy. But I also wasn’t expecting to be horrible. Part of my job involves me training as Fire Fighter in case of an incident at the facility where I work. This involves a few days training each year in very hot and very horrible conditions wearing breathing apparatus, air cylinders, heavy gear and dragging fake casualties out of buildings. I have experienced the discomfort that comes with exercising in the heat… though, when you finish a training exercise there is cold water and fresh air. As I found out when I ran a few time in Egypt earlier this year – the heat is relentless.

Anyway, with a reasonable sense of comfort when I walked into the 40 degree, 20% humidity chamber I decided to push myself and see where my break point was. I didn’t want to go too easy and not learn from the experience. So I loaded myself up with a 7kg pack and set off at a decent pace. Picking the pace was confusing to start with as it was in km not miles, so after a few mins of testing my maths at 40 degrees I settled into my half marathon pace.

Heat Acclimation Chamber

Heat Acclimation Chamber

Now, in hindsight, this was more than a challenge… I set of at my half marathon training pace but also had 7kg on my back AND 40 degrees AND <20% humidity. Of course, it was a matter of time before I was gasping for a drink and burning up. 25 minutes into the run I had to knock the speed back to a more casual jog. My core temp had risen from 37.2 to 38.1 and then to 39.1. When you approach and exceed 39.5 and things get interesting. Although it sounds small, 0.5 degrees is a big increase… but still, I backed off to learn the feeling of where the high 38s are and where 39+ begins. For the next 30 mins I tried varyious speeds of walking, jogging and incline changes to test out my reaction to the extra effort. I would say that once “cooled” back down to the high 38s I was comfortable.

Feeling a little warm!

Feeling a little warm!

Once you are hot and your ability to cool down is limited by the ambient air temp and blood temperature, it can take a while for your core temperature to drop a mere 1 ºC. Escpecially when you’re your burning calories and generating more heat! Lesson- do not over heat in the first place. Slow and steady wins the race. I’m getting de ja vu!

Post run

After the run, Chris took all of the key data again and pointed my in the direction of towel and some scales to get my post-run dry weight. I had sweated a whopping 2.2 litres of water in 1 hour. Now, if we extrapolate that out to a 6 hour run, that will be at about 13 litres That’s approximately the daily ration of water. Chris tells me, I sweat more than the average person, but not the most he’s seen. I could have guessed that by looking at my t-shirts after a spin session or circuit class – but it’s nice to see some numbers! I therefore need to be sensible with my water ration, avoid over exerting myself in the peak of the heat (pretty obvious) and not waste water splashing it on my face etc…. I’m sure it feels great, but is an inefficient way of cooling down.

So what did the key stats tell me:

  • Body weight- I lost 2.2kg in sweat
  • Blood (Haemoglobin – 16.4 g/dL and Haematocrit – 50 %) – despite sweating a lot, I kept myself hydrated. When you’re dehydrated the haematocrit % increases as there is less water in your blood. As a consequence the blood thickens, this makes pumping the blood harder, your heart works harder, burns more calories, generates more heat, you sweat more, the % increases and you heart has to work even harder. This gets rapidly worse! So, stay hydrated!

Me wearing a 2.2kg t-shit

Me wearing a 2.2 kg t-shirt

After a nice cool shower, Chris gave me a de-brief on the session and explained my stats. He’s a keen ultra-runner himself and a very knowledgeable Sports Scientist – I was all ears! As I sat recovering, he kindly topped up my recovery shake with water. Unfortunately the shake had been in my bag for the full run; I am not looking forward to warm protein shakes in the desert!

Next steps

Over the months of December, January and February I’m going to be running on the treadmill with lots of layers and hopefully a heater nearby. I need to get used to the walk/run/walk and get a better feel for my fluid intake over extended periods. I’m also planning to start a Bikram Yoga (hot yoga) session once per week and then up this to 2 or 3 sessions per week by March. Then, in the final week or two before I head to the desert, I will be heading back to the heat chamber for some final heat acclimation session. The benefits of heat exposure are short lived (perhaps 1-2 weeks) so I’ll get the most benefit from hot, yoga, heat chamber and the saunas by maximising usage in the final 2 weeks. I just hope I don’t turn up dehydrated 🙂

If it wasn’t already obvious, I would absolutely recommend spending some time in a heat chamber- it was incredibly valuable! I know it isn’t cheap, but this is up there with the best £50 I have spent on training/equipment so far! Even if you can only find the cash to do 1 session, I would!

Time to get a sweat on!

Rob

MdS Footwear: Trainers for des Sables

The BIG decisions in life:

  • What trainers do I wear?
  • What socks do I wear?

I have spent a lot of time reading forums, blogs, Facebook groups and those strange things called books, trying to figure out what to wear. I’ve also had a good number of chats with real humans- they have been pretty helpful too. What I have below is a summary of what I have discovered so far:

  • Gaiters are a must.
    • I’m going for the silk ones from SandBaggers. There is also good option from Racekit that finishes much lower on the calf, but I only discovered these after ordering the Sandbagger gaiters. Anyway – ordered and received my sandbaggers – very happy.
  • Two layers of socks work well for minimising blisters. The option to remove a layer will also help accommodate any extra swelling that occurs
    • On anything longer than a 20 miler, I get a pinch point between my second and third toe unless using toe socks. It’s not a hotspot/blister; my toes seem to “overlap” after 20 miles a squash the skin on the edge of my second toe. Nice! No such issue with toe socks. For the MdS I’ll be using the thin Injinji base layer socks with a normal “thick” running sock on top for extra blister protection. Likeys have well priced Injinjis,
  • Laces- in sticking to the normal lace up option. Some people mention those elastic ones to get an even pressure across the foot. I have tried them but find that a muddy trail can sometimes pull my trainers off. Might happen in sand? Not sure! Not risking it!
  • Trainers- how long have you got? So far, I have figured the following
    • Asics- love the road shoes. My knees and ankles don’t enjoy 20+miles in their trail shoes.
    • Brooks- cascadia 8 are on the short list
    • Scott – T2 Kinabalu are on the short list
    • Inov8 – need to try them out and figure which of their models is best. Probably the Roclite or Trailroc. Hear stories of them being narrow – I have wide(ish) feet
    • Salomon – Too narrow in the toe box for me
    • Mizuno – 1 bad experience in road shoes and won’t go back
    • Adidas – too tight

So, by my reckoning, it’s down to Scott T2, Brooks Cascadia or Inov8. Or as a back-up plan my Ascis GT-1000 road shoes. I haven’t really narrowed it down that much! Last weekend, with only 5 months to go, I realised I need to start making a few decisions – I jumped in at the deep end ordered a pair of Brooks and have been testing them out this week.

Brooks Cascadia 8

Brooks Cascadias get their first outing

Initial thoughts: I usually run in a Size 11, so have gone with the same in the Brooks. In all honesty I could get away with a 10.5 in the Brooks. But importantly, my feet don’t slip around and they feel like slippers, so no issue there.  In fact, many people recommend going up 0.5-1.5 sizes to allow some room for the inevitable swelling in the desert heat.

In summary they’re comfy, pretty well protected around the toe box, have a sturdy sole/foot plate for the rocky sections and they’re almost as well cushioned as my Asics road shoes.If I get on well with these over the next month or two, these exact shoes will be coming to the desert!

Anyway, lets see how the next 2 months of winter trail running go! Probably not the most accurate conditions to test them in…. but it should give me a good view on fit/hot spots after some high mileage.

Not a particularly exciting post… but hopefully useful to at least one person.

Rob

Rest is Best

There’s a saying that goes around, or at least I think it does, suggesting that “rest is best”. I usually build a rest day into my weekly training but I rarely take more than a day or two- I try to use other sports to give myself a rest from running and vice-versa. My week usually looks something like:

Mon- spin
Tues- run
Wed- circuits
Thurs- run
Fri- rest or spin
Sat- rest or run/race/event
Sun- long run or race

So it’s rare that I get more than a day off. Some people may think I’m obsessed, over training or stupid. All true, but I’m mainly scared of turning up in the desert and failing. I have pretty much stuck to the training plan above, for the last 12 months. It get’s re-jigged for meetings, work travel, races etc. but for the most part I rarely take more than a day or two a week off.

Looking back at my calendar (the offline version, not my Garmin Connect Profile) it’s easy to see that the last weekend I had free from any sort of training or racing was September 2012. I hadn’t realised it had been going so well. If you’re in the middle of a training regime, I definitely recommend looking back at your history and getting an idea of how it’s going. You’ll probably be surprised!

I don’t want to get over confident, but if I can keep this rhythm for the next 6 months I’ll be thrilled and I should be well on my way to the MdS. Before then, I’m checking out the idea of a rest weekend!

So what do I do with a weekend break?!? Well, I spent a weekend in Paris with Lucy. She’s been very patient with my training over the last 12 months. I’m rarely there on a Sunday morning when she gets up and I’m often planning our weekends away around trail marathons and training routes. So this one, was going to be free of running, sweating, spinning and exercise in general. I left the trainers at home to avoid the temptation for an early morning jolly. As much as I wanted to run the Champs-Élysées at sunrise, I thought better of it :). Lucy also didn’t seem too keen on walking up the Eiffel Tower, rather than taking the lift. So, despite a subconscious effort to squeeze a bit of training into our tour of Paris, the weekend mainly consisted of sightseeing, eating, sleeping and drinking wine. It was amazing. I probably enjoyed it so much more as I had earned the rest and could enjoy some time with Lucy without the Sunday run looming!!

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So, here I am on the Euro Star back to Londres, with a map of Paris on the table, trying to figure out how many miles we clocked. It wasn’t training, I promise! I’m just intrigued to see how many miles we covered :).

I had a great weekend- it seems there is some truth in the old saying of “rest is best”…. But, not too much!!!

Rob

P.S. I think we covered well over ten miles. Somewhere close to a half marathon. That’ll be my slowest half to date 🙂