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!

 

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.

DSC06234

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!

DSC06243

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

DSC06265

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!!!

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

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!!

20131029-201516.jpg

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 🙂

T’Egypt

So it’s only when you step back and try do something normal thing do you realise how obsessed with the MDS you have become! Packing for a relaxing all-inclusive holiday in Egypt quickly turned into optimising my luggage weight in order to pack my runners, water bottles, electrolyte tabs, books about running, running hat, I even tried to order sand gaiters on next day delivery to test them in the desert! The MDS is taking over, but I love it!

20130830-193451.jpg

Whilst in Egypt I managed to get out for 3 training runs. In an attempt to make them as hard as possible without abandoning Lucy for hours on end, I waited for the temperature to peak just after midday and then headed out for just short of 10km runs. The heat was surprisingly OK, even with the reflected heat off the Tarmac/sand/buildings – I could still knock out a decent pace. The sand on the other hand, that is just energy sapping! Pace drops through the floor and your calves take a pounding!

The good news… We have sand in the UK! If I struggled with the heat I would be panicking, as it is hard/expensive to train for that…. But it was largely OK. I’m feeling confident that if I focus my training on hills and sand I will do just fine!!! All I need to do now is find a big sandy hill!!!! Or someone to throw sand onto a treadmill for 3hours at a time 🙂

20130830-194618.jpg

Next up in the “training” is a 36 mile race in the Brecon Beacons. I’ll update soon on the planning for that!

1000 Miles and 28 Years

I racked up the 1000th mile in my MDS training; running, cycling, kayaking, walking, rowing, elliptical, spinning… you name it, I’ve been doing it! And that’s not to mention the endless hours of circuit training and gym work that doesn’t give me any mileage! Anything that can mildly replicate the strain of running 250km in the desert is on the agenda! With no particular events lined up for May, the focus has been on getting the weekly mileage up- I’m currently hitting 35 miles (55km) per week and I’m feeling pretty good. No injuries, just lots of aches and tiredness after the long runs (18-23miles).

Liam and I spent an awesome Saturday morning pounding the roads and trails around Boxhill, Surrey. The name leaves nothing to the imagination- it’s a hill and a big one at that.

View from the top of Boxhill

The views were well worth the hard climbs!

So 2 hours of hill reps and trail running later, we were well and truly knackered! The motivation of racing lycra clad roadies to the top was brilliant- our short, steep sprints up the trail route vs. their long winding, smooth tarmac roads provided a fair, light hearted competition – we even got a few “well dones” from a Bianchi clad crew! A good days training and a good reminder that churning our stacks of miles on the roads and trails isn’t enough- we need lots of hill work, more hill work, and then some more hill work. Power walking is also on the list.

I also celebrated my 28th Birthday with short 5miler on the treadmill wearing thermals leggings, hoody, beanie and thermal base layer – definitely earned the chocolate cake! The following morning the “celebrations” continued as I ticked over the 1000 mile mark! It’s a little sad, but quite exciting really- considering 6 months of last year were spent waiting for my hip injury to sort itself out.  I’m hoping the next 10months rack up at least another 1000 miles, if not more!

Next month I’m heading to Wales for my first Marathon. As usual, I’m ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ … it’s a trail marathon in Snowdonia National Park. I figured I’d save my first road marathon for an occasion where I can train with that as the goal and post a good time. Next month’s race will be about completing in a steady time. I may even take a stroll up Snowdon as a recovery walk the following day!

Fingers Crossed!

January is for cross training….

Note to self…. No snowboarding in 2014. Out of 4, 3 of us suffered with injury or illness. Between us we accumulated 1x fracture/bruised rib, 1x broken and dislocated elbow and 1x serious stomach bug! I can’t afford anything like that next year, so will have to pass on next year’s fun!!

20130130-183909.jpg

Anyway, 6 days of intense cross training and ‘high altitude’ training means I’m looking forward to this weeks running! I wonder if it has helped with my usual 5mile loop… I’ll report back soon!

Oh, I also got a new foam roller called “The Beast”! It’s very hard and it’s bumpy- it bloody kills!

Anyway, back to the running!!