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!!

The First Test….

With three days to go to my first marathon, I think the enormity of the task (the MDS) is setting in. What I experience on saturday will be one 6th of the MDS, but without the sand and without the 40+ degrees.

For my first marathon, I haven’t taken an easy choice. Not that any marathon is easy…. just, this one is especially difficult. In summary:

  • 26.2 miles
  • 1338 m of elevation gain
  • Welsh hills
  • Welsh rain
Welsh Trail Marathon Elevation Profile

Welsh Trail Marathon Elevation Profile

A steady jog tomorrow night to loosen up and then let the carb loading begin!

MDS 2013 Congratulations

Congratulations to everyone who ran the Marathon des Sables 2013! Fantastic effort by everyone of you… Even if you didn’t make it to the finish, you’ve mad a huge commitment to the training and it’s no small task completing even part of the race! Some of the photos look amazing- I can’t wait to be there next year!

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To those of you who I’ve been stalking on twitter extra congratulations! 4 of you finished in the top 400… And Tobias made the top 15! An utterly amazing effort by all of you! Enjoy the rest… And then start planning your next adventure!

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