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!

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

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 🙂

10 Peaks – Brecon Beacons

With little time to get sufficient hill training in before the 10peaks race, I was approaching the start line at 5am with a few nerves. I was surrounded by some very lean fell runners, three Ghurkhas and a mix of “normal” runners (like me)…. Which put my mind a rest a little. As the race began I had a horrible sinking feeling as the lead runners set a terrifying pace for the first few miles of trail running.

Getting ready for the 5am start!

Getting ready for the 5am start!

Following the trail run to get the legs moving we were into our first climb: 700ms of dark, wet fell running. Despite only being 25minutes into the race, the lead runners were well out of sight- not even a flash of head torches could be seen. By the top of the climb my multiple layers to battle the early morning cold were starting to feel like a bad idea; 2 hours of fell running results in some serious overheating! Resisting the temptation to strip layers, we descended into the valley near the Neuadd Reservoir. We crested the next climb after a serious session of scrambling up what can only be described as a “wall”, not a hill! On reaching the summit of this intermediate peak, there was a small out and back to reach a checkpoint before progressing North to Bwlch Duwynt, where we had stunning views of the later stages of the race (Pen Y Fan, Fan Y Big and Corn Du). As we tracked the steady climb along the exposed ridge temperatures dropped, heavy mist closed in and fingers and toes were numb…. Luckily we had some reasonable terrain to get a running pace going again and get the blood pumping! Dropping down from here onto the A470 got us out of the mist and allowed me to stretch the legs through a speedy descent! Though not as fast as the daredevil leaders- utterly amazing to see them fly down and up the mountain side! Fells runners are a different breed of runner – FACT!

Perfect Running Conditions

Perfect Running Conditions

And breathe… we’re half way in mileage… but well under halfway in terms of hills!

Some cold pizza proved to be the perfect pick-me-up at the halfway check point, despite it being very squashed and slightly sweaty from the first few hours in my back pack! With the sun providing some warmth and the strenuous climbs generating enough body heat, stripping the 3 excess layers was particularly welcome. Refuelled, rehydrated and ready for the next stage, we watched as 4 runners set our ahead of us (having been behind us for the previous couple of km). They were our bait for the next 5-6km! With some tarmac and a roman road to lead the way until the next fell, we made good progress but didn’t manage to bridge the gap to the group of 4 ahead of us- everyone had settles into a nice steady rhythm. As we approached the Graig Cerrig Gleisiad Nature reserve we hatched a plan to take the most direct (but hilly) route to the next peak. It paid in spades… we overtook the group of 4 that we had been following and managed to pull out a 600m lead on them – we were away and clear. A chance to set out own pace all the way to the Storey Arms. Quick slice of cold pizza, a can of coke and a few stretches and we were ready to go again!

From the car park we could see what was waiting for us. This was the “Oh Shit” moment in the race: we had already completed a marathon across the fells and we still had the huge climb to Corn Du, Pen Y Fan, Cribyn and Fan Y Big. Walking these on a normal day is a big undertaking, to do them after running a marathon across the fell… well that’s pretty stupid 😀 

 
As we started the climb, there was no sign on the “low” I experience in the Lake District (at about this mileage)- I had learnt my lesson on hydration and nutrition. An attempt to speed march up Corn Du was met with some puzzled looks from the tourist out for a relaxing Saturday afternoon walk with their family. Especially when their curiosity was met with the response “I’m over 28miles into the race and have another 8 miles to go”! When you say it out load to the general public you realise how big of a deal these events are – I probably play down Ultra Marathons, because its “only” 36 miles and not in the desert!

Having beaten Corn du, the infamous Pen-y-Fan was waiting! Having never climbed it before I didn’t know what to expect, other than something quite tough (the SAS train and run their selection process on this hill!). By this stage Mike’s knee was giving him some serious pain- loading it up on the steep descent from Corn Du proved really tough! The sound of his yelps made me wince! But he pushed through and we made it to the top of Pen-y-Fan. Note: I must come back as try this climb on fresh legs!!!

Cribyn awaits, all 795m of it!

Cribyn awaits, all 795m of it!

All that remained was Cribyn (795m) and Fan Y Big 719m), followed by about 10km of fairly flat fell running (on a normal day this wouldn’t be called flat). Easy! Well, it was for the winner of the log course who can thundering past us as we approached the open fell above the Talybont-on-Usk. Honestly, on fresh legs there is no way I could ever keep pace with him!! I still can’t fathom how he could run so fast after 40+miles and on such uneven terrain! Mark Palmer….massive credit to you!

We had topped the following peaks:
1. Spot height Waun Rydd, 762 meters
2. Trig point Twyn Mwyalchod, 642 meters
3. Fan Fawr, 734 meters
4. Fan Llia, 632 meters
5. Fan Frynych, 629 meters
6. Corn Du, 873 meters
7. Pen y Fan, 886 meters
8. Cribyn, 795 meters
9. Fan y Big, 719 meters
10. Spot height Bwlch y Ddwyallt, 754 meters

A final push to the finish, including getting lost in the bracken (oh yeah, I hadn’t mentioned we had to navigate our way around this 36mile route), and we were home and dry (well, actually soaked) in 10hr50min exactly! We were pretty pleased with our time, especially considering Michael had picked up a knee injury! We were even more delighted to later find out that we finished 20th out of 90runners (Top quarter!)!!! Our best finish yet!

2nd ultra marathon under my belt!

2nd ultra marathon under my belt!

So, the preparations for the MdS 2014 continue! Another ultra under the belt, another 10 hours of training, another 10,000 feet of elevation gain! I’ve now racked up 1,500 miles in training 1,000 running, and 500 kayaking/crosstraining/cycling! The next event in the calendar is “only” a marathon. But to make things tricky it’s a trail marathon and it’s likely to be muddy!!

Until then… More hill reps and more miles!

Rob

2012 over and out!

Training over the holiday is all going to plan… well apart from skipping the boxing day run. New Year’s Resolution – No Excuses!

Today I should have been running the Mortimer Gut Buster… but it was full when I tried to register. Never mind. Instead I volunteered to help out, slipped on a marshalls vest and gave everyone some moral support on a very cold and wet December morning! In place of today’s run, I clocked a 16 miler yesterday. I don’t feel too guilty.

A pefrect spot for some Sunday morning marshalling

A perfect marshalling spot

Over the last three months (when I started training properly) I clocked almost 600 miles in running, biking and kayaking… hopefully I’ll top 2,000 miles next year! Bring on 2013!

Testing Testing… Run, Bike, Blog

New blog setup to keep a diary of training.

This weekend was full of cheese, wine and laziness…. Well deserved after three consecutive weekends of competition. I placed in the top half of the men in all three races; not bad with only a couple of months of on/off training. 

Cheese

Managed a 5 mile trot on Sunday to shake off the cobwebs! Today’s pleasure, spin!