Three steps forward with Two steps back!

Well it's come to that time of the year with just hours remaining until the end of 2011 that I reflect (briefly) on the a year that was both full of so many memories. Although it has not been a year to remember in a positive light regarding races / achievements I take away a lot of other positives that I did not expect to have.

What I am talking about here is mainly concerning the support I have experienced from other runners I have met / talked to (both in the virtual and real world) and the experiences I had outside racing events (some well out of my comfort zone). These are things that for me helped get me through a tough year menatlly due to the lack of racing (mainly because I had a serious lack of funds to support it). This in turn allowed me to changed my approach to my training before settling not so much on a structure but gaining a greater understanding of the physical preparation required to give me the mental preparation needed before key events.

On the whole the stats below don't tell the whole story but within the numbers lie some amazing memories. There were times where I had enormous joy in my running, runs that brought me to the edge of madness, runs that terrified me to my bones and runs where I was in the zone.

If I had to pick one highlight this year it would have to be back in April when I visited the Lake District to recce Leg 3 of the Bob Graham Round. Running in the fells is a spiritual experience (at least for me) and one I cherish every time I get the opportunuty to go up there. I am not a very religious individual however when I am in those mountains I cannot help feel that although I am often terrified (suffer from fear of heights) I also feel a sense of calm and belonging there. That sounds crazy but I cannot explain it any other way.

It was while I was traversing a gully full of snow / ice 800m up on the mountain Bowfell (before summiting it) with 20 meters of visibility that I recognised the fact that I was so far out of my comfort zone that although it was exhilarating I simply was not ready for the challenge. Coming down that steep mountain through thick clag was eye opening to say the least yet when I descended into the Langdale valley I felt a sense of achievement even though I didn't show the challenge enough respect last year it has set me off on the path to develop the craft to tackle it one day (support runner first). I managed 17 miles, 9 summits out of the 15 planned and 5,500 feet of climb.

In 2012 I am intent on being healthier, race more and get back out into the mountains whether it be the Lake District or other great places (details of which will be released over the next few weeks).

1831 miles ran  - 442 more than 2010.
254 runs - 84 more than 2010
50 miles - Longest Run
35.2 miles - average weekly mileage
7.2 miles - average per run
228.6 miles - highest monthly total (September)
77.6 miles - lowest monthly total (December)

Thank you all for taking an interest in the blog and with that I wish you all a fantastic year ahead and hope that you have some great memories of the year that is about to pass.

Roll on 2012!

Winter Revelation

I realised the other day that it's been ages since my last blurb on here and to be be honest I thought it was because I hadn't had much going on in the running side of my life but when I thought about it that simply wasn't the case.

This blog post includes a health warning as it is quite long..

September - Let me hear your body talk.

During September I didn't race but I had a very solid month of running with only one day of non running. In the past I have pretty much been someone who gets out the door 4-5 times a week but having decided that I wouldn't race during that month I experimented with getting out the door daily and run based on how I felt.

Some days I was plodding along, others I backed off the mileage as I was tired and others where I felt really good so I let rip with some "run to the barn" tempo runs over hills, roads and trail but never all out hard running. It turned out to be my highest month of mileage for a long long time (229 miles). Runs varied from 4 miles to 15 miles yet the body didn't feel taxed compared to normal and yet I averaging 50-55 miles per week. A bit higher than normal for me.

I felt fitter, stronger and mentally clear everyday despite getting out pretty much everyday. I was hopeful that this would continue long into the winter months. I was in a very good place come the end of September.

October - The Body Strikes back

Unfortunately this level of consistency didn't last throughout October as I hurt my foot doing a foolish interval session with a friend early in the month. I pushed the run far to hard due to thinking I could keep up with him so I had to take some time off to rest the foot as it was too painful to run on. I tested the foot each day to see how painful things were and after a week off I got back into some short runs. During the period of time I ordered a pair of Hoka One One Bondi B shoes after hearing so much hype about them. During the first try out runs with these I had some positive opinions of them them but noticed I was working a lot harder on easy runs as they felt heavier than the shoes I normally wear and my ankles were aching a bit after each run. This was probably an adaptive phase and so I just let it go and just wanted to get out there and run.

Now I was going to do a full review of these shoes however after literally having them for only 2 weeks disaster struck again. The short of the story is that after a wet and muddy run in the Hoka's I cleaned them up and left them on my doorstep to dry out but subsequently forgot that I had left them out there! The next day I went to the office and didn't give it a thought. I then received a call from my wife who told me that one of my shoes had gone missing. It boils down to the fact that after discussing the situation with our neighbours that during the previous night a fox had carried off one of my Hoka shoes and chewed it up. I sat at my desk both shocked and in disbelief but most of all annoyed with myself that this had happened . I sat there and contemplated what to do next. I needed some new shoes as my Brooks Green silence uppers had virtually ripped apart and it was only a matter of time before my feet would be hanging out of them. What did I want to do?

Time for Change

Staring at my computer screen I remembered a conversation I had been having with Ultra runner and team Inov8 member Terry Conway over the last few weeks regarding minimalist footwear.

I had always been a fan of Inov8 having worn and completed several long races in the Roclite series and at first I considered getting another pair of either the 315 or 295's. Having talked with Terry in depth about this I made a decision that now was the time (no racing for several months) to change my whole approach to running, slowly but surely of course. With those thoughts in my head headed up to Covent Garden during my lunch hour and after much consideration and trying on different shoes I bought some Inov8 F-Lite 230's.

Terry advised me to take things slow in these as the stress on my calves would be telling if I had not run in minimalist footwear and maybe purchase some compression calf sleeves to help during the adaptation phase. During my first run in them the feel was so different to the Hoka's (of course it would be) but also very different to my Brooks Green Silence which I thought were quite minimal. The shoes felt like slippers and I was dancing across the fields in them. One thing that all minimalist runners mention is the feedback you get from the ground. In these shoes you can instantly tell whether your form is lazy, heavy or that you are pushing off rather than pulling your legs up.

Since that first run 2 weeks ago now I have gradually felt less soreness in my calves as I have been mixing up my runs in both the F-lites and Brooks shoes. Until yesterday things were going great as I had managed to get out at least 6 days a week however I have been struck down this week by a stomach bug and not managed to get out yesterday or today. I haven't got all worked up about it because rest and recovery are a vital ingredient to any running plan and I don't want to jeopardise things at the moment especially as to how things have gone the past few weeks.

The journey has just started in transitioning to minimalist footwear and I am confident that with a good dose of common sense, good health and listening to the body I will make this change permanent with the ultimate goal of running in minimalist shoes for every run in the future especially long distance adventure. It's not for everyone and I expect some criticism from some folk however I finally understand after the past 2 months that some things happen for a reason and for me this is my moment of revelation in running!

Before I leave it there I must say a big thanks to Terry and Inov-8.

Happy running folks

Weekly Summary: Sept 12/09 - 18/09 - Keeping it easy

Running Breakdown

Mon - 7 miles easy
Tue - 7 miles easy
Wed - a.m. 3 miles easy / p.m. 5 miles Tempo
Thu - 4 miles easy
Fri - a.m. 3 miles easy / p.m. 6 miles easy
Sat - 8 miles easy
Sun - 12 miles steady

Total for the week - 55 miles

Not much to report this week other than that I am pleased to notch up another 7 days of running without too much of a problem. I was feeling slight fatigue at the beginning of the week however I backed off and ran easy. I felt good again by the middle of the week and threw in a tempo effort and also on saturday during the driving rain despite it mainly being an easy run the body just felt good so I threw in some tempo miles (7.15 min/mile pace for this slow horse).

Of course looking at the running I did this week there aren't too many hard workouts or long runs but that's mainly because I'm focusing on becoming a stronger runner over the long term and without a solid base I won't be able to handle the hard / fast workouts to come. This means in effect just getting out there every day and running whilst listening and responding to the body i.e. when to back off. I will throw in some longer runs as the mileage builds and of course a tempo workout here and there over the coming weeks.

I might change my mind of course and throw some short races if the right opportunity comes along, after all racing is what makes that heart pump faster, the adrenaline pumping and gives you a feeling no training session can provide but I will try not to act on thoughts like this.

I leave you with an inspiring performance from my running hero of the moment. If only I could run like this :-)

Weekly Summary: Sept 05/09 - 11/09 - Back in the Groove

Running Breakdown

Mon - 5m
Tue - 8m
Wed - 6m
Thu - 8m
Fri - 6m
Sat - 3m / 5m
Sun - 14m

So what has been going on.

Since I pulled up at the Adidas Thunder run back at the end of July I took it quite easy on the running side of things as I didn't really know what to do after my key race of the year didn't turn out how I wanted it to as I didn't want to run at all.

Fortunately I went on holiday with the family to Portugal for a much needed break from daily life (with some running thrown in of course). I discovered some great technical coastal trails literally minutes from my apartment and was enjoying running daily on the trails in some of the hottest conditions I have ever experienced. Whilst out on those trails the desire to get out the door frequently to run had grown to such an extent that I was in danger of it interrupting with our family holiday so I kept most of the runs fairly short and took each run as it come.

When I got back to the UK I knew that my appetite for running was fully back and I relished the opportunity to just get out and run for the pure enjoyment of running. I also wanted to review what I wanted to do with the rest of 2011 and also start planning 2012. One thing that I have consciously changed from now on is a real focus on just running consistently day to day.

During the last 3 years I haven't really built a great deal of consistent running and I feel my muscular endurance (much needed for marathon and ultras) is much weaker than I certainly want it to be. The simple answer to this is to get out there and run, time on feet, listen to the body and do this at least for a few months. Of course to stop the feeling of going stale and when things feel good I will throw in the odd tempo run for a few miles and some strides (short sprints on toes) to keep the basic speed up.

The past two weeks have been really solid with weeks of 52 miles and 55 miles this week. My legs felt tired on today's run for the last couple of miles and that is expected as I haven't done this sort of weekly mileage since January! I definitely believe that in time this approach is the right one at the moment because without a proper base adding intervals and reps will limit my development over the long term.

It's all about consistency at the moment. So lets see what this week brings.

DNF at the Adidas Thunder Run 24hr

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of joining 1,900 runners for the Adidas Thunder run 24h race in Tamworth, Derbyshire. The weather was very hot, course conditions were dry and the atmosphere (like a festival) a lot different from other races I have done in the past. Unfortunately for me I made a decision that I never planned to but throught necessity had to.

The Adidas Thunder run 24hr race takes place in Catton Park and the course is a 10km cross-country circuit set in the picturesque Staffordshire countryside. The track twists and turns across varied terrain so you'll find yourself running from bogs and forests to steep hills and open fields. Whether you're running through the night with a head torch or whilst the sun rises, there's always a change of scenery to keep you on your toes. I met up with a buddy of mine Matt inside the solo runners camp area where we pitched our tent and supplies to be used for the race. We also walked around the area to see what was what and met up with a few other team runners from the Running Bug website which was very cool given that most of these guys I had only spoken to on the forums.

As we lined up at the start line the heat was stifling and my immediate thought was that it was going to be a battle keeping properly hydrated and core temperature controlled throughout the afternoon. The race organisers gave us our instructions, and at 12pm we were off. I settled in with Matt early on and set out at a very comfortable 9-10 minute mile pace. The aim was to complete the first four laps within a 1hr-1hr15min pace and I would try to eat something every 30 minutes and drink between 20-40oz of fluid per hour (more towards the higher number today due to the temperature). This plan appears very exact but to be honest I had done this a lot in earlier sessions and it worked quite well so I tried to stick with the plan as long as possible. One big difference from training was that I decided to run without a watch. I decided to do this a few days before as I didnt want to worry about pace but how I felt.

The course does have some undulation that I decided to hike but then it was a case of cruising the flats / downhills whenever they appeared. Around 60% of the course is through woodland which is great however due to the lack of rain the past week conditions were very dusty. This was something that would play a significant factor during the race for me later on.

The first lap went well clocking in at 58 minutes or so, I refilled my bottles, grabbed a 9bar and set off on the second loop. The next two laps went fairly well although the temperatures definitely kept the pace very easy (lap two 59 minutes, lap three 1:08). I was finding it a little challenging to keep on top of the hydration side of things although my fuelling was still going well alternating between gels and 9bars (both of which are great). I had noticed however that my 1000 mile socks were not giving me much pleasure due to the heat so I decided at the end of the third lap to change my socks and slip on some Injniji socks that I wore for the remainder of the event.

At the end of lap four I had been on my feet for 4hr 25 minutes yet I think due to the heat and loop format felt like a lot longer than that. During lap five I caught up with Matt and we chatted about the race, what parts we liked / disliked. I definitely hit my first low point here while I walked so I welcomed the company and made sure I ate and drank while I walked. Lap five turned out to be quite a slow lap (1:41) but I felt much better at the end of this than at the start. My stomach felt good but I decided to switch to more solid foods full time now (nutty 9bars and bananas). During this lap I had talked to a lot of different runners some very experienced ultra types others who were running their first 10k. Some of whose stories are simply amazing and it did help distract my attention of how i was feeling so thanks guys.

At the start of lap six I took out my Ipod, changed shirt's as I was soaked through with sweat, refilled bottles, grabbed another 9bar and jelly babies before marching out. The air temperature had started to drop yet my throat still felt quite dry which I thought was due mostly to still playing catchup hydration wise. Around the 5km mark of this lap I was cruising and was feeling very good that I picked up the pace significantly for a 2-3 km although this was probably not wise looking back but I just decided to go with it as I felt rejuvenated. Must be the jelly babies!

I came back in from lap six (1:31) and took out my head torch and long sleeve shirt ready for the night time running. I noticed that my throat was still sore and that my chest felt a little tight. Being an asthmatic I knew this well so I took my Ventolin inhalerto relieve it and within a couple of minutes felt better. This was a little worrying but I decided to get on with things, ate a peanut butter and jam sandwich (love these), refilled bottles and packed another 9bar into my waist pack before jogging out. Around the 4km point during lap seven my chest problems came back so I decided to walk for a bit, take my inhaler and see how things went as I was getting increasingly worried about this. While walking I noticed within the forest section how thick the dust seemed to be in my head torch light. It was then I realised that I had been breathing this stuff in all day! Now I know that during my taper I had suffered from a cold and cough which didn't help things coming into race day but I didn't think much of that until I understood how the dust might exacerbate things.

After battling it out during lap seven (1:25) I sat down at the start of lap eight not feeling good at all. I had only completed 7 laps in 9hr4mins and I had chest problems. This for me was not a good situation to be in and one I hadn't planned for. I decided to take a 45 minute break, had a cup of tea and 9bar before thinking about what I was going to do. Given that I wasn't spluttering all over the place I decided after much contemplation that I would attempt another lap and then review things as things progressed. Unfortunately after only a couple of kilometers into the lap I felt bad again. I walked for a bit and focus on my breathing but my chest didn't play ball. I knew then that I was going to call it a day at the end of this loop as I didn't want to contemplate the prospect of having an asthma attack on course. After 11hrs and 22 minutes I had pulled out of the race after only 80km.

I bumped into Matt back at the tent and told him of my decision. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do for me but I knew that apart from my lungs I actually felt pretty good. My chest had calmed down after taking my inhaler a few times. I decided to grab my gear, take a hot shower before getting something hot to eat and getting down to sleep with the intention of waking up early and leaving as soon as possible. When I woke up in the morning I was feeling somewhat hollow inside with some stiffness in the legs but nothing that prevented me from walking. I grabbed a full English breakfast and a cup of tea before packing up and heading to the car.

As I drove home I thought about my decision I had made the previous night and the more I thought about things the more I was content I had done the right thing. This seems a little strange to say this after a DNF (technically I did finish because it's a timed race) but given that I know the symptons of how an asthma attack starts I didn't want to come any closer to that prospect for the sake of my pride.

My legs recovered within 3 days after the event and I have been on a couple of short runs already so I am pleased recovering well from the 50 miles I did. I had many positives on the day (fueling, taking decisions on clothing, pacing etc) and the experience will serve me well in future events. I still haven't go over the chest cold although it is much improved now. I am not happy about having to pull out but I stick by the my decision as it's only running after all and there will be plenty of other adventures to come. I will be posting details of new races shortly although it's likely to be after my summer holiday with the family next week.

Happy Running!

Adidas Thunder Run 24 - only days away

The Adidas Thunder run 24-hour is now just three days away. It will surely be a unique occasion due to the numbers of solo runners, pairs and teams that I heard enter.

When colleagues at work or friends have asked me about how this race works I simply say, you have 24 hours to cover as much mileage as possible in the form of 10km loops. This format is something I am used to as most of my previous races have worked liked this. My goals in this race are:

1) Finish
2) Complete 100+ miles
3) Finish in top 30% of solo runners

My approach to this race is based on what I have read, heard from others and what I have come to realize during long runs is to focus only on what I am doing and not be dragged into other runners game plans. There will be so many runners on course doing their own thing and it's important that I just focus on what I am doing especially in the first half of this race where a lot of people will be going out very quickly especially within the team races.

During the last two weeks I have tapered down and the positive news is that all niggles / muscles feel supercharged compared to normal weeks. I have only been out once this week on Tuesday and did an easy 4 mile jog. As of today, the forecast for Saturday is looking quite warm with temperatures peaking 23C and on Sunday around 20C so appropriate apparel will be needed to keep cool and a solid hydration strategy especially early on in the race.

This will be my last post until the race and I am very much looking forward to what should be the most exciting and challenging ultra race to date for me. I wish all the runners taking part the best of luck and also to any other runners racing this weekend.

4 weeks to go

What an amazing week it's been in the ultra running world. I was pretty much glued to Twitter feeds last weekend with regards to the fabled Western States 100 miler and this possibly didn't help sleeping patterns for a couple of days but it turned out to be an amazing race. Well done to Kilian Jornet for winning the overall event. He is one hell of a mountain runner and some of the things he does it quite mind boggling. Also well done to Nick Clark, Jez Bragg and Ian Sharman who all finished in the top 10 plus James Elson who put in an awesome effort to finish within the 30 hr cutoff despite not being able to run literally weeks before.

Now back down to Earth..The last 3 weeks have been some of the best training runs I have done since taking up running. I have clocked some great long runs (21 miles fast paced, 25 and 27 miles at race pace), some great tempo runs and recovery has been fast. Definitely feeling like I am in great shape and with tomorrows long run I have one more week of big training ahead before starting a three week taper leading up to race day.

I had planned to do a two week taper for this event but have decided to take a longer three week taper to see whether there is benefits to how I will feel leading up to the day. I will be on my feet for 24 hours so to be honest I want to be as fresh and pumped as possible on race day.

During the long runs I have felt good and eating wise it has all worked out ok. Ho but the next couple of long runs being in the 5-6 hours range we shall see if that changes. If tomorrow works out well then I will hit 65 miles for this week which will be my biggest volume in a week ever. Not long by some peoples standards of course but i have been happy how things have worked out as I have mixed in quality tempo runs, hills and long runs throughout my build up to Thunder Run 24hr so far. If this week goes well then another 60-70 miles next week will follow before I start tapering for what will be completely new territory for me and to be honest I just cannot wait.

Happy running all.

Here comes the Thunder

Well again it's been some time since I last posted and things have been quite a lot on both the running and domestic front.

First of all I dropped out of both the 10 mile race and half marathon I entered. The main reasons for this are related to domestic events. At the time my reason for entering these races was driven by the thought that my chances of taking part in any ultras for the next few months had passed due to a lack of training caused by injury. However upon reflection I think it was more a lack of positive self-belief that drove my decision making process and I simply blamed my injury for making the choices that I did.

Since then I contained my injury and realized that my fitness was coming back with each week that passed. As my confidence grew out of this consistency I started looking again for some 50 milers and possibly some 50k's leading up to them. I don't feel that this is the year for a 100 miler attempt despite my statements earlier in the year due to the facts that I need more experience at the 50 mile / 100km distance to not only build legs of steel but also to develop the mental body armour required to deal with being on my feet for such a long time so this will more than likely be a 2012 goal.

Having not found any 50 milers within the next 2-3 months that fitted with my schedule I had heard through a friend about the Adidas Thunder run 24hr off-road event that takes place on 30-31 July. I thought to myself that this is a major challenge and not to be taken lightly especially with my experience. However for some reason I didn't think negatively about this as opposed to a 100 miler and so I gave into my desire to get out there and take things to the next level. I discussed it with my wife briefly and I clicked the entered the event as a Solo runner. Gulp.

Now of course the aim is simple in these as you have to complete as many laps as possible within the 24hr time limit. The distance of the loop is 10km and it's not only to solo runners but also pairs and relay teams of competitors. The event organisers are putting on extensive food / water etc however I will mostly bring my own stuff and a tent as well to store things right by the course. I believe solo runners get priority on this as well so that's a bonus.

It is now only 7 weeks to go and I have put together a loose "peak training" schedule so that I arrive in the best condition I possibly can both mentally and physically. I started today with a great 25 miler today off-road with partial squats to finish although I have to say I didn't eat a thing (not even breakfast), oops. I was out there for 4 hours today and I am happy with that but I think a few longer runs than this during June are needed plus potentially a night run during the hours of 10pm - 6am, time on feet and practising the exactly what I will do on race day are paramount.

Ultimately I have been trying to absorb a lot of information regarding race strategy. As always though there are many different approaches but for me the key things are

1) Keep to race pace as long as possible,
2) Keep listening to the body and fuel / hydrate appropriately
3) Keep positive in your approach to the race but change if it's not working.

If anyone has any advice or thoughts they want to share then I would appreciate it. This next 7 weeks are going to be tough but I know at the end of it I will be in the best shape yet for a race.

Build up & Race again

Things have been pretty quiet for me the past month (so this post will be short) as I have been re-evaluating what I am going to do now that my BGR attempt has been sidelined for another time and the continuing problem of the pain in my butt!

Thankfully over the last 4 weeks I have been able to manage this problem with some strengthening and stretching exercises which has positively improved the situation to the point that I can run without any pain. This has allowed me to build up some consistent weeks of running and although the mileage has not been high (in the mid 40's) my fitness and general well being has improved enough to think about getting out there and race again as it's been far to long.

So I have booked up a couple of local races over the next month or so as a good way of keeping some speed work into my training and hopefully set some PB's in the process. Of course I still want to fill in the gaps with some marathons and ultras and I am very close to booking these. I will hopefully confirm next time the revised plan for the year.

I received my new Brooks Green Silence today. I am looking to race in these awesome shoes in 2 weeks time at the Great Baddow 10 mile race and one day hopefully in the future in marathons/ultras. However I am going to be patient here, get used to them for shorter runs and build up slowly from there.

Other than that it's just a case of getting out the door and enjoying the injury free running especially now that the mornings are lighter and the evenings longer. I just cannot wait for summer to be here so that I can head out any time of day and not need the tights or jacket! I just love the summer...

Happy Running all.

Change of Direction

Well it's been a too long since I had anything to say and yet a lot has happened in the past few weeks. There has been a lot of ups and downs since my trip to the Lake District a few short weeks ago and here is a brief update on that.

The trip itself was a fabulous experience that really brought me out of my comfort zone both running / hiking about  the 'biggest hills' in England. The two day trip was to be used as a recce for the Bob Graham Round attempt in June and it didn't disappoint. On day one I only managed to summit 9 out of the 15 mountains we set out to do due to some navigational errors caused mainly by the fact as we had limited visibility for around 4 hours it really brought home how much of a mental, physical and logistical challenge it is in order to attempt this amazing run. I will be putting together a complete report on this shortly.

Although I think I passed the mental and physical challenge on that day I still had a nagging pull in my glute and right calf that had not gone away since just before the Moonlight challenge despite a couple of visits to the Osteopath. It turned out a week or so after getting back from the Lakes that I had piriformis syndrome in my right glute. This meant that effectively I had a overuse injury in a small muscle around the sciatic nerve which in turn puts pressure on this. Then in turn my calf was being put under pressure as my running gait was not my natural style.

So I decided to drop the volume of running and perform specific stretches to relieve this because to be quite frank there was no way I could run / hike the whole way through the Bob Graham Round with this. Just as things were getting back on track some 5 days later I had to run through the financial cost for the remaining recces and June challenge as I had to consider travel, accommodation, food and  running gear due to the fact my shoes were pretty much falling apart. I was then horrified to find out that I had been landed with a a string of bills to pay including my car as it had failed MOT and needed road tax and insurance.

It was laid bare in front of me that there was no way I could justify the financial outlay for Bob Graham Round challenge and pay my car, family holiday etc. After some deep thinking on the subject I called up my friend who is another runner on this challenge and broke the news that I simply could not afford all of the trips up north over the course of the next 10 weeks and that my involvement in the BGR attempt might be limited to at most a support member (although since then it's probably not achievable). Coupled with this was the fact that I had not got consistent volume of running over the past 6 weeks before the trip was a concern on my mind as well.

I am naturally disappointed about this situation as I don't the fact I am having to pull out but in true style I sucked things up and have kept positive about this. So in the last few days I have been busy putting together a new schedule of races / challenges that are within easy reach of home and fit within my running budget.

I hope to update soon on what those races will be and thankfully I have gotten over the piriformis injury. I am approaching  the training with a gradual build up of volume / quality and trying to keep injury free. It's just now a case of getting out there and seeing what is possible. Was it destiny not to attempt the BGR, absolutely not in my opinion. The mountains and challenge will be there in years to come but whoever said that running was a cheap and simple sport is oversimplifying it when it comes to ultras.

The Time has Come.

It's been some time since my last blog entry and for the most part I have been struggling with a right glute and hamstring issue that has prevented me running comfotably. The glute problem had developed just before the Moonlight event but I felt that with sufficient active rest afterwards it would go away. However it wasn't to be so I booked an appointment with an Osteopath to discover what the problem was.

To save a long story I had two sessions with the Osteopath and the conclusion provided was, I should stretch out my hamstrings and glutes more effectively. In particular my left hamstring because this was the one that was actually causing a problem with the right hand side due to it being extra tight. I was told to change my shoes (current shoes have about 700 miles or so in them). I don't know if I agree with the last comment although they are looking a little bit worn out shoes are not cheap (current pair cost £80) and I won't shell out on them until they have fallen apart.

Thankfully over the last 14 days things have improved, I am paying more attention to stretching properly as part of my daily routine and have been getting out for regular runs although I am nowhere near putting in the mileage or quality I was during January however I am feeling strong and things are improving as I am doing most of my running on trails / hills.

I am concerned that with only 12 weeks to go until the Bob Graham Round that I would not have done enough preparation. Therefore all I can do is get out there day by day and focus on getting the climbing into the legs and make sure I nail those long days out. In order to do this I am taking the following approach
  • Focus on Strength and Endurance (speed sessions not a priority)
  • Minimum one long run (3-8 hours) per week in hills e.g. North Downs is within driving distance
  • Midweek runs consist of stair climbing and easy hill days on local hills
  • Easy recovery runs when needed
  • Take a rest day when needed.
It's as simple as that. It is widely talked about that you need to be getting 10,000 ft of climb each week into your running. Of course if you live near hills or mountains this is easy to achieve. For me I live in a very flat area and would only be able to get to really hilly areas once a week. I have only been getting in around 2-3000 ft at best per week so there is a lot of work to do. I am going to be doing the majority of my running on a local hill and stair climbing during my lunch time at work but neither will provide sufficient vertical climb so wearing a weighted pack will help make the session be more productive. The key sessions will be long runs in North Downs hills during my weekends and with some trips already planned for the Lake District over the coming weeks. I cannot be more up for this challenge.

The acid test though happens on Monday when I meet up with one of the other runners in our team and our key support man as we travel to the Lake District to do a recce of Leg 3. The third leg consists of 15 fells including Scafell Pike which is the highest point in England. It is the longest section on the route. The total mileage is only 15.2 miles but it has 6,500 ft of climb involved and with the thought of self navigating the whole way it's certainly going to provide a sufficient test of fitness and mind as I expect to be on my feet for 6-8 hours.

The time has come for this challenge to be made a reality and I simply cannot wait for this adventure to truly begin.

Moonlight Challenge - Race Report

Having entered The Moonlight Challenge not long ago my approach to it was to treat it like a long training run rather than a full on race. Having logged some solid mileage during January I was fairly confident it would go well. During the last 10 days before the event I developed a slight calf injury that I had to carefully monitor otherwise I was in danger of not even starting the run. I decided to keep the week before by minimizing the number of runs I was going to do, stretch the legs out and generally keep relaxed about it. A kind of mini taper if you like.

The pre-race atmosphere was full of good humour, chatting to the usual suspects (Jerry) and finally meeting up with Matt Biggin who was sporting what can only be said to be "minimal" gear for what would be a cold and wet night ahead. The conditions were cool at around 4C and very wet as the rain hadn't stopped all day. I had heard that there were some deep puddles out on the course and that the persistent rain the past couple of days had made the off road sections very treacherous underfoot. It would prove to be more like running in a mud bath than on solid ground.

Course Profile

The course is 6.55 miles in length and comprises of tarmac, cinder (gravel) tracks and partial tracks. The aim is to complete 5 laps (32.75 miles) within the 8 hour time period. There is no obligation to do this but that was the target I was aiming for. Anything between 5.30-6.00 hrs would be a decent long run in my book.

The organisers gave us the pre-race briefing and after discussing with Matt where we would position ourselves we decided to head to the front of the pack of runners. I don't know why I did this but I had the desire to get out there early and see how things felt especially given my dodgy calf earlier in the week. The event was going to kick off by using a firework. When the rocket went BOOM we were off. I sprinted away with Matt, head torch on and looking for the first turning.

The Race

Lap 1

I was feeling very good from the off and moving fairly quickly (7.30 min/mile pace). The first four miles passed by very quickly although it became evident that I wasn't going to maintain this pace the entire way as that wasn't my intention. It was clear to all as well that the mud bath like condtions would taxing on the legs with each lap done however I was determined to see how long I could keep the pace up before ultimately slowing down. A few runners did overtake us on that first lap but I wasn't even thinking about placing at this point. I completed the first lap somewhere around 53 minutes. I quickly picked up another bottle of drink and headed out for Lap 2.

Lap 2

I was feeling good but decided to back off slightly and reduce the pace. My calf felt surprisingly good also and with having another runner close by it definitely motivates you to keep moving as fast as they are. I felt so good in fact that I missed the first turning on the course and had to track back a couple hundred yards. The lap went by quite quickly like the previous one although it was apparent the muddy conditions were deteriorating due to the amount of people out on the course. The ground was literally being torn up and it was like running through treacle in places. At the end of the lap I was feeling both hungry and thirsty (not drinking enough). I clocked the lap time at around 57 minutes, grabbed a banana, another bottle of drink.

Lap 3

During this lap it was the first time I saw a lot of other runners out on the course coming the other way. You could tell who was enjoying this and who was not by the level of communication when you pass by. I always encourage people that they are doing great and to keep going. This was something I greatly appreciated in my first ultra and I believe in doing it in every event I do although I am sure some persons won't take kindly to it but that's who I am and that's life. My pace had dropped but I was determined to get the third lap done without introducing some walking breaks. I was beginning to feel sore in my lower back and hamstrings due mainly to trying to stabilise myself on the muddy sections. I came in at the end of the third lap in around 64 minutes. I grabbed a banana and a bottle of drink and headed out albeit walking at first.

Lap 4

After running the first 20 miles in around 2hrs55mins I needed to slow things down a little bit as I didn't want trash my legs completely as this was meant to be a training run although I knew I was looking at a solid time based on the three previous laps. I introduced some small minute walking breaks to break things up. I quickly got cold though when walking so I started to run again. Matt had gone off ahead of me around the 21 mile mark so I was for the first time during the event on my own. During this lap I ended up twice on the floor as I slipped quite badly on the mud, luckily no damage but it did remind me that I was feeling a little tired and my senses were not 100%. It was around mile 23 that I had a low point so I decided to walk it off. I knew it wouldn't last long and within 4-5 minutes I was feeling better again after drinking the rest of my bottle. I must of lapped quite a few people during this lap and this was a great psychological boost. I came in at the end of the 4th lap feeling a little beat up but I had got used to the pain especially in my hamstrings. The lap time was around 70 minutes. I performed the same nutrition and hydration routine as last time and was looking forward to the last lap.

Lap 5

I had gotten over the major slump I had during the fourth lap and intended to run a fair bit on this lap although with walking breaks when necessary. The course by this point was swimming with liquid mud and it must of been draining for all taking part. I am not someone who enjoys running on tarmac particularly but the relief it brought from more taxing off road sections was helping with keeping the pace up. The last lap was passing by without much incident apart from one last runner overtaking me but I didn't care too much as I had got what I needed out of this run. As i came into the penultimate checkpoint I noticed Matt was walking from it. After catching him up he told me he had overcooked it a little bit by the end of the last lap and had been paying for it ever since. We run / walked to the last checkpoint at which point I took a spectacular tumble into a puddle. No harm done except soaking my legs completely. As we reached the road turning 100yds towards the finish I saw Matt speed up. I felt so good that I kicked as well and out sprinted him to the finish line. I crossed the line in 5 hrs 18 minutes. Lap time was around 73 minutes. A great bonus was that I finished in 6th place, but to be honest everyone was a winner out there as it was a tough challenge. Total mileage varied by around 0.5 miles and to be honest I am not surprised given the twists and turns on this course.

I was very pleased with the run overall especially as I didn't intend to go out fast but doing so gave me a great incentive to see how far I could sustain it so some good lessons learned. Looking back on this maybe I could of paced it more steady and hydrated more effectively but with the conditions the way they were I think I would of settled into a slow pace early on and not learnt that much from it. Sometimes you just got to try something new and for me the event and competitors taking part were awesome. I would definitely recommend the event to anyone who wants to spend their saturday night in a non traditional mudbath!

The Future: 2011 Running Plans

Well it's been a whole month since I last blogged and 2011 has got off to a flyer training wise. Including today's run of 9 mile hill reps I averaged 50 miles a week for January. That is a new record for me, modest for some but for me it's a good sign that my running has gone up a level and I feel much stronger for it. I will be looking to build on this moving forward throughout the year and what a year in store. Here are some of my goals for this year:

  • Complete Bob Graham Round in sub 24 hours. This for me is my main focus this year and it's going to be one hell of a challenge. 65 miles, 42 summits, approx 28,500ft of ascent and all self-navigated through the Lake District. This is one of the most demanding challenges within the UK and to be honest it probably hasn't sunk in yet just how challenging it is going to be until my first proper recce in March. I wanted to aim high and this is pretty much right up there with other ultras in the UK. I will be posting quite a lot on this in the future as the logistics of it are mind boggling.
  • Finish a 100 mile race. This is another high priority for me this year and I have deliberately picked the Caesars 100 miler after reading reports and being recommended it by other fellow ultra runners. 10 x 10m loops, 1,520 ft of ascent per loop, low completion rate and some funky country music played by Henk.What a race this will be.
  • Finish in top 25-30% at a Marathon / Ultra race. This goal is more about improving my performances in races and measuring my progress from where I have been the last two years which is pretty much middle of the pack.
  • Stay Healthy for whole year. This is quite simple really, if I am able to do this then I am confident I can improve my race performance and take things to another level. I suffered quite a bit during the summer with a foot injury caused by over training and I really want to avoid that this year and push through the next level of performance barriers. I have also dropped down to 177 pounds in weight which is 20 pounds lighter than this time last year so I am very pleased with that but I continue to eat rubbish especially when mileage is going up so it's an ongoing battle to improve this, one I intend to win though.
  • Set a new PB for every distance from 5k->100 miles. This is a low priority however I would like to do this and feel that all of my current PB's are soft and with the coming months this will most likely be a natural result of training. I will be adding races to the calendar when a free slot presents itself.
During the past 12 months I have learnt a lot about myself as a runner and what works for me, what doesn't work for me and able to adapt in given circumstances. I hope that this year will be a breakthrough year and that I will smash it. I feel privileged that I am able to put myself into a position to even contemplate the above and I thank a lot of people in my life for supporting me especially my wife and daughters who put up with a lot of mutterings regarding my running. In the end though it has helped me through some stressful times whilst helping me discover mental and physical depths I didn't think I had.

If you have just discovered running my advice would be just get out there and have some fun. Simple as that it will change your life!