Sunday, 2 December 2012

Gatliff Marathon 2012 - Race Report

I'd heard that Gatliff was hard and it lived up to that assessment. The course was extremely muddy and had plenty of water on it, both making for difficult running conditions. I must be wired wrong because under those conditions I stop bothering to avoid muddy puddles and simply run right through the middle of them. It's actually much easier to plough through the middle than to edge around the sides trying to avoid getting your feet wet. Another factor is that walking through mud is way harder than running through it.

The instructions we were given covered 9 A4 pages and in most places were easy to follow. It certainly helped having a compass because there was often bearings given in the instructions. The consensus from other runners with Garmins was that the length of the race was not 50k. I've heard estimates from 55k through to almost 60k.

I thought I'd mention the conditions and the distance before saying how long it took me ..... 7 hours and 41 minutes. This is not a fast time for 50k. I'd normally expect to finish at around 6 hours but not on that course, not on that day.

My strategy for these distance races is usually to go out hard and just to see how I get on. I knew that I'd slow down from about 2/3rds distance and that turned out to be the case. At about that point I hooked up with two guys I've run with before and we ran together until the end.

I'm certainly going to want to do this event next year as it was a ton of fun. I wonder what the weather will be like...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Gatliff Marathon

It's the Gatliff Marathon tomorrow and I'm rather looking forward to it. I hadn't done much research on this event but now that I have it would appear that it's a pretty tricky little race. Loads of mud and climbing. I'm approaching it the same way I approached Longmynd but changing some of the things I got wrong.

Race plan is to take time over the navigation, respect the hills and run hard at all other times. Looking forward to seeing some familiar faces as well.

I'm expecting it to be a long, wet and fun day tomorrow. Bring it on.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Road Ahead

I've had some time to think during the aftermath of the last event and I now know how the future will look with regard to training and racing.

First, the training...

I should point out up front that I havn't been logging mileage in many years, I log time. 6 hours a week is a minimum, 7 hour is a good week, 8 hours exceptional. Above 8 hours and I'm usually getting too tired.

To understand the future I'll touch on the past. An ideal training week would normally look a little like this:

Sunday - 1 hour trail
Monday - 3 hour night time trail
Tuesday - 45 mins road recovery
Wednesday - 1 to 1.5 hours road
Thursday - 45 mins road recovery
Friday - 1 to 1.5 hours hard road
Saturday - REST

So that gives a maximum of about 8 hours running per week with a mix of trail and road. All road running is done carrying a 15-20lb packpack.

I did this routine for a hell of a long time really. The night time trail runs would normally go 3 weeks in a row then I'd take a week or two off before hitting them again.

What I've been finding though is two things, firstly I'm finding it increasingly difficult to get out on my night runs. A 13 hour day of commuting and working means I'm pretty tired at the end of the day. I used to do this trail run on a Wednesday which I switched to a Monday to try and have more energy. That doesn't seem to be working though. Secondly, I'm getting out for alot more lunchtime runs. A typical week at the moment looks more like this:

Sunday - 1 hour trail
Monday - 1 hour hard road, 50 mins recovery road
Tuesday - 1.5 trail
Wednesday - 1 hour road, 50 mins hard road
Thursday - 1.5 trail
Friday - 1 hour road, 1 hard road
Saturday - REST

That's a total of about 9 hours which is above what I did with the long trail run.

So what's the new plan?

Well, rule 1 - enjoy my running. As I get older I want less and less to just follow a program religiously and force myself to do mileage. I want to enjoy it. Running more sessions each week is not me forcing myself to do it, I'm actually just running when I feel like. I need to continue this I think.

A new factor I have is that I have now joined a gym and I want to factor into my training regular gym work.

First thing is to accept that I'm no longer going to run in the evenings. I'm too tired and I think it badly compromises running the next day. Second thing is that if I'm not going long in the evening when am I? Well, I'm going to put specific long runs in my diary. Once or twice a month I'll schedule in a long run on a Sunday morning, it'll be around 40k-50k and I will try to find interesting routes. Once a month would be fine, twice would be a bonus. Key thing is that I'm not going to push to do this once a week. I really don't think I get the benefit from doing so. I end up getting worn out. Plus, I have a large family and they need me at home at the weekends and not running around the countryside. Finally, I have the opportunity to work from home two days a week so that gives me the chance for additional trail running and gym time.

The training plan for the week will look alot like this:

Sunday - 1 to 1.5 hour hard trail run, gym
Monday - 1 hour road, 50 mins road
Tuesday - 1.5 hour trail hard run, gym
Wednesday - 50 hour road, 1 hour hard road
Thursday - 1.5 hour trail hard run, gym
Friday - 1 hour road, 1 hour hard
Saturday - REST

Maximum total time: 10 hours (plus 3 gym visits)

If I have a long run on a Sunday morning then it will replace trail run and gym session.

This will be adapted on a weekly basis depending on several factors:

1/ How often I work from home
2/ How I feel
3/ What other things are going on that demand my time

The other thing I'm going to do is to log all my runs on Runkeeper. It'll track my mileage and provides some nice stats.

OK, now to the racing...

I run ultras. And I still want to run ultras.

Problem is that established wisdom says I should do a long run every week. Or even back to back long runs. And as you've seen above I have no intention of doing that. I can't say that my training program is going to be suited to running ultras, I just think it's going to be suited to me and that my friends is the best I can do. If that's not good enough then I'll have to live with it.

Draft race diary for next year looks like this:

February - Moonlight Challenge
I can't miss this, it's just too much fun and a great opener for the year. Goal this year is to ensure I eat and drink enough to finish full distance after dropping out last year in freezing conditions. Top 10 would be nice too, as would sub-5 hours.

October - Longmynd Hike
Get back on the horse boy! I'm not letting this event beat me. It's a great event, brilliantly organised and I want to do it justice. Next year I plan to simply finish regardless of time.

Here's the wildcard ...... May - GUCR
I'm going to start the GUCR and see just how far I can get. I hold no illusions that I'll finish, it's just too far. I just want to see how far I'm capable of.

Only other thing that springs to mind is the Halstead and Essex Marathon in early May which I'll do as a 52 mile training run.

Add into that some local trail runs which I'll do on the spur of the moment and I think that's how 2013 is going to look.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

I think I needed to fail

Right, here's the raw facts:

Last weekend I attempted to run the Longmynd Hike which is a 50 mile race across some incredible landscape on the North Wales border. In short, I failed. I reach the 38 mile checkpoint and dropped. Since then I've done little but try and work out why.

The specifics of what happened are that for the 5 miles leading up to me dropping out my feet began to really hurt .... in exactly the same way as they did the last time I attempted this race. The route demands a lot of walking and I'm just not much of a walker. I got disheartened. I couldn't face another 4 hours of that pain and as I entered the aid station I knew I was going no further. As I sat in the aid station wondering whether to continue my body did what it always does at the end of a race and it gets cold. This happens even in the summer, I pretty much look like I'm getting hypothermia. The volunteers saw this and started to worry. So there is me with hurty feet, getting cold and feeling rather sorry for myself. So I dropped.

This was a mistake. A big mistake.

Here's some things I didn't consider at the time:

  • 2 years ago when I had the same foot pain it only last another 5km at most ... then it went away
  • 2 years ago when I reached that aid station I was well behind where I was this time. I ran 14 hours that year, this year I was on about a 12 1/2 hour pace.
  • I didn't have 4 hours to go. I had 20km to go and only 3 major climbs. 3 hours would probably have done it at most.
So what should I have done:
  • Recognised that the pain I was feeling would go away
  • Banged down some ibroprofen
  • Cleaned my feet off
  • Changed into some warmer gear (which I didn't have on me, stupid mistake)
  • Had a cup of tea and smiled
  • Then once I felt better .... continued.
I'm genuinely very disappointed that I dropped and have vowed to make better judgments when in pain and tired. I've had to tell so many people that I dropped and I don't think that anyone really understands. I've never dropped like this, I've always assumed I would finish and I always did. Perhaps I needed to fail to appreciate how much I never ever want to drop again.

I'm a positive kind of guy so I'm using this a springboard into some serious training. After running 38 miles during Longmynd I set out to throw down a huge week of training and achieved that by running just under 100 miles in 7 days. 17 1/2 hours of running and over 10,000 calories burnt. Next week will be much less but it proves I can soak up some serious training mileage. I feel better than I have in ages. I'm joining a gym on Monday which will give me some much need resistance work. I've also started logging my mileage for the first time in years. I'm using Runkeeper so please feel free to check up on me and make sure I'm keeping with the program:

I have a new mantra ....

Are you at the limit, the ragged edge? I bet your not, push harder and find out.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Recently spotted

I recently spotted this out running and thought it had some humour value. The same house where I found this also has the most amazing tree house and a WW2 pillbox which has been renamed "Pooh Corner".

I get the feeling that the kids that grew up there have long since flown the nest but clearly when they were at home they had some cool places to play.

Honestly. Why barefoot?

Actually I wouldn't describe myself as a barefoot runner. Minimalist is a better word because most of my time spent whilst running is in London and believe me you don't want to be running barefoot round the streets of London.

Minimalism is all about stripping back the superfluous and unnecessary. It can be as simple as leaving your GPS watch at home or in my case it can lead to a re-evaluation of what I want to put on my feet. Over 6 years of marathon training I had become used to dealing with pain in my hips, shins, knees and feet. I had accepted it as the price to pay for training for the marathon distance. Then I discovered ultramarathons and that upped the ante considerably. Training would be more intense and the opportunity for injury increased accordingly. I knew that something had to change. Something was causing the pain and I refused to believe that it was simply an inevitable result of running.

Research into the issue led me to believe that my issue wasn't the mileage or time on my feet. The issue wasn't where I ran or for how long or even how fast. The issue was *how* I ran.

Modern shoes are designed to forgive, cushion and insulate your feet from the terrain underneath them. They are there to control motion so you can impact through that cushioned heal and keep your foot stable and inflexible.

One morning I was running through a park in London. I stopped and looked at my feet and knew immediately what I needed to do. I took the shoes off, picked them up and set off barefoot. It's an almost childlike feeling running on grass with nothing on your feet. I was acutely aware of every foot-fall and found that the way I was running was remarkably different in a myriad of ways.

After a time I reached the end of the park and put my shoes back on but I was hooked. I wanted to run like that all the time. I could sense that for the first time I'd just run "properly", it felt like I was simply flowing.

And that's the journey I'm on every day when I set off out for a run. What I put on my feet is always the minimum I can use for the terrain as I want the maximum feedback through to my feet and I don't want my footwear changing how I run in the slightest. The goal is to be a better runner. A runner for life.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Why would anyone run further than a marathon?

"Where next? Oh, over there I reckon. Right lets go. Yup, it's this way. Left hamstring is feeling tight, need to keep an eye on that. Need to drink more water. Not hungry, must eat though. Drink more water. Is that a hotspot on my foot going to turn into a blister. Drink more water. Where is the next stop. Ah, round this corner. Excellent. Stop for a bit. 60 kilometres covered. Been running for over 6 hours, plenty of distance left to cover though..."
That was a short section of the 100km course I ran last summer and the entire distance was covered with my brain asking these questions all the time. Someone asked me during this run what I was looking forward to most at the finish. A beer perhaps? A swim in the river? Simply to stop running? Actually the answer was none of the above. I wasn't looking forward to the finish, I was simply looking forward to the next step. The simple act of putting one foot in front of each other. Getting to the next fence. Running over the next hill. The journey was the goal, not the finish line.
Ultra running is different. Not only because of the obvious difference in the length of the events but in the manner of running them. Line up at the start of a 10km race and you know you're going to push yourself hard to cover the distance in the shortest time possible. If you've run a few before then you'll have your personal best and you'll be looking to run faster than that. If you don't you'll be making excuses to people that it was a hilly course, or you hadn't trained enough, or it just wasn't your day. Marathons are pretty much the same experience. Tell someone you've run a marathon and invariably the first question is "How long did it take you?" Unless you ran a personal best then you'll be making excuses why you didn't.
Imagine two runners comparing their finishing times at different US events. One finished in 15 hours 7 mins, the other in 23 hours 23 mins. Who has the bragging rights to claim they are the better runner? What do you compare these times to when deciding whether these are good times or not? For the marathon (or shorter distance races) most people know what a good time is. That's what I love about ultras. You run for the enjoyment in the knowledge that the finishing time is pretty much irrelevent. Those finishing times mentioned about are actually both course records at the Western States 100 (18,000 feet of elevation gain and the Hardrock 100 (33,000 feet of elevation gain. Both are outstanding times run by elite runners.
So why would anyone run further than a marathon?
Everyone ultra runner will have a different answer but in my case it's simply because I love to run and I don't want to be held back or be judged by traditional race distances. A race of an hour just couldn't scratch the itch I have. I love to be out there running over the hills and travelling great distances using only my own two (often barefoot) feet.