Thursday, 20 September 2018

Hardmoors 60 - Thoughts, Analysis and Pride

So, on Saturday 15th September, I toe’d the line of the longest ultra-marathon I’ve taken part in to date - the Hardmoors 60. This was going to be 62+ miles of some of the hardest off-road running I’ve ever done, including around 2,300m of ascent and more steps than I cared to think about.

Below are some of my thoughts on my preparation, how the event went, details of my nutrition, the kit I used (and that which I carried but didn’t use - excess weight!), and my overall approach to the run.

*Spoiler Alert* I finished, and I finished in a time much better than I’d hoped for, with overall mood and physical condition throughout the day being way better than I’d expected (as you can see from my happy face at 42 miles!)




Preparation

What’s the saying? Proper Preparation Prevents P*ss Poor Performance!
Well, I was determined to try and prepare properly for this ultra, as I knew I’d be pushing myself just to get around in the cut-off time. Below are some of the things I did:


Training Plan

I started with a “train for a marathon in 12 weeks” programme, but one which started from a reasonable base-level of fitness. I did this up to the first weekend in July, when I’d entered a trail marathon as part of my preparation (more details below). I entered all of the training runs I would need to do into my iPhone calendar, which I have shared with my wife’s phone, so that we could try and plan our busy family life around making sure I got my key runs in. A link to the training plan I used is here: https://www.all-about-marathon-training.com/marathon-training-schedule-12.html

Once I’d done the marathon and had approximately another 11 weeks until the ultra, I shifted to a 50-mile ultra-marathon training plan. I chose a 16-week plan and basically started from a point 11 weeks back from the end, as I knew I had the right base level of fitness. As with the marathon plan, again I took the runs from this and programmed them in to my iPhone calendar. The training plan I used can be found here: https://www.runnersworld.co.uk/training/16-week-50-mile-ultra-marathon-training-schedule

Now, I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t quite get out for all of the runs, but I did my best to make it out on at least 90% of them, particularly the long weekend ones, and making sure I pushed myself pace-wise on the shorter ones.
I also did my best to make sure that my longest runs were on terrain as close as possible to that which I’d be running over on the day of the event. To do this, I headed to the Peak District a couple of times, up into the hills in Lancashire and over to Hadrian’s Wall territory near Newcastle. This is all a bit of a trek, so it was essential that I had the planning in the diary to make sure we could fit family life in without it being too badly affected - fortunately, I have a truly amazing, supportive and understanding wife!


Preparation Events


I ran three key preparation events during my training;


High Peak 25k

This went really well. Although it was fairly short, it was very hilly and steep and I was pleased to find that my body coped well.




Northumberland Coastal Trail Marathon

This was tough, as it was on the 1st of July and was stinking hot! I got quite a lot of cramp, found that my shoes were uncomfortable when my feet expanded and actually considered dropping out at around 20 miles when I went through a tough patch. 
Although my overall time was ok for the conditions (just under 5 hours), this was only really thanks to a supportive phone call with my wife and I took a bit of a knock to my confidence from the run.




Great North Run

The Great North Run is a bit of a family tradition now, and I wasn’t about to miss my tenth running of it just because I had an ultra-marathon six days later! I did at least take it fairly easy on the race and took a huge confidence boost from how my fitness allowed me to get a respectable 1:46 finish whilst not pushing myself.





Pre-Race Fuelling & Pre-Hydration

This is something that I’d not really paid a huge amount of attention to for previous events, but I decided that after my cramp issues during the coastal marathon I needed to take a little more seriously. 
I switched drink to the Precision Hydration products, which I had found from training runs not only contained a good amount of minerals, but also tasted good enough for me to continually want to keep drinking them - unlike a lot of the sugary alternatives. Their pre-hydration plan suggests that for a heavy sweater such as myself it’s sensible to have one of their PH1500 drinks the night before and morning of the race. I diligently did this, and didn’t regret it at all, as cramp never set in, in spite of some serious hills and the middle of the day being pretty warm.I also tried to get a good number of calories and carbohydrates into my system over the days before the race, rather than just having pasta the night before, like I have done previously. This seemed to work pretty well, even if my dinner on the sea-front the night before the race was maybe a little less healthy than an elite athlete would recommend...


On the morning of the event itself, I had some overnight oats (porridge oats, plain yoghurt and a selection of fruit, left in the fridge overnight) on the bus on the way to the start line and a banana during registration. These are both things that I’m used to having, but that I knew would provide good, slow-release energy for the first part of the race.

Race Nutrition

During the event itself, I took quite a lot of food with me, had more in drop-bags at two of the checkpoints on route (I was running this unsupported by any family members or similar) and took advantage of the food and drink available at the checkpoints. I kept a mental note of what I’d consumed (both in terms of food and drink) and have listed it all below:

Food

2 Nakd bars - 270 calories (1 pre Saltburn, 1 around Whitby) - These are fruity, whilst being packed with oats, so went down really well.
1 Tesco flapjack - 250 calories (at Saltburn) - Simple, soft, high in sugar and filled with slow-burn oats, so very easy to eat.
1 Cliff peanut bar - 250 calories (between Saltburn & Runswick Bay) - I like the peanut flavour of these, but they’re pretty substantial and can take a while to get down!
1 cheese & marmite sandwich - 300 calories (at Runswick Bay) - A good bit of simple salty food to get down during a break.
2 mini sausage rolls - 70 calories (at Ravenscar) - Just what I needed with a little salt and nice and soft.
2 marshmallows - 50 calories (at Ravenscar) - What a treat when 40-odd miles in!
About 20 jelly babies - 300 calories (between 4 late CP’s, but not Ravenscar) - Quick and simple to grab at various checkpoints along the way.
1 watermelon slice - 80 calories (at Saltwick Bay) - What a perfect refreshment when I’d not been able to eat in a while!

Drinks

3.5 litres PH1000 - 0 calories - This stuff is incredible; all the minerals you could possibly need, while being refreshing and easy to drink. No energy in it, but I’m happy to get my energy from real food and treat drinks!
750ml Pepsi - 375 calories (200ml at Runswick Bay, 200ml at Saltwick Bay, 200ml at Robin Hoods Bay, 150ml at Scarborough) - I normally can’t drink full sugar fizzy drinks at all, but on this run I couldn’t get enough Pepsi!
150ml Lilt - 65 calories (at Scarborough) - I don’t think I’ve had Lilt since about 1997, so this was an awesome little boost near the end!
100ml Dr Pepper - 55 calories (at Scarborough) - Well, if you’re trying Pepsi and Lilt, why not go the whole hog and bung some Dr Pepper in too?!
950ml For Foodness Shakes - 532 calories (475ml at Runswick Bay & Ravenscar) - I swear by these recovery shakes. Not only are they full of energy and nutrients to keep your muscles going on a long run, I’ve also never had a run where I didn’t fancy one!
1 litre Apple juice - 500 calories (500ml in Whitby & Scarborough) - These were both bought as rewards for myself when I made it to shops in the areas of civilisation on the course. They were ice-cold, packed with natural sugar and gave me a real physical and emotional boost.

When you look at this as it panned out through the race, along with what was going out to keep me going, it’s pretty clear that I built up a pretty substantial calorie-deficit over the day! However, I’m pretty sure I took in about as much as I could comfortably do, whilst still keeping moving, so I’m really happy with how it all worked out - way better than previous events.




Kit

This is the equipment and clothing I used during the run. Hopefully this will be of some use to people wanting to know details of potential gear for future runs.

Inov-8 Terra-Ultra G
No blisters, no rubbing, no hot-spots, no slipping on the surfaces of the course, no pain from over-sized lugs - these were basically the perfect shoe for the day and did me absolutely proud. Zero drop, with a lovely roomy toe-box made them comfy all day long (well, as comfy as a pair of shoes can be after nearly 16 hours of being upright in them!)


Salomon trail low gaiters
Only worn these for two runs previously and only bought them as the Inov8 trainers seemed to let in more bits and bobs around the ankle than previous shoes.
I think the best summary I can give for these is that I forgot I had them on, but didn’t get anything inside my shoes at all. Therefore, I’d say they did exactly what I was wanting them for!





More Mile Trail socks
I’ve never had a problem with these socks. They’re cheap, simple and comfortable. I had zero blisters and had no need to change my socks at any point throughout the day.





Salomon S-Lab Exo Pro Twin-Skin shorts
I’ve had these for about four years and still absolutely love them. I’ve had to repair them where the compression section has come away from the looser section a couple of times, but am happy to do so, as they always feel incredibly comfortable. The design which has the compression section alone in the area where your legs might rub together makes them feel like you could run all year in them without ever having anything chafe. The compression also grips your thighs well and never rises up, unlike some others I’ve owned.
My only gripe is the price - these are some seriously expensive shorts!





More Mile running boxers
Unfortunately, More Mile don’t seem to do these any more, because they were cheap, comfy and I’ve never had problems with them.





Ronhill Run Guard
This may be why I’ve had no problems with the running boxers or top - if you have ever had issues with chafing, this stuff will sort you right out! I applied once at the start and once after going to the loo at Ravenscar. No chafing anywhere on my body - I just dread to think what’s in it that makes it so effective!





Compressport Trail Short Sleeved top
I was wearing the Mk1 version of this top for the 60, although I have the Mk2 at home.
This is a very tight, compressive top, which I’ve worn on a few ultras and have never had an issue with. The 60 was no different, with the rubberised grippy areas on the shoulders helping to stop my pack from bouncing around, while the compression helped my fat from doing the same! Haha
The only slight issue with this top is actually just due to its tight-fitting nature - it’s not exactly flattering if you don’t have the physique of a demi-god (which I definitely do not!)





Salomon running cap
Well, it’s a cap which I wear for running... pretty much a Ronseal job here, it does exactly what it says on the tin, much like all my other running caps!
I will say that it was nice to fill it with water from the stream during the climb up from Runswick Bay and cool my head in the afternoon heat!





Joluvi Baston Trail Running Poles
Oh, my new best friends in the world... running poles!
I only started using these around 3 months before the HM60, and my use of them only included three training runs, but I’m so glad that I got them. I started the run with them strapped to the front of my pack (due to the number of people in such close proximity and not wanting to skewer anyone!), but got them out on the first climb and immediately felt the benefit as I moved up the steep slope towards High Cliff Nab without slipping once. Others were having to choose their footings carefully, while I moved up in relatively limited grip shoes, thanks to the added traction of the poles.
From them on, I kept them out for the whole day, using them all the way to the finish.
They took the strain from my legs on so many occasions; saving effort on the uphills and stair-climbs, protecting my knees and quads from the eccentric effort on the downhills and stair-descents, and just providing a little additional forward motion on the flats.
Can you tell that I absolutely love them yet? Well, if not, let me be clear - you need these in your life, they were an absolute game-changer for me!





Garmin Fenix 3 Watch & Heart-Rate Monitor
Well, if I love my new poles, my watch may as well be part of my family, I love it so much!
I’ve had my Fenix 3 for around 3 years, and it’s been my every-day watch along with being my running watch for numerous challenges.
For the 60, I programmed the gpx file of the route into the watch beforehand, such that it could point me in the right direction if I ever strayed off course (which I’ll admit I did twice!) I’d been worried that this would kill the battery, but it was still at 50% when I got to 42 miles, so it really was probably unnecessary for me to put the top-up into it there that I did.
I used the watch primarily to keep a general eye on my pace, but a closer eye on my heart rate - making sure that I was keeping my effort at manageable levels throughout the run.
After the run, the data that had been captured made for really interesting viewing and showed that having that information along the way had proved to be really useful.





Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 3.0
I bought my Adventure Vest second hand from a chap on Facebook, as I already had a smaller Salomon one and felt I didn’t want to invest loads of money if it turned out to not be right for me, or to just not be needed.
I needn’t have worried - this bag is adjustable enough to fit both me and my wife, when she’s borrowed it. It’s comfortable and big enough for a long event like this, while being compressible enough to be useful for shorter stuff too.
Is it as comfy as my Salomon S-Lab 5l vest? No, but then I can’t imagine much that is, and it’s way more practical for a long run.
The flasks are easy to access in the front pouches, there are massive side pouches around the waist area, additional mini pockets for essentials on the shoulder straps, little straps to hold poles comfortably on the front and then big main sections in the back for all the stuff you don’t need immediate access to.
This pack was comfy all day, and I clearly carried more kit than I needed, but didn’t suffer for it, which is as much of an endorsement as you can get, I reckon.





Salomon soft flasks
I’ve been using these for a couple of years and am a total convert to soft flasks. The lack of sloshing around of fluids while you’re running is just such a nice change from the hard bottles I’d previously used.
These Salomon narrow-neck flasks aren’t great in terms of being a bit more of a pain to pour a sachet of drink powder into, but the narrow neck also means that they don’t press into your chest/shoulder area when in a front-mounted pouch.
As such, I’ve stuck with them and they did me proud on the 60.



Petzl Tikka RXP head-torch
I’ve had this torch for about 4 or 5 years, but haven’t really used it in anger all that much up until the HM60. I’ve used it out on roads on early morning or late evening winter runs, but never off-road, so I was a little nervous about how I would do with it.
I needn’t have worried - this is a superb head-torch!
Rechargeable, but with the option to put 3xAAA batteries in it, I didn’t have any fears about running out of power, while the adaptive brightness and light focus meant that I was comfortable with what I could see at all times. The new version of this torch is the Reactik+, which I would therefore highly recommend.





North East Marathon Club buff
Well let’s be honest; a buff’s a buff. I wore this one very briefly when it first got dark but hadn’t cooled down much, as it meant I could wear my head-torch whilst keeping the sweat out of my eyes. Always worth having with you on a run, given how small and light they are, I normally throw one in my pack no matter the weather.





Inov8 Race Elite 280 Thermoshell Running Top
I slipped this on in Scarborough, as the temperature and my pace both dropped a bit. To be honest, this was probably way too thick for what I needed and I definitely got pretty hot by the end of the run, but once it was on, it was on for the duration!
The top is reversible, with one side providing greater wind-protection (and therefore warmth) than the other, so would have been fine if it had got really cold. However, I definitely could have got away with something that compressed a bit smaller and was a bit lighter. Better to be over-prepared, I guess!





Anker PowerCore II 10000 - Power Bank
I bought this especially for the 60, as I didn’t know what my time would be like, how my watch and phone batteries would fare etc.
I ended up using it just to chuck a bit of charge into my watch for 20 minutes at Ravenscar, just in case, but to be honest it probably wasn’t necessarily.
Still, I guess it’s useful to have for in my laptop bag, and as with my thermoshell, it’s better to be over-prepared.



Unused (kit I took with me but never used):
Skins compression tights
Ronhill flip-over Running gloves
Raidlight gloves
Montane Minimus Stretch jacket
SOL bivvy bag
Bluetooth headphones


Overall Performance and Thoughts on the Day

Overall, this was the most I have ever enjoyed an ultra-marathon so far, and I’ve done a few now. I felt pretty good all the way around - both physically and mentally strong.
This was definitely helped by the amazing support that comes from the Hardmoors family around the route - they’ve created a brilliant culture around these races, where everyone supports one another, from other runners through checkpoint marshalls and on to the various supporters around the course.
It was also helped by the fact that the course itself is not only attractive, but also varied and busy with people who are keen for a chat - something which definitely helps to pass the time.

 

 

 



Below are my overall thoughts on my mood throughout the day, how I managed it and why I think this race went so much better for me than I’d originally expected:

1. That was the most positive I’ve ever been throughout an event. Other than a period on the way into Scarborough when we were running by torchlight and the seafront didn’t seem to get any closer, I didn’t have a single low point all day.


2. I fed off other people for most of the day. I’ve always known that this is something that affects me, but previously haven’t really actively used it. On this event I decided to be the happy one in any conversation. I decided to get the joy out of every exchange I could have with people and to try and keep conversations flowing with various people throughout the day. This worked a treat and really helped the miles to roll by.


3. When I was on my own, I still felt strong. This is something that’s not been the case on previous runs, but this time I basically only went ahead of others if I knew I was feeling really strong. This meant I was in a good space when doing it and I knew I was likely to catch up with someone else for a chat anyway.


4. I built upcoming rewards in for myself as I went. As I was unsupported, I was entirely in charge of my own destiny. So I decided that at Whitby I would get myself a drink that I fancied (genuinely the best ice-cold apple juice I have ever invested in - and yes, I would class it as an investment in this instance!) When I was nearing Scarborough, I promised myself the same thing, and it worked again (the second-best ice-cold apple juice ever!)


5. I didn’t worry about distances. That’s something which is very easy to say, but I basically just decided that the checkpoints would come when they came, as there was nothing I could do about it, so I should just try and enjoy myself while I trundled my way there. This really helped to keep my mood nice and steady, rather than the peaks and troughs I saw in some of those around me.


6. Feeling strong is a self-perpetuating cycle. Every time I got a burst of energy, the positive feeling of being strong just lifted me even more.


7. Only since I started thinking about my mood has all of this become possible. The 60 may well just have been one of those days when things all went well, but I personally doubt it. I willed that result into being by choosing to be positive.



If you’ve made it this far and want to listen to my prattling in person rather than just by reading it, you can watch my video blog here: https://youtu.be/sv7-Be3scN0

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Why?

A little note before I hit "publish" on this; I actually started writing this post over three months ago, just as I was getting properly back into my training, but I couldn't quite finish it for some reason.
However, now that I'm hobbling around a little after another long event, it seems an appropriate time to ask that same question again:


"Why?"
It's a word that any recreational runner hears on a fairly regular basis from those around them who don't run.
As an ultra-marathon runner, you get used to hearing it even more regularly. It's normally followed by a number of other words - sometimes including expletives - to form full questions about running. But the general theme to all of the questions - and sometimes the entirety of the question itself - is just "why?!"

For a long time I had no real answer, but recently I've felt the need to ask myself the same question.

I first started running because my girlfriend suggested I take part in the Great North Run half marathon. If I'm totally honest, I probably did it because she had already run it and, although she's always been considerably more sporty and fit than me, I really didn't like the idea of her having done something that I'd never even get close to.
So I guess I started running so that I could prove something to her and to others - which I then did.
I gave up on running for about a year after that race (which it turned out was every bit as hard as I'd expected and had led to me being unable to get anywhere near matching my girlfriend's finishing time!)

However, during that year off, a seed of future reasons for running was planted. I was back at university, where gradually, all of my friends heard about me having run a half marathon. All of them seemed to be impressed that I'd done it, and a lot started to ask that question; "why?"

It turned out that their incredulous question became a motivation in and of itself; I craved that look of surprise on people's faces when they heard that I'd run further than they'd ever considered.

The problem was that I went to Loughborough University - the premier sports university in the UK - so the number of people who were impressed that I could run 13.1 miles ran out rather quickly!

After graduation and moving in with my girlfriend, I got back into running again. "Why?" I hear you ask. This time there were some slightly more tangible (and maybe more laudable) reasons; I needed to get fit again, my girlfriend wanted to train up to do a marathon, and with both of us working hard at full-time (and often more) jobs, training runs provided a nice opportunity to spend time together.

This training led to a new reason; because I also wanted to run a marathon. Just one, you understand, I still definitely wasn't a runner - and didn't want to ever be one - but I wanted to prove to myself that I could run The Distance. That's not entirely honest of me, because I also wanted to prove to others that I could run a marathon, and I was beginning to really miss that incredulous look on people's faces as they asked "why?!"

I should explain why I think I desire this response so much - I think it boils down to the fact that I have a strong desire to have my ego stroked!

You see, I am an engineering and design consultant, and I'm quite good at it. I'll never win any major awards or be managing director of a major engineering company, but I'm pretty good.
I am also a hockey player. I'm not at all good at that, but I'm a pretty good club captain. Again, I'll never win any trophies or be a league top scorer, but I'm pretty good.

I love my job and my hockey, but when I tell people people what I do for a living, or that I'm club captain of a hockey club, they are neither surprised, nor overly impressed.
There are other facets of my life of course, but those are nearly all shared with the woman who is no longer my girlfriend, but now my wonderful wife. I love that we share those things, but I certainly can't take credit for them.

But with running, I had stumbled across something that elicited that shocked - and sometimes even impressed - look on people's faces when they found out. And even better, I didn't have to win anything in order to get that reaction; I just had to run further than people thought I was capable of.

And so, in getting this reaction from people, my addiction to running grew. But unfortunately it only continued to grow if I was undertaking challenges that I felt would elicit that shocked reaction, and that's a bit of a viscious cycle!

It started with that marathon, then migrated to assault course races and adventure races. 

Royal Marines Commando Challenge 2008

Helly Hansen Challenge 2008

Then in 2009, while preparing for our upcoming wedding, I mentioned to my wife the idea of running a bit further. "Maybe I could run the length of Hadrian's Wall? I've always wanted to walk it, but the cost of accommodation seems pretty high, so if I could do it in less days, I could limit the cost." There was at least a little method in my madness!

Unlike most fianc├ęs who are busily preparing for their wedding, mine actually thought it was a good idea to train for the toughest event of my life, and even better, said she'd run it with me. 

Hadrian's Wall Challenge 2010

The run was every bit as hard as I'd expected - maybe even harder, given that I was injured and prevented from most of the training. But as I ran the Great North Run on the fourth day since starting the Hadrian's Wall route (aiming to make it a nice round 100 miles in 4 days), people all around me commented on the distance I'd run. Looking at my t-shirt (showing the distances covered each day and the charities I'd supported) I started to hear that question again; "why?!" And unlike previously, this time even fellow runners were asking it. My body was broken before I even started those 13.1 miles from Newcastle to South Shields, but the uplift provided by those comments carried me to the finish line with the biggest smile I'd ever worn during a run.

I dined out on that feeling for quite some time, enjoying the fact that people were always surprised that I'd run from one coast of the UK to the other. 

However, as is probably inevitable, as time drew on and the run receded into history, that feeling started to fade, and I knew I needed a new challenge to feed my desire for recognition.

And so my 2012 challenge was born. I would complete a marathon and two ultra-marathons in three months. Even telling people what I was planning got the reaction I so craved, driving me out on those long, cold training runs throughout the winter and early spring.

The Greater Manchester Marathon in 2012 was a race that is widely recognised as one of the worst road marathons in UK history. Mention that day to anyone who was running that race and you will see the haunted look in their eyes as their memories take them back to the freezing cold wind, continuous torrential rain, flooded, muddy track sections (where runners were forced to shimmy along a fence in an attempt to save their shoes!), muddy finish area and lost finish-line bags. The experience for my wife and I (yes, she had stupidly suggested this run in the first place, so she had to join me!) was not much better. The absolute agony on my face as we crossed the finish line together made what will hopefully always be my least favourite race photo.

The finish line of Greater Manchester Marathon 2012

During the recovery from the race, I found myself frequently asking myself the question that I had previously so craved hearing from others; "why?" Why was I doing this? I had hated about half of the marathon, and was now due to run even further during both of the next months.

Strangely, the answer I found inside myself was still linked to the question; I couldn't handle the thought that all of those times I'd been asked "why?" and had replied with something about proving myself, because I could, or some other untrue answer, may have actually all been in vain, and that I would have to tell people that I had given up.

That fear drove me through the hilly Sanstone Trail 50K race in May, in spite of not really enjoying much of it at all.

Sandstone Trail 50K 2012

It also got me to the start line of the 45-Mile race I had entered for June. It also drove me through the first 30 miles or so of that race, up and down the steep hills of the South West Coast Path in Cornwall. But at about 35 miles I started to flag again, and decided to sit on a rock half-way up yet another steep climb, to consider why I was even doing this silly running thing.

As I sat there in the sunshine, panting for breath as I looked out over the azure seas, another runner stopped to sit alongside me and we got chatting. That runner was Daley, an American working in the UK who was also attempting the longest race of his life to date, and who was also suffering a little. We decided to stick together for the rest of the run, finding that chatting about our lives, friends, work, experiences of world travel and, of course, running made the last ten miles fly past.

Suddenly, I realised that I had another reason for running; one I'd never really spotted in previous events - the people. It turns out that ultra-marathon runners are amongst the most open and friendly people in the world.
 
This is something that I feel road runners and middle-distance runners miss out on (along with having an event that's basically a slow-moving picnic, in terms of what you eat and drink!) On the roads, we get absorbed in our own races, thinking about minutes-per-mile, distance to the finish, personal bests etc. That's fine if you're aiming for a specific race time, but it can sometimes ruin the fun of being out and about at a weekend with a load of like-minded people.
With ultra running on the other hand, half the point (unless you're a true challenger) is to meet new people, chat with them and keep each other going. It's the opposite of competitive, and I realised I now loved that even more than people's incredulity at what runs I'd completed.

Finishing Classic Quarter 2012 with Daley

After my events in 2012 I took a short leave of absence from long runs, while Clare and I took on the endurance event of our lives, by raising a baby through to toddler-hood. I ran a couple of shorter ultras and a half-marathon, but never really pushed myself as I had before.

But when, at the end of 2014, I decided I needed a challenge again, it seemed to make perfect sense to go back to the one which had shown me how much fun ultra running can really be - the Classic Quarter in Cornwall.

So the date was set, the holiday house was booked, and I couldn't wait for June to arrive. Any of you who've read my earlier posts on my fate on that particular day will know it wasn't my finest hour of running, and once again it caused me to question "why?"

I think my answer had changed yet again; this had always been about other people, and how they reacted to me, but now it was about me again. It turned out that I was comfortable telling people that I'd failed to finish, and that their opinion of me didn't decline. So now, my motivation is to beat that demon that is purely inside me; my failure last year.

To do that, I've taken on lots of new pieces of learning, changed my training entirely and entered "warm-up" events like the one I completed last weekend. My body will be fit enough, so now it's just about my brain.

But now I have the right answers for that point where my body is screaming at me, telling me to just drop out and head back to the sofa, and my head asks the question "why?"

  • Because I love finishing
  • Because I hate not finishing
  • Because all the people running are brilliant, and I like being with them
  • Because I want to be able to tell the war stories afterwards
  • Because 99% of the country wouldn't even have made it to the start line, let alone the finish
  • Because I'll love that hug from my wife and daughter at whatever point it comes, but when it's at the finish, it'll feel all the sweeter (and sweatier!)

 
My Two-Year Old Looking Fairly Unimpressed at my DNF in 2015

Monday, 21 March 2016

Race Review - Jurassic Coast Challenge

Well, that was tough!

I'm writing this on Monday evening, having finished my three days of pergatory along Dorset's beautifully brutal (or is it brutally beautiful?) coast line yesterday.

This weekend, I was taking part in the VoTwo Events Jurassic Coast Challenge; three marathons (we'll come back to that!) along the Jurassic Coast path around Dorset's coastline in three days.

First things first; this is a brilliant event. Very well organised, by excellent people, with well-manned and supported checkpoints and even friendlier fellow runners.

But now onto some of the details, this is a review after all!

Day 1:
The registration and briefing process was carried out at Portland's Sailing Academy, a legacy of the 2012 Olympics which is an ideal location. This process was both efficient and informative, with the race organisers giving good route details and the usual friendly banter that you expect from events like this.

Below is a link to my video blog that I made during day one, but in summary:
I loved the first half (up to about 13 miles), but found the second half (well, the 15 miles that remained of the 'marathon'!) a bit of a slog. 
 
One of the early climbs

With Charles, who I also ran with on Day 3
 
That was partly because I went through a personal low-patch, but also because there was nowhere near the beauty that I felt the coastline promised. Add to that the brutal distance along a shingle beach, and it was pretty sapping.
The finish line was brilliantly rewarding though, with the cup of delicious soup and bread being very welcome!

The day totalled just under 28 miles, with around 3,200 feet of climb, and I finished it in a total time of 5 hours and 37 minutes.

Anyway, here is the link to my video blog covering the day:

 

Day 2:

The second day of punishment dawned with the inevitable struggle to haul my stiff body out of my B&B bed for a quick breakfast of porridge and toast, before heading for another registration and short briefing session at the sailing academy.

Starting the run from near the academy meant there was no need to spend a lot of time in a minibus before getting going.
I had thought that would be a problem, as I wanted more time to recover, but actually it seemed to work quite well for me, and I really enjoyed the first half of the day, which was all around Portland.
Portland is a pretty bleak looking spot on a cold, grey afternoon like when I saw it at the end of day one. However, on the morning of day two, it was transformed to me, and I loved moving up and around its barren cliff tops, my legs protesting all the way!

The second checkpoint of the day was back in the Sailing Academy, on the way back across to Weymouth, and I left feeling quite good about how well the first half had gone.

Strangely, it wasn't the hills that came closest to breaking me on day two; it was actually the flat section through Weymouth and along the promenade. There's something about running along a flat section of straight Tarmac, where nothing seems to be getting any closer and is into a headwind, that seems to be an anathema to someone like me who likes trail running!

Fortunately, I fell into step with Emma, who seemed to be enjoying the promenade almost as little as I was at that point. She was clearly mentally stronger than me though, and I latched on to her pace, selfishly using her strength to keep me going.

Finally getting off the flat stuff!

Fortunately, within a few miles of us starting to run together, the hills started again, and I was back into my stride again. Now it became much more of a team effort between me and Emma, with me being strongest of the up and downhills, but her keeping me marching along the flat sections.

The beauty of the hills and cliffs

As a team, this worked brilliantly, and suddenly we found ourselves in some of the most beautiful terrain in the country. The last few miles were some of my favourite of the whole event, with an absolute sprint down the steps to the finish line.

Finally Starting to Enjoy Myself Again
 

Obligatory Durdle Door Selfie
 
A Slightly More Professional Effort!

In total, day two came in at 27.3 miles, with just under 3,800 feet of climb, and I finished in 6 hours 10 minutes, so I was pleased with that.

Again, I did a video blog of day two, which is available here:


 
Day 3:

Well, getting started was always going to be a problem on day three, but I was actually looking forward to getting back into the hills again, hoping for scenery like day two again.

After the 40-minute minibus ride up to the start line, it was straight into the climbing, with everyone quickly remembering the thigh pain of a truly steep hill, within the first half mile of the day!

It didn't let up from there either, with the steep ups and downs continuing for most of the morning. I ran with Chares for a couple of hours, enjoying his company and the pair of us feeding off each other's energy to keep a good pace up for the first 16 miles or so.

Me and Charles about to descend yet more steps!

Eventually though, I started to flag and encouraged Charles to go on, while I had a couple of minutes sitting and snacking while I admired the views. He eventually relented and cracked on, and I was in my own world of pain again for a few miles.

Eventually I worked through my low spot of the day and, having sat in the last checkpoint for ten minutes, I was ready for the final 10-12Km (again, marathon distances are always slightly vague when you're off-road!)

The last part of day three was tough, with tricky beaches, vaulting over groynes and one last hilly headland; but by then I knew I was done and would make it.

Struggling Along the Final Beach
 

Day three ended up being 28.5 miles with a brutal 4,300 feet of climb. Having finished it in 6 hours 29 minutes, I was ecstatic - as you can see in my video blog below:

This was a great event, with great people, both organising and out running. Officially it was three ultramarathons in three days, with each including climbing higher than a mountain!

Will I be back? I'm not sure. It was hard doing all of those days without having my family along with me. I feel I made some real friends over the weekend, but there's nothing quite like finishing a run with a hug from your family to make it all feel better.

Definitely worth the effort!


Monday, 29 June 2015

Failure, Frustration and Finding a Way Back

As anyone who has been following this blog, knows me, or just watched my vlog in my earlier post will know, three weeks ago I failed to complete the Endurancelife Classic Quarter ultramarathon, dropping out after 23 miles.

Since that point in time when I decided that it would be more sensible to stop than to continue, I have been continually analysing my decision, and having to justify it, not only to myself, but also to anybody who I have told about it when they've asked how I got on.

The bottom line is that it was a failure, and I've come to terms with that, I think.

However, I'm not used to failing at things, and I don't take it very well. That's a funny thing to find myself writing, given that I took 4 attempts to pass my driving test, and had to do resits in my first year at university until I found the right course for me. But when I have really, really set my mind to something, I have previously always succeeded, and to not do so this time has hit me pretty hard.


Fortunately though, over the past three weeks, I've come to terms with the failure of my run, by analysing the reasons behind it and planning a way of ensuring it doesn't happen again:


  1. I had to stop because my ankle was getting worse, not better
    I turned my ankle quite badly on a fast, technical descent near Keswick around 4 weeks before the run, and had thought it would be all better by the day. Unfortunately it wasn't, and actually was beginning to get worse, the longer I spent running on it.
    Now that I've had a few more weeks, that ankle feels fine when I run, which is really positive (unfortunately I also badly turned the other one the day after pulling out of the Classic Quarter, so am still letting that slowly recover now).
    Lesson Learned:
    Let the healing process occur, and don't expect things to suddenly get better.
    Next Steps:
    Spend time doing ankle strengthening exercises. Ankles take a huge amount of punishment on long runs, particularly trail runs, and so need to be stronger. I now have vowed to make mine better over the next few weeks while I'm unable to do some other forms of exercise (the reason for which is coming later in this post!)
  2. I had to stop because I was getting cramp on the steep uphill sections It's inevitable that you have to walk the steep uphill sections of a trail run. It's also almost inevitable that on a run which is as steep and technical as the Classic Quarter, you will get twinges of cramp at times. However, to be getting them after only 20 miles was a bit of a shocker for me, particularly as I'd been taking salt capsules and had drunk some electrolyte drink.
    However, I hadn't trained a lot on hills and I'd been unable to get enough food in (covered later in my lessons learned), so maybe my muscles were simply lacking the strength and energy for this kind of punishment.

    Lesson Learned:

    Train your legs for the kind of running you'll be doing.

    Next Steps:

    As part of my training for my running of the course next June, I have already booked in a 3-marathons-in-3-days challenge on similar terrain in Dorset. The idea of this is to get my legs a bit more used to the terrain and to help build my leg strength.
    I will also need to do more hill repeat sessions and more cross-training concentrating on leg strength.
  3. I had to stop because I hadn't got enough fuel in As I said in my vlog, I've never had a real issue with eating before, but I really struggled on the run. This may have been partly because of the heat, but given that it wasn't hot when the race started, I think it's more likely that it was due to the time of day. I heard a lot of other people saying similar things about struggling to get food down, so maybe it was something else, but training my body to eat earlier and on rougher terrain is something I can try and action.
    Lesson Learned:

    Eating early, little and often sounds very easy, but you need to train in doing it on similar terrain and at similar times of day to your race conditions to really understand what you want to eat and when.

    Next Steps:

    Use the training run in Dorset to practise eating while on similar terrain and train some very early runs as part of the overall training to get my body used to this.
  4. I stopped because I was feeling rough Notice that I didn't state that I "had to stop"; but I know this contributed to my desire to stop. At the time I thought that my feeling rough was primarily due to a lack of food and the heat of the sun. Since then however, I've started to think a bit more about this and it seems there was one element I hadn't taken into account; I always hate that distance on a run! Whether it's a long training run, either of the two road-marathons I've completed or any of the other ultras I've done, I always hate the section between about 18 and 25 miles. The weird thing is that I've never noticed this consistency before!
    Lesson Learned:

    I will probably always hate those miles in a race, and I'll be in a much stronger position to cope with that feeling and continue my race, if I simply acknowledge that, and try to remember that it does get better afterwards.
    Next Steps:
    I will do more of the "long" training runs (anything over 20 miles or so) as part of my training for next year's race, so that I can get used to this feeling and to build a catalogue of the good feelings from when I battle through it. I will also try to limit the various contributing factors to this feeling (I have already purchased a hat with neck protection in case of hot weather again, and have got a plan for dealing with my nutrition better).
  5. I stopped because I could The point at which I dropped out of the race was directly alongside our holiday house - it was literally a 20-yard walk to my bedroom. I had always known that this would be tough to push through, but knew that I could do so. However, with all of the other niggles mentioned above, the draw of a seat in the living room (or on my bed, as you can see in my vlog) was simply too much for me. This will happen again, assuming we're able to get the same holiday house, so I need to find a way of dealing with it.
    Lesson Learned:
    Having looked forward to sitting down for the past 5 miles, I found it very difficult to justify not stopping and heading for the house. If I am able to have a comfy-ish seat (camping chair) in the checkpoint itself that I can use to have a break and get some food, I hope this will remove some of this temptation.

    Next Steps:
    Make sure that next year we have a plan for me to sit down for a while in this checkpoint, in relative comfort, and then move on feeling stronger.

Ok, so now that I've learned all those lessons, I figured that this weekend was a good time to start applying them. I decided to work on my overall fitness and leg strength by running through an "Insanity" workout programme for the next 60 days. Not only would this improve my leg strength for hills, it would also improve my body's ability to handle short bursts of anaerobic work, while also getting me used to feeling rough and then getting over it.



I duly completed my first fitness test last night and then got up early this morning to complete my first "proper" workout. All was going well (although anaerobic work is hard after all my slow trundling runs) until about 20 minutes in, when I managed to recur a frequent previous injury by dislocating my shoulder while carrying out some enthusiastic Jumping Jacks.
I managed to get my arm back in its socket by myself (saving me a trip to A&E), but needless to say, this has rather put paid to that particular plan of getting myself into good shape... another failure to add to what feels like an ever-growing list, and not the best way to end a disappointing month fitness-wise!


Now I have to spend the next week or so resting my shoulder while the damage within it gradually starts to heal, before I can start some kind of fitness regime again (albeit one which doesn't involve any upper-body work, while I also work on stabilising, strengthening and rebuilding my ruined shoulder).


I guess it's just another bump in the road, but I'm determined to get back to my fittest ASAP so that I can truly enjoy being successful again soon.