Monday 24 November 2008

Atacama info and this weeks training

This week I did my 400M and 800M intervals on Tuesday evening. I am sticking very strictly to 1:36 for 400M and 3:12 for 800M, I can pace it fairly well now, usually arriving under a second within the 400M time. The 800M however is causing me a problem. I am running, in the dark, with a head torch, on a uneven trail. It used to be a railway line, but is now just a dirt track, and gains 50ft of height. So I have to run two of the 800M splits uphill and 2 downhill. It's dark, and not easy to see even with the head torch as I am running around 9.5mph over that distance, and a little treacherous underfoot. Anyway, the net result is that I am missing the uphill 800M split by 5 seconds. I was always hitting it no problem in the summer, so the dark and mud are obviously slowing me down. There isn't a lot I can do about it, just accept it. I know it would comfortable on a track, which is where I should be doing these I guess. I went to the Yoga class at the gym later on in the evening.

On Wednesday I did a 6 mile road run; quite a lumpy one with around 700ft of ascent. I used my road shoes for the first time in a few months. It was actually because both pairs of my identical trail shoes were still soaked through and caked in mud, which made the decision on the road route.

I woke on Thursday with a very slight cold, but an elevated resting heart rate, so I decided not to run the speed session that evening. I did go and do my usual gym work in the evening though.

Friday, I had recovered, but I am currently using as a rest day anyway. I will add in a run after Christmas.

On Saturday I didn't plan a set route, but just took a guess wanting to do around 12 miles. When I got back and measured it, it turned out to be 11 miles but there was 1200ft of ascent; all on trails or across fields. Saturday is just an easy pace steady run; very enjoyable. I tend to run around 9 minute miles or a little less I think, but I don't take a watch as I don't time these runs. As soon as you take a watch, you start racing yourself and my Saturday run isn't about that. The speed comes from the Tuesday and Thursday runs.

The route and hill profile is shown below. Click to enlarge.

Just as something different I took photo's on my training run, to give you an idea of the terrain I run in all the time.

I always head straight uphill from my house on the road for 1 mile to reach the fields. I cross a stile and head up to a local monument; the Wedgwood Monument shown below (about 1.5 miles to this point). I've pinched a link from someone else’s website for this one, because it is a nicer shot, and shows the path I run up.

Once at the needle I continued down the hill over fields, then farm track. I then pick up the road into the village of Audley (at 3 miles) before joining a mile and half long abandoned railway trail as shown below.

A short couple of hundred metres of road leads me into a local nature reserve; actually the site of a former mining colliery (Minnie Pit).

I run through the nature reserve for a further mile, before then heading up this field and through the woods on a narrow path to a small number of houses in the area Scott Hay.

There is then a mile long section on road to take me into Silverdale and into a footpath through the mining colliery that used to be there. There is a steady climb up to black bank.

Then views over the local area and into Apedale.

I head into Apedale (yes you've guessed it, another former mining colliery!), which has now been turned into another nature reserve, with well maintained paths that rollercoaster steadily up and down. I train here a couple of times a week.

I run through there and join yet another abandoned railway line for half a mile before heading down to another small lake.

Then wind steadily upwards on the path I called the 'ankle twister'

I then emerge into fields and have about a mile and half to get home, all steady uphill as shown here.

The last half mile is on the road and I'm home!

Onto Atacama information: I emailed a former competitor and he said that hiking poles were an absolute must. He said that they were invaluable on the razor sharp salt flats where your feet frequently break through into the slushy salt goo underneath, and you can easily lose a shoe! He also said they were really useful for finding your way across the daily and many river crossings. He said there is point wearing waterproof shoes or socks because you can be up to your waist in river water at times.

So, I am definitely going to have to get reacquainted with my Leki poles again. I'd viewed them as a bit of a soft-option to be honest, and didn't need them anymore, but after hearing this advice from a ultra fit (he won the KAEM last year) American Police Sergeant and former Marine, I am taking my poles!

An ultra running acquaintance of mine has also entered and we are heading out to Chile at the same time. You can read about his former races, which pale my few small achievements into insignificance here.

Mark has done 'DOUBLE Badwater'!! Spartathlon (3 times), and the UTMB just to name a few. Check out his running CV and race reports. If I can do half of what he has achieved I'd be happy!

That's it for this week, have a good one.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Six Dales Circuit

I took an extra days rest on Tuesday, hoping to rest my hamstring which I slightly pulled a couple of weeks ago, but haven't given it the opportunity to heal. It's nothing serious at all, just a niggle. I did however go to Yoga, which on reflection probably wasn't very wise as every posture seems to stretch the hamstrings. Did I mention I started Yoga last week? Well, I am doing it to try and lengthen my hamstrings and hopefully learn some breathing and relaxation exercises too. I can probably only devote two sessions a week to it, so I am not sure if I will see much, or any, benefit. However I am going to try and stick with it for 3 months, which is what they recommend to start seeing benefits.

On Wednesday I did a 10k trail route, again running through the local fields and woods in the pitch dark with my head torch on. I really do find these very enjoyable.

On Thursday I did a speed session; usual 8x400M then 4x800M. I forgot my stopwatch, but I know what pace to run at now. It's a little trickier running this session with a head torch on over a slightly uneven trail path, but I am managing ok. After the run I went straight to the gym for my usual strength and stability work. I seem to have retained a taste for the Sauna afterwards, something I had only ever done for my lame attempt at acclimation in the past. Anyway, it makes for a long training session on a Thursday night. I finish work at 5pm, and don't get back home until 9pm usually, and then have to eat as well.

On Friday evening I did my preparation for the Six Dales Circuit; a 26 mile Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) event, held in the Peak District every year. I entered last year, but couldn't go due to injury. I transferred the route from Memory Map onto my PDA, and my backup PDA, and fully charged my two GPS receivers. I always carry a backup just in case one goes down. I looked at the hill profile, memorising where the hills were and how long they went on for. This was he first of the errors I made. I had assumed the course was running in a clockwise direction. Not until I started the course, did I find out this year (as most years apparently) it was running anti-clockwise, so all my preparation was worthless! The only thing I did know was that tit was 26 miles long, went through six dales, and had about 3000ft of ascent. I checked the weather forecast and it said overcast, but no rain any hour all day. It would also feel like 13C even with any wind chill. I still put in a waterproof jacket anyway, and I packed 1.5l of electrolyte and a couple of snack bars.

Again, I didn't sleep that great on Friday night, knowing I had to be up early to get to the event. I wore some leggings and just a Helly Hansen long sleeve lifa, two pairs of socks and the MT800 shoes I wore in the Kalahari. It took me all of 30 seconds to remove the Velcro I had so lovingly taken a couple of days to stitch on badly.

The event course is shown below. Starting from Biggin, and going anti-clockwise.

I drove to the event, getting there in plenty of time. The weather was damp, cold and drizzly rain. I met a friend Anne who was there running with her dog Daisy. I met Anne and her husband Vaughan on La Trans Aq in 2007, but Vaughan is injured at the moment, so Anne has been doing events alone. She wanted to hear about the Kalahari run so I set off running with her 10 minutes before the main runners start; 8:50am. Now, I knew already that Anne is a much faster runner than me, so I said I may have to drop off at some point. I started off wearing my waterproof jacket, but got so hot so quickly that I had to take it off. The problem was that it was raining a little and my Helly Hansen was getting wet. Still because I was running reasonably quickly, but still more slowly than Anne would normally run at, I was maintaining my body heat. The terrain was very mixed, parts were on good trails, but the fields were of course all very muddy, and some of the dales were rocky and there was rubble underfoot.

Now normally I would be running at around 5.5mph on one of these events, as it is a running pace that I can maintain. Of course there are stiles and gates to negotiate as well as hills and ground that you are forced to walk because it is so uneven. I didn't quite realise just how quickly we were running until I saw the speed profile when I got home.

When we were running we were running at over 7mph, you can see I highlighted a typical section 7.3mph. There are dips where you stop to cross a stile etc, but when running it was always around this pace. Ignore anything over 10mph because when we went into deep dales the GPS loses satellite lock and the signal bounces off the valley walls causing a bad and incorrect signal; ignore all pacing from 10-12 miles totally, and 22 miles onwards.

After 13 miles I could feel myself getting very hungry, I was running out of fuel. We happened to be in Lathkill dale which is very picky rocky footing and had slowed down. As I slowed I cooled rapidly due to my wet shirt and the wind. I told Anne to continue as I was going to slow and eat something as well as try and warm up. I put on my waterproof jacket, but it was too late really. Schoolboy error of getting my clothes wet and slowing my pace meant that I could not warm up. I walked whilst I ate a snack bar, which only made things worse. I was shivering. Fortunately I then arrived at CP2 at the village of Monyash. All the CPs were indoors and this one had hot tea and hot cheesy oatcakes. I apologise for everyone not from the local area who has no ides what oatcakes are, but they are like a savoury pancake and usually filled with cheese or bacon. I spent 5 minutes there warming back up with tea and oatcakes before setting off again.

Once back outside I got cold again very quickly, because my muscles had cooled even more. The constant drizzle rain and wind made it all pretty unpleasant. The next 3 or 4 miles were a long steady uphill across fields to Sparklow. I was struggling at this point, really feeling so cold than I wondered if I would have to quit. I was stupid for not packing a fleece to wear. This is the first event I have done in autumn, and the totally incorrect weather forecast had caught me off-guard as well. I managed to speed back up nearing the top of the incline and then hit a good trail for a couple of miles, before a couple of sharp climbs then a nice descent across the fields into Hartington. From the good trail onwards I picked my pace back up and warmed up again, much to my relief. It's amazing just how demoralised you feel when you are cold. I didn't waste any time at CP3 in Hartington; just grabbing a couple of cup fulls of juice and a couple of snack before leaving on the final 5 mile leg back to Biggin. Both hamstrings were aching at this point. I think this is evidence that I hadn't done an LDWA in such miserable terrain and conditions for a while. Further to that my left knee was causing me some discomfort too.

On the approach into Wolfscotedale there was some knee-high water across the muddy fields, which added to my cheer! Lots of the paths had been flooded anyway, so my feet had been wet from 1 mile into the run. Still my feet were in fine condition, no blisters or anything. After Wolfdscotedale was Biggin dale, which was utterly vile. If I never go through it again, it will be too soon. It was only about 2 miles long, but all gradually uphill and full of mud and rubble underfoot; I was forced to walk most of it. I was cursing it. After what seemed like an eternity I got back onto the road and just a short mile section before getting to the finish. It took me 5 and half hours; around 4.7mph. So, no record breaking performance due to my poor preparation for the most part. My knee was an aggravating factor as well. Still 26 miles in those conditions is faster than some people would do a flat road marathon in I guess. I drove home and had a lengthy soak in the bath!

I saw a physio about my knee, which has been troubling me for about 6 weeks. He was not sure if it is a popliteus problem or a small cartilage tear (I get severe pain when my knee is fully bent, or upon standing after being seated with a bent leg for a while). He suggested an MRI to confirm. I spoke to my uncle who suspects popliteus but also said it could be worth getting an MRI done to be sure. I'm due to pay the balance payment for the Atacama crossing this week, so I could do with knowing if this is just a minor problem or something requiring surgery before I part with a lot of money! My uncle is making a few calls and will let me know later if he can get me an MRI done tomorrow. It's also an opportunity to look at the calf on the same leg, which I have a reoccurring problem with. There looks to be a build up of scar tissue which keeps getting bigger and causing me issues when I start to increase my mileage before an event. So, this will possibly identify what is going on there, as well as hopefully rule out any major knee problem.

I'll keep you posted on the outcome of that. Have a good week!

Monday 10 November 2008

Back to training

I resumed a normal training schedule last week. I did a speed session, with 400 and 800M splits on Tuesday. This didn't go as well as expected, after I missed a few splits by a number of seconds. I didn't get much sleep the night before, and it was my first speed session since before the Kalahari, so I they are the mitigating factors. My speed perhaps has lost a little of it's edge. I'm sure I'll be back to normal soon.

On Wednesday I did a 10k trail route, over the local hills and fields. I'm now getting used to having to wear my headtorch for these runs, as of course it's dark by 5pm. Again this session didn't go to plan. It was supposed to be an easy/steady pace but it felt more difficult that I should. Again a poor nights sleep didn't help.

On Wednesday night I slept like a baby, catching up on some missed hours. It showed on Thursday's interval sesion where I performed really well. So lack of sleep messes up my training sessions just as it does my performance on events. It was a 10k trail route. The first and last 10 minutes were a warm up/down, and then I would alternate between 3 minutes quick (roughtly 7 minute mile pace) and 2 minutes recovery (roughly 9 minute mile pace).

On all of the seesions in the week I had a slight but nagging pain from my hamstring, which I pulled a little during a run about 10 days ago. I decided to rest it and not run at all on the weekend, so I've had a fairly light mileage week; only 18 miles.

Still I hope I will be in good enough condition to enter the LDWA Six Dales Cirtcuit event on Saturday. It is a 26.5 mile course over plenty of hills, and as the name suggests a few dales as well!

My flights are all booked for the Atacama Crossing in March 09, and I will be looking at the compulsory equipment list in some detail over the next few weeks. I believe I need to carry more equipment, and I will need my heavier, warmer sleeping bag, but I am still going to strive for a pack as close to 8kg that I can get. I'll keep you posted on my equipment plans and decisions. One important one is hiking poles. Now, I never use these on training or events anymore, but lots of people are saying that for the Atacama they are important. They really help crossing the razor-sharp Salt flats and the many river crossings. So, I'll consider taking them, but will of course have to work them into my trainig sessions again to get used to them. I'll think that one over. If anyone has done the Atacama Crossing I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, as well as any other tips you can provide?

Have a good week.

Monday 3 November 2008

Kalahari Marathon - Training and Performance review

My race report for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is here.
My equipment review is here, and my hydration and nutrition review is here.

So, now for the final part, performance and training critique.

Well, I came 6th, out of 20 starters. So my goal to finish in the top half of the field was more than achieved. Still, I lost a great deal of hours in total to time spent at checkpoints. Most damaging was 45 minutes at checkpoint 1 on day 4, and then 2 hours at checkpoint 2. I spent about 40 minutes at checkpoint 3 on day 2, feeling rough. Maybe on a couple of other occasions I spent up to 15 minutes as well. Now, these can't all be counted as 'bad', because at the time I was doing what I needed to do to complete the race. So, describing these as 'lost' time is not strictly accurate. If I would have not rested for those combined hours would I have finished 5th or 4th? Probably not. Because I would have probably fallen to pieces further along the route.

So, I rested when I felt I needed to, to ensure that I finished the whole event. As was said to me during the MDS, you don't get a better medal or T-shirt for finishing first or last.

So having established that I 'needed' to rest when and for how long I did, I need to ask myself why? The heat in the Kalahari was certainly the big factor, coupled with the difficult terrain. The in MDS the heat had not bothered me as much, and the terrain is without doubt far easier. The days that I performed best in the Kalahari I started slowly, quite happily languishing towards the rear of the field, and then speeding up in the second half of the race; running a negative split (much like Paula Radcliff yesterday in the NY marathon. Well done Paula). Well, when I say 'much like', I mean negative split and not 4/5 minute miles!
I think I paced myself better than some other competitors, as I would overtake many in the latter half or closing legs of the stage. However, I remember on day 2 I started more quickly than I should, the competitiveness in me taking over. Initially I did well, getting up to 4th with only 5 or 6 miles remaining. However I got to the CP in such a bad state I had to rest for 40 mins and lost 3 places. I should have taken 5 minutes break in between checkpoints, under a tree and ate something, and just cooled down. 5 minutes then, would have meant nothing overall.

Ok, so cautious pacing and running negative splits seem to suit me. That's one lesson learned, as is taking a break between checkpoints if I am overheating.

The other huge factor in my lack on consistency was the sleep problem. This is my estimation of sleep for the event.

Day before the race (in a bed) - 6/7 hours
Day 1 - 2 hours broken
day 2 - 2 hours broken
day 3 - 1.5 hours broken
day 4 - 5 hours solid (after the 75km stage)
day 5 - 3-4 hours broken
day 6 - 6 hours solid

This also goes hand in hand with my finishing positions each day. I did very well on day 1 (5th), worse on day 2(7th), worse again on day 3 (8th), 7th on day 4 after taking 2:45 rest mid stage, 7th on stage 5 (again mediocre sleep the night before), stage 6 (4th) after my best nights sleep all week.
What is interesting is that my MDS performance was the same. I did well, then got gradually worse, improving after the long day when I started to sleep well.

I always perform well after a goods night sleep. Doesn't sound like rocket science, but it needs pointing out. The difference between getting 3 hours of broken sleep vs 4-6 hours of solid sleep is priceless, for me at least.

So, what can I do to improve it? Well, I'm not into taking sleeping pills for starters, though I would have done in the Kalahari on night 3 if I could have!
As an ongoing strategy I need to understand why I am not sleeping well.
It was very hot until probably 2am, but that alone was not the main problem, as I could roll down or sleep on top of my sleeping bag.

I can't get comfortable - The ground isn't nice and soft! This was made worse by my Thermarest bursting on night 2 I think.

The pillows I make out of rolled up clothes put into the stuff sack is not a nice feather pillow I sleep on at home!

Finally, the big one, knowing that I need to sleep is preventing me from doing so. Trying to force myself to sleep, the inability to switch off and drift off. It's psychosomatic now; I've made it that way. I've made it into a big issue, and that is the major hurdle.

I can solve some of the issues above. I can take a repair kit for the Thermarest, and I can look into a lightweight down pillow (inflatable’s are not comfortable). The inability to switch off I don't know though. I sleep fine at home, except not always well when I have an event the next day, so it's the same issue. People have suggested Yoga and breathing techniques etc. Frankly, I'm open to suggestions on this one? I need to crack this. If I do, my performance will become more consistent and I will do better still.

Ok, moving onto the next part, my training. It was radically different to my MDS training. For the MDS I was running up to 80 miles a week. I would typically run 12 miles on a Tues, Wed and Thursday, then perhaps 15 on a Saturday and 20 on a Sunday. Gym twice a week. At the weekends I would be carrying a full or even overweight backpack; up to 12 kilos towards the end of the training. I had been running with 7-8 kilo's for well over 6 months before the event every weekend. I was not doing much speed training, but I did do some hill reps. I took part in a couple of LDWA events each month.

I think the MDS training fatigued me. I don't think running all those mid week 10/12 milers at a medium pace was beneficial at all. I don't think running with a heavy backpack every weekend, for so many months, was beneficial either; my pace became stale and slowed.

All of those things I recognised myself, and I'd also recognised the need to do speed training as well. I asked AndyW on forum for some help with speed training sessions, and he suggested a couple of speed sessions a week, doing 400m and 800m splits. I resolved not to carry any weight whatsoever, until the last few weeks before the event, and even then only a light pack, perhaps equivalent to the weight of my pack for the long day 4 (say 5kg).

After taking a month off after the MDS, I fairly quickly ramped up to 25-30 miles a week, incorporating a tempo run for speed work initially. I maintained that 25 miles a week for 2-3 months, my tempo run times improving dramatically. Then I changed my tempo run for 2x speed sessions as per Andy's advice. I entered the Kalahari marathon with just 7 weeks to go, and put together the training plan you can see here.
Very roughly, I did speed work on a Tuesday, easy run on a Wednesday, speed work on a Thursday, and Saturday I did a long run. Initially Sunday, Monday and Friday were rest days. I also went to the gym once or twice a week and did strength and stability work. I then started to increase my weekly mileage by 10%, introducing a Friday run, rather than increasing the length of my 'quality' speed work sessions. My mileage was to peak at 50 miles. In fact I think maybe I did 45 in the final big week before taper. I continued to go to LDWA events, which I believe are invaluable.

So, how did I feel? Well, I didn't feel fatigued. The speed work sessions were always hard, but I could feel the benefit and see the improvements. Because I was not carrying a backpack on the long runs I kept my pace very sharp. I did intend to add up to 8kg on my training plan, but I didn't, and I am pleased I didn't. The heaviest I carried was 5kg at the 30 mile Open to Offas LDWA event a few weeks before the Kalahari marathon. When at the event, my pace didn't suffer, and I didn't even notice the backpack (8kg starting weight).

So, in conclusion, I trained less and I am fitter than I was for the MDS! Quality, not quantity. Speed sessions, not stupid mileage. The strength work in the gym instead of carrying a heavy backpack on my long runs at the weekend. I won't be going back to running 80 miles a week, because I don't think there is any value for me.

For everyone else, well I can't advise you. I've told you what worked for me. You can't ignore your backpack totally. You need to see how it fits and learn to live with it, but there just is no need or point training with a heavy weight months and months before the event. Even when you do start adding weight, don't bother with your estimated starting pack weight because you will only be carrying it for day 1. Why not just concentrate on the weight you will have some time later in the week. Give your knee joints a break, and keep your pace sharp!

I'm happy with this training regime. I'm dropped back down to 25 miles a week now.
This week I did 2 x 5 mile steady runs to easy myself back into training, and did an 11 mile, 2650ft ascent, run over the Peak District at the weekend. Next week I’ll get back to the speed work too. I'll tick-over on 25-30 miles a week, and then ramp it up after Christmas. The Atacama Crossing is on at the same time as the MDS in 2009; the end of March. I'll be doing plenty of LDWA events between now and then too, starting with the Six Dales Circuit on the 15th November.

So for me I have two things to do.

1) Learn to sleep on event
2) Keep thinking quality not quantity.

Have a good week!