Thursday 24 December 2009

Stiperstones Seasonal Saunter

Been a few weeks since my last post. I went on holiday for 5 days to New York, which was very cold indeed upon arrival, about -10 with wind chill, the pilot said. Had a nice few days sightseeing and shopping there. I won't bore you with all the photo's, just one of Times Square with a Coca Cola Santa on the board.

Got back a couple of days before the Stiperstones Seasonal Saunter having not run at all for about 10 days. I was working in London for a few days before going to New York and again in London as soon as I got back (straight off the plane!). So, as a result I couldn't pack all my running gear as I had limited room in my case.

My gf drove me to the start of the Stiperstones event, which is in Shropshire, very close to the border with Wales. The village is amusingly called Snailbeach. I'd be interested to know how that got it's name, since it's nowhere near the coast! Upon arrival we had to bring a wrapped present (max value £1) to put in the bran tub. When you finished the event, you got to dip in and get a present out. Lots of people had Santa hats on etc; all very festive. It was a very relaxed event. It wasn't timed, and you could start any time you like between 8:30 and 9:00. There was some hot drinks and snacks available to eat at the time, and friendly staff on hand to dish them out. I hadn't got my GPS with me, so I was navigating totally off the written instructions and map. Thankfully both were excellent and I only made one navigation mistake all day. As a result, I haven't got my usual OS map screen grab to show you, but I did put together this approximation of the course in Google Maps. I did have it available to call upon my iPhone in case I got very lost, but I didn't need it and I wouldn't have been able to make use of it anyway, as you will read.

We've had a cold snap in the last week or so in the UK, and it was around 0C and colder at times during the run. The course was mostly footpaths and fields. The fields were frost covered and "hard as iron" as the Christmas carol goes; especially tricky on the fields where the cows had been, as the hoof prints were all rock solid and made for a good workout for your ankles! The course starts with a long uphill, mostly on road which had turned to ice in place. In several places on the course, where we were on minor country roads, whole sections had turned to ice; 10's of metres at a time, which were tricky to cross. In a car they would have been really dangerous I imagine. My car would have had no chance on those roads. It's rear wheel drive, so there is no weight under the drive wheels, meaning it goes nowhere on even a slight incline on the ice. I took a couple of photo's after the descent from the first hill, in the early morning sunshine.

The route then headed into the small village of Habberly before heading South.

Much as I like my iPhone, it takes crappy photo's in comparison to my last Nokia and Sony phones. It's the latest iPhone model and still the camera is dreadful. It's terrible in low light, it doesn't have a flash either, and it really struggles to take sharp images anytime. Oh, and has one final fatal flaw. I have only a couple more pictures to show you because it was so cold the iPhone touch screen stopped working. The phone itself was fine, but the touch screen would not respond. Ok this isn't flaw unique to the iPhone (all touch screens), but when your "take photo" is a touch screen button, and not an actual button, you are stuffed!

I took these photos just nearing the top of the second climb. One photo looking back down behind me, the other just ahead to the summit.

It was then a jog down some of those quiet country lanes, with a little tentative walking over the icy stretches. Next was the last of 3 climbs in the first half of the course. This is where I made a mistake. Me and a chap I happened to be running near saw people on higher ground above us. Half way up the climb the instructions said to go straight through a gate. The other side of it was an electric fence. The chap convinced me that it was the wrong way and we should continue climbing to the top of the hill (pictured below) and not contour around it which is what we should have done.

I tried to take other photo's after that one, but the screen had stopped working.

We got to the top of the hill and sceptical I got out my compass. I took a bearing and said we are off course. We climbed over a barbed wire fence and headed over the where we both agreed we should be going. We started to head downhill and saw the runners who had been quite a ways behind us, all just ahead, so we knew we had lost time but at least were back on course. It was all steady downhill or flat for the next 3 miles to the first and only checkpoint at the half way stage. I suffered from a bad stomach again, and have determined this is caused by over-tight muscles in the stomach. Can't remember the name of the muscles. They are like a web over your stomach around to your back. Anyway, if they get very tight they can cause you to, well, simulate the effects of an upset stomach and need to toilet. Now I know what is causing this I can stop it happening.

I just grabbed a piece of sponge roll at the CP and left straight away, so 10 seconds later and I was back on my way. I had reached that point in 1:49 despite the navigation screw up. I headed out on my own for the next few miles, so had to navigate it all myself; there was no one to follow. The route headed up the next hill past a farm where the instructions were a little vague, and a few other caught we up as I stood still wondering which way to go. One of the others had GPS, so he quickly resolved the question. There were a group of about 6 or 7 of us all in close proximity for the next few miles. I didn't trust the GPS instructions the other chap had, and headed a different way at one stage, one for the group of them to come back and join the right path later on. You can't place all your faith in GPS, as I have learned in the past! This time, the route description turned out to be more useful than following a line on a screen.

We got fairly close to a winter partridge shoot; slightly unnerving with shotguns going off nearby, but we all escaped un-peppered!

There was an amazing house with a great view. My iPhone screen had warmed up after some emergency skin on skin treatment, but sadly I mistook the lens being fogged for the screen being fogged so the only other pictures I took all came out like this.

All fogged up.. oh well.

I'd loosely teamed up with another guy who turned out to be very interesting. So we chatted as we ran. He was a fell runner who had done the Bob Graham Round and was on his 3rd Paddy Buckley Round attempt. If you don't know what either are, find them on the UK map of my website.

The next section was a very long gradient, some of which we walked. The lack of miles in my legs (and the New York Pizza and Cheesecake!) in the last two weeks I certainly noticed, as I would usually have run it all. I was surprised that the route didn't take us over the actual Stiperstones themselves, but rather around them. This is understand is due to the very rocky ground around them. Some people did apparently go over them instead, which I wish I would have done as well.

We reached the summit of the climb by the Stiperstones and enjoyed great views all around, and into Wales. It had been a very cold but beautifully clear day; perfect winter running conditions. We couldn't have asked for a better day really. The last couple of miles were all downhill and back into Snailbeach. The route I recorded to be 19 miles, with about 3200ft of ascent. It took me 4 hours and 5 minutes, so that is around 4.5 mph average. Not too bad, but my form was definitely off a little. I won some scented (chocolate) candles in the bran tub, and sat down to the very well bite to eat. I had a jacket potato and a little chocolate cake afterwards. Thank you very much to the organisers and helpers. Another amazing value for money, and really well organised and staffed LDWA event. Other event organisers should go along and take notes!

Caught up with my friends Anne and Vaughan at finish, and probably stayed for almost an hour having a chat, while I waited for my gf to come and collect me. Her car windscreen wipers have blown a fuse as they had frozen up when she tried to use them, so she had to wait for roadside repair.

I went for a 10k run a couple of days ago, and I'll be running tonight (Christmas Eve), and I always do an early morning run on Christmas Day (I suspect it's subconscious; anticipating the calories of the Christmas dinner to come!). I hope to do an event on New Years Day as well.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Rudolph's Romp

This week I did my 8 mile run back from work on Wednesday, but suffered some ITB pain on my right leg. This has been coming on for a few weeks, but is still not yet acute. Just the time to catch it. I booked an impromptu sports massage. I am fortunate that there is a physio as well as separate sports masseur that visit my work a couple of times a week, and the sports masseur had a spare slot the following day. I woke up 30 mins late, which I took to be a signal from my body, so I could only do a 5 mile route into work and not the planned 8 mile route. This was probably for the best as my ITB had a unexpected break. The sports masseur turned out to be pretty good, and focussed on the two areas I highlighted. My right ITB and my left calf. These are my two problem areas as I increase my mileage to around 50 miles or more a week. He gave me a few exercises as well. That evening I did my usual gym session with no problems.

On Saturday I got up at 5:45am and drove to Brantingham, near Hull. It was a fine sunny December day, perfect conditions. I got there at 8am, half an hour before the Rudolph’s Romp event was due to start. I hadn’t anticipated how many people would be taking part (over 400). I ended up being directed to park over a mile from the event centre at the far end of a road, where everyone was parked in a line, bumper to bumper. It was only as I got near the building I remembered I had forgotten my camera, so have miserably failed in my photo blogging in this post. Sorry.

Registration took a while; queuing for about 15 minutes, as they good enough to accept even those who just turned up on the day (I pre-registered), but as a result this held things up a little and the race started 15 minutes late. I think they said they will have to restrict entries next year, such is the popularity of the event now. I have no idea how many runners made up that 400, but I suspect well over half. I couldn’t really hear what the starter was saying, he needs a bigger megaphone! I had a bit of an upset stomach I noted before the race, but hoped it would go away. I also could have made a better shoe choice than my fell shoes. I have no idea why I picked them up in the morning. I guess it was early and I was tired. My knees suffered on some extended road and track sections, as there is no cushioning to speak of on the shoes. Still, I don’t think it affected my pace a great deal, just made my knees sore.

The route begins with a flat first mile, and then a couple of hills before mile 4. There are 10 checkpoints in total on the course, which is a lot more than most events. Two of them were self-clip CP’s, and the rest were a mixture of manned clip and refreshment/water stops, which were all staffed by friendly and helpful people, all giving their time to the event which raises funds for an air ambulance and mountain rescue team. They emailed after the event to say over £2000 was raised, which is a great achievement. The route from 4 to 11 miles was more or less flat; some on minor roads, and some on footpath and forestry tracks. Around mile 8 I started to feel a little unwell; my stomach. I knew I needed the toilet and it wasn’t going to be pleasant! I tried to ignore it, even more so because all of the CP’s were outdoors, so no actual toilets to be had. After the CP at mile 11, the next 5 miles of the course is steadily uphill. I felt a little better during this section, and continued to run it all. As I got to the top of the hill around mile 16 or 17, I started to feel unwell again, to the extent that I walked a couple of hundred yards as I went downhill! You know you are not right when you have to walk downhill! This was just the last couple of hundred yards before a checkpoint. I didn’t stop at any of the CP’s all day, just clipped in and left. I was fuelling myself on food and drink that I carried. I had opted to carry my 32l rucksack, the one that I will be using in the Atacama Crossing, but only carried about 3kg of weight. So I had some baby rice as food and some electrolyte, as well as waterproofs and the other recommended kit.

I took a couple of biscuits from the CP, and walked out for 2 minutes whilst I ate them. I started running again but a little slower, feeling pretty rough now. I seemed to keep overtaking the same group of people who definitely knew the course better than me. In fact I wasn’t navigating as such, I was just following various people in front who were reading from the route description. I could always keep one or two people in sigh to follow, which was useful. There was another climb after that CP and then what would have been a welcome descent through a forest. My stomach was killing me by now at around mile 19, and so I had no option but to head a ways off the course, duck behind a bush and attend to it. It wasn’t pleasant, I won’t go into details! 5 mins later and I rejoined the course, sucked down a lot of juice and ate the rest of my food. Would you believe it, half a mile later I felt fine. So, I had been putting going to the toilet off for 19 miles and suffering as a result, when I should have just bitten the bullet and gone early, and completed the course quicker. Still, you live and learn. The last few miles I completed much quicker. I wasn’t tired and followed a couple of people into the finish striding out nicely in the last mile or so, winding up towards the finish. There was food and drink at the end, but I had to get home as soon as possible to took the long walk back to the car (felt longer on the way back of course), and drove the 2 hours home.

The route was a fraction over 24 miles, with around 2400ft of ascent. I completed it in 4hrs 38 mins, which is 5.1 mph. I was happy with that time, but aware that if I had felt OK from the start I would have done quite a bit better. Still, it was a useful run, some quality miles running with my pack, albeit much lighter than the one I will carry in the desert in March. The event was very enjoyable, and well organised, as are pretty much all LDWA events I have taken part in.
This is now my recovery week, for more reasons than one, which I will tell you about in the next post!

Have a good week!

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Colder Miles

This week saw an increase in my distances, and the highest weekly mileage total (for a week where I am not taking part in an event). On Wednesday night I ran home from work, doing 8.5 miles in the process. The following morning I ran back in to work running just over 8 miles. The distance door to door is only 5 miles, so I now have to get very creative around route planning. I work-in wide arcs or laps of parks to bring the mileage up to the required distance. Because I had to move my runs forward a day, running into work on Thursday instead of Wednesday, I didn’t then run again on Thursday evening. I would normally do a 3 mile flat-out speed run, but instead I just did an hour in the gym. I will pick up these speed-work sessions after Christmas. I am a little wary of doing too much speed work, too soon, at this stage. I think the last 6 weeks before the race will be the ideal time to measure my time, and bring it down week by week.

On Saturday I did a 14.5 mile trail run, my longest non-stop distance for some time. Well, I say non stop, I should have done 14 miles but got lost in a woods; I turned left instead of right. I had not run this area for quite a while, and just took a wrong turn. The path soon vanished and I was left trudging through undergrowth, and slashed and cut by thorns. I picked up a few slashes to the backs of my calves as penalty for my failure to remember the route. I ran for quarter of a mile through very rough woodland, before I realised my mistake, by then up to my waist in thorny plants and near the bottom of a small valley. I knew I was way off course when I heard the traffic from the M6 motorway in the distance, and straight away realised I was headed the wrong way. So, I stopped for a minute or two, to get my bearings, then realised where I went wrong, turned on my heels and headed back up. This time I took the right fork in the path. That little detour probably cost me about 10 minutes. After that I was back on track and got back home. So, 14.5 miles covered with 1500ft of ascent. 90% of it was off road, with more than 50% in fields and woodland. It has been a wet couple of weeks in the UK, with some parts flooded, so the ground was waterlogged everywhere. I was ankle deep in mud for extended parts of the trail, and as a result ended up minus a toenail I noticed after my lovely warming shower. Left me wondering, do we really need toenails? They are just an inconvenience I think!

On Sunday I did an unplanned run in the Peak District with a friend. I was showing him some navigation skills too. So we did a 7 mile run with around 1000ft of ascent in The Roaches area, near Leek, Staffordshire. It was a cold, but clear day, with great views all around. I took a few photos which you can see below.

The rocky paths provide challenging running as your brain is working as fast as your feet to ensure you stay upright and don’t twist an ankle. All in all it was an enjoyable couple of hours.

So around 38 miles covered this week. Next week I am taking part in Rudolph’s Romp; an LDWA event open to runners. The event is advertised as 23 miles, but I entered the route into Memory Map and get it to a little over 24 miles. It looks to only have around 2400ft of ascent over the whole course, which isn’t that much at all. It does have a couple of very steep hills by the looks of the hill profile though. I guess we’ll see for certain next week! The event takes place in Yorkshire, not too far from Kingston upon Hull, so it’s a couple of hours drive from my home.

The weather has become noticeably colder in the last week, with a ground frost some mornings, and the familiar Winter sound of people scraping the ice off their windscreens. I am expecting it to be pretty cold next weekend, which is fine, but I will keep my fingers crossed that it stays dry.

I hope your training is going well, especially if you are doing the Atacama Crossing in March too. Always nice to hear from you, thanks for the emails.

Have a good week!

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Recovery and Atacama thoughts

It was my scheduled recovery week just gone. So, on Tuesday and Wednesday I enjoyed a couple of easy pace 5 mile runs to and from work. I went to the gym on Thursday, but just did my strength and stability work and not the 3 mile speed run, because I had forgotten I had arranged to go out running with some friends a little further than I had anticipated on the Saturday. However, my friends had to cancel due to illness so I just did a 10 mile trail run locally, at a good solid pace. I had also arranged a run out in the Peak District on Sunday but very heavy rain and low visibility meant me and another friend decided to defer it to next weekend.
So, I am feeling quite refreshed and looking forward to this weeks training which sees the next increase in distances. I will be doing an 8 mile run from work on Tuesday at pace, and a return 8 mile run into work 12 hours later at an easy pace with a backpack. Thursday I’ll be back doing my flat out 3 mile speed run and on Saturday I will be doing 14 miles, which will be my longest non-stop run for quite some time. I’m not counting the recent much longer events that I have done, as there is always some element of stop/start or change of pace. I’ve sent off entries for my next two events before Christmas, and I may still do an event on New Years day. It’s called the Hangover Hike, for obvious reasons, though not having drunk alcohol for 10 years I don’t expect to be suffering from a hangover!
I’ve still yet to decide which ultra to do at the end of January or beginning of February. I’m looking to do something like 40 or more miles, which will be that final confidence booster before the Atacama Crossing at the beginning of March 2010. That said I’m not greatly concerned about the long day distance of around 45 miles in the Atacama Crossing, which is usually stage 5. My opinion is that you have to focus your efforts for day 4, which has historically been the salt flats stage. No stage of the Atacama Crossing is easy. Each one is marathon distance, there is no short first day to ease you in either. You start above 3000M altitude on last year day 1 involved some all fours scrambling and more ascent than I expected. Day 2 involved a lot of water crossings, a big climb, ridge walk and huge dune descent, before a long section of flat and sometimes soft ground. Stage 3 had jagged uneven salt flats to start before a flat sand road section, a water section, then finally some ascent and dunes. Day 4 is the tough one; the infamous salt flats. Jagged coral-like terrain which tears up your shoes and gaiters, and a crust which you can break through up to your knees or more in the salty lake underneath. A friend Mark Cockbain who has done every major event that is out there said it was the toughest stage of any multi-stage event that he had ever done. If you make it through that, then stage 5 is realistically the last stage, as stage 6 is usually only a 10k run into San Pedro. So, after getting through 4 tough stages, your willpower alone should get you through stage 5. I am focussing one day at a time, but with my eye on arriving on the start line to stage 4 being as brand-new as I can be.

Have a good week!

Sunday 15 November 2009

Six Dales Circuit 2009

I did two 7.5 mile runs during the week, to and from work, only 12 hours between then. The first run is 90% effort, so the following morning I'm not really recovered, and even though I run it at an easy pace with a light backpack, this week I found it a little tiring. I also felt I had a tight IT band on my right leg, so rather than chance it, I didn't do my 3 mile flat-out speed work on Thursday night. I just did my gym session and left it at that. I had my girlfriend do some impromptu sports massage on my lower back, because I know from experience it is a tight lower back that pulls my pelvis up and puts a stretch on the IT band. She did a good job because it didn't cause me any issues on Saturday's event.

Below is the map, including the recorded speed and elevation profile of the event.

We drove to Biggin in the Peak District, knowing the weather was forecast to be awful. Heavy rain and high wind. 26 mile would also be the furthest my gf has ever attempted. She knew I wanted to beat the time I put in last year, which was 5.5hours (even with the knee tear I had). I saw Anne and Vaughan, some friends I met on La Trans Aq in 2007 and intro'd them to my gf, then we were off. The weather was pleasant and stayed pleasant for the first couple of hours.

Just a mile in and my gf started to suffer from knee problems, and after 3 or 4 miles wanted to quit at the first checkpoint. So, I fairly quickly I wrote off beating my time for getting her around the course. I decided to let her dictate the pace, and dropped in 5m behind her. We got to CP1 which was well stocked with refreshments. This event is very well catered, and has a great selection of food and hot and cold drink and every checkpoint, staffed by friendly helpers.

My gf was suffering already by this stage, about 6 miles in, and took a dose of paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time to ease the pain. The weather held well, as we headed through the dales and the largely flat course. Gradually we caught up and overtook most of the walkers. Just before CP2 is Lathkill Dale, which is pleasant running for the first half and then miserable rocky bad ground for the latter half. As we were just leaving the dale we went past one guy, a really miserable walker as it turned out, who piped up (and not in a joking way) and said "you are way behind, did you get lost of something?", then rudely started saying something about us needing to consume "more Lucozade Sport drink to go faster". Obviously this made my gf feel even worse. She knew she was going slowly, but to have this especially portly ignorant bloke point it out was just uncalled for. I just ignored it, but felt like saying he needed to take a long hard look at himself, because he had a hours head start on us (he had started at 8am, and we started at 9am), and we overtook him before CP2! So he needs to try running himself (or even walking a bit faster), before he has a go at anyone else’s ability. Just plain rude and no need for it at all. Everyone else we went passed were really nice, pleasant and courteous. We thanked everyone who stopped and let us past etc. He was just one miserable bloke who was sick of being overtaken I assume.

Shortly after the encounter with misery-guts we got to CP2 at Monyash community hall, where again a great spread of food was available, including hot cheese-filled oatcakes. I had one last year, but I wanted to get off quickly and not let my gf sit down. So we just grabbed a couple of cups of juice and some malt loaf, said our thanks to the lovely staff and were on our way.

Just after, the Heavens opened, and it began to rain quite heavily. The wind had picked up 5 minutes before, so we had considered ourselves pre-warned and already put our waterproof jackets on. The next section is a gradual gradient for the next 4 miles or so. Initially on fields and farm tracks, then a brief downhill to join the Tissington Cycle trail which then heads steadily up. My gf was suffering quite a lot now, with frequent walking breaks to ease the knee pain. The driving headwind we were running into just made it all the more miserable for her. I just tried to make light of the miserable conditions with some totally inappropriate lines of songs that involved sunshine, or lovely days etc, and a few jokes. Despite the awful weather I was actually enjoying it. We left the Tissington trail and then headed over the fields to Hartington. The rain got heavier for a while, and then eased off just as we reached CP3, which was around the 20 mile mark.

My gf got a few mouthfuls of hot coffee, whilst I ate a few snacks. I'd already eaten two sachets of baby-rice and a cereal bar so was well fuelled. The baby-rice (Ellah's Kitchen) really is a good find for these kind of events. Easy to take in and the best fuel for running. We thanked the staff again and were off for the last leg. My gf had more pain killers but wasn't able to run much of the last 6 miles; probably about 2 miles of it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn't tired at all. Ok, I wasn't running very fast, but I'd still covered over 20 miles. I think my recent training has really kick-started my fitness. I'm feeling good right now. If someone would have told me I had to run back to the start line at that point, you know I think I could have. Then again, I might have collapsed in a heap after 10 more miles! Like they say, if you are feeling good in an ultra, don't worry, it'll pass.

We ran and walked through Dovedale and then took a sharp left up Biggin Dale. The terrain in Biggin Dale is all rocks and boulders and can be quite slow-going, but walking as we were it didn't matter. We came out of that last of the 6 dales, and I coaxed my gf into running the last half mile. It was gritted teeth and tears, but well done to her for it. It was her longest mileage ever, and likely most painful. She wasn't tired, just frustrated to be in a lot of pain. She clearly needs to get some attention to her knees. It took us 5 hours and 48 mins. Just over 3000ft of ascent and 26 miles. I'm pretty confident I'd have done it an hour faster, or more, under normal circumstances. Maybe I'll run the course again in the next few months and put that theory to the test. We had a meal at the finish (all included in the £7 entry fee!), and there were lots of soups and some fruit for afterwards. Well done to the organisers for another well catered, well staffed, great value, and superbly organised event, that even the weather can't spoil.

Anne and Vaughan had finished a long time before us, but were still there, so we caught up and chatted for over an hour. They had just completed and really enjoyed the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon, which I did last year. It was great to see them again, and I'll see them at some events in the next few weeks as well. My gf is now going to concentrate on getting her legs fixed and probably not join me on the events that I am doing in the near future. She doesn't want to slow me down and I don't want to injure her, so it's probably a wise decision. I'm sure we'll do some training runs in the new year together.

I've got a reconciliation/recovery week ahead. Just 25 miles total, and I might drop next Saturdays 12 miles down to 10, depending on how I feel. I'll just listen to my body. I'm going to go now and hang upside down and ease my back which feels quite compressed and tight after all the miles in the last few weeks. My next event is Rudolph's Romp in 3 weeks time. I've not done it before, so I don't know what to expect. It's 23 miles long, and there's probably a few hills involved. That is about all I know!

Have a good week!

Sunday 8 November 2009

All gravy

Perfect week from a training perspective. I ran back from work on Tuesday evening, my first midweek 7 mile route for a while now, and ran back in the same distance the following morning. I carry my clothes, a wash bag, towel and a few other bits and bobs. Only about 2.5kg at a guess, and Wednesday’s run is a nice easy pace. Still it's useful to remind myself that I'll be wearing a backpack in the Atacama Crossing race, even if it's not the one I'm wearing to run to work in. The only time my pack weight will increase will be on events, such as this weekend coming when it will be around 4.5 or 5kg I'd have thought. I usually carry 1.5l of fluid with me for a 26 mile LDWA event, and supplement that with drinks from the checkpoints. Add to that I generally carry some required kit, such as waterproofs and maybe a lightweight fleece, so the pack weight will be around 4.5kg. I won't bother ever training with a heavier pack because it just risks injury, and leaves your pace stale. Better I think to train normally, dropping your high mileage in the last few weeks and picking up the speed work. The odd few short mileage sessions with your full weight pack, are a good idea to check you are comfortable and it's well packed and balanced, but bashing out 20-30 miles with a 7kg+ pack on isn’t going to do you many favours in the long term.

I did yoga in the week, which was alright, but i'll be changing class to a different day because the new teacher is a bit hippy and new age. Even though she has an awesomely cute French accent it's not enough to keep me interested, because she's into "OMMing". I'm doing yoga to stretch, and hopefully prevent injury, not chant "OMMmmmmm" for some pointless reason. This week she had us doing some action, and said "pretend you are hugging a tree". I almost walked out right there and then. Goddamn Hippies. :)

On Thursday I did my 3 mile speed session. At the moment I'm restricted to doing it on a treadmill, because I stay in the gym for my strength and core stability session afterwards, and the roads/junctions immediately outside the gym and just too busy to be able to run 3 miles non-stop. I find running on a treadmill mentally difficult, and it still drives me nuts that they are in KM and not miles. How hard can it be to have a conversion on them. I did a few maths calculations and worked out to run 7 minute miles I'd have to set it to 13.6kph. I ran at 13.4 for 8 mins, then up to 13.6, then with 6 mins to go up to 3.8 and then in the last 3 mins up to 14 and the last minute on 15. That just about came out at 3 miles in 21 mins. I was a little too comfortable, so I'll have to start it at 13.6 next week and crank it up for 14 at the half way stage. I have a lose goal of running it sub 20 minutes before I go to Chile. That is 6:40 minute miles, and would be quicker than I have done before (by best around 6:50 if I recall). Who know maybe I can do event better, but I'd be really happy with a sub 20 as a good marker that I am in peak fitness.

Today I ran a nice solid 12 miles. About 2/3 on rough grass, the rest on the road. There was 750ft of ascent. I wasn't running all out, just building up my stamina again, so didn't time it but it was inline with last weeks 10 mile pace. I'd guess it took me 1:35-140. I could do it sub 1:30 certainly, but my weekend run isn't about speed. It's about good solid pace, enough to make me stretch but not push myself too far. I ran the last two miles (uphill) faster than the first 2 miles and felt pretty fresh at the end. It was a satisfying feeling. I feel myself getting back to form again, now the knee is getting stronger. I've got to be a little bit cautious not to peak too early, but with Christmas coming, that will be a natural lull to some degree. I'll back off and then stamp on the gas for the last 6 big weeks of training before a small taper in February. I know I lose my peak cardio fitness very fast (a week off and I see it dip), so that's the reason I will drop off my big miles, but increase the speed work in the last few weeks before the event. I want to be on the start line, the fastest and fittest I have ever been.

It's all shaping up nicely so far. 26 mile Six-Dales circuit this Saturday, looking forward to it. Have a good week.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Atacama Crossing Training Plan

Here it is, my Atacama Crossing Training Plan. The next 5 months of my life in a few lines.

The red ink highlights actual events that I am doing, whilst the green ink indicates a recovery week, where I drop the mileage allowing my body time to repair.

I am typically doing a marathon distance event every 3 weeks, and an ultra distance event at the end of January. It may not necessarily be the T2T event that I do, but it will be around 40 miles.

You'll notice I am already at week 4 of the schedule, so have completed all sessions already shown. This week I have upped my midweek runs to 7 miles each. I run a tempo, or fast session on a Tuesday night, running at about 80%-90% ability. I actually run home from work. The following morning I run into work with a backpack of about 2-3kg, but it's run at a very easy pace. Thursday I run at 100% for 3 miles trying to improve my time each week, and straight after I do a strength and stability gym session. Mondays I either do another gym session or a yoga session, which I am hoping to help prevent injuries.

Saturday is my long run day, and last weekend it actually felt like my training had begun. It's been a couple of months since I actually ran 10 miles non-stop. Sure I have taken part in longer events, but over rough ground or hilly terrain where I had to walk some of it, so getting back and running a solid 10 miles felt good. I ran locally on trails, and fields, taking in almost 1000ft of ascent and still managing it in just over 1hr 20, so I was very happy with that. I have no more distractions from navigational events, like mountain marathons, that are zero value to my training for the Atacama. Stumbling through tussocky grass, in the cold and rain, up to your knees in peat and mud with a compass in your hand is about as far away from the sun parched salt flats and dunes of the Atacama Desert as you can imagine.

All the events I have chosen are challenging. They are all over some challenging, but not stupid terrain, with plenty of hills to climb. I can't do much about the cold, since winter is almost upon us of course. The next event is the Six Dales Circuit, in 10 days, which I did last year. It's a 26 mile event, which has 3000ft of ascent and some challenging terrain underfoot as you negotiate the dales; I recall that Lathkill dale was especially difficult. Nevertheless I did it in 5 and a half hours last year. I was quite fit having just completed the Kalahari Desert, but was carrying a knee injury, which was later diagnosed as the Meniscus tear that I had surgery on 6 months ago. It'll be interesting to see if I can beat last year’s time.

I've been working on my pack weight for the Atacama Crossing and have managed to get it sub 7kg, without water. I'll keep working on it and see if I can trim any more off between now and then. The event is being held a month earlier than usual which should make the days and nights warmer. This means that I may well chance my lightest weight sleeping bag again (+8C rated). I took it last year and ended up wearing all my clothes to keep me warm. On the first night I barely slept in the (literally) freezing temperatures. It's a big gamble just to save 250g, but I'm going a lot more hardcore this time, so I'll trim off weight wherever I can find it. I'll be taking the knife to my rucksack, shortening straps and removing surplus clips and toggles in an effort to get the weight down further. No flip-flops or slippers this year. The ground was pretty good in the camps, and the camps were small anyway, so little walking to do. I'll make do with a couple of plastic bags to put in my shoes at the end of the stage, like I did for La Trans Aq back in 2007. I'm not taking any walking poles. I took some last year and didn't feel as though they added much value. I just burned more calories when using them. It was the first and last time I ever used them in an event.

Be interested to hear what everyone else’s thoughts are on weight saving?

Have a good week!

Oh, I've taken a gamble of work letting me have the time off for the event, and booked my flights for the event. I found a good deal, London to Calama return, for £709, which is about £200 cheaper than last year!

Sunday 25 October 2009

Atacama Planning

Hi. I've not had a busy week on the training front due to being very busy with my new job. I managed just two 10k training runs this week, a record for the wrong reasons for me! I didn't even manage to get into the gym I've been so busy. Anyway, now I've finished what is effectively my on-boarding period I will be able to settle back into my usual training patttern as my Atacama Crossing training plan kicks in. In the last week I've been building a training plan. I've not quite finished it to show off yet, becuase I am just finalising which ultras I can do between now and February. I'll try and post it later this week.

I'll be starting with an event just short of ultra distance in a few weeks time, the Six Dales Circuit. This is a challenging 25 mile run over the Peak District which I took part in last year, as mentioned in my previous blog entry.

The 4deserts Sahara race is currently taking place in Egypt; you can view the details on the 4deserts website. This isn't a race I'm likely to do, because I already completed the Sahara desert in the Marathon des Sables, but 4deserts version has it's own unique difficulties as is well worth a look, not least of which is because the wait list for the MDS is about 3 years now, and it costs an arm and a leg to take part in!

Short and sweet today! Have a good week.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Atacama and the Kalahari

First off, the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2009 has just concluded in South Africa. I took part in this last year and came 6th overall. This year saw there biggest field ever of over 70 runners compete in this there 10th birthday special. I had quite a lot of friends running. This race is getting very popular it seems. I expect it will get book up fast for 2010. I'd recommend everyone head over to the website and take a look at this years stories, photo's and videos. I wish I was there, but with my knee operation only 6 months ago, my recovery is still a work in progress. Some days my knee feels fine, then other days, just walking causes some "twinges".

My training has been decimated by a new job that I have. I ran just twice this week, about 6 miles on each occasion, 80% on the road. I managed an hour yoga session and a hour and quarter gym session too. I expect this pattern to stay the same for at least 2 more weeks, then hopefully I will be able to pick up my long weekend run again.

To give myself a shot in the arm I've provisionally signed up for the Atacama Crossing 2010. You'll remember I was taken out on day 3 this year with an aggressive cellulitis infection, that resulted in me being hospitalised back home as well. I also had food poisoning for the whole time, as well as the torn meniscus of my knee. So, all in all, it was a disaster. I want to take part in next years race to "tick it off". However, my participation very much depends on work allowing me to do so. If the project I am on has a lull at that time, maybe I'll be allowed the time off. All I can do is train towards it and hope for the best. Believe it or not, it is just 18 weeks away, a little over 4 months. So, I need to jumpstart my training.

I need to get in as many events on a Saturday as I can, and ideally get in a 40 or 50 mile ultra in either January or early February. The Atacama Crossing has been moved forward a month this year, to early March. This may make the evenings (and I assume the days too) slightly warmer.

I've taken a look at my kit list tonight and done a first pass of being more ruthless. I've stripped out some things, and some food, and am currently looking at a 7.3kg pack without water on the start line. I want to go as lightweight as I feel able to, and get each stage over as quickly as I can; if I can get it under 7kg that'll be ideal. I don't want a week of 8 or 9 hour days. The altitude is debilitating over there, and the terrain is nasty. No one is storming out fast short days, but finishing an hour or two earlier would be a blessing. Loosing pack weight is the best place to start, after you address your fitness. I'm going to train smart, if not long. I can't get a lot of miles in, so it's going to have to be quality training sessions. Sessions designed to boost fitness. I won't train with a backpack at all, except when I do events at the weekend that require a minimum amount of kit, which shouldn't weigh more than a few kilos.

I need to get my knee back to normal. It'll never be 100% again, but I'm going to get it as close as I can. I'll see if I can put myself a rough training programme together this week. I want to be fitter than I have ever been before, for any event ever. It's going to be a long hard winter of training ahead, but I'm not shy of training hard when I have a goal. I'm targeting a top half of the field finish as a minimum, any better is a bonus. I have a few advantages in that I know what the terrain is like. Some of the routes may be the same, which doesn't offer an advantage in speed, but I might remember when the next checkpoint is coming. I hope the route marking and distances are tightened up this year, as some of those were a long way out in the 09 event. It's hot in the Atacama, but nothing like the Kalahari or Sahara. It is manageable. The altitude is the big factor, as I said, and there is nothing I can do about that. Just suffer it like everyone else. I'm not about to go out there 3 weeks early to acclimate to the altitude, I can't afford it, and I won't have a job to go back to! So, that's where I am, the start of the next desert race chapter.

Have a good week!

Wednesday 9 September 2009

LDWA Hills and Dales 09

After the tough and high mileage Rab training last weekend I didn't feel too guilty about not being able to train in the week due to looking after my son all week, after his mom looked after him the week previous. I packed my kit for Hills and Dales on Friday night. My girlfriend was entered into the event too, and I would run with her. It is the first LDWA that she has been able to attend due to various injuries etc, and the first time she has attempted to run that kind of distance (22 miles).

We drove past Leek, and into the Peak District, parking at High Ash Field study centre. I know the way well, as this is the 4th time I have entered the event. We narrowly missed the start, setting off from the back as the other runners disappeared into the distance. The first 2 miles of the event was to be quite frank, dreadful. The ground was awful. There had been a lot of rain in the week, but some of the ground was marshland anyway. It was deeply rutted in places, and very treacherous. One lady runner just in front of us turned her ankle so badly, that she and 3 others just stopped and returned to the start. They weren't very happy about the route choice over such bad ground. The route then went down a narrow enclosed footpath that was ankle and knee deep in sludge at times. It was impossible to run, and very frustrating. I had reccied most of the route, but not this first two miles, and it was very very slow going.

The weather was initially quite sunny with some nice views over the surrounding hills. These photo's were all taken on the reccie three weeks ago, when it was baking hot. The weather was nowhere near this good during the event itself.

We then joined the part of the route that I had reccied and was familiar with for the next 17 miles and so I could ignore the route description and run on confidentially. There are a lot of stiles to negotiate in this part of the world. Once every few hundred yards it seems. I assisted quite a few runners, and later walkers (they had an hour’s head start) with directions as we went. We passed through the first CP quite quickly and then descended over more marshy ground before gradually climbing up onto a road and then continuing up a farm track. Here is a shot looking back the way we came.

The second CP was in a village called Warslow, where we just stopped to drink a quick cup of juice, grab a couple of biscuits and then set off again. We ran down to Ecton, on another narrow and muddy trail. The trail had been much better when I reccied two weeks ago, but making our way down towards the road, so slow progress as the path was cut into the side of a hill. At the bottom there was 100m of flat ground, before a fairly stiff climb half way up Ecton Hill (pictured).

However we didn't go all the way up, the route contoured around and then heading down the other side. We were passing a lot of walkers at this stage (8 miles). There was another good climb the other side of Ecton, and then a gradual descent over good ground towards Hartington. We joined a busy main road for half a mile, and were pleased to get off it away from the speeding traffic and cross these fields for the final flat mile into Hartington itself.

Just before Hartington I had some baby food! Yes that's right. Yvette, a friend of my gf's, and also happens to be a very good ultra runner, recommended it to us. You can buy sachets of baby food with a screw on top, purees and rice pudding (my favourite). This is a good find, and I'll be using these in future!

I can pass for 7 months old, right?

In Hartington was CP4, where we took on some more juice and I had a couple of squares of cake of some description. Again we were off quickly, only a couple of minutes at each CP all day. There was a mile long climb on the narrow road up and out of Hartington, which we walked. We then crossed a stile and ran on again, this part of the route is the same as on the LDWA Dovedale Dipper event. There is steep little hill, that loses about 30-40m in height. I had been building it up to my gf, as she is not very good at running down hills. I demonstrated by running pretty much flat out to the bottom. She ran down a little faster than she normally manages, but still too slow. It's all in the mind I've told her. Maybe a blindfold will work?

The route then turns sharp right and contours a hill before climbing down to a farm, with a dog that always goes berserk when anyone comes past. If I was the farmer it would drive me insane. I think I'd buy a cat. We then climbed up and joined a cycle trail for the next 4.5 miles. You can tell on the speed profile because all of a sudden there are no more stiles and hills etc, and we could run at a nice steady pace! Half way along it was CP4, where again we had some juice and snacks to supplement what we carried ourselves to eat and drink. We had passed all of the walkers at this stage (15 miles).

The cycle path climbed gradually for the final 2 miles, and then ends at gate. The route turns sharp left up a wide gravel path, and up more of an incline. We ran all the way up except the last 100yards, where we walked and took on more food and drink as the route then turned sharp right over a field. We walked the first field as we ate, since it was quite hard going to run through the long grass anyway. We then ran on crossing a few more fields and then onto a road where we turned right and headed down into Earl Sterndale and the final CP, 5. We had caught up and passed a good few runners by now, and overtook a few more in the final leg. There was a climb up the next few fields and then a sharp descent.

I had not reccied the route from here on, so we were slowed up a little as I had to navigate from the route description. We climbed up and over the small hill and then a steady run into the small village of Hollinsclough. After Hollinsclough there was a sharp climb up a boulder strewn path. This was pretty horrible and not a good route choice in my opinion. I bet plenty of people were swearing through their teeth when they got to this section, which though only half a mile long, felt a lot longer! I wish I'd taken a photo of it.

There was then a descent over some really poor ground again; very boggy and rutted from cattle. We didn't enjoy the last section at all. You can see from the speed profile our speed just drops in the last couple of miles, and not through choice. As we got closer to the start, the ground just got progressively worse and slowed us up, but we just managed to hang onto an overall 4mph average speed for a finish in 5hrs 25 mins, 22 miles and 3000ft of ascent/descent. My girlfriend did well. It was her first event, and it wasn't a bad time. I need to whip her into LDWA-event-specific shape, and get her to run faster down hills and over rough terrain, and get her negotiating stiles a little faster, but overall she did well and it was a very respectable time.

At the finish there was a hot meal provided, and rice pudding afterwards. There was hot tea, coffee and cakes too. There was a tombola too. The whole event is a fundraiser for the Chernobyl Children’s Charity. I bought £1 of tickets and had won a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka. However, I don't drink! I donated it back to them for someone else to win. I'm not sure if some on-high power is trying to coax me back into alcohol because yesterday I was a my Tesco Supermarket checkout. The till printed out my grocery receipt, and one of the discount clubcard coupons, usually targeted at your typical purchase history. Here it is.

For those not in the UK, they are all cans of beer, or cider. Well done Tesco, good to see your loyalty card purchase history system is working well.

It is back to normal training this week. The Rab Mountain Marathon is just 2 weeks away now. Have a good week.

Monday 31 August 2009

Lake District Runs

This weekend I went did some training in the Lake District. We drove up to Keswick on Friday night and stayed in a hotel, which will be a world apart from the actual event where we will be staying in a tiny lightweight two-man tent. We had breakfast early on Saturday morning and then drove out to the start location, about 15 miles from Keswick, at Fell Side. Fell Side is about 4 or 5 buildings on a very narrow country road. The weather was forecast for rain all weekend, so we dressed in waterproofs straight away. Below is the map of the area. The red line is the route we actually did, and includes the 4.5 mile run/walk back to the car after reaching the "Overnight camp" location at the end of the days effort. The blue line was the other option that we decided not to do.

If the map looks a little unfamiliar it is because it is a Harvey 1:40k map, and not the usual Ordnance Survey 50k, or 25k ones I usually post on here. The blue route is a much shorter distance (10 miles), but was a "hilly" and "high" route, whereas the one we chose was overall much flatter, keeping to the foothills, but was a lot more ambitious at 18 miles long. Last time we practiced a hilly route, we only averaged 1.7mph, so we calculated we could cover 10 miles at that pace.

We had no idea how much we could cover on a more flat route, but hoped for as much as 3mph overall. So, we decided to try the flat route as an experiment, even more so because we would collect controls (and thus more points)than we would from the controls on the hilly route.

We set off and as you can see, did an initial climb, following a beck (a stream) up the side of High Pike. When we thought we had got to the location, navigating only by map and compass, I confirmed it on the PDA/GPS I carried (I won't get to use any GPS in the real event of course). We then continued uphill to an old abandoned mine and the second control. I then took over navigation from my girlfriend, and we then descended and picked up a wide trail and then decided to run for around 30 mins (as you can see from the speed profile). We picked up the next control by the road which contours the fells, and followed beside the road (pictured below) to a small village called Mosedale.

Here we took a 10 minute walking break before running on again to pick up the next control (numbered 22). Here I took this from that position looking at the way ahead.

Here, the last of the road before it ends.

My girlfriend (gf) took over navigation again (we navigated two controls each, then swapped). About 1km after control 22, the gradient increased sufficiently for us to slow to a fast walk and continue onto the next control, 23, which was in a Sheepfold about 60m up a hill. It was a short sharp and fairly steep climb. That's my gf climbing up to me at the sheepfold.

We continued on at a fast walk on the footpath at this stage to find control 18 at another sheepfold, where I took this looking back.

This photo looking forward to Lonscale Fell in the far distance.

This one looking up to Great Calva, which we didn't climb today.

Just before the next control, 18, we passed near to Skiddaw House, a Youth Hostel, about 2.5 miles from the nearest road, nestled on the very low foothills of Skiddaw itself.

Control 18 was a high value control and proved to be more challenging to navigate to across thick heather, very boggy ground, and crossing some wider streams, as well as about 100m in height from the previous control. This phot was looking up towards the control, which was another sheepfold about a third of the way up the hill.

The weather took a turn for the worse at this stage and we had a short heavy downpour, just as we got back onto the Cumbrian Way footpath again.

My girlfriend displaying her improving descending skills.

We picked up the straightforward control 16, which was right on the path just near to my gf took this photo. We would be headed to the far right next.

We went down into the valley and across a stream where I tore my brand new pair of waterproof trousers. They trousers are very lightweight, and clearly have no rip-stop material. I caught them as my leg brushed on a fence and they tore a 6 inch rip by the knee. I wasn't very happy at the durability of the trousers. 5 minutes later my girlfriend stumbled and caught her knee on a rock putting 2 small holes in her trousers too.

We picked up control 21 by the delightfully named hill "Great Cockup" and then contoured around "Meal Fell", which my gf found tough on her ankles. I descended down to the CP which was by the stream between the fells and took this photo of her coming down.

She had to take it a little easier as she had inverted her ankle so we couldn't run quite so much heading for the finish. We could have run a little more at the start I think. Anyway, as a result we got to the finish area in 6 hours and 4 minutes, so we would have had a few points deducted for being 4 mins late, but nothing serious. We had covered about 18 miles and average 2.8mph, with 2700ft of ascent. The speed was slightly slower than we thought, but overall we were very happy with and that information will prove valuable for planning our route on the actual event itself.

We then had a 4.3 mile run/walk back to the car, so covered 22.3 miles and 3700ft overall that day. Not a bad days effort I thought.

Back at the hotel we had a nice meal, which was even better as I didn't know it was included in the price of the room. I had booked a bed and breakfast rate, but when I checked in they said dinner was included. Bonus! If you are staying in Keswick I can recommend the Keswick Country Hotel, which despite the name is a stones-throw from the town centre, but has great views over the fells.

In the evening we decided that rather than do a second day on the same map, we would drive down to the Howgills and run around there.

We sat in a coffee shop in Sedbergh, and ate an early lunch and fuelled my gf with coffee, which is pretty important if you expect and sense or activity out of her. We planned the route as we ate. The little flags on the map are the random points that we would try and find, again using only map and compass, but verifying the location with GPS when we thought we had got there. It was already raining when we started and so once more the waterproofs were on. The weather was terrible all day. It didn't stop raining at all, and the cloud was quite low, plus it got quite windy up high.

We headed up on a right of way until we crossed onto the fells and access land. We came across a favourite mountain talisman; the dead sheep skull.

You can see the weather isn't very nice. This photo taken looking back, not forward, where it was worse!

We then had a very steep scramble up a bracken covered hill to reach an old footpath.

It was a lot steeper and harder going that it appears, our average pace pushed down to about 1mph.

We then contoured around the hill, about half way up it, and headed deeper in the fells, following a stream and found our first location; a sheepfold. Here my gf heads higher and into the cloud ahead.

After finding the first location by Sickers Fell, we then turned West and scrambled steeply uphill to join a marked footpath. By now we were totally enveloped in cloud. It was raining quite hard and was windy, and it was surprisingly cold. We navigated successfully (by pacing out 250m on a bearing) to a point marked "Rain Gauge" which now is just half a dozen pieces of smashed up wood on top of Arant Haw. We continued on in the worsening weather and were surprised to meet a group a people heading down. We thought we were the only people up there. We exchanged a joke about each thinking the other was bringing some hot tea to drink, before heading on. The wind really picked up and the rain came down harder, and I got flashbacks to the time in Tenerife where I thought I might not get back alive. Bad visibility, I am fine with, rain I am fine with, and cold weather I don't like, but I can tolerate. After that experience in Tenerife, when you put them all together now I get a little nervous.

I was starting to feel cold, but the rain and wind was sufficient that I didn't want to stop and take off my waterproof jacket and take out a fleece out of my rucksack, and then put it all back on again. I should learn to just stop as soon as I start to feel cold and layer up straight away. At the time, I just wanted to keep on moving and stay warm. Now on top of the mountain around 2100ft we were able to run again. I decided to miss out one proposed location and head down to lower ground, as much to ease my rising stress, as head into less harsh weather. So we headed down on a narrow path initially, before it opened out onto a wide slope. You can get an idea of the conditions from this photo I took of my gf descending at this point.

A couple of hundred metres lower down and we emerged from the thick cloud and regained some visibility. Stress levels dropped and returned to normal as the wind was lower too!

Here is me at that point

We next practiced navigation more by pacing, this time 900m, and then using reverse compass bearings to triangulate our position. We established where we thought a sheepfold was a headed steeply downhill to find it.

A picture looking back

Me pointing back to where we had come from, some 400m above. The summit was way above the cloud layer, that's just a false summit you can see at about 300M in height.

We then headed down into a valley, to another sheepfold, before another sharp climb up a gill and to a sheepfold that sat in the saddle between two hills.

We were impressed with our navigation, it had been spot on all day. We then dropped down and hand-railed around the dry stone wall that surrounds the access land around the fells, finding a couple more controls and then emerging by Lockbank Far. We covered 9.5 miles, 2730ft of ascent, in 4 hours and 15 mins; that's 2.2mph average. This is a slightly better average speed than expected.

Overall I was very pleased with how it went. We both learned a few lessons and tested out various bits of kit and clothes. I have found my new Marmot waterproof gloves may not be very waterproof after all, and that my North Face waterproof jacket needs re-proofing.

I am doing the 22 mile Hills and Dales event this weekend. I am looking forward to it. Have a god week!