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!