Tuesday 26 January 2010

The Hebden

Ahead of last weekend’s event, all of my training went to plan. On Tuesday I did a 20 minute flat out speed session on the treadmill, then spent some time stretching in the gym afterwards. I’ve been suffering from very tight ITB and illiopsoas muscles, so I’ve been trying to stretch them a little more.

I’m gradually increasing my speed each week. I covered 4.5km in 20 minutes last week. My aim is to cover 3 miles in that time; which is 4.82km in 20 minutes. Might not sound like I have much to gain, but I’m not really a fast runner, so I thought sure I’d find it tough. This afternoon I ran at 13.6km per hour for 15 minutes, then increased it by 0.2kph every minute (and sometime half minute) until running the last minute at 15kph. I covered 4.6km in 20 minutes today. Come 4 weeks time, I need to be averaging over 14kph for the whole 20 minutes to beat my target time. If I can do that then I can definitely say I’ll be at my fittest ever. I'm well on course to do that and maybe more I think.

On Wednesday I ran back from the London office to where I was staying, doing a 10 mile route. I run Wednesday at a tempo pace; not flat out of course, since I can’t hold that kind of pace for 10 miles, but rather about 80%. I averaged a little under 8.5 minute miles, with almost 500ft ascent. It’s a gradual climb all the way to Hampstead, with no downhill whatsoever. This isn’t too bad when you factor in all of the traffic and road crossing in central London. I then set off at 6:15am the following morning to reverse the route, but not knowing my way around London very well I took a wrong turn and added an additional mile onto the route. I did about 11 miles, and ran in with a backpack of around 3-4kg. I ran it at an easy pace, just getting used to carrying weight again.

On Thursday night I did my usual strength and stability workout, and rested on Friday ahead of the weekend event.

I drove to Mytholmroyd, only just arriving as all of the 300+ people taking part were filtering outside for the start (half runners, half walkers, pretty much a straight 50/50 split I believe). I quickly registered and dashed back outside as everyone was disappearing along the road, and then onto a path besides the railway line for the first mile, which is totally flat. Below is the route map and rollercoaster hill profile as you can see.

The route had undergone a late change, making it almost 0.5 a mile shorter; this was due to very deep lingering snow drifts on one part of the course. I was a little behind, so I tried to make up a little time on the flat first mile, knowing that there is then a bottleneck. There is quite a steep climb which is on a single file path, which more or less everyone including me slows to walk. You certainly get to know what your lungs are for quite early in the race with The Hebden. The climb continues for a few miles, though much less steeply after the initial ascent of about a mile or so. Then comes a welcome descent, some of which is on the road before another small climb to up checkpoint 1. This photo is a few miles into the run, heading up towards the building on The Hebden race logo. It’s a mill of some kind, but I’m not sure what for. Cotton maybe? I’m sure a local will let me know!

In my haste to get ready in the morning I had poured some electrolyte into a camelback in my rucksack, but had not tested it, and only realised when I started running that it had clogged up. I didn’t want to waste time unblocking it as I ran, so I just left it and carried it all the way round; totally unused. Very annoying! As a result I had to rely on taking a cup of two of water or orange juice at the checkpoints as I went, as well as the odd snack. I did carry a few snacks myself, but I had eaten a good breakfast and a pot of rice pudding in the car just before the start, so felt fairly well fuelled. I carried the rucksack I will be using in the Atacama Crossing with 3kg of weight from start to finish. This coming weekend, I’ll increase it to 5kg.

After the first checkpoint, there is a gradual descent over fields and footpath, and then a small climb along a forest track alongside a river. The track eventually goes down to a river where some stepping stones take you over the river and then the route climbs gradually through the woods, then up a field-side track to checkpoint 2. It was quite foggy up on the fields by checkpoint 2, and I did try and take a few photos, which don’t really do justice to how nice it looked. It was fairly cold, with a few lingering snow drifts along the field boundary’s, and a light ground frost as well.

The Hebden route is really just a rollercoaster ride. It’s either heading up, or heading down; only the first and last mile are flat. After checkpoint 2, the route goes over another small stream and then descends into checkpoint 3, where I grabbed another cup or water and some Stollen before heading straight back out. I was in and out of all of the checkpoints in under a minute. After checkpoint three the route crosses a railway line and road and then there is a long climb, initially walking as pictured.

Normally you get great views as you climb up in the rough direction of the Stoodley Pike Monument, but today it was just fog. I got fleeting glimpses of the monument as I climbed, but failed to capture a decent photo. I think the climb is around 1000ft, it gets easier to run it as you get nearer the top. There is a mile long gentle climb and then descent before you hit rough steps cut into a hill. It descends into a wood, a section which is always enjoy as it’s very much like the terrain I run on when at home. I can descend pretty fast on this ground; enjoying springing over the twisted roots, leaping and sliding over the big patches of mud. Some people kindly let me past as I dashed through the woods, really enjoying myself. I exited the woods at CP4 and then headed straight back up again through more fields and woods, some of which was route marked thankfully, as the navigation can be a little tricky. I had caught up a large group of people over the last few miles and was having a chat with a few of them as I made my way through the next section of woods, and then a short sharp climb to CP5. It was after CP5 that the route change was made, and we were directed along a road, avoiding the area which had too much snow, to rejoin the original route about a mile later.

I had caught up a girl who I recognised from one desert race, then she told me it was last year’s Atacama Crossing! I remembered her then! Too many faces and deserts to remember! We ran in fairly close proximity for the remainder of the race, helping each other out with the navigation. CP5 to CP6 is always a little longer than I remember, and even after CP6 which is probably less than 2 miles from the end, the navigation is still a little tricky. A few time the footpaths cut right across peoples gardens, and you keep questioning if you are really on the right route, even though you know you are.
We speeded up a little over that last couple of miles and finished in 4hrs 28 mins. The route was 21.5 miles long this year. I’ll have to check on the elevation but I think around 4000ft. I was running about 12 min miles average, and was pleased to finish half an hour faster than last year. I was in need of the knee operation last year of course. A big thank you to all of the organisers and volunteers at the checkpoints and the events centre. There was a meal available at the finish, as well as hot and cold drinks. Unusually for me I struggled to eat, so just settled for some hot tea before driving over to Sheffield to see my uncle, who is a chiropractor. He spent 2 hours sorting me out! I have had a lot of stomach pain from tight IS muscles and hip and knee pain from my ITB. My uncle massaged then released by back. Worked on my IS muscle, which is a pretty painful process, essentially involving pressing several fingers deep into your stomach. He did a lot of work on my IT band which again was really sore. I got a full MOT, and despite a few bruises, now feel a lot better. I really needed that session ahead of the big one this coming weekend.

A change of plan means I have planned a new ‘rough’ route from my house. When I stand on high ground about a mile from my house I always seen a hill in the distance. It is easy to spot because the surrounding area is very flat, and then this almost perfect circular hill rising up from nothing. I’ve decided I am going to run to it next week. Small problem is I can’t really figure out from the map exactly which hill it is or how far away it is! My suspicion is that it is either the hill on which Beeston Castle sits, or it is one of the Peckforton Hills in Cheshire. If it is Beeston Castle, then an out and back route is going to be in excess of 50 miles. It seems like a nice idea right now, but I may not think that whilst en-route next weekend. I plan to start in pitch darkness about 4am on Saturday morning, and run all day. I have no idea how long it will take, since I don’t know how far it is. I hope it will take no more than 12 or 13 hours but that really is a guess. I will take a 5kg pack and include a similar amount/kind of snacks that I will use on the long day of the Atacama Crossing which will likely be 45-50 miles too Because of the increased distance on Saturday, I won’t do two 11 milers in this midweek. I will scale those back a few miles, to maybe about 7 each way I think. So this is it, the big mileage week. If I can get through this then It will be technically all downhill (in terms of distance), but I still have lots of miles to cover and some events too. I'm really happy with my progress so far, let's hope it continues.

Final news, the race distances for this years race have been announced today.
Stage 1 - 35km - Navigation by Rock (starts about 3000m altitude probably)
Stage 2 - 42km - The Slot Canyons (lots of river crossings basically!)
Stage 3 - 40km - Atacamenos Trail
stage 4 - 43km - The Infamous Saltflats (this is the killer day I think)
Stage 5 - 74km - The Long March (effectively the last stage)
Stage 6 - 16km - The Final Footsteps to San Pedro (in comparison to the rest, a fun run!)

4deserts have today posted a link to a Google map of the Atacama course, which can be found on their website here. I have created the same map in Google Earth, which you can find here. Make sure you choose the 2010 file. Just before you get your hopes up, if you are taking part, the course map is only a very rough approximation. The checkpoints and camps are pretty accurate, but the paths between them are not the nice straight lines you see, it's all twists, turns, ascent and descent, wide arcs and switchback paths between the CPs. I recognise some elements from last year, so I know we are all in for a treat as the scenery is amazing.

Have a good week!

Tuesday 19 January 2010

The big thaw and recovery week?

This week was supposed to be a recovery week. However, I’ve still managed to rack up about 35 miles, so it’s not really lived to the aim!

It started well, in that whilst working away from home on Tuesday I ran my 3 mile speed session. My GPS didn’t record the time, as I managed to stop the clock after the first mile by accident. Still it felt a reasonable enough pace, nothing that quick, but I’d guess about 7:20 min miles. On Wednesday I got a little lost and ended up running 7 miles instead of 8. However, I got equally lost the following morning and ended up running almost 9 miles instead of 8, so that all balanced out. All of those runs were on the road, through what was the big thaw that is now taking place. The roads and paths were still icy, but much of it was turning to slush. The run in on Thursday morning was carrying a reasonably lightweight pack of a few kg.
On Saturday my gf and I decided to do a walk in the Peak District around the Roaches area. You can see our route map below.

Someone had forgotten to tell the area that a thaw was taking place, so on the lower ground most fields were fairly clear, but the higher we got the snow got deeper, and at the fields boundaries there were some pretty big snow drifts of up to about 4 or 5ft in height. It was also very foggy, as you will see.

The first part of the route descended slightly and was through fields. The snow was patchy here.

We made pretty good time, but as we began to climb and hit more snow things slowed down.

I’d forgotten how tiring it is to walk through snow that is about 6 inches deep or more. So, my nice gently walk turned into more of an expedition as it got colder and foggier in addition to the more challenging terrain.

This wasn’t helped by us deciding to deliberately staying close to the field walls where the snow was deeper. I of course decided to ridge walk the deepest drifts for fun; this invariably involved sinking up to my thighs in snow!

Eventually we began the climb to the trig point at Roach End. There was no thaw whatsoever here. The snow was everywhere, still thick and icy and it was much colder. It had taken us longer than anticipated to get to this point of the walk, and as a result the light was beginning to fade. We took a few photos at the top, which is around 500m if memory serves. Normally there are great views over Staffordshire, Derbyshire and further afield but not today, just fog.

We started to walk along the ridge which has a cliff on one side, popular with climbers in better weather). In the fading light, fog and snow it was very difficult to find the path. We only went about 200m along the top when I decided it wasn’t a good idea to continue. It was only around 1.5 miles along the ridge and down, but from a safety perspective, and the possibility of injuring myself at a time when my training is hitting the peak, it didn’t seem sensible to go stumbling along a snow covered ridge in the dark and fog. We returned to the trig point and descended the way we came. The snow thinning out a little as we got lower down.

We reached the road which runs below and parallel to the ridge, and which had been cleared by a snowplough. We were both feeling a little cold, as it was well below zero with the height and wind. So, we decided to run the last 2 miles back to the car along the road. So, less than 20 minutes later we were back at the car just as it was getting dark. We had made a good call. Progress along the top would undoubtedly have been much slower and descended down from the ridge can be a little treacherous even in much better conditions. We stopped at the nearby Three Horseshoes pub on the way back for some tea/coffee before heading back home. We had covered 8 miles and 1550ft of ascent.

The following day I had a 10 mile steady run planned, but we had arranged to visit a work colleague of my girlfriends; a couple who are both very good ultra distance runners . The girls went out for a run first, and the boys went out afterwards. They live in a lovely part of Shropshire at the foot of a 1000ft climb. It is about 2.5 miles from their house to the top, which is a pretty good height gain for a run in such a short space of time. The guy I was running with is a far more accomplished runner than me, and well practiced at stile hurdling. He literally plants one hand and hurdles the entire stile, whilst I step over it as walkers do. I must try harder! I soon found out what my lungs were for as the climb rose through the fields and woods. He certainly didn’t run anywhere near the limits of his ability, as I puffed my way up the hill behind him. Still it was a more or less non-stop run, just punctuated by a couple of stiles or gates to get through. I can see how he is as fit as he is, if he climbs that hill in every run, which I understand he more or less does! There was still a lot of snow on the hill, up to about 6 inches on most of the top, deeper drifts in places. Once on the top, we ran at a much better pace, though I still have to practice my snow running as I just can’t cross the ground quite as quick. We got to the Beacon at the top, where I took this photo. This doesn’t do any justice to the amount of snow that was up there underfoot!

We then headed down slightly on the snowy paths. It was lucky dip as to if your feet went 4 inches or a foot through the snow with every step. We headed back up to another hill and beacon, and he pointed out some swallow holes (left over from mine works) which had been hidden and snow covered. A few days previous, one of his neighbours had fallen in one, going right in and into the water beneath, and really struggled to get out. Dropping into icy cold water whilst on the top of a hill in sub-arctic temperatures must have been a pretty frightening experience. It got down as low as -17 there last week apparently!

We then descended and headed along a forest track, all of which was snow covered still, then eventually met the path that we had ascended on, and headed back down and back to the house. I’m not entirely of the route that we took, so I have taken my best guess, which is shown below.

I think we were out running for an hour and 20 mins or so; so my best guess is that it was about 9 miles, and took in just over 1500ft of ascent. I really enjoyed the run, even though my recovery week plans were not quite as restful as I intended!

The next few weeks are my big miles weeks. 46 miles this week, including an event; The Hebden on Saturday. I've done the race twice previously. It's around 23 miles with over 4000ft of ascent. I'm looking forward to the challenge once again. almost 70 miles the week after, including a 44 miles run from Wolverhampton to Newcastle in Staffordshire. Then a recovery week of 30 miles, followed by 49 miles the week after, including another event; The Anglezark Amble which is also supposed to be tough. It's going to be an interesting few weeks of challenging training. I need to remain injury free and use these last few big weeks to boost my endurance, before I work on my speed and overall fitness in the final few weeks before the Atacama Crossing 2010.

Have a good week!

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Cool Running

The cold snap continues in the UK. There has been snow on the ground accross the whole country for over a week now, and temperatures have been remaining below zero during the day. I was working away in London for some of the week, so running on some unfamiliar territory.

Fortunately I am a member of a national chain of Gym's, so I could do my speed work on the treadmill. There is snow and ice all over the roads and pavements, so running at real speed just isn't very easy outside. Over the next 6 weeks I will aim to build up my speed and fitness by doing more speed work. Tuesday's session is a 5 minute warm up then a 20 minute flat out run. At the moment the clock runs out before I reach 3 miles, but over the next few weeks I should hit 3 miles and maybe a little further. Trying to beat last week’s time is my measure of fitness.

On Wednesday I ran back from the office in central London to Camden where I was staying. However, that would just have been a few miles in a straight line, so I had to be creative with the route, as I needed to do 10 miles. I work near Waterloo, by the London Eye, so I joined the River Thames path and ran along to Chelsea and headed North at Battersea Bridge. I ran up to Hyde Park, right around the edge it (it's closed at dusk and I was running after 6pm) then ran along Oxford Street then up and around Regents Park and into Camden. It was a cold and icy run. I wore a Helly Hansen base layer, an under armour cold gear top, and a lightweight Pertex windproof jacket, plus a hat and gloves too. I wore some new Under Armour trail shoes to give me some much needed grip on the slippery pavements. I wasn't sure of the way, but tried to recall it from the Google Map of the route I had created. A couple of times I took out my phone and looked at the GPS just to be sure I was on the right route. Oxford Street looked nice as all of the Christmas lights were still up. I certainly needed all those layers of clothes, as it was about -5C. The ground was of course pretty slippy, and did slow me down. I try to run Wednesday’s session at a tempo pace. Not flat out, but certainly putting a good effort in. I couldn't run the 10 miles anyway near the kind of speed I would do in dry conditions, and also the constant road crossings in Central London slowed me down. Nevertheless I did it in under an hour and a half, so that was good enough.

12 hours later, and I was up at 6am to run 10 miles back into work, but at a steadier pace and with a backpack of clothes, towel, wash kit etc. I intended to run the same route in reverse, but being unfamiliar with London I managed to turn myself round 180 degrees somewhere, and found myself running back the way I had just come (somewhere near Hyde Park)! So, then realising I had added some extra distance on, I cut through Hyde Park itself and headed straight for Waterloo, passing Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament on the way. Here is a shot I snapped as I passed.

The footpaths around there and most of the major shopping roads were all more of less clear of ice, but further out the ice and snow persists still. It was more luck than judgement that the route ended up being just a fraction over 10 miles by the time I got to the office. At lunchtime I had a sports massage from a therapist who visits the office, which is very useful. He spent 40 minutes on my IS (stomach), gluts, and ITB (all right side), which is still giving me some problems. It was a pretty painful session, but I did feel better afterwards.

Normally I would go to the gym on a Thursday night, but my gf had come down and we went to see a show in London, the Misanthrope with Damian Lewis and Keira Knightley; I confess Keira was the main attraction for me! Really enjoyed the play.

I came back home on Friday and on Saturday Morning I planned myself a 20 mile route. There was more snow back at home on the ground, so I put my fell shoes on which have even more grip that my trail shoes; they have 6mm studs. I ran up to a local monument atop a hill where lots of kids were sledging, pictured.

So, standing at the top, there is a very steep slope for about 30m, then it shoots back uphill for about 5m, before the slope downhill continues. Needless to say it was snow covered and very slippery. The kids asked if I wanted a sledge as I was about to run down it. I just went for it, and ran down as fast as I could. A little too fast, making it to the bottom ok, but carrying so much speed on the slippy ground that I made it down ok, but had too much downward momentum and stumbled and fell as the ground began to rise again. Much to the amusement and cheers of the kids! I put up my hands to wave to them in an embarrassed acknowledgement, picked myself up and continued. I picked up a nice bruise on my shin for my trouble, but otherwise got away with it.

I took a few other photos from near the top, as seen below. Very pretty, and very chilly as you can imagine, sub zero all day. It was -4 at my house, and quite a bit colder up on the hills and in the wind.

My route continued on familiar paths for the first 7 miles and then there was a section in the middle that I did not know, so I had saved the route on Google Maps, so I could access it on my iphone. This went well until the battery ran out because the GPS uses so much juice. Also I realised that I had uploaded the wrong route. I had put a 22 mile route on, which I had subsequently gone and shortened to 20, but not uploaded it. So I was in the middle of a 22 mile route, and now lost (I took a photo to commemorate the incident :) ). I had set off after midday, so the light was already beginning to fade.

I followed an abandoned railway line which lead me to a road and then used my sense of direction to get me to the village of Madeley. There I asked directions to use the footpaths, rather than the road route, which I knew. I was literally making the route up as I went along, trying to trim it back down to 20 miles. I had only packed a litre of water which ran out about 5 miles before I got home. Amazing how much water I drank in the freezing cold conditions. I didn't really pack enough food either, so was pretty low on energy towards the end. I walked a mile long hill on a road at the 15 mile mark, but other than that ran the rest of the route, which included a few short sharp climbs. I got home, feeling pretty shattered to be honest, because of not taking along food. I ended up doing 21 miles, and around 2000ft of ascent. Getting lost, found, and directed as well as the brief walk meant it took me 4 hours and 20 minutes, but considering the icy frozen ground it wasn't too bad.

Forcing myself to even start the run took some willpower. The last thing you want to do is leave a nice warm house and run 20 miles through the snow in sub zero temperatures. There was never any doubt that I'd actually do it though. It's one of those times where I think to myself, if you don't do the run then you don't deserve to finish the Atacama Crossing. It's mental training as much as physical. Suffering during training, helps you dig deep and get through the tough times in the actual ultra distance races.

So, 44 miles covered last week. I have a recovery week scheduled this week. This means reduced distances, just before my final few weeks of high mileage, tough training and events. Work have not yet given me the green light to take part in the Atacama Crossing yet. I'm pushing for an answer again this week.

Have a good week.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

8 weeks to the Atacama Crossing 2010

Hope you all had an enjoyable holiday season. I didn’t hit quite all of my training sessions over the holidays, but I did enough to keep me going and now I feel ready for the final 8 weeks before the Atacama Crossing. Not far away is it, just 8 weeks? It’s crept up from nowhere. I will know for certain today or tomorrow if my employer will give me the time off for the race. I hope so.

I ran on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas day. I then ran midweek once, and did 15 miles on Sunday just gone. Every one of those sessions involved running in some degree of snow or ice. We are in the middle of more cold weather in the UK. Morning temperatures where I live have been around -5 have remained mostly sub zero all day. So, plenty of cold runs to encourage me to run faster to maintain body heat!

Speaking of faster runs, from this week I will pick up the speed sessions again. I find these most beneficial to increasing my fitness overall and not just improving my speed. I have swapped around the days of my training sessions, so now I will be taking Monday off, doing a flat out (100%) 3 mile speed session on a Tuesday, followed by the gym. On Wednesday I run home from work, doing a tempo run at about 80-90% effort. I then run back to work about 10 hours later at a gentler pace. Both of those sessions are 10 miles long this week, so it means late arriving home about 8pm, and leaving again about 6:15am to give me time to get to work and get a shower before starting. Given the freezing temperatures in the morning, I imagine these sessions are going to feel pretty tough when I first set out. This weekend coming I have a 20 mile training run planned. Some friends are doing the Cannock Chase run that I did last year but it’s only 15 miles, so much as I’d like to do it, it doesn’t really fit in with my plan. I like sticking to my plan; I think it gives the mental confidence to know you’ve done what you set out to do. I am also likely to go out for a walk on Sunday too. I’ll probably take a 5kg pack for this session.

I am doing The Hebden; a 23 mile race around Calderdale, in the 3rd week of January, then a week later I have come up with the idea of doing my own ultra distance preparation. I plan to run from Wolverhampton back to my home in Newcastle-under-lyme. The route I have picked is 44 miles long (subject to any route changes I make), and only has 9 miles of quiet country roads (the minimum I could work manage), the rest is 100% trail of fields and forest. I plan to set off about 5am in the morning and try and cover the distance within 12 hours. There will be a lot of stile-hopping and slow terrain, and I will be carrying a reasonable weight pack, hence the slow sounding target. I’m not going to get the opportunity to reccie the route, so the course may be even slower than I imagine, especially if this cold weather continues and its snow covered. I am looking to get this distance under my belt as a final confidence booster for the long stage of the Atacama, which will likely be a similar mileage. After that I have one or two more events in the subsequent weeks before I taper off in the last 2 weeks before going to Chile.

Speaking of pack weight, I am currently still on course for a 7kg pack (+1.5l of water) on the start line of day 1 of the Atacama Crossing. I don’t think I can get this down any further without some serious compromises on warmth, comfort or food quantity, so this will likely be my starting weight. I’m packing 4.2kg of food for around 15,500 calories. I have 1.2kg of mandatory equipment, and the rest is optional kit; mostly consisting of clothes and sleeping equipment.

I have around 2500kcal per day for my meals which is slightly less than I took before, but should be sufficient. I note one change from last year is that we must provide a dehydrated meal for the night. before the race. I think this is a good call from the organisers. It puts your entire nutrition and food hygiene strategy in your own hands.

I still have a few things to consider and some things I take may change, but all being well, this time next week I will be telling you that I am officially entered into the race, as I only have a provisional entry right now. Let’s hope so.

Have a good week!