Sunday 28 February 2010

Airport Reopens

Just read this report. from the Wall Street Journal. posted about 8PM GMT

SANTIAGO (Dow Jones)--The international airport in the Chilean capital, Santiago, reopened Sunday allowing a limited number flights as the damaged terminal struggles to recover from the effects of a powerful earthquake that struck early Saturday.

During a press conference, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said the airport has reopened to incoming international flights, and that flights of the national carrier, Lan Airlines (LFL, LAN.SN), will land Sunday.

The Chilean Aviation Authority said other airlines will land at airports in the north of the country, as well as Mendoza in Argentina on the border with Chile, and will be ferried by bus to Santiago, the president said.

The Santiago airport passenger terminal is damaged, so passengers will be received at a temporary terminal, she said.

The airport infrastructure, including runways and flight systems, weren't damaged by the earthquake.
Argentina's government-owned airline said it would send a special flight later Sunday afternoon to carry 160 people to Mendoza. Aerolineas Argentinas said in a statement it has contracted buses to take the people on to the Chilean capital.

-By Jeff Fick and George Seal, Dow Jones Newswires;

Ok, so that sounds promising, especially the part about the critical airport infrastructure being undamaged.  The not so good part is about some flights landing in the North of Chile (some at Antofagasta about 300km from San Pedro), or Argentina (much further away!), and people being bussed to Santiago.  If my flight were diverted to Antofagasta then it wouldn't be too terrible I guess.  200 miles is doable via a rental car or bus, but Argentina....that would be a bigger problem to overcome.

The 'current' LAN airlines revised schedule can be found here: LAN Airlines.

Earthquake update

Following on from my last post, RTP have issued a press release which can be found here on their website.

They believe the airport may be open sooner that the 72 hours quoted by the press, and are travelling out to Chile today, as they intend to stage the race and also raise funds for the earthquake victims.

RTP urge people to allow plenty of time for cancellation and delays. This of course poses a problem as airlines right now don't even know if they can fly into Santiago, so they are unlikely to tender requests to fly out any earlier. I've checked with my booking agent and there is no availability on flights into Santiago on either of the two previous days, unless you fly business class (huge price tag), so I can't do anything to try and allow more time.

My flights to Chile may well go ahead, but as I only arrive on Friday, if there are any cancellations or delays to any flights there is no contingency available. If I got to Santiago but my onward flight to Calama was cancelled then I would have little to no chance of getting to San Pedro. A ride by car is getting on for 1000 miles, which isn't really feasible in a day, on those roads, with one person driving. The Salta option, flying into Argentina, and getting the bus may be no easier as a seperate earthquake, set off by the Chile quake hit Salta Province, so I have no idea what road damage may be there. Also, I would have to leave on Tuesday in order to get to Salta in time for the Thursday bus (it only runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7am). All in all, I don't think that option is workable for me. I've got little option other than to go with the original travel plans and hope for the best. I've just got visions of my Calama flight being fully occupied by passengers delayed from previous flights. I think LAN airlines only fly a couple of planes a day to Calama, which is tiny airport. A 3-day backlog wouldn't clear overnight. I hope all the competitors stuck in various airports around the world right now are being looked after by the airlines, and they can find a route to San Pedro too.

Although the death toll in Chile is sadly rising above 700, it's already clear that despite the stronger quake, the devastation is nothing like the scale seen in Haiti. Chile is a modern, developed nation, that has a history of earthquakes so the infrastructure is better prepared to cope than most.

Saturday 27 February 2010


You will have all heard of the massive earthquake in Chile. One of the largest recorded. Obviously all thoughts of the race pale into insignificance versus the loss of life and destruction in the country. I know some competitors are already out there. Some of them are actually in Santiago, which is closer to the epicentre (and scenes of considerable destruction of roads/bridges on the TV) than San Pedro (Atacama Desert) which is far away from the affected area, and I understand unaffected.

Racing The Planet are monitoring the situation and are due to update tomorrow, according to the briefing on their website. Santiago airport is damaged and is shut for at least 3 days according to BBC news. All of the competitors would have been arriving in the next few days I imagine, with very few arriving as late as I was due to (on Friday evening). All flights in the air were diverted to Argentina right I understand. Those yet to fly are probably cancelled until further notice. Some competitors are stuck in Brazil I've read this evening. I guess everyone will just have to wait for a clearer picture in a day or two.

So everyone's travel this week will either be diverted or potentially cancelled; this would include any race staff yet to arrive I imagine. Travel options could be severly restricted if it goes ahead, especially if Santiago airport stays closed all week. I've looked at options as varied as flying into Salta, via Buenos Airies and getting the 9-12 hour bus ride to San Pedro as a fallack option. Though the news also reports a seperate 6.3mag quake struck Salta yesterday, killing people there, so I'd have to check the bus services were running anyway.

Regardless of what happens with the event, let's hope the loss of life is minimal. Chile gets a lot of earthquakes and so has better prepared infrastructure than Haiti had. The buildings are stronger in Chile so I hope the destruction caused is less considerable than the terrible disaster in Haiti. Let's also hope the tsunami warning system means that all residents of potentially affected areas of the Pacific move to higher ground.

I hope all the competitors are safe. More news when I hear anything. My thoughts are with the people of Chile right now.

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Mickey Mouse Training

I’ve begun to wind down a little in preparation for the Atacama Crossing, though I’ve managed to cram in a few extra miles this week. On Tuesday I walked back from work wearing a heavy backpack of about 15kg’s, calling in at the Altitude Centre at Metis and did an hour on the treadmill, same format as last week’s session. It was another supervised session with the instructor. I ran for 5 minutes with the mask on, warming up, then a further 15 minutes before running for 5 minutes with the mask off. Whilst wearing the mask, my oxygen sats plunge to about 80% and my heart rate goes up 20 beats per minute more than without it; around 136 – 140 bpm. After the 5 minutes without the mask, it goes back on for 15, off for 5, back on the 15 then off for the last 5-10 minute cool-down. Here is what the output graph looks like.  Red line is my pulse, the blue line is my oxygen sats.  You can clearly see the 15/5 min intervals.

On Wednesday morning, I again loaded my backpack up with 15kgs of weight and walked into work. At lunchtime I did my weekly speed session. This week I ran for 18 minutes at 14.2kph. Usually I’d increase it at the 15 minute mark, but I’ve been trying to get it up to running a steady 14.5kph for the whole 20 minutes. After 18 minutes I was really feeling the pace, probably as a result of doing the 25 mile Anglezarke event a few days earlier, and a 12 miler two nights before. I turned it down to 14kph for 45 seconds, for a brief breather, then overcompensated the last minute and cranked it back up to 15kph for the last minute or so. When 20 minutes had gone by, I had done 4.73kph, only a minor improvement on last week, and still 90 metres off my target of 4.83kph (3 miles) in 20 minutes. It’s definitely getting hard now; harder than I thought. I guess I have increased my average running speed by about 1kph in the last month which is quite a lot. I’m due to do another session later. I’m unsure whether I should increase the overall average speed up to 14.3 or 14.4, or just leave it at 14.2 and then try and blast out the last few minutes at around 15-16kph (if I can!) to try and reach the overall average of 14.5kph. I think I’ll just see how I feel in a few hours. I have two chances left; today and next Tuesday. I’m only a few seconds off my target, so I guess it doesn’t make a massive difference but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

EDIT:  Just did my speed session at lunchtime.  Another improvement but still some way to go I think.  I ran for 14 minutes at 14.2, then flipped between 14.2 - 14.6 for the next 4 minutes.  In the last minute I set it to 15+, and the last 30 at 16.4kph.  I was running as quick as I could manage, but the clock stopped at 20 minutes - distance travelled 4.77km - 50 metres off.  I would need another 10 seconds to do 4.82km.  So near yet so far!  It's probably unrealistic to expect me to be able to make than gain in just a week.  I am clearly approaching my physical (VO2) capability.  I say this becuase, this would make my 1.5 mile time at around 9:25 seconds (that's an approximation), my age is 36.  Using some of the VO2 estimation calculators that would put my VO2 max at 54-55ml/kg/min.  Now, in 2006, just as I was starting running seriously, doing my first 3 mile runs etc, I had my VO2 max measured at a local university, as I was in my untrained state.  It came out at about 45 if I recall correctly.  Now, I understand that you can only ever "train" your birth bestowed VO2 max up by 20%, which would give me 9% more to play with and hence hits that 54 VO2 max perfectly.  So, I think I am getting close to my genetic limits, and there's not a lot I can do about that!   I think I could still get that sub 20 3 mile, but it may take a few more weeks to eek it out.  Still that's 6:43 minute miles, which is about 10 seconds per mile (30 seconds quicker overall) faster than I have ever been fit enough to do it before.  We'll have to see if I can summon up enough strength to have another go next week, or just stick to plan and taper properly.  Not decided yet.  The good news is that for an endurance athelete, and the speeds we run at, VO2 max doesn't have a great deal of bearing.  It's just a number.  It matters for the guys going faster than me!

Anyway, back to this weeks news.  After work I walked back with my heavy pack again, once more calling in at Metis and doing another altitude hour on the treadmill, same as before. This time the session was unsupervised, as I had been taught how to use the machines. I completed the session with no problems and continued my walk back with my pack.

I got up early on Thursday, walked into work with my 15kg pack, via Metis again, arriving as it opened, and did yet another altitude hour unsupervised on the treadmill. So, by this stage I have covered 26 miles running or walking this week, more than I intended at this stage. I had planned to do a 15 mile run on Sunday but that would have taken me way over my 30 mile target, and besides I had made other plans. I went home on Thursday night, worked from home on Friday morning and then caught the Eurostar, taking my 5 year old boy to Disneyland Paris for the weekend. This was much needed I think. I found a big knot of bunched muscle in my left calf. I have been ignoring it I think, and it had almost got to the point of being chronically tight. I have a reoccurring problem with this one calf muscle. I think another 15 miles would have tipped it over the edge. I self massage it for an hour on Thursday night, and continued to stretch it at every opportunity over the weekend, in between Peter Pans Flight, and It’s a Small World rides!

We came home on Sunday night after a great weekend. I did however feel sufficiently guilt ridden and had my usual fear of loss of fitness that I played catch up and ran 10 miles on Monday night, on a hilly trail route. It was pitch dark and in the snow and ice. I kicked block of ice on a descent and took a tumble, sliding on the painfully hard ice on the ground. Luckily I just picked up some bruises and cuts. So, in the end I covered 36 miles in total last week.

This week, I suspect it’ll be fairly similar, maybe even a little more, as I have four planned altitude sessions, each one I do about 5 miles, plus the walking to and from work every day wearing the heavy pack(about 3 miles each way – the direct short route), and a long run at the weekend. So, I guess I’m not really tapering a great deal, but I know my body well enough to know that I don’t really need to. I’ve cut down sufficiently to allow some recovery, and I’ll certainly ease right back next week. I hadn’t planned to do anything, but I will more than likely do 3 altitude sessions, even if the last one is just sitting down wearing the mask, the day I fly out to Chile (next Thursday evening).

My mental approach is improving, really just down to the comforting thought that I have done so much training. I did a little analysis of the finishing times for each of the stages last year, and I am still going to try and target the middle of the field stage finish times.  I only included people that finished the whole event overall. So, the approx finish times for those that finished in the middle of the pack were.

Stage 1: 6 hours
Stage 2 and 3: 7 hours 45.
Stage 4: 8 hours 45 mins
Stage 5: 14 and a half hours
Stage 6: about at hour for the 10k stage.

There is a huge difference from first to last incidentally. The winner did the long stage in 9 hours, the last person took almost 27 hours. So, the thing that I can always bear in mind is that if I can’t run for some reason, I can always walk some, and still finish. No one gets a better medal or T-shirt for finishing first or last...

There is one curveball this year. It’s going to be hotter than last year, because the race is a month earlier (hotter season), so the stage times are bound to be somewhat slower this time. I’d much rather finish in a reasonable time each day that taking 10 or 11 hours to do each of the shorter stages, as some people do. More time out is less time at camp recovering.

One last post next week before I fly out for the event. Have a good week!

Sunday 14 February 2010

Anglezarke Amble

You'll need to scroll down a little to read about the Anglezarke Amble, as the rest of my week's news is first.

This week things didn't go precisely to plan, but it's ended on an absolute high.

I was working in London this week, and so travelled down on Tuesday morning by train, with all my clothes for the week packed in my racing ruckack, and I had another rucksack with two laptops in it.  Quite a challenge bearing two rucksacks.  Didn't think that one through when I thought It would be a good idea to do what I am about to tell you.

I finished work at 6pm, as usual, and then walked back to where I was staying in Camden.  It's a little over 2.5 miles, lugging those two rucksacks.  Well over the weight i'll be carrying in the Atacama anyway.  I dropped off my stuff, went out for dinner, then went to a supermarket on the way back and brough 3x5l bottles of water and loaded them into my (now empty) rucksack.  Straight away I saw a problem here, there was no room for anything else, and it was very heavy of course.  I walked the mile back to where I was staying, took one of the bottles out, leaving 10kg, and then added into it my work clothes, running clothes (indoor ones), my towel and washbag.  All of that lot adding another 2-3 kg on, so total pack weight probably 13kg.  In the morning I walked into work with the pack, effectively overtraining my weight, but not running.  It's too risky at this stage to run with a heavy pack, especially one that heavy.  Nevertheless it was a good workout for my back and shoulders, even if it is just over 2.5 miles.

At lunchtime, I went down into the work gym for my weekly 3 mile flat out speed work.  I've been upping the speed gradually each week, trying to reach my target of a sub 20 minute 3 mile time.  This week I did 15 minutes at 14kph, then upped the speed by 0.2 every minute, running the last minute at 15kph.  Well actually I cranked it up to about 15.4 for the last 30 seconds.  I covered 4.72km.  That's just 100m off my target (4.82km is 3 miles).  What I was most happy about was that I was pretty comfortably running the 15 mins at 14km.  So, next week I'll up it to 14.2, then the week after 14.4, then in the last week I need to average at least 14.5 for 20 minutes for reach that target.  It's satisfying to see it get it closer.  It is a tiring session though, especially after walking in.  Oh, and I almost forgot, I did run 12 miles on Monday night, playing catchup to a missed long run on Saturday.  So, I'd racked up a lot of tiring session, with a long (and hilly run) on Monday, plus the walk to and from work with heavy packs, then the speedwork at lunch.

Come 6pm (Wednesday this is), and I changed into my running gear for my planned 11 mile run back, which I did, but it felt hard.  There wasn't even 600ft of ascent in it, but I was fatigued.  I know to listen to my body now.  It's pointless knocking out miles for the sake of it.  If you body needs a rest, then rest.  I knew I had the last big event, the Anglezarke Amble at the weekend, and that was going to be hard.  I figured I should cancel my run back to work on Thursday morning.  It would have been another 11 miler with a 4kg pack.  I caught the tube into work.  I even cancelled my gym session on Thursday.  Complete rest I though.  Make sure I am rested for Saturday.  Then I remember I had arranged to go to the Altitude centre in Covent Garden for an induction that evening.  Still, I figured it might just be a tutorial, and no exertion.  Wrong.

I got there as another Atacama Competitor was finishing off his sesssion.  He'd been on the machine a few times I gathered, so knew what he was doing.  He was running on a treadmill wearing an oxygen mask, connected to the Hypoxic machine, with oxygen saturation and pulse sensors on both hands.  He was running at the speed controlled by the instructor of 7.5km an hour, his oxygen sats around 80% (the target is 76 to 84), but is pulse was in the high 170's.  I expressed concerned about quite how difficult it must be (given how fatigued I felt).  I'd have to be sprinting all out to get my heart rate to 180, yet 7.5km is a little more than a fast walk and the pulse was so high.  How hard was this going to be I thought? 

The instructor doing the induction was really pleasant, and knowledgeable (she's doing a PHD in the subject), so I fired a load of questions at her about the effectiveness of the machine etc.  She seemed convinced it workd for athletes who would be competing at altitude, but questions remain about if it worked for athletes performing at sea-level; using the machine to get ahead basically.  Anyway, that's not my concern.  I'll be starting the race at 3200m and running around 2500m for most of the week.

I told the instructor that after seeing the stats from the previous guy, I was somewhat concerned about how I would perform, given I knew I was fatigued the previous evening.  The schedule is basically an hour long.  15 minutes running with the mask on, with a nitrogen rich oxygen mix (lowers oxygen level), then 5 minutes running with it off, 15 minutes mask on, 5 minutes mask off, 15 minutes mask on, 5 minutes off and cooldown.  I warmed up for 5 minutes, then it was my turn.  I was certainly a little nervous, and had some difficulty with the mask fit, but eventually got it fitted.  Even standing still I could tell it was harder to breath.  I was trying to breath in more air than the pipe was offering to me.  She told me to try and breath in through the nose and out through the mouth.  I managed this probably about 70% of the time I'd estimate.  She started the machine, setting it to the same pace as the previous guy 7.5kph.  I actually struggled to get my pace, as it's just a shuffle not a run.  I was a little fidgety, adjusting the mask a little and being told off for paying more attention to my heart rate than anything else!

Anyway, after 7.5 minutes my pulse was steady at around 138, and my oxygen sat was about 83%.  She said I was reacting well, and so upped the speed to 8kph for the last 7.5 mins of the interval.  My heart rate was steady around 140, sats 80-82%.  Again, she said I was to ignore my heart rate as it had no bearing, but being a novice to all this, I can only go on my perceived level of effort and thus heart rate.  I took off the mask and continued running for the next 5 minutes.  I could obviously tell it was a lot more difficult to run, at that simulated altitude.  I was sweating, and my heart rate wouldn't have been 140 from a light jog normally. 

So, 2nd interval, mask back on.  Again I was reacting well, so after 7.5 minutes at 8kph, the speed was upped again to 8.5kph.  My sats stayed around 80% still, and my pulse rate increased to mid to high 140's.  I struggled to breath that well sometimes, fiddling with the mask, and sucking in breaths through my mouth as well as my nose sometimes.  Still I finished the interval, and still felt pretty comfortable.  I had my 5 minutes with the mask off, and then the speed was increased to 9kph for the last 15 minutes.  This definately worked me a harder.  My pulse now went up above 150, and as time went on went up to about 158 I think.  My sats dropped as low as 77% now and again, before heading back towards 80%.  I was pleased to get that last interval out of the way as it came towards the end of the hour.  I cooled down for 5 minutes and had a look at the graph, showing how my body had reacted over the hour, and gradually started to cope with it better.  My graph took a little ragged compared to the previous guy, who had nice steady rises and falls.  I guess I'll get to that stage at some point, but at least I'm pleased my heart rate stayed lower.  A high heart rate is more effort being expent, and more calories being burned.  I'm not taking a vast amount of calories to the race (2600kcal per day average), so I need to be running as economically as possible.  I asked a lot of questions as the end, which the girl helpfully answered. 

My overall conclusion as it stands it that at this stage I have no idea if it will help or not.  One session isn't going to do anything.  I'm going to try and get 2 or 3 in a week for the next 3 weeks, and see if the little graph shows some improvement.  I'm keeping an open mind right now.  The big test will be on day 1 in Chile.  I know how hard it was to start the race at 3263M, and then climb up to 3350m within a mile or so of the race starting, wearing a full weight backpack.  Will it feel any easier this year?  Probably not, but every little helps I guess!

Ok, so I didn't do a gym session after the Altitude.  We were running late anyway with the session, and by the time I had eaten it was gone 10pm anyway.  I went back home on Friday night and packed my rucksack for the Anglezarke Amble.  I packed a modest 4kg of mostly warm clothes, hat, gloves, waterproof jacket, plus, my camera, PDA and GPS (neither of which I needed used in the event anyway), plus some SIS Go electrolyte.  Oh, and a few snack bars to eat.

I got up at 6am on Saturday and managed to beat the online route planners estimation by half an hour, arriving about 7:15am.  It wasn't like I was going that quick, I just think the route planner was very conservative in it's estimate!  I parked on the damn of the Anglezarke Reservoir and took this photo.  Nice eh?

There was some confusion when I registered. They couldn't find my entry.  So, I paid again (I'd sent a cheque off already).  I failed to notice they gave me the 16 mile short route stamp card, but I did notice they gave me the wrong route description, and picked up the right one.  So, all the way around I had to explain to every checkpoint why I had the the wrong colour stamp card on (and one that didn't have enough boxes to stamp!).  Incidentally, when I finished the main organiser was there, and remembered my name, and found my entry number.  He was going to refund my 2nd entry fee, but I just gave it to them for the local Air Ambulance appeal they were collecting for.  Good deed for the day!  I'm hoping for Karma payback in Chile! I hope you can bank Karma like this?

As I sat down waiting for the start, my friends Anne and Vaughan arrived.  It's always nice to see them at events.  They said was I going to run with them today.  I said I'd certainly give it a try.  I've had a go before, and I usually falter about 10-15 miles or so in; they're too fast!  They had done the route last year, and Anne is an expert navigator, so that would be another great reason to try and stay close.  I did have my route description and GPS, so I probably would have found my way back if all else failed! 

The route is shown below, along with the hill profile.  The route started from Rivington, towards the bottom left, and went in the circular route anti-clockwise.  It was a cold (about 0C at the start, colder on the hills), but lovely clear day and remained so all day.  Great conditions.

There was the usual tussle at the begining as both the walkers and runners start at the same time, so the first few hundred metres and squeezing, dodging and lot's of poliye "excuse me's" as you work your way through.  As you can see on the hill profile, you go straight up a hill for 1.5 miles; Rivington Pike, to a little tower there.  The first bit is very runnable, but to save energy more of less everyone (other than the fell running superheros at the front!) walk up the steps to the tower as pictured.

There is a very brief half descent for a few hundred metres then a long runnable climb up to Winter Hill Transmitter station, the highest point on the route at almost 1500ft.  You can see it pictured below.  At night, it's al lit up with red lights and you can see it for 10's of miles in every direction, and a familiar site to motorway drivers going up the M6 and M61 (and probably a few others).  Anne and Vaughan and pictured running just in front of me.  It was quite cold up there.  You can see the ground has frost.  The ground was hard up there, and there was the odd lingering snow drift at times during the route.

There was a stamp checkpoint at the transmitter itself and then we hit the summit at 3.5 miles into the route and began the welcome descent.  I had a chat to Anne or Vaughan as we went around for most of the route.  It really helps pass the time and speed the route along.  We climbed over a stile, as demonstrated by Anne (I think) and headed more steeply downhill.

The descent goes on for almost 2 miles, by which time my knees has had enough of the hard rocky ground to be honest and I was glad to sit the softer marshy ground and gradual ascent for the next 3 miles.  The terrain over this section was pretty slow.  It was marshland, with some tussocky grass which made for slow progress.  Jumping over little cuts/streams and leaping the bogs.  In wet weather I can imagine that the route would be very difficult indeed at times.

Vaughan heading up out of the marshland. 

We had skipped the feeding station, all of us having our own supplies and continued onto the next stamp checkpoint where they tried to direct me a different way to follow the short route, and so began my explanation at each CP!  I carried on the long route with Vaughan and Anne and we ran on to the next manned checkpoint at Entwhistle.  I refilled my 500ml bottle and grabbed a couple of snacks from the table.  A big thanks to all the checkpoint staff all day, it was another really well supported LDWA event.

After that CP is the hardest section of the race; a gradual overall ascent from 9 to 17 miles (a tiny descent at 14.5 miles, before gradually back up again).  You only gain 700ft, but the long slow pull was really a drain.  I certainly felt all the miles in my legs from the last few weeks, and dropped back from Anne and Vaughan a little as I dropped into a slightly more comfortable pace.  I was however not going to walk any of it.  Anne had said it was one of those hills that if you walk, you're a wimp!  So, no pressure for me!  I took this photo as we climbed looking back across the valley to the Winter Hill transmitter where I had been about 8 or 9 miles previous.

The route followed a well known path called Witton Weaver Way, which took a sharp right nearing the highest point and from where I took this photo.  Anne and Vaughan ahead again, I wasn't that far behind you see.

The route continued over Darwen Moor, eventually heading up Darwen Hill to Darwen Tower checkpoint, pictured at 16 miles.

Vaughan took this one of me at the top.

I took this from the top as the route heads briefly down and then is fairly level, with just a gradual gain for the next mile or so.

One reason I had been dropping back from the others was that I had an upset stomach again.  It was cramping badly and slowing me up.  I know from experience there is only one cure now.  Half a mile after the tower, I gave in, headed off the path to a nearby bush and well, got some relief!  That little stop had however, cost me almost 5 minutes, and Anne and Vaughan were long gone.  They thought I'd tired, but hoped I would catch up later.  That became my goal.  I lost them just after the 16 mile mark, and then ran myself ragged down the next CP, which they had already been to and left.  I quickly refilled by bottle, explained that I was really doing the long route again and set off again.  I was actually feeling a lot better since the toilet stop, and had come down from Darwen Hill at a rate of knots.  I was however, relying on my own navigation now, and had to get the route description out, pausing at a couple of forks and losing some time again.  I crossed a main road and headed back onto moor towards Great Hill (poor name, it's not very big!), pictured.

I figured out the right route and caught site of them going just disappearing over the summit of the hill.  I think they are out of shot, but here's the last bit of the hill, and actually the last photo I took.

I finally caught up to them at about the 20 mile mark heading over Wheelton Moor, and I explained what had happened.  I'd pushed quite hard just catch them up, and was now just hoping to be able to hang on with them to the end.  We all quickly went through the last CP and headed out for the last 4 or so miles, which is predominantly flat, along the edge of the Anglezarke Reservoir.  I managed a few bits of conversation for a couple of miles, and then settled in behind them.  We caught a few more runners up towards the end, and I think the pace increased a little, because I began to tire again.  I hung onto their coat-tails by the skin of my teeth I think, finishing just behind thankfully.  I felt fairly worn out for the first 10 mins after finishing, but recovered pretty quickly after some tea and the supplied meal (a wonderful hotpot). 

I logged the route at 24.7 miles, 3913ft of ascent.  It had taken me 4 hrs and 33 mins; average 5.4mph.  That's certainly the fastest average speed I've managed on an LDWA event of that distance, and this was a  fairly hilly event as well.  I was happy because for the first time ever, I'd managed to keep my friends in sight (well, except that toilet stop!).  I stayed and we chatted for an hour or more at the finish, and then I drove home.  Thanks once again to all the organisers and volunteers for a well staged and enjoyable event.

I definately got a buzz off my performance for the remainder of the day.  I was in a very good mood (I still am!).  I'm really happy with my fitness.  I'm certainly fitter than I've ever been before, no question.  Ok, so my peak fitness is pretty far down the scale in comparison to most peoples, but I'm happy with it!  I've absolutely no fear of the distances in the Atacama at all; none.  I just need to keep moving and thinking positively.

So, the last big event is over; the taper begins now.  Well, except I'll be working myself hard on that altitude simulation for the next 3 weeks I suspect.

Have a good week!

Monday 8 February 2010

Atacama Crossing 2010 Kit list

Less than 4 weeks to go to the Atacama Crossing 2010.

I'm still working through my mental approach issues. I'll let you know how that goes as it improves. Thanks for all the emails and comments from last weeks post.  One way to help myself, is to ensure I'm fully prepared in other areas. I'm happy with my fitness. I had a lighter recovery week last week. A 3 mile flatout on Tuesday, as posted about previously, then two 5 miles runs to work, with a backpack. I rested at the weekend but will catchup and do my long run tonight after work (12 miles probably), no doubt starting and finishing in very dark coldness - it's chilly again here in the UK.  I got my weeks mixed up - last wekeend wasn't the Anglezarke Amble which I said I wasn't going to do.  Turns out it is this weekend coming.  So, I've entered.  I decided to risk it, since I'll get worried I'll lose my fitness if I don't do a decent distance before the Atacama Crossing. The AA is 24 miles long, bleak, and pretty hilly - getting on for 4000ft of ascent.  It basically consists of moor, moor and more moor...oh and hills.  I'l be doing a couple of 11 milers mid week too.  This time next week I'll begin to taper for the event. 

I'm considering some Hypoxic training over the next few weeks after reading one competitor used it last year (maybe more?).  It's using a bike or treadmill wearing an oxygen mask, simulating the required altitude.  I spoke to a place in London and it turns out that quite a few other Atacama Crossing competitors are already doing it, sufficient enough numbers that they have organised a special programme and price anyway.  Essentially, it's 2 supervised intro sessions (2 x £45), then unlimited use of the exercise facility for the next month (£200).  I don't live nearby enough to use it every day (optimal), but I could probably get 3 sessions in a week for the next month (better than nothing?).  I'm going to speak to them this week and read around the subject to see if there is any research papers to say it actually works.  If you happen to know already, please let me know if it's worth it.  Obviously nothing beats those guys I read who are getting out to Chile a week or two early to properly acclimitise, but I can't take a month off work!  Failing that, I'll walk around with a pair of socks in my mouth for month, as that pretty realistically simulates running at that altitude - I'll let you decde if I'm joking or not.

The other area I can ensure I'm fully prep'd on is my kit. I've more or less finalised my kit now, and my food. Standing on the start line of day 1 my backpack should weigh a little under 7kg, then I will have water ration on top of that. My backpack weight with all equipment contents will be 3.2kg, and my food will be almost 3.8kg (after breakfast is eaten before the start); so 7kg.

What am I taking?

I thought it might be useful to post them for anyone still pondering any equipment choices. These are just my thoughts. I'm not saying my choices are perfect (or even half right!), but I know what worked for me last time and it's mostly the same choices as last year (and tried and test in other deserts) - but this year stripped down to even more to bare essentials really.  I've hyperlinked as many items as I could to make it easy for you to see what I am using.  Pretty much all itmes I found I could now source at the cheapest prices (I compared a few websites for price and range being the bargain hunter that I am!) from RTPs new online store.  I've hyperlinked the UK store website, but all the same items you can get from their international store as well I imagine.  The delivery was very cheap and fast; a flat rate £3.50 and came by Fed-Ex courier the next day, so full marks to RTP for that.  Last year I had to shop around for my kit and food from about 10 different online stores and paid 10 delivery charges, so this has saved me the hassle, as well as money.  My sleeping bag and down vest were from PHDesigns in the UK; a well known supplier to desert competitors, as well as Arctic ones.  The other items you can buy more or less anywhere.   

750g - Backpack - OMM Classic Marathon 32L Backpack (includes a whistle and tiny sleeping mat)
15g - Backpack LED - Flashing LED Safety Light
60g (30gx2)Drinks System - OMM I-Gamy Bottle Holster x 2
160g (80gx2)Drinks System - OMM Ultra Bottle (500ml) x 2
100g - Drinks System - SIS 1 x 1000ml water Bottle
- Total drinks capacity of 2 litre as per requirement.

66g - Torch - Petzl Tikka 2 with 3x Lithium batteries
30g - Backup Torch - Black Diamond Ion
50g - Space blanket
7g - 20 safety pins
200g - Blister Kit + pain relief meds
40g - Compass - Silva
26g - Knife -  4 Deserts SwissCard
15g - Medicated Lip Balm; Sun Block, 0.15 oz, SPF 30
376g – Ultralight down Sleeping Bag +8C rated (clothes must be worn to supplement this)
230g - Sleeping Mat - Therm-A-Rest Prolite – extra small to use with backpack sleeping mat
200g - Thermarest compressible Pillow – priceless!
70g - Hand Cleansing Alcohol gel
79g - P20 once a day suncream – ½ bottle decanted
10g - Light My Fire Spork
2g - 6 x disposable earplugs
10g - Chlorine Tablets
50g – 14x wet wipes
10g – toilet paper

Wearing this - Eye Protection – Oakleys
Wearing this - Railriders Adventure Top (inc patches)
Wearing this - Skins Sport Long Tights – day and night
Wearing this - Helly Hansen Seamless boxer shorts
Wearing this - Running Shoes – New Balance MT840
Wearing this - RaidLight Stop-Run Gaiters
Wearing this – Nike Running Cushioned socks
Wearing this – Asics socks (over the Nikes)
Wearing this - Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap
140g - Montane Featherlite Marathon Jacket – evenings and asleep
40g - Icebreaker Pocket 200 – evenings and asleep
36g - Hilly Gloves - evenings
40g (2x20g) - Nike Running Cushioned socks x 2 - spare
40g – Asics socks - spare
150g – Helly Hansen LIFA – evenings and asleep
150g - Ultra Lightweight down vest – evening and asleep

So all that lot, plus a few minor items weighs around 3.2kg

Food - My daily menu is more or less the same, with different flavours of electrolyte, snack bars and evening meals. As follows:

111g - Cereals and powdered milk 418 kcal
50g - SIS PSP22 carb drink (breakfast) 187 kcal
123g - Nuts bar 212 kcal x 3(41g) (636 kcal total)
26g - Peperami 126 kcal
150g - SIS - Go Electrolyte 175 kcal x 3(50g) (525 kcal total)
50g - SIS Rego recovery powder 175 kcal
133g - Evening Meal – Mountain House Chicken Tikka 592 kcal
12g - Vacuum sealed in a vac bag

1 day total - 660g - 2659 kcal

The long stage food menu has more snack bars and electrolyte.  There is less food on the rest day and final stage. Giving a grand total of, for food:  3799g, 15259kcal  For many people, this won't be enough food.  I'm quite a light frame, about 64kg, so I can get by on this amount.

So, all of these things are to keep my mind busy and make me happy in the knowledge that I have prepared as well as I can.  The mental prep continues.

Have a good week.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

46 mile ultra training run

Physically, I am ready.

Last week I did my three mile flat out session on Tuesday as I mentioned in my last post, and some work in the gym afterwards. This week I did 15 mins at 13.8kph, then upped it by 0.2 every minute after, and ran the last 30 secs at 15kph. I covered 4.68km in 20 minutes. I need to cover 4.82km (3 miles), so I am near yet far. I worked out I have to run an average 14.5mph for 20 mins to get that target, so I am going to have to either just do that exactly, or start slower (like I am doing) and massively overcompensate in the later minutes. I think I am going to try the steady approach. I’ll run the first 15 mins at 14 or 14.2 next week and see how I get on. This has become a “must do now”. Overall that target is 6:40 minute miles average, which would be 12 seconds per mile faster than I ever remember doing it previously over 3 miles. I’d take that as a guarantee I’m fitter than ever before.

On Wednesday and Thursday I completed two 7 mile road runs, deliberately doing a few miles less than planned because of the increased distance I would tackle on Saturday. I did my gym session on Thursday as planned too. Now that just left the ultra distance training session.

It’s been probably 18 months (the Kalahari 2008) since I last tackled a distance over 40 miles. So, it would be fair to say there were a few nerves, a few worries, some nagging doubts. Could I still do it, I asked myself. It was a gamble. If I completed it, then I get the ultimate confidence booster going into the event; that I can tackle the long day distance that I will face in Chile. If I failed, for whatever reason, then it would just make the possibility of failure in Chile all the more real. It’s a mental strength thing. It’s unlikely in Chile that I’m going to get unlucky and get sick again, like last year, so really the success should lie in my own fitness. The problem is that it’s not just your physical fitness that is tested. These races are more about mental strength that anything else. It’s your own belief in yourself that you can succeed that is the difference between completing and not. Every day out there I am going to feel hot, short of oxygen and generally pretty rough. My mind will be screaming at me to throw in the towel. It’s a feeling that you get more used to, you push through and hopefully succeed. More of this later, back to the ultra training run.
So, I carefully planned a 50 miles route that would take me to “a hill” that I can see on the horizon from a nearby hill to my home. I looked at local maps and determined that the hill was the one on which Beeston Castle, near Tarporley in Cheshire was atop. I planned my route to mostly avoid the road, using major footpaths, canal tow paths and lesser footpaths and fields where necessary. It would be a full moon, so hopefully there would be enough light for me to find my way as I would start out around 4am. I transferred the map and route onto my PDA, and charged an extra battery. I filled 2.5litres of electrolyte, tested it was flowing, packed plenty of warm clothes as it would be -3 to 0C all day. I weighed my pack 5.5kg – perfect. The kind of weight I would expect to be carrying on the long day in Chile. I went to bed early, slept quite well and got up at 3:45. I ate some breakfast, had some tea and got ready. By the time all of this was done, and I had taken my PDA off charge, having to reset it because it had hung, it was almost 4:30am when I started. It was dark, but clear, with the promised full moon providing some extra light.

I didn’t need to look at my PDA for the first 8 miles, as I knew the way. I ran up the hill outside my house and then over the field to stand by the Wedgwood Monument, a needle monolith that marks the highest point near me, and one where in daylight I can spot my “hill”. Of course all I could see were streetlights in patches for 30 miles in every direction with darkness in between. I paused for a second, just a mile into the route, contemplating the 45+ miles ahead of me. Those worries crept in again as I kicked off down the hill and set on my way. I had deliberately chosen as flat a route as possible, again emulating much of the long day across the salt flats and plains of the Atacama basin. The route would only have around 2000ft of ascent and no serious hills to tackle, other that the one I had already climbed, and some steady inclines along the way. About 2 miles later I tried to take a drink from my camelback; nothing came through. What? I had checked the flow. I looked at the tube and felt it; it has hard, frozen solid in the sub zero temperatures. A problem this early on wasn’t a good omen I thought, especially not for someone worrying about their ability to complete the distance even in perfect conditions. I remembered watching a programme about Everest and the climbed had to keep the drinking tubes in their jackets, near their skin and body heat to ensure the tube did not freeze. I pushed the cold tube down inside my jacket, next to my chest and ran on. 10 minutes later it had thawed and I could drink again. I left the tube out, only for it to refreeze in minutes. It was obviously colder than I thought I put the tube back against my skin, and there it would stay in between sips.

So, for the first 8 miles I ran over some fields, past a few farms, and then a long road. I knew where every stile was, every fence, it was all very familiar. Then I got to 7.7 miles, the limit of where I could remember the route from memory and took out my PDA, installed with Memory Map and GPS guided. My route was missing. The nice red line that I had drawn on the map had vanished. I quickly realised that when the PDA had hung it had not properly saved the route. It had been there, I had checked it, but it had been wiped when the PDA was reset even though the map itself remained. I was cursing that something could go wrong so early, yet too far away from home to do anything about. I would have to try and remember the route and draw it onto the map now. I had studied the route in some detail, so it took but a few minutes to redraw it. Crisis over and I continued, now using the PDA to navigate. I soon turned off the main road and into a field, it was waterlogged, so I soon got my feet wet. Next it was up over a footbridge over a train line and then which way? I had GPS but it was so dark that I could not see the stile in the next field. I had to run across and search around to find it. This was no good, it was costing me time. The same happened in the next field, and I ended up to my ankles in nasty silage in the darkness. My head torch did not give enough light that I could navigate across the fields. I knew right away that this was not going to be sustainable. I could not stumble way in the darkness, searching the hedges for the stiles until it got light, about 7:30am.

I made my way across farmland, spooking a herd of cows who decided to stampede, luckily away from me. I emerged onto the main road, and looked at my map. There was no choice, I was going to have to use a road route, at least until it got light. It was going to be slightly shorter, and harder underfoot (I was in trail shoes) but this was the only option . The last 20 minutes had raised my slightly sensitive stress levels at the moment, and to be back on the road with all the streetlights and intermittent houses was comforting in a way. I ran along feeling better already, heading through Brough and Shavington near Crewe and then on towards Nantwich, eating up the miles and happy that I could still remember the LDS; the long distance shuffle - a running pace whith a backpack that doesn’t feel like you are running. It’s slow and sustainable, perhaps running at 5.5mph. I took this photo as it started to get a little lighter.

I got to Nantwich town centre and people setting up their market stalls gave me directions to the public toilets where I could go to the loo and also refill my water. I hadn’t used it all, but I would top it up, unsure when I could get any more en-route. I had done 16 miles at this point, and after this brief stop I was off again heading West out of Nantwich and into a small village called Acton. Just as I came through Acton dawn broke behind me

Simultaneously ahead of my I glimpsed my “hill” for the first time, the dawn sun lighting it up; something quite poetic about that. I could now switch back to my original route, so straight away headed off the road and onto footpath. Here I took the photo I always take when I am in the desert, the 60ft shadow shot.

With any luck I won’t be taking this shot in the long day of the Atacama, I will be in bed well before!
Here another shot taken from the same place and time, back towards sunrise.

I headed over the fields and then rejoined the road for a while before back over the fields to Bunbury. It was getting colder, there was a heavy frost on the already rock hard fields. I emerged from the fields into a small country lane on the outskirts of Bunbury to a light covering of snow, as pictured.

Still, the day was clear, it was going to be sunny, but it was going to stay freezing cold all day. I headed into Bunbury, and began a steady descent out of it, then crossed the main road to this road sign. Almost there...

So, I was almost there. I headed across the busy road and into the country lane which would take me towards the castle. I stopped and took this shot of the castle.

Rather than continue on the road, I decided to head straight across the field towards it. I stopped about quarter of a mile short at a fence boundary and looked down at my watch. 24 miles done. It seemed like a sensible place to stop and return. I knew you had to pay to go to the top of Beeston Castle, and it was just reaching the hill I was always aiming for. It’s not a big hill or serious climb anyway. I took these two photos. Beeston Castle and then Peckforton Castle which is on the smaller opposite hill.

I had been snacking on muesli bars as I had been running. I made sure I ate at least once an hour, even when I didn’t feel hungry. I had run every step of the way so far. I decided that I would walk back towards the main road, about ¾ of a mile away and take on a lot of food, to fuel me properly for the run back. I wasn’t tired, I felt good, but the brief walk would allow me to stock up and kick off for home at a good pace. I ate some crisps, another muesli bar and drank plenty of water. As soon as I got back to the main road again, I kicked off, ran back through Bunbury and back over the fields reversing my route. I ran along at my easy pace, just zoning out, eating up more miles, eating food as I went, just taking one shot as I crossed the Shropshire Union Canal.

I didn’t stop running until I got to Nantwich again, having run 32 miles. I stopped in the same public toilets, in what was now a very busy town centre. I got more than a few strange looks as I made my way through the town centre. Annoyingly, my camelback clogged after I had just refilled it. I didn’t want to waste time with it, so I walked into a nearby petrol station and bought 2 bottles of Lucozade Sport (a litre), which I hoped would see me through the remaining 15 miles back. I drank one of these fairly quickly as I walked, clearing the town centre, then ran on again. By 38 miles I was starting to feel a little tired. All the hard ground was taking it’s toll on my knees and ankles. Where possible I would run on a grass verge, but that seemed to hurt just as much, and I would be glad to get back on hard ground. Seconds later I would wish for soft ground again, and so it continued as I headed back through Shavington and Brough.

I got to the place that earlier I had realised my route had not been transferred onto my PDA. I knew I had 7.7 miles left. I took a conscious walking break of perhaps half a mile, walking up a gentle hill and then ran again. It was getting harder now and by 42 miles my legs were pretty heavy. It’s unfortunate that there it is all uphill from this point. I flipped between running and walking the hills. I walked the last steep hill on the road, and then ran the final less steep hill back up toward the Wedgewood Monument where I had stood in darkness that morning, worrying if I was capable of it.

I was a mile from home, it was all downhill from here. I climbed up the steps to the monument a little triumphantly, hummed the Rocky theme tune but no crowd of cheering children appeared and touched the stone. I took towards the horizon and saw “the hill” 23 miles away. It’s the small dot, almost exactly dead centre.

Today more than any other time ever, I felt like an Ultra athlete. I had run more than ever over this kind of distance. I walked a couple of times to eat and then on the hills towards the end. Apart from that I ran it with my backpack all the way. I stepped down from the monument, and got some sharp pain my right leg. I was worried about it for a few minutes, but it seems fine. I think it was my body relaxing, knowing that home was near. I ran the last mile down the hill to my house, feeling tired, a little rough, but happy. Final stats: 46 miles, 1900ft of ascent, 9hrs 40 minutes, 4.8mph average. No blisters, not even a hotspot, not a mark on my feet. I had worn a brand new pair of untested shoes, which should go against all advice (never try out new things on bif events!); However, they are an updated model of the ones I wore in the Kalahari where my feet also stayed near perfect. I'll be using my New Balance 840's in Chile then.

Here is the route I actually did, running right to left, and back.

That should have given me the mental boost I needed. It did, for about 5 minutes...

I was supposed to do the Anglezark Amble this weekend, but read that I was supposed to enter in advance. No online entry and no entry on the day. Maybe I could get a postal entry in, but it’s about 25 miles and it’s mostly boggy moorland and hills. Nothing like the Atacama terrain and now as the event approaches I start to worry about getting injured. Turning an ankle on rough moor. I’ve made a decision not to do it. The distance isn’t a challenge for me, so the event is more risk than benefit. I am going to visit my uncle and get some more chiropractic treatment at the weekend instead. I may do another 20 miler the weekend after instead.

Physically I am ready... Mentally, I am struggling at the moment.

For a lot of reasons; self doubt - I worry about the altitude, I worry about getting sick again, I worry about the temperature. Most of all I just worry that my mind will let me down. Convince me I am dying when I am not, and I throw in the towel and fail. Failing is the worst fear. The slightest problem on the event can set off self doubt, your morale goes and it’s the end of the world. Right now, the slightest problems here at home are causing me to worry. Recently parting ways with my girlfriend hasn’t helped matters at all, plus long weeks of work, too much travel and no rest at weekends, and bad sleep means that it feels like I never stop. I’m doing everything with my foot to the floor, and stress is having its effect.

I know my fitness isn’t in question. I will doubtless be physically fitter than some others taking part. I am fit enough to tackle any distance in the Atacama, easily. All of this should be improving my mental strength, but it’s not right now. This isn’t the right attitude to be going the hardest race of my life with. I need to gain the single focus and will to succeed because it’s only my mind that will stop me out there, and the mind is far more powerful in these events than miles under the belt. I’m not sure what I can do to improve things right now. Nothing is going right. I’m trying to type with a burned hand, plastered in cream, which I just scalded with boiling water, trying to make myself a cup of soothing herbal tea to chill me out. I’d laugh at the irony of that under normal circumstances. Somehow I missed the cup and poured the fresh boiling water all over my hand. You have those days when things go wrong. At the moment, that’s every day.