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 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!