Sunday, 17 March 2013

Ketchup, Pies and VO2max

Well 2013 seems to be trundling on at a fair old pace already and in what seems like a blink of the eye it’s March already! Blimey I’d better have a ramble about my winter meanderings then before its well and truly mid spring. First things first I suppose I’d better do a quick Ketchup or even a catch up for that matter.

In my January post I forgot to mention a couple of little races that I stretched the legs over. The first was the Tour of Pendle.  I’m still a newbie really at this fell racing malarchie as I’ve only done 5 races (Mow Cop 2010, Lantysilio 2010, Long Mynd Valleys 2011, Y Garn 2011, and The Roaches 2011). My last race on the fells had been over a year ago! Well slap me with a wet kipper I thought back in the Autumn I need to address this. So I opened up the FRA race calendar and I noticed that the Tour of Pendle was only a couple of weeks away. It was close to the Roaches Fell Race but as in my limited race calendar I had already done the Roaches I thought time for pastures and fells anew. Print the form, lick the stamp post the envelope, jobs a good one.

The home of slightly crazy mountain folk

I managed to make it to the start venue on the day of the race in reasonable time; which for those who know me will realise is an achievement in its own right! I went and registered, then on the way back bumped into a few familiar faces that all came out with the same comments along the line of “What are you doing here? It’s a bit short for you this one? Etc. And I suppose on my previous training and running that year they were right on all accounts. But as I said earlier I explained I had not done one fell race all year and I felt I needed to do one and I had heard there were exceptionally nice cakes afterwards! Conditions were chilly for the race but clear on most of the course. On the highest tops though the clag was down in a few places. Before long we were off, well Carl Bell was, with a few other speedy chaps in hot pursuit. Cough, wheeze cough! My body had been used to the ultra shuffle and this brisk pace at the beginning was a bit of a shock to it. By the time we reached the first ascent the lungs were calming down a bit. “Finally!” I thought, a speed I could cope with. I liked the ascents, it was familiar turf for me and the quads still had some strength in them from my summer excursions.  As the race was a bit of a late decision for me I had not recce’d the course and I had not ran or walked at Pendle before. It was all new terrain; so this dictated my race tactics….follow someone and hope they knew where they were going! Yep not the brightest of strategies but one I was willing to take the risk on as it would be a fun run no matter what the outcome. Luckily this worked well for most of the race as I was following a Clayton Le Moor Athlete (Gary Wilkinson I think), with the small exception towards the end. Somewhere on the top of Pendle moor in the clag I lost sight of the chap I was following and I immediately knew I hadn’t a flipping clue where I was, whoopsy.  After about 30 seconds I realized I was going wrong so I cut left back towards my last point where I had seen the runner and luckily for me some other chaps came into view from out of the mist and I legged it off down a slope not too far behind them. Within about 15seconds we had descended from the clag and I could see the line of runners in front of me. Phew, close call that one. I probably lost about 1minute or just over, but no more, so I felt very lucky. I speed up a little on the descent to try and catch a few folk but my lack of fell running this year showed and I ended up practicing my face planting technique  a couple of times! I enjoyed the final ascent though and managed to pull a few places in.  I was just beginning to feel warmed up and was chuckling to myself about the fact it had taken over 2 hours for me to feel ready to get a wiggle on!

Moi on the last ascent at Pendle; still chuckling.. :)
The last descent was a fun run down and I managed to take in the views a little. When we hit the track at the bottom I remember running past a reservoir thinking I don’t remember this. Ha, obviously we had ran past it at the beginning but with my body being in a state of shock at the starting speed I must have had tunnel vision. I eventually finished in 22nd place in a time of 2:46:34 which I was quite happy with. Fun on the fells had definitely been had that day and as predicted the cakes afterwards were brilliant, so much so I think I had to try 3 pieces just to be sure!

Cake tasting with Lee Knight after the race. Photo Tom Philips.
The other couple of races I have done so far have been Cross country; the horror the horror. I like doing XC races but by ‘eck they are hard work. Let’s not mess about here; XC races tend to be fast. All the 10k thoroughbreds are out starting their winter training etc along with all the other road distance and track thoroughbreds. It’s like a formula one grand prix after the starter yells GO! But they are great opportunities for speed tempo runs for me. There is no way I would run as fast as I do in an XC race if I was training on my own. So they serve a good purpose in creating a great speed endurance workout. I run for Eryri Harriers in the North Wales XC league and this season I managed to get out to three of the 5 fixtures. My first was Wrexham on the 24th of November, a week after Pendle, I managed  a 40th position. The second was 12th January at Telford. My first outing since my December off and I funnily enough improved to 31st. The last run was at Oswestry on the 2nd Feb and I managed another improvement to finish in 20th. I also picked up a couple of medals as Eryri Harriers had won the team event and also the Male master’s event and I had managed to count for both teams. Legendary Arwel Lewis later told me it had been 10 years since Eryri had won the masters previously. So overall I was quite pleased with my outings and I think it showed the December rest period helped and that my training was going forward. With that in mind I was lining up the next day for the Alsager 5 mile road race. Yep back to back speed session what could possibly go wrong!

The Legendary Arwel Lewis
Well for a starter I nearly missed the start! Back to my old self then. I had arrived in time to get my number. On the way back from registration I met an old fell friend Brian Lomas (Congleton AC) who was surprised to see me there…comparisons of it being like Mo Farrah lining up for a 200m race were made ha. I then caught up with Fell fairy and her son who were out for a gentle trot around. I then meandered of up some road, bumped into Dale Colclough (Trentham AC & Mercia) and had a natter with him then looked at my watch, cripes! Twas nearly start time. I dashed back to my car chucked my kit in and raced back to the start. I had 30seconds grace; then the gun went. Phew unlike my chin, that was a close shave. I settled down in the race and was trundling along quite nicely until about the 3 mile point and then the odd spasm and twitch started to occur in my left hamstring. Whoops, “keep going” I thought “and just relax, the body will sort itself out”. Well in a fashion it did; half a mile later it was just a constant pull and I could tell it was not well at all. Now I could have dropped out at this point and done the sensible thing easing my leg off to reduce any further damage. Nope, I told my hamstring it was its own stupid fault and that I was going to make it run all the way to the end now. I had been feeling good and was looking at pushing the last mile or so but that all went out of the window. I just eased slightly for the last 1.5 miles and settled at a pace were the leg just hurt rather than one where it sent sharp pains through the rest of my body. Not what I wanted but heyho I was not quitting (Ego was a go-go me thinks). Still I managed to get to the line in 29:02; it would have been nice to have been low 28’s but perhaps that will be next year’s target. I was 81st overall (801 starters) and 4th in my category. So considering my leg, not too bad. Needless to say I was straight to see Mike Perry my local physio the next day. He confirmed a grade 1 tear and immediately got to work on it.

The Alsager 5 at the 1 mile point: Photo by Racephoto's
Due to the hamstring issue my plans for February changed. All planned speed work was dropped; I also had to bin a few races including the North Wales XC champs which I had been looking forward to. I spent the immediate 3 weeks of February following the injury with gentle jogging concentrating on my ultra shuffle and looking at just doing some distance work as speed was a no no. I don’t mind a little bit of chaos as it breaks up the monotony of what I call structured boredom. It always allows me to learn to adapt and be flexible, which I think are useful attributes in life anyway. So although a little miffed that my speed work and races were now in the dustbin I was already excited about the challenge of coping with a damaged hamstring and seeing how quick I could recover. The first thing I did was to not stop running; my logic being to try and allow the injury to heal under a little stress would give it more flexibility when it finally did heal. Admittedly my running pace was down to over 10min miles but hey I was still moving so result. After a few more sessions with Mike and upping the protein content in my meals and daily stretching  I could sense an improvement within a couple of weeks. This was just as well as I had planned to join up with Tracy (aka the Fell Fairy) for a recce of the Highland Fling route. So on Feb 15th we set out for an overnight stop in Glasgow and then onto Drymen early Saturday morning. Tracy had spoke to Terry Conway recently and he advised her not to bother with the first 12 miles as it was a bit flat and boring. So the plan was to get our backpacks on and run to Tyndrum that day. Stay overnight in Tyndrum and then run back to Drymen the next day. And that’s pretty much what happened. The first day was a bit drizzly so it was not the best for views. I set myself a challenge of running all the ascents from Drymen to Tyndrum as part of my training to get used to running ascents rather than breaking into my usual Fell/ultra walk. Over the 2 days I only ended up walking one ascent and that was Conic Hill on the return leg as I was drinking a coffee, so overall I was pleased with that. The return leg was great. Tracy and I were treated to some fantastic views across Loch Lomond which well and truly made up for the drizzly dull day before. I should also mention that we stayed at the ByTheWay  Hostel in Tyndrum where the owner is also a keen runner having completed the Highland Fling and I think the West Highland Way Race. We were greeted very enthusiastically by her and made to feel very welcome. I can highly recommend this well equipped and lovely warm hostel to anyone who is looking for a base to explore the surrounding area.  It was a good weekend of running with the Garmin registering just under 84 miles for the 2 days; which put my weekly total up to 103! This is the largest mileage I have done, ever, excluding the week of the TDG race.  Luckily when I got back to the car the local shop in Drymen was still open so in no time at all it was pie time! My favourite time of the day J
The start of day 2; the return run of the Highland Fling
The Northern view of Loch Lomond
The things you find by the Loch side.

The sunset from Conic Hill; a great end to two great days of running.
I think a may have mentioned it a few times that I am rather fond of pies but alas no matter how much reading of books and internet trawling on diet I have done I can’t find any information stating that a pie diet is the way forward to increasing ones athletic prowess, mmmmmmm. This shocking and startling discovery is beginning to get me to think that perhaps my pie based diet is not as beneficial towards helping me further my running as I would like it to be, rats! And yes I think I am at that point where I would like to improve my running performance. Following the TDG it’s something I’ve given a bit of thought too, primarily because I wasn’t doing much running after the TDG due to destroyed feet! So I decided to have a look at my training or lack of it I should say. One thing is for certain when you are a self employed single parent ultra runner there’s not a lot of spare time in the day. But if you want to get to some where different in life then you usually have to do something different to get there. I thought as a useful starting point I would go and get myself assessed. So I spent the next couple of weekends out at various night clubs asking ladies to assess me....... quite a fun experience, particularly when you sometimes wear a kilt, but after a couple of weeks I thought the gains to my training from this tactic although fun were minimal. So I decided to gave Mark Laithwaite a call (Organisor of the Montane L100 & L50, owner of the Endurance store and well known for his Talk Ultra chats with Ian Corless about training/coaching). He suggested I came in for one of their assessments and they would formulate a training plan for me to get the improvements I was after. So on the 23rd of October 2012 I went and filled a load of paperwork in and ran on a treadmill with the whole oxygen mask on etc to work out my VO2max and heart threshold rates etc.
Kilian showing how the VO2 max test should be done.
Well this was a unique experience; I must admit it was strangely claustrophobic running with an oxygen mask on but my curiosity about the whole thing was overriding my weird perceptions about breathing in a mask on a treadmill. To cut a long story short I really enjoyed the day and Mark and his staff were great at sorting my results out and putting a plan together for me. The results? Well I was told I have a VO2max of 78% and my threshold heart rate was around 172bpm, with a max incline of 5% being achieved over a total aerobic time of 8minutes. What did this mean? To be honest I hadn’t a clue but apparently with this information a training plan could be developed and it was. The primary change in my training was to increase my basic speed so intervals and fartlek sessions were a stable part of my drafted training plan. Over the next few days I did do a bit of reading about VO2 etc and heart rate threshold training. First stop as usual was Wikipedia; it reveals that apparently my VO2 max is on par with the Elite Female athletes but a bit behind Elite male Athletes (85%).  I was told that you can improve your VO2 max by around about 10% via the influence of training and body weight. So it got me thinking that it may be possible for me to get over the 80% level and get closer to that 85% point if I address my training and dietary issues. I should also note that Wikipedia also states that Prof. Tim Noakes claims that VO2 max is a “relatively poor performance indicator in runners”. So I knew it certainly isn’t a be all and end all but I thought it maybe a specific starting point for me to aim for where I would need to not only improve my training but also address my diet of pies over the next year. So all the ingredients were there for S.M.A.R.T. goal setting. Great I thought. So November came and I started the program; December came and I stopped running! Holiday time, Mmmm hadn’t thought that one through I muttered to myself as I wondered back into the seedy world of mince pie eating.

But they taste so good!
So where am I know with it all? Well I'm on the path the lets say, though not that far along it. During my December break I re-configured my training plan. I have taken some of the aspects given to me by Mark and his team and I have incorporated them into a broad plan that I devised myself that I could tailor more accurately around my work and family commitments whilst building in a degree of flexibility that allows to me change things on a weekly basis. Things seem to be going in the right direction even though I have had one or two minor hiccups like the hamstring strain. I am really viewing the whole year as an adventure and a stepping stone to put me in a better position for next year. I am looking forward greatly to this year’s race events and the fun they will bring. I will no doubt learn a lot from them and hopefully use this to improve my performance and enjoyment for next year. The dietary side of things has been slow in changing; in fact I reckon snails move faster than I have in implementing any changes. I am without a shadow of a doubt hooked onto the food industries triad of sugar, fat and salt with their carefully construed bliss points. All three are also the key ingredients of pies! Awareness is a great tool though and so a starting point has been reached albeit slow. I have recently down loaded the “Paleo Diet for Athletes” by L Cordain and I am about half way through.  Very interesting reading and I would recommend it to anyone, athlete or non athlete, although I imagine most people reading this have already done so. I have not managed to make any big changes but I have very slowly been reducing my intake of processed food and increasing the amount of fruit, vegetable and nuts etc.  Still early days for me yet and I shall no doubt keep you all informed on how I am coping with my reduced pie intake over the next month or so. It will make for a future blog post or two I’m sure.
So on that note I better go off and eat a few almonds or something :D

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

2013 & Time to fly

Once again it’s been a while but hopefully I shall keep up with myself this year, ha well we’ll see anyway.
I suppose I’d better sum up what I’ve been up to since my last post which was ermmmhhh at the end of last Summer…whoops.  Well since the Lakeland 50 I think I did about 4 more races. The first was the Long Tour of Bradwell. This was part of the excellent Runfurther Series and was 2 weeks after the Lakeland 50. I was feeling a bit tired and was not what I would call in tip top shape for the race but my brother Dave had just developed an interest into fell and ultra running and was up for doing this race as prep for the Long Mynd Hike. It would be his first race and I thought it would be good to accompany him for this. David gives a good account on how his race went in his blog site Running Thoughts". I won’t go into too much detail about my race but I ended up running ok despite a steady start and finished 2nd to Ian Symington (who had finished 4th in the Lakeland 100). Dam, there went my excuse about having tired legs ha. Ian did thank me at the end for being a sport though, I’d had to shout him back a couple of times because he was either running of in the wrong direction or had missed a dibber check point. He truly deserved the win though as he was far spritelier than I was and finished 6minutes ahead of me over the 33 mile Peak District route.
After now completing two Ultras as such; the Lakeland 50 and the Long Tour of Bradwell, I had come to the conclusion I was becoming an Ultra runner with a liking for the mountains. Which is just as well as my next outing was the Tor Des Geants in the Aosta Valley Italy. The race is 330km through the Alps with around about 24000metres of ascent. Trail Running magazine had described it as the World’s Toughest Ultra. I remember reading the article giggling to myself. This race was to be my third ever Ultra and people were saying how they had trained for years and done several 100 mile races in prep for it etc.  It just brought it home to me how ignorant I was about the whole thing and what was truly involved. But I was entered and that was that. There would be no shrinking from responsibility and I was determined that I was going to complete this race even if I had to crawl. Before embarking on this adventure I had also been very fortunate to speak to the excellent outdoor clothing company Montane. They were incredibly generous to me and said they would help out with supplying me some kit for the race as long as I would report back to them on how it all went.  Well blow me down with a feather; I accepted that one straight away. So big thanks to all at Team Montane for your support. My account of this little journey into Europe can be found on their web site (Montane). In summary I did complete it along with my good running friend George Bate. Out of the 630 starters only 73 made it to Courmayeur; George and myself were lucky enough to be part of that small number finishing 64th & 65th. Here's a you tube clip of some moments from the event.

Well my feet were certainly in a mess after the Tor Des Geants. But I had 3 weeks to recover and then it was off to do the RAB Mountain Marathon with my running friend Tracy. I got to the start line of that race and my feet had not fully recovered but I thought they were good enough to get a reasonable run in. As it happens they were. We were blessed by good weather for this event once again. Tracy has done a write up of this on her Blog “The Trivialities of a Mountain Runner” which can be found here (Dark & White & Heathery). This event went well although it was a little too close for comfort on day 2 due to a couple of minor nav errors by myself, but these aside we still managed a win in the mixed category.
Start of Day 2 RaB MM
Another 3 weeks later and Tracy and I were at this Mountain Marathon thing again running in the OMM. We were both determined to have a good run and put behind us last year’s run. We ended day one in a strong position 9th overal in the A Class & 2nd in our catagory. We could sense that a good run on the Sunday would yield a podium finish. However, it all came crashing down as I dropped I clangor with my nav. I had decided to split from a path to drop down into a valley to pick up a check point. However I was using a spot height as my marker on the map and tying that in with my altimeter. Visibility was very poor and rain was coming down (normally conditions for the OMM then). Big mistake as when I took the bearing we dropped into an adjacent valley. What I should have done was to keep running another 4-600metres to a trig point; hindsight is a wonderful thing. By the time I had realized my mistake and contoured around to the next valley I think we had lost somewhere in the region of 15 to 20 minutes. It was game over for a podium finish. So with the wind from our sails completely knocked out Tracy and myself called it a day. A lesson well and truly learnt by myself. Once again Tracy reports this better on her blog (The OMM).
So 4 races done, 3 I was pleased with and 1 I was not.
I ended the 2012 season quietly by taking 5 weeks off from running and for that matter any training what so ever. I started training on December 26th again. This is just as well as I was eating rather a lot of mince pies (warm ones with a side serving of ice cream ….mmmm yummmy), which resulted in me successfully putting on 9lbs in weight, whoops.
I am still glad I took the rest though I think it was needed more from a mental stance rather than a physical one. It felt good just to shut off from running and go back out and socialize again. One of the things I have noticed about training for longer distance events is that I have most definitely become more of a hermit and rarely socialize with people outside of my running circle of friends.
This break though has served a purpose I have come back full of enthusiasm to start training and racing again. The problem now is my brain is racing faster than my body. It has taken me a couple of weeks to just start getting back that feeling that I can run fluidly rather than like an old wheezing donkey. I have though in my enthusiasm to get training and set goals, gone and already planned my race calendar for 2013. The one thing I adored about the Tor Des Geants was the crowds and their enthusiasm for the racing. I was blown away by how big the Trail running scene is in Europe. The energy that the spectators supply to these events is fantastic. With this in mind I decided I would like to experience this again so with a desire to run back in the Alps again and experience other breath taking mountainous courses I decided to enter the Sky Running Ultra Series. I must admit I’m pretty excited about the whole thing. It will certainly be an adventure, which is the way I like most of my running to be.
So looks like I’d better get booking some flights….
1. SPAIN: Transvulcania Ultramarathon - 83k, La Palma - May 11
2. ANDORRA: Ronda dels Cims - 170k, Vallnord - June 21
3. FRANCE: Ice Trail Tarentaise - 65k, Val d’Isère - July 14
4. USA: Speedgoat - 50k, Park City, Utah - July 27
5. USA: Ultra Race of Champions “UROC” - 100k, Vail, Colorado - September 28 
2. FRANCE: Mont-Blanc Marathon - 42k, Chamonix - June 30