Training Almost Over – The Positives and Negatives

Does training ever go to plan?  I’m leading up to my first 100-miler (Lakeland 100) in a few weeks so the nerves are setting in but I’m trying to focus my brain on all of the positives that have happened this year. For the sake of balance I’ll list both…

I’d completed Lakes in a Day in October 2018 and decided just to tick-over for the rest of the year and start the “real” training at the start of 2019.  I meticulously crafted a plan from January onward and booked on to some key training races and I was literally bursting to get going.  Of course, it didn’t go to plan.

What went wrong: –

  • Training run number one 18km (January), my right foot started aching and stopped me getting going with training.  It gradually became worse and an on-going issue – not stopping me running entirely but not letting me train.
  • Missed the Surrey Half Marathon in March due to foot problems and dropped mileage right down to barely anything for a few weeks.
  • Missed the Manchester Marathon in April due to foot problems – I just wasn’t ready to run 42km.
  • As I just seemed to be getting better, at the start of June, my left ankle started hurting quite badly affecting training by another 2-3 weeks.  I started to think it was never going to happen.
  • Drinking too much alcohol, generally.
  • Some work and general life ups and downs.

All of this made consistent training difficult and, as the time to the race was ever decreasing, I felt like I was nowhere where I needed to be.

What went well (I need to do a bit of trumpet blowing here): – 

  • Two great Lakeland 100 recces (Buttermere to Dalemain 53km and Ambleside to Coniston 25km).
  • Completed the Welsh 3000s (and had some fantastic and challenging recce runs along the way).
  • Got a 5km PB (track) – 18:39, fastest run since 2016.
  • Ran the Lakeland Trails 55km at the end of June in under 7 hours in very hot conditions and came in 7th.  I paced it well and drank and ate loads – I have a working strategy for an ultra.
  • I was the editor of RunUltra for 4 months – and learnt loads.
  • With just over two weeks to go, I’m feeling fit, no real niggles (fingers crossed) and feeling faster/stronger than I have ever been.
  • I have had some glorious times in the hills and mountains this year.
  • I’ve done strength work and plyometrics on a reasonably regular basis and have had some blocks of consistent training.
  • I believe I can do it.

Thankfully list two is longer than list one, so which one should I focus on?  List number two of course, and that’s exactly what i’ll be doing over the next few weeks.  Very limited drinking, eating healthily and imagining how amazing it will feel to cross the line in Coniston – however long it takes!

Wild camping in the Peaks – another new life experience (slightly ruined by midges)

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Lakeland Trails 55km Race Report

“I think you’re in 12th place mate.  If you pushed a bit you could get top-10!” says a smart young chap leaning casually against a gate in the Lakes.

This is news to me because I didn’t even know if I was on the right route – I’ve been following red flags for about a kilometre when I was supposed to be following yellow.  I was nervously carrying on but had that heart-sinking feeling that I may need to back-track at any moment…

I’m around 40km into the Lakeland Trails 55km on a rather rare scorching day.  The news of a potential top-10 finish is not something I’m used to hearing and it immediately triggered a response in my brain and I knew I was going to start running like an idiot.  The front of the pack would be very spread out by now – Damien Hall was on the start line and would no doubt be leading if not already finished.  Of course, your position in any race simply depends on who turns up, but this was my moment to see if I could dig deep during those later stages and climb the ranks as much as I could.

Winding back to the start of the race at 10am it was humid – not necessarily blazing sunshine but an uncomfortable mugginess hung in the air.  This was my final “training” race before the Lakeland 100 at the end of July so I had no real expectations other than an enormous desire to finish.  I’d had a rocky start to the year with injuries which had already meant two DNS (Surrey Half and Manchester Marathon) and it would have been a big mental hit for a third to go wrong mere weeks before the biggest race I have ever taken on.

The last 6 or so weeks of training had gone reasonably well with a few runs around 20 miles but most importantly relatively consistent running five times a week, with strength and plyometrics making an appearance too.  Even though I’d only topped out at a 50-mile week, I knew this was all I could fit in around my life at the moment so it would quite simply have to do.

As we all know, the best way to start an ultra is easy paced, but of course many runners shoot off into the distance.  I’m becoming better at managing my body and knew in this heat today was going to be tough.  One of (probably my only!) strengths is my ability to walk uphill quite fast so on the first climb up I overtook a lot of people – including my clothes doppelganger who was sporting the same Ashmei top and Montane Via Trail rucksack (which I reviewed HERE).

After what seemed like a whole load of minor undulating running we arrive at the start of the climb to Grisedale Hause.  I knew this was my moment to give it a big push as it was the largest climb in the race (just before halfway).  I’d been drinking litre after litre of water so felt hydrated albeit hot so just carried on pushing hard to the top.  The descent was a technical rocky affair which suits my running so got to the bottom in good spirits.

Fast-forwarding to the later stages, whilst this was a “training race” for the Lakeland 100 in a few weeks, once I knew there was a potential for a top-10 finish, I just went for it.  It’s always hard to know just how spread out the field is, but I gradually start passing a few runners and somehow got over the line in 7th.

I’ve reflected on what helped me during those last couple of hours and I think it was largely due to body management in the early stages of the race.  I drank and ate a lot, I kept the pace steady and tried to pace hard uphill, but it all worked and kept me going to the end.

What about the race itself? Organisation is pretty good, but I would have liked to have known about the campsite arranged for the football ground more than a couple of weeks in advance – I’d already booked somewhere further afield and ended up losing my money for that.  The route, whilst hilly, had far too much tarmac for my liking and mainly weaved through valleys rather than get up on the tops.  As it was fully waymarked, I hadn’t studied the route to any level of detail so it was a bit strange not really knowing where I was (this is my fault of course).  Checkpoints were all good with a great selection of food and drink with an extra drinks station put in due to the heat.

Whilst it’s a massive mental boost when things go well, the thought of doing three-times the distance in a few weeks is terrifying.  It’s my first 100 miler, but I’ll be following the same principles – take it easy and drink/eat lots.  Perhaps equally importantly, I need to stay positive.  I love running and everything about it so don’t generally struggle with wanting to run – I just need to make sure I bring that positivity up to Coniston at the end-July!

Me and my big sister

Running up and down the Lakes

After accidentally running the Lakeland 50, I had such an amazing time that I’ve now entered the Lakeland 100 in July 2019.  I met a whole bunch of great people and felt so good during the race.  I wrote in my last post that I’d focus on efficiency with training and ran no further than 20 miles during the build-up.  Here’s my full race report on RunUltra:

https://www.runultra.co.uk/Reviews/Running-events/Europe/Lakeland-50-Race-Report

If running the length of the Lakes onces wasn’t enough, a few days ago I also completed Lakes in a Day – a 50 mile race from Caldbeck to Cartmel.  Oh, and how different it was – we battled through Storm Callum over some very testing terrain and it ended up taking me five hours longer than the Lakeland 50! I’m hoping to write a rain drenched report for RunUltra sometime soon, but here is Michelle and I at registration – how little we knew what was to come!

Start pic

I managed a few product reviews for RunUltra recently and have just received a pair of Hoka Evo Mafate to give a thorough bashing.  I’m also due to try out some Exposure Headtorches  which look great and its just the right time of year to get out in the hills in the dark!

Other recent reviews include: –

Montane Via Trail Series – https://www.runultra.co.uk/Reviews/Running-gear/Multi-product-review/Montane-Via-Trail-Series-review

Scarpa Neutron 2 – https://www.runultra.co.uk/Reviews/Running-gear/Running-shoes/Scarpa-Neutron-2-shoe-review

 

You’ve agreed to do what!?

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You know when you’ve said you won’t do something to the wife/husband/partner, but deep down you know you will? And the likely reality is they know that too.  I’m already feeling the guilt curse through my body as I see my slurred answer of “yes” being written down on the back of an envelope late at night in a Thai curry house as written proof that I’ll run the Lakeland 50.  Which I’ve already agreed with my good lady wife that I won’t do.

As any long distance runner knows, It’s not the actual time for the race that is generally the problem, it’s the time for training and slotting in those long miles in training.  With a first baby due at the end of April, agreeing to an ultra in July wasn’t something I was meant to do.

In my own head, I’d decided it would be fine and that meant i was just going to have to make it work. Opportunities are there to be taken and whatever happens in the race I’d be getting to have a fantastic fifty mile “experience” of the amazing Lake District by foot and you have to be thankful if you’re in a position to be able to do that – as we know, not everyone is.

Since then I’d managed to get two big long runs in; a social lap of the 40 mile Oldham Way Ultra which I’d convinced my wife i needed to do just in case the baby arrived before the actual race day. He didn’t arrive so I found myself running the actual race as well a few weeks later with an emergency evacuation plan if needed!

Wind on a couple of months and I’m suddenly a father and running long distances hasn’t really been a feature in my life. There’s less than 8 weeks of training time now so I’ve cobbled together a vague plan and here it is.

  1. Firmly focus on training efficiency. Less social plodding in the hills around Glossop, but using time wisely around my work life. I’ve started getting off the train a few stops early and running the 10km back, or taking a lunch break to do a focused 30 mins speed session or swim at the gym.
  2. Long running is the real time-eater so I’ve decided to do no more than 20 miles in training over a period of four weeks before it’s time to start a taper. These miles will have to be done hideously early so that I’m back in time to still be able to offer something of a weekend to the family.

With as much stretching and strength work as I can fit in that’s about it. I’m sticking with a positive mental attitude on this, the race is going to be amazing no matter what happens, if I’m slow, then I’m slow. If it hurts, then…. what am I saying of course it will hurt.

The only other preparation I’ve done is peruse the checkpoint menu and wow, I see y’all at checkpoint 8!

I’m sure many of you have experienced time pressures on your running but do you take a break for a while or just work out a way to keep training!? What are your coping strategies to be most efficient with your time? Do you accidently enter races you shouldn’t have?

Watch this space for a Lakeland 50 race report, hopefully on RunUltra.

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Training Miles (Shelf Stones)

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Crying Machine (he’s lovely really)

Montane Event and the Oldham Way Ultra x 2

It’s been a busy time at “All Hail the Trail” towers over the last few months and despite thinking I may never end up running the Oldham Way Ultra, I inadvertently ran it twice.  I’ve also sold a house in Birmingham, purchased a house in Glossop and am currently awaiting an overdue baby, when of course it will suddenly become a whole lot more chaotic.

I had the pleasure of attending the Montane showroom near Kendal a few weeks ago to try out their new Via Trail range and went for a run and interview with Debbie Martin-Cosani.  Whilst I’m still reviewing the kit which will follow in due course, here is an overview of the day on RunUltra along with an interview with Debbie (click the pic below).

So why did I run the 40 mile Oldham Way twice? The official race was on 18th March and those with good memories will remember that the UK had a somewhat unusually harsh storm – the Beast from the East.  Despite valiant efforts to get there, my buddies and I were admittedly struggling in the snow and about halfway there the race was cancelled anyway.

With the baby due on the 25th April and the rescheduled race set for the 22nd I was dubious about me being able to do it. So on Easter weekend three of us set out to do the route as a social. Forty-two social miles, half of Chadderton parkrun and a little over ten hours later and we were finished – job done.

Oldham Way Ultra “recce”

Even before my legs stopped aching my brain was contemplating how fast (or slow) I could get round in potentially drier race conditions.  After carefully planting the seed with my understanding wife she accepted that, if the baby hasn’t arrived, I could do it. On the strict conditions that I never utterred the words Oldham Way Ultra ever again.

Preparation was a bit strange, because I’d peaked then tapered for the 18th March, floundered for two weeks, ran the route as a social and then had three weeks thinking that I probably wouldn’t get the chance to run the race so just generally plodded a bit, bought baby things and spent time on the phone to mortgage providers and solicitors. It’s not the standard way to prepare for an ultra.

I’m not going to write a “full” report on the race this time.  It ended up being quite a quiet affair with around 50 entrants as unfortunately about half of the original entrants couldn’t make the new date.  This doesn’t stop the enthusiasm though and everything was looking well organised at Team OA race HQ. I ran most of the first half with a group of people but after the first 20 miles I stopped at some incredibly well timed toilets and after that I didn’t see anyone at all for the remaining 20 miles, and ended up crossing the line in 8:03.  I’d made a few navigation errors and ended up doing an extra 2 miles overall so I think the sub-8 should have been achievable.

Real life obstacle course racing

Glossopdale Harriers ready for the off

Somewhere on the Oldham Way

I’m now full speed ahead reviewing the Montane gear and the rather smart Scarpa Neutron 2’s.  Whilst there’s various races coming up on the Race List, the next biggie is the Lakeland 50.  My biggest focus needs to be on efficient training, with an imminent baby I’m clearly not going to be able to train the way I used to so its all about training “smart”.  We shall see……

Feel the heat!

Do you know where you’ve been all year?  Well I didn’t, but thanks to Strava heatmaps I can find out!  I moved to Glossop in February so most of my running has been in and around the local area, trying to get up into the western Dark Peak (largely around Bleaklow).  Below is a screenshot of all of my local runs.

Glossop and surrounding area heatmap

I really find this technology facinating – obviously cartographers have painstakingly creating maps over the centuries but here just by movement (and fantastic GPS tech of course!) I’m creating my own map of the local area just by running around it.  Combine that with your local running club, or anyone else for that matter and you have a true pattern of how people move around an area.  Blistering red in city centres and main paths/tracks but thinning out as it spreads out far and wide tracking something thats probably never been done before – mass human movement.

Of course this only records those who choose to use fitness watches, but as smart watches and activity trackers are becomming more common place it could be expanded to all movements whether exercise or not.  What a fabulous dataset to record movement in the 21st Century!

My Strava movements in the north-west

On other news/reviews for this site: –

  • Race planning! I’ve tried to properly plan my 2018 races HERE.  Nothing too exotic, and this largely encompases my local club (Glossopdale Harriers) road and fell champs with the odd extras here and there. My big focus being the Lakes in a Day Ultra in October.
  • A couple of other new pieces on RunUltra; a review of the auto updating training plan Train As One HERE and they’ve very kindly wrapped me up in baselayers over the winter which will be published any day now.

Here’s to a great 2018!

MoBike or NoBike

As I lurk around the backstreets of Manchester, I begin to think that this may be taking my daily commute a bit far.  Unsuspecting passers-by probably think I’m either geocaching, hunting Pokémon or am just slightly weird.   Whilst it could be any if these, today I’m a “MoBiker” a brave new city cyclist, staring intently at the map on my phone seeking out any nearby GPS-equipped MoBikes.

So what exactly is a MoBike?  They’re Manchester’s answer to the Boris Bike – an easy way of hiring a bike to get you easily around the city.  After downloading the app, paying a refundable deposit and loading up your account with some credit, you’re ready to go bike-hunting.  Simply take a look at the map, spot your closest MoBike, find it, scan the barcode and it’s yours for 50p for every 30 minutes that you use it.  The bikes are certainly easy to spot with their Trump-esque orange wheels and their ability to be right in your face when you’re not looking for one.

A sight you may never see when you really need a MoBike

The scheme sounds perfect, but in practice it can be a different story.  Whilst MoBike encourage you to park them in sensible locations, the reality is you can leave them anywhere.  Whilst this can be very convenient, it can also be very frustrating.  Yesterday, as I glided into Manchester Piccadilly on the train I immediately started scouring the app to find my closest bike.  None at the station entrance, which isn’t a great start, but just a couple of hundred metres away there’s one by Canal Street so I reserve it and head over.  As I arrive there is no reassuring bike gleaming back at me.  Nothing.  Looking closer at the app, it actually looks like it’s IN the canal.  I glance at the water and imagine the GPS tracker silently blinking in the murky depths.   I resume my search….

On another occasion I head over to an area bordering Moss Side and the bike location appears to be inside a rather suspicious looking car garage.  Looking as tough as possible I strut past and glance inside but there’s no MoBike to be seen.  This is either an elaborate ploy to snare an unsuspecting MoBiker, or the bike is long gone and sold for scrap.  It’s not all bad though, as a few times I’ve emerged from Piccadilly, scanned a bike right outside and am quickly on my way.  As the students and workers south of Manchester embrace the cycling culture – it almost a pleasure to pootle along Oxford Road’s segregated cycle lanes – it’s not as much fun in the heart of the city as you play a game of pedestrian / traffic dodging.  Knowing they’re not for pavement riding but feeling quite vulnerable on the city streets, a more cycle friendly city centre would be amazing.

The MoBike is a brilliant idea as it’s simple, affordable transport at everyone’s fingertips.  However, they’re open for abuse and many have been vandalised, or just been left in awkward, difficult to spot, places (like the bottom of a canal).  Having tried to use them to regularly commute from Piccadilly to Oxford Road it’s been a mixed experience, but the potential lack of immediate availability when you need one, and the missing bikes, makes it a pretty unreliable form of transport for the regular commuter.  I need to know that the vast majority of the time I’ll be able to pick one up from our major train station, but that just isn’t the case – unfortunately it’s quite often been NoBike rather than MoBike.