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)

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

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.

Men’s Running – (Wo)Man vs Barge

It’s always great to get an article published and this month I have one in Men’s Running – A tale of running over a damp hill in at “(wo)man vs barge” !!

In other news I’ve finally entered another Ultra after a particularly disappointing 2017.  Whilst I’m not fully fit, I have until March to prepare and am keeping things ticking over with as much running/cycling as I can.  The race is Team OA’s – Oldham Way Ultra – a race I unfortunately decided not to do last year whilst training for the Liverpool to Manchester 50 miler.

We’re back in that dark season again, so here’s a picture from a short run I did this week in the dark damp Peak District.  Headtorches out again!

The Dreaded DNS

I’ve just started doing some writing for “RunUltra” a great website dedicated to ultrarunning.  Unfortunately I didn’t start the Lakeland Trail 110km so wrote about my feeling on a DNS, click on the pic below:

Check out all the great articles, training, events etc. from the main page:

I’ve also started to do a few gear reviews for them, so i’ll link to them soon!

Free Running?

I just started adding up what I’ve spent on running and swiftly gave up so as to not cause serious fluctuations on my Garmin HR monitor.  I enjoy gadgets, buying new stuff and seem to delve quite deeply into a “hobby”, so taking up running was a recipe for credit card trauma.

Of course, on the purest scale running is free.  A simple pair of trainers, which most of us own anyway, and jogging round the block is as cheap as it can get.  No matter how obvious this is, many of us can’t help gazing longingly at all the new running gadgetry available, with promises of better performance, more statistics and a vague possibility of looking like a running magazine cover model.

Then what about races themselves?  I added up the cost of doing a 15km trail race in the Lake District a couple of years ago – whilst the entry fee was around £30, I spent another £470 hiring cars, hotel, eating out etc.  Of course there would have been cheaper ways to do it, but I imagine many of us often way exceed the entry fee.

So is all this spending necessary and could we get away without it all?  Well of course as runners haven’t always had access to such kit, but if I’m out for several hours on the trail then a certain amount of kit is sensible to keep me comfortable and safe.  It does start to add up; trail shoes, tops, shorts, baselayers, rucksacks, watches/GPS (at one point I went out running with three watches …… there was a reason honestly), nutrition/gels, race entries and associated costs.

So how much is too much? As with any hobby, is there a point where it becomes beyond reasonable? I think so and if it comes to the point where you’re spending more time reading about and/or buying kit than actually running then clearly it’s become a problem.  But if you can afford it, then does it matter?  Maybe not, but if all the purchases are an attempt to enhance performance if you haven’t already nailed the fundamentals of training and nutrition, then you really need to consider your priorities.

In this modern world with endless tech being released all the time and the internet thrusting it all down our throats with modest performance gains offered to all levels of runners, it’s no wonder our cupboards are bursting at the seams with trainers!

I suppose I should be thankful that I’m not a triathlete.

The Terrible Taper

The taper.  The final few weeks of preparation and contemplating the challenge lying ahead.  Some runners seem to love it as a chance to fill their faces with carbs; others are bouncing off the walls, desperate to get to the race. Here’s a few of my tapering observations…

Where has all the time gone: You’ve had this race booked for months. Training plans were meticulously created with mileage building up until race day. Suddenly, you’re mere weeks away and the taper is here. You begin asking yourself, “Have I done enough?”; “I don’t think I got enough long runs in!”, “Why on earth did I skip so many sessions from my training plan?” It’s not the time to play catch-up, though; the work is done and suddenly doing back-to-back runs to “catch-up” is only going to end in disaster.

All sorts of things start hurting: You’ve worked far too hard for anything to scupper your race now. But every run is a potential disaster, and the phantom injuries start to appear. Twinges appear in the knee/ankle/hamstring without warning, but are you imagining it? Is it the paranoia of a potential injury? Why does everyone on the bus/in the lift start stepping dangerously close to your toes?  Why have they organised a BMX night at work? (This actually happened).

Embracing the carb load: Everything contains carbs, right? At least that’s what you tell yourself.  The fourth biscuit from the office cupboard is just taking advantage of a carb-loading opportunity, and no-one can tell you to stop eating because you quite simply need the energy. Best to try not to end up stuffed full of white pasta and a dodgy stomach the day before though, eh?

Giving up the beer: Months and months ago when you booked on that race, you promised yourself to go tea-total for at least the final two months, well maybe one month. As time creeps along, you suddenly realise there is your cousins wedding, the works outing, and at least four Fridays during your dry period, so you decide two weeks will be enough, maybe one week. Roll on the night before and you’re convincing yourself that surely one glass of red wine will be OK? It’s mainly fruit, right?

You’re about to stop boring everyone to death: Everyone will be glad this is over. The missus has heard so much about your current kilometre pace and which socks you’re going to wear that she only has to look at you and starts glazing over. People dive for cover in the office in case you start to talk about your upcoming race. Don’t worry, it’ll all be over soon and you can bask in the glory of all the hard work you’ve done. At least for five minutes until you start scouring the internet for the next one!

Originally published on Men’s Running: http://mensrunninguk.co.uk/uncategorized/the-tale-of-the-taper-2/

Alternative Run Types

Most runners are well aware of the different training run types; threshold, intervals, long-slow run and the like, but during training I’ve noticed some alternatives that I, and others, are guilty of….
Friday pub avoidance run

A really sensible one to start with. Work colleagues have been jostling around all afternoon mentioning there might be a sneaky few after work.  You want to and you’re probably going to.  But then in a bizarre twist, miraculously you decline the kind offer and end up going a run.  It doesn’t matter that you’ll be hitting the booze later on anyway – because you’ve earnt it!  Note:  This is a lesser-spotted run usually beaten by “popping in for one” after work, arriving home around 11pm armed with chips and an apologetic look on your face.

This had better sort out the hangover run

Usually undertaken when you failed to complete the “Friday Pub avoidance run”.  It all went wrong and you’re mad with yourself, but these things happen so you drag yourself out of bed, don the trainers and hit the streets like a greased cougar.  That was the plan anyway but you find yourself running at a slight angle with one eye half closed as every last drop of moisture is sweated out of your battered body, but you plough on and by the time you get back and whip up an avocado and poached egg on toast (this can sometimes happen) all seems right with the world and you can crack on with the weekend.

This type of run is also sometimes referred to as “Parkrun”.

I’m injured but I’m going running anyway run

Definitely one to avoid, but with all your buddies out marathon training and hitting intervals like crazy you feel like a school kid in detention with his nose pressed up against the window watching the others play football outside.  You’ve had a niggle that’s recurring, but your  love of all things running means you go out anyway.  Just tentatively you tell yourself, but after a while things seems ok and you crank up the pace and the pain is back…..  We should all remember that its better to wait until you’re fully recovered rather than leap back in too soon and prolong getting back on track.  Easier said than done, but you know it makes sense.

Every one is pissing me off at work run

The boss has been all over your case, and you’ve put in enough hours to have the rest of the month off.  You get home and stomp around trying to find all your running gear which seems to have been strewn around the house.  Finally you’re all tooled up, and get out to pound the streets. No one can stop you now, especially not with “90’s anthems” pumping down your eager ears. You’re guaranteed to get a good pace on this one as you work the stress out of your body.  You’ll come back calm and relaxed and ready for another day of work tomorrow…. I think.

Getting out of the house to avoid the housework run

The wife is pointing out every uncompleted chore in the house.  You’ve had a shelf waiting to go up for months and the washing up is piled high like some slithering sea monster.  Little clumps of running clothes lurk around various corners of the house. But you shrug your shoulders and knowingly glance over to your race training plan sellotaped to the fridge. It’s written down and if you don’t do it, your entire race strategy will fall apart.  

It’s all worth it though, because on race day when you heroically cross the line in 2,754th the missus will be so proud and all of this will be forgotten.  Probably….