The Three Rings of Shap 2015 – 62 Miles 2350m – Runfurther UK Ultrarunning Championships Race 6,

The Three Rings of Shap offers a clover-leaf course on the edge of the Lake District, with three very different loops out and back from the HQ at Shap Memorial Hall.  Ring 1, to the west, takes in some proper fell terrain and two Wainwright peaks with stunning views of Haweswater.  Ring 2, to the north, takes an almost marathon length undulating tour alongside three local rivers.  Ring 3 takes in the beautiful limestone country to the south east.

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The route, on my (almost) fully anotated map.
Friday night's sleepover spot, a mile outside Shap.
Friday night’s sleepover spot, a mile outside Shap.
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There are pros and cons in returning to base twice before the finish. Great for drop bags and changing your kit, but when you see the finish sign you have to tell yourself “No it isn’t”.

RING 1 – 18 miles  900m of ascent

With the option of starting between 8am and 9am, I decided to hang back, along with several other runners, until around 8.20 to avoid bottlenecks at the 6 stiles and stepping stones within the first mile.  In the event, I got chatting to Ken Sutor, hot favourite to win the race, and winner of last year’s UTPD.  We were so busy chatting that before I knew it, it was 8.30 and I’d not seen most of the others leave.  I quickly said goodbye to Ken, who wasn’t planning to start until 8.45, and left by myself.

This allowed me to set my own pace and I felt comfortable and fresh for the first few flattish miles,  walking the first of the steeper climbs up the valley.  Despite the chilly feel before the start, it was humid and I was soon sweating.  That continued for the rest of the day and I had to make sure I was drinking plenty and taking on salt tabs.  I was quickly overtaking walkers and other runners, but a bit disappointed at how quickly Ken passed me, well before Mosedale.  Still, I was running well and comfortably.  The climb up from Mosedale to the summit of Branstree was tougher than expected but it was soon over and the descent to the col before Selside was a real pleasure to run at speed.  I passed a lot of runners along this section and all the way down to the valley bottom, despite cutting left too early, missing the waterfalls and having to pick my way down a very steep and trackless descent to the footbridge.

I’d left my paper map at base and relied on my phone (with 1:25000 mapping) for the relatively straightforward Ring 1.  But the humidity and sweat meant that I found it difficult to read and use the touchscreen, so I ended up relying on memory for much of the way.  I only made one minor error, running to the wrong corner of a field below Rayside farm and that was easily corrected.

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Passing Shap Abbey at the end of Ring 1. With apologies to Nick Ham for borrowing photos from his flicker feed.

On the way back into Shap I passed Nick Ham, who said he was finding it tough going this morning.  It gave me a bit of a boost to realise I still felt quite fresh.

The SI system was brilliant, telling me that I’d finished Ring 1 in 5th place, another fantastic boost, given that I’d had no idea how I was doing up to that point.

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All the same, I didn’t rush out of base but changed my wet socks and T-shirt and had a bowl of soup and an attempt (1 bite) at an gg sandwich.  I put my annotated paper map into my pack but planned to continue using my phone as long as the battery lasted (down to 60% at this point), now unwrapped and useable again.

RING 2 – 24 miles – 700m of ascent

I set off onto ring 2 feeling fresher and overtook a number of runners on the climb up to the motorway crossing then over the fields which followed.  When I hit the track, I speeded up on the gentle downhill, running 8 min miles and pulling away from another guy.  The rest of this loop – apart from a horrible section through a felled wood – was pleasant and generally pretty flat with only minor undulations by the river banks or through fields.  I was running comfortably again, with reduced weight from carrying limited water and food due to putting my own food drops out on this loop.  Water was available every 10k or so, so I didn’t need to carry much.  At the first water stop, I went to the river and completely doused myself from head to toe.  That really stopped me overheating for a good couple of hours.  I overtook another runner, Tanya Coates, before arriving at the checkpoint at Great Strickland.  Phil Musson was ready to leave just as I arrived, the first of several encounters we had over the rest of the day.  I had 5 minutes sitting, eating and drinking, heading out just as Tanya arrived in.

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After a speedy downhill road section, and a short trudge across several fields, I caught Phil on the way through Hackthorpe village.  We ran together and chatted for a short way before he kindly gave me some directions and encouraged me to press on as we headed through Lowther deer park.  I was still running some uphills and pulled away, not seeing him again on this ring.  From the suspension bridge along the river then the climb back up from Rosgill, I was starting to tire.  But I felt I’d run a good leg and I was spurred on by the thought of finding out my position back at base.  When I did, I was chuffed – I was still in 6th place – and not only that, positions right up to 3rd were no more than 15 minutes ahead of me.  This was the most exciting position I’ve ever been in and my confidence and determination swelled.

42 Miles – 9 hrs 6 mins

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RING 3 – 20 miles 750m ascent

I knew that the rest had done me good after ring 1, so again I took my time and had two bowls of soup which went down easily, along with a sausage roll and a good glug of flat coke.  I also filled my bottle with coke before heading out again.

To reduce weight and increase speed I took a couple of rash decisions at this point.  Decisions that were to prove very costly.  First, I ditched my now dead phone – rather than “waste time” putting in the spare battery.  Second, I ditched my compass.  Navigation on this section is simple, I thought, after completing the much more complex nav on ring 2 without a hitch.

Fool.

Spurred on by the very real possibility of a top 5 finish, I set off on ring 3, once again feeling a little fresher.  On the gentle climb up to the motorway, I really noticed the effects of the coke. It definitely felt like an injection of instant energy.  I wondered if I was imagining it (as I’d already been taking on caffeine in my shot blocks for much of the day anyway) but then thought – who cares? Even a placebo effect is a real effect.  For the next 5 miles, every time I took I swig of coke I told myself I was drinking rocket fuel.

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The running was good for much of this section and I began to feel increasingly confident I could catch someone up ahead.  I really focused mentally during this period and every time my mind wanted me to walk a runnable uphill section, I tried using some mindfulness tricks to get unhooked – “I’m having the thought that I need to walk”.  That really helped.  And it was even more powerful to tune in to my body, listening to what it was saying, rather than believing my mind.  I particularly noticed temperature on my skin.  When I walked, my skin felt warm and sweaty, when I ran I really noticed the cooling effect of the early evening air.  So I had another mental tool – focusing on the fact that something felt better when I ran.

Starting the descent down through Great Asby Nature reserve I really started to push harder to make use of a couple of miles of continuous descent.

And at that point, when I was completely focused on speed, that’s when things went wrong.

A few hundred yards into the reserve I missed a small signpost indicating a right turn and instead followed what seemed a much clearer track uphill and to the left.  I continued for another few minutes before sensing I was going wrong.  I stopped and checked the map, thought I knew where I was and headed off to the right across some tussocky grass to correct things. But a few minutes later I could still see no sign of the correct path and I was no longer sure where I was.  Stupidly, I had no compass and no phone for GPS. All I knew was that I was stuck in the middle of a field of limestone boulders travelling at less than walking pace.

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I’ve no photos of my own, and this one “borrowed” from Nick Ham is actually several miles earlier, but it still gives a pretty good impression of what I was faced with – in every direction at my lowest point of the day. Without the comfort of seeing another runner in the distance.

I stood stock still for two minutes studying the map and the landscape then headed off again, this time to the left.  After another 10-15 minutes, I finally found the path, now way below me to the left and picked my way down a steep bank.  Back on the path I found myself heading uphill.  This should have rung warning bells, but in my fatigued state, it didn’t.  And that’s when I met Phil Musson coming the other way.  Phil whom I should have been at least 30 minutes ahead of by now.

“Where are you going?” he said.

Somehow I’d managed to lose all sense of direction and do a complete loop of around 2 miles back to the very spot I’d passed 30 minutes earlier.

I turned round and started running with Phil, berating myself, and complaining that I had no chance of catching the guys in front of me now.

“Rubbish”, he said, “they might have done the same as you”.

He had a point. I thought it was unlikely, but he had a point.  And what about injury or simply running out of steam?  Anything could be happening up ahead.

When we reached the point where I’d gone wrong, he gave me some clear directions down to the checkpoint and said he was going to ease off so he didn’t blow up later.  I pressed on, trying to hold onto the encouragement that Phil had given me, but if I’m honest, I didn’t believe I’d catch anyone else now.  By the checkpoint I was a couple of minutes ahead of him and knowing that we’d started at roughly the same time, I decided I needed to pull away as much as I could so he didn’t catch me on the run in.  I pounded down the road to Great Asby and then really powerwalked the climbs over to Gaythorne Hall until I was absolutely sure that there was at least 5 minutes between us.  When I’d seen no sign of him for a while, I convinced myself that was enough – and then my work rate really dropped.  Apart from the downhill sections – that I ran well – I walked pretty much 2/3 of the last 5 miles, with just occasional short bursts of running for 30 seconds or so.

Even reaching the summit above Shap didn’t speed me up that much, because by now I needed my torch and it was too uneven underfoot to do more than jog.

Once I was over the motorway, though, my central governor finally released me and I ran through the few fields, over the railway line and back along the main road to the memorial hall, the flashing lights of the zebra crossing just outside guiding me in like runway lights.

A warm welcome awaited, race officials Neil and Steve seeming as fresh and enthusiastic as they had 14 hours earlier.

The Si system printed my ticket and told me I’d finished in 7th in 14hrs 25minutes, my best ever position in any race.

I felt fantastic, even if my body didn’t.

The leaderboard told me I’d finished 8 minutes behind Andy Robinson and about 30 behind David Wilson.  If only, I thought. If only.

Then I thought about how well I’d done physically and mentally in the last 20 miles, with a generous bit of help from Phil, in spite of adversity.

And I was chuffed.

65 miles – 14 hrs 25 mins

7th Place Overall

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A shower, some great food and a 1 am sports massage helped me wind down nicely.  Then it was back to the car for some ibuprofen and a couple of glasses of Jura.

When it eventually came, the sleep was good.

LEARNING?

1.  I now know my body is capable of more.  In Ring 3, I overcame the central governor.  I was tired and my mind wanted me to walk but I could run. Being just 15 minutes away from 3rd place at that point really showed me that it’s all in the mind.

2. Phil taught me a vital lesson.  Never make assumptions about what’s happening up ahead.  Always believe that you can catch people.  With hindsight, I now know that Andy was slowing all the time and finished just 8 minutes ahead of me, despite my nav error.  If I’d known that 6 miles out, I’ve no doubt whatsoever that I could have pushed and caught him.   IT’S ALL IN THE MIND.  NEXT TIME, TELL MYSELF “ANYTHING COULD BE HAPPENING UP AHEAD”.

3. Flat coke is rocket fuel.  Even if it’s placebo rocket fuel.  It’s all in the mind.

4. Meticulous preparation really pays off.  My anotated map was superb for 99.9% of the way and helped me run as if I’d recce’d the route.  BUT don’t get complacent if you haven’t been able to recce.  There is always the chance of something unexpected.

5. NEVER EVER EVER go anywhere without a compass.  Complacency might cost you something more than just a couple of places. Stop thinking you know how to navigate and go on a nav course.

6.  If You’re going to make a nav error, it’s probably more likely towards the end when you’re mentally and physically fatigued.  Be even MORE METICULOUS in planning the last third of your route.

7.  Great event.  And one that’s really worth doing again.

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nutrition plan and drop bags.
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Note to self for the drop bag at HQ.
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Garmin Track.
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Haworth Hobble 2015 – 32 Miles, 4,400 ft

Drew Haworth Hobble 2015

This was my first race of the year, and my first ultra since the High Peak 40 last September.  A long offseason.

Winter Training

Going into this race, I felt confident about my pace but not sure about my endurance.

Due to time constraints – and after reading Nicky Spink’s description of her training, I’ve been focusing more on quality and less on total volume over the winter, so running around 30 miles +/- 5 most weeks, with one long steady run at weekend.

My basic weekend long run has been 16 miles 1,700ft over the winter, gradually increasing to a peak of 23 including doubling the ascent to 3,500ft in the last 8 weeks.  No back to back long runs.  I have, though, experimented with eating less and run up to 18 miles without eating anything at all.   When I ran 23 – in around 4 hours I ate moderately but  bonked completely in the last mile.

During the week, I’ve been doing at least one interval or tempo session on tue / thurs evenings while the girls run with Hallamshire Harriers. In the last few weeks I’ve upped the % of my running at intensity, with 4 hard efforts in the week before my taper week (10k progression run, 10k hilly tempo, 6x2min hill repeats, parkrun 5k in 22:50). I blasted that last week to give me some confidence after having to take my planned peak volume week off because of a niggling heel.

The end result of all that was that I felt quicker, but wasn’t sure how my endurance would be.

I would find out in the last 8 miles.

The Run

The day was every bit and cold and grey as last year.  Although the wind was light (8-9mph) and at my back for the first 8 miles or so, it was only 3-4C at best and felt much colder later on, when we turned into the wind.

I set off faster this year, starting much closer to the front and wanting to avoid the 5 minute queue at the gate bottleneck 3 miles in. I was breathing harder than I’d want to so early, but it didn’t feel ridiculous. Mile 1 in 8:40, 2 in 8:47. I was aware that I’d need to keep on top of nutrition at this speed, and started with a shot block inside the first 20 minutes.

No time to finish this blog….but here’s my 10 mile splits…. 

10 Miles 1:33 – 1st 10 miles in 1:33

20 Miles 3:16 – 2nd 10 miles in 1:43

30 Miles 5:24 -3rd 10 miles in 2:08

31.6 Miles 5:49

Runfurther Ultra Series 2015

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I’ve entered the UK Ultrarunning Championships for 2015.

This is my race Shortlist for 2015.

I need to complete a race in each category (S, M, L) and one other from any category.

I’ve shortlisted more than enough, from the 12 races in the series, to offer some flexibility around family, illness and injury.

14th March           Haworth Hobble               32miles (S)

11th April               Calderdale Hike                 37miles (M)

24th May              The Ox Ultra                      36miles (M)

13th June              Three Rings of Shap           62miles (L)

8th August           Long Tour of Bradwell     33miles (S)

5th September     Bullock Smithy Hike         56miles (L)

24th October         Jedburgh 3 Peaks               38miles (M)

The High Peak 40

Screenshot 2014-10-17 22.23.18Buxton, Derbyshire – Saturday 20th September 2014

Today I’m running the High Peak 40 and I’m going to gamble on a faster start than I’ve  tried before.  In my last race, I made a point of holding back and not racing for the first 15 miles.  Today, I’m going to be racing from the off.

The gamble is influenced by two factors.  First, I don’t want to get caught up in a bottle-neck when we hit a stile after a mile and a half.  Secondly, miles 3 to 6 are easy downhill running and I want to make the most of them.  The question is, will I pay for it later?

What’s going to happen if I push harder from the off?

Last night, I wondered whether I should just race on feel, but I’ve decided to keep the heart rate monitor on, to stop me blowing up completely in the early stages.

0 Miles – 8am – Buxton

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Lining up alongside another 140 runners, I’m feeling quietly confident,  a competitor.   Although this is a UK Championships race, I’m thinking positive and aiming to finish top 40, in under 7hrs 30, maybe even 7 hours.  We’ll see.

On the stroke of 8am we’re off.  I set off fast and position myself in the first 40 or 50, slowing a little on the gentle climb out of Buxton, to keep my heart rate in the 150s.

 

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No time to finish the blog but here’s my 10 mile splits…

 

10 Miles – 1 hr 37 mins – Average  9:43/mile (1st 10 miles in 1:37)

 

20 Miles – 3 hrs 26 mins – Average  10:18/mile (2nd 10 miles in 1:49)

 

30 Miles – 5hrs 12 mins – Average 10:24/mile (3rd 10 miles in 1:46)

 

40.6 Miles – 7 hrs 24 mins 23 Seconds – Average 10:57/mile (4th 10 miles in 2:12)

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36th Overall of 180 entrants, 140 starters

http://www.highpeak40.co.uk/images/Results_2014.pdf

 

 

It Hurts up to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse…

…LEARNING FROM A RECCE.

My next ultra is the High Peak 40 on 20th September.

On Sunday, I got the chance to check out the route.  All of it.  And in doing so I learnt a lot more than I bargained for.

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My longest runs since the UTPD have been 12-15 miles, so I really needed to get in a longer run or two to bring my endurance back to a peak.  A sensible option might have been to run 20-25 miles of the route, but looking at the map I could see no easy way to break it down to that sort of distance without a substantial portion of my run being off route. Instead, I decided to take a gamble on having enough in my legs to run the whole thing at a steady pace.

There were three objectives here

  • Know the route so that I can plan my race mentally.
  • Build leg strength and endurance – topping up my very solid base built from January to June.
  • Build self-belief – be able to start the race knowing that I’ve already completed it once.

Several schoolboy errors guaranteed that this was a more uncomfortable experience than it ought to have been.

  1. I decided to run in my new Salomon S-LAB Sense 3’s. Not only a new pair of shoes (with only 6 miles on the clock), but also a shoe with a thicker, harder sole than anything I’ve worn in the last 2 years.  I’d wanted to try ultra distance in a shoe with more cushioning and they felt very comfy over 6 miles…Salomon-s-lab-sense-3-ultra-sg
  2. Having had no significant blisters or foot problems in the last 12 months I’d got complacent and taken the plasters and pain killers out of my ultra vest – and didn’t think to replace them as I was running in new shoes. Duh.  I could feel hot spots by mile 15, didn’t buy plasters or deal with them, and really struggled with foot pain in the last 10 miles.no-more-bandaid
  3. Having run only 20-30 miles a week for the last 8 weeks, I decided to add this 40 miler into a week where I’d already ramped up mileage and intensity (30 miles including a hard hill repeats session) – meaning that by the end of the day I would have completed an ultra distance run AND my biggest ever training week at 70 miles.  So much for the 10% rule.RULE-BOOK
  4. Despite the fact that I planned to run slow and easy, a bit of me wanted to see how fast I could run a route which – I’d been told -is much less technical than anything I’ve run so far this year.troubleshooting-your-heart-rate-monitorstrap-hr-spikes

By rights, this should have ended in outright disaster and a blog about me pulling out of the race due to injury.  In actual fact, I achieved all my objectives and learnt a lot more besides.

  1. I know exactly what to expect on each stage of the route – and most importantly, I know that I can run most of it including some of the significant climbs including Deep Dale.
  2. I know that I can run the first half of the race in just over 3hrs 30 – even allowing for route-finding delays.  I also know that I should be able to sustain that pace in the second half of the race now I know the course.  I slowed down dramatically in the second half of my recce but that was due to a number of factors like food/water shop stops, difficulties accessing the route map on my phone, foot pain and blister surgery using a borrowed pen-knife.  All of this tells me that 7:00 to 7:30 might be a realistic, if tough, time expectation under race conditions.
  3. MOST IMPORTANTLY, I LEARNT THIS…WHEN IT STARTS TO GET PAINFUL, I CAN KEEP RUNNING. Because of the amount of tarmac and hard paths, my legs and feet, in their new shoes, took a real bashing and both felt pretty achy and painful in the last 15 miles or more.  I stopped to walk at times, partly because I didn’t want to thrash myself on a training run and partly because it started to feel too uncomfortable to run.  But when I did start running again, IT DIDN’T FEEL ANY WORSE.10600656_10152602566041357_2373490621344515136_n

This is a major step forwards for me.  It hurt and I kept going – even when I thought I would only be able to walk the last 4 miles because of my blisters, I kept going and I started running again and I ran through the pain and came out the other side.  And that was just in a recce.

The Ultra Tour of the Peak District 2014 (60 miles – 9,078ft)

After months of anticipation, race day finally arrives.

I’m awake before the 5.30 alarm, have a bowl of Shreddies and kit up, remembering to plaster myself with body glide and sunscreen.   It’s going to be warm, sunny and humid.

0 MILES – 7:50am

On the start line, the adrenalin’s pumping.  My heart rate is 90 bpm just standing still.  My mind is racing. Can I do this?  Has my training done enough to get me through?  What will my body and my head be doing 11 or 12 hours from now?  

It’s going to be a long, long day.

The ten minute countdown takes forever.

Then we’re off. I start near the back and take it very steady up the first climb away from the farm.   Position is irrelevant at this stage, I’m telling myself, I’m not going to race for the first 15 miles.  That’s the plan. But I still count the runners ahead at the first bend and I’m about 40th.  I’m above my target heart rate but I decide to trust how I feel and factor in the adrenalin.  I’m running easy with my heart doing 145-150, tweaking my pace to stay below 150.  20 minutes in, my watch vibrates and I eat my first cereal bar.

As we climb Porter Clough, I  relax and chat to a couple of people, walking a few steep sections and letting others go by.  As they pass, it helps to say to myself I’ll see you later

I expect to regain a couple of places on the flat across Houndkirk Moor but I don’t.   5 miles in and I’m already racing in my mind.  Stick to the plan, boy!

At the first water point at Fidler’s Elbow the runners ahead of me seem uncertain of the route and head off towards Higger Tor.  I take the more direct line towards Stannage and gain 6 or 7 places in the process. I settle down a bit across Stannage, taking it easier, and on the steep descent to Redmires I’m still holding back, thinking Save these legs for later.

10 MILES – 1 hr 48 mins (average 10:48/mile)

Along the side of the reservoir, I start chatting to Andy Bragg and we run together for the next 5 miles or so, pushing on a bit along the gentler downhill of Wyming Brook.  After a while my heart starts to go above my target zone, so I drop the pace again and concentrate on steady.

Coming into the first feed station at Moscar is fantastic.  Unexpectedly, Mum, Dad, Amelie and Scarlett are already there and the girls are screaming at the tops of their voices, giving me a massive boost as I run down the hill towards them. They help refill my bottles while I find my drop bag and load up with more bars and gels, as well as some Cliff shots from the station.

Mum and the girls help me refuel at Moscar.
Mum and the girls help me refuel at Moscar.

15 miles down.

Now I can start racing.

Leaving the feeding station, I see a couple of runners ahead and I push on up the climb at a steady pace, so that I’m gradually closing the gap.  Onto the easier but undulating gradients across the top of Derwent Edge, the views are spectacular. I now begin to pick up places, passing 3 or 4 runners.  My heart rate is up to the mid-150s.

20 MILES – 3 hrs 40 mins (average 11:00/mile)

At the summit of Lost Lad, the marshall tells me I’m in 21st position, another big boost. The marshall is Amy Freeman, injured and unable to race but she’s come all the way from Preston to marshall!

20 miles – a third done and I’m feeling strong.

I know the next long downhill section will be a good section for me and I spot two targets in the distance.  I pass both of them within the next 10 minutes, but they stick close behind me so I push a little harder down the steepest section.  At checkpoint 7, they’re only just coming in as I’m leaving with full water bottles.

My feet have started to feel hot on the descent and I realise I’ve not laced my shoes tightly enough. Deal with little problems now before they become big problems later, I tell myself. On the steep climb back up to Derwent Edge I stop and retie them.

I’m now in 19th place.  As I start the descent to Moscar I see the next target in the distance and push harder on the technical but spongy downhill.

What a welcome! First Marathon completed.
What a welcome! First Marathon completed.

Back at Moscar the girls are still there and run to meet me.  Their excitement is better than any caffeine shot.  I’ve now completed a marathon and it feels great.  I’m buzzing.

My pacing crew at Moscar.
My pacing crew at Moscar.

I pick up some more water and Cliff Shots and head straight out.  The runner in front is now only about 200 metres ahead. 20140621_124938a I work steadily to close the gap and by the time we hit to top of Stannage again, I pass him, quickly opening up a healthy lead.  18th.  At checkpoint 9 they tell me I’m 4 minutes behind the next runner so I really kick on down Long Causeway trying to make the most of the loose downhill track. At the foot of the next climb, two more runners finally come into view.  I walk much of this climb, but I’m still powering on and closing in.  I catch a lady first and she’s flagging, says she’s been unwell and is dropping out at Win Hill.  I wish her well.  17th.

30 MILES  5 hrs 37 mins (average 11:14/mile) 

I keep pushing steadily on the steep downhill road section into Yorkshire Bridge, coming into checkpoint 10 just behind a guy in a white top.  More water, more food from Dropbag 2 and some more Bodyglide for my thighs – no chaffing yet, lets keep it that way.  

You girls are really gettiing the hang of this :-)
You girls are really getting the hang of this 🙂  Lets try and make some time on this guy behind me.

I head out 30 seconds behind White Top Guy. In this heat, Parkin Clough is like a tropical rainforest.  With 900ft of ascent, almost vertical in places, the next mile is 26 minutes of sweaty, leg sapping torture. But I finally catch white top guy at the summit of Win Hill. While he’s discussing the route with the marshall, I head straight through and into 16th place.

But he’s right behind me and sticks with me even though I’m kicking on down the favourable gradient. In an effort to shake him off, I veer right off the path, through a gap in the wall and follow a grassy track instead, a rough but more direct line. This seems to throw him, and I pull away on the climb up to Kinder Scout.

I can see a runner in a Totley vest up ahead but he’s looking strong and running sections I need to walk. I’m thirsty and I’m slowing down. I suddenly realise that I didn’t drink enough at the last checkpoint in my haste to make time on White Top Guy.  I’ve already drained most of my bottles and there’s still another 5 miles to Edale.

Feeling like this, the technical descent below Ringing Roger is a trial.  My co-ordination is a bit ropey and I have to pick my way carefully.  My head is ropey too.  In Edale, I’m somehow confused about where the checkpoint is and I end up walking between the Nag’s Head and the Ramblers’ Inn, wondering if I’ve missed it.  After all that hard work to break away, White Top Guy catches me and we reach the checkpoint together.  I down 4 or 5 cups of water, fill my bottles and head out before him, trying to open up the gap again on the steep climb up to Hope Cross.

40 MILES –  7 hrs 53 mins (average 11:49/mile)

But in Castleton he’s still on my heels and passes me when I stop for more water from mum and dad at the roadside.  The girls yell at me to get after him.

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White Top Guy hot on my heels on the way into Castleton.

As I set off again I can see him walking through the village and I push to catch him before Cave Dale. We hit the steep climb together and introduce ourselves. White Top Guy is Ben, from Manchester. By now, we’re both aware that the gap is about 15 minutes in front and behind us and after duelling for the last 10 miles, we seem to reach an unspoken agreement to work together as a pair.  I know the route inside out. In return, Ben’s presence keeps me pushing on despite the fact that I’m tiring.  The conversation really helps as Cave Dale seems to go on forever today.

Me and Ben.  The first of many miles together.  Summit Fever Photography.
Me and Ben. The first of many miles together. Summit Fever Photography.

Dropping down steeply into Bradwell, my quads are finally starting to hurt. I slow to a walk but it’s still painful. I remember something I’ve read and quote it to Ben – If it hurts to run and it hurts to walk, run.  I start running again and don’t stop until we reach the final feed station.

The Totley runner and two others are still there when we arrive, but we’re both in need of a breather after that descent and don’t rush to chase them out.  I sit on the steps for a minute while I eat and drink and restock my pack for the final section.  I even use a real toilet – and the output tells me my hydration is ok. I leave the headtorch in my drop bag as there’s still at least four hours of daylight left.  Let’s keep the weight down.

Just a half marathon to go, we tell each other as we set off again, walking and eating for a short way before we pick up again on the flat through the village.

The steep climb up and over Bradwell Edge is a killer at this stage in the day but eventually we’re up and over and I can still run at a fair pace downhill.  This is a big improvement on last year when I had to walk this downhill in the 30 mile race.

50 MILES – 10 hrs 24 mins (average 12:28/mile)

The next section along the river is flatter but it’s a struggle to keep going.  I’m really flagging now.   The undulating terrain keeps inviting me to stop and walk.  Running in a pair really helps though.  We take it in turns running in front and keep nudging each other on – this bit’s runnable, come on, ready?  I also remember an image that helps and start imagining I’m a ball bearing rolling along a groove, unstoppable, despite the twists and turns of the riverside track.

The climb up and over Carl Wark is tough at this stage but we’ve now just 5 or 6 miles left, and we save a little energy because I know a route that avoids the climb through Winyard’s Nick.  We’ve slowed, the average pace on my watch – which is also our ETA in hours and minutes – keeps drifting upwards. I will finish in under 13 hours.  I will.  And we get heads down and keep going.  We start talking of the finish and I suggest rock-paper-scissors to decide who dibs in first.  Ben generously insists it’s me because my route knowledge has saved him so much time.

One last obstacle greets us at the head of the Limb Valley – cows right across the path – the herd which hospitalised a runner in a Totley race a couple of weeks ago.  We painfully clamber over the barbed wire fence to avoid them.  Vaulting is not an option after 58 miles.

Keep going.

The beautiful, wooded Limb Valley, my home territory.

All downhill except for a little kicker back up to the farm.

I hear the girls before I can see them.  “Come on, Dad!  Come on, Dad!  Come on Dad!”

Suddenly there’s some juice left in these legs and I accelerate up the hill and into the farmyard.

Done it.  

I’ve just run 60 miles.

60 MILES – 12 hrs 49 mins (average 12:49/mile)  

16th Place overall.  

6th Vet 40 Runner.

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A fantastic welcome from Amelie, Scarlett, Cal, Mum and Dad.  Massive thanks to all of you for your support all day.  It made an amazing difference.  And look how you made me feel at the end!

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When standing still feels this good...
Standing still feels this good…

 And here’s the route, profile and my pace and heart rate data courtesy of Strava…

Screenshot 2014-07-17 01.18.03

 


LEARNING?

  1. I can run 60 miles  – and check out that profile…
  2. I can run 30 miles on this terrain in 5:37, even when I’m holding back for the next 30.  In my next 30 or 40 miler I know I can push quite a lot harder.
  3. Not surprisingly, I slowed, especially in the last 10 miles, but overall I managed to maintain a fairly solid pace.  The endurance is there and building.
  4. I raced really well between 15 miles and 30 miles – could 30-40 be an optimum distance for me?  Or do I simply need to gain experience in running – and racing – longer?  On the other hand…maybe I pushed on too early? Could have finished stronger by leaving my racing for 25-30 miles onwards?
  5. Pay attention to drinking more AT the checkpoints.  If I hadn’t run out of water between Win Hill and Edale, I would have been stronger and may have stayed in the race longer.  I lost momentum there, let Ben catch me, and not long afterwards stopped fighting for places – the rot started when I ran out of water.
  6. Mentally, I told myself – in Castleton – that the 15 minute gap to the next runners was too big to break down.  That’s garbage.  There were still 18 miles to go.  I shifted from pushing to gain places to defending my existing position way too soon.  BE PREPARED for this mindset next time and tell yourself that the race is a race all the way to the line.
  7. The jury is out on the benefits of teaming up with another runner towards the end of a race.  Pros: it may have kept me going on a number of occasions when my head was telling me to walk.  Cons: It may have contributed to the mindset shift that told me I wasn’t racing any more, I was just defending and finishing.
  8. Take care with the food you end up carrying.  I had my own food for the entire race in my drop bags and picked up most of it – but I also ate and collected extra bits of food provided at feeding stations.  The result was that I ended up pointlessly carrying THIS MUCH FOOD for the last 13 miles, only finding it when I emptied my pack two days later…
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  10. 294g – thus negating a lot of the weight savings achieved through lightweight kit.
  11. The above happened because I was too mentally fatigued at the last feed station to do a proper stock-take.  Next time,  have supporters there if possible to do the checking OR at least write a big reminder note:  HAVE YOU DRUNK ENOUGH?  HOW MUCH FOOD ARE YOU CARRYING?  THE RACE IS A RACE ALL THE WAY TO THE LINE!
  12. I’m really, really happy with what I achieved in this race.  I set myself a tough target and I wasn’t too far away.  All the above learning is nothing to beat myself up about – just good learning.
  13. What’s next?

 

Getting to the Starting Line

drop bags

Well it looks like I’m going to make it to the starting line tomorrow.  My drop bags are packed, and I’ve run my last training run without getting any last minute injuries.  

Completing the training and being in a position to even stand on the start line of a 60 mile race seems like quite an achievement in itself.  So I can just go out and enjoy the run tomorrow, whatever happens.   In my dreams, I’d like to finish in around 12 hours and be a top ten contender.  But there are things outside my control.  I’ve no idea how my body will react in the last half of the race, and I’ve no idea who I’m racing against, not to mention the weather and the risk of turning an ankle when I’m trying to run fast downhill with tired legs.  So I need to loosen my grip on the ambitious goals.  My main goal is to run the best I can, and after that, to finish. 

According to my Garmin, I’ve run just over 800 miles since I signed up for the race in January.  I’ve run more than 500 of those in the last 3 months, with 6 or 7 weeks of 50 to 60 miles / week.  That’s involved lots of early early mornings to get the running in without having too much impact on family life (though I know I’ve not completely succeeded in that respect – thankyou Cal, Amelie and Scarlett for your patience…)

watch

In the final build up, I’ve run long and hilly as many times as possible.  In my last big week, I ran a Marathon, a 20 miler and a 16 miler over 8 days, with a couple of 10k days in between and a total ascent of about 9000ft.  The result has been that I’ve got used to the feeling of running on tired legs – because they’ve been tired pretty much all of the time.  As I’ve upped the demands on my body, I’ve also tried to help it recover by adding homemade protein shakes and smoothies in, straight after every run.

I feel ready.  There’s more I could have done (like more core exercises and more hill reps – which I couldn’t seem to fit into life in between long runs), but basically I feel ready to have a damn good go at running 60 miles.  My legs are stronger than they’ve ever been and it actually feels easier to run than to walk when my legs are tired.  Weird but useful.

So.  Race strategy. 

Despite what I’ve said above, I still want to compete.  I want to finish AND run the best race I can.  I’m running this distance because I enjoyed competing and achieving a top 10 place in last year’s 30 miler.

So what’s the plan?

Conservative.  Start slow, don’t race the early stages.  Heart rate will be my guide.  138bpm (+/- 4) for at least the first 15 miles.  I’ve set one screen of my watch to display only that, and I’m going to stick to it.  No getting caught up in the adrenaline rush as the big guns power off, no worrying about how fast I’m going compared to anyone else.  I’m going to run easy and be patient and hope that I can just keep powering along at around 10’30”-12 mins a mile.  After 15 miles I’ll take a look at my average pace, and take stock of how I’m feeling, perhaps moving to running on feel and ignoring the numbers.  After 20 miles or so, I might start thinking about picking up places – slowly, steadily, with no big bursts.   I had planned to ditch the heart rate belt into drop bag 1, but I now think it my be helpful in keeping me reigned in when I do start racing, stopping me from pushing too hard for extra places, too soon in the race.  And it maybe useful in the latter stages, too, as a way of telling me when I’m being lazy, keeping me pushing on for the finish.

This time tomorrow I’ll be 4 hours in.   Let’s see what happens.

 

 

Training by Numbers?

One of the goals I set myself at the start of the year was to train smarter.   Since Christmas I’ve been using a Garmin 310XT to track my heart rate and run within training zones calculated using formulas from the web.  However, there are a number of formulas available, resulting in significantly different training zones.

Last month, I paid a visit to  Accelerate Performance Centre for a lactate test, with the aim of getting a definitive appraisal of what my personal heart rate training zones should be, and some advice about how to train.

On the accelerate treadmill, warming up before my lactate test
On the Accelerate treadmill, warming up before the test

The test was done by none other than Marcus Scotney, winner of the 2012 UTPD, so it was great to have the chance to chat about his experience of the race and his recent Spine Challenger victory whilst I was warming up on the treadmill.

The test itself was straightforward, though not exactly painless.  Beginning at a very low intensity, I was asked to complete a series of 4 minute treadmill runs, with the pace gradually increasing each time until I was working pretty hard.  After each 4 minute run, Marcus took a finger-prick blood sample  which was transferred to a test strip in a digital analyser.  I was also asked to report my effort level on a 10 point scale.  The whole thing took around 90 minutes and a few days later I received a 3-page report from Marcus via email.

Andrew Chester Lactate Threshold Assessment Report (Full PDF – extracts below)

Lactate Threshold Assessment Report
Lactate Threshold Assessment Report
My training Zones
My training Zones

Marcus gave me some pointers about how I could use these zones to create a training mix that would maximise benefits for my goal race, the UTPD, and over the last 5 weeks I’ve been putting that into practice as my training has ramped up to 40-60 miles a week, including the following:

  1. Most training in Zone 2 (easy) including long runs.
  2. One session of Hill Reps a week (zone 4 or 5 intervals).
  3. One tempo or fartlek session a week (zone 3 or 4).

THE CHALLENGES

Given my Zone 2 maximum HR of 138 bpm, I’ve had to SLOW DOWN EVEN MORE…

Initially, this felt painfully slow (as slow as 13-minute miles with a full pack) and very hard to maintain when running over undulating terrain.

Because of this, it’s sometimes felt like my watch has become a task-master and the main focus of attention, getting in the way of just enjoying the run and my surroundings.

However…

THE RESULTS

It’s working!

I’m getting big, tangible gains in a short space of time.

Within 5 weeks, I can run significantly faster (1-2 minutes a mile faster) at the same intensity – so Zone 2 no longer feels too slow.

Today I ran the Intro Ultra 30 mile route at an easy Zone 2 AND ran it 30 mins quicker than I raced it in last year.

When I ran the Haworth Hobble 6 weeks ago (32 miles, similar terrain and elevation) I did it at an almost identical pace to today’s 30 miler, but my average heart-rate was 20 bpm higher than it was today.

This has all got to be good for the UTPD – because running a steady pace with less effort must mean I can sustain it for longer.

Training by numbers seems to be working for me.

 

 

32 Miles of Moor

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Back in December I started hunting for a spring race which would provide a focus for my winter training.  The Haworth Hobble fitted the bill nicely.   32 miles of beautiful Yorkshire moorland with 4400 feet of ascent.

The day started with a massive bowl of weetabix and a banana at 5a.m. before the 90 minute drive from Sheffield.   I was glad to arrive an hour before the start, because the registration queue soon trailed out of the door and up the street…

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A delayed start meant plenty of time for banter with a few familiar faces as the 450 or so runners assembled on Haworth’s narrow and steeply cobbled main street.

Then we were off.  

No long speeches before this one – just a yell from the top of the hill “Right?  GO!”

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I immediately regretted my decision to start right at the back.  It seemed to take forever before we funnelled up past the church and broke into a jog.

For the next 7 miles up and over the moor there was a stiff headwind and despite running at a steady 10’30” pace on the gentle ascent, my heart-rate told me I was working pretty hard.  I slowed a little and tried to keep in the slip-stream of the guy in front of me.

Once we were over the top and heading downhill towards Walshaw Dean Reservoirs, I kicked on and started taking places, managing to keep this pattern up for almost the entire race – holding my position on the fast flat sections then picking up places on each downhill and the steeper uphill sections.   Somehow, there was still enough breath for conversation along the way, in between the endless biscuits, cereal bars and gels I was shovelling in.

Haworth Hobble Official

About 15 miles in I was lucky enough to find myself running alongside Dragon’s Back legend Wendy Dodds and we had a chat on the long descent into Todmorden.  (My favourite moment in the Dragon’s Back film was Wendy pushing the pace on Day 3  of the monster race so that she could collect her pension before the post office closed).

WendyDodds_600_

When Wendy suggested I should enter the Dragon’s Back in 2015,  I made my excuses and pushed on downhill, wishing her a good race. I thought I’d shown her a clean pair of heels but it turned out she was only 5 minutes behind me over the line…

The second half of the race had the toughest of the inclines, with an ascent of Stoodley Pike, and a quad munching descent into Hebden Bridge immediately followed by a beast of an hill up to Heptonstall.

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All that height was immediately lost again with a another steep drop down into  the valley before the final 5 mile slog of a climb up to Top o’ Stairs.

My legs were starting to complain but it wasn’t too bad and the battle was all mental.

I just kept focusing on the runners in front, slowly making ground on them, before surging through a bunch of 6 or 7 on a short downhill section before the final checkpoint.  I filled my water bottle and pushed straight on out (as I had done all day) and when I looked back after a few minutes, there was no-one in sight.

I set my sights on the 8 runners I could see ahead, looking for signs of weakness to encourage me.  Every time the back marker walked, I pushed on, narrowing the gap until I was part of the group.

I zipped past three younger guys on the steep drop to Leeshaw Reservoir – my quads were sore, but not as sore as theirs – and really surprised myself by gaining another five places on the traverse of Penistone hill before dropping down into Haworth with no other targets in sight.

I crossed the line in 6 hours 9 minutes, in 163rd place and very happy to have managed a solid run with no tailing off towards the end.

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It was good to bump into Amy Freeman in the dining hall, very recognisable from her Dig Deep video.  She’d finished a few minutes ahead of me and we swapped UTPD training stories over a bowl of food.

Next stop the Ultra Tour.  13 weeks of training left.

This could be do-able.

Learning?

  1.  Starting towards the back is a great motivator – picking up places kept me pushing on throughout the entire race – but watch out for slow starts and bottle necks.  Maybe 2/3 of the way back would work better?
  2. My quads are stronger.  They can take more of a battering this year.  Keep working on them – they made all the difference on descents in the last half of the race.
  3. I could run all day at 159 bpm after my current training regime.  What could I achieve by refining my training mix?
  4. Eating and drinking strategy is working fine.  Very quick refills at checkpoints gained lots of places.  Keep eating and drinking on the move.
  5. My hands swell to twice their normal size after 32 miles (check the photo!)
  6. Never underestimate a pensioner.

Easy, light, smooth and fast

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Over the last few weeks I’ve steadily built up the mileage – 30, 36 and 41 mile weeks – and as I’ve done so, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my running form and energy use.

How many slits are there in your sack?

During the 2012 Olympics I heard one of the GB cycling team speaking about energy management for endurance using a sack of rice as an analogy. Working at low intensity is like having one slit in the sack, the energy slowly escaping from the sack.  With each extra surge of effort, it’s like cutting an extra slit in the sack with the result that the energy ends up draining away that much faster.  Once the slit is cut, it can’t be undone.  It’s an image that has stayed with me, encouraging me to manage my energy use carefully over longer distances.

Working on my running form is one way in which I’ve tried to become more economical – getting more out of less energy.  Getting faster without cutting another slit in the sack.

In the last two years, inspired by reading “Born to Run” (source of the “Easy, light, smooth and fast” maxim),  I’ve retrained myself to land on my midsole rather than my heel.  And since January 2013 I’ve been running in more minimalist shoes (Innov8 X-talon 190’s and 212s with the insoles removed) helping me to be much more in touch with how I make contact with the ground.

It’s been a very positive move and I’m certain it’s improved my running economy.  I’m now taking shorter, lighter, faster steps with my feet landing beneath my body rather than in front of me, so far less energy is transferred into the ground.

The way I sound when I run tells me that this is true. About five years ago, I was running so heavily that one walker memorably said “I thought you were a horse coming up behind me!”   These days I’m virtually silent on some surfaces and I’ve even been known to startle dogs.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on smooth – especially on downhills.  I’m conscious of the battering I’ve given my legs in the past tearing down hills and I want to find a way of getting the most out of the gravity boost without knackering my quads, knees and ankles.  The answer seems to lie in increasing my cadence rather than my stride length, so I’m taking lots of very short, very fast, smooth steps until it feels like I’m coasting downhill on a bike.  It may not be the fastest pace I can manage, but it seems to be the best way of increasing my pace without cutting another slit in the energy sack or battering my body.

I’ve also  been looking at my economy on the uphills, using my Garmin to look at the ratio between my pace and and my effort. I’ve learnt a lot since Christmas (thanks Cal!) about how sacrificing a little bit of pace can save a whole load of energy – leaving more in the sack for later.

Your comments and suggestions are very welcome.

An Ultrarunning Log