Saturday, 19 March 2016

Votwo Jurassic Coast Challenge

I have just completed day two. For the time being, here are a few wearily snapped photos from the nice bit (scenery-wise). Apologies for the resolution - they are taken on my ancient waterproof Samsung.

The runner in red is Simon who I ended up running with for most of the day. It was good to have the additional motivation of someone nearby - I suspect I would have slacked off a bit more if it hadn't been for the company.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Trying to run fast - part 2

[Continued from Trying to Run Fast]

Apologies in advance to anyone reading this.  The main aim of my blog is to keep a record of some of my thoughts and memories of racing - I appreciate that it isn't exactly a thrilling read!

The next weekend I hadn't been going to race so knocked out a 16M training run in the Saturday, but my club was putting on a 10k race in the park near my house on Sunday so I figured I may as well race. I ran 38:07 on a lumpy course which felt like hard work on tired legs but was probably good training.

The next weekend I ran Dulwich parkrun in 17:47 which is still my PB.  Looking back at my training log I had a fairly solid week after being lazy and having the Sunday off:
 - Monday: 16.5M @ 7:20 pace
 - Tuesday: hill reps
 - Wednesday: 7M home (feeling tired)
 - Thursday: hill reps (faster)
 - Friday: 5M easy lunchtime run with a friend
This seems to have set me up reasonably well for the Self Transcendence 10M race in the pancake flat Battersea park on Saturday at which I was very happy to crack the hour barrier (59:44).  I topped it off with a hilly 17M+ hilly trail run with Adam the following day.

The next week was lighter, with a rest day on Monday, intervals on Tues, 13M run home on Weds and an easy 5.5M on Thursday followed by a rather lazy two days of rest (and seeing relatives) in preparation for the Brampton to Carlisle 10M on Sunday 17 November.  The B2C has been going for some time - 2013 was the 62nd running of the event - and various superb athletes have taken part over the years, including Ron Hill and Steve Cram.  The course record is a bonkers 45:50.  Yes, forty five minutes and fifty seconds for ten miles.  That's chuffing fast.

The day of the race was fairly nippy day but I decided to stay true to my northern roots and run in just a vest (well, I wore shorts, trainers, etc, too!).  It was a cold start but with a race as intense as a ten miler I tend to warm up a lot... or at least I am so busy feeling knackered that I forget about how cold my hands are.  The start of the race was at my old school and it felt a bit weird being back there after so many years.  In true Cumbrian fashion, the road just in front of the start line was partly blocked by a lorry transporting sheep - maybe this was just a nice touch put on by the race organisers to add to the atmosphere.

As many races do, the event started pretty quickly, exacerbated by the fact that the first two miles are net downhill.  I ran about 5:41 and 5:44 for the first two miles, finally dipping back towards 5:58 in the third mile which had one of the few small rises in the race.  I had the lovely surprise of being greeted by my wife (Shayda) along with my nephews at about the three mile point - a great little boost as things were starting to feel hard.  My excitement got the better of me again and mile 4 was a 5:48.  I started to feel the effort a bit and my pace began to decline - 5:55, 6:00, 6:06, 6:08 for miles five to eight.  In the midst of mile eight I received an unexpected boost when a horse I was passing reared up at my causing me to 'sprint' - or perhaps just stagger slightly faster - in terror, and it gave me an adrenalin boost.  A slight aside but I highly recommend having your life threatened by a large crazed beast as a means for boosting your race performance.  I managed a 6:03 for the ninth mile despite another little hill, and then managed to grit my teeth for a 5:53 final mile... helped by a juicy downhill onto the bridge across the Eden.  I finished feeling exhausted but elated, 42nd overall in 59:12.  (Okay, those times don't quite add up - I took them from my GPS which was no doubt a little out).

The B2C was the Northern Athletics 10M Championships which I qualified for due to being born in Newcastle, and I finished 20th in that - sounds better than 42nd (which includes several rather rapid women who chicked me) - running a decent chunk under the hour and shows that the previous week's race in Battersea hadn't been a complete fluke, albeit on a course that is net downhill.  I was really starting to feel the addiction of this road racing shenanigans, enjoying the challenge of running hard and also the geeky joy of aiming for the next arbitrary numerical milestone.  I decided that I'd aim to push down my half marathon time next...

Friday, 30 January 2015

Heading t'Peak

So... I am back running regularly, getting in 5 or so runs per week consistently for a few months. I have started doing one interval session per week and my long term hip whinjury seems okay - it is still there, lurking in the background, but hasn't flared up significantly.

This weekend will be an entertaining test... Having barely run off road since the Transalpine race in 2013, I am heading up for a recce of some of the High Peak Marathon route with Adam, Duncan and, if he can get there through the snow, Andy. The MWIS forecast says there will be winds 40-65mph on the tops with a temperature of -17c with windchill.

Here we go...

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Trying to run fast

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love road racing

Crikey, this blog post is rather delayed... I had meant to finish and publish it about a year and a half ago. Oops. I will finish this section and publish it now... 

I had deliberately not planned any ultras or other epic shenanigans for after the Gore-Tex Transalpine so I could just see how I felt afterwards and see what I fancied doing with the rest of the year. Despite having run to some extent for almost two decades, I have never got round to doing much road racing so I decided I'd find some local races to take part in during the autumn: this would hopefully provide a new challenge, motivating me to train, and would also take up less time during the weekends than training for or running ultras.

True to form, I didn't do this in a very structured manner: I just decided to find a bunch of local races and have a crack.  
In particular, I thought I'd enter a half marathon, since I'd never done one before.  A colleague had mentioned the Ealing Half Marathon so why not?

All in all I ended up taking part in two 10ks, three 10Ms and two half marathons, with a couple of Parkruns, a couple of cross country races and a 24M fell running challenge thrown in for good measure.

Following the Transalpine race, it took a couple of weeks for my immune system to recover from the lurgy I had suffered from during the event.  Two weeks of relative rest probably did my fitness no harm, and also gave my muscles, tendons, etc a chance to recover from eight hard back-to-back days in the mountains.  From past experience, I have a tendency to injure myself by not resting sufficiently after hard off-road events - I tend to get over-excited and fail to rest - so at least this time I didn't have a choice!  I had also had a slight recurrence of the hip and groin injury that had beset me during the summer.  This was frustrating and puzzling in equal parts: why on earth had the whinjury been fine during the Transalpine yet problematic on gentle road runs since?  (Answers on a postcard to the usual address).

A low key charity 10k organised by 'For Crohns' gave me a chance to test my fitness and to see how the whinjury held up to more intense running.  The ol' war wound felt stiff during the warm up but it didn't bother me during the race.  Running fast - or trying to - was a bit of a shock to the system, but I managed to gradually move my way through the field into 3rd place, clocking 37:18 (a PB by about a minute but my previous PB was on a hilly Crystal Palace course).  I am not sure whether I can honestly say that I enjoyed the race - it felt like really hard work!  I was gasping for breath, my heart was thumping, my lungs were struggling, and I felt generally knackered.  Definitely Type 2 fun, and something a plodding ultrarunner was unaccustomed to. 

Next up was the Ealing Half Marathon (29 Sept).  This was my first half marathon and I hadn't done any specific training but I figured that I should have decent endurance still, so sub-1:25 was doable.  Probably more by luck than judgement, I managed to pace the race reasonably well.  According to my GPS, which cannot necessarily be relied on too much on such a wiggly course, my pace per mile varied between 6:05 and 6:31 but the course was undulating as well as twisty so I was reasonably pleased.  Again, the race felt fairly uncomfortable but I was starting to get a perverse enjoyment from the controlled struggle to run fast - or at least fast for me!  I got round in 1:22:54 and was definitely buzzing afterwards.

Real life got in the way for a couple of weeks but on 20 October I entered the 10M 'Beat the Hour' race in Hyde Park.  I didn't realise until just before the race but there was going to be a pacer running one hour pace.  Since I was expecting to run a minute or so slower than the hour, I didn't feel brave enough to take a risk and try to keep up. In the end I finished narrowly missing the hour which rather surprised me - pleasantly! It was perhaps a shame that I didn't have a go at following the pacer, but then it is always easy to think of improvements retrospectively. 

To be continued... 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Gore-Tex Transalpine run 31 August to 6 September 2013

[This is a post written for Herne Hill Harriers quarterly magazine 'Red and Black'. Update: Photos now added]

The Gore-Tex Transalpine race: an eight day stage race for teams of two through four countries covering 261km with 15,879 m of ascent.  When thinking about how best to describe my experiences of the Transalpine race, two principles that I was first introduced to in my rock climbing days sprang to mind.  Firstly, 'Get your excuses in early', and secondly, 'Type 1, 2 and 3 fun':
  • Type 1: simple, instant gratification - what normal people call fun.
  • Type 2: not pleasurable at the time but something that you enjoy looking back at - retrospective fun.  
  • Type 3: really just not fun at all - the only pleasurable thing is surviving.
The first principle feels relevant because the several months leading up to the Transalpine had been mixed: I had been suffering with a mild but prolonged hip injury which had restricted the volume and intensity of my training, in particular the amount of hilly or off road training.  I had, however, got in a few good training events such as the High Peak Marathon, a 42 mile night orienteering event, and the Old County Tops, a 38 mile fell race in the Lake District.  A good result in the Lakeland 50 at the end of July without any significant problems from my injury gave me a boost, and gave me the confidence that I would be able to increase training volume prior until the Transalpine race.

Fast forward a month and I reached the event feeling positive, albeit rather tired from a busy week in the US and then two days of travelling to get to the start of the event in Oberstdorf, South Germany.  On Saturday 31 August, Adam and I lined up with over 730 other runners in the start pen to run the first stage from Oberstdorf in Germany to Lech in Austria - 34.6km with 2.1km of height gain.  The nervous excitement of the event was heightened by the organisers' eagerness for motivational music, with an intriguing combination of Europop and dated rock tunes.  After hearing it several times on each of eight consecutive days, I think I heard Highway to Hell enough to last a lifetime.  Although this level of hype was a little alien to my British sensibilities, I couldn't help but get carried away with the atmosphere.

At the luxuriously late start time of 10:00 we were off, a line of hundreds of runners snaking our way through the narrow roads of Oberstdorf, cheered on by hundreds of spectators.  The start of the stage involved 2.5km of flat running along roads - ideal for a soft London based runner - but then we got onto trails and started the big climb of the day, gaining 1.4km of elevation in about 12.5km.  As I had expected, I didn't feel all that strong on the climbs, but the gorgeous scenery helped to distract me from the hard work, and Adam and I managed to keep up a respectable pace, reeling in a few teams towards the end of the day and finishing in 18th in the Mens category.  A good dose of Type 1 fun liberally sprinkled with Type 2.

In the evening after each stage there was a 'pasta party' which gave everyone a chance to recount stories of the day whilst refuelling prior to a briefing about the next day's stage. To someone who has experience of fell running in the UK it was amusing how strong the warnings were about 'dangerous conditions' on some of the stages. Admittedly there were a few sections with significant drops, but generally with fairly benign underfoot conditions, and the toughest sections were no worse than a Grade 1 scramble. The final part of the evening was a photo and video montage of the day; these really captured the atmosphere of the event and provided a chance to admire the wonderful views some of which were missed earlier on that day due to exhaustion or having to concentrate on the rocks whilst pelting rapidly downhill.

The second stage took us from Lech to St Anton, relatively short at 24.7km but still with 1.9km of climb and including a quad-mashing 1.5km descent at the end.  Adam is a better runner than I am but I was struggling more than expected to keep up with him on the second day, and we finished 23rd in our category on the day, just retaining a top twenty spot on cumulative time. Still a healthy blend of Type 1 and Type 2 fun. Both Adam and I had started to have issues with the skin on our heels from the long fast descents. By the later stages of the race significant parts of my feet were essentially held together by white tape.

That night things took a turn for the worse, as what I thought had been a minor cold that had been niggling away for a few days turned out to be a fever. Waking up repeatedly feeling terrible and covered in sweat was not an ideal way to spend the night, especially prior to a 38.4km stage with 3km of climb. I had very strong doubts that I would get round the stage but was determined to give it a go, not wanting to let myself or Adam down. Although the day was a rather uncomfortable struggle, I did get round in one (slightly dishevelled) piece. In fact there was a small part of my brain which was disappointed that I had managed to finish the stage: if I had been physically incapable of finishing then I could curl up in a ball and rest, but as it was I didn't really have an excuse to stop so I'd have to carry on enduring what was definitely Type 3 fun. Ah, well, only five more days to go...

Stage 4 was hard work and stage 5 was worse: the uphill sprint, climbing 947m over 6.3km, albeit with the luxury of 11m of descending on the way. My body really wasn't in the mood for such an intensive effort, and I had to lie down afterwards. More Type 3 fun. I did appreciate that the stage was so short, however, as it meant I had more hours of recovery time. Possibly because of this, I felt significantly more human the next day. This allowed me to enjoy the stage, taking in the scenery which included climbing up a spectacular gorge with a path hewn into the rock to then emerge onto a gloriously sunny alpine plateau. The balance had swung back towards Type 1 and 2 fun!

I started to feel almost human by stage 7, which was fractionally beyond marathon distance with 2.3k of ascent, and we finished 22nd on the day, our second best position to date. On the final stage I was feeling feeling better again, and we finished the stage 17th on the day, scraping our way up to 20th overall. It was great to be able to perform at close to the level I had been hoping, and I really enjoyed competing with teams on the run in to the finish, overtaking several in the last few miles. At last, the return of a healthy dose of Type 1 fun. The feeling of elated exhaustion as Adam and I ran in through crowd-lined the streets to the finish was something that I will remember for a long time.  

Although it was disappointing to have been ill during the event which meant both that I was not able to run as well as I would have liked and that quite a lot of the week was rather unpleasant, there is a certain satisfaction having completed the event despite this challenge, and I definitely have memories I will keep forever. The race is certainly one I would recommend to someone wanting a European trail running challenge: the scenery was spectacular, the atmosphere was friendly and exciting, and the event it was very well organised. Feel free to quiz me if you are tempted.
Cheesy smiles before the start of Stage 1
Chilling out after the first stage

Grimace for the camera
A view of the Stage 3 descent from a cable car
Staying in hotels (as opposed to in places like the nuclear bunker [yes, really!]) was a nice luxury and had it's benefits

Cruising along in the sunshine on Stage 8
Some lovely singletrack during the mammoth 3km+ descent on Stage 8

Monday, 2 September 2013

Gore-tex Transalpine - three down, five to go

A very quick post about the first few days of the Gore-Tex Transalpine race.
Stage 1: 34.6k, 2k ascent, 1.4k descent. Pleasant weather and a tough but mostly enjoyable start to the race. We toddled round to 18th (?) place in the men's category... but we were beaten by a mixed team and a women's team, along with some masters. It was a pretty pleasing result in especially given the jet lag and general fatigue. Annoyingly the skin on both of my heels had started to shear a bit, which was concerning for the coming days, and I decided to try a different shoe choice for the next stage. I took a couple of videos that I will upload another time.
Stage 2: a mere 24.7k, with 1.9k ascent and 2k descent. Possibly due to a cold which had been lurking for a few days, I was finding it tough and was slowing Adam down a bit... but that could have just been general lack of fitness, and Adam is generally a stronger runner. We finished a bit further back in the field but still stayed top 20 in the men's category overall.
The Heels of Doom held out, although unfortunately Adam started to have the same problem. I am clearly a trend setter.
Stage 3: 38.4k with 3k ascent and 2.4k descent, split into two BIG climbs. That is a metric chuffload of climbing. I struggled more today. My cold was fairly full blown and I was having difficulty breathing properly - I had to stop to retch at the side of the trail on the first climb. We probably went a bit too fast on the first climb for my level of fitness/wellness, and were overtaken by quite a few teams in the middle portion of the race. We picked up a bit towards the end, especially on the final downhill, and took a few of those places back, finishing outside the top 20 but only dropping to 20th in the men's category overall.
Tonight's pasta party, prize giving plus photo and video montages were held on the hillside above Samnau (Switzerland) with great views. A few photos to give a feel: the first is for the balcony of the restaurant, and the second shows some of the descent route as viewed from the cable car. Oh, sscratch that, the Blogger mobile app refuses to let me to post the photos and I'm too tired to try to persuade it. Time to try to sleep... 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Transalpine prep... or not

Since Wednesday the 21st it may have appeared, to the casual uneducated observer, that I have been on a holiday based around two family weddings, but actually I have been executing a scientifically calculated taper phase for the Gore-Tex Transalpine run.

This has involved:
- being press-ganged into my first attempts at Iranian dancing [gentle, if embarrassing, cardiovascular exercise]
- flying across the Atlantic twice [altitude training];
- sightseeing in and around Washington DC [heat and humidity training];
- not a great deal of sleep [fatigue training];
- eating my own bodyweight in tasty Persian food [carbo loading].

In the midst of the sightseeing, the weddings and the many 'mehmooni'* I squeezed in a few runs. It was hopefully enough to keep things ticking over and to loosen my legs off, and at least I shouldn't be over-trained when the race starts! It was great to meet more of my extended family and to experience a bit more of the Persian culture. I really should re-start learning Farsi...

So, I am writing this on the flight back to Blighty for an overnight stopover at the airport before flying out to Germany. Things have been so busy recently that I haven't had much time to think about the upcoming race but now the excitement and anticipation is building.

*Iranian parties at which I met approximately three thousand** of my mother-in-law's family.

**This may be a slight Iranian-style exaggeration.