Thursday, December 22, 2011

LOTTERY WINNER

As some of you may already know, the lottery results for the 'Way to Cool 50 k' in March came out this week and........I'M IN !!! Very exciting plus a little bit scary.  I believe the American expression for this is 'I'am totally stoked', whilst the English version is 'I'am terribly thrilled'. Its just under 3 months away so I shall now kick into gear with some serious training......as if I wasn't doing enough already. Yesterday I did a 30 k training run with a 1600 metre elevation gain and it felt pretty good; I believe my new regime is helping although I need to stay with it to get the full benefits. My legs definitely felt stronger but the true test will be in the race itself. As I have mentioned before, the effects in ultra running are cumulative so although 50 k doesn't seem that much further than 30 k, in reality there is a big difference.
          My goals will be 1) to complete it, 2) to complete it whilst enjoying the process and 3) to do it in under 7 hours! I know races in the States are quite different to France.....plus it will be the first time ever that I will understand what everyone is talking about. I shall be wearing my full lycra outfit, which I am told  most Americans wouldn't be seen dead in.......so that should raise a few laughs.....and possibly a few eyebrows. I can just imagine the organisers on race day - 'Excuse me sir, are you gonna run the whole race in that outfit?'........'Well, yeh.'...........'Are you from Europe, England?'.........'Yeh, something like that'.
           In France this sort of discussion would be met with a shrug whereas in the States I'll probably be arrested for violating the state law on decency and running etiquette. Hopefully as the race has 'Cool' in the title .....and the fact that its in laid back California.....I might just get away with it. Not sure if Sue will be joining me as she's starting to find these race build ups quite stressful, and all that American enthusiasm will probably drive her nuts. Anyway its 3 months away, so for me its just maintaining focus and sticking to a plan. I will probably do a few shorter races as training runs because the terrain  in Cool, California is more undulating and not as mountainous as here so I need to be doing more 'specificity' speed runs to acclimatise myself to the different conditions.
        I've already booked my flight , hotel and car hire as  I liked to be organised. The plan is to fly in to San Francisco on thursday, drive to Auburn, then register on Friday and check out the course a little, ready for the race on Saturday. The reason for this tight schedule is although I might suffer a bit of  jet lag I'm more worried about  catching a cold on the plane and this way the race will be done before a cold can 'come out'. Of course nothing may happen but I just don't want to risk it. For two weeks before I'll probably be going around with a face mask and gloves on and speaking to no one.......and I'm actually serious!
       As you know I don't get injured too often but just after I got the news I did a very fast and overly excited 2 hour tempo run in the freezing cold hills just after dark. In the last mile I pulled a muscle in my calf......two days later I tried a few sprints and guess what......its now ten times worse......I know..... idiot! Anyway I guess I will be forced to rest up over Christmas and let it heal.....c'est la vie, better it happens now rather than later. The problem is if I go more than two days without exercise I start to feel unfit, fat and irritable, so I'm certain to be lots of  fun to have around over Christmas!    Sue is already calling me 'Grumpy', then again she's got a cold and is very 'Sneezy' and needs to see the 'Doc'; my son Alexander, home for the holidays, seems to spend all day in bed and is permanently 'Sleepy'........, I guess you can see where this is headed :) Merry Christmas to all.
   
  
        

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

COOL CROISSANTS

 I am now a few weeks into my new  nutrition/exercise regime, so far so good. It still feels a bit strange eating so much for breakfast but I get the idea. I use to be a two choclolate croissants a day man but I am now down to one, although to be fair I can hardly get that down as I am so full. Still, I am sticking rigidly to the nutrition plan and also the fitness regime. Early signs are that I appear to be moving quicker, (though this still needs to be tested in a proper race). As an example I have already knocked 20 seconds of my 600 metre repeats......now if I can just pro rata that up to 50 miles then I'll be rocking. My quads already feel stronger and I feel leaner but we shall see.
        Time to get some new trail shoes, no matter what I buy they are all shot to bits within 3 months. I have tried many good manufacturers and all, as you would expect, perform adequately enough. I would love to recommend one type but like most trail runners I have a plethora (love that word), of types. My new pair are Brooks Cascadia, these have a universal platform (don't ask) with neutral pronation. Although I do pronate, in a rather ungainly rolling way, my orthopedist supplies my insoles and it is these that deal with that specific problem..........well thats what he tells me anyway. Brooks Cascadia are also ecological in terms of the materials used, so I'll be running and saving the planet at the same time, (very Kyoto !). I did look at a pair of very expensive Salomon S Lab's and even though Killian uses them to race up mountains faster than a goat on heat I have a sneaky suspicion that its got more to do with the fact that he is a super being from another planet...........and could probably do it barefoot anyway.
     I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that to open up my glut-4 receptors I have to do 50 squats, 15 minutes before the now singular cherished chocolate croissant. I try to do this away from the Cafe because I know the owner just wouldn't understand this at all.... 'Why do you do that before eating a croissant?...Monsieur I think you should do what all my french customers do'............'Oh what's that?'..............' Have a cigarette of course'. .....Ah yes the traditional gaelic answer to all life's problems; coffee and a cigarette. It certainly keeps them slim; well that and not eating. However, if I see a fellow ultra runner lighting up a fag on top of a mountain I'll be sure to let you know..... (As I have quite a lot of American readers I must point out that a 'fag', in English, is a cigarette and in know way was I suggesting that ultra runners are homeophobic and have now taken to setting fire to ultra gay runners!!!...........Shit, I don't mean 'Ultra Gay' I mean, I mean, oh you know what I mean.)
       Speaking of San Francisco I have just entered the lottery for the 'Way to Cool 50k'. (Okay I know I'm losing a few of you here). Firstly 'the Way to Cool' is a race and miles from San Francisco but its sort of in the neighbourhood.......if you live in the South of France and secondly, did you like that rather subtle San Francisco segway?
      So why enter a lottery to run this particular race, well ;-

1) Its one of the most sought after 50k's in the USA.
2) It runs on part of the Western States 100 course.
3) How can you NOT run a race called 'The Way to Cool'.

     Many of you know this but the race name is even cooler because it actually goes to a town called 'Cool' ( get it, the way to Cool, )...... I love the names of US races; 'The Burning River 50', 'Badwater', 'Diablo', 'Mountain Masochist', 'Hardrock', 'Speedgoat 50, 'Bigfoot', 'Run Rabbit Run', and my personal favourite; 'Dude,where's the trail ?'.......The names make you want to do it, they're inspiring. Unfortunately this hasn't caught on as much in the UK or France. Its all rather dull. 'Trail du Coussons', '100k de Millau',' Coastal trail series-Devon', 'Cumberland ultra', 'Trail du lac', 'Round Rotherham'. Yawn, yawn, I mean the Europeans make it sound like a boring stroll on a wet Wednesday whereas the yanks make it sound like a Hollywood blockbuster!  Put it another way, you've just run 50 miles and suffered for over 12 hours.......which t-shirt do you want to wear as a mark of your achievement ????.............I think you get the point.




Thursday, December 1, 2011

SUPER SPEEDY SANTA

So last week I finally completed my fitness assessment which is very intense and detailed. I now have a program targeting my quads, thighs and vmo muscle in order to strengthen them for the hard mountain climbs. It includes various squats, as you might expect, but also a whole new range of activities including Olympic-style squats which sound cool, split squats which sound a little painful and finally sled towing!! Now as you know we don't get a lot of snow in the Meditteranean, so what's this all about? Well basically its a rather bizarre contraption with heavy weights pinned on to a red disk that sits on a sled with a harness for me to pull it....and wait for it,....to pull it uphill, on a road.....and backwards. The first thing Sue said when she saw it was 'I have to get a picture of this'. I feel many mocking comments are headed my way. Helen, my physio, has already started to refer to me as her 'husky'. Sue is convinced the police will arrest me; probably for 'pulling a dangerous object backwards without due care and attention....... or a licence!' How do I get myself into these situations?
        My running has been divided into 3 main types, which I do any way but now its much more targeted, mainly;-
 1) Short sprints - 6 x 1000 metre repeats  at 90% heart rate with 90 second rest. This is to increase my anaerobic threshold.
 2) Medium tempo run, 20k average at  heart rate 80% max.
 3) Block Specifity run, 30k average at heart rate 75% max; but including one long (block) for say10k at 90% max heart rate and uphill.
Apart from the short sprints all my other runs are in hills and mountains. The running program is designed to increase my speed over a whole race whatever the terrain and the exercises are to assist in avoiding fatigue........fun isn't it ??
        Then there is the diet. The first thing we did was to analyse my fat content with a Biosignature analysis. The results were that my Body fat is 14.7%, which I'am proud to say just puts me in the 'Athlete category', however there were areas where work needs to be done in order to bring this down whilst at the same time increasing muscle density. My thighs, hips and abdomen are to be targeted as the rest of my other body measurements were pretty good.
         I will be reducing my carb intake,(unless I am doing a long run or race) whilst increasing my protein and healthy fats. Before meals and with post workout protein shakes, I am adding L-Glutamine to assist in absorption, along with green drinks, pro-biotics, Juice plus, fish oil, vitamin solution, etc, etc; and before breakfast I will be doing a series of squats to open up my glut-4 receptors, ( sounds like something out of Star Trek). You should see our kitchen in the morning, its like a chemical laboratory what with so many different concoctions being prepared.......Sue is going nuts......'Why can't you just go out to work every morning and grab a coffee like everyone else?' Well for two reasons 1) Coffee ain't going to help me run up mountains. and 2) What does 'go out to work every morning' actually mean?
      After all this if my next race isn't a triumph then I will take up golf.
      Yesterday dressed in a bright red running shirt and my long winter snood, I  did my first sled pulling workout on a quiet country road and low and behold a police car turns up.....unbelievable.... I thought how am I going to explain this?  Luckily he drove slowly past, smiled and just shook his head. His expression could have been translated into 100 different languages all with titles such as; tosser, dork, idiot, dickhead, dweeb,..........and finally, 'must be English'. I can just imagine him getting back to the police station that night.....'Hey Pierre I saw that mad Englishman again today'...........'you know, the one in the ballerina outfit we saw last week'......'You'll never believe what he's doing now?'............'Don't tell me.......I bet he's probably dressed up as Father Christmas and pulling a bright red sled'............'Ha ha Pierre.....He is, He is !!'
        


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FAST AND FURIOUS



 It has occurred to me recently that I might be a bit slow,...well snail like in fact. I mean my average trail speed is 8 k per hour on a good day, including hills, mountains and valleys. My flat road speed is 12 k per hour so there is a big difference. I have probably mentioned this before but the very loose equivalent of climbing uphill to running on the flat is about 1 kilometre per 100 metres ie. If you do a 34k run and climb 1600 metres (16k) during the run then that is the equivalent of running 50 k on the flat...16+33= 50k....(please keep up). Everyone gets slower as they get older but when you look at elite runners they can cruise for miles through the mountains at 17 k per hour. That would be my top speed in a sprint and on the flat!! Its weird because to me its a challenge just to run 50 k, never mind the speed. But, to the top guys and girls they are actually racing each other during this distance....this must be a strange experience. First of all try to imagine running 100 miles, then 100 miles over mountains, then actually racing against others the whole time. Hard to get your head around isn't it? They must be 'hurting' from the demands of running so far and at such a speed, but then to be competing with fellow athletes at the same time, well.........frankly it doesn't bare thinking about.
         So who are these weird people? I realise that many readers of this blog may know nothing about them....and then some readers might actually be them, but whatever, I think its time I gave us all a quick education. For example, who is the number one male ultra runner in the world today? The number one female runner? Which country hosts the most races? What is the number one race in the world? Is there prize money? What is the hardest race?
            World's biggest ultra---- Comrades, S.A. /////// Hardest-------Barkley, USA//////
Hottest-------Badwater,USA  /////// Prize money------None /////// Most ultras--------USA, (France is second) //////// Top Male/Female-------There is no official list but for me its Killian Jornet (Spanish) and Lizzy Hawker(English)
          To ultra runners it seems quite bizarre that the London Marathon can attract 36,000 runners but the London Ultra 50k......250 runners! and its on a relatively flat course through places like Richmond Park etc......Weird. Many, many years ago I ran the London Marathon and have run many half's on roads but there is just no comparison compared to the snow capped mountains of Val d'allos.Now to be fair I didn't know there was a London Ultra either but that's the point. Advertising and sponsorship plays a major role in these large events. The elite runners in the big city marathons get paid not only to win but also just to turn up. This does not exist in ultra's. You have supreme athletes such as Killian Jornet and Lizzy Hawker; Scott Jurek, Anton Kupricka, Hal Koerner, Dakota Jones, Ann Trason, Krissy Moehl,Geoff Roes......and I could go on, and no one has ever heard of them. They have a small amount of sponsorship but usually have to hang on to their day jobs.

UTMB
London Marathon
      And these guys (and girls) are fast.I do not believe that stood on a rainy street corner in London's Docklands, watching runners go by, could in any way compare to Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. The same is true in the USA, at the finish of the Hardrock 100 mile, set in awe inspiring mountain scenery you get a couple of hundred spectators, and at the Western States 100, the most prestigious race in the world ( the Wimbledon of ultra running), they sit the winner down on a plastic chair at the end for a quick chat and a biscuit, surrounded by a few families, 3 kids on mountain bikes, two sheep and a bear!!
       Most elite runners say that the UTMB in the Alps has the most support with crowds even up on the high peaks who have camped out or have a picnic for the day. I would contest that this experience is as spectacular and awe inspiring for them as it is for the runners and surely has a much greater appeal.
      I heard a story the other day that during the Lakeland 100 mile ultra, again a prestigious event, one of the checkpoint/aid stations was in a corner shop in the village of Ambleside and the runners had to wait in the queue with the local shoppers, (who had no idea there was a race on).........I am suprised they didn't charge them for the peanuts and mint cake! 
     Its a funny old world.
    

       

Monday, November 14, 2011

BUNGA BUNGA, BALLET AND BIKES.

I have been getting rather a lot of comments as regards my new running outfit, some very positive and some a trifle scathing. Luckily I was born with a 'couldn't give a toss attitude', so nothing will deter me, but if I spot some ballet dancing wild boars chasing after me then I may have cause for concern.
     One final note on the G20, apparently Obama brought 800 staff with him to Cannes for a 36 hour visit. I must be missing something.....800!!...Thank God he didn't come for a jog in the hills. What with his lot and Putin's entourage of ex KGB and Sarkozy's 12,000 police.....and Berlusconi's hareem of 'Bunga Bunga' girls all scattered across the hillside, it would have been like some strange re-enactment of Woodstock......
          Anyway back to endurance running. Its been over 4 weeks now since my self imposed ultra 'diversion' in the French Alps and I feel ready to tackle some longer runs again. Looking back over the past 6 months I can see that I did a lot of long slow distance runs over quite high elevation before my first mountain marathon in Val D'isere. It was 3 months uninterupted planned training and this may  explain why I had very little quad damage or pain during the race. The next two ultras were then only 6 weeks after each other and this involved tapering and recovery weeks as well. The two conclusions I  draw from this are that :- 1)  I didn't do enough specificity of training for the latter two and thats why my quads suffered and 2) They were too close together and so my recovery was poor.(the races, not the quads; hopefully they will always remain right next to each other).
       Huge storms here last week so I've been leaping streams and dodging fallen trees all over the place, good fun though and quite dramatic up on the exposed peaks. In the valleys there were terrible floods whilst the sea shore was being battered by the storm surge. This of course all added to the adventure and fortunately I was dressed in my new 'Nureyev' running gear so I was as warm as toast.
     Had Part 1. of my physical assessment. Early conclusions are firstly that I have to strenghten the VMO muscle in the lower quads. This I suspected and I 'll be getting recomendations on the most effective way to do this next time. The second problem area is in my diet. This was a suprise because I am pretty strict in what I eat. I 've lost a lot of weight and increased my muscle definition etc. I am the leanest and fittest I have ever been  and aerobically am in excellent condition.......so what's the problem? Basically I have far too many carbs in my diet compared to my fat and protein intake. I need the carbs for energy when running of course but it appears to be a little more complicated than that and so I shall expand more on this protein/carb ratio thing next time after my second consultation !!!
     Just completed a 4 hour, 31 k run today. It was 5,100 feet elevation gain and at 7.6 k per hour felt pretty good. At one point as I crested the top of a 1000 foot hill climb there was a bright red ambulance on the track with two medics and a bed all laid out in the sun. 'For me?'..I enquired. He laughed,.'Of course monsieur, but you will av to pay for eet.'  and pointing into the valley below said, 'That ees a big steep climb up to here'.....I obviously didn't look that great and he seemed to be giving me the once over just in case I was about to have a heart attack. 'Nah, dead easy' I replied..... with as much bravado as I could muster. This banter continued on for awhile until I asked 'So why exactly are you out here in the woods today?'.......'Eets a mountain bikerr, he as ad an accident; eet happens.'.....He shrugged., I shrugged, said 'au revoir' and as it all seemed farly light hearted I continued on up the next hill.
   About 5 minutes later a 4x4 came wizzing past me containing the aforementioned mountain bikerr. Both arms in a sling, head bandaged up, blood everywhere and propped up in a neck brace!....The things you see trail running, all I wanted was a quiet jog in the mountains  and instead it had turned into an episode of ER.!! ...I half expected George Clooney to jump out from behind a bush and give me 50 milligrams of morphine....
    Anyway, stay healthy.
      
  

     

Friday, November 4, 2011

G20 CANNES UPDATE.

An unusual title I must admit but topical nonetheless. What has the gathering of world leaders in Cannes in the south of France got to do with trail running and me. At first glance very little, however when I went out for my run today I drove along the coast  into the hills to start from a different location. I was then met by 15 police who stopped me to ask what I was doing. I know I was dressed all in black and probably looked like some special forces guy (yeh, right..) but I assured them I was off for a run in the mountains. This made them even more suspicious, not quite sure why , perhaps they didn't think I was capable!!....or knowing your average French cop... just thought I was stupid, anyway after the usual gaelic shrug they let me go.
       Of course, as I ran up the hill I imagined more G20 security guys about to jump out from behind every rock and tree; I really need to tame my imagination. By the time I got to the top I could see all of the bay of Cannes...not a single boat was allowed on the water, it was weird. About five minutes later, 6 massive helicopters swooped low over me.....I thought this is getting  ridiculous, I am hardly an activist or threat to world security......I'm just out for a morning run. Luckily they were on their way to Cannes ( which is about 8 miles away) and were no doubt loaded with foreign dignitaries probably still discussing the Greek problem..........and that idiot down there. Later I noticed a guy running up towards me followed by four very cool looking guys on mountain bikes, obviously this had to be President Sarkozy having a jog; or perhaps Vladimir Putin out to wrestle a wild boar.......then again it couldn't have been Putin because he had his shirt on!
         Trail runs are going to be terribly boring from now on, just me and the wilderness.... and the odd wild animal. Still, as you can see from the picture I now have my new winter running gear. I think I cut a bit of a dash and look quite the serious ultrarunner....whereas Sue thinks I look like a ballet dancer and totally ridiculous!.....
       Next week I am having a full physical assesment and analysis of health, fitness, running technique and training regime; so it will be interesting to see what the advice is.
      He'll probably say, stop running immiediately, take up golf and under no circumstances go out dressed like that!!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

WHY???

       Sue and I went for a hike in the hills today and I was pointing out all the different places I run (yawn, yawn) and then she asked me a question;- 'Why do you run....you never say Why?'... 'Well', I replied, 'I would have thought it was obvious'.........'No, I think your blogs are far too technical, you don't explain how you feel'.....I guess its a good point and maybe it isn't obvious if you've never done it, so here goes....
       Primarily before I start I consider the possible time, elevation and distance that I have in mind, then what food, water, extra clothing etc that I may need. I plot out the proposed route on Google Earth, which if you've never used it is completely brilliant, and then the possible diversions and changes I may make depending on how I feel. I keep all this in my head and give Sue a brief outline before leaving ...(I'm convinced she's forgotten the moment I go out the door). If its a long one I will put vaseline on my feet and possibly tape just as I would in a proper race.
       I stretch before I go......current thinking suggests this is only neccessary after a run but I've been doing it for 20 odd years and it works for me. Sometimes I feel great and sometimes not but it makes no difference, I always go. I like to get high into the hills or mountains as soon as possible because its stunningly beautiful and feels fantastic, obviously. I listen to my breathing and then just let nature take over with all the sights, sounds and smells washing over my senses. Relax, I'm not going to start quoting Wordsworth or Ted Hughes but I understand their poetry a lot better now than I ever did at school. I would say without exception that all trail runners run for primarily the same reason......to be connected to nature in its simplest form.
      Trail running at its best is quite raw, you feel the stones and rough terrain under your feet, spiky bushes cut your arms and legs as you run through an overgrown track, cobwebs in your face and all manner of insects, birds and animals are always making their presence known.  I am constantly startled by a wild deer or wild boar running close by, quite often I can smell them just before I see them. On the last race I came across huge cows right in the middle of the track.....and they didn't move, so I gingerly edged past them imagining some kind of wild stampede was about to take place. Then of course in hot countries the slithering in the bushes scares me to death; snakes are scary at the best of times but in the middle of nowhere it really gets to you.....well it does me anyway. In the US its bears and mountain lions, I've never seen any but once when running along the ridge of the Grand Canyon at 6:0 am, miles from anywhere, I did feel vunerable.......and a Forest Ranger later told me that I shouldn't really have run alone......shiiit! Most of the time though its great and I guess that slightly risky element of being alone in the wild  adds to the romance and the excitement.
       Besides, its dogs that are usually the worst, so the further away from people who think their cute dog is perfectly harmless, the better. Personally, when I'm running I think a lot about how I am running and how 'the machine' is performing, I listen to my breathing and heart rate whilst considering my posture etc.  Its really important to concentrate on the route ahead because one slip can be disastrous but at the same time I try to keep  relaxed and calm. When all is going well I feel incredibly grateful just to be able to do it......I still don't understand why  people run along roads full of traffic when there are hills right next to them just waiting to be explored and appreciated.
       Even in storms when its raining and windy that too can add a primeval edge to it, although to be honest I hate mud, it sticks to your shoes and its like carrying lead weights around with you. As long as I feel on top of what I am doing then I am okay. Sometimes when I will run along a high ridge or across a rocky precipice its fun and scary in equal measure but at least you feel 'alive' and when you have finished a good run its incredibly energizing.
        I used to run and sort out day to day problems in my head but I never do that now.....I only think 'happy' thoughts and let my mind wander off in wild imaginings....blimey, I'm starting to sound loopy, Stephanie, a friend of ours, thinks I've lost the plot anyway so who cares. When you do feel aches and pains its okay as long as they are manageable and most of the time they are.....you just get used to it. I love the variety, one minute you are bombing down a track and the next you are scrabbling up a rocky ravine with water from a stream splashing all over you, its  exhilerating. You 'feel' the temperature of the seasons and the day. Running first thing in the morning is a different experience to running at dusk, both are stimulating and have their own unique sensation. I really quite enjoyed running in the dark in my recent trail race its just so unusual and not what you might expect. Because your sight is greatly impaired you rely much more on your other senses which then become sharper and more focused, this in turn gives a whole new dimension to the world around you. Even when I am tired....or in long races, exhausted, I still feel connected and its that oneness with nature that does it for me.
        I know many trail runners never race; they don't see the point and I do empathise because, as I may have mentioned before, if you train on your own and then suddenly are running with lots of people its a bit weird. The nature part sort of disappears as now its humans and their respective idiosyncrasies which you notice. I do it because it adds to the variety and besides after an hour or two  I'm usually on my own again anyway.....
        Generally I find the combination of man and nature utterly absorbing and when I moved up to ultra running a whole new  perspective began to develop. The relentless hours are not all fun but it really does test you, there is nowhere to hide and it breaks you down to your naked self. Its weird because you can stop and end the pain at any time ....but you don't.......'Why?'.........now there is a question. As one ultra runner once said, a physchiatrist would have a field day if he stopped to ask endurance athletes what they were thinking at mile 60,....with 40 miles still to go. I have experienced this in my own little way at 60 k and its not pretty........it really does strip you mentally. I mean physically you are already buggered so all you have left is the mental side......and thats the bit you have to conquer....its not easy but its your 'will' that keeps you going. I get annoyed with myself and that seems to work for me but your brain really is constantly shouting at you saying, 'Stop.....why are you doing this?.... STOP!'.........
          At the end of the day, I guess you just have to be there but I can totally understand it if you don't want to be........besides, normal trail running is fab and I really urge you to give it a try.....you might even suprise yourself and enjoy it.

      



Saturday, October 29, 2011

LEGLESS......



Here's two shots of me having just climbed 3500 feet straight up to the summit at 6000 feet.....it was amazing up there and a beautiful day.The main shot is part of the new design and layout.(Hope you like it) A few hours later I got lost but at least I'll know the way for next year!....that's if they let me have another go. They'll probably insist on a big sign on my back saying.......
         'DONT FOLLOW HIM.'
     I've been resting all week and not rushing back in to running to quick, (which is what I usually do).....the Endocrine system and all that. My legs hurt quite a bit, well specifically my quads, and I really want to work on this for next time. I feel if I can get my leg strength up then aerobically I am capable of running much longer and faster. The steep climbs and subsequent fast descents don't help but I 've got to get this sorted. Its really annoying when you feel fit and healthy but your legs just won't move! I had no blisters and even though I was exhausted during the first climb once I got to the top I felt great.....just look at that picture; Who wouldn't?
       I believe the 'heavy legs' so early on in the race was caused by either;- A) Lactic acid build up due to climbing continually for 3 hours in an anearobic, or close to, anearobic state or B) Microscopic tears in the muscle fibres which occur when the body goes into a catabolic state or C) Both. To make matters worse once I had traversed along the ridge (above) I ran really fast on the 4k downhill stretch compounding the problem further by the continual jarring of my quads  and also the knees. I feel this is a Catch 22 because I had to go as fast as possible uphill and downhill otherwise I'd still be running today! All this meant 'pain' when trying to run the next 10k section fast ....Agh......so confusing. Normally one would rest and let the body 'rebuild' itself stronger for the next time but this option does not exist in the middle of a race so the whole area becomes inflamed causing more stress on other muscle groups and preventing efficient contraction of the legs......and so you slow down.....a lot.Throw in the breakdown of the mitochcondria ( don't ask) and you are in trouble. Other studies into the central nervous system believe that the brain is unable to send the correct message to the muscles due to fatigue and this results in you saying to yourself,   'I shouldn't be doing this....Stop'. Its an interesting concept because I had loads of energy and otherwise felt fine;  ultra running is different to normal road running as we tend not to 'bonk', this is because we run slower, eat and have trained the body to use fat efficiently if there is no other source of fuel.
      So to summarise; I felt great but my legs felt crap!
   You've got to have a positive, strong mental attitude and be fit and fast and supple and powerful physically and disciplined......and then you 'might' make it.  Maybe I should retire and  take up chess.
       So, what's next? Not sure as there are not as many races at this time of year. Quite a lot of ultra runners take time off for a few months to let their bodies rebuild and cure any nagging aches and pains but then their schedule is a little different to mine as these guys have been running 100's of miles a week. Personally I would like complete one more ultra before Christmas and preferably on a flatter course as these Alpine mountain races are seriously tough both mentally and physically. A race in the U.S.would be 'fun' just for a completely different experience but its a long way to go for only one race (especially if I leave my legs in France.....if you know what I mean) but we shall see.
    Its been 2 weeks since the race and I've done 3 runs over the last 5 days , only 1hr each but with an average climb of about 2500feet (750metres) per run and at about 8k per hour. My running speed and elevation gains over these distances are fairly consistent and I have no aches or tiredness at all so next week I will increase the mileage and do more speed and strength work.......BUT, I must get some independant advice as regards my quads.
      It's funny as being 'legless' used to have such a different meaning but I'm a boring ultra runner now so if you find me lying face down in a ditch one night its because I hit a rock.....and not the bottle... I'll leave that to Sue........(Oops, I've put my foot in it now.)
     


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

LOST IN FRANCE....????

Feeling all positive at the start,
      Its been 48 hours since my trail debacle and I have been analysing what went wrong using Google earth and trail race maps. I now remember a sign where the wide track turned left and it pointed that way so thats what I did. I later discovered that it must have been pointing to a tiny track which I just didn't see, I obviously looked down and just  continued on......That and the fact that I'm half blind! When running trail ultra's there are signs and bits of tape that show you the way. Ironically I had been thinking during the race how well marked it had been. Earlier I had seen a few runners who took a wrong turn but there were always others who would shout out and alert them but at 32k's there was no one around. Its amazing how the brain works, you know there should be tape markers but on long straight tracks they have very few, apart from when you leave it and this is why I wasn't overly concerned when I didn't see any after I had gone wrong. You 'assume' you are okay......(something I am always preaching to my son that you should never do)....... At first,  my track was running parallel with the real one which is probably why it felt fine but then imperceptively deviated away......miles away, as it turned out.
       By the time I had really understood the problem, I worked out that to climb back up and retrace my steps would have taken in total lost time, about 1hr and a half....and then I would only still be at the 32k mark. Besides, when I finally reached the road where Sue met me, I had run a 44k Ultra anyway..... and in 6hrs 45mins, so at least I can take that achievment for the day away with with me, if nothing else.
I was somewhere in there!
      As you may have realised, getting lost on trail runs is not unusual, many runners have this experience, even the elite guys, the difference is that normally you can get back fairly quickly once you recognise the problem.....I just kept telling myself I was fine and refused to accept my mistake and it was this stubborness that cost me an official finish.
    Ultra running can teach you a lot about life in miniature, all the ups and downs, mistakes and successes....and especially your own personality traits.
     If you remember one of the tests of this run was to see how my new training regime would work out. To be honest there wasn't much difference apart from the fact that I need to gain more leg strength........and possibly a map! The only other odd thing I discovered was that once I had accepted my fate and having decided to run on down to the river below; I enjoyed the freedom.......I was alone on the trail and not part of some organised event.  I always train alone and  its what I enjoy doing the most and now suddenly I was back in that enviroment; just me, the woods, the stillness; I guess its that hippy thing again. Its bizarre but I could have gone on for miles as I also began to run with fluidity and ease whereas earlier I had been tense and  stressed........weird!
      To be fair it was very decent of the organisers to offer to come and find me and perhaps if they'd sent a helicopter I would have said 'yes'........ it would have been rather exciting.(always the Drama Queen). However, as someone else pointed out, they have to look after there own reputation as well, after all this is France and it doesn't look good to have someone disappearing off into the wilderness in an official event.......they too have an ego.
      After some advice from my friend Pauline I also have to admit to something else. Yesterday I was surrounded by people about 30 years younger than me. Thats fine and it keeps me motivated  but in doing something that keeps me youngish and fit, on some difficult occasions  had the opposite effect,........it made me feel terribly old. This was not part of the plan but its how I felt. I have been and am very fortunate to be able to run in these beautiful places but I feel a sense of balance and perspective is also neccessary if I am to continue to enjoy these wonderful experiences.
     Two final comments, one from Dave Brophy; 'On a lighter note, I hope the other 42 runners behind you didn’t just follow you or you would have had a lot of pissed off people on your back. I can just imagine it now “42 angry frogs chasing you down the hill and when Sue arrives, them all trying to climb into Sue’s little car and swearing about “thees dumb, stoopid,  eegleeshman who doesn’t know where he was going” – it was just as well you weren’t leading or it could have been 100 pissed off Frenchmen trying to get into the car! Great.'
       And finally Wayne Browns status on facebook:-
                                    'Anyone seen Phil Jeremy? ..............Brilliant:)
     

Sunday, October 16, 2011

TRAIL DISASTER........RACE REPORT




 Whats with the title...read on. Having dragged Sue out of her lovely farmhouse bed at some ungodly hour we made our way to the start just outside Dignes les Bains. About 100+ hardy souls were getting ready for the off. I could see the mountain far away through the rather chilly morning mist (actually it was -1)....... That would be the first big climb of the day all the way to the summit.......'daunting' was the word that came to mind. Nevertheless I was in a  positive state about my fitness and I had a plan for the race. I split it into 6 quadrants;-

 1 First 10 k to first Aid Station...Goal 1hr:30 mins into race.
 2 Complete the 3,300feet  climb to summit at 17 k mark ...Goal 3hrs:15 mins
 3 Fast 6 k descent to second Aid Station at 22k...Goal 3hr:45mins hours.
 4 Fast as possible 10k run with more (500 feet) climbs to third Aid Station at 33 k...Goal 5 Hrs:15mins.(Meet Sue with extra supplies of water, Isostar, gels, soup, muffin, etc.)
 5 1,700 foot climb to summit Mount Cousson at 37 k...Goal 6hrs:15mins
 6  Steep descent 7 k's (miss fourth aid stop, unless neccessary) to finish 44 k's....Goal 7hrs
 The profile graph is in metres so I did the approximate conversions but this was the plan.

By using Google Earth I could track the terrain and work out the tough bits but, of course, the reality was somewhat different.
      Off we went, very similar to Val d'alloss marathon in that you climb immiediately and don't stop for 3+ hours.I warmed up pretty quick as we passed through amazing volcanic structures and rock formations. I felt suprisingly tired and it took over an hour to get my second wind but I hit the first stop within a few minutes of target. Then the climb steepened considerably as you can see from the graph. It was just hard, hard, hard and at one point I was on my hands and knees climbing up the rocky ledge. It  took just under 3 hrs:15mins to reach the summit which amazingly left me bang on schedule. Its bizarre as 16k's on a road is nothing but on steep trails.......madness. (See video on the right or You tube at:- trailjunkiephil)


The views were incredible but  with no time to stop I began the scary descent, my quads and knees took quite a pounding but I had been practising quick descents so you just get on with it.
       I was relieved to have done the first mountain, the total cumulative elevation was over 6000 feet (1750metres). A race Marshall said I was in 58th position out of 100.....although it felt like I was last! These ultra races are so hard I must be getting old.....'You are old' (Sue's contribution). I then began the fourth part of the race and made good time passing a few people. After another climb I began a long descent on a wide clear track and was about 1k from the 33k  stop with Sue waiting with extra supplies, on time, and feeling okay.......and then DISASTER.....except I didn't know it yet.
      I kept going along and assumed at any moment I would arrive at the checkpoint......but it  never appeared. There were no markers and I became a little nervous until I saw a figure moving up ahead. I could only catch a glimpse through the trees but assumed it was another runner which meant I was on the right track. I just thought I had miscalculated the distances to the next stop.
     I continued on but at the top of the hill the runner had suddenly dissapeared. Panic now set in...what was going on? I became very confused and dissorientated as I had now been running way  past my check point time. Suddenly out of nowhere a mountain goat shot onto the track in front of me....the type with curly horns and scared me half to death! This was obviously my fictitious running friend.......I had lost the route and now had quite clearly lost the plot!
       I felt terrible as I couldn't go back as I had no idea what had gone wrong or where. I rang Sue ( luckily my mobile had a signal). There then followed a series of frantic calls and discussions with the organisers to try and figure out where I was. The problem was no one could work it out. As I was now descending I figured the best thing was to keep going but by now I was devastated because I knew I was out of the race whatever happened.
       On and on I went and in the far distance I could see a big river and so I aimed for that. I told Sue and she relayed this to guys in charge. One guy said he thought he knew where I was...... wait for it........about 20 kilometres from Dignes: the start/end point!! He was right as in the distance I could see the tiny chapelle  at the top of the mountain that I should have been up. He then came out with a classic....'Can you find a way to climb up to it?' Well let me see, first of all I'll hike 10 miles and then with ropes, an ice pick, Sherpa Tenzing and Edmund Hillary, I will scale the sheer cliff face of 3000 feet (900 metres).......Piece of cake.
        They decided to come and get me but Sue said she would come if I could get down to a main road: which I eventually did about an hour and half since this disaster had begun and 6hrs- 45mins since the start of the race.
         I sat down on the roadside all forlorn. I never get lost...ever, and yet here I was. I was shattered and with nothing to show for all my efforts. I had run the same distance as the 'Ultra Trail de Cousson'(so I guess it sort of counts as my third ultra) except three quarters of it was theirs....and the rest was mine.....'Le Trail de Philippe'.
      Sue finally arrived to rescue this miserable wreck....and the customary tears flowed, except this time they weren't for success.  I will no doubt ponder this day in a later blog but for now its ibuprofen and bed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

UP AGAIN

  2 days to go before the daunting Trail du Coussons. I have decided to do it because it looks stunningly beautiful and I just want the experience........what will be will be. I figure if I can get through the first 16k including 3,600 feet (1,100 metres)  of climb then the other 28k might be fun. There's a few more big climbs later on but it looks breathtaking  being 'up their', and in the moment with all that nature stuff! (Yeh, Hippy Phil again)  I don't know the area at all and so every step will be a suprise. Its an Ultra (44k's) with a total elevation gain of 7,500 feet (2,300 metres) for the whole course. The weather forecast looks good and Sue has booked the most fabulous stone farmhouse perched on a hilltop village called Aiglun. I'm hoping she doesn't get too attached to it or she just might not bother meeting me at the 30k cut off point!........There I'll be, no food, no drinks, just a tired forlorn figure all alone.......and Sue sunbathing in luxury with a glass of wine......... I know, poor Sue having to leave all that. ( Sue's balcony view below).
 I estimate it will take approximately 7 hours, based on my mountain marathon time in Val d'Alloss  as its higher and further. It just trips of the tongue doesn't it?.......7 Hours!!.... as you can imagine (or maybe you can't) its a whole different ball game when you are actually doing it. At present I am getting the usual niggling aches and pains that always happen before  a big race. I know its psychosomatic but I can't help it. If someone sneezes within 10 yards of me its face mask on and my full defense mode kicks in so that no one gets near me. It sounds ridiculous but after weeks of training, a cold or other illness can seriously damage your day. My niece Charlotte sent me a great quote she saw on a wall  the other day;-
'People who are busier than you are running right now'.........Love it.

Lately I've been researching hill running as regards the best technique, it seems simple, you just run up and then run down again but actually energy conservation is the goal. (thats my energy conservation........not the enviroment). Fast, slow,even paced, power walk , euro hump, scramble....and even climb; you choose which one depending on elevation, weather, distance and your own level of fitness. Sometimes you can power walk up a hill faster than other people run and they may be expending huge recources for no benefit. Many times I've run up a hill and 2 mins after hitting the top a guy who power walked it bombs past me and then sprints off.....its most disheartening. I'm still learning the right way to do this because over a long Ultra you just have to pace yourself sensibly.                                                                  
   Then there's the coming down and this is where the serious fun begins. If you take your time and jog down easily in a relaxed manner then you will end up at the back end of the race very quickly. Quite simply no matter how steep or eneven the surface the idea is to go down at great speed taking small quick steps. You have to seriously concentrate and relax at the same time because if your tense you will screw up. The goal is to be perpendicular to the slope all the way down and let gravity do the work just like when you were a kid running as fast as possible downhill until you fell over. If this sounds crazy you should see the experts do it......No Fear......they just go; leaping over rocks, roots, mud and streams, the difference is they don't fall over because the next quick step catches them if they make a mistake.I have really tried to perfect this 'technical' descending but I usually end up with strained quads,a headache and a shock of white hair!!..OR 18 months ago, a broken leg.
But, there's really no easy way around it. I remember a few months ago I had done a really fast descent and then found myself on a lovely smooth flat trail, I jogged along feeling all relaxed and chilled and 10 seconds later, Bang! I was flat on my back with cuts all over me.....You just have to stay focused all the time.
My next blog will be my race report and as you know I have altered my training for this and done more speed and strength work and NO long runs, which is tantamount to heresy in the Ultra community; the results will therefore be very interesting, to say the least. I leave you with a brilliant  picture of  the No1 Ultra runner in the world today, Killian Jornet, running alone through the Alps........To be honest this is what its really all about.




Saturday, October 8, 2011

FEELING GROOVY

          I can't remember the last time that I felt this good on my runs.....and I mean good before, during......and positively energized after. My legs are not tired and I am totally at one with myself, time and the Universe!!!..........This is all very odd as normally I feel dreadful on at least 3 out of every 10 runs . What am I doing differently? Its now over 4 weeks since my 60k ultra and maybe my Endocrine system has finally got its act together......or maybe I am just not pushing it as much. Okay, I haven't done a very long run ( the longest was a few days ago at 24 k's), so maybe thats helping but yesterday I did 13 k's and included 10 x 50 metre sprint repeats in the middle of it and felt great. I am aware that the danger may be that on my next really big run I'll blow up because I'm not 'match fit' but, as the guy who jumped off a 50 storey building was heard saying half way down .....' so far so good! '
        There is another ultra in 10 days time in the Alps (again) and therefore more mountains with steep climbs and scary descents. The elevation gain is slightly higher than before, 7500 feet ( 2300 metres or 6+ Empire States) and at 44 k's its even longer and its a UTMB qualifier, but the question is should I or shouldn't I ? I haven't exactly done text book training recently but if I feel good then that must surely give me a decent chance of doing okay. I have read many times of runners who have done only light training and then done well in a race......AND....I have also read exactly the opposite. Its a challenging prospect because I believe that I may have overtrained for last months 60k race and this could be an interesting experiment. Of course sitting on my patio in the sunshine, typing away, it all sounds terribly easy but I suspect this may not be the case when climbing  straight up a 47% incline at mile 28 with the wind and sun beating down on me.........but you know what I mean.
         Talking of climbing, (See picture of Killian Jornet giving a perfect example of euro humping) there has been much analysis and discussion on what the elevation gain in a trail run is compared to the equivalent on flat ground. Generally,  between 700 to 1000 feet of climb equals an extra mile on the flat. If we take an average of 850 feet to a mile (or 1.6 kilometres), this would mean that a trail run of 44k with 7500 feet of climb would be the equivalent on the flat of 53 kilometres (ie about 9k extra)..........All interesting stuff but  in reality its even longer because of the uneven  surface compared to roads which affects your cadence  and therefore the energy needed is even greater. But, I still prefer trails because of all the other benefits of  the mountains, trees, rivers, fresh air, birds, calm........okay, okay I'll stop there as I can see I am beginning to sound like some tree hugging, Hare krishna, sixties hippy.........peace baby! Actually I've always fancied the Navajo type life, hanging out in a tepee on the edge of a canyon and chanting all day before chasing down the odd bison. At this suggestion Sue always has the same response.........Bye, bye.......clearly she's not the  Indian squaw type. (Its probably the walking 5 yards behind bit she doesn't like.).
      Anyway I digress. Having just done another 2+ hrs tempo run of 20k, I again felt energized and I averaged 8.6 k per hour whilst climbing 4000 feet (1200 metres).  I have no lactic acid stiffness because I didn't go  anearobic for too long, even during the sprints, thereby continuing to use oxygen to convert my glycogen and fat. This sounds a bit complicated but its extremely important so stay with me. If one is to run ultras the body has to learn to convert fat efficiently for as you all know by now after 90 minutes all your glycogen stores are exhausted.(which is when some people start hitting the wall). Even though I consume carbohydrates via gels, power bars and isotonic drinks during a run its not enough to sustain you, hence the fat stores. What I am trying to do is make my system more efficient so that it will combine both sources of energy smoothly and therefore enable me to go further and faster. So far......(I repeat, so far)...... I have never hit the wall because well before the glycogen runs out my body has already begun to convert the fat stores. If you are interested in looking at this in more detail then click the enclosed link ;-      http://www.marathonguide.com/training/articles/MandBFuelOnFat.cfm .
     My current training, as you know, is to put all this together so that it works on race day.......if it doesn't well.......just forget the above.
          The final point is Nutrition and I find getting this balance quite difficult. Its not just what you eat but when and the amounts. Sue is brilliant at this and provides just the right amounts but little adjustments can make a big difference. Months ago I would consume all manner of food, gels, water, etc, just before a race ......now I have nothing for atleast 2 to 3 hours before. The difference in performance is startling. I use to always complain of being sluggish in the first 30 minutes.....now I feel great. Why?....well put simply, there's no digestion going on to confuse the system and much more important, no insulin spikes. Insulin inhibits fat conversion. Whats an insulin spike? Remember when you were a kid and you'd eat a packet of Skittles.........you'd be running around like a headless chicken for about 15 minutes and then Bang!......spent, exausted, finished......well you don't want that when running an Ultra,.........Stay Healthy:)

Monday, October 3, 2011

SURF'S UP!

   After my 'success' in my 20k Night run, the motivation to stretch myself a bit more began to return. It was good to have crossed off another goal.....and also to have done a little bit of racing without feeling tired or weary. The question now is; What next? I don't want to overtrain  or over do anything, I just want to get back to my earlier sense of rhythm and pace. I have read that some runners train all the time whereas others do light training imbetween major events; each to their own. I have to find the right mix that works for me. If I am to do another Ultra then of course I have to be fit and ready but I am mindful of doing too much. If I get it wrong I won't know it until I am half way up a mountain somewhere, and right in the middle of a race.....not good......but how else am I going to know.This is the challenge; to prepare and run a long and difficult race with total confidence of the outcome.
        With this in mind I am monitoring my runs to see how I feel before, during and after. Sometimes, specifically on a very long run, I will obviously be tired but as much as possible I am looking to feel energized. I have also decided to do more strength and speed work as opposed to LSD's (relax, it stands for Long Slow Distance), this is a bit of a departure from traditional training and more towards the slightly controversial  'Crossfit Endurance', which I have mentioned in earlier blogs. This will mean more work in the gym (something I have never really taken to) so I'll just have to see how it goes. At the end of the day this whole Ultra thing is a work in progress for me.  Somebody once asked ultra runner Dean Karnazes, how come he had such a musclular physique? his reply was... ' I have no idea, all I do is eat a healthy diet, workout everyday and run 100 miles a week!!'........So, I guess its not rocket science; consistency of effort and discipline is the key, its just getting the balance right between the different forms of training to enable you to achieve your goal.
        Having just completed a 3 hour, 24 kilometre training run this evening I felt pretty good considering I also climbed 6000 feet (1830 metres) at an average speed of 8 k per hour. A few weeks ago I was feeling exhausted all the time so hopefully I am now pacing myself a bit better.....I need a few more of these plus a bit more mileage if I want to  get my mojo back. I've probably got a good aerobic base now so I guess its more squats, hamstring stretches, hill work, pilates, sit ups, planks  Ahhhh....Crikey! I'm feeling exhausted just talking about it........I think it would have been much easier if I 'd been born a Tarahumara Indian (that's an ultra runners joke - you'll have to google it).
       Helen, my physio said 'your insoles need adjusting because your periformis is a bit off.'.....I'm not making this up.....well maybe I am......what she actually said was far more technically complicated but you get the gist. I will obviously have to get that fixed. The good news is as a result of my adjusted regime my resting heart rate is now back down to 42 so clearly this is the place to be.
       Interestingly Sue, who hates exercise, has upped her gym visits and is now also running 5 kilometres at a time. She has categorically ruled out any racing but she looks and feels tremendous. What with Alexander working out at the gym as well we are turning into 'The Fitness Family'.......in a minute we will all be moving to California and eating raw seaweed for breakfast.........Ah yes, I forgot, I do anyway.......
Surf's up Dude!........

Sunday, September 25, 2011

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN......RACE REPORT

  Well  having just spent the past week 'taking it easy' to see how I would feel, I can honestly say it seems to have worked; so much so that at the last minute I took the plunge and signed up to run the 'Illuminati' night run in the hills above Theoule. I figured that although it was pitch black, I knew the area very well and armed with  a new head torch, should be okay. It was only 20k's, including a couple of big climbs and nothing for an Ultra runnner such as  myself !!!..... Would my renewed confidence get a shock or could it actually be fun?
      About 150 of us stood on the beach, headlights beaming on a warm starry night.....  I decided that whatever happens I would stay in this positive frame of mind........and seconds later we were off. The first slight suprise was how fast everyone was going, (I thought, calm down, this is well within your capabilities just go with the flow).....and so I did. I am now fairly used to being one of the oldest kids on the block so I just positioned myself in the middle of the pack and chugged along. Unlike most people here I knew virtually every rock, hill and bush on the course and I hoped this might be to my advantage in the dark. All these positive waves, man......how could I fail? ( I started sounding like Oddball, in Kelly's Heroes!).
       The first 3k's were easy along the beach and then a sharp, very steep climb up into the hills and total darkness......Wow! My first thought was; 'Good job I bought new batteries.....don't fancy a blackout here'.Then I had my second thought; I always run with special gloves in case I fall and in the darkness I was pretty much guaranteed to have a few tumbles.... BUT..........I wasn't wearing any!!!! This was the very first time I have ever forgotten my gloves......Unbelievable..... I decided to stay positive and just get on with it.
       Its weird in the darkness as you get very zoned in on your tight surroundings, hearing every breath and footfall you make, its not spooky, its just you and your little beam of light.


 In the distance, as you climb all you can see are these little lights bobbing along against the blackness of the mountains in front and behind you; its quite surreal. I was feeling good and on quite a few of the hills as I climbed, I kept a steady cadence and passed a few people.... the only problem was that on the way down they would pass me back. The French just bomb down these really steep inclines leaping over rocks and tree roots. I thought I'm not having this, Ive just passed you lot, so when the track evened out a bit I ran quite fast to keep ahead so that they couldn't catch me up. Its all a bit pointless because its yourself you are actually racing against but it makes it interesting and more fun. The best bits about running in the dark are 1. Its a lot cooler and 2. you can't see  how steep the hills are - because you can't see anything - so you don't get too disheartened during a big climb.
    
  At the halfway point I felt great and was even enjoying looking out at the dark shapes of the mountains and when we got to the top I could see in the distance the lights of the towns strung along the Medditeranean coast .......Fab.
      The elite and lots of the faster runners were already miles away so I stayed with my little group and just decided to enjoy the experience.
      Its strange, after running 60k, this 20k run was a breeze; even though it was tricky and you really had to concentrate on where you put your feet; I heard later that one guy did get injured and they had to take him to hospital.....(glad I didn't know that till the end), this would not be a good place to have an accident if you were on your own.
     I never once checked my watch because I thought I was doing okay and didn't want to break my confidence. There are some real tricky bits on the last descent and I slipped and fell quite a few times. Its really steep, uneven and dark but once back on the flat I jogged along easily. I could see five lights ahead and began closing in on them, I could tell they were tired by there stride pattern, so I just hung back and waited till all the hills were gone and we were back on the beach. There were 2 k's to go and I eased passed a few of them until there was only one guy left that I could see.
     I remmembered reading Lance Armstrong's psychogical ploys when passing people and I thought, why not? (This was of course before we knew that he was using other non acceptable ploys). Just as I went to overtake, I sprinted and kept that up for about 2/3 minutes, he was so taken aback that he just let me go. It worked  and settling back into my rhythm I finally crossed the line in 2 hrs - 30 mins, averaging exactly 8k's per hour, which on trails and in the dark I was pretty pleased with. My unnoficial position was 104th out of 140 runners! This time I didn't cry as you can see from Sue's picture.......infact it was nearly fun.
     Afterwards they served a rather tasty vegetable pasta on the beach.....how incredibly civilised. All in all it was rather a good night.



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Monday, September 19, 2011

ULTRA BLUES

          Firstly, thanks to all for their advice and suggestions as regards the post analysis of my Ultra. Most comment by E-mail, Facebook or Twitter as I believe you need a Maths PhD to work out how to comment in the Blog Comments box! The advice ranged from push harder to listen to your body and take it easy as well as many practical tips. Helen suggested that my virus only cleared up about 3 days before the race and usually it takes about 7 days to be totally out of your system, Serpa mentioned that a survivor mechanism can kick in to protect the body when its extending to much and this can work as a kind of reserve ie. it holds something back just in case.......then of course age was listed..... .but only by the old people!..........
                Anyway,  after much consultation I believe my endocrine system could be the problem and in particular the adrenal glands and the resulting hormones that they secrete. A general feeling of tiredness, lethargy and insomnia are some of the many symptoms of  an abused endocrine system and thats exactly what I felt half way through the race (as well as before) and its what predominates now........ My response of course is quite typical, go out and train more, which is what I did this week, thereby leading me nicely into the next problem; the pain in my foot.......yes, foot, it seems as if I have damaged the Metatarsal head. This can be caused by all sorts of things, none really make any sense because a podiatrist has checked my pronation etc and reworked the insoles and put in extra cushioning, but after about one hours running it starts hurting again no matter what shoe or padding I use. Its really annoying because the cure is the standard fare;- ice, massage, ibropropen, time, different shoes, rest, crosstrain, etc.etc and so, predictably, one hour into a 2 hour hill run and the pain was excruciating again. I stopped and pulled the insoles out completely which relieved it a bit so that I was able to get back home but its a worrying development as I have never had any problems like this before. Still, putting it all together  it would appear that the answer to this injury and the endocrine system is the same........REST. My body is basically stressed and as you may or may not know our bodies do not know the difference between work, emotional or physical stress......it just recognises stress and takes the appropriate action. There is a fine line between training to peak performance and over training and somewhere along the line I must have crossed over it.
            However after training hard for many months to suddenly stop and ease up feels weird both psychologically and physically but I guess I'll just have to adjust and take it easy even though I feel basically 'okay' when running. The other issue is just a general one of feeling a bit down, which is not unusual after the 'high' of achieving a goal but this feeling is then further compounded by the withdrawal of my usual exercise routine. I don't 'do' negative so I need to plan my way back to mental and physical health. Also I really wanted to do my first night race this weekend but now I'm not so sure, as it will only be 3 weeks since my ultra and generally speaking it can take 4 weeks to recover fully. If I factor in my age as well I guess I should pace myself a bit more. There are a myriad of horror stories about guys who went out on a race 3/4 weeks after an ultra and felt fine but then lost it completely shortly afterwards and took months to recover. Its all new to me and everyone is different but the recovery aspect of endurance running is just as important as all the other parts and is therefore just another step in the learning experience.
         Of course if I did do the night run it could be fun, stuck up there in the hills, unable to move apart from hopping around on one leg in the pitch dark!!! .......All I would need then is a parrot, a stick, a few earrings and the odd tattoo and it would be Johnny Depp eat your heart out.....(actually Sue would probably quite like that)....
          Then again perhaps I should just ease back on the ibropropen I think its making me delirious.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.......BUT!

      It is over one week since I completed my quest to run an Ultra, on Saturday last week I had just gone through the halfway point and was feeling pretty exhausted. It is still a blur because of the relentless nature of the event.......but.... I have this niggling suspicion that my performance was below par and therefore in the future could be improved dramatically. The only question is how?.........and here I have a problem.
      I am 56 years old and in only 5 months went from a basic one hour, three times a week runner, to 60k's in 9hrs 15 mins in one go.This is is fairly unusual and so it becomes slightly difficult to find any advice on the best way to move forward. Everything I looked at involved runners much younger than me and all the advice and technical detail was again aimed at people in their mid 30's. So I did my best under the circumstances and achieved my goal however I come back to the same problem, other than personal tried and tested research how can I find ways to improve.........Where's the manual?
      I guess I have to go outside the box.......maybe at my age, as someone suggested, you are the manual. Maybe but in reality I don't believe that. Sure I can contribute my analysis but I suspect there's many others with much better advice to offer. So what IS the problem?
      Simply put I was shattered at the 30k mark. There are several possible reasons for this;
 1. Went off to fast.......No, I didn't.
 2. Didn't do enough long runs/speed/strength training..........Possibly but not all three.
 3. It was only 6 weeks since your mountain marathon and my endocrine system had not fully recovered......... Possibly but difficult to measure and I lead a pretty healthy lifestyle anyway.
 4. Overtrained.........Unlikely at 60k per week.
 5. Age.......Maybe but don't like to admit it.
  6. Hydration/salt balance........Unlikey. ( I was very well prepared)
  
          So it could, in part, be some of these or something else..........I am basically in the dark on this. If I want to do longer runs or do the same better I have got to feel good for much longer than 30 k. In the mountain event I ran all the way to the finish at 40 k and felt tired but okay and could have gone on further; Why did I feel better for longer in this one? Everyone running an Ultra will eventually feel terrible, even the elite runners admit to this therefore its a question of discovering how to extend the 'feeling good' stage for as long as possible before the misery arrives.......and they call this a sport!!
       This week I have been very chilled with a bit of cycling, a few easy 5k runs and a couple of fast paced one hour walks with the accent on rest and recovery being the main goal. I feel great but must admit to being slightly more tired than usual. My goal now is to ramp up my training again and see how I my body reacts. I still have this lingering pain in my foot and will monitor this as I go.
         I really do feel a bit non plussed by it all, which again is very common in Ultra running after a long event, its a sense of anti-climax.....a sort of what to do next? Its still very hot here and after many months of running in the heat it gets quite exhausting so hopefully I will be fine when things cool down a bit. A new challenge and  another goal is probably the answer, a chance to improve on the 60k, either in distance or speed.
          In two weeks time there is a 20k night run in the local hills and mountains called the 'Trail des Illuminati', (I know, very Da Vinci code). Although the distance and elevation gain is fairly easy, running on rough terrain by torchlight will be a new experience. I'm not really sure how it effects speed other than it being obviously slower. Again I will work up to this and see if my recovery is okay before jumping in.........atleast it will be different.......I mean last time I ran in the dark I didn't even have a torch!
        I leave you with a quote which I read last week by ultra runner,Nick Marshall :-
               'Ultra marathons reveal our strength by reducing us to a state of weakness and seeing what happens........You'd be suprised.'............. 
   

Sunday, September 4, 2011

ULTRA ENDURANCE ATHLETE......60k RACE REPORT

      My alarm went off at 5:45 AM in the beautiful 'gite' (farmhouse), where Sue and I were staying in Burgundy, (Wine country.....but not today). I calmly prepared all my stuff and ate immiediately so that I had fully digested my breakfast before the race. Carefully I taped and lubricated my feet and shoulders (the straps) and donned my gear. When Sue awoke she burst out laughing at this guy who looked like he was off to war...........I was.
       Arriving at the race start everyone was strangely quiet. Only 17 runners had showed up. There were more officials than participants and yes you guessed it, I was by far the eldest.... and the only Brit.....they must have presumed I was some kind of foreign nutter...........
          At 8:00 am we all trudged off into the morning mist. When you are running this far the worst thing you can do is think about the distance and time it will take, unfortunately thats all I could think about. The tracks were very uneven and I had to concentrate or you could easily twist your foot and speaking of feet, the sharp pain I was worried about before the race arrived almost immiediately. I thought 'well I can't stop here I've only gone 2 miles,  I'll just keep going'.
        I arrived at the 10 k water checkpoint in one hour exactly, which was pretty fast for a trail run so this gave me confidence for the next 50k...........BIG MISTAKE. If I succeeded  today I would gain one point for entry into the UTMB 160k next year..... and they don't give these things away; The next 10k took one hour and 40 minutes and was just a series of relentless climbs. This race is also the equivalent of 6 Empire State buildings in height gain and it just doesn't stop.
        At least I was running in the woods most of the time and although stunningly beautiful at first, they became mind numbingly monotonous after many hours. At about 25 k Sue met up with me on a road crossing with a muffin, soup and extra supplies. I was nearly in tears for two reasons, firstly at how hard it had already been and secondly at the thought of what was to come. Sue was very supportive....'You can do it .......we've come all this way......now just get on with it'.............and off I went feeling very sorry for myself.......pathetic isn't it? At the various stops they  provided us with 'endurance food'.........this consisted of some nuts, dates, water, a bit of cake and a few slices of spicy sausage, now I don't want to appear ungrateful but they have got to be kidding! That would keep my son Alexander and his friend Rory going for about 10 minutes. This is the exact reason why you have to carry your own stuff......mind you after 5 or 6 hours that all tastes like crap too. After one of these stops I felt physically sick and in fact one guy threw up in front of me........which was nice.
       I got to the half way point in 3 hrs and 40 minutes and again this raised my spirits.....what I didn't know was that I had nearly another 6 hours to go! It was probably for the best because the next few hours were relentless misery. The exhaustive effects are cumulative and its like a war of attrition as more pain and fatigue builds on itself. If this all sounds a bit depressing then I apologise but this was my first endurance run, on a course I didn't know and this was definitely not fun. The trees and paths seemed to merge into one long never ending tunnel. On the very steep hills, you either shuffle up, power march or Euro hump.....(Don't get too excited:- Euro humping consist of pushing off your thighs with your hands and bent forward  in a strange bobbing motion....... Apparently American runners find it a bit odd because your body position is all wrong but it works so who cares). By now the pain in my foot had been overtaken by so many other pains that it all merged into a sort of endless melange of suffering.
       Of course you start to ask yourself 'Why am I doing this?'....these are the doubts that creep into your mind telling you to quit.....'its impossible'.... 'give up'.......'what's the point ?' Fortunately, or unfortunately, my response to these doubts is always the same...'Pain is temporary, quiting is forever.'
I have read and studied this sport so much that I knew this negativity would creep in.......they warn you about it and that's why they say Endurance running is '90% mental and the other 10% is mental'. The problem is when you are 'IN' this zone you are so exhausted you either look for a way out......or you get angry at your pathetic behaviour..... I get angry, beat myself up and keep going.
      I have used the word relentless a few times in this blog because that's what best describes the nature of the event, its painfully monotonous. However at 45 kilometres I began running quite fast on a downhill section and something unusual happened... I had an excruciating pain in my foot followed by a pssh!! It sounded like a can of coke being opened,in fact it was a huge blister bursting from my toe. I don't get blisters so this was a unique experience......what should I do?......What could I do? Nothing... So I just kept going as both feet now felt like some kind of painful government experiment into the effects of Bio -weaponry.
      I think the most debilitating part of the day was that everytime I thought I was near to the next water stop, I would discover that it was another 5k away. I really didn't know I was going to make it until I could see the finish which was at the top of yet another hill.  9 hours and 15 minutes had passed since I had left the start that morning. As usual, just after I crossed the line I burst into tears, out of 17 people I was 10th. I had won the top veteran prize. (This was, of course, because I was the only veteran!) I felt numb. It is very difficult to describe how hard this is and impossible to describe why people do it. At the end of the day its a sense of accomplishment in doing something so few people do or perhaps would want to do.
       I hope this blog that I began 5 months ago doesn't put you off this sport. Its called Ultra Endurance running because it teaches you to 'endure'. The definition of Endure, is to suffer or tolerate something panful or difficult, patiently. This run was the test or examination of all my training and at times sacrifice; it was never going to be easy but then most things worth achieving in life seldom are. I would like to thank everyone for their support  and Sue and Alexander for there unshakeable belief that I would do it.
          There are huge benefits to be gained in health and physical wellbeing as well as a wonderful connection to nature when you are out on your own somewhere. The people in the sport have a unique bond and sense of camaraderie, I guess because we all know what everyone is going through. As a sidenote and not wishing to tempt fate, my back and knee that had given me pain for years never hurts at all. I am 50 LBS lighter than I was 3 or 4 years ago and feel great. There are many people who believe that running, at any age, is our natural state and that our bodies respond to this when we tap back into into our primeval state. It is modern thinking and the couch potatoe syndrome that says 'You mustn't do that its bad for you'.........It isn't, trust me, sure I accept that I have pushed it further than the norm but oddly the moment you reach the next level then that too becomes the norm. It is only 24 hours since I finished the race and I don't even feel tired (Pain is temporary).
           Today when we got home and I was unpacking my car. a neighbour asked if I'd had a nice weekend and what had I been doing. 'Well' I said,  'a 60k run in Burgundy.'...........'You ran 60 kilometres?'.......'Yes'.............'But thats like one and a half marathons!'............'Yes and it was also 7,500 feet in elevation gain'................'But thats ridiculous'...........
 'Yes'..I said....... 'I run ooltra's'.