Monday, August 29, 2011


    The number one reaction I get when mentioning endurance running is, 'Are you mad?' I usually laugh but I suppose I should give a proper answer to this repeated question. Its basically quite simple; if you are mad you're in for a shock. Most people I have met are very calm and very sane, the reason is obvious:- When embarking on a 50 or 100 or 200 k race through extremely difficult mountains and deserts  as well as scary temperatures and weather conditions  and at night, you have got to know what you are doing..........because if you don't you are going to get into an awful lot of trouble. Your preparation starts with the training and the maintenance of your body and your overall health and fitness. If you lie to yourself or pretend about your abilities or fitness, the trails can be very unforgiving places. The fact that you train mostly alone and in the middle of nowhere can add or detract from the problem. On the one hand it makes you self sufficient and able to cope but on the other there is very little objective analysis of your strength and weaknesses. I personally find this latter point the problem as I have very few people to bounce ideas of , save for the internet and Jamie but he lives in Shanghai. Is my training correct, my diet, style of running etc? Its all self taught and trial and error.
         The UTMB race in the Alps has just finished,(172 kilometres) this is pretty much the biggest race in the world (2,500 competitors) and, as in most races in France , very well organized. You have to run qualifying races to  be selected and be super fit both mentally and physically. Its tough and this year of 2500 starters just about 50% finished. When you watch the videos of what they climb and the conditions it does, admittedly, look crazy but on the ground its deadly serious. (Check out the link)  Everyone will have done unbelievable preparation  and training and yet still only 50% managed to complete it. Its not for the feint hearted or weak willed and I believe thats the challenge. I am one week away from my first 60 K endurance race and to me its a scary distance. At present I have a fever/virus and so am constantly assessing should I, shouldn't I. Its  not a cop out or excuse because I not only want to do this , I need to, its a burning desire  to achieve and to push my personal fact I think this is what drives most endurance athletes.......its stepping outside your comfort zone and pushing out your envelope.
       But, I have to consider the facts; do I run with a cold, fever, etc or pull out ? and if I do run am I bound to fail because my body is not 100% ? These are very sane questions that I am asking myself and I take them very seriously. To do this you have to be fully committed and make proper balanced judgements. Its already affected my tapering this week. I should have done atleast 20 k's by now including sprints and strength excersizes....I have done nothing. Its a worry and that only makes it worse. I am swallowing every known remedy and health superfood on the planet because if I am not fully fit, 40 'ks into the race I will be suffering.......alot! The irony of all this is that I haven't been ill in probably 18 months.......unbelievbable.
           This may all sound a bit heavy but its real stuff  and even in my limited experience I have had quite a few hairy moments where I have thought to myself  'This is dangerous'. However, the other side of the coin is the freedom, the peace and just running through the beauty of nature and testing yourself in the process. Its fun and rewarding as well as painful and exhausting which probably explains why endurance running is growing in popularity together with Ironmans and other similar events.
         My race,  the 'Trail de Haut Clunysois' will give me 1 qualifying point towards the 5 points needed to enter the UTMB so its all carefully worked out. To get 5 points is very demanding in itself in that you have to train for and succeed in several qualifying races just to have the 'pleasure' of attempting the UTMB.
        I have read somewhere that ultra running is always primarily a race against yourself.....and that must surely be the ultimate challenge............we shall see.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


      Having recently returned from a 4 hour training run of just under 30 kilometres I have to make a confession....I am knackered, actually thats not true, I am utterly exhausted much, much, more than after my mountain marathon of last month. I felt tired and miserable before, during and afterwards....often people will say they feel crap and then go and run and then they feel much better, true enough.....but not today. So what is going on. I literally had to haul myself out of the house, it was about 28 degrees which didn't help and it just got worse as I climbed up into the hills. Mentally and physically I knew I had to do it for preparation for my next race and that created an added pressure......but it wasn't fun and I had a searing pain in my left foot to add to the discomfort.
       Having pushed myself that hard in the belief that it would improve my fitness I slowly began to consider the alternative. As you are probably aware I do an awful lot of research into the whole ultra thing and quite simply I was exhibiting signs of overtraining. Now I run about 60 kilometres a week which is not a huge amount in ultra terms but then again I am much older than the vast majority of endurance runners so I have to try and get the balance right all on my ownsome. I have decided to have 2 rest days, ie. do nothing and then see how I feel next time out. I suppose I would rather feel crap now, than in the middle of a race, which brings me onto the subject of my next race. Yes folks, the madness is just about to get a whole lot worse.
       The 60 kilometre 'Haut de Clunysois' staged in the rolling countryside of the Burgundy wine region is the next challenge and its in 2 weeks time! This is a proper Ultra as the elevation gain is the same as my last one 7,550 feet (2500metres) except its spread over a much greater distance. The main problem I have, apart from the distance, is that I do not know any of the course at all. This normally is a recipe for disaster as its always advisable to get a feel for the terrain that you will be running on but its a 5 hour drive away and so thats not going to happen. The amount of times I have hit Google Earth  to check out the area I should have shares in the company. I even read a race report in French of last years event......not sure what he was saying but it sounded bloody awful.. ....last year only 19 people finished it. Of course Sue, in her starring support role, is very happy because she can sit in a cafe all day and sample the delights of the local winery.
        After this event, should I manage to finish, I will then be officially an ultra endurance athlete however, a lot can happen between now and a race that could take 8 or 9 hours so we shall see.
        I have been trying different foods in training to see what works and what I can digest whilst running, but apart from gels and isotonic drinks its a bit of an inexact science. The main problem seems to be that you have to eat during the race, yet often you get serious stomach issues as a result of eating and therefore don't feel like eating......its a catch 22. There are a myriad of stories concerning this part of ultra running and most of them I don't wish to for saying that wild bears in the woods often make a habit of it.
     I have worked out that I will need a minimum of 8 litres of water and 2 litres of isotonic drinks plus food, gels etc. There are water/food stops along the way but I like to be in control and so despite the extra weight I prefer to carry my own stuff. Sue will hopefully be on hand at the 30k mark with other concoctions designed to get me through but these things are full of suprises so its best to keep to the Boy Scout motto......Dib Dib Dib and all that.
         Of course if after 2 days rest my foot still hurts and I feel like I am well and truly over the hill and can never run again then forget all of the above and I'll see you in the bar...........

Saturday, August 13, 2011


     When I asked Sue if this title meant anything to her I received a blank stare, I thought it was rather relevant....anyway in terms of myself it has no relation to Amy's demise and has a completely different conotation for me. I shall explain.
          Basically for some time now I had been toying with the idea of a night run.......yes I said a night run. Essentially you jog along in the wilderness all on your own with a torch on your head......and thats it. Now to be honest the idea scares the crap out of me, all alone in the darkness, coupled with the possibility of meeting some wild animal, an accident, a nutter, etc etc.WHY? I hear you cry. Well for three reasons, firstly, if I am ever to do serious ultra running then you have to be able to do this, secondly because I want to face my fears and finally because its completely Navajo, into the wild kind of stuff......and  just cool.  However I am not quite ready for that just yet.....................well I thought I wasn't.
       Part of training for endurance running entails something called Back to Back running, ( my title will now slowly make sense). Essentially you do a long run, stop for the night and the next day run again. The purpose is to train your body to run on tired legs whilst feeling fatigued. Why would anyone want to do this? I don't know I really don't, its awful but thats why its called endurance learn to 'endure'.....Question - 'Is this fun?' Answer  - 'No, it isn't'. Anyway this was my task as I am considering doing my first full Ultra Run in September and though it may be too soon I just thought to hell with....I 'll just have a go.
         Yesterday I was feeling quite weird like I had a fever so I lay down for an hour. My arm still ached and I felt tired and listless but then  I decided that I was just looking for excuses not to run and so I did a quick Tony Robbins state change and 10 minutes later found myself jogging along the shoreline. After 45 minutes I headed inland and up into the mountains. It was beautful and reaffirmed my descision, the hours passed as I climbed but then very quickly as I descended into a valley it got dark, very dark. I now had to go up and down to get back to the sea and I knew I had a problem........I had no torch!.... this was ever so slightly scary and within 15 minutes it was pitch black. Luckily there was  moonlight and that made it a bit easier however when I noticed a baby wild boar cross my path I grew worried. Baby wild boars mean Mummy wild boars are close by.....and they are big and ferociously maternal!.......I continued on with some trepidation.
           Later on I called Sue as I knew she would be worried. 'Where are you?'.....'Still about an hour away'.........'Have you got your torch?'.........'No, I didn't bring it'.............'Dickhead!', she then promptly puts the phone down, clearly Sue considered my predicament well within my capabilities.........or perhaps was just busy watching telly.
          30 kilometres and 4 hours later I arrive home (with blood all over me from an earlier fall), Sue greeted this hero with a wave and a 'Don't get that blood on the carpet'.....told you she was a great support team.
           Fianlly getting to sleep at 11:30 pm knackered, I realised this was only Part 1 of the B2B and at 6:30 am my alarm went off......Part 2. I cannot express how hard this was as all my bones ached but somehow I got it together and off I went; Sue just thought I was mad. I did 10 kilometres and could have done more but I promised to meet Sue later. Its strange, everything hurts but as time goes on it all becomes a blur and you just keep going. I had done my Back to Back.
          Sometime later I told Jamie of my adventure to which he replied..... ..'Next time do it again.......but on the same day!'  And Sue thinks I'm nuts.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011


 Yes, it had to injury or an accident running up and down those hills all day. I can hear the chorus of  'I told you so'. I know. So there I was running along on a 3.5 hour run and suddenly I lost my hat in the wind. It was about 30'c and I was getting seriously burnt, eventually I came down from the hills and happened upon a campsite shop. 'Avez vous un chapeau ?' I said to the owner..... Of course I received the ubiqutous french reply......'No'...This is standard practice in France, whatever you ask for the initial answer is always  'No', you get used to it and learn to ignore actually means 'Yes'. I know this sounds ridiculous but anyone who lives in France will tell you I'm right. Anyway, as he says 'No' I look up and see a hat. 'Voila', I say pointing to the hat. 'But monsieur it eez a Bugs Bunny hat for zee children'..... 'No problem, I'll have it'. He looks aghast, no Frenchman would be seen dead wearing a Bugs Bunny hat but I couldn't give a toss, my head was so hot there was steam coming out. So off I trotted down the road, the endurance athlete with Bugs Bunny on his head.....whooosh!.....beep beep.....thats all folks!
       But what off the accident, ah yes.. ..I arrive back home, stretch, eat and jump in the bath, fab. And then it happened. Just as I climbed out of the bath my hand slips and twists and I'm on the floor with a thud and a bent and very painful left arm. It feels broken or dislocated, either that or torn ligaments, ouch! Just ridiculous, hours and hours and 1000's of kilometres of running over rough terrain and I nearly break my arm in the bath!!!
     The problem is running is now extremely painful infact I am like a one armed runner...madness. Helen , my physio, is full of her usual care and understanding. 'Whats wrong with you then?' .......'Well I was hoping you would know'......She then pokes me, expertly, for about 10 seconds... 'Its the radial collateral ligament' .....'Oh, right' I reply looking utterly clueless and then she proceeds to administer an excrutiating treament of torture and pain which is only ever reserved for yours truly. Helen is brilliant and kind with everyone, except me. She admits to taking great delight in punishing me severely whatever injury I may have and then tells me to stop moaning and acting like a big baby. After 16 years I have no idea why I am treated this way........and I have to pay for it. Mind you I always feel sorry for the next guy waiting in reception: he hears all the noise and squeals and looks petrified when I leave and Helen says 'Ah Mr Johnson...........your next!'
      The irony of all this my injury is crazy but thats life I guess. I'm now wrapping it up every few hours with  the ubiqutous bags of frozen peas. After 1000's years of progress in medical science we are still left with this age old remedy......that and and two Anadins before bedtime.
      This unfortunately is affecting my training schedule for my next race but I will just have to see how it goes. I just did a slow 2.5 hour run and though it was painful at least I ran. Strength training is not possible at present and so I will have to adapt my regime somehow. Apparently Helen says, even with treatment, this sort of injury can take time.
         Oh well at least I didn't burn my head in the mountains.........the floppy ears did slow me down a bit though.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


    Its okay I haven't jogged of this mortal coil just yet. After my race I  received many questions which I hope to answer in this blog.Firstly there were 204 people who started  and I came 166th which on a race as tough as this I thought was alright. The winner did it in 3hrs and 32 time was 6hrs and 32 mins so clearly I have much room for improvement!! I have no blisters or injuries  but my quads ached a bit on Tuesday, this was as a result of the battering you get on the downhills.....If you climb up 8500 feet then you have to come down 8500 feet and the pressure on your thigh muscle is intense. The good news is when this pain subsides your quads are actually stronger that they were then you can go and do it again !
           Did a quick 10 k on Wednesday, a very quick one hour upper lactate threshold run on Saturday and another fat burner today and I felt fine. I will therefore increase my length (sorry) distance, over the next few weeks and slowly build up the miles, strength and speed again. I'am looking at several options for the next race as I still need to do an official 50 k; I know this mountain race was much harder than a normal 50k but that's the technical benchmark and I want to pass it. Sue was a brilliant support in everything including my special eating diet, leg massages and overall preparation . I can highly recommend her and will give excellent references.......although I think she would have been much happier if I'd just paid her. My running prep was so spot on that I must find ways to improve it or I might get complacent. I think going faster is the primary goal and that will be my main focus.
        To be honest parts of this Alpine mountain course scared me half to death so I would prefer a nice gentle 'foresty' type run next time....mind you I forgot to mention that on Sunday I took a wrong turn, grabbed a fence wire and got electrocuted ! Interestingly I was so pre-occupied with the race I just ignored it...............mind you I didn't half go fast for the next few minutes..........whoooooooosh!!
           Also I didn't use my pole (baton) because when I asked the organisers about it they looked at me incredulous at the suggestion. Obviously to use a pole whilst running in the mountains is tantamount to gallic blasphemy........'Eet is not in ze spirit of ze endeavour monsieur'.........The french really do talk bollocks sometimes........ I blame the revolution.
          After the race they provide you with a free towel to have a shower; now I know the french aren't a very big nation but the towel was the size of a napkin..... I think I managed to dry two toes and a finger.
         Someone asked me how do you keep running for all that time and I would have asked the same question 3 months ago. The  answer is quite simple, its just training. I honestly believe that anyone can do this if they want to and that is the reason why I think I can go alot further, even though as I sit here now it would appear impossible. Basically , as with all goals ,you just chunk it down into small pieces. Each part of the race was split into small targets in my mind and all I had to do was get to the next point, be it a wood, a river, a road..........and then, after 6.5 hours,voila............that, and 'don't stop'.
         I consumed only 3 gels, one power bar, one isostar electrolyte drink and one pedialyte, as well as 5 litres of water. Apart from a few salty snacks, a banana and a peanut butter muffin (courtesy of Sue) that was it. I would have expected to consume a lot more but I am used to running in much hotter temperatures  and so even though I was running a longer time perhaps I didn't expend that much more energy......Or maybe I am fitter and have trained my body to burn more fat for fuel and so therefore I didn't need to supplement with reserve carbohydrates. The truth is I don't know and so I will experiment more with this in training as I don't want a nasty suprise in future races.
              All in all the day was  a big success and I would like to thank everyone for all their messages of support and encouragement......and of course Sue for her patience and altogether brilliantness!!
        P.S.  - One of the hardest, if not THE hardest mountain races in the world, is the Ultra Trail De Mont Blanc staged in Chamonix, France. It takes place on the last weekend in August (its always referred to as the UTMB) and the best of the best are there. Relax, I might go up to watch but thats all. The reason I mention it is because I thought it might be interesting to get an idea of what is possible. It covers three countries over a non stop 46 hour time limit and is 166 kilometres long and 9000 metres in height gain.........that's 4 TIMES further and 4 TIMES higher than what I just did........Crikey!!