Saturday, October 29, 2011


Here's two shots of me having just climbed 3500 feet straight up to the summit at 6000 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 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


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, 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


 Whats with the 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


  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


          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 ;- .
     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 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 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'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


   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' 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!........