Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Now I know I have just got a lot of ultra runners attention but non ultra runners are probably confused. Why is this such a big deal? Firstly Killian Jornet is arguably the number 1 ultra runner in the world today so this is quite a coup...........kind of.
          Killian is at present involved in a rather unfortunate 'scandal' in that whilst winning the Speedgoat 50 k last week he 'cut the switchbacks'........shock, horror, why did he commit such a violent crime? The internet is rampant with indignation, opinion and judgement. How could an athlete of such super star status cut switchbacks???.........and what on earth does that mean???

     I shall explain; when running up or down a hill the trails often go in a zig zag pattern to control the route and preserve nature. This is a switchback. In the USA you have to stick to the trail and not cut across them because it gives a potential unfair advantage and also damages the ecosystem. These are the rules in the USA but this event was part of the Skyrunner World Series, an international mountain endurance running competition, and their rules say you can 'cut' switchbacks and take the quickest route from marker to marker.  So who was right, well Killian said he didn't know about the US rules....only problem with this is that he was warned during the race and he continued to do it. But who warned him, was it a credited official and did Killian, who is Spanish, truly understand.....  and furthermore others were seen doing it.
    The organiser, Karl Meltzer, a well respected ultra champion in his own right had a difficult decision to make. He decided to give Killian the win but not the prize money and Killian gracefully accepted this. The prize money was divided amongst  the others. Many people agree with Karl, many do not, the latter believing that he should have been DQ'd (disqualified). In Europe you can cut switchbacks and I have done it......but I have to say it always feels wrong....and though you may gain a small advantage you run the risk of falling down a rabbit hole or injuring yourself due to the speed of descent. When climbing it takes more energy to cut a switchback but you get to the top marginally quicker. Then of course there is the enviromental question of disturbing nature by not sticking to the marked trails.
     Its a fierce debate which might seem trivial to some but in the ultra world its serious stuff. No doubt this story will run and run (so to speak). When I ran the Way to Cool 50k in California this year I had no idea about these rules, luckily I didn't 'cut' anything but I would have been devastated to be DQ'd if I had. Still atleast we all now know so there are no excuses from now on.
      So what of Killians house. As I was walking down the garden path it zig zagged down the hill and I noticed Killian cutting across the garden....I thought mmm he's at it again cutting switchbacks even in his own garden.........the man's obsessed!
         Anyway we have just made an offer to Killian to buy this most beautiful house. We await his decision with eager anticipation...........
  PS..........Did I mention that Killian is the name of the local property agent :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


The heart of the problem
Well this Mayo clinic thing seems to be stirring things up in the ultra community but having just had my echocardiogram done it all starts getting even more complicated. Basically....after a 3 hour examination...... Dr Olive, (for tis his name), came to the conclusion that I have the heart of a young man, all the ventricles, cavities, muscles, valves, ejection fraction (take it easy) etc, are all perfect................................BUT....... Why is there always a but?....there is a slight problem.......I have a slight prolapse in the Mitral valve known as MVP, its very small  (20mm) and normally effects up to 10% of the population. This is one indicator that can lead to Atrial Fibrulation!!!
     In a 3 hour exam many aspects of my heart were examined and many other measurements were done such as muscle thickness 11.5 to 12 mm  (above the norm but expected in endurance athletes), ejection fraction 68% which is good, cardiac output, pulmonary activity.....the list goes on and on.
     I had previously mentioned to Doc Olive that sometimes when stopping for a drink on a long run I could here a fast clicking sound....this it turns out is the Mitral valve closing.......'so I guess as long as I can here it then I must be alive'.......he found this comment only vaguely amusing. So getting to the hub of the problem what does one do about MVP?
     It can be hereditary and is not in itself a problem but obviously when one strains the heart then there are risks. Essentially the valve doesn't close properly and some blood seeps back into the atrium; the more severe the condition then the effects are magnified leading to irregular heartbeat, fatigue...and even heart failure. There are quite a few documented cases where marathon runners have died who had MVP.....(Chad Schieber- Chicago marathon, 2007). A whole plethora of Cardiovascular societies including the ACC/AHA state that...'athletes with MVP- but without high risk features- can engage in all competitive sports'. I do not have any of the high risk features and it is believed that the athletes that died did. However heat and dehydration are also contributing factors and in fact Doc Olive specifically stated that I must not run in heat.....ever. As you all know I have run in extreme heat in the past so his advice is  well noted.
    As previously mentioned endurance athletes develop physiologic adaptations and structural remodelling of the heart. Increase in blood volume, dehydration and changes in electrolyte levels in abnormal conditions such as endurance sports can increase the risk of lethal arrhythmia but it is important to state that MVP does not cause sudden death but MR (mitrial regurgitation) can and does when associated with other risk factors and unless monitored MVP can lead to MR. So it is the degree of MVP which is important, mine is very slight but endurance training can introduce high risk factors. As Doc Olive said......'Ne tentez pas le diable'.......  'Don't temp the devil'.
   An obvious one is to stop running.......this would be incorrect because one of the recomendations to people who have MVP and don't exercise....is too undertake aerobic exercise be it swimming, cycling or running. A healthy strong heart will save your life.
   There is now a large body of evidence that suggests that MVP is either hereditary AND/OR is as a result of  a magnesium defficiency. Magnesium is an electrolyte involved in nerve transmission, muscular contraction and especially our old friend adenosine triphosphate or ATP production, the fundamental energy currency of the body. Electrolytes are lost during sweat and low blood magnesium causes muscle fatigue and irregular heartbeat......and the latter is a risk factor in MVP! It is very easy to see how magnesium defficiency can occur when  training for and completing in endurance events. Magnesium if not replaced is therefore potentially harmful and a study in 1996 stated a significant decline in dietary magnesium intake in much of the Western World. A further study in France showed an average of  75%  of the population had a  magneseum deficiency. There are other problems such as type-2 diabetes, ADD, allergies, asthma as well as MVP. All  athletes know to take electrolyte replacement drinks for sodium, carbohydrates, potassium, chloride.....and magnesium and yet many of these drinks including Gatorade and Powerade products have no magnesium at all.....and the 'Isostar Long Energy Endurance' drink that I personally use also has no magnesium!
   This is a crazy state of affairs as I and many others have been running around the mountains with vitually no magnesium in our bodies. The RDA is 420mg's for men and 320mg's per day for women and more for endurance athletes. Natural sources  are Halibut,mackerel, nuts ,seeds, green leafy vegetables and Swiss chard but extra supplementation is a must for endurance runners.
    Dr Olive has prescribed additional magnesium for this very reason as MVP is a symptom of chronic magnesium deficiency.
  I prefer NOT to temp the devil so I will be taking it. I am grateful to the Mayo clinic for raising my awareness of potential heart defects and I hope my comments here may encourage others to get themselves checked out.
      But what of my endurance escapades. Dr Olive has stated, in writing, to my GP that he 'strongly advises me against participating in any endurance or mountain running events or training'. His advice on a personal level was even more direct.......'I have been a Cardiologist for nearly 40 years and at your age and even with this slight risk I would not do this sport if I were you'.
     I  have much to ponder.


Thursday, July 12, 2012


       I was involved in a discussion recently about what would comprise a major or grand slam event in the trail ultrarunning calendar and if so how many would there be and which ones. Firstly you would have to set up a criteria which would obviously be a minimum of 100 miles and in one day (for the elite). My initial approach was which ones were obvious. Western States is a given as is the UTMB......but what else? I think Badwater is out because its too desert specific and more than 100 miles on roads, as is Marathon des Sables which is over several days. Comrades is out because its a double marathon road race even though from a historical perspective it should be in. The Barkley marathons are out because its nuts! Then we could bring in Leadville, Wasatch, Angeles Crest and a host of other events but I personally feel they don't have that dominant theme that seperates them enough from all the others..... which leaves us with Hardrock. This I feel has to be in because its different , has cache, has the height gain of Everest and is just bloody hard. So thats it 3 'majors'.......WS, UTMB and Hardrock. Anybody disagree or have another opinion then please chip in.
         So remaining topical, on Friday its Hardrock. Only 140 runners will qualify for the 'luxury' of taking part in what is arguably the toughest endurance run in the world. Nearly 34,000 feet in elevation gain and run in the high San Juan mountains of Colorado at an average height of 11000 feet. Last year out of 140 starters only 80 finished and these are tough ombre's who have already run and completed other 100 mile events just to qualify. How do they do this? The stories of hardship and suffering are legendary...grown men crying their eyes out whilst lying in the snow, at night, on top of a 14,000 foot mountain, in a lightning storm. I read the other day of one runner who watched an American Bald headed Eagle drop a baby deer from its clutches just near an aid station 12,000 feet up......this is 'wild' country. It sounds fantastic, my heighest elevation gain was close to 10,000 feet and 60 kilometres distance......this is 3 times higher and 3 times further!! This is serious stuff. Dakota Jones, one of this years favourites, said when he fell down a rocky slope last year that he decided to 'stay there for the rest of my life' he was so exhausted....... and he went on to finish second! They have a runners manual which is in its own endurance category being 60 pages long......and a very scary read it is.
     I'm sure most of my readers know this but big congrats to Tim Olsen and Ellie Greenwood who won Western States two weeks ago in new record times for male and female runners. Who will light up the Hardrock course this weekend ?....(as usual check out the www.iRunFar.com  coverage of the event), my money is on Dakota.......
       And finally........when is my next ultra? At present I am doing 100% body conditioning with the accent on lean muscle and low body fat. I am never going to be a small, skinny runner so to be in the best shape I can for my frame is now my goal. With running 3/4 times per week and workout sessions 5 times a week I've got my hands full exercise wise and so my next ultra will have to fit in with this schedule. I'm looking at various races as once I set the goal then it will be all out training for that so I need to plan sensibly............plus I'm still waiting for the cardiac results to see if its still beating ???.


Thursday, July 5, 2012


Following on from my Mayo clinic blog (which has been one of my most widely read blogs) I thought I would give an update on the tests that I personally have had done as a result of the Mayo report.

  1) Blood tests.
    Last week I undertook extensive blood tests and quite simply all were good with very low Triglycerides 0.77. Very high HDL 0.84 and standard low LDL (for my age) 1.0. The ratios were paricularly good; Total HDL ratio 2.5 and Total LDL/HDL ratio 1.32. All my other Biochemical and Haematology readings, PSA, Thyroid etc were all well within the right zones.....So having had these done and everything being fine I moved on to my overall  fitness analysis.
      This was going to be interesting because my regime has changed a lot since last seeing Paddy. My training for the Way to Cool 50k in March was intense so I suspect my fat ratio would have reduced further. After WTC I changed my regime to pure running and stretching........and it was mostly hills and mountains for 6 weeks, ie. No body conditioning. I suspect that this would have maintained the status quo fat wise, whilst increasing my fitness levels further. As you know I completed the 53k UTBA with no problems. After that I took it very easy for one month to let my endocrine system fully recover from all the training and the 2 consecutive ultra's and so my fat ratio will, I suspect, have risen. In the last month I've been doing easy hill runs (300-500 metre height gain) of 10-15k, three times per week and have slowly re-introduced Body conditioning work. During this whole period I have mantained my normal (healthy) diet whilst doing my Glut - 4 openers of 50 squats per day before breakfast......everyday.....Phew! So, I was intrigued to know how all this varied melange of different fitness protocols and rest period would play out in the fitness/fat tests and what conclusions could be drawn.

  2) Fitness tests.
    Well, fitness wise I am pretty much the same though not at my peak as I am not training all out. Paddy suspected that I had probably put on fat AND lean muscle......and thats exactly what has happened. In the past 4 months its 1 kilo of muscle and 1 kilo of fat. He explained that the muscle part is obvious due to my training and that I will have put the fat on in my 4/5 weeks rest period after the last ultra. With my new regime he reckons I 'll get that off in 2 weeks leaving me at 12% body fat. He feels thats low enough and does not recommended losing anymore. The goal is to get my fitness back up to peak levels and then maintain this until my next challenge.........Paddy's suggestion- 'Why not go for the Ironman Triathlon?'.....When I told Sue this her reaction was something like, 'Thats fine but he doesn't have to live with you!'.......We shall see.
  And so finally the all important Cardiac stress tests........ It was here that the Mayo clinics warnings would be revealed and show if I had any major problems.......or so I thought.

  3) Cardiac tests. -
     First, he wouldn't do a stress test until he'd done all the other tests???....I shall explain;- He did the usual blood pressure, heart and artery tests ....'perfect', came the reply, then an electrocardiogram test, 'perfect'... then something else which I can't spell (but it was perfect). He also analysed all the blood tests....'perfect of course' (his words). So feeling very pleased with myself I began to get dressed BUT he he needed to do two more......but not today. Confused, well so was I. Basically before he does a stress test he has to do a two hour echocardiography examination next week and then after that I have to go to a clinic for the stress test so that if something goes wrong they can deal with it..........Now I'm stressed!
     All the examinations he could do would not reveal Atrial fibulation but the final one will. He believes I am super fit etc,etc and I have no risks but the only risk I do have is the fact that I run up mountains for 10 hours at 57 years of age which, as he put it, is a 'self imposed risk'.
He went on that he had been doing this job as a specialist in Paris and New York for nearly 40 years and had never examined a 57 year old endurance athlete before. Not quite sure where all this leaves me. He has great respect for the Mayo clinic report and though he acknowledged that I was 'perfect' he still wants to do more. He was staggered that no one had ever recommended a stress test before.
       To summarise, it would appear that all is well but until he has done everything he would not finalise his thoughts. So there you have it. Over the next two weeks I'll hopefully get them all done and shall then report back..................and all I want to do is run through the woods, chat to the birds and waive to the wild animals....... its all getting very technical.