Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Sue and I went off to St Tropez last weekend to have a look at the trail I'll be running next month. Actually thats not true, Sue wanted lunch on the beach and I wanted to check out the trail, and although St Tropez may be very glamorous, the trail I'm running on is rugged and wild. It is on the peninsular and most of the coast line is inaccessible unless you take the rocky path around the headland. The only area where the tourists go is Pampelone beach which covers only 4k of the 32k course, the rest is really quite tricky, this surprised me as I was imagining lovely soft trails besides the azure blue ocean. After lunch Sue and I drove to the lighthouse at Cap Cammarat and then hiked down to the rocky exposed coves below. Half way down the twisting steep cliffs the rocks, roots and slippery surfaces were quite a challenge.... 'you don't run on this do you?' said Sue.....'Well yeah, that's why its called trail running'.........'you must be mad'. Well, there's nothing like support and encouragement.......and Sue certainly wasn't giving me any of that! I went off on a little recce and thought to myself , 'I hope the weather's good next month or this will be a nightmare,' and just as I said this the clouds began to roll in.....it felt like Brigadoon. I must have been tempting fate because we'd had lunch in warm sunshine and yet by 4:30pm the weather had turned into a storm of  almost biblical proportions.....bizarre.
     By the time we got back home our house was flooded, roads were blocked and electricity cut....what a day. I do hope this wasn't an omen as I don't fancy running along the clifftops in that kind of weather....you could die of  exposure. I'd really like an easy 32k morning jaunt to get my legs working.... still, if there's one thing I  know about trail running in France it is that they're never easy; 32k should be a doddle but I suspect there'll be a few surprises.
           I've been doing a few beach and coastal runs to get the feel of the terrain but its difficult where I live because its not really the same trails as my normal hill and mountain running, which is a very different discipline. The danger is I may go off to fast and the problem then will be later on when I may just 'blow up'.........which basically means having unwittingly expended too much energy at the start you just run out of gas towards the end. Its all about pacing, when you're running up mountains the pacing kind of takes care of itself (well it does with me) but on flatter paths (even rocky ones) the tendency is to get caught up with all the excitement and get dragged along too quickly. I think this may have happened at the 'Way to Cool 50k' . I did the first 30 k in about 3 hours and then it all went a bit 'pear shaped' and I struggled for the rest of the race. Hopefully the rocky/beach surface will slow me down, (not that I'm quick).... and cool my ardour.
      Just a another point about high intesity interval training, HIIT's. Just to simplify how all these different protocols work in relation to myself. It can all get very confusing but this is what I have found to be true. With 20 minute HIIT sessions I burn my glycogen (carbs) and fat but not muscle because the HIIT is very short. If I do runs longer than 60 minutes I will burn a similar amount, it just takes longer. If I do long runs  of 4 hours or more, I will burn carbs, fat........and muscle (if I don't fuel properly)....and as I explained previously the stress will cause me to even retain fat in certain areas. Anybody who saw me this time last year will tell you how thin and gaunt I looked, this was because of muscle loss or catabolism, my body was literally eating away at itself. I retained a normal healthy diet but because of my ultra running I should have been eating a lot more. My muscles were weak and so my performance actually detiorated throughout last year. My first ultra/marathon in the mountains at 42 k and 8,200 feet of elevation gain was one of my best performances time wise because I was very fit and strong and I had not, at that early stage, began the process of eating muscle.
    This year I began the process of strengthening my muscles AND feeding them and then my body condition improved as well as my fitness. My last ultra was by far the hardest but my body felt good and performed well for the whole 10 hours, tired yes, but no quad or calf problems at all. I could still run the last 10 k reasonably well (just as I did in my first ultra) but my body condition and strength were totally different. Last Saturday I did a 23k training run in 2 hours and 30 mins that's about 9.2k per hour and 4,600 feet elevation gain. 18 months ago I did an 18k race with only 3,000 feet gain in 2 hours and 21 mins which is 7.6 k per hour. Basically I have improved a lot, I ran 1.6 k per hour quicker, 5k further and 1,600 feet higher and this was only a training run., if it had been a race I would have gone much faster.........(I can feel I'm losing some of you here).
    The point is that high intensity workouts, strength, speed training, pilates, yoga and long aerobic runs all have there place, and they work, they are interdependant............BUT sometimes they are not, for example, very long 4/6 hour runs are not generally recommended by many fitness trainers.....unless your training for a marathon or ultra. My conundrum at the moment is that ultra running in itself is not the healthiest thing you can do. It hurts, you can get injured, it takes up a lot of training time, it is not good for your cardiovascular system, its mentally demanding and is occasionally dangerous, it is after all an extreme sport. I do it because its a challenge and I love being in the wilds of nature but, 4 HIITS and a bit of speed/strength training plus a few 10k runs every week would be much healthier. Still I suppose I could argue that smoking, drinking and over eating aren't very healthy either.....so I guess we all have a choice. As you can tell this conundrum is something I am struggling with.....now its one thing to struggle with it at home and quite another to struggle with it whilst doing it!........Did that make sense?  It would be at this point that my old friend Steve would have probably said, 'I think you need a drink.....I know I do'. I can see the headlines.....

        'Ultra runner has a heart attack due to stress of considering whether to run ultra's or not'



Thursday, October 11, 2012


I received quite a few questions re my last blog on getting fat. Fitness coach Celine, highlighted some important points that need to be addressed. She quite rightly noted that I don't only do 72 minutes of HIIT.....I also run a lot. I assumed that everyone new this but perhaps not. The point I was making was that HIIT's will get you lean if that is your goal but one must not negate ones overall fitness and this is where aerobic training comes in. She had a beautiful metaphor for this; 'Fitness is a Tapestry', there are many different parts that make up a picture of total fitness, they all combine and if you only do one type then your overall fitness will be limited. Ultra runners never used to do strength or speed work whereas now they know that it is important for their continued health and performance.....just as if you only do HIIT's then you ain't going to be able to run very far because you have no specificity of training on trails, hills and mountains.....and over many hours.
        I am fully aware of the Tim Ferriss/Crossfit Endurance ideas and have done them myself. As a reminder the theory is that by combining various speed and strength workouts, HIITS and other such exercises then the need for very long runs is unnecessary......in fact Crossfit Endurance recommends running for no more than 90 minutes when training for an ultra. Although Tim, who I believe has a lot of excellent well researched techniques has not to date run an ultra, many others have. I too have incorporated some of his ideas but when the time comes to train for a long race you just feel that you have to put the hours in. The thought of starting a 10 hour plus race with just a few 90 minute training runs under your belt scares the hell out of me. This does not mean it can't be done, it just 'feels' odd.
      So combining different protocols is the key. Continuous aerobic exercise brings its own health benefits such as a strong heart, clear arteries and efficient respiratory system. And more especially it strengthens the immune system by preventing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis and so on. Aerobic exercise also burns fat (otherwise I couldn't run for 10 hours plus) its just that the sort of running I do is more stressful than the norm hence the increased cortisol production that I spoke of last time.
     I hope that has cleared up any inconsistencies. Fitness and health is a varied and detailed science but it is also basic common sense. Years ago before I knew all the stuff I know now I used to advise many of our clients about weight loss. It was:-

         'Run for a minimum of one hour 3 times a week, don't smoke, cut down on the alchohol and carbs and drink at least 2 litres of water a day. Read the fat content on food labels and stay below the recommended daily levels for a man or woman'.

And that was it, the success rate was close to 80% and once adopted, our clients would stay that way for years and in most cases a lifetime.....and I can back this up with facts and figures. These days we can be much more targeted and efficient in our advice but the basic advice I gave still holds true today. If you do it, it works. The food industry is always trying to find sneaky ways to trick us, such as saying 'low fat, low sugar'.....and not mentioning the lashings of the horrendous 'high fructrose corn syrup' which must be the No1 cause of obesity in the world today. One has to always be vigilant. My other moan ,whilst I'm at it, is the salad trick. If you make a salad or order one in a restaurant, watch the dressing, as some of these can have 20% of your total daily fat intake! There are many similar examples, fat is important in a diet but its the amount and the type that matter.
          I have recently been conducting a more detailed analysis of my training methods. Paddy my coach and I, have been doing some intense Crossfit and then I have gone out and done my usual runs. Its interesting because I have been running with an aching body, which is a very similar feeling to Back to Back ultra training, ie you run for say 3 plus hours on Saturday and then do the same on Sunday. I am guessing but it seems obvious to me that this is how Crossfit Endurance works for ultra runners, the body is stressed with intense workouts thereby simulating a long run and then the next day you feel just the same as if you had run but the difference is that you have lessened the risk of injury whilst maintaining the same intensity. I must stress this is my theory not Paddy's. Crossfit seems to divide the fitness community into two camps, the believers and non believers, it has quite a polarising effect. I believe that every training protocol has its place as long as it is taught sensibly by proffessional coaches. At the end of the day Crossfit is just another dynamic way of combining exercises, its not rocket science.
         My race in 6 weeks time is a hilly trail run but not mountains, so that's a relief (no pun intended) but as with all trail races it has  its own unique difficulties in that about a third of the race is run on sand......so I may need to put some practice in cos running on beaches though very beautiful is also very tiring. Studies have shown that it is 50% harder than running on a road plus there are other issues due to the heel strike sinking in lower than the foot as it lands, variable landing and inclines on the shore, these and other issues can lead to all sorts of strains in the joints and muscles which disturbs your natural biomechanics.
      Anyway I'm now off to do a 10k hilly recovery run.......which some ultra runners call 'junk' miles in that they think such a short distance is a complete waste of time......unfortunately they have made the mistake of confusing me with someone who gives a damn :-)


Monday, October 8, 2012


Its been a few weeks since my last blog as I've all sorts of issues to deal with.....such is life. In that time I had my up to date fitness test and am pleased to report that my body fat is now 10.3%. This is pretty good but I am now on a mission to go sub 10% which I suspect I must be at, or close to, already. I also gained an extra 2 kilo's of lean muscle so all is good with my body conditioning. I have been asked how do you do this as it has not been achieved by ultra running, in fact my coach Paddy has stated that if I had done less running during the last 6 weeks I would have dropped even more fat ! So why is this?
   With apologies to the medics and fitness coaches amongst us I shall give the simplified version. There are many ultra runners who are thin but there also quite a few (mostly women) who carry some excess around their waist. It has been argued that they carry this extra fat for energy....this I find a little odd because even someone with 5 % body fat has plenty of stored energy. In one pound of body fat there are approximately 3,500 useable calories, so in a person with even 5% body fat thats 17,500 calories. If I run for 10 hours I will proabably burn 7,500 calories, so if I had no gels or food at all I would still have 10,000 calories of energy left, BUT I would eat at least 3000 calories in gels and food so I would 'need' only 3,500 from stored energy ie one pound of fat. The point is you don't need excess fat to run and you don't burn much anyway.
    Also with some people, (me included) running can stress the body thereby releasing cortisol, a hormone that inhibits muscle growth and increases the metabolic resistance to body fat loss. ie ultra running is stressful and can actually increase or at the very least prevent fat loss, which is the real reason for fat around the midriff of some runners.
  I have achieved my fat loss by high intensity interval training, or HIIT as we call it. Fat is burned during the exercise and for 24 hours after plus there is an anabolic effect whereby if you consume more protein this will help you build muscle and not fat. It also helps to increase your lactic acid threshold......and increases aerobic capacity, great for ultra runners.   The good news for anyone who wants to get fit and lose weight is that my average HIIT workout is 18 minutes.....thats the maximum time I spend in a gym and I only do this 4 times a week, thats a total of 72 minutes!

                                                Just over one hour of exercise per week.

10% Body Fat
  Fitness coaches know this but most people don't. HIIT's are basically short fast bursts of energy be it sprints or press ups, burpees, squats or a myriad of different execises interspersed with short 20/30 second rests. (Look it up). Obviously your nutrition is hugely important. If you drink, smoke and consume large amounts of carbs then no amount of HIIT ing is going to help.Clean nutrition is the key. I eat A LOT, three big meals and two smaller ones per day. I am never hungry and do not diet. For anyone reading this for the first time I know you don't believe me, I was skeptical too but the facts are I have gone from a fit runner with 15% body fat to a very fit runner with under 10% body fat....and its all been done with less running. Did you know that Usain Bolt has never run more than a mile in his life........ and he looks alright.
 So why run at all?
 There are many other health benefits to aerobic activities such as running and so combining the two types makes sense to me.....and besides I like running through the hills and valleys. I wouldn't normally post a half naked picture of myself but sometimes the best way to demonstrate something is to do it visually.
      In relation to my last post about challenges I am booked to do a 33k run around the St Tropez peninsular in 6 weeks time. Its not an ultra but its quite technical and I thought it might be good training to see if I can run faster over a shorter distance.  I might even be a little fatter after it!