Saturday, March 29, 2014

Born to Run Ultramarathon - 29th March 2014

I ran my first ultra today (29/03) - the Born to Run Ultra in Llanelli, South Wales. A 40 mile event using the coastal paths starting at the Bynea Cycling Club which was race HQ for the day.

This was my first ultra and to say I was nervous was an understatement. I hardly slept last night and was up early this morning. As far as I can tell, this is entirely normal. Breakfast was a porridge pot, a banana and a coffee. Oh and some amino acid supplement. Then I just sat on bed watching tv and waiting. I looked
out through the curtains to check the weather, it was misty and raining that was not forecast and plunged me into a bit of a minor panic. I had gear for wet but that wasn't part of the plan. Pausing for a moment to remind myself that I am 43 I accepted the weather and settled. My mantra leading up to this has been what will be will be. I'd not done one before and so knew I would learn loads and get valuable experience. Everything is easier the second time around.

I had a lift to the race start organised from the night before and was being picked up outside the premier inn at 8:10, it was only 5-10 minutes drive to the start. The oft quoted ultra runner community already stepping into action to help me out.

Arriving at Race HQ there were a lot of runners and spectators already there drinking tea, pinning numbers on and checking kit. Everyone was decked out in the ultra runner style, compression tights, calf guards,
buff headgear, caps, inov8, salomon, hilly, ultimate direction. Everyone had the gear, but nobody was behaving like an alpha. It was a very friendly atmosphere and when people asked you how you thought
you'd do you they were interested in your answer even if it meant you might beat them. There was no ego visible anywhere.

The light rain continued but was forecast to stop around 9 which coincidentally was the race start time. A number of runners had put on rain jackets in anticipation of this being wrong. I opted for my
haglofs gilet, it wasn't raining that much and it's easier to get off and on if needed. I had removed the jacket within 3 miles, the rain had gone and it was warming up nicely.

We lined up to start and nobody wanted to be on the line. The contrast with a 10km or half marathon could not have been more marked! The RD's daughter gave us the "ready, steady, go!" and we all set off along the
path. A couple of runners immediately went to the front, I was in a group behind them. Content to let them get away. With the race having just started I still had a semblance of strategy in mind.

Pace settled and runners strung out, I found myself in 4th place. Looking behind there was no one gaining ground. With the three front runners pulling away I settled on trying to run my own race and was
great full for my headphones. (I actually spent most of the day running on my own).

This is where, in hindsight, things started to go wrong. Cruising in 4th spot my confidence was high and glancing at my garmin I was ticking along at around 7:15 min mile pace. Far too fast but it felt
good so I continued. I tried to slow down but this is harder than you think. Particularly when you are running on familiar terrain; fast, flat Tarmac.

I should have shown more discipline.

Before we were a third of the way through a runner had come through and caught me. I tried to keep with him but it wasn't happening. Once again I settled into my pace. Once again this was too fast. I went
through the half marathon in around 1:40-1:42 (this is approx as I've not downloaded my Garmin yet).

Things then started to go quite wrong. The route took a turn up hill. This was a long drag of a hill as opposed to a steep climb. Still in 5th and feeling good, after all I only run around 15 miles by this
point, I set off up the hill too fast. I was pulling the guy that had over taken me back, as I closed in on him I could see he was struggling. I asked if he was ok? His foot had gone numb so he stopped to loosen his shoes. I pushed on. He wouldn't regain the ground on me.

Now my toes started to hurt, on my left foot my big toe felt blistered and on my right foot my middle toe was very sore. I needed to check them but knew there was actually nothing I could do. I did stop and tighten my shoes though, that really helped, must have been my feet sliding in the shoes that was the problem. Head down I continued up the hill.

It was a slog. There was an aid station at around 17 miles, I didn't need anything so continued. Still alone and still going uphill. I was caught by another runner near the top, he looked fresh and was just bouncing along. No way I was going to keep with him.

There was a Marshall at the turn point, I stopped, had a handful of jelly babies and downed a water. I took a couple of minutes here and chatted with him before setting off again. The route was back down the
hill I'd just run up.

Except that it didn't feel like a downhill. It was flat'ish and this is where i started to walk. Around mile 22 I think? I started to run / walk to try and get some mojo back. This is where I started to get really, quite pissed off with myself.

I have immersed myself in ultra running, I listen to the podcasts, download the magazines, watch the videos, read the articles, follow it on twitter. It's my thing. The advice I must have heard maybe 100
times is to start slow. No slower than that. Play the smart game.

I even put a thing on the intranet at work for any last minute tips from a significant running community and the advice was start slow. No slower than that! Really slow. I hadn't done that and now was paying the price at a little over half  way. I was honestly gutted and borderline emotional. My mind full of nothing but that I had ruined it. First ultra, really good advice and I had just got carried away. I was overtaken by a number of runners going down the hill and moved from 5th to 12th position.

Then I calmed down. Another piece of advice I had been given was to enjoy it. Right now I wasn't enjoying it and I had a long way to go. That was the moment. I pushed the negative thoughts out and settled
into my pace. Another runner went past me, twice. He ran past then stopped to meet his crew to collect a banana and then ran past me again. No standing on ceremony however nice they are!

At the bottom of the hill was mile 33. It was survival mode now. My quads were cramping slightly and so I was managing that. My toes were no longer sore but I had to stop a couple times to tighten my shoes. A
Marshall at the bottom pointed me I the right direction with the words "it's only 7 miles to the finish" I guess it's all about your frame of reference.

This last 7 miles was awful. Actually it started awful, then I can only assume my gels kicked in as I had a burst of energy. Rather than shuffling along at 10 min miles I was now flying along at 9 minute miles. In front of me I saw a runner, one who had passed me earlier, he was walking a lot so I kept calm, caught him, checked he was ok then pushed on. Another 10 minutes and there was another runner. Same
approach and I was up to 11th. With a little over a mile to go there was one more runner. Yep I did it again!

I was up to 10th and nearly done.

I rounded the corner at the cycling club to see runners that had finished, other spectators and the RD. I crossed the line and have honestly never felt more relieved. My body felt ok too. I was beaten up but not really hurt or anything. I got my goody bag (more later) and headed inside to change and sort myself out.

I took of my shoes and socks, I have a blister on my left big toe and my middle toe on my right foot will lose a perfectly healthy nail. I have not had a blister on my feet in hundreds of miles of running and
in years. The shoes and socks I was wearing haven used for many miles so this was odd.

What did I learn?

Pacing is EVERYTHING! I was talking to a guy afterwards that finished just behind me, he had run no more than 25 miles a week and longest run was18 miles. So I had way more miles in the legs but he paced
better. More walking earlier would have helped a lot as would sticking to a slower pace.

Nutrition & Diabetes (type 1). I started this race with a high blood sugar (around 16mmol). Knowing that it would come down really quickly. I tested my blood sugar once during the race, at the 25 mile aid
station and it was 4.2! I need to trust and eat more, sooner.

Kit. Actually I was really pleased with my kit with one exception. At one point on the hill I was struggling to breathe deeply. My chest ached. I loosened the chest straps on my race vest and it was sorted.
Everything else performed as I expected.

Ultra community. Simply great. I am a better person this evening than I was this morning through this experience. Support, help, motivation all in plentiful supply with no sense of self. Just amazing!

What next?
I actually feel remarkably well. Legs are stiff but there's nothing serious. No injuries (crosses fingers and toes, but not knees - are you mad!). So next race is always a biggie - at 27 miles today I thought I was looking for a new sport! But now I'm calm I need to find my next ultra. I know I'll be better.

Today was an amazing experience - of course I'm going to do it again?


My gear list for this race was...

  • Hoka Stinson Tarmac shoes
  • injinji socks
  • Compressport calf guards
  • Century riding cream
  • Skins compression half tights
  • Brooks race shorts
  • Adidas Tech T compression shirt
  • Nalini arm warmers
  • Haglofs Gilet
  • inov8 race peak cap
  • Salomon 5 ltr hydro race vest

Nutrition was...

  • 2x500ml of high 5 electrolyte
  • I Also drank 4 bottles of water on the course (2ltr total)
  • 3 gels
  • 1 trek bar

A handful of jelly babies (from an aid station)
A handful of home made flap jack (from an aid station)

Starting blood sugar - 16mmol
Half way blood sugar - 4.3mmol
Finishing blood sugar - 7.2mmol

Goody bag...
1 banana
1 Cadbury Dairy Milk
1 cup cake
1 bottle of water
1 race t-shirt
1 clip framed picture based on the race by the RD's daughter
1 pack of crisps

Friday, March 28, 2014

The first step is the hardest...

Heading out the door my breath visible in small clouds
Icy tears fill my eyes in protest at the frigid air
Heavy skies start to lighten
The sun toys with the dawn
Threatening to break it
I know it's unlikely

Cold air sucked into my lungs
My heart rate spikes at the shock
Breath momentarily misses a beat
Hands, seeking warmth, are clutched in long sleeves

It all feels alien
Uncoordinated and contrived
No rhythm
No flow
Like I've never run before

.....without warning

My legs come alive
blood flows
Tight muscles start to loosen
Stride settles down to a metronomic beat
Tears dry
Breathing settles
I was born to do this

My mind lets slip, "so we're going for a run then?"

Maybe I should have told it before we left

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ultra Training in Numbers

Next Saturday 29th March) is the Born to Run ultra. I've been training
for this for the last few months following a 50 mile schedule. It has
proven to be an excellent plan that I have used more as a framework
than rigid plan. It has enabled me to build to long runs beyond
anything I've done before and feel stronger and more durable than
ever. So here are some numbers....

21 - the number of weeks I have been training with structure. It
started on 4th November with a 6.5 mile run.

1 - the number of weeks i miscalculated my schedule by. I needed to
add an additional week for 3rd March as just plain omitted it.

832.32 - the number of miles run in training. There's still a week to
go but this is super-taper time and will be barely any miles. That's
an average of 39 miles a week.
Link to my training plan...

2 - number of marathon distance runs completed before going to work.

59.4 - the most miles I ran in a single week.

30.9 - the most miles I ran I a single run. Cheltenham to Cirencester and back.

47 - the number of miles I am short of in my actuals versus planned/
schedule. A little over 2 miles a week discrepancy.

Friday - the day in which I ran most training miles, 196.5.

1 - pair of Hoka's (Stinson Tarmac) that I have pretty much destroyed
through training and will be replacing post race.

Podcasts - 42 guardian football weekly, 21 The Game, 10 Talk Ultra's
and a smattering of Ultra Runner, Trail Runner Nation, Sunday
Supplement, Infinite Monkey Cage, Rich Roll and The Chels podcasts.

Audible - 2 books, Buddhism for Busy People by David Michie and
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami.

6 - days until race day.

40 - miles to race next Saturday.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Always learning...

Yesterday was my last long run before the Born to Run Ultra on 29th March. I'd sorted a route that was more challenging than my last long run (28.4 miles a couple weeks ago). It would take me out of Leckhampton over the hill towards the A435, which is the old Cirencester road. The first 4 miles up hill towards Seven Springs climbing around 900ft. The heart rate spikes on that for sure. Enjoyed it though as was quicker than a road cyclist up the steepest part of the climb. 

Once onto the A435 it's a winding road down to Cirencester which is a further 12 miles away. I cruised on this part of the run. The sun was out and the roads were pretty quiet. Then a problem. At 8.5 miles i turned my ankle. Enough that my first thought was i wasn't going to be able to continue. I walked a bit to see if it calmed down and then tentatively started running again. It eased off much to my relief. Once running again the ankle settled down and wasn't a problem again. 

I made it into Cirencester, Stratton, in a little over 2 hours and replenished my water. The plan was then to turn around and head back the same way. I had scoped a little deviation though and rather than just do that headed up Gloucester Road towards the A417 (the new Cirencester Road) well towards the underpass that goes under the A417 and then brings you back towards A435. A climb, which i walked, up to Forty Acre Copse then a downhill cruise to the A435 coming out just by the Bathurst Arms.

It was around this point that i was starting to struggle to keep running experiencing some problems mainly with energy and my stomach.

My stomach felt empty. Up to this point i had drunk a couple bottles of water with electrolytes (1 litre) and some plain water that i bought from the shop in Stratton. I had also had an SIS energy bar and 3 gels. When i did my last long run this was enough to get me all the way around comfortably. This time was different. There were a couple of factors that were different...

  • My previous longest run was immediately after breakfast. I'd had a couple of Weetabix and headed out the door.
  • The weather was much improved, the temperature probably around 8 degrees (C) warmer than previously.
  • The hills, my previous long run was pretty much flat. The 2,000ft elevation gain being a significant difference.
At mile 25 i stopped at a petrol station. I bought a snickers bar and some jelly babies. I couldn't eat the snickers bar quick enough and made my way through the best part of half a bag of jelly babies in a matter of seconds. I guess i really did need some food. I made sure to drink some water and then started running. I felt immediately better and started to run/walk the way home. My miles splits drifted at this point to around 9:30, in my head i just wanted to make it back. 

I arrived at home after a gentle downhill section. I'd covered 30.9 miles in 4hr 27mins.

More importantly i had learned a few things for the ultra....
  • I need to make sure i eat breakfast reasonably close to the start time of the race, looking at the race information this will be around 7:30 before heading to the start for registration and a 9am off..
  • I need to carry more proper food, i won't carry a snickers bar but go for flap-jack based foods that won't melt and that will provide my stomach something more solid to work with.
  • I will carry spare electrolyte tablets for when i replenish my bottles. My clothes and race vest, when i got home, were ringed with salt deposits from sweat. I need to replace this. (Shortly after i got home i was craving salted peanuts!)
  • I'm settled on 90% of the kit i will use for the race based on yesterday and assuming similar conditions, what i will do though is put my Halglofs gilet or The North Face rain cover in my pack for race day (just in case).
    • Hoka One One Stinson Tarmac shoes 
    • Injinji socks
    • Century riding cream 
    • Skins half tights compression shorts 
    • Brooks shorts 
    • Nike compression t-shirt
    • Nalini arm warmers
    • Inov8 Race Peak Cap 
    • Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro 5 Set 
They aren't massive changes really but they made a difference yesterday probably because they were combined with slightly increased temperatures, an increase in elevation and poor starting nutrition.

It was not all bad though as i made it around. And all things considered in reasonable repair. Recovery was a For Goodness Shakes drink and some quiche that was left over from the kids lunch. A quick shower and it was into the SKINS compression tights and then out for a stroll with the dog. Taking the view that it was better to keep moving than just sit. 

That puts me on 58.4 miles this week, so far, my schedule calls for 12 miles tomorrow which isn't going to happen. I am planning a run with Amelie which  will treat as recovery and hopefully take me over 60 for the week. Then it's taper time

This week will be a gentle 36 mile week, there will then be a 20 mile week with the then week of the race to follow. I'm still feeling good about the race, just glad that the glitches experienced yesterday were yesterday rather than on 29th.


Sunday, March 2, 2014


I almost want to whisper it for fear of tempting fate. Maybe I should
have used a smaller font for the title. Obviously I don't believe in
fate we have to be responsible, largely, for what happens to us. If I
break down it will be because I have done something wrong.

Right now I feel really strong. My running has been incredibly
consistent and I really feel ready for the ultra at the end of the

I made a cock-up with my training plan, missing an entire week from
the schedule, so this coming week will be a hard one with another
28miles or so at the weekend. Then it's a 3 week taper. Today's run
was 15 miles with a significant climb in there from the off. What I
did today though was experiment a bit on the downhill sections. I run
mid/forefoot striking which down hill is not that comfortable, your
toes jam into the toe box of the shoes and it feels unnatural. Plus I
am really slow at it.

Today I just let go and found myself heel striking and rolling
forwards. I say heel striking it was almost flat footed rather than
heel. It also meant that I could really feel the rocker my Hoka's
doing its job. The result was I really felt like I was flying down the
hills. As soon as it levelled off I reverted to my normal stride

It really did feel awesome!

This is what got me thinking about my durability. I the 10 days
previous I have run every day including a run of 28.4 miles and
totalling around 100 miles. I get that this is not that huge, not at
all. But I am 43, have a job, a family and a dog! To get the time for
this is quite an achievement. That I am not suffering from it it is
quite another. I have talked before about running twice a day and
really cannot say enough how significant that this is to my current
level and how I can run.

I have never run as much or as far or as consistently. I have never
felt this strong or this fit. In the year since my knee surgery and I
have run just short of 1,500 miles and gone from 11st 9.5lbs
(160.5lbs) to 10st 11lbs (151lbs) and with 11% body fat.

The born to run ultra is on March 29th. I have entered ultra's before
- even this one of the first edition. But have never really come to
close to being able to compete or complete them as injury has always
taken hold. In the last three years an ACL reconstruction and a
meniscus tear have been the problems.

Injury free I can get there. I will toe the start line and give a good
account of myself.

I bloody love running.

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