Monday, November 27, 2017

WW50 - why was it so hard?

There are three answers to this.

I’ll start with the biggest factor. Simply, I wasn’t fit enough. That might sound an odd thing to say considering I did finish it but I was really under cooked for this. There’s reasons for this and mainly it was following a summer of low mileage.

In June I went into hospital with kidney stones. The stone was too big to leave but the hospital couldn’t remove it as they didn’t have the right equipment available. I had a stent fitted and was put on list for the removal of the stone and also the stent. While I could run with the stent it was uncomfortable and I would pee blood afterwards. My running through this was massively reduced at around 20 miles a week. Not enough to train for a hard 50.

I had the 2nd part of the operation on October 6th, 7 weeks before race day. In that period I did manage to get my mileage up to a maximum of 45 miles in a week but not consistently. I also focussed on the distance and while I was running hills they were nothing like those in WW.
Not that I’m doing that race ever again but if I were, and if you are considering it, you need to train hills. Not run-able hills but hills where you are scrambling on all 4’s. Then once at the top run straight back down again. I lost the ability to run down hill more so than moving up hill.

There were times, particularly through the 4th lap where I thought it was over and I wasn’t going to make it. I was really struggling and yet summoned enough to do it. That comes down to experience and sheer determination. I went deeper and darker than I have ever gone before. This must be what people talk about when they say that when your body tells you you’re done you actually aren’t. There’s more in you and you need to tap into it. I definitely did that through this race. It’s kind of awesome to have done that. As much as I wanted to quit I didn’t.

The second thing was I underestimated the course and the challenge it presented. It’s advertised as 50 miles with 9,500ft of gain. My Garmin showed 51.7 miles and closer to 11,000ft of gain. I trained by running 15miles with around 1,200-1,500ft of elevation. Nowhere near enough. What was I thinking!!

The third thing was the issue with my diabetes that I have written about here.

The combination of those factors nearly saw me DNF. The closest I have ever got to those three initials.

So what about the race? 
It’s amazing, Wendover Woods is a beautiful wood. Lovely scenery and an unbelievably challenging course. The first lap, the only one I probably enjoyed(!), was a real treat - running in a new place in really great conditions was a real treat. The course was incredibly well marked (although I did go wrong twice!) the aid stations were great. The people working those stations were AMAZING. It was a long day, it was an incredibly cold day and yet they were there smiling and helping everyone with such enthusiasm and care. Just AMAZING.

Finishing in the dark was pretty cool too. My new head torch was a real win on kit with 300 lumens being perfectly adequate (Petzl Actik). Also my Salomon s-lab 12 litre vest that I work out of the packet was every bit as awesome as the 5ltr version I have. They say you shouldn’t wear kit you’ve not tested but it was fine.

At the finish you get a medal (probably the heaviest ever) and t-shirt. There was lots of congratulations and support. There was soup too - pasta, vegetables and potatoes. Importantly it was hot and savoury.

Looking around and there was lots of disrepair. Broken people all with beaming smiles.

Ultra running might hurt but it’s worth it.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Wendover Woods 50 mile

The WW50 race is the hardest run I have ever done. To call it a run, for me at any rate, is wrong. I walked a lot but was forced to by circumstance. That I completed it is quite something as there were points I didn’t think I would.

I’ll start with the main problem I had that nearly meant a DNF (Did Not Finish / Did Nothing Foolish / Did Nothing Fatal*). I am type 1 diabetic and was using an OmniPod insulin pump.

At mile 32 it alerted as it had stopped working. This meant no insulin being delivered. I had two choices, turn back and sort an alternative or continue forward. Turning back I knew would mean a DNF. The effort to get back to the start and go again would be too great. I decided to press on.

This meant that I was not getting any insulin so my blood sugars would be going up. I would be in this position for around 2.5hrs minimum. I made the decision to press on but to not eat anything and to only drink water. This would help if ketones started to build up. It also meant that energy would be an issue. No calories going in would be an issue but no carbs going in would keep my blood sugars from spiking.

The aid station was 3 miles or so beyond where I was so if things were bad by the time I got here I could get a lift off course.

I got to the aid station, checked my sugars . 11.1.

Not brilliant but not a number that meant I needed to stop. My bottles were replenished with water, I took an s-cap (salt tablet) and set off the 4.5 miles to the start/finish.

The s-cap was so that while drinking pure water, as opposed to tailwind, I didn’t deplete my sodium levels over the same period.

Walking again!

My thinking around only pure water was that no insulin would mean that as my blood sugars rose so might my ketones. As one of the thing you do once you start treating your ketones is to drink plenty of water I thought I’d pre-empt that. I also thought that my sugars maybe wouldn’t rise as much as if I was doing something sedentary as I was being very active.

I’m not sure of the correct term and I’m pretty sure it isn’t accurate but I’d say that my metabolism was in overdrive and maybe that would help?? That’s probably wrong and anyone that can point me at an article that could explain that would be great.

On my way to the start/finish I preoccupied myself with planning what I would do when I got there. Get my drop bags and give myself 1.5units of levemir and 0.5 units of novorapid. If my blood sugars had crept up then I might need to drop out of the race.

My plan and also excuse were set. I say excuses as I genuinely considered just dropping out. It was hard out there. Now it was also cold and dark. No-one would criticise me for dropping out because of my diabetes would they. It would be a get out that would go unchallenged.

But I figured out that isn’t me. The urge to quit was strong. I was tired, cold, hungry and in quite a lot of pain. The pain though was not dangerous pain. It’s pain that tells you you’re working hard not that something is broken.

As I got close to the start/finish line I knew I’d finish (blood sugars permitting). As much I was hurting I knew I’d regret a DNF even more. I also knew I wouldn’t take the soft option and hide behind my diabetes.

This is a new experience for me. I have not been pushed this hard and consequently have dug that deep.

I reached the start/finish at the end of my 4th lap. I checked my sugars and got my drop bag; my sugars were still at 11. I took this as a win. I injected as planned and set off again.


Now my appetite was gone. I didn’t want to eat anything and couldn’t stomach it. Moving forwards. A blood sugar check showed it to be 6. I had to eat. I dug a flap jack out of my bag and kept walking.
I was now being over taken regularly although only on downhills. I was catching people up on the ups and they were disappearing from my view on the downs and flats.

At the aid station there were chips! Described by the people manning the station as ‘Luke warm’ they were the best chips ever! Restorative if only for being savoury after a day of sugar. I left the aid station walking up the hill. 4.5 miles to the finish with a lot of hills. I knew I’d get it done. I was still walking but I did just that.

I crossed the line having done it.

50 miles and close to 11,000ft of elevation and for the best part of 20 miles barely anything to eat.
I had dealt with a significant issue and dug deeper than ever. I won’t do that race again but I’m glad I did.
*delete as appropriate.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

WW50 - the morning of

I never sleep well before an ultra. It’s a bit like knowing you need to get up early to drive to an airport. 

Can you trust the alarm?

My room mate, Rob, doesn’t share this problem and is still sleeping easily. 

The alarm will go off at 6am then it will be breakfast and coffee. The plan is to leave here, the Premier Inn Aylesbury, at 6:45 for the 15 minute or so drive to the start. The race starts at 8 and in that hour it’s keeping warm that will be the biggest challenge. 

Temperatures are set to be low today, around 3c, but clear skies and no wind should make it pleasant enough.

Last night I was feeling a lot of nervous energy and excitement. Now I just want it to have started and feel much calmer. 

More than anything running is freedom; freedom from the demands of life, when you’re running that’s it. You’re just running. No emails, no meetings, no demands on you. It’s rare in the 9-to-5 to have quiet time or even just time to yourself. 

Running gives me that and today I have a whole day.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

WW50 with an insulin pump (OmniPod)

The Wendover Woods 50 miler on Saturday (25/11) will be my second ultra since being fitted with an OmniPod insulin pump.

The first was quite an experience. I had started on the pump only a few days before and was taking part in a charity run. The charity was MIND and the run was a 1/3 mile loop at work. We, there was a team of us, were to run a working day from 9-to-5 and complete as many laps as we could. This was on July 5th and was in the middle of a seriously hot spell that we were having. Temperatures were well into the 30’s for the day and there was no breeze and little shade.

At the start I felt great and was using a libre to monitor my blood sugars. I had been advised to reduce my basal rate for the duration but when I tried to do this via the pump it wouldn’t allow me as the doses were already very small. I know I have small doses of insulin generally so just assumed that this was correct. I started running and for the morning was ok. Energy and repair both doing ok. What was happening though was my blood sugars were going down too much and I was struggling to get them healthy. A combination of heat and exertion.

I actually suspended insulin for a period and as I went into the afternoon started to feel empty, incredibly weak and tired. I had to go  and take a lie-down at one point and am sure I nodded off. I was in much more of a state than I was expecting to be based on previous experience and figured it must just be the heat. My blood sugar levels then started to rise and I switched the basal back on. This made barely a dent and the trajectory continued through to the end of the event. I was quite broken at the end but had covered just short of 40 miles in that state.

A couple of days later I had a hospital appointment and one of the people I was with was describing that their pump had not been set-up correctly when they left the start-up appointment and had caused them some problems. I checked mine and it was the same. I wasn’t getting anything like the level of insulin I should have been as the set-up was just a low scale one. A default one I assume. I set-it properly and from that point on it worked! 

I had, though, managed to cover 40 miles with barely any insulin in me.

This Saturday will be different. The pump is set-up properly and I know how to manage things. On pens it would have been straight forward. I would have reduced my Levemir by 50% run and eaten all day and not had any issues! This will be different. My strategy will be to reduce my basal by 80% for 10hrs at the start. I will then monitor my sugars over the day using a libre and adjust as necessary. I still plan to eat everything I can and with barely a care as, frankly, ultra running is the closest thing I get to feeling like I did pre-diabetes.

I have been experimenting with reducing my basal in this way over the last few months and it works. It took me a while to accept this as a way forward as was contrary to what I would do on pens. What this has enabled me to do is where I am planning to run for a couple of hours, I reduce the basal by 80% and then I only need maybe one gel or one pack of shotbloks and my blood sugars are on the low side of 4-7 when I finish. When I extrapolate that across 10-12 hrs of running this weekend then I will be eating more and testing more. I also know that the line is not straight! It’s not a case of a gel every two hours and bingo I will need to be consuming more and more regularly than that schedule. I did reach out through the power of the web to Robin Arzon of Instagram fame who is type 1 and has run ultra’s including a 100 miler. I asked her what she does with her insulin over these events and reassuringly the answer was the same as what i have been advised to do and what I am planning.

With that in mind the libre will be key for me this weekend, faffing about with cold hands trying to squeeze blood onto a strip will not be easy and while I will do blood tests to be able to just scan my arm as I move will be great for on the move data.

It’s 2 days away now and I have gone from, at the beginning of the week, thinking that I’m not ready to actually feeling pretty good about it and actually a little excited. A day running in the woods? What’s not to like.

As someone with type 1 diabetes there is a risk attached to completing this type of event. There is for everyone but maybe for a type 1 you could argue they are more significant. I acknowledge the risk and am not gung-ho about this at all. What I do know is how to manage. I have lots of experience of training and taking part in events over a number of years and, in fact, realised recently that other than my first marathon (in 1997) everything I have done subsequently has been as a type 1 diabetic. That includes half marathons, marathons, ultra’s, a marathon swim and triathlon/duathlon. The key to this is knowledge; when I am training it is not only my physical well being in terms of muscle and endurance that I am training it is also my understanding of my diabetes. 

I am aware of it every step of the way and know how it feels and what to do. I know my responsibilities and do not ignore them. I sometimes even consider it an advantage as while other competitors don’t have that worry they are also unaware of a key part of their physiology that could affect their race. 

Hitting the wall is, after all, just a low blood sugar.

Monday, November 20, 2017

WW50 Kit List

It’s been a while since I did an ultra, in fact this will only be my 4th event this year after the Cheltenham Challenge half, the 9-to-5 charity run and Boddington 50km. Even by my standards this is a slow year. 

I’m going to try and write a few blogs this week on the lead up to the event. 

For the approaching trail 50miler through Wendover Woods there’s a proper kit list. I will need to pack and prepare. For me this normally means a lot of disproportionate fretting. I really do over think this stuff. 

My kit list will essentially be...

  • Race vest (10ltr Salomon)
  • Bottles (x4) 2 in drop bag
  • 2xu shorts
  • Brooks shorts
  • Salomon jacket
  • Buff (x2) 1 in drop bag
  • Salomon beanie
  • Patagonia cap
  • Salomon Cup
  • Nike fleece top (in dry bag)
  • Petzls x2 + batteries
  • Run gloves
  • Buff beanie (in dry bag)
  • Adidas Terex
  • Salmon speedcross (in drop bag)
  • CEP socks x3 (1 in dry bag and one in drop bag)
  • Road ID
  • Run tops (tbc)
  • Gels etc plus some food in car to eat post race
  • Barrier cream (applied liberally at start and then in drop bag for emergency)

The route is 5 laps of 10 miles and has 9,500ft of gain and descent in total. I thought I’d done a good copy of this at the weekend with 10 miles through the woods and 1,500ft. This was hard enough and actually falls around 400ft short of a lap come race day. 

With a 15hr cut off it could be a looooooong day.