Monday, 17 June 2019

Time for the gym

Did you miss me? Sorry I ran out of time to post my blog before I went on holiday and I only got back on Sunday so this is a catch up.
Another good weeks training behind me with loads of running and a couple of swims.  Again it was a case of juggling schedules and with a 9.55 flight to Belfast, it was a 5.25am run for 16km.
The big difference this week was my gym work has started. Thursday night my coach showed me the routine I was to start including plyometrics - standing jumps onto boxes for explosive power.  My routine has been designed to build my core strength and to build the power in my legs and glutes. With 40,000 ft of ascent and the harder 40,000 ft of descent I really need to build my strength.
In Grand 2 Grand in 2017 my back suffered from day 1 carrying 25lbs.  My back pack will be lighter for the Tahoe 200 but I do not want a repeat of trying to block out that pain for the whole race again.
My amazing sports therapist Pamela has been working on my back and today she said the rest on holiday and not leaning over a laptop or driving had made a big difference!
I have just come back from a week in Tenerife where I got in 5 runs.  All early morning when it was 22-24 degrees and it took at least three runs to start to get acclimatised.  I did some hill work but the local mountains didn’t have any established tracks and were too dangerous with loose scree and cacti everywhere.  I did venture up one hill but the journey down was too dangerous so I stuck to the roads. My longest run was just over 13 miles.  I headed straight to breakfast with the family and then my son challenged me to a game of tennis! He thought as I hadn’t played in over 10 years and was slightly tired that he’d have a chance - think again young man!  He’s looking for a rematch but I’ve told him only after he’s run 13 miles first. By the end of the holiday my heart rate was behaving and my speed improving - result.
I also managed 3 gym sessions but there were some real “bears” in the gym hogging the weights for squatting and I didn’t want to mix it with them with the “diddy” weights I’d be using.  It was fantastic having quality time with the family and as my training was early in the morning, it didn’t interfere.
My first run on returning was today and I was delighted with my pace and heart rate so the over indulgence in food and wine don’t seem to have done me any harm - I needed to put a few pounds on anyway.  Tomorrow it’s 6.15am in the gym and 7am in the pool. The miles are building up again and soon I’ll be in the mountains- can’t wait but some decent weather would help.


Sunday, 2 June 2019

Looking awful, feeling great!

This was a lite weeks training to help recover from the previous week. Only 63km of running over 5 runs and 4.2km of swimming.  As usual the runs sessions were varied but because they were shorter I felt strong through the week, although a couple of disrupted sleeps didn’t help with my rest.  I’m very conscious that my weight has dropped back to the post Fling race and that’s not good.  I met with my coach today and we discussed the challenges of eating while training hard and working.  She’s totally right that a car with no fuel grinds to a halt so I headed off to the shops and stocked up with food that I can eat while at work.  It’s funny that as you get closer to an event you start to look gaunt and people think you’re ill when actually you’re in great shape.  Maybe the shape of a pencil but it’s too far away from the race to be this thing so I’ll be on the cake diet again!
I spend 1.5 hours on the massage table on Friday (not pleasant) and felt the better for it but I’m seeing my sports therapist on Monday as I really need to get my back sorted.  I spend so much time sitting at a desk that every so often in tweaks and I can’t afford that in Tahoe.  In the G2G race my back ached for the whole week, but I was carrying 24lbs.  At Tahoe my weight in my rucksack will be less, in fact that’s my next task - researching what I need to carry.  It also means I’m heading off to the gym this week with my coach to start strength work.
The hills are calling and in a weeks time I’m heading for some special training in the hills.  We’ve also been talking about tackling Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain at 1,345m. Small by comparison of the mountains around Lake Tahoe but I’m sure there will be enough pain in the training to get my legs ready and more importantly my mind.  Barring physical injury, the success of The Tahoe 200 will be decided in my mind so it also needs to be put through its paces. 102 days to go!

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Back on it

After a major race you need to rest and recover before getting “back on it”.  Just over a week ago my coach asked me if I was ready to get back on it.  By that she meant ramping up the training as there are only 109 days to go to Tahoe and we’ve got some serious work to do.  When I looked at this weeks plan I had to remember that while this was a significant hike in my recent training, it was just getting back to where I was before The Fling.
This week I have ran 93km and swam 4.5km.  This is only going to increase although it will involve a lot of power walking up hills and then running down them at speed.  Back to back runs are our favoured approach to getting me ready for my Tahoe adventure so on Saturday I headed out with Stuart for 35km, part road and part trail.  We managed a reasonable pace but it was a tough 3 hrs 15 mins.  I practiced my nutrition and hydration strategy and had no issues.  I then drove straight to Aberdeen with my wife for my daughter’s birthday - getting out the car wasn’t much fun.  A nice dinner, a few glasses of wine and after breakfast we headed back down the road.  A three hour drive is not the ideal way to prepare for a 25km run and the weather wasn’t looking good with the wind picking up to the forecast 45mph.
I really wasn’t looking forward to the run and with no company, I plugged in my headphones.  My legs felt stiff to start with but soon warmed up.   The music helped pass the time and my heart rate behaved which was the sign that the hard weeks training had paid off.  Next week should be an easier week before it steps up again.   Tomorrow is a day off and I am looking forward to the rest.  But it was good to be “back on it” and I’m looking forward to getting into the mountains and soon the gym. I’ve work to do to get this body stronger to cope with the stresses of the training and Tahoe.  I hope you are enjoying following me on this adventure?

Sunday, 19 May 2019

The dawn chorus

I love this time of year.  Every morning I am woken by the dawn chorus of the birds singing their hearts out.  Some people might not like being woken before 4am but it tells me it’s summertime.  The early day light helps me get in a good run before work and the mileage is building back up.
With work and training I had 4x 5am starts this week and with the increase in the training it’s fair to say I’m tired and glad tomorrow is a day off training.
The week has had the usual mix of recover runs, heart rate runs and tempo runs.  I was back in the swimming pool on Friday having been absent for over 6 weeks.  It’s like starting all over again except you pals are 6 weeks fitter and 6 weeks faster but I’d prepared my head for this before going in the water.  I’m in there to take the strain off my legs from running while getting fitter, not to become an amazing swimmer.
Saturday’s run was 21 km with my pals.  I was told to take water and gels and ignored the advice.  As a result the last 5km were exceptionally tough - note to self, do what your coach tells you!  Later on in the day we were out socialising.  A late lunch  stretched on and this was followed by a poor nights sleep.  Not good preparation for my 16km run today which was always going to be tough following yesterdays exercise and excesses!  This time I took water and gels and was grateful for it.
Once again I had company which makes all the difference when you know it going to be tough.  The pace target was 5:30 per km and we made sure we stuck to it.  By the end I was very tired and when I got out of the car at home, I was very stiff.
My wife was ready for me and had laid out two yoga mats so she could take we through a gentle warm down.  20 minutes later I was “a new man” and headed off for an Epsom salt bath with a protein shake followed by lunch (an no alchol!).  My training schedule will pick up from here so I can expect many weekends where I’m “burst” but this is what will be required to get me ready for Tahoe.  I’m sure in a month I’ll look back on this week and think how easy it was.  But just now I’m glad I’ve got my feet up.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Rebuilding

What a difference a week makes.  The bruising and swelling on my knees is gone.  They are 95% better but still not well enough to go into the swimming pool as the skin on my right knee is still open.  But I’m back running.
I’ve been so frustrated. My first run was 5km and it was to test my heart rate and fitness following the 53 mile Fling.  The following day was 6km and then I had a days rest!! Whilst I felt I could run further I am sticking with the programme. A 10km on Thursday with a 5km recovery run on Friday - I felt I wasn’t out of 2nd gear but orders are orders.  Yesterday was an hours run on heart rate and I felt I had plenty in reserve.  Today I was asked to go faster than yesterday with no reference to heart rate.
I went out with my pal Stuart and headed off at a decent pace.  After all I had a lot of pent up frustration.  I pushed ahead and felt great.  I couldn’t believe the average pace when I stopped, actually I was worried I’d be told off by my coach for going too fast!  Got a few PB’s.
I have 123 days till Tahoe and there is a huge amount of work to be done.  I’m excited to be entering this phase of my training.  Getting the running legs back and then start the strength work and soon the mountain work.  A saying that I think is very true is “if you want to achieve something you have never achieved before, you have to do something that you’ve never done before”.  So this is new territory to me and I am really looking forward to it.
If you set stretching goals , the path to success isn’t always set out in front of you.  But once you have your eyes on the goal, you require laser like focus to make sure it happen.  I’m programming my mind to think that 4 days of non-stop running, power walking, crawling and out sprinting bears will be normal.  Fortunately I mix with people who also don’t set barriers.  Being surrounded by friends who push themselves hard means the bar keeps getting higher so I’m always grateful for their encouragement.  The journey to here over the last 10 years has been unbelievable.  I never set out to do this, it started with trying to swim 750m in a sprint triathlon.  Funny where it’s led me! Dream big folks.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Reflecting during recovery week

The week after a big race is always an important one.  You need a particular type of rest but this normally involves exercise.  Not for me this time as my knees presented a major problem.  I had deep gouges in both knees, bruising, swelling and they were constantly leaking puss.  Putting bandages on them meant pealing them off slowly but this usually removed the scab which wasn’t nice.  I struggled to wear trousers so attended several client meetings in shorts as I tried to “air my knees”.  The worst part was sleeping as any pressure from the covers on my knees kept me awake so I didn’t get the benefit of a good nights sleep.  I was having a bath every night with Epsom salts and then my coach came up with a miracle cream which started to speed up the healing.  All this because I lost concentration for seconds in an 11 hour race!  Worth remembering for the Tahoe 200 over 4 days with sleep deprivation and greater elevation.
After the first day my quads began to feel normal which was encouraging and shows the training I had done had worked.  I lost 6 lbs on race day so have been eating like a horse all week - constantly hungry.  A massage on Thursday was well timed and apparently my legs were in good shape, if you ignored my knees.
I also had a meeting with my coach to analyse the race.  She was always of the view I should have been under 11 hours and by a good margin.  But my holiday before the race put paid to that happening.  Whether or not that played in my mind during the race I’m not certain but it didn’t help.  What we both agreed was that this was just “a bad day at the office” however there were positives to be taken from it.  You need to comfortable being uncomfortable if you are going to take part in long distance endurance events - I was certainly uncomfortable, right from the start of the race.  Not only that I kept going and pushed through the discomfort and pain.  Something I am going to be doing over 4 days in September.  Once the first goal wasn’t possible I refocused on the 2nd goal and achieved it - it would have been easier on the day to have given up and walk in.  However had I done that I would have regretted it forever.  Pain is temporary, failure is forever.
I was under orders of no running this week to allow the swelling to go down.  Yesterday I went for a 2 mile walk and today a 5 mile walk.  My legs feel great.  I’ll still need to bandage my knees at night or if I’m wearing trousers but they should be fixed in a few days time.  I’m praying that I’ll start back running tomorrow as I don’t like sitting around but I’m sure the last week has helped my recovery and my focus is now completely on September 13th for the Tahoe 200.  130 days to go to transform my body to be Tahoe Tough!

Sunday, 28 April 2019

The Highland Fling - an extraordinary ultra

The Highland Fling is a 53 mile ultra starting at Milngavie and following the West Highland Way to Tyndrum with 2,300m of climbing.  It’s a very special event that’s been going for 14 years and gaining a place out of the 1,000 available isn’t easy.  Fortunately I did and it’s perfect training for me as I prepare for the Tahoe 200 (www.tahoe200.com).
Only 750 made the start line and the weather forecast had been for rain but none appeared for the first hour.  I made the decision to go with my waterproof jacket and just as I was thinking of taking it off the rain started and was on for most of the run which made for treacherous conditions on tricky terrain.
The competitors gathered for the start and there was a great atmosphere at 6am, full of energy.  We headed out of Milgavie and into the lovely countryside.  It’s a relatively easy start and at CP1 Beechtree I had been running for an hour and 1 minute - was delighted to be cheered on by my friend Gill who’d got up early to encourage me - that’s always a welcome boost to your spirits.  CP 2  was Drymen at 20km with 255m of climbing from the start.  I was aiming to get under 11 hours and to do that I needed a fast start so I was delighted to complete that section in 47mins (1 hr 48 min total) considering I had another 64km ahead.  My coach Genevieve and her husband Colin were there to cheer me on and telling me I was doing great but in reality I was feeling tired with heavy legs.  Going on a 10 day cruise ending a week before this event wasn’t’t good preparation but my training had gone well up till then.
Drymen to Balmaha is, for me, a difficult section with 379m of climbing.  The rain was steady and you are exposed climbing Conic Hill but even worse is the descent where you don’t want to trash your quads and the wet stones present a real danger of you’re not careful.  Again Genevieve, Colin were waiting for me at Balmaha with my running pal Stuart.  This is the last time for a while I’d see anyone and words of encouragement were given as I restocked with gels, drank some flat coke and
stuffed a handful of mixed nuts in my mouth before heading off.  I still didn’t feel great, hadn’t found my running rhythm and couldn’t swallow the nuts - I ended up spitting them out after 5 minutes of trying to wash them down with water.  I was now 3 hours 11 mins into the race and couldn’t believe this amount of time had passed.  Normally my head is full of positive thoughts or no thoughts when running but for some unknown reason, possibly the though of my “holiday champagne training”, was causing doubts.  My legs just didn’t feel as they should but despite that my pace so far was good.
The next section is 11km to Inversnaid with 373m of ascending.  The tree lined route along the loch offers some shelter but you have to watch your step with all the rocks and the tree branches, not  helped by them being wet.  As you approach Inversnaid Hotel there is a bridge over the river with steep steps up to the bridge - this is where you start to recognise a few niggles.  My right hip flexor was starting to grumble.  1 hr 34m for this section gives an idea how your running needs to slow down to allow for the terrain.  When you get to Inversnaid there are almost no supporters but the marshalls go out of there way to make you feel welcome and help in any way they can.  They send you off with some hope because they know what’s coming next.  I didn’t manage any solid food but got half a bottle of fat coke into me - I was surviving on gels but my guts didn’t feel particularly good about any food.
The distance between Inversnaid and Beinglass (373m of ascent) is 1km shorter than the previous section yet took 18 minutes longer.  As anyone who has been done this section - it’s awful on a good day but with heavy rain it’s treacherous with loads of slippy tree routs and rocks that you are either scrambling over or carefully picking your spot to land your foot on.  You have to lift yourself up and lower yourself down some very tricky rocks.  There’s another “ladder” which is like a step machine on max elevation and there is no railing to hold onto.  That’s when my hip flexor started failing so from there on in if I needed to step up it was with my left foot.  My feet were soaking wet with the puddles and mud I had to go through and it was a thoroughly miserable section.  To put this into context you’ve run further than a marathon with tired legs and your clambering over rocks trying not to slip.  No wonder you are less than walking pace.  If there was a relief from the rocks then I ran but you’re talking 10-20 metres then you’re walking again.
It was a relief to come through that section and see the Beinglas check point with my Genevieve & Colin shouting encouragement and telling me to get my “game face on” as I must of looked bust.  My sub 11 hour target was touch and go at this stage and I knew it although they never said.  However I had a secondary target in mind as I knew a few club mates had done a time around 11.08 previously so if I couldn’t make the first target then I’d aim for the second.  My rationale was simple; without the targets I’d be as well walking in, as many people do, so I needed something to keep me moving faster than walking pace.  At this check point spectators aren’t allowed in so a couple of 100 metres shy of the CP  Genevieve told me to get some solid food in as I needed it.  I managed some cheese and pork pie and soon I was on my way and I waved back to them knowing my wife and son were at the next check point and that lifted my spirits as the rain continue to tip down.
The track to Bogle Glen is undulating and easier underfoot than the previous section.  I was trying to run as much as I could but the uphills were taking their toll.  At one stage I tripped and fell bloodying both knees - this wasn’t helped by the fact I’d done that 3 days ago so the scab was taken off as it was my hand - ouch.  It was miserable out there but I just wanted to get this finished.  In my mind I was trying to remain positive.  The “conversation” I was having was that this is where ultras come into their own.  You can only feel this tired, battered and bruised if you’ve put in those miles before now so this was ideal training for me with the Tahoe 200 approaching.  As I approach the check point I could here them screaming (abuse I think).  They’d been there for an hour and looked like drowned rats but a welcome sight.  I got a big hug for one of the marshalls, thanks Katie. It was now 9 hrs 41 mins into the race and I had just over 9km to go but the last section had the most climbing - 515m.
Heading up the hills you were met with water running down so your feet were completely soaked.  Fortunately I have been treating my feet for months and was wearing compression toe socks and the combination meant no blisters.  I’m sure there would have been some blister issues out there with all that water.  My memory of this last section will be the downhills, not the uphills.  My quads were “shot to bits” and I had to take it easy heading down the hills.  With the water and the rocks you had to be careful as you could easily injure yourself badly here with your muscles being so tired.
The lead up to the finish line has a slight incline which seems like a mountain and then you have the long run down the red carpet.  It’s a fantastic finish with music blaring out (YMCA), the commentator announcing your name, the cow bells ringing and your friends calling out your name.  I saw my wife and son but kept my focus on 10 yards beyond the finish line.  In 2014 I switched my mind off on the red carpet,  my brain thought it had finished and my hamstring blew so I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.  As I ran, well sort of ran, to the line I became aware of someone trying to pip me on the line so I force a few steps and beat him on the line to take 199th place.  I was straight into the arms of a Marshall who realised I could no longer support myself and quickly taken into the warm tent by friends Paul, Beth and Ellie who were there to look after the runners.  They got me warmed up and as it was too much faff to get my wounds seen to I got dressed and headed off.  In the end my time was 11 hours 5 mins and 36 seconds (beating my club mates!) which I was very pleased with considering my last 3 weeks of training.  I dug very deep to complete this race.  The last 20km had been slow, slower than my recovery runs but when you have 64 km in your legs with all the climbing and ascending you just need to do what has to be done.  Walking in would have been so disappointing although had I been injured it would have been the only option.
The Fling is my favourite ultra because it’s well organise, fantastic marshalling and a very tough course.  Thank you Jonny “Fling” and your wonderful team.
Now it’s time to recover, I lost 5lbs of weight on the run, and will analyse the statistics with my coach as we prepare for the Tahoe 200. To put that challenge into context it’s like completing 4 Flings in a row with 40,000 ft of climbing in 4 days non stop.  I’ve got my work cut out for me as there are 137 days to go.