Monday, 13 September 2021

7 Ps

Back to the 7 Ps - piss poor preparation precipitates piss poor performance!  2021 hasn't been a good year for racing results with 2 DNFs recorded (100% "failed").  But whilst I don't like the fail, it's only a fail if you don't learn from it - check out the very short Michael Jordan video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA7G7AV-LT8 
So now I need to dust myself down and review the season so far, note the words so far!  On Saturday 18th September I am racing the Ring of Steall in the mountains; 29kms with 2,500m of climbing.  It's got a reputation of being tough and unforgiving with narrow exposed ridges and scrambling across rocks.  So on Saturday I headed out with my friend Michael who has run the race before and will be killing it this year as he is in such good shape.  I was so glad to have him there as the weather conditions were suboptimal being wet so the rocks were slippy and with cloud base on the summits.
You are not allowed poles in some sections so for most of the run I didn't use them - that took a bit of getting used to - it's a confidence thing and on the way back down my left ankle must have collapsed at least 6 times - seeing sports therapist tomorrow.  On the narrow ridges at the top of the first summit, not being able to see the sheer drops probably helped and I just kept my focus on the narrow path that got very close to the edges at times.  I'm so glad I didn't attempt this on my own in these conditions.
I had been warned about the scrambling section and to be honest, wasn't looking forward to it especially as it was wet!  But we took our time and it was ok.  The weather wasn't getting better and there were no views to be had so, because of the increase risk with the wet rocks we decided to head back having at least gone over the "Devils Ridge" and scrambled across the tricky section.  In all we'd covered 13km of the 29 km and 1,400m - not a full recce but one that puts me in a much better position for the race.
We headed down the mountain and ran the whole way.  On this section you can use poles and on the day I will be as your tired legs are going to find the terrain difficult.  Fortunately I stayed upright but my left ankle was an issue and I'll get that sorted this week.
I'm very excited about this race.  It has a brilliant reputation and I know it will be a test of my fitness and experience due to the terrain.  But I feel confident, not overly confident, that having done the mini recce I know what to expect so I can prepare my mind and body.  The core strength required for the terrain is essential and as I was running down the hill I could feel my core taking all the undulations and quick changes of direction.  That's come from hours and months of regular core work which I will be "cashing in on" come Saturday.
I am continuing to analyse my last race, URR, and researching various aspects to make 2022 an amazing season and to build and develop my body and mind to be the best I can be - it's all relative.  
Here's to the 7 Ps and I'll report back next week.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Found my mojo!

Did you miss me?  I took a break from my blog while I rested and recovered from the Ultra Race Romania, and got back into the routine of work.  Fatigue is strange.  You might feel perfectly well and recovered and then all of a sudden it creeps up on you.  I've been taking plenty of "power naps", just 20 minutes makes a big difference to my energy.
My coach and I both agreed I needed another race as soon as possible as I have built up a level of fitness that would be lost unless I continued training for an event.  I also needed the motivation as the post race blues definitely kicked in as I kept analysing what happened to cause my DNF in Romania.  I am writing to my running colleagues in Romania to learn about what food they carried what they had in their rucksacks as if I revisit the race in 2022, I can't experience the same problems. I have also written to a professor of exercise and physiology,  whose students I have spoken to about my races, to access their expertise.  This is stage 5 in my 5 step process, the Review, and it's important I learn, develop and move forward.
Fortunately I found a race, the Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace which is on 18 September.  A tough mountain race over 29km with 2,500m of ascent.  A very short training plan was designed to "restart" my system safely and for the first two weeks my heart rate hasn't been behaving which is partly due to the fatigue.  I feel fine but it's frustrating although I've been here before and know just to follow the plan.
Yesterday I was back in the mountains with my pal Stu.  We headed up The Cobbler followed by Ben Narnain the Ben Ime.  The conditions were ideal in that it wasn't too hot but there were no views.  All three summits were in cloud base.  When I left the last summit, the highest at 1,011m I ran all the way to the bottom as fast as was safe.  It was the highlight because I felt light (almost floating), confident and my footing all the way down was ideal with the exception of a couple of slips but that's where the poles help.  Most walkers heard me coming and gave me room but a few got a fright as they looked up at the last moment to see me flying towards them!  My hear rate was low for the whole session and when I finished I realised that this is what I love - being in the mountains, power walking up and running down.  You also meet some great people and everyone looks out for the people on the hill.  We covered the 18 km with 1,520m of ascent in 3hrs and 20 mins.  Not to shabby and I now have my mojo back.
The focus is back as the race is in 13 days time.  I'm looking forward to a challenging route and being with likeminded people who love running.  The weather could play a big part on the outcome of the day but whatever it throws at me, I'll be ready.  I'm doing a lot of gym work on top of my running to make sure my body can take the punishment.  The feeling I had running down the mountain only happens when you'd put in the hard word and the long miles.  That feeling is what makes me get up at "silly o'clock" to get out and training.  The season is changing, the days are getting shorter and cooler.  That may alter when I train and the type of training I do but it will all be focused on the remaining targets for this year and next season.  I'm back!

Sunday, 22 August 2021

The allure of ultra running

Back in 2008 when I completed my first sprint triathlon, I thought an "ultra" was a football hooligan and had no idea what an ultra actually was or that I'd end up being an ultra runner.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, an ultra is a run which is longer than a marathon.  What I would like to convey to you in this blog, is just how special the ultra community is and how in less than 10 years I have a whole "family" of ultra runners and organisers that I can call my friends.  I'm in touch with these friends almost every day as we have shared a special adventure together.  I also hope if you are a runner you will step up to an ultra so that you experience this wonderful community for yourself.
The inaugural Ultra Race Romania, a 250km self supported race held over 7 days in the beautiful mountains of Romania, took place 2 weeks ago and due to Covid restrictions many runners either decided not to risk travelling or we not allowed to do so.  As a result there were only 13 runners.  Never the less the wonderful organisers put the race on and we were treated like rock stars before, during and after the race.
This blog is not a blow by blow account of the race and even if it was it would be relatively short as I only lasted 3 days and 100km.  I have ran 2 similar styled events before in the Sahara Desert (MDS) and the Grand Canyon (G2G) but following my non-stop 205 miles at Lake Tahoe I decided I was going to race this staged race.  It wasn't about completion, it was about pushing my limits to see how far up the leader board I could go.  I failed.  Nothing in life is guaranteed but my motto has always been "we are capable of so much more" and development only happens outside your comfort zone.  I was certainly pushing the limits and was in 3rd place after day 1 and day 2.  Unfortunately on day 3 I had stomach problems and couldn't keep down anything I put in my mouth.  If you can put fuel in your car it will grind to a halt and that's what happened.
When you are in the wilds, and judging by the fresh bear paw prints and the piles of poo I was in the wilds, you have to keep your wits about you.  Even having taken the difficult decision to pull out.  I notified the organisers via my GPS but had to walk out to somewhere they could get a 4x4 into collect me - that turned our to be 6 km later and that was an exceptionally tough walk / stager.  Pulling out was caused by 34 degrees heat, carrying 23 kilo's  (34% of my body weight) on my back and gradients of 38 degrees.  This ultra will gain the reputation of being one of, if not the hardest multi stage unsupported races of that I have no doubt.
When I describe what you go through on a multi-staged race to people they look at me as if I am mad.  Why would you want to put yourself through all that, no washing facilities (except for a couple of rivers), freeze dried food, sleeping in a tent which was never level and living out of your rucksack?  The answer is simple but needs some explanation.  It's the people and the total detox from the outside world - you are almost totally cut off, unplugged!
Most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle.  I run a business but most of my time am "driving a desk" so I wouldn't call that active or exciting although I am very privileged to do what I do.  There's plenty of stress that comes with the territory and stress really does shorten your life so we need an antidote and running is a great stress buster and has got many of us through the lockdown restrictions.  But ultra running, this takes it to a whole new level especially when it involves being unsupported and living in tents with people you haven't met before.
Back to Ultra Race Romania.  We'd been waiting for 2 years to get to Romania but had built a good relationship with the organisers; Andrea, Daniel, Edi & Beatrice before we arrived.  They had gone out of their way to reassure the runners that the race would be run safely in this Covid world - it was.  We met the other runners at dinner and as always are swapping stories about their adventures.  Soon we're swapping tips about food, strategies about the long day and the route.  Yes this is a competition but to a man and women we looked out for each other because it's in the wilderness and there are additional risks such as bears, sheep dogs (more like wolves!) and snakes if you're really unlucky!  It's not like running a race around a city.  The competitors don't display huge egos because this isn't a sport for posers.  It's too painful and you need to really want it to go through the discomfort of a race.  But the rewards are worth it.
We started as 13 strangers and within 2 days we were like a family.  This made it all the harder when I pulled out.  Sitting in the back of the car we drove past 3 runners who were now my friends.  I lent out the window and applauded them and shouted encouragement.  When they saw it was me I could see the shock in their faces and they could see the tears in mine.  I could have hidden behind the tinted glass and they wouldn't have known it was me but they deserved my support for the effort they were putting in.
Back at camp I was treated by the doctor and Gina, who had dropped out on day 1, gave me a massage.  Since dropping out she has stayed in the camp and was giving massages to the runners and even the volunteers.  What a trooper.  That couldn't have been easy as it meant she was living in the tent with the runners and then had hours of spare time to pass before she saw them again.  Just an example of the special people in this race.  Poor Iona saw a bear at the end of the first day and got such a fright she pulled out.
The next morning the long day (70km) started at 6am and I agreed, unbeknown to the runners, to sing them away (500 miles which I did every day) but dressed in my kilt.  When I showed up the place went mental with runners and volunteers wanting a picture with me.  I'd also given an interview on video and it was unbelievably hard to hold back my emotions.  This race, these people had really gotten a hold of me.  When the runners were gone the volunteers fed me - a fresh tomato brought me to tears and this was the first real food in over three days.  Man up I was saying to myself!
I made the difficult decision to leave the camp and go stay in a hotel - I needed complete rest and good food.  I felt very selfish making this decision but the organisers made all the arrangements, called some favours in to transport me more than 2 hours away.  I was also told in the 3 days I'd be away that if I needed anything, the organisers father was only a phone call away.
I was taken out to dinner by Mihai who dropped out the same day as me, his wife and their friends and Gina who had by now left the camp.  The kindness and hospitality that was shown was unbelievable.  The organisers stayed in touch and I sent all the remaining competitors an email each day to encourage them as I was following their progress online during the race.  Getting emails at night in your tent is important so I hoped they'd appreciate it, which they did.
The four DNFs were taken to the finish line for the party and a real touching gesture was that we were allowed us to present the finishing medals as our friends came across the line - more tears.  The nine finishers were all LEGENDS and had come through adversity to get to the finish line.  From Tommo's shoes failing him and him taping rubbish to his insoles, to Vince's "poles" that he fashioned from tree branches or Irina needing her survival sheet to stay warm in the storm - there were plenty more heroic stories but that's for another day.  The winner Davide finished in an incredible 38hrs 56 mins with the last runner coming in on 69hrs and 9 mins.  Unbelievable to have finished off this no matter what the time - coming through this challenge in those conditions deserves all the respect these LEGENDS should get.  I'm gutted at not being there with them but as I said at the beginning, nothing in life is guaranteed and this has been an adventure of a lifetime.
Then we partied and a unique feature of this race was two days of site seeing including Dracula's castle and Peles Castle, guided by professional guides.  What a beautiful country Romania is and how hospitable and friendly the people are.
Since arriving home, the runners have all kept in touch and we will meet up when visiting each other or at another race.  I've had plenty of time to reflect on my failure and have come to the conclusion, this has been my most successful failure.  I raced for 100km and was lying third when my stomach problems led to me withdrawing.  Could I have gone on?  I've asked myself that many times but feel if I had then I would not have survived the following day as the stomach issues continued afterwards.  It would been a risk to the race organisers had I continued. Safety first. 
The winner, and now my good friend Davide Vitali, explained to me this had happened to him four times where he DNF'd so I will be taking some advice from him in how he manages it. I had the privilege of sharing my tent with Laurent & Richard who I'd run with in G2G & Tahoe and we had a great laugh as they tried to help me with my French!  Every race has a "snorer" and Tommo was ours but his "liverpool banter" was hysterical or at least we think it was - didn't understand any of it!!  Mike & Kristine from Canada planned their race with military precision and smashed it while local "hero" Cosmin held his second position throughout the race also using a stick instead of a running pole!
All the runners have their own story as to why they were there and what they were trying to achieve.  I went wanting to race this race but came away after a life affirming adventure having been enriched by every competitor in the race. That is why I go through the discomfort of a multi-staged ultra.  I now have an extended running family, one where I know we will stay in touch and will meet up again.  It was the detox I needed and the result was totally unexpected.  None of this would have been possible without the organisers who had a dream to showcase Romania whilst raising awareness for an Autism Charity.  My final thanks goes to my wife and family who have also "lived this race" for the last two years with numerous sacrifices along the way.  They understand what ultra's mean to me and how they hopefully make me a better person.  Thanks to you all for your support.  Till the next adventure, take care.



Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Ultra Race Romania - stage 3

Excuse the delay in my report.  I did send it from the camp but now I am back in civilisation I see it didn’t arrive.

As advertised, this was going to be a very tough day and it lived up to it’s billing.  Although the overall gradient was less, 31.2%, there were places where I really did question if I would reach the top if in fact it was the top and not a false summit.  I’ve questioned this before when looking a huge sand dunes and my feet were sinking in the sand, but to have those thoughts when standing on firm ground gives you an idea how difficult it was.

I was concerned right from the start because last night I could only eat half my dinner meaning there wasn’t enough fuel in the tank.  Breakfast and I only ate a quarter of it so I knew I was going to have to eat regularly on the move and make sure I kept hydrating.  I was in third place overall but expected a couple of runners to get past me on this stage as I was taking it easy in preparation for the long day, stage 4.

My good friend Laurent was on a mission and headed off fast so I decided to let him go.  I caught up with him at CP2 which was after a 7 km climb but I decided to take 10 minutes rest as I wasn’t feeling great in the heat.  I took a salt table and immediately was sick - warning bells were ringing in my head.  I still had over 22km to go (advertised as down hill - aye right!) and if I couldn’t keep liquids or food down I was in serious trouble.  I left the CP and the summit was a short distance away, straight up.  Possibly the steepest gradient so far and I took baby steps at get there.  It was less than 10 minutes from CP2 but I decided to rest and enjoy the view.  Mike & Christine from Canada came through so I thought I’d follow them on the descent to be safe and knew the other runners would be some way behind - possibly an hour. 

The descent was horrendous.  All sorts of hazards under foot, each of them a potential ankle breaker so it was very slow.  I knew I was struggling as my friends disappeared into the distance.  I met some locals climbing up the mountain with baskets of blue berries they had picked and they gave me handfuls to eat.  They were so sweat, my mouth is watering just now thinking about them.  However every time I tried to drink I was getting reflux.  It’s hard to explain my physical and mental state at this time.  I had no muscular pain in my body but my stomach was not happy.  I was on my own, no one around for miles and there was fresh bear poo and paw prints  It was almost impossible to run with the deep logger tracks that were slippy where wet and mud coming over my shoes.  Staying upright wasn’t easy but I focused on the next check point - just get to the next CP and re-evaluate and maybe get some medical attention.  From CP3 it was only 12 km to base camp and I could recover there.

However I was doubting whether I could manage CP3 to base camp as I had studied the map and knew it was difficult and eventually I started to think about my safety as I was hardly covering any ground.  I kept banging my poles together to hopefully scare off the bears but that’s not something I’d thought about when training in Scotland.  Going through the forest you had to keep your wits about you as you didn’t want to miss a sign, and at the same time there was the possibility of meeting a bear.  I know the probability was low, only one competitor had seen a bear up till that point but she was so traumatised she withdrew, but it was in my head.

With a heavy heart I came to the conclusion that even if I could complete the day, I’d be in such a state and would still have 125km in the next three days that I was asking to much of my body that wasn’t accepting food or water.  When I entered the race it was with a view to competing for a top 5 place but now it was about survival and self preservation. I pressed the button on my GPS tracker which alerted the organisers I had a problem and they would come and get me.  However I wasn’t going to sit in the woods and wait for them so I continued walking.  The logging track was horrific.  Churned up by the machinery I was stumbling across tracks that were 2 feet deep and slippy with mud.  I became clear that the organisers could never get a car up here so I slowly made my way down the hill.  Eventually I heard a scrambler and one of the volunteers was there to see what the problem was.  I explained and he told me to sit down and that the car would be here shortly.  I’d walked 6 km since pressing the button and was totally done in / finished.

I got in the car and we drove the last 13km to the camp - seeing the terrain, I’d never have made it.  When passing my friends I lent out the windows and shouted encouragement to them.  I could see the shock in their faces but fortunately they didn’t see the tears in mine.  My race was over.  When I got back to the camp the doctor sorted me and I was looked after.  I was the 2nd runner to drop out with the same problem that day.  I was allowed to phone home and explain why I wasn’t appearing on the tracker any more.  Fiona then posted the message so that everyone knew and could “stand down from dot watching”. 

I cheered my fellow runners home but it was strange being in the tent with them knowing I wasn’t running in the morning.  I had given the videographer Mike my kilt at the beginning for a finish line shot so went off to see him as I always sang 500 miles on the start line.  We agreed that I’d surprise my pals at the start line so I put my kilt on and when they were all lined up, I stepped out.  Instantly I had runners and volunteers hugging me and demanding a photo which was lovely and I really worked hard not to cry (man the fuck up I told myself!). I sang them off and they heading into the distance for the long day.  Then the camp was silent.  

The volunteers offered me food - real food.  Bread with chicken pate and then they gave me a tomato - I bit into the tomato and cried.  I have never tasted anything so wonderful.  Christ what was happening to me, but they understood.  Arrangements were made and they got me to a hotel a few hours away where I spent the next three days.  I’ll cover that in my next blog.  I’ve lots to share as this adventure wasn’t over but sadly my race was.  I’ll be posting another blog on Sunday but I’d like to thank you for all your support and for your emails that I received while in the race.  I hope I have conveyed what a multi staged race is like however as will come out in my next blog, this was way more than a race and will forever be etched on my soul.  I also would like to thank the organisers for looking after me before during and after the race.

Friday, 13 August 2021

URR Stage 2 - and they think it's all over!

 

Today was brutal, even more than  yesterday.  Steeper, higher, steeper and longer.  At the same time it was meant to be run with tomorrow in mind.

Before going into the detail of the race it's worth remembering that I'm sharing a tent with four guys and the only washing facility is if you come across a river. The two nights so far have been lumpy and tonights has a significant slope.  So it isn't a quality sleep and you are living of boil in the bag food!  I know I know your asking why but that's for another day.

Today after a short run it turned onto a full blown climb.  The type that has you taking baby steps and breathing heavily.The climb was 10 km.  I was ahead of the second placed Romanian runner Cosmin Raileanu until a wrong turn lost me 5 mis.  Cosmin and I completed the climb together but he disappeared on the downhill.  This almost ended my run as having not seen another runner for 15 minutes I thought I was on the wrong route, yesterdays route!  There was no way I was going back up the mountain so I consigned myself to being out of the race.  I was gutted but this race is so incredibly tough that I thought the beer was going to compensate!  Just then my friend Laurence shouted out to me and we were on the right route.

The rest of the day was more of the same.  Very steep hills and I wanted to keep my third place so when I reached the last summit I gave it all I could manage for the 6km downhill on rough ground.  Just as well I did as Mike (2hr 43min marathon) and his wife came in just over 5 mins behind me.

Yesterday a runner retired Gina.  The good news is she is giving massages at the end of each day so I have had 2!  My traps in the shoulders are agony but my back is tired as well.  To be expected with a heavy rucksack.  My training in the mountains has been the best thing for this adventure but the gradient is unreal.

In all my multi day events it's the long day that everyone talks about before it arrives.  Here it's the day before the long day.  48km with over 2,000m of ascent and the following day is the long day.  This will be my biggest challenge yet and I'm heading off to rest as I need lot's of recovery time.  Tomorrow if you're dot watching it will be slow.  They've been having technical problems with my tracker but hope to get it sorted.  I'm off for a rest now and hopefully will receive emails from you.  The ones received last night were very much appreciated - keep them comming please.  Fingers crossed.

Ultra Race Romania
#wherelegendsmeet

Monday, 9 August 2021

Ultra Race Romania - Day 1

URR Stage 1

Distance 32km, Elevation 1,236 m, Max.Grade 37.1%, Min Grade -29.8%  Completed in 5hrs 42 mins.  The best way of describing this course in the beauty and the beast.  My plan was to run what I could before the climb and was in 4th place when the climb started.  The most beautiful forest awaited us but OMG the gradient was a killer.  That's not helped by the temperature which was 34 degrees and I was carrying a rucksack with 24 kgs.

It was a slog and nearing the highest point I missed a turning and started running down hill.  Fortunately a Romanian runner Michael shouted to me which was very generous as I then past him.  Reaching the highest point was a relief but the way down wasn't much easier with the terrain being difficult under foot.  I didn't want to lose my place and gave it everything but the last 5kms were touch and go as I tried to stay upright  I'd hydrated plenty and taken the usual amount of salt but it was obvious my body was closing down and putting one foot in front of the other was difficult.  

The only dangerous point was the sheep dogs I mentioned before.  I had 5 of them snarling at me as I was  backed against a tree but the shepherd sorted it. Apparently they don't understand English and I might meet them again tomorrow!  I did come across some bear paw marks but fortunately didn't see them! 
Towards the end there was a river off to my right and I had decided just to walk into it when I came round the corner and there was the finish line.  All the volunteers were cheering and Andrei ran out with a Union Jack.  I made the mistake of lying down while waiting for water and that's where the cramp kicked in.  I then headed to the river and lay in it fully clothed to try and wash the clothes and soak my body.  I've had my recovery drink, took more salt and had a snooze.  I'm looking forward to my first camp foot, spag bol, which I am sure will be worth the weight in carrying it!

Plenty of rest required because tomorrow is 38km with 1,826m of climbing. My game plan is to run the first couple of KM before the big steep climb starts and that's where the power walking begins.  But it's slower than UK pace due to the heat, gradient and rucksack so be patient if tracking me.  I'll run the downhills if the terrain permits and I'm safe to do so.  I need to keep some in the tank as Wednesday is a really tough day.

Ultra Race Romania.  This is a really tough course but the organisation is fantastic.  As there is no signal at the camps the organiser takes the emails off sight at the end of the day so you'll probably be a day behind.  At least if you track me you'll get the times.  I'm chuffed with 3rd place today and let's see what I can do on day 2 that leaves me in reasonable condition for day 3.  I'm not even going to talk about day 4 as I need to get there first.  Thanks for your support.

#wherelegendsmeet

Ultra Race Romania - Base Camp

 T-1

I've made it to base camp despite KLM's best effort to scupper my plan!  I've got three tent mates, two of whom I know from G2G and Tahoe so it's great to catch up.  We have received wonderful hospitality from our hosts and despite me being a fussy eater, the food has been good.  Tonight we will have our last proper meal at base camp before being self sufficient.
I passed the covid & medical tests but my bag weighs 12.3kg, and that's having reduced my snacks!  Another 1.5kg will be added with the water so the first 2/3 days are going to be affected by the weight as I weigh 67kg, it's a challenge.
I've studied the route and the altitude for day 1.  I'm going to pace myself as this is a 6 stage race not a sprint.  Where I can I will be running the downhills but I need to be sensible as I also have to acclimatise - it's in the 30's but there is a nice breeze.  The key is staying hydrated and as we are hanging around camp waiting for dinner we are sheltering from the sun.
There are competitors from all around the world and a few racing snakes by the look of it.  At our briefing last night we were warned about the bears and we're been given a bear spray and firecrackers!!  Apparently there are also snakes, vipers, however they haven't seen any in the last couple of years - here's hoping that continues.
I'll post at the end of every day with the exception of the long 4th day, 70km, as my priority after that will be taking care of my feet, eating and going to sleep.  I'll report back the following day which will be a rest day.  As you know you can track me by going to www.ultraraceromania.ro and following the instructions and you can also email me.  Receiving the printed emails in your tent at night can be the highlight of the day (or the lowlight if you don't get any!).  
I'm now going to rest.  Another briefing in an hour and dinner in 2 hours then an early night.  It's down to business tomorrow.  Let the adventure begin.