Sunday, 19 June 2022

Blown over

This was a mixed week of different types of training, taking my hamstring into account, and treatment from my sports therapist and my chiropractor.  Therefore I was back in the gym on the elliptical machine and the stair master to get a workout without loading my hammy.  Boy oh boy are those machines boring!
On Tuesday my sports therapist went to work on my hammy.  She was concerned about the tightness of the muscles and did her best" cleaning out" the hammy.  But she wasn't convinced it had worked and I was sure there was an alignment problem which is why I was seeing the chiropractor.  Turned out I was right and my sacrum was causing all the tension. Gill gave it a good "seeing to" (technical term!) and I walked out with my hammy happy.
The following day I ran 10km and had no hammy issues so back into the mountains on the weekend.
I headed off on my own for Ben More.  It has exceptionally steep elevation and a decent path almost to the top.  I'm also familiar with it although my last two visits have been in cloud base.  I checked the weather forecast and got different results so decided to go up early and take my chances.  As I left the car the rain started.  It was advertised as showers.  Well this one lasted for over an hour and the wind was so strong the rain drops felt like hailstones.  Three times before I have climbed this mountain with the goal being to go on and climb the one next to it but I've been defeated by the weather. 
When I got to 100 feet below the summit the wind was so strong I took my glasses off as I felt they might blow off.  Then a gust came through and knocked me off my feet.  I was lying on the path gripping onto the grass trying to work out what had just happened.  It was now completely clagged in and although I knew the route to the top, the path becomes less defined and you are more exposed to the elements.  I was also the first climber up the hill so I didn't know when someone else would come through.  I made my mind up to come down without summiting which was obviously a disappointment as I was meant to be out for 6 hours.  When I turned to come back down the wind was even stronger and was now pushing me down the mountain.  The big stones that make up the path were wet which on the way up was fine, but now so nice on the way down.  I wanted off this mountain quickly but had to be very careful with my footing while the wind kept pushing me down.
I had lost all feeling in the fingers in my left hand despite wearing gloves and a water proof mitten.  Fortunately I had a hat to keep my head warm with the rain smacking me in the face.  I warned the climbers behind me and some took my advice and others went on. Total time 1hr 47 mins.
When I got back to the car the sun had come out, typical.  However the trees at road level we swaying wildly with the wind so at the top of the mountain it would have been dangerous.  Sometimes you need to take these decisions even if it goes against your training plan.  To make up for the lack of climbing I went to the gym and did a long elliptical and stair master session followed by a leg session.
Today, Sunday, I was short of time with it being Father's Day and we had plans.  So I headed out early to Tinto and power walked up and ran down the hill 3 times taking 3hrs 30 mins - with a 6km weighted rucksack.  Because you repeat the hill you pass the same people a number of times and the comments they make are encouraging from; didn't you pass us before?  How many times are you doing it?  On one occasion I said 3 and the woman said you mean this week! What age are you? One young guy shouted out "are you some kind of ironman?"  These comments are all very encouraging and while repeating the climb 3 times seems impossible to some people, the fact that most of them are out and about and eventually getting to the top is a great achievement for them and I salute them all.  I also thank them for the comments because it does give you a lift.  One elderly gentleman about 70 said to me, son I'd love to have your battery.  He's doing bloody well at his age and was faster than the youngsters.  When I told him that it made him smile!
Now the hammy/sacrum is sorted it's business as usual although I've lost some vital training time.  I'll meet with my coach soon as she'll be busy adjusting the schedule.  I just need to keep injury free, get plenty of time in the mountains with my weighted rucksack, get stronger in the gym and my heat chamber work should be starting soon.  It's an exciting time ahead and all because I have a race booked in the calendar that I have unfinished business with.  Bring it on.

Sunday, 12 June 2022

Things happen for a reason

I'm not a believer in coincidences.  Things happen for a reason.  I've been struggling this week with my hamstring injury which is a hang over from the Ultra X 125.  Every time I try and run on it it starts to hurt and I back off before doing anymore damage.
This weekend was meant to be two long back to back days in the mountains but with my hammy and a terrible weather forecast on Saturday, I decided to find a lower route which would be safer as I'd be solo and it wouldn't put too much strain on my hammy.
Michael Martin suggested I go east where at least it would be dry so I headed to the Pentland hills where I'd been before and with the aid of a new app, I had a 21 km route market out.  The route started with a road and after 1km my hammy was hurting and I was restricting the length of my stride, not a good start.  Then I realised I was wearing road shoes not trail shoes so depending on the terrain, I may have an issue. It turned out I had picked the wrong route on the app and it was a route that walked through the mountains, not over the mountains.  This was good for two reasons; 1 - I was in road shoes; 2 - my hammy would not have enjoyed the descent.  How fortunate was I?
The route I selected turned out to be excellent if I wanted to run so I'll definitely come back and run this route in the future.  However it gave me a good workout as I power walked it and am sure my hammy was grateful for the break.  Things happen for a reason.
I'll be spending a lot of time on the eliptical trainer and the stair master while building my upper body strength in the gym in the coming weeks while my medical team sort my hammy.  Today I did 20 mins on each and 20 mins on the weights and felt like I'd worked hard at the end.
It's always the biggest challenge in preparing for a race, staying injury free, so you can stick to your training plan.  So my coach is making adjustments to the training plan to optimise the 59 days remaining before the race.
You have to take the positive out of every set back and whilst I may not get the miles of running that was planned, I can spend more time in the gym getting my body ready for the challenge of a 7 day race carrying 10 kilo's on my back.  The mountain power walking is essential as the terrain and gradient in Romania dictates that it's almost impossible to run up the hills.

Sunday, 5 June 2022

How time flies

Ultra Race Romania 2021 doesn't seem that long ago.  The disappointment of not finishing the race hurt, it still does, but it also made me more determined to come back stronger.  My progress on the physical strength front has been hampered by numerous injuries, neck, shoulder, elbow, calf & hammy but I still going.  There's 66 days till the race and I really need to get stronger.  Today was my first day running with a weighted rucksack (5 kg).  That was after a tough day in the mountains yesterday. 4.5 hours and the conditions were hot, not a cloud in the sky - beautiful.  So beautiful I took time to take pictures, broadcast a couple of FB live videos and even just lie down and listen to..............nothing.  A very different experience from the week before in the Lake District which was beautiful but not my idea of fun with queue's of people walking up the mountain.
But with 66 days to go, every training session is important as I build my strength enabling me to carry my rucksack which will weigh around 10kg.  I will also be preparing the logistics.  My equipment, my food and try desperately to get the weight down from last years 12.5kg which was too heavy.
I'm also preparing my feet which could make or break your race - top tip coming up for anyone running a multi staged ultra race.  My foot preparation is making sure I file off the hard skin that has built up as my runs get longer.  Then I apply Eucerine to my feet before I go to bed.  This cream has 10% Urea and this is the secret ingredient in my opinion to smooth, waxy skin which is less likely to crack and blister.  You should do this all the time but if you haven't started then do so straight away so your feet are in the best shape possible for the race.
I should also be starting my heat chamber training soon so the university can work out my sweat rate and therefore how I should hydrate which the professor thinks was the problem that caused my stomach to shut down last year.
There's a lot of hard work ahead  but I'm looking forward to it.  This is what pushes me beyond my comfort zone.  Yesterday was ok in the mountains but there was an 11 km run out from the mountain and I kept my focus on my pace and ignored the heat.  When I finished I ran straight into the loch fully clothed to cool down.  It was refreshing and I stayed in the water to cool my legs down.  I remember doing the same in Romania on the first two days and it felt fantastic.  Today I ran 17km with tired legs but added the 5km rucksack which was a shock to my system.  The hills took on a whole new challenge and in the 66 days remaining, I have to double the weight.  Fortunately my running partners Beth & Stu were happy with a slower pace today to accommodate me and motivated me to keep going.  I had to stop less than 2km from the finish to take a gel as I was running on empty and wouldn't have made the finish without more fuel.
When I got home I had a massive healthy lunch which is what my body craved.  That was 2 hours ago and I'm hungry again.  So I'll finish by saying what a wonderful weekend of running in the best weather this year.  My dodgy hammy was sorted by my "medical team" and taking it easy during the week.  But I'm now back on it.  In no time I'll be packing my bag for Romania but in the meantime, I'm away to raid the fridge, again!

Sunday, 29 May 2022

New horizons

It's been a short week having returned from Madrid on Monday but I managed a few runs to set me up for a long weekend in the mountains, or at least that was the plan.  I headed off into unchartered territory and instead of going north I went south, to the stunning Lake District.  On Friday I only needed to do a 6km run but managed to tweak my left hammy so after 3km it became a walk. It was in the same spot as when I ran the Ultra 125 X in Inverness but it hadn't given me any warning that it was still a problem.
As a result on Saturday I walked up Helvellyn and there were fantastic opportunities to run along the top and the descent would have been amazing.  But the hammy meant that wasn't possible.  What surprised me was there must have been over 100 people on the trail or the top of the mountain. The path up was good however in order to do a circular route you do have to do some technical scrambling.  This was probably the hardest scrambling I had done and I really had to put on my "big boy pants" as I do not have a head for heights and there were some precarious drops.
At one stage I was trying to find the best route and turned round only to find 10 people following me.  The blind leading the blind and I had a choice of two scary scrambles down the rocks and had to reverse back up the first one as I couldn't see how to get down.  
But when I reached the top you could have ran for miles across the tops of the mountains and I'd like to go back to see much more of the area.  The descent was equally fraught with scrambling but I come away more confident and perhaps might now try to tackle "threading the needle" on Ben Arthur (aka The Cobbler) with an experienced climber to assist.  According to an experienced climber the scrambling on Helvellyn was much harder than threading the needle so may be this summer I will.
Today I headed for another mountain to walk and I'm sure this will surprise you but I got lost.  Instead I ended up doing a forest walk and it was beautiful.  I think it was probably better for my hammy.  I ran the first few minutes but the pain was there so I settled for the walk.
The one downside of the Lake District is the number of people who are there which leads to very few parking places and slow traffic.  But it's so beautiful it really made for a memorable weekend.  I'll be back to continue expanding new horizons but next time will be better prepared with GPX files on my watch and OS maps.  It was exciting delving into the unknown but next time I will have researched the routes more thoroughly.  I can hear Michael Martin laughing already!  Finger crossed my amazing sports therapist Pamela will sort my hammy tomorrow as I can't afford time out with Romania only 73 days away!  A lot of work to be done on the mounts, in the gym and the heat chamber before then!

Monday, 23 May 2022

Heat training (sort of!)

I'm back on it but as I was away in Saville for the football followed by a trip to Madrid, I had to carefully plan my running.  100,000 Rangers supporters landed in Saville for a party and unfortunately we didn't get the result we wanted.  However despite a long day with a few libations along the way (!!) I was up the next morning for a 10k run.  I can't let the training slip and must keep my "eyes on the prize" no matter what challenges get in the way.
Madrid was hot, very hot but I managed 4 runs.  Nothing over 12 km but the heat had to be taken into account.  In Romania last year it was 35 degrees which was similar to one day in Madrid but I wasn't carrying a 12kg backpack and trying to run 250 km in a week up mountains.  So it was good to "suffer" in the heat as a reminder of what lies ahead.
But I'm feeling in a good place with all the hard work that's been done to date and the 125k Ultra two weeks ago was a confidence booster as I had to dig deep mentally to push through the pain barrier and keep going to the end.  Anyone with a desire to complete a multi staged ultra like MdS or URR should test themselves out on a 125km ultra over 2 days.  It give you a good insight as to the challenges you will face.
My coach has told me the mountain training will start again on Saturday and I can't wait to get back.  The scenery, the solitude and the silence of the mountains is sublime.  I'll also be doing back to back long days in the coming weeks and months, getting used to waking up with a days tough running in my legs and then repeating it.  That's what will get me ready for Romania plus I will be starting to run with a weighted backpack.  Scotland might not offer me the heat training but it got everything else I need.  Before 11th August (URR) I will source a training camp in the mountains abroad where I can be guaranteed the heat plus of course I have my heat chamber work with the UWS to look forward to.  Working towards challenging goals requires a well constructed plan where you stick to it and never lose focus on the prize and of course in the end the most important question is "how bad do you want it?"

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Emotional roller coaster

Peaking for races requires meticulous planning in the months leading up to the event and my coach Genevieve got my training spot on.  She delivered me to the start line in a great physical and mental shape and as the balance for success in long distance events in 60% mental, in my opinion, you need to train to handle the emotional roller coaster you are on during the event but also be aware of the "post race blues" that can affect you after the high.  I remember in my 125 km race last weekend feeling low with 7km to go.  It was a drag, literally I was dragging my arse up a 3.8km road up the hill, and my blisters were hurting.  With 6km to go I took a gel as it was obvious I was "running on fumes" and was going to "bonk".  I forced the gel down, I almost threw it back up, and my energy level recovered. As I reported last week, coming through the steep descent through the forest was tough but hearing the crowd welcome in the runners 1.5km away spurred me on and when I entered the finishing 300m in the field, all pain evaporated as I heard the crowd cheer me on and completed my fastest km of the whole 125km!
I lost 3kg during the race and had burned 10,000 calories in 2 days.  When I got to look at my blisters they were bad and were going to take some time to recover.  As a result I didn't run until Sunday.  I took the time to rest, eat and sleep after all my body was fatigued and before I start my next block of training for Romania on 11 August, I needed to recover.
I have been eating for Britain!  2 breakfasts, big lunches and dinners with snacks in between.  My body was craving food and I dutifully obliged.  I also enjoyed a few beers and glasses of wine!
Yesterday I headed out for an hours walk as my legs were desperate to get going.  This was my way of testing them to see how they were.  I then asked my coach if I could run today and was delighted when she said to head out for a 10km run but not to make it a one pace run.  I was so excited when I woke up and headed out to an area which is reasonably flat.  To describe a run is sublime may seem strange as I ran round boring roads in a new town but just the feeling of motion in my legs again and enjoying the birds singing made me extatically happy.  It was a grey day with light rain at the end but nothing could shake how wonderful it was to be back running.  I even managed a negative split and it was a pacey run.  Afterwards I rewarded myself with coffee and cake before heading home for a protein drink and lunch.
I have two main messages today: the first is the importance of managing your emotions before, during and after a race as it is like being on a roller coaster.  I haven't suffered post race blues but I believe that's because I am focused on my "A race" in August.  If that wasn't in the diary then I'd probably now feel low.  The second is your recovery.  Take the time to let your body recover before you get back to training.  This means you will come back stronger and have less chance of injury.  Rest, eat, sleep and recover - you deserve the break.  Finally good luck to Wilson Kane in Ironman 70.3 Marbella next Sunday -  go smash it mate your training has been amazing!

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Ultra X 125 Scotland

And so it is over.  Months of meticulous planning, a training schedule that took me from 5km to the start line of a 125km race, weekends in the mountains in all kinds of weather and a lot of time and money spent on keeping my body going through Pamela my sports therapist, Gill my chiropractor and Rhondda my masseuse (my medical team).  
Last week I was complaining about niggles.  To be more accurate, golfers elbow, lack of mobility in my shoulder and neck, tight hammy and foot and calf pain.  But my "medical team" came to the rescue and made sure I was standing at the start line ready to go on Saturday morning at 7am.  A thought that had crossed my mind a few weeks ago having done 35km in the mountains was how would I feel knowing I had another 40km to go that day followed by another 50km the next day?  It's not something I wanted to dwell on as it could have a negative affect on my outlook on the race.  I came to the conclusion that the 35km I'd just done was all about the elevation in the 4 Munros I'd just tackled and the time on my feet - end of discussion, with myself!
Before getting to the start line I had picked my Canadian friends Mike & Kristine up from Inverness Airport.  I was dressed in my finest kilt and ready to promote Scotland but the look on Kristine's face when she saw me suggested it was either a fashion gaff, or that her luggage with some race kit hadn't turned up.  It was the latter.  Thanks KLM you are consistent!  It happened to me in Romania (KLM) and it's not a good start to a race.  Poor Kristine wasn't in a good place mentally with the stress but we managed to get her kit (thanks Roddy Riddle for your assistance) and food with the exception of poles so she was good to go.  Except in the morning of the race she took the wrong medication which could have been a major problem so another fraught few hours.  I only mention this because you can lose a race before you start it if you have negative thoughts draining your energy as you wait for the start.  It plays on your mind constantly and even standing next to someone who is going through this, is draining.  Mike and I both had a decision to make.  Do we run with Kristine and make sure she is OK or run our own races?  Mike was always going to go for it and I had intended to run with Kristine but I knew she had some injuries and I might have to leave her.  She a very experienced runner so "knows the score".  As the doctor had given her the OK, Mike & I ran our own race.
I marvel at how the mind works.  One day you think a 20km training run is long and then I'm standing ready to run75km followed by 50km!  The way I approach it is only focus on the next check point so you're looking at 10-16km max.  I had recced the start of the race so was comfortable with my pace knowing what lay ahead, or at least I thought I did.  After a big climb we hit the BOG!  It must have taken over 40 mins to navigate through the peat bog and it was very tiring and wet.  Thanks goodness I had the GPX map on my watch as you couldn't see the flags that were there to direct you.  I think I've finally worked out the functionality of my Garmin and I'm so in love with it.  
While the route is pretty, when you get on top of the mountain and can look up and down the length of Loch Ness, that takes all the pain away.  By this time I'd hooked up with a bubbly 1st time ultra runner Chloe McNiven.  We had similar interests about positivity and we kept each other going when in truth, we were hurting.  She'd injured her ankle and the back of my left knee was tightening up and causing me concern.  But if you can chat away it's amazing what you learn and also the distance melts away.  In the end we both needed a quick massage with 10km to go and then hunted down the runners that had passed us while we were getting treated.  Chloe had friends supporting her and in the last kilometer sprinted away as she was high as a kite and couldn't contain her energy.  That's the great thing about Ultra's - the interesting people you meet.  I came across the line in 10hrs 39 mins.  Mike had smashed the course and was 4th while Kristin, without poles, had done amazingly well.
During the day I'd had 7 gels, 2 mini pork pies, 2 energy bars and 3 boiled potatoes in butter and rock salt.  I had one 500ml bottle which always had water in it, another with water and electrolytes (zero) and my emergency bottle of Coke - rocket flue!  It's worth the weight.  It's a balance of replacing some of the calories, you can't replace them all, and making sure your stomach doesn't get upset.  Hydrating is essential and I never got caught out like a number of runners who ran out of water.  There weren't many streams to drink from if stuck and the weather was warm so your sweat rate was high. 
Back at the campsite I wasn't looking forward to my freeze dried dinner but had spotted a fish and chip shop on the way into Fort Augustus so I headed out to replace some of the 6,000 calories I had burned.  It was delicious.  Once of our tent companions had a massage gun so I treated my legs before bed and in the morning which was a real bonus.  A very cold night in a tent meant a broken sleep but when I woke up I felt refreshed.  Some freeze dried porridge followed by the all important poo, and I was good to go. 
Everyone around me was saying the same thing; ONLY 50km to go!  Again, amazing how the mind of an ultra runner works.  Chloe joined me at the start line but on the second downhill her ankle was holding her back so we parted company.  I spent the majority of the race on my own although I was overtaking then being overtaken by the same people so we had some chat along the way.  What keeps you going are the volunteers who cheer you into the check points.  It's so uplifting and you float out of the aid stations full of hope - thank you.  I was comfortable on the hills, was cautious on the downhills because of my continuing tightness at the back of my knee but the long flat tarmac sections were hard. I knew I had blistered toes but there was little point in stopping to treat them so I just tried to block out the pain but thinking about my "dot watchers".  Towards the end there was a 3.8km tarmac road that just kept going up.  Where it flattened out I'd try and run, very slowly by now, but on the uphill I just walked.  This is where your motivation and positive mind set comes in.  I think about my friends that I have trained with to get to the start line.  I know they will be thinking of me and probably watching my painfully slow dot moving along on their smart phone.  I know they will be willing me on and I don't want to let them down so I push through the pain because after all, it's only temporary.  I didn't have any dark moments during the race but the slog before the last summit was tough.  At the last checkpoint they told us not to follow the GPX map and follow the signs which was slightly disconcerting as my GPX map had done me well.  When we diverted off course the route was a steep downhill narrow and twisting trail.  I had to focus really hard as my legs were tired and I didn't want to fall.  I'd seen enough runners walking backwards and sideways down the hill as their quads had gone, so was taking it easy because of the tightness in my left hammy.  Half way down the hill I could hear the crowd cheering in the runners - it was such a lift to know the end was close.
When I got down to the road I could hear the crowd and saw a runner 100 yards ahead of me, I'm having him was my immediate thought and I began chasing him down with 1km to go.  There was a sign, "Runners Crossing" but unlike the others in the race, the crossing was about 100 yards further on - what a kick in the nuts that felt like.  As I crossed the road into the finishing field I overtook my "prey" and probably ran the fastest 300 yards of the race.  They sent us all the way round the field and I could hear the cheers from the crowd as they could tell I wanted to finish ahead of the other guy.  There was a "hill" in the field of at least......5ft but it wasn't welcome at this stage.  I turned into the final straight, I had a surge of energy and was celebrating with the crowd and my finish picture makes me look like a mad man.  I crossed the line and lay down on the ground before receiving my well earned winner medal.  I had given everything, including a further 4,000 calories, and now wanted to curl up in a ball and rest. 
Mission accomplished and I have to thank my coach Genevieve who once again against all the odds with my injuries, work and family life gets me to the start line in great condition.
Mike came in 3rd overall which was an unbelievable result.  Kristine came in 1st V50 female which is even more impressive when you understand the challenges she had face.  I came in 22nd overall and 1st V50 so was very pleased with the result.  We went out and celebrated with a memorable meal where we stuffed our faces and I introduced them to whisky!
Thank you to everyone who has supported me to the race, who sent encouraging messages, who dot watched and cheered me across the line.  Thanks to my family and wife for putting up with my absence while I was training in the mountains.  Ultra Race Romania is on 11th August so after a short recovery I'll be back at it so your continued support is always welcome.
This race was tough but I suffered no DOMS as a result of the training regime.  It was more a mental challenge and I feel it has set me up for Romania and that possibly I am getting the hang of how to manage ultra events.  The running is one thing but the hydration, eating, race management, sleeping in tents, eating freeze dried food are all part of the race as fail on one of those and you're finished.  It was a great event made even more special by having my friends Mike & Kristine there plus the new friends I made on the trails.  It was so good to see such a young field of runners and even Chloe, at 32 taking on her first ultra (125km FFS!) and finished it despite her painful injury.  Truly inspirational.  Ultra runners rock!