Thursday, 3 January 2019

Decision Time

I slept on it (sort of slept), then nearly slept on it again. Then I just thought like Archy the cockroach and said to myself 'wotthehell' and took up my place for OCC. It will be my third time in Chamonix, but my first as a competitor there. I use the term 'competitor' very loosely- I really will just be aiming to get round safely within the cutoff!

So although I haven't even started this year's training it's already time for a bit of a rethink although it won't really affect what I've planned for to take me up to Eco Trail Florence. After then I think I need a decent recovery and then aim to be getting a serious climb session in once a month May-July plus whatever hill-reps I can manage here. I'd still like to do some decent back to back runs but I didn't manage a lot of those in August last year so hopefully the fact that I won't get many this August either won't be a problem for A100.

Mileage this year is likely to be lower but that doesn't matter- I think it will be good to have more of a focus on higher quality stuff and hopefully the climb work will benefit me in A100 just in terms of being stronger and more efficient. The lumps and bumps of the Ridgeway and TP will seem very small in comparison!

Motto for the year is onwards and upwards, one day at a time.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Grumpy New Year

Not the best of starts to a new year. I pretty much had to write off the day as random fireworks into the small hours plus DOMS from a workout meant sleep didn't really happen and I've been too tired, unfocused, and growly to achieve anything.

Last year was pretty darn good, running-wise. It was also damn hard work. I got strong, gained and kept on weight (with a couple of blips along the way), and ran a 100 mile race. Even snuck in a little bit of sewing over the last few days of the year!

This year the plan is to get stronger still, keep the weight on, and run some more. Hopefully get going with a little sewing project I have in mind too.

The first main target I'm aiming for is the Eco Trail in Florence. I've never run a 50 miler before, and neither have I raced abroad so it's doubly exciting. It's got more ascent than I've done in a while so the focus for the next three months is some quality hill reps, strength work and also a speed session of some kind each week as the biggest goal of this year is to get under 24 hours for 100 miles.

I am still contemplating revisiting the 100k distance looking to go a bit quicker. It would be interesting to see how what I've learned, and the fitness I've gained, over the last 18 months impacts on my ability to complete that distance a bit quicker.

The only thing niggling at me is the fact I have a place for the OCC race in August- as long as I sign up by 3rd January. I haven't signed up. Yet. Maybe won't. It seems silly to throw away a place as likely it would be another 3 year wait before I could have another go (all depending on how the UTMB ballot process evolves) but it's not a cheap trip to make and I'm shit at going down mountains. If it's a nice day I'd be ok and get round, but if the weather was wet and cold I think there would be no certainty that I'd finish. My fella says it all depends on how much the race means to me, but that's where we differ. No race has ever meant that much to me. Not the way UTMB was to him. It's just another race. Sure it would be great to say I've run it, just like it's great to say you've done any other race. But no race has ever been everything to me.

So I guess I'll be sleeping on that decision yet another night...

Whatever you do this year I hope it's fun!

Eco Trail races


Saturday, 17 November 2018

Storm after the calm

Five weeks after the 100 and now the dust has settled I can say definitively that recovery is a long and complicated process.

A few niggles have settled in despite gentle but regular moving. I'm borrowing the concept of 'moving' from Emily Forsberg as I'm definitely not training, just using short easy runs, walks and strength work to keep mobile, promote blood flow and stop me going mad. Unusually for me it was 4 weeks before I got a post-race massage. The massage was as unpleasant as I expected and although it helped, there is still something not right about my left ankle/base of Achilles. My back is bothering me more than usual too but I suspect that might be down to doing more, and more varied, strength work so hamstrings and glutes are working harder than they've needed to for a while. Hopefully things will settle down over the next few weeks.

Mentally I'm a bit all over the place. It sounds silly maybe, but running 100 miles has given me a quiet confidence that even when at work people are rude or belittle me or show no respect, I just think to myself that I ran 100 miles and they never could dream of attempting it, and it makes me feel better about myself. On the other hand for some reason it's been really hard remembering what day it is and when I have to go to work. It must be a remnant of that wonderful timeless bubble running the 100, where nothing existed other than movement. Work isn't easy at the moment either and it feels jarring to be stuck inside stinky classrooms all day. It's odd too not having that drive of having to get the miles in and I actually miss those stupid o'clock journeys to Goring for recce runs! But I think my mind is recovering more quickly than my body though as this week the idea of running a bit longer than 5 or 6 miles and for more than an hour feels like something I want to do. My body isn't so sure however, and still seems to want to stop after about 60 minutes.

With time on my hands I've been thinking about next year's running and wondering what to do. I know I want to run more 100 milers but the last couple of weeks have made me wary of running more than 1 in a year although I suppose the more I do the better my body will get at recovering. So far the plan is to return to A100 and aim for a decent sub-24 hour time and also go for a much improved 100k time. Having said all that though, I don't want to do loads of races as what I did this year seemed to work very well in terms of fitness and getting 100 mile ready.

Next year may also have a couple of surprises- one is dependent on ridiculous odds in a ballot, the other is a step into a new venture (or possibly steps into two new ventures). More on those if and when...

I am beginning to realise that nothing is will be the same after running 100 miles. It has been a genuinely life-changing experience.

Saturday, 3 November 2018


In this strange recovery period I've started to take at least one walk every day. Nothing long, often just 10- 20 minutes simply to get some fresh air and stretch my legs. It feels so odd to not run every day and to feel tired when I do run, but the need and desire to move every day is still there.

A little chat with Phil today about recovery and training ended with what ought to be a very welcome piece of advice:
decondition and get a bit fat

But that's probably the thing I find hardest to do even though I completely understand why it's necessary. I don't have a great figure at the best of times and when I lose condition and gain a little weight all that happens is I get a wobbly belly and can't fit into any of my clothes comfortably. I hate it!

So I'm trying to find a balance between letting my body really recover, getting good nutrition in every day and moving regularly. Hence the walking. And sometimes a walk is great because just a few minutes from my house this evening I saw this:

Friday, 2 November 2018

Recovery Rollercoaster

It's three weeks now.

Three weeks since I had the best time running.

I'm not liking 'normal' life- everything feels dull and blunted somehow compared to 24 hours and 33 minutes of running around the TP and Ridgeway. At the same time the race feels unreal too. Seriously having trouble believing it happened.

Recovery has been a strange experience so far. I've been running 3 or 4 times a week but slowly and not very far except on Wednesday when I did 8miles (with walk breaks) and totally wiped myself out. This week I started back moving some weight around which feels good while I'm doing it but the DOMS have been pretty bad. I'm not forcing myself to train and I'm not pushing myself particularly when I do train but today it's struck me that actually I'm fatigued on a deep level both in mind and body.

No idea what to do about that.

I think keeping moving in some way is a good thing to do, if only because I struggle to sit still and do nothing- I get cross as well as stiff and sore, and I can't restrict my calorie intake to the 1300-ish I'd only need if I wasn't taking any exercise. What is proving hard to work out is what and how much it's sensible to be doing. I'm so used to pretty much everything in life being about struggle and striving that I'm a bad judge of when to train and when to rest and when to push through, when to take things really easy.

Race plans are slowly taking shape for the coming year. I'm having a real crisis over the 100 mile distance. I REALLY want to run more 100 milers. But I can see already that recovery is a complex thing and probably I only need one thing to not go right and suddenly recovery becomes a thing that will take months and months and scupper chances of doing anything else.

Why is that a problem? Well I'm torn between wanting to try a different 100 miler and going back to Autumn 100 to get that 100 Miles in A Day buckle- I was so close to that quite by accident I think it's worth going for on purpose next time. But there's the rub- I think having a very specific goal for a race means the focus has to be on a year getting ready to achieve it. Which means only doing one 100 miler next year. I realise people do run several in a year but at A100 I saw how tough that can be, how much it took out of far better and far more experienced runners than me and I'm not sure I have the resources or support to manage that level of recovery. 

So I still have a lot of thinking and soul-searching to do. And learning how to recover...

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Some stuff about kit, clothes, training and all that

A few people have asked a few questions so here's some information and thoughts on what I used and things I did.

I think I already wrote about much of the kit in a previous post. In the race I used only kit I'd practised with on training runs with the exception of a Light my Fire collapsible cup and a new Anker power bank. The cup was a great addition to kit and a much better option than my Hydrapak speedcup. It doesn't pack as small and it's not as light but it's sturdier so it's both easier to drink from and suitable for hot drinks. It also has a lid so I was able to walk out of CPs with hot tea without scalding myself and also on leg 4 without the cup filling up with rain.

The Anker power bank was a more powerful one than the little lipstick-sized pack I usually use. It was pretty much the same size as my phone but thinner and lighter. It was great as I had the option of being able to charge watch and phone at the same time if needed, but I struggled to get it into the side pockets of my Salomon race vest when the pockets were all full of stuff.

The Salomon S-lab Sense Ultra 8 vest proved a little more tricky to get on with in the race than I expected. I'd had no issues with it on long training runs but as the race progressed and I got clumsy I found finding and stashing stuff in the stretchy pockets increasingly awkward. I think more practise but also less stuff is needed.

I used sticks during the race: Mountain King Trail Blaze poles. They are not as fancy as ones by say Lekki or Black Diamond as they aren't adjustable and they are more of a faff to open up and fold away, but as I didn't have £££ to spend they were the best option. I've had this pair for over 2 years now and they've stood me in good stead in several races as well as days out on the SW coast path and in the Alps.
Most people think of sticks as something to use to aid with ascent. Certainly they do help with that although going up stuff is something I've always found relatively easy. Where I need them the most is for stability on descents and they also help to reduce the impact on my back. They can also really help on the flat when you're getting a bit tired- there's something about hiking with poles that can help you keep up a purposeful pace although whether it's the rhythm you get into or whether it's to do with engaging the upper body more I don't know. I do know though, that several times during the race people would comment that they couldn't keep up with my walking pace and in Hangman Ultra last year a couple of guys started calling me the Little 4 Wheel Drive as I powered up the hills!

PLEASE NOTE: simply going out and buying some poles and rocking up to a race with them won't do. You absolutely need to practise using them. A lot. Uphill, downhill, on the flat, on long runs. Practise eating when you've got them out, practise running with them- both in use for support and held in one hand because you don't need them for a bit. Fold them up and get them out whilst on the move, work out the best way of getting them in and out of your race vest. And be prepared to get a bit sore in the arms, shoulders and back. I've never had problems with arm or shoulder DOMS from using sticks until the A100 and I was unprepared for how uncomfortable I would feel after that race.

Edit: For women if you are running an ultra and you have your period, I recommend that you use the more expensive, branded pads. Cheaper ones are not as comfortable and don't always stick too well either. I used Bodyform ones without wings and had no issues with chafing or with blood going everywhere. Pads rather than tampons as you can't wash your hands except at some aid stations.
This turned out to be a bit of a learning curve. I usually do races in a Kalenji running skirt as it has 4 pockets which is great for stashing snacks and I've never had any bother. However after A100 as I got into the shower at home noticed what appeared to be a sinister rash of big red spots around my middle. Turned out to be pressure spots from where the drawstring had pressed against my belly. Hmmm- something to avoid on my next 100 miler I think as that could get nasty and painful.
I'm a big fan of InkNBurn clothes and whilst they are VERY expensive all the items of theirs that I own are incredibly comfortable and none of the skirts have the same drawstring thing as the Kalenji one so I think I'll settle for 2 pockets and increased comfort next time.

Injini toe socks. Love them, BUT so very painful to change them when you've got blisters under the toenails and your feet are swollen. Not sure what the answer to that is- changing socks midrace was still a good move and I find Injini socks the most comfortable out of all the different sorts I've tried.

I think I wrote about my shoe nightmare in a previous post. The inov8 Trail Talons were very comfortable but are hopeless even in slight mud. I found an Ultra version of the inov8 X-Talons which are comfy but turned out to be so wide-fitting even for my hobbit feet that my feet slid about in them which caused a bit of damage. They were however nice and grippy but also quite acceptable for the long stretches of hard surfaces on leg 4.

Thanks to Sensei Phil I had a really good program of strength work for the whole of my training plan for this race. The focus was mostly on posterior chain muscles and working on making sure that when I fatigued I could still keep a good, upright posture. It was hard work initially and also I really didn't like the getting a bit fat that happened to begin with- I felt big and heavy rather than strong- but after a couple of months or so I did begin to feel the benefit of it. And 6 months into my training plan I was fitter and stronger than I'd ever been before. Muscle mass did drop away leading up to the race but even so I felt strong and didn't experience any significant muscle issues during the race itself.
The  'Plan'
This wasn't a hugely detailed, prescriptive plan and I was never able to achieve the volume of running that Phil suggested but I stuck to the strength work and that really paid off. Running-wise yes, I did up the volume and was hitting +200 miles for several months, but the thing that probably had the biggest impact was consistency- just getting out almost every day and getting some miles in. I only ran 1 ultra and that was about 38 miles, I did one overnight hike of 50k but other than that nothing was over 26 miles. I'm lucky in that currently I work part-time so I have 2 weekdays to get longer runs done as well as weekends, but I did wonder how I would get on having only done what may ultra runners would call rather short long runs.
I did recce almost the entire course. Lots of people said there was no need, it would be well-marked and it's impossible to get lost. As you'll have seen if you read this blog, I found it quite easy to take wrong turns so knowing all the spots where I could go wrong meant I avoided any bonus miles on race-day. The recces also meant that I had a good idea of how to manage my pacing- I knew the stretches where I'd be slow and the bits where I could make up a bit of time. 

I kept a training diary for about 10 weeks but then hit a rough patch and couldn't face recording day after day of everything being a bit crappy and I never got back to writing things down even when training picked up again. I think at the time it almost felt like a punishment writing it all down and evaluating each session with a red, amber or green dot; if I was getting reds and ambers then I felt a failure or inadequate. Now I think that I should definitely keep a training diary again but keep emotionally detached from it. If stuff isn't going well either because I feel very tired or because I just don't get through the session I think I should have done, it really doesn't matter. Doing something is generally better than nothing, and sometimes it's fine to just move rather than train.

Mental stuff
This was hard. It was hard to keep belief in my training that what I was doing was enough, was the right stuff. How do you ever know if you've got it right? But I kept reminding myself that if I could be on that start line fitter and stronger than ever before then that was a great achievement in itself no matter how the race went.
I tried to think about how to manage myself in the race. Having twice crewed Steve at UTMB I had a good idea of how running a long way can mess you up and I've watched a whole lot of running documentaries, particularly the ones about Karl Meltzer's various FKTs and also Finding Traction about Nikki Kimball running the Long Trail. But it's hard to imagine going through something you've never experienced before. So I just visualised feeling crappy at various points in the race and what I'd say to myself to keep going. A few times I did dream about running it and getting a good time (around 26 hours was my 'dream' time) but it seemed so extremely unlikely that I didn't let that thought cross my mind much at all! 
The strength I've gained from having now run 100 miles is surprising- I feel like I'm good enough to take on more challenges now and I do have a couple in mind for 2019.

Ultimately I'd have to say that training didn't go quite to plan, but given the things that have been going on in the background this year I think I did as well as I could in the circumstances. For my next 100 I won't change anything significantly, but I think some better-focused speedwork early in the year will be the only new thing to add to the mix.

For now it's back to recovery!

Friday, 19 October 2018

100 miles, the aftermath

A week ago I was fretting a bit. Quite a lot.

Today I am feeling rather guilty because I'm feeling pretty good. I have now begun to question myself- maybe I didn't try hard enough, I should have pushed myself, maybe I could have got that sub-24, why am I not hurting and sore?

Up until Wednesday I think I was living off the fumes of euphoria. Sunday night was a fairly good night's sleep once I'd put an ice pack on my feet. Monday was ok, I pottered at home getting chores done and took a nap in the afternoon. The night was dreadful though- almost no sleep and appalling night sweats. So bad I had to change the bedlinen as everything was soaked. But Tuesday itself was fine and again I pottered about. Tuesday night was bad again. Another change of bedlinen.

Wednesday was work. No problems with all the stairs and I spent the day smiling, shoving my buckle in people's faces and having to explain that yes, it's perfectly possible to run 100 miles in one go; no, it is not bad for your joints; yes you eat on the go; no, you don't sleep; yes, you do wees (and more) in the bushes. My feet didn't like having to stand around, but other than that it wasn't a problem getting through a working day and that evening I managed a slow 2 miles around the village, more because I wanted to move in the fresh air than because I thought I should run.

Thursday was hard. I was suddenly very tired and just wanted to sleep although still legs felt fine. It was a very long and busy day too, not really stopping until 9pm when I couldn't be bothered to cook a meal. I ate rather too many biscuits for dinner, plus some leftover cauliflower!

Friday (today) I'm still sleepy but have been out for 4 miles. The autumn sunshine was so beautiful I just had to be out in it. Legs feel fine, feet a bit stiff and tired still and I need to resist the temptation to start training again. November I can start some kind of schedule but strength-based rather than running.

Being at work has been odd, jarring even. I do feel different after the weekend, not just because all my muscle seems to have disappeared, but actually changed as a person. It's as though that running experience was more real, more authentic than my usual daily life. There's no bullshit when you run that far. You are stripped back to essentials both in terms of what you have with you and as a person. Your job is to keep moving forward, to eat and drink, and to solve problems as they arise. That's it. There's nothing to hide behind, you can't fake any of it, you can't bluster or bluff your way through. As a result things feel and appear clearer, more simple. That is such a contrast to daily life even though I do my best to live a bullshit-free life. 'Real' life is still full of noise and clutter and the fact that to get by there's a lot of box-ticking and fakery.

I mentioned in the previous post about feeling outside of time and distance. That was beautiful. It was also surprising how neither time nor distance actually mattered or even felt meaningful. The sun rose higher and it set. Then it was dawn again. I had worried about managing such a long stretch of darkness but those 12-13 hours really didn't seem to last long. And actually I enjoyed being cocooned in the dark, following my little patch of light from the head torch. It could be isolating or disorientating not being conscious of passing hours and miles, but I found it made me feel far more connected to my surroundings, I felt a part of the landscape I was moving through. That's something I crave to feel again.

It's very hard to put into words what it feels like to run 100 miles. All I can say is that it is something that has the power to affect you in very deep and complicated ways.