Monthly Archives: January 2015

From hills to mountains

At the end of last year I decided to focus my goals on hills and mountains and not just chasing PBs. I ran the Brecon Beacons Ultra and really enjoyed it, and then entered the TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie). I was checking the UTMB website from 9am to check the results of the lottery draw, and when I finally managed to get the search page to work, I saw the good news that my application was confirmed. TDS is one of the five Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc races. The race is about 74 miles long with 24,000 ft of elevation gain over technically difficult terrain. I knew it would be tough when I entered, but now my place is confirmed, I’m starting to plan my training.

I’m not too concerned about the distance, but nothing I have run so far compares to the elevation profile for this race. My training log shows last year I averaged 9,700 ft of elevation gain per month, with a highest figure of 16,900 ft in June (11,400 of which was the South Downs Way). TDS is more than twice that with 24,000ft of climbing.

Garmin-Stats

If I am to stand a chance of coping with that amount of climbing (and an equal amount of quad trashing descents), I need to be running up and down a lot more hills. I’ve no idea where I will find them, or what sort of hill sessions I’ll run yet. That may wait for another blog.

However I know I can run 100 miles in a day, but I’ve never run a hundred miles a week in training. In fact I tend to peak at about 200 – 220 miles per month. So my best guess is that in order to ascend 24,000 ft in a day I need to aim to peak in my training at 48-50k ft a month.

I think if I can achieve this I will be strong enough to cope, and more importantly, I will have the confidence to believe I can finish.

There is still plenty of time to work out a plan to peak in August, but for now I’ll try to remember to take the hilly option when I head out of the door. So no more flat runs along St John’s Road, Mt Ephraim and Langton Road to the Hare and back.

 

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Winter Tanners 30

After taking it easy in December and not racing, I thought I’d start the year with a fairly gentle event, and registered for the LDWA Winter Tanners.  I ran this in 2013 – the event was cancelled because of the snow, but the route had been published so I met up with Allan and Jerry in the car park and we ran it together.

However this year it was a beautiful sunny morning, and I ran with a friend from work (Richard’s blog is here).

We met up in a car park in Leatherhead and made our way to registration. By the time we were checked in and started running it was about 8:45, and promising to be a fantastic day. It was cold but not frosty, and the sun was shining in a bright blue sky. I started with my jacket on, but after 30 minutes, stopped to remove it and pack it away. It had been fairly wet in the preceding week so I has expecting a lot of mud, but actually there were only a few sections that were bad, and most of it was easy running.

This year’s route took us south over the North Downs and on to Leith Hill before swinging round to the West for a few miles and then returning to the North Downs Way.

The view from Leith Hill was spectacular. I’d not been there before, and had expected the climb up to be far harder, but the route we took led up a gradual incline so by the time we realised where we were, we were almost at the summit.

 

I enjoy the LDWA route instructions, and once you get used to them the navigation becomes fairly straightforward. We only had one diversion, when we followed another group, but after a hundred yards realised we were on the wrong track and turned back. However the instructions also provided much amusement:

Route Instructions

Rich: “That track felt a lot steeper than 10 percent”

David (after lengthy pause): “That’s a compass bearing, not a gradient”

I’ve no idea what he thought this meant: TR & in 400Y, at WM & path junction, FR (320º) down BW.

After Leith Hill there was another climb to Pitch Hill, and this was hard going. We had to stop for a breather at the top, but a handful of my chocolate coated coffee beans soon had me perked up and ready for a few more miles. At Checkpoint 4 we caught up with Robert , who Richard knew and his friend Mark who was running his first ultra. They were just leaving the CP when we arrived, but we caught up with them as we ran down the hill to Tanners Hatch and then ran with them for the final few miles into Leatherhead.

30.5 miles in about 5:45 (I forgot to stop my Garmin at the finish!) and good fun.

The route

The route

2014 summary

I set myself two goals for 2014:

  1. Run a sub-3 marathon
  2. Set new PBs in all my other distances

I had been trying to run a fast marathon for a couple of years already so the first goal was an obvious one. In trying, and failing, I had realised I needed to improve my speed, so the second goal naturally followed from that realisation.

Performance

I achieved my first goal, but not at the first attempt. The London Marathon did not go to plan, but I finally ran a 2:59 at Dublin (race report here).

As for my other PBs, I set new records at 5k, 5mi, 10k, 10mi, Marathon and 100mile. My only fail was the half marathon. In the end I only ran one competitive HM all year and on the day just didn’t feel great.

Highlights

Although I’ve been chasing a sub-3 marathon for a few years, achieving that goal probably only just scrapes in to my top 3 running experiences of the year:

  1. Centurion SDW100
  2. Weald Challenge 50k
  3. Dublin Marathon

I enjoyed almost every minute of the South Downs Way. This was my second 100 mile race and I was determined to be stronger and able to run much more, just taking walking breaks when I needed to eat and drink. So I was thrilled with the way the race went, and had a great time with my crew and pacers.

The Weald challenge was entered as a training race. It was sandwiched in between the London Marathon and SDW100, and my goal was to run a constant pace and finish in 4:30. It turned out it was a 51k route, so my even split 4:35 was right on target, and to cap off the day I finished in 3rd place (my first ever podium finish), and ran along some beautiful trails.

2015

Onwards and upwards. Literally I hope, as I’ve entered TDS and am now waiting for the draw to see if I have a place.

 

Brecon Beacons Ultra – race report

This race is a 46 mile trail, mountain, canal tow path and road race around the Brecon Beacons. The biggest challenge is the climbs: first up Tor y Foel and then up to The Gap. While the Gap is the highest point and the trail up and down is quite technical,  the climb to Tor y Foel is far steeper and longer. Up until this race the toughest sloop I’d ever run was the start of the Beachy Head marathon. This was 4 times as long! It’s also a two lap race, so on the second lap you have the joy of knowing exactly what is coming.

The race started at 7:30, and though it was cloudy and chilly, the forecast was for a mild day and some sunshine. It had rained non stop all week so we knew the ground would be sodden, but it was near perfect running weather. I started slowly in the middle of the pack, as I knew that my lack of hill training and only 3 weeks recovery time since Dublin Marathon meant I would not be able to challenge at the front. My goal was to have fun and finish before it got dark. The first lap took 4 hours. Like most of the runners I walked up Tor Y Foel, but I managed to run most of the mountain path to the Gap. This was tough as the path was strewn with loose rocks, and looked more like a stream in some places as there was so much water running down. I saw two runners trip and fall, and although I tripped on rocks a couple of times I managed to keep upright. While the climb up was hard the route down was probably even worse as it was just as technical, and gravity kept pulling me down too fast. However once that section was over it was a far more runnable seven miles of road, fields and tow path back to the start for the second lap.

Lap 2 started well. I stopped for a couple of minutes to top up my flasks with water, and ran along by the canal trying not to think of the second climb up Tor y Foel. I was helped in this by a kindly mountain biker who made my day by riding straight into the canal. It always pays to look where you are going! The second climb was as bad as I feared. My calves were cramping and I had to stop and rest several times, and a few people managed to pass me even though they were only walking. However after the summit I was able to start running again and soon caught up. The ascent to the Gap was more walk than run, but I was really looking forward to the final stage as I knew I had paced myself well and my marathon training would pay off on the road a tow path. Sure enough as soon as the path changed from rock and mud into grass and gravel I was off and running at what seemed like a blistering pace (although I think everyone who ran the Brighton 10k would have overtaken me!).

I finished in 8:36:23 in 27th place. It was just after 4pm when I finished so goal achieved.

This was a great event and although I didn’t respect it by giving my all I really enjoyed it, and hope to come back one day and really have a go at the hills.

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Dublin Marathon race report

I wrote this ages ago the forgot to publish
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After three years and three failed attempts I was desperate to finally run under three hours at the Dublin Marathon. My preference is for running trail marathons and ultras, so I’m not sure if I would have the mental resolve to try again after another failure.

However despite these fears I felt positive going into the race. My training had been consistent with no injuries or illness to disrupt things, and I felt in good shape. I had spent a lot of time reviewing my failure in the London Marathon, and managed to turn that race into a positive: I’d run the fastest 24 miles ever with zero fuel – just water! My pace and hydration had all been good, but my body had simply run out of fast burning fuel. If I consumed a few gels at Dublin, I should be able to keep running for another two miles. To back this up I had started testing various gels on training runs and chosen the EFS Liquid Shot as my preferred fuel.

I’ve only been to Ireland on business before, so had decided to take the whole family and go for a week. We arrived on the Saturday afternoon, and after checking in at the hotel went straight to the Expo to register. This meant Sunday was a day of sightseeing with the family, and I could take my mind off the race and relax.

Monday morning I was up at 5:30 and joined a few dozen runners having breakfast at 6:00 in the hotel before a short walk to the start zone. It was a reasonably well organised area, although if the race gets any bigger they will need to look at the bag drop area. Having the toilet queue next to the bag drop queue caused a lot of congestion.

By 8:30 I was walking down towards the start line. It was a reasonably warm morning, and the forecast was for 16C and gusting winds. However it is a circular route so the wind should not be much of a factor.

My plan was to start a little way behind the official 3:00 pacers, and take it easy for the first couple of miles, and then build up to a 6:45 pace. By half way I wanted to be tucked in behind the pacers and follow them until mile 24, where hopefully I would feel strong enough to push ahead.

After a few presentations and introductions, the race started promptly at 9:00 and we were all off. I crossed the start line only 10 seconds after the gun, and was running. The usual race excitement meant the first mile was a little quick (6:43), but I then slowed down and settled into a relaxed stride and even managed to chat to a few other runners. After 4 miles the race turns into Phoenix Park and onto a 2 mile straight. I could clearly see the pacers and their flags as they were about 300m ahead of me, and being followed by a large group of runners. There was no hurry to catch up, but as we left the park there was a short downhill stretch and as I naturally accelerated, I was soon up with the pace group. This was a little earlier than planned but quite good timing as the route from mile 10 was a rather dull suburban road, as we wound through the outskirts of Dublin and it was good to be running a larger group. For the next few miles I just concentrated on using my EFS Liquid Shot and taking water whenever it was available.

My wife and children were waiting for me at the 13 mile marker and cheering me on, so I gave them a smile and thumbs up to show I was feeling good, and crossed the half way point in 1:29 still feeling fresh and positive. I find it easy to drop off the pace if I let my mind drift too much mid race, so although all I had to do was follow the runners in front, I kept concentrating on where we were going, how fast I was moving and how much I was eating and drinking.  

At 18 miles I still felt fine. There was a slight incline and I felt myself slowing, but relaxed and picked up the pace as I got to the top. The mental doubts were starting to creep in now, but I kept telling myself ‘it’s normal to feel tired after 18 miles’. Somewhere around the 20 mile mark there was a huge arch to run under, emblazoned with “You’ve run through the Wall” slogans. The road narrowed here as everyone went through the arch, and the noise from the crowd was deafening, but really uplifting too. There was one more hill at 22 miles, but again not very long or steep; certainly nothing to fear compared with some other races I’ve run.

My final worry was the 24 mile mark where I crashed at London, but I ran through in just under 2:45 and knew I was almost home. I saw Sarah and the children again, and gave them another thumbs up and grin, and tried to relax and enjoy the last mile or so. There is a fairly long finishing straight at Dublin. It’s longer than London, and too far to sprint when you first see the finish, so I waited and waited, and in the end never bothered with a final sprint. I was too busy staring at the clock over the finish line and smiling; 2:59:37 as I crossed under it, so a 2:59:29 chip time and 302nd place.

So what have I learnt…

Too often we create our own artificial barriers. It took me three attempts to run a half marathon in under 1:30, and since then the slowest I’ve done has been a 1:28 when my asthma was so bad I walked up the steep bits. 
At Dublin I was no fitter or faster than I was at London or indeed Brighton the year before, but I knew I was capable. I had convinced myself that all i needed to do was run the same race strategy I used at London, + take a few gels and I would do it. Belief is no substitute for training, but without it, it’s very hard to succeed.

 

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