Monthly Archives: July 2016

Samphire Challenge

The Samphire Challenge is a set of timed races (6, 12 or 24) that run alongside the Samphire 100, and is organised by Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The route is a lapped course around the Samphire Hoe nature reserve: an area created from the rock dug out during construction of the channel tunnel. A large out and back section is along the concrete path by the sea wall, with a shorter trail loop via race control at the visitor centre.

I’d entered the 6hr race and chosen to start at midnight, finishing at 6am on Sunday. My plan was to have a long night run as training, but I was also intrigued to see how I would find running multiple laps. I’d set a target of 40 miles (11 laps), which would require an average pace of 9 mins per mile.

In the two weeks before the race I’d been trying the Maffetone 2 week test, as well as run the North Downs marathon, and logged another 50 or so miles in training. If I completed the 40miles, I’d have done 120 in total for the two weeks, while eating a diet of mostly protein and fat, so I knew this would be tough.

The weather on Saturday was scorching, and I was concerned about how the 100 mile runners were coping (their race started at 8am). The forecast for the night was warm and humid, with an overnight low of 19C at 2am!

A warm night

A warm night

Vest and shorts weather was not what I’d been expecting.

After dinner at home, and sorting my kit I drove down to Dover. Vehicle access to Samphire Hoe is not permitted after 8pm, so I parked on a nearby road and walked down through the tunnel to the visitor centre. After registering, getting my number and sorting my drop bag for later, I was off. The Challenge runners can start when they choose, so there was no fanfare or pre-race chat, just sign in and go. I immediately met up with Jon Fielden who was on lap 20 of 27 (the Samphire 100). He looked fine, but tired, so I explained I was just starting, and then ran on. It was a strange felling, running on fresh legs at midnight, on a trail surrounded by runners who were 16 hours into a 100 mile race. Unsurprisingly I was the fastest person out there at that time, and I probably confused a few tired runners by looking so fresh and relaxed.

The first lap was really about getting to know the route. The first section was on an undulating trail, and then when down a steep section to the sea wall. There is then a long out an back on the flat concrete path by the sea wall, before back up the steep trail, and then back to the visitor centre.  I decided I’d walk up the steep section from the sea wall, and use my run 9min, walk 1 on the rest of the circuit. In races I always try to eat something after 30 mins and snack regularly. However after my first snack I felt rubbish. I’d had a decent meal only a few hours ago, unlike races which start at 6am, so I guess I just didn’t need more food.

I settled into a comfortable pace and started counting down the laps. The first 5 laps were done in 2:50, so I was slightly down on my target, but feeling good. During the next lap or two we were treated to a glorious sight of the moon setting. It was not quite a full moon, but as it sunk towards the sea it turned an amazing orange colour, which made the few clouds glow spectacularly. I wished I’d brought a camera, but as the checkpoint was every 3.7 mile I was only carrying a small flask of water and a bag of nuts and chocolate covered coffee beans – great nighttime energy.

By 4am it was getting light and I could see the faces of the 100 mile runners, rather than just the glare of head torches. I know that weary but determined look. I chatted to a few whenever I paused for a walk break. The looped nature and the out and back section meant you see people regularly, which is a great help. On point to point races you can go for hours without seeing another runner.

By lap 8 I realised I was too physically tired to push hard and make up time, and wouldn’t manage an 11th lap in the time available. However I was enjoying the sunrise, having no problems, eating and drinking enough, and happy to keep going. I’d noticed that the race organisers were giving the 100 mile runners a flag to carry on their final lap, so everyone who saw them could give them a little extra encouragement and support. I was on my 10th lap when I saw Jon, running towards me and looking like Eddie Izzard with his flag! A high 5 as we passed each other on the sea wall, and then I ran on to make my final turn before the run back.

I completed lap 10 in 5:58:48, so I could have set off for an 11th, but I was ready to stop, and happy with how it went. There were a few other finishers sitting at the visitor centre, so hung around for an hour while eating and getting myself ready to drive home.

What did I learn :

  • Lapped courses are fine. I might get bored with the scenery after a while, but having other people around makes up for it
  • Having a CP every 3.7 miles can waste a lot of time if you always stop
  • Running 37 miles is a lot easier than running 100!
  • SVN hand out some serious race bling for finishers
The route

The route

Huge medal

Huge medal

Two week test part II

I started the Maffetone two week test on Monday 4th July. The first few days were tough, and I found myself thinkig about food (in particular bread and cake) all the time. However after a few days, and certainly by the Friday I felt I was getting used to the change.

Running the North Downs Marathon with no carb loading or mid race gels was a challenge, but I survived, and recovered well afterwards.

This week I will continue with the strict rules of the test, and see how I cope on my next long run (a 6hr event next Sunday), and then as I start to reintroduce various foods.

This is also planned to be a big training week (>75 miles), but i’m continuing with the low heart rate Maffetone method for the rest of the month. 

Friday update- rest day, so no running, but feeling really good. Looking forward to an easy run tomorrow and then a 6 hour event on Sunday. I’ve made some Phil’s Fudge to try during the 6hr race. I’ll also eat sausages and some nuts.

Final update

The race went well and I suffered no nutritional problems or drops in energy. On Sunday afternoon we went to the Walled Garden music festival (great fun) but that rather limited my food options, so the carbs crept back in.

As an experiment the test was good and really made me think about what I eat. I’ve not lost weight or felt any different, and will bring back some carbs, but maybe not toast every morning.

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North Downs Marathon

I’m one week in to the Maffetone two week test – eating no sugar or refined carbs. My goal for this race was simply to survive and finish, using just energy reserves stored in my body. I had water, and an emergency gel, but was not planning on eating. Unusually for a race, I wore a heart rate monitor, to try and help ensure I kept my HR low and in the fat burning zone. The plan was to keep HR at 135 – 140.

The North Downs Way between Reigate Hill and Denbies Estate is amazing. The trail alternates between sheltered woods and wide open meadows with superb views to the south over the Surrey Hills. It’s one of my favourite places to run. Unfortunately on Sunday the  it was overcast and alternating between 100% humidity, drizzle and light rain. I had my sun cream and sun glasses, but during a few of the wooded sections I really wished I’d brought a head torch as it was so dark.

Sarah and the children had decided to come with me, although their plan was simply to play around Box Hill rather than try and follow the race. Race Registration and the start and finish was at the Reigate Hill Golf club, so after getting my race bib, I had a coffee and a chat with Bryan and Conrad. At 9, Dave Ross sent us on our way. The first mile was fairly flat, so I managed to run reasonably near the front, but then in the second mile the route climbed 300ft, and I had to slow to keep my heart rate from soaring. From Reigate Hill and along the ridge to Colley Hill is flat, and then there is a steep drop down a technical track to another flat section at the base of the downs.

After six miles the trail starts to climb again, heading slowly up to Box Hill. I walked the steps up, mindful that my heart rate had been pushing up to 150, and would be burning carbs for fuel, and I had no plans to eat any in the race. The steps down the other side felt fine, but in places the chalk path was slippery I saw a couple of runners slide and fall. The race route goes over the stepping stones rather than the bridge, which is fun and makes for a good photo. My family were here to watch, and the children had been running back and forth over the stones when there was a gap between runners. Fortunately no one slipped and fell in.


The Stepping Stones – Photo by Jon Lavis

The route briefly follows the A24, to go through the underpass, and then back up to the Denbies Wine Estate. It climbs 400 ft over the next two miles, but for the most part the gradient was not too bad, so I ran up slowly but steadily.  Finally I reached Ranmore Road, and then ran on a little way further to the turn around point, and began the run back.

The long downhill section through Denbies was fast and fun, but the section at the A24 was very crowded. In addition to our race there was the Badger half marathon and a cycling race, all sharing the same section of path and adjacent cycle track. Fortunately after the underpass, we had the route to ourselves again. I was starting to feel a little low at this point. My energy levels were down, and it felt like I had run much further than the 16.5 miles my garmin was showing. Normally I’d take a gel and push on, but instead I slowed down and tried to recover.

After the crossing the stepping stones again, it was now back up the steps to the top of Box Hill. Even though I walked the steep section, my heart rate still hit 152 here.


The long climb up Box Hill – photo by Jon Lavis

The run along the top of Box Hill was fun, as was the descent, but after crossing Buckland Lane at 21 miles I had to slow down again a few people ran passed me. The last big climb up to Colley Hill was slow and painful, and my right hip and glute were causing some pain, but with only 3 miles left now I was nearly done, so pushed on to Reigate Hill and then the drop back down to the golf club and the finish line. At the finish

My time (4:21:51) was largely irrelevant. I’ve been starving myself of carbs all week, and my body has not yet adjusted to this new regime, so I was just glad to finish. I did feel a little wobbly after the race, but fortunately they were serving food at the golf club, and after an omelette and salad I was feeling much better.


Huge Medal!

MAF training for Spartathlon

I first discovered MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) also known as the Maffetone Method a few years ago. Created by Dr Phil Maffetone it advocates slowing down to improve your effectiveness in using the body’s stored fat as a fuel for endurance events. By running at a low heart rate (generally 180-age) your body is not forced to burn carbs as fuel. When I first tried this I found I couldn’t run quicker than 9:30 mins / mile without my HR going over 135. However after two months of almost exclusively running slow with a heart rate monitor, I was running at 7:45 mins / mile at the same 135 heart rate. Since then I have regular included month long blocks of training into my plan that focus on low HR. Only when I am aerobically fit do I start to add speed work and hill reps to build strength.

Phil Maffetone also writes a lot about diet. If you are training your body to be an efficient fuel burning engine, you also need to provide it with the right raw materials. I’ve always been a bit of a ‘foodie’, and I think I eat a good and well balanced diet, so in the past I have always skipped over diet recommendations.

4 mile MAF Test - 4th July

4 mile MAF Test – 4th July

However this year, with the thought of running 153 miles clearly in my mind, I have gone back and read some of the comments about nutrition, and decided to undertake the Two Week Test.

This is not a diet, but a test, to see how you react to different foods. It starts with a two week period where you eat zero sugar and no processed carbohydrates: no bread, pasta, rice. No starchy vegetables like potatoes or legumes. After the two weeks you can re-introduce these foods and see how they make you feel.

I’ll miss eating bread and pasta, and since I don’t suffer with random weight gain, bloating or any other GI issues, I’m not expecting to make too many long terms changes to my diet, but it will be an interesting experiment, and I’ll record my thoughts and findings here, along with a diary of what I have eaten.

One good thing – While a Gin & Tonic is banned because of the sugar in the tonic, a dry martini is fine!

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