Category Archives: Running

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.

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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.

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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.

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Huge Medal!

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Bewl Water again

I’ve run the Bewl Water marathon twice, but never the ultra. However this year it was a perfect fit for my race schedule so I signed up early and targeted it as a hard race and good test of my endurance before my 100 mile race in June. I believed I could run the three lap (37.5 mile) route in 5:20 and after seeing that last year’s winning time was 5:47:15 I thought I might be in with a chance of a race win.

The weather was on my side as after a warm and dry couple of days the forecasters were predicting 11C and dry on race day. Perfect conditions to run and although the trail had a few muddy sections it was generally in great condition.

The race start was 8:30, but as Bewl is only 10 miles from my front door it was a relatively civilised start time, and after registering I lined up on the start line in the cool breeze, desperate to be off. At 8:30 Dave Ross (RD) sent us off, and almost immediately two guys broke away and disappeared. I figured their pace was far too fast for me and would end in either spectacular glory or more likely a spectacular blow up. I let them go and settled in to a chase group of five runners.

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Leading the chase group after 1.5 miles. I guess the photographer didn’t like my race face!

We ran the first 5 miles together in just under 40 minutes, swapping positions a few times, but sticking together. This felt comfortable and the first five miles is one of the easier sections of the route, but even so, i felt this was still too fast for my target of 5:20.  When our group started to break up on the first significant climb, I let two of them push ahead and settled into 5th position. The next few miles I ran alone, but then after the third checkpoint, I caught and passed one of the guys who had been in our chase group, and pressed on in 4th position. I was walking the steep sections and using the walk breaks as an opportunity to take a gel and drink. After a steep climb up to the car park at the Bewl visitor centre it’s 0.75 mile to the start / finish line and the end of lap one. I paused to refill my bottle and check the time. 1:41:30 for the first lap was ahead of schedule but not so fast that I was concerned. I could just see the 3rd place runner a couple of hundred metres ahead of me as I started lap two and hoped if I kept up the pace I would soon catch him.

Lap 2 was very different from the first lap. The Half Marathon race had started at 10am, so about 12 minutes before I set out on my lap, and it wasn’t long before I started passing runners from that race. The whole event has a friendly atmosphere and when they heard me coming, all the half marathon runners waved me through. However I run with a light step and unless it’s a 10k my breathing is nearly silent. A few people didn’t hear me coming and I startled one poor woman as I suddenly appeared at her shoulder. Sorry!

Sarah was running the half with a few of her friends, and their cheerful encouragement as I passed them gave me a lift. The lap seemed to go really quickly and before I knew it I was at the third CP on the lap and well over halfway through the race. Physically I felt fine, but mentally I was feeling tired. I found it hard to judge my pace on this section, and when I saw a group of runners in front I wasn’t sure how aggressively I should chase them down and pass them. It’s always tricky when there are multiple races on the same route, and I had to check my garmin every minute or so to ensure my pace was on target. Lap 2 ended in 3:25, so a 1:43:30 lap. Slightly slower than the first lap, but still ahead of my target.

Lap 3 was always going to be where the race really happens, and the trail was now empty again for the next few miles. I tried to get back into a steady rhythm and run decent 8:20 minute miles and hopefully reel in the leaders. I was still in fourth, but surely the early lead pair would blow up soon.

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Running alone

I was passing a few marathon runners now, but as I ran up the road section to the 2nd checkpoint of the lap, I thought I recognised one of the runners from the original lead pair. At the CP he stopped, and when he turned I saw his green race number just as he saw mine. At Bewl green numbers are for the 37.5 mile race, and when he saw mine, he grumbled about being caught, but set off with me for the last 7 miles.

After the CP is a fast downhill on the road, and then a steep climb, and I’d walked it on the previous laps so walked again, while Mike ( I learned his name later) ran passed me. At the top of the hill he was only about 100m ahead, and I was sure I would catch him over the next 5 miles. However despite running hard he never seemed to get any closer. At one point I was running 7:30 pace (practically sprinting in an ultra) and still not gaining on him.

With a mile to go I got to the bottom of the final hill. I could see Mike just turning right at the top, and knew there was no time left to catch him. He was running too well for me to catch him over the last downhill section. Despite that I pushed hard and must have passed a dozen or more of the marathon runners. I knew I was well inside my target time of 5:20, but would finish in 4th place. Fourth really is the worst finishing place- I’ve been there a few time as my daughter likes to remind me.

As I ran down the hill to the the finish, both my children ran out to join me. At the local Parkrun they always manage to outsprint me to line (that’s what dads do right?), so they seemed a little surprised that they couldn’t keep up.

I crossed the line in 5:11:22, so a good time and well inside my target. I saw Mike, congratulated him on his run and thanked him for making me push so hard over the last few miles. I was then surprised and delighted when handed a 3rd place trophy. Either I had mis-counted, or one of the early leaders had dropped out.

A lovely 3rd place trophy

Very smart finishers medal

The race was won by Kristian Morgan in 4:53:21 with Mike Wilson in second place in 5:10:13. Full results Race results

The Ultimate cake and coffee

When I saw the Facebook post inviting applications for brand ambassadors I knew I had to apply. I see quite a few of these posts on social media, and the majority do not appeal to me. The idea of free kit or sponsorship is attractive but representing a brand that I have no great affinity with or passion for seems dishonest.

Ashmei is a relatively young company, but I’ve been buying their running clothing since 2012. Their aim is to create the best performance kit in the market, and the quality and attention to detail is outstanding. As a distance runner who likes to run 100 mile races, I want great kit that will feel comfortable all day, and Ashmei fits the bill.

I applied to become an Ashmei brand ambassador last year, but was not selected, but reapplied this year and was invited to the attend the selection day. This proved slightly tricky. The selection day was Saturday 5th March, and would mean I’d be out all morning. I had already entered the Steyning Stinger marathon which was on the Sunday, and failed to note this was Mother’s Day. However my wife is very supportive of my running, so I accepted the invitation.

The day started with a brief presentation by Stuart the company founder, and then we got to hear from some of the current ambassadors: Owain, Louise and Simon. They had some great stories about their sporting year as ambassadors. In fact all the people I spoke to during the day had great tales about their running and cycling and some amazing plans for 2016 and beyond.

We were given a pair of Ashmei socks to try out. I already have several pairs, so asked for a pair in my wife’s size – the children could wrap it as an extra mother’s day present.

I love the attention to detail on these – the size is stitched in, so no arguments about whether you’ve stolen your partners socks!

We had been invited to go out for a run on local trails, so after the presentation we were soon outside and running. This was another opportunity to chat with the Ashmei team although the first hills made conversation strained. There was a biting wind as we ran along the ridge but once in the woods it was fantastic. I think if my office was at the Ashmei HQ I’d have plenty of inspiration for new sports kit, but too little time to put ideas into action- I’d be running the trails all day!

After a 6 mile run we were back at the office, where coffee and cake were served, before we all headed off. Inspired, but also eagerly hoping to be selected for the role.

The script beneath the Ashmei logo translates to ” the ultimate”, and a lot of effort had been put into make some amazing cakes.

The ultimate

The ultimate

 

 

Running has a problem… and it’s not drugs

When you ask people why they run, they will often give you a list of health benefits: to lose weight, reduce the risk of heart disease; it makes you feel good, it reduces stress. All these are true, but for many runners it is now an ingrained habit. We may have started for health reasons, but now we run for the enjoyment of being outdoors and running.

Today that enjoyment went. I came home seething mad and ashamed of my running community. We have a problem and it needs to be dealt with.

This is the problem:

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The IAAF may worry about the impact of drugs on athletics, but I’ve yet to see EPO syringes or blister packs littering the hedgerows. Elite athletes may have a problem with PEDs, but far too many amateur athletes have a problem with gels. In my local half marathon at the weekend I saw a runner throw his gel wrapper into the hedge. At the time I gave him a bollocking, but carried on running. This morning I decided to run back to the hedge (about 4 miles from my home) and pick up the wrapper.

However on my run there I saw at least half a dozen other gel wrappers on the pavement. I stopped at the local newsagents and asked for a bag, so I could collect them all.

As I carried on running I picked up every gel wrapper I could see. Here is what I collected:

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Yes it is a big bag of rubbish!

Over 100 gels from just 6 miles of hedge. Many of these wrappers looked fairly clean, and some were still oozing sugary gunk. Clearly these were from this weekend, but some are much older. Runners or cyclists out on training runs / rides are discarding wrappers where ever they want to. I passed half a dozen refuse bins today on my run today. There really is no excuse to drop rubbish anywhere you please.

So what do we do?

  1. Ban gels
  • This may be a little outrageous, but I can see no reason for runners to take 6 gels out for a 13 mile race. Do people seriously believe High 5’s marketing crap? One gel every twenty minutes!

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2. Get manufactures to give these away

  • At UTMB this year, they were handing out these little bags with your race number and drop bags. You simply attach them to your pack and use them for your rubbish. It means used sticky wrappers don’t get mixed with your fresh gels.

3. Disqualification

  • I know a number of trail races where the rules clearly state that runners will be disqualified for littering. I don’t know if Race Directors enforce this, but maybe they should, and at road races as well as on trail. There is always a bin at the water / aid stations.

4. Take responsibility

  • If you see someone throw rubbish – shout at them! People know it’s wrong, and can be shamed into behaving better. Shouting is also therapeutic.
  • Clean up your own streets and trails – I did today, and I’ll try and remember to take a rubbish sack on my next long run.

Don’t be a Tosser… Bin the gels!

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p.s I’m a runner. However cycling has the same problem. I’ve seen cyclists set off on rides with a dozen gels in their pockets. I’ve seen them throw used gels into the gutter. Cycling has the problem too.

A Social Race

On Saturday I was up early and dressed in my running kit as usual, but instead of heading out to run for an hour or two, I jumped in the car. Two hours later, I was in Aldbury, pulling into the ‘Industrial Park’ that is Ashmei HQ. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bucolic office location. The farmyard and agricultural outbuildings had all been converted into offices for a couple of small businesses.

The gleaming Airstream trailer told me I had arrived at the right place.
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A couple of weeks ago I had seen a Facebook post about the role of Brand Ambassador and applied, and was surprised when a few days later I received an invite to the Ashmei Ambassador day. I was anticipating meeting a couple of dozen enthusiastic runners all competing for the role, before going for a run. I’d done some research, and seen a blog from one of last years candidates. They had all been asked to prepare a 1-minute talk for video on their goals, so I was expecting something similar or worse, and some fierce competition.

Instead, we were all welcomed with a drink and some pastries and I enjoyed a few minutes meeting the other candidates, and having a few photographs taken. There were a range of ages, and abilities, but they all had a huge enthusiasm for running, cycling or tri: be it short course races or Ultra distance. No massive egos on display or any competitiveness, just a great bunch of people chatting about running and cycling.

We weren’t set any tasks or challenges, and instead we enjoyed a brief presentation from Simon Freeman of Freestack about the ambassador program, before an overview of the Ashmei brand from Stuart Brooke. Stuart is the founder, owner, and designer and clearly passionate about creating high-performance quality sportswear.

I’ve used merino wool clothing for years as a base layer when skiing, so I had tried Ashmei in 2011, not sure if merino would work for running. It does. I’ve worn my Ashmei top on many runs and used it for both my 100 mile races. It was perfect in the first race (NDW100 in 2012) but couldn’t handle the more humid conditions on the SDW100 in 2014. Mind you nothing coped well that day. I swapped from Ashmei to a more traditional technical top after 35 miles, and then had to change again at the half way point, as I was soaked in sweat. I’ve been meaning to try the newer merino + carbon range to see how much better this is, but haven’t got round to it yet. In fact, I had turned up for the ambassador day wearing my original Ashmei jersey. Too creepy?

After the presentation, we were all given a pair of new socks to try and invited to join them for a run or ride. I’m not sure how it worked for the cyclists, but for the runners this gave us another opportunity to chat as we ran up a few trails, posing for selfies and group photos before gatecrashing the Ashridge Boundary Run (a 16 mile race taking place that day).

Once back at the Ashmei office there was just time for more cake before heading home. Now it seems the competition has started in earnest, and it’s not on the trail. Instead it’s all happening here on social networks: at least half a dozen blogs, a YouTube video, Instagram stills and video (that’s me on the left – thanks Matt!), and more #ashmeiambassadors tweets that your average marathon.

These runners all know how to create buzz and PR for a brand, so Ashmei should do well with their 2015 Ambassador program who ever they chose! I just hope to be part of it, and even if I’m not, I really enjoyed my morning.

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.

 

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.