Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The good, the bad and the ugly.

Last week was quite a mixed bag; you will have to decide which bits are the good, which the bad and which the ugly!

I started the week hoping to put together a "medium" week of training which would be 5 sessions, somewhere in the region of 40 miles, including possibly my longest run so far. Things started in a rather unorthodox way on Tuesday as I borrowed a friend's pair of Hoka Combo XT shoes. After having a look some Hoka shoes last weekend, I really wanted to have a go in a pair, especially after reading lots of reviews and blogs by runners, some with Achilles tendon problems. The snag was that my chum is way taller than me and two shoe sizes bigger! Just to get a feel for the radical design, I did half my route in my normal shoes with the Hoka's in a rucksack, then swopped shoes out on the trail (along with two extra pairs of socks.) Well, first impressions were very positive. Despite the size problem, I was soon bouncing along which rarely happens on my sessions after work, these runs are often just steady plods.

 I only had the shoes until Thursday, so had to squeeze in another short run on Wednesday after refereeing a football match but could only manage 3 miles. Even so, the shoes seemed to make everything easier, looking after my legs nicely. I finished the run, walked into the house and said to Tracey that, even though I am trying not to like them, I'm going to have to get a pair; the comfort factor is simply too great and they feel fantastic to run in.

Thursdays session was a complete disaster! The intention was to do a single hill rep, the aim being to condition my quads to long downhills, something really important for the Lakeland 100. The plan is to run uphill for 40 minutes, then bomb back down, increasing the length of the rep as the year progresses. For whatever reason, I felt lathargic but still set off with headtorch to run a fair way up Skiddaw, however, the weather decided to kick a man when he is down, with a dramatic hail storm arriving just as I started the first steep climb. After battoning down the hatches of my jacket, I did a Falstaff, turned tail and thought about fighting another day.

Looking to St John's in the Vale
After spending Saturday morning with some of our pupils at the Cumbria Schools Cross Country Championships, I called in at The Climbers Shop in Ambleside and am now a proud owner of a pair of Hoka Bondi B shoes. These are actually the road running version but had by far the best fit for my narrow feet. The trail shoes had a rather large toe box which my feet just rolled around in, the Combo shoes were a little too short in the toe area, but the road shoe is a lovely fit with hardly any difference between the grips, particularly at the speed of an ultra race (one full size up on my usual UK10.) I may have to change my name to Goldilocks!

Lakeland 100 route, just beyond Latrigg
The good bit of the week came on Sunday with a 16 mile run, my longest so far since the operation. The new shoes were superb. They really take the sting out of the trail but I did still find I had some connection and did not feel it detracted from the whole aesthetics of the experience. Stability was good and you feel very confident, especially over rocky terrain. The large footprint gives good grip and, interestingly, the minimal drop from heel to toe (something like 4mm) gives a really natural mid foot strike, even though you assume that with so much padding you will be more likely to heel strike. The shoe's biggest asset seems to be decending; you eat up the terrain with great confidence and so much less pounding. I know it's still early stages but, so far, I am impressed. I finished the run strongly and, satisfyingly, in the same sort of time I was doing last winter. This week, I am having a lovely recovery week, which I feel I deserve, followed by easy, medium and hard, including a long run on the West Highland Way, so that's the next month sorted. Easy!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Another solid week

I now feel that I am into a training programme. Like most runners, I am a creature of habit; training, for me, is all about routine. Having not trained for 8 months, it has not only been a battle back from the operation, but also to reform the training habit.

I stuck to the plan, aiming for another "easy" week consisting of 4 sessions. The first two outings, on Tuesday and Wednesday, went really well, so much so, that I put Wednesday's run down as a tempo session as I felt I put in that kind of effort. Did not suffer any major complications in the evenings after those sessions, I just have a general stiffness around the ankle joint which is gone by the next morning.

Friday's session was another story! I planned to run around Derwentwater Lake straight from school and I also wore a pair of compression socks for the full day as I have been feeling sluggish in my lower legs by the end of the working day. Whether it was a problem with wearing the socks (something I have done before), just being the end of the working week or a combination of the two, I had some problems during the run. All started well and I felt fine for the initial 3 or 4 miles, but then struggled to run naturally and felt very awkward in my gait for the remainder of the run, almost hobbling by the end. I had the usual soreness in the evening, but was fine again on Saturday so, hopefully, nothing to panic about!? I suppose you have to have the occasional sorbet to clear the palate!
Today, I went down to Ambleside to have a look at a few of the Lakeland 100 trails around there; the small footpaths of the route are not trails I know well. I first ran back round the route, skirting below Wansfell towards Troutbeck, turning at the Post Office to return to Ambleside. The race route seems easy enough to follow and, like last week, I kept imagining I was in the race, thinking about how I might be feeling at this point (knackered!) The route follows some lovely paths with great views down to Ambleside and Windermere.
As I returned to Ambleside, I made sure I followed the exact route through the streets to The Lakes Runner shop, which is the official checkpoint and then continued out on the next section of the race over Loughrigg Fell, down to Skelwith Bridge. I finally turned again, climbing back over the fell to Ambleside. Felt fine all the way which was a big relief after Friday's disaster, still skipping along at the end. Again, I was able to just run without thinking about foot placement; it almost seems that I am running more smoothly/naturally in the rougher terrain, whereas on the smoother trails on Friday, I struggled. Go figure! Just over 11 miles in 2 hours.

Had a little wander round Ambleside after, calling in at The Climber Shop which stock the Hoka shoes (see earlier post) just so I could have a look. I tried a pair on but I'm not sure I could run in them. I think they would take some getting used to and I would love to have a trial run in a pair just to get a feel for them properly; jogging around the shop laughing at yourself is not really a suitable test run! I cannot justify spending that kind of money on a radical pair of shoes that might be exactly what you need in a 100 mile race, but equally might not suit my running style. Might keep my eye out for some cast-offs or secondhand shoes that don't agree with someone else - they may give the comfort my heels, ankles, knees, hips and back desire!!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

First week of training

Well, I have actually managed it. I planned to make this week my first proper training week, doing what I would normally complete in an "easy" training week when fit. I strongly believe that recovery time is vital in your long term preparation, so make sure that an easy week has three days off from running; this is the period in which your body repairs itself and becomes stronger.

On the three runs since seeing the physio on Tuesday, I have tried to run more naturally but really struggled on Wednesday and Friday. My heel area tends to stiffen up during the day at work, so running on top of this makes it more difficult to run freely and I found I was concentrating on my foot strike most of the time, getting more and more annoyed with myself which only made me think about my action even more (something to do with a book by Joseph Heller!?) On both occasions, the heel was quite stiff in the evening, but fine again next day. On the positive side, I am starting to feel that I am coping with the physical side of the training, I am definitely fitter than before Christmas and, more importantly, a routine is starting to form.

Today, I decided to continue picking off sections of the Lakeland 100, so parked at the end of the old railway near Threlkeld and ran the length of the Coach Road and back. The majority of this section is run on a rocky path, going out over fell land without ever getting too high, which I thought would be an ideal trip considering the weather. After a short easy initial section, there is about a kilometer uphill over very wet and muddy ground (Bob Graham route from Newsham to the Old Coach Road.)
Just beyond Newsham Farm
On a day like today, with the current ground conditions, there is no point tip-toeing round the mud, it is simply a case of picking a line and splashing through it. I remember from my Bob Graham training from a few years ago that there are a number of possible trods to take here, but the pace notes for the Lakeland 100 give a nice simple route which is easy to follow, even in the dark, keeping just to the right side of Birkett Beck.
Heading towards the side of Birkett Beck
Once up on the Old Coach road, I made good steady progress and this time managed to allow my mind to wander, not thinking about the heel. The physio was right, the less I think about what I am doing, the smoother I run! I really started to enjoy this section, trying to picture myself running this during the race in the summer, which distracted my mind from the heel and the rain. I did not see another sole along the entire length of the Coach Road, which is quite a rarity in the Lake District. I finally reached the end of the track at a small car park, which I think is a checkpoint for the Lakeland 100, in about 70 minutes.
End of Coach Road
The return journey was tougher as it was into the wind and rain, but it did not involve the climb up through the swamp. I felt a bit stronger towards the end today, more so than previous longer runs, which was encouraging. In addition, there was less stiffness in the tendon, so I am hoping this is a sign that my body has coped with the weeks training. Without the long climb, it only took about 50 minutes to run back to the car, giving a total time of about 2 hours for the 11.2 miles.

The weeks summary is; 4 sessions, 32 miles and 5:36 hours. That is a good solid start, but I must make sure I do not overdo things, so I am going to aim for basically the same again next week and really concentrate on not concentrating!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Just run!

The title refers to the instructions given to me by my physio. I had another appointment today, which developed into a rather interesting talk.

She gave my heel area a good look over and checked that the tendon is moving freely and not grinding. Everything was fine and she could see a definite increase in muscle size in the calf, so it now just looks small rather than pathetic.

We discussed the running I have been doing and I commented on how I have been using the GPS watch to keep my pace slow to avoid too much stress. To my surprise, she suggested that I try to up the pace to the level I would normally train at, as this would probably give me a smoother run using my normal gait. I talked about how I spend all my training runs thinking about how I am putting my foot down rather than just running normally and she suggested that this could be making things more difficult.

Somehow, I have to retrain my brain to realise that there is no longer a mechanical problem with the foot. At the moment, my brain is trained to protect the injured area (built up over the last few years of running with the problem) and will not let me run naturally, probably causing the calf to tighten and therefore putting more strain on the tendon.

We have decided that I'm on my own for the next couple of months, though I can call at any time I need help or advice, and then she can assess the situation, hopefully for the last time. Her parting words were "Just run!", so that is what I'm going to try and do.

On a different note, I received one of my regular emails from a friend who lives in Spain (Hi David), commenting on the previous post which I thought I would copy part of here;
"Your photo of the trees at Buttermere, start of Scarth Gap ..... I planted them when I was a National Park Ranger, for footpath erosion control."
Small world!!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

First Lakeland 100 Recce

Happy New Year to all.

Things have been progressing well over the last two weeks. Since I broke up for the Christmas holidays two weeks ago, I have been able to get into more of a training routine, at least with regard to regular running; whether the running I am doing at present can be classed as "training" is another matter.

I am certainly not at the point where everything is free and easy, the running is always a bit of a struggle but it is getting easier. I had a run on Christmas day where I felt really good and found that I had to hold back the pace a bit which was a great feeling and equally important for my confidence. I recovered quite quickly from my run along the WHW last week and feel that I am just about ready to try a "training week" rather than just a "run as you feel week". I have been pleased with the way I have built up my running over the last 2 months, starting with the 30 second jogs to a point where I can tackle training sessions.

Yesterday morning, I thought I would start my training for the Lakeland 100 with a recce of part of the route from Blacksail Pass to Buttermere valley. So, despite the abysmal weather, I ran/walked from Buttermere, over Scarth Gap, down into Ennerdale, up to Blacksail Pass and back again.

Start of climb to Scarth Gap from Buttermere
 I took the first climb nice and easy, walking the steeper first part, running the easier middle section and walking again up to the pass. I caught and passed three folks pushing mountain bikes up the hill; knowing how rough this terrain is, I wondered where they were expecting to ride; each to his/her own!

Scarth Gap to the left
The drop down into Ennerdale was a bit slippy in the wet conditions, so much so, that I ran most of it off the rocky path on the grass. I stopped at the YHA at the head of Ennerdale to change my gloves for a second (Goretex) pair and put on an extra jacket for the climb up to Blacksail Pass as the weather was getting more brutal. I ran the first half to generate some heat and then stomped to the top, feeling pretty good but glad I was not continuing on into Wasdale.

A quick turn round at the top and lots of concentration on the descent. This was now the Lakeland 100 route and it became very clear that this section would need more recceing. During the race, this will be in the dark and, at times, the path is very indistinct particularly through the rocks. It gets much easier towards the bottom and you always have the handrail of Sail Beck on your right, but I am definitely going to have another look at this descent before the race.

The climb back up to Scarth Gap is much easier and shorter than I thought, taking less than 20 minutes. Once again, the descent from the top is very technical and is not the palce to make a bid for glory in the race. The objective for me will be to get to the valley in one piece and protect my quads for battles later to come.

Back in Butteremere Valley
I got back to the car in just over 2 hours, tried not to get too depressed to find that I'd only covered 7.2 miles, but felt great to be back in the hills again after such a long break. No major problems with the tendon other than a little stiffness later, but this was again less than I was suffering only a week and a half ago.

So, next week I will try an easy training week and see how the legs cope with that. Watch this space!