Sunday, 26 February 2012

Training/Recovery balance

After my confidence boosting day on the West Highland Way during the half term holidays, I have been caught in limbo. I definitely suffered in the few days after the long run, which suggests that I did really push myself, perhaps a bit too hard. As I have thought about the run over the last week or so, I have come to the conclusion that the psychological benefits I gained, outweigh the physiological negatives I have suffered since. Knowing I can cover the big distances at a reasonable pace again is really important and, as I stated previously, it takes some pressure off me.

This week, for the first time since the operation, I have been torn between waiting to fully recover from the long run and wanting to get back into full training. In previous years, a couple of easy days would have been enough, however, after my training runs this week, it is obvious that I currently need longer.

After some easy runs during the week, I planned to have a tougher weekend. On Saturday, the weather looked quite nice so I decided I would have a run up Skiddaw with a view to doing some quad conditioning on the descent. Despite being a nice day, I thought I would just pop an extra jacket, gloves and buff into the bumbag; well you never know!? Turns out this was one of the best moves I will make this year. Just as I reached the summit ridge, the weather changed dramatically. Gale force winds, snow, hail and sleet!! All the layers went on and I toughed it out along the ridge to the summit, running at a gravity defying angle just to stay upright. I wanted to take some video footage but it would have been impossible to stop, take off the glaves and work the camera. It was simply a case of touching the trig point and getting the hell out of there. On the way down, I met another runner going up and told him the conditions on the summit were brutal. He thought I was joking as we were bathed in sunshine at the time. Whilst up there, I could here a helicopter (visibility was too short to see it), I wonder if it was involved in a mountain rescue?

The long climb has obviously put some extra strain on the tendon and for the last 36 hours my calfs have been screaming. I had planned to do a cpoule of hours today but decided to rest up, having one eye on my long Lakeland 100 recce next week with John Kynaston.

My short term targets have changed radically in the space of less than two weeks. After the long run on the WHW, I thought I could start to gently increase the tempo of training and add in more hill work. After this last week, I realise I don't need to trun up the gas yet, in fact, I can afford to turn the gas down for the time being and just gently build on the base I have got now. So, this next week I am going to stay off the hills and just tick over in the hope of being in a better state to make the most of next weekend.

During the recce run I want to try and carry the full set of kit that you have to carry in the race later in the year. I spent an hour this afternoon trying out different bits of my mountain marathon kit, deciding which combinations would work and fit into my favorite trail running rucksack.

I will need to have the extra small pack attached to the waist band and I think I will add some webbing to the main rucksack to give the option of carrying jacket, gloves, etc on the outside. Overall, I was pleased with the system and it weighs much less than a typical mountain marathon rucksack.

Gels, energy powder to mix with water, electrolyte tablets, compass, whistle, 1st aid kit, spare drink and food, hat, gloves, headtorch, foil blanket, phone, base layer trousers and top, waterproof jacket and trousers, extra pertex jacket.

The extra webbing will make life easier on the run to access the most likely gear and leave things less cramped in the sack. Big test next week for the kit system and an even bigger test for John and I. All we need now is some better weather!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

West Highland Way training run

This has been a really important week for me. Those that have viewed the video in my previous post will understand why, but it goes deeper than just being able to call myself an ultra distance runner again.

On Monday, Tracey and I travelled up to Arrochar at the tip of Loch Long where we had booked 5 days in a self catering apartment. It turned out to be a superb little base, immaculately presented with every mod-con you could need and we had a lovely week. (Check it out here)

For me personally, Tuesday was the big day. I decided that I would run from Balmaha to Tyndrum, along the West Highland Way. This particular run was my first experience of the WHW back in 2009 when I ran with a friend who was training for the WHW race. Back then, I had such a fantastic day out that I entered the Highland Fling Race as soon as I got back and have been concentrating on ultra running since. I have done this route for the previous 3 years during the February half term holiday, getting a little faster and more confident each time, though last year I knocked something like 35 minutes off my previous year's time.

1st training run on WHW - Feb 2009

This year, I didn't really know what to expect. Most parameters seemed to be against me; double the longest run since the operation, 7 month lay-off during the injury, normally done 2 1/2 months training at this point (only 1 1/2 this time), blah, blah, blah. On the plus side, I was just so excited to be out there again, I thought that might help me through.

I set off from Balmaha feeling so much better than I had just before Christmas when I dragged my self to Rowardennan kicking and screaming. I knew straight away that this was going to be a much nicer experience. I took lots of video clips along the way as I have done on many of my outings, including some where I place the camera on the trail side and run past so I get some footage of myself running. Not only does this look good on the video but it also gives me some insight into how I am running mechanically; something I think more runners should try and do.

I knew I was making good time, though it wasn't until I reached my first marker after 35 minutes or so, that I realised just how fast I was going. Not long after this, I met John and Katrina Kynaston as they drove past on the way to Rowardennan to walk up Ben Lomond. We had a short chat about our future training plans for the Lakeland 100 and our first outing together in a couple of weeks time. As ever, John was straight out with the camera and kindly sent me a copy of the photograph.

I carried on, still with a lovely bounce in my step, reaching Rowardennan in around 1:18 hours, 12 minutes quicker than in December. From that point I knew one of two things would happen. Either I would have a storming day out and finish in a better than expected time or the wheels would fall off and I would have to dig deep to get to Tyndrum, leaving Tracey to pick up the pieces.

There is a long climb out of Rowardennan, so I used this time to walk a little. I tried to visualise where I would attempt to run or walk during the Fling race in April, trying to break the long climb into smaller sections which make the whole thing easier to cope with, both physically and psychologically. Once I reached the single track section, I let things fly a little. This is a really nice trail with lots of short ups and downs, requiring smooth running and quick transitions from a walk to a run; really interesting stuff. I reached Inversnaid in just over 2:30 hours.

The next 3 miles are the "Marmite" section of the WHW, you either love it or hate it! Fortunately, I love it. It is really technical with lots of rocks, short climbs, longer climbs, tree roots and just about anything else that could throw you off your stride. I find the key is not to fight the trail but relax and be smooth - easier said than done. Not long after, you pass Dario's post and have to take in the view - it's the law!!!

View from Dario's Post
It is always a relief when you reach Beinglas Farm and can put the loch behind you. I still felt pretty good at this point, well as good as you can be after running for 4 hours, though I did begin to think that I might be able to hold this pace together to the finish. The next few miles do allow you to get more of a rhythm and the miles seem to go that little bit quicker.

The most important point of the whole day came after crossing the main road and railway, just before Cow-poo corner. I kept a close eye on the GPS and stopped when the distance ticked over to 26.3 miles which officially made me an ultra distance runner again. Yippeee!!

From this point on, I suddenly became interested in what time I could do for the whole route. My quick calculations suggested I could better last year's time which would be some kind of small miracle and a huge confidence boost. So I set about being smooth and running as much as I could, picturing how I would do this in the Fling. It was pleasing how I was able to respond despite the growing tightness in my calfs and I simply ground out a steady pace through the rollercoaster woods and on to Tyndrum.

I finished in 6:08 hours for the 33.5 miles and, to be honest wasn't in too bad a shape, certainly good enough for a quick change and drive back to Arrochar.

My confidence has taken a wonderful boost from this and, in many ways, it has taken some pressure off as I know I am getting back to my pre-operation levels of fitness. What I am still doing well is to listen to my body. I have done things very easy since the long run, despite the programme asking for more, I have missed some sessions to allow myself to recover properly and am going to have another easy week next week. That is perhaps the next target; to be able to complete the mega long runs and then recover more quickly to resume normal training. We'll see how I cope after the first Lakeland 100 training route in a couple of weeks time.

A happy boy, signing off!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Felt like a runner

I started last week's training with a really positive attitude, trying to think of myself as a runner in training rather than a runner on the recovery trail. I have no idea whether the positive attitude helped or I am simply getting fitter but this week was my best effort so far with everything going to plan, clocking up around 45 miles of trails. The most pleasing part was that I seemed to cope with the week far easier than the last "medium" week I did, which I finished rather drained, requiring a full recovery week after. This time I feel I am ready to jump into a "hard" week, including a long WHW section.

It was nice to get some variety into the week, with each session having a different tone, making things fun and easy to cope with mentally. I started with a common session of mine; round the small singletrack paths in the woods below Latrigg Fell. It's only a 5 mile loop but is very technical, great for working on a smooth running style and includes my favourite 1 mile of running anywhere (for those that know the area; the river terrace path towards The Forge.)

Tuesday, I did a full hill rep session (note the singular) which was a 40 minute run up Skiddaw, nearly reaching the top of Jenkin's Hill, and a blast down. This was my first sustained uphill run, which obviously puts some extra strain on the tendon, though it seemed to hang-on in there and wasn't too sore later on. This was an important session, psychologically, as it should now give me the confidence to spend a little more time in the mountains knowing that the tendon can cope.

I had a good run on the old railway line on Thursday. I found I was running a little too quickly at times and had to hold back which is always a nice feeling. This session is often used to improve running style and efficiency as the surface is uniform, allowing for a nice rhythm.

Tracey and I were attending a wedding in Yarm on Saturday (congratulations Iain and Karen), staying at Tracey's sisters house, so I did a new run out along the River Tees. This was, without doubt, the most enjoyable run I have had since the operation. Freezing cold, no wind, no mud (as it was all frozen) and some picturesque views I've not seen before. The 10 miles flew by and I was bouncing at the end.

Derwentwater from Ashness Wood
Today, I rounded off the week with a 16 mile loop, basically round the lake, going down the west shore first, right down to Rossthwaite, climbing over to Watendlath and back via Ashness Bridge and Great Wood. Despite a late night, I felt pretty good as I set off and, again, had to easy back the pace every now and then as I dipped under the 8 min/mile barrier. It was one of those days that remind you why we do this sport, you soon get lost in your own thoughts or the beauty of the landscape, simply feeling good about the moment, thinking back or planning ahead.

Running through Brandelhow Park Woods
I did struggle a bit on the climb over into Watendlath, though managed to just about run the full climb. The ankle was starting to stiffen up a little towards the end but that could just as easily be due to the harder training week or being at the tail-end of a long run. Either way, I had a nice second wind over the last few miles and finished quite strongly.

Top of the climb to Watendlath
So, a very positive week, my highest mileage so far, my highest weekly hours so far, all done with the minimum of fuss. Now for the really big test next week - I'm going to try and become an ultra runner again as I run from Balmaha to Tyndrum. I am sure I can complete the run, what is more important is that I complete the run in one piece and am able to recover quickly enough to continue with the training rhythm I have established. If all goes to plan, I've got three weeks until the first of my long Lakeland 100 recces with John Kynaston and I obviously want to be in a position to make the most of that outing. (Note to self; I need to be fit enough to run and have a 7 or 8 hour conversation!!)

Monday, 6 February 2012

A state of mind

During the last week, I had a simple conversation with a colleague, but then spent a great deal of time mulling over my responses. As ever, my friend asked how my heel was feeling and how the running was going. Simple enough questions. It was later in the day, as I was training, I realised that my stock responses to those frequent questions reveal a great deal about my current state of mind. I always say things like "I'm slowly getting there", "Good days and bad" and "It's going to be a while yet". The thought in my head as I ran along was when would I change this attitude? At some point I have to draw a line and describe myself as an ultrarunner again. That is easy to do in black and white, within these blog pages, as soon as I complete a run longer than 26.2 miles, hopefully in about 10 or 11 days when I plan to have an outing on the WHW. In reality, it's a bit more complex than that.

Attitudes, once formed, are enduring and work at a sub-conscious level. In order to re-shape the attitude that has formed over the last six months, I need to break one element of that cycle that makes the attitude so dominant. I feel that breaking the 26.2 mile barrier will be a significant part of this process but I need more. I'm going to try a different response to general enquiries. Phrases like "Training is going well", "I can feel myself getting fitter" and "Had another solid week of training". These statements are all true, but I never use them at present; at some point I have to stop hiding behind the recovery from the operation, when standing on the start line there is no special category for me, nowhere to hide, no special asterisk next to your name on the results, you are only assessed on the result of the race.

So, to start the ball rolling, I had a really good, solid week of training. Completing a normal easy week, exactly as planned, though I definitely coped better with the sessions than the previous easy weeks. The recovery week I slotted in has made a real difference and I'm going to make sure I repeat that at times when I feel sluggish, tired or even just a bit demotivated. I found that I had to hold myself back at times during the week, looking down at the GPS and seeing that I was faster than 8 minutes/mile. The first two months of the training programme, whether recovering after a lay-off or not, are kept at a comfortable pace and I force myself to keep to the rule (8 min/mile max pace).

This next week is classified as a medium week, where I intend to run 5 sessions, with a total of about 45 miles, which I hope will set me up for the following week, where I'm going to attempt to run from Balmaha to Tyndrum and call myself an ultra distance runner again. I'm really looking forward to this run as it is the exact route that got me hooked on the WHW after I ran with a friend who was training for the race in 2009.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Children of the Revolution

Not a great deal to talk about with regard to my training this last week. Having started the year with three solid training weeks, I decided I needed to spend a week recovering and repairing, which is exactly what I have done. Simply running three times, all around 4 miles, at a nice easy pace. I feel much refreshed and ready to start the next three week cycle of training which will be an easy week, a medium week and finally, in the half term holidays, a hard week to include the biggest test so far; running from Balmaha to Tyndrum. Last year I did this run in about 6:15 hours but will be happy with something in the region of 7:00 hours, with the number one priority of being in one piece at the finish.

I thought  would take a little time to tell you about my growing stable of athletes I am advising/coaching. The names of the innocent have been protected!

Everone has their own special needs, each a particular characteristic and each sits on a different step of the running ladder. Take S, she started running simply for the health benefits but after a while the lure of a proper race proved too great. She needed a simple plan to gradually increase her distances but also build some confidence. P is the adrenaline runner; he used to just hammer every run, which got him into good shape and made him competitive in lots of races but he really wanted to get that little bit more and focus on a few specific races. We have now got him having a purpose for each run, more variety in his training and some time to recover and regroup. He is a very experienced runner and really just needs someone to suggest what he already knows!

Now we come to the dynamic duo. These guys have ended up training together but, again, approach things from very different angles. Firstly, A is methodical planner. He has been training well, with a correctly structured week, the problem being that he did the same basic stuff, week after week. What we have done is build a plan for the year (on a spreadsheet, of course), targeting a number of races, peaking for his main target of an off-road marathon later in the year. This is the first time he has had a periodised training plan and, interestingly, he is finding that he may be getting too fit too soon, I think due to the built-in recovery periods which he has not used before. We are going to leave the plan as it is for the next month and then review things. Then finally, there is S. He is relatively new to running, like a puppy with a toy. His enthusiasm is catching but, again, he needs to be warned about hammering training too often. He is following the same basic plan as A, simply because they do most of their training together. S is at the point where he is making rapid gains in his performances, which is obviously great for his confidence, but his area for improvement is pacing, in both training and racing. I am sure that he will boss this as he gains more experience. On the plus side, this guy knows how to push himself; open the hurt box and climb inside!

I'm really enjoying giving advice to these runners and, in fact, nudge a number of others in the right direction, whether it be training, racing, kit, shoes, nutrition, etc. It probably benefits my training and racing too as it makes you spend a little more time analysing things which you may otherwise take for granted.

Finished off the week with a visit to The Revolution cycling event at Manchester Velodrome. What a fantastic evening. Three hours of non-stop entertainment, including some of the world's top ranked cyclists, like Sir Chris Hoy. They look fast on the TV, but it is a sight to behold in the actual stadium with 17,000 spectators cheering on. I have put together a short video of the races, however, you'll have to forgive the quality of the shots as it was done with my phone and they just move too bloody fast.