4409 Feet Of Penance

That’s the final run of 2012 completed after a far from positive start to the day. No excuses. I failed to match last years mileage total. Looking back over the past few months, this September through to December I have run approx. 250 miles less than the same time last year. By the end of today’s run, I had missed last years total mileage by just 19 miles, with a drastic mileage slump demonstrated by the green line of the chart.

Rather than dwell on the negatives, I decided to end the year with a challenge. The intention had been a ‘punishment run’ on the treadmill, a brief 3 mile run with the incline notched up to 10%.

Instead, it turned in to 9 miles run at 10% incline to achieve the goal of 4409 feet of ascent, the equivalent to running up Ben Nevis.

I ran at 5 mile per hour pace, ‘equivalent’ to an 8.07 min/mile pace according to the treadmill conversion chart, with occasional short walk breaks.

Thanks to today’s efforts, I will start 2013 feeling empowered and in a far better frame of mind, although admittedly the expectation is that the legs will be suffering somewhat this time tomorrow!

Throughout the run I was listening to a 2012 retrospective mix and I couldn’t have timed the finish better. The last few hundred feet were spent running to ‘Small Moments Like These’ by Above & Beyond, the perfect song to reflect back on the year with. I may well have missed the mileage target but, in every other way, 2012 was a year to remember.

New Year’s Resolutions

There was plenty time for thinking while completing the 4409 feet of ascent and one thing in particular stuck in my mind. I have the mental toughness to complete ultras, including a 95 mile race in hugely adverse circumstances, and yet I still have problems controlling my weight. Losing a couple of stone would have a phenomenal impact on my running and 2013 just has to be the year that I achieve this.

Happy New Year everyone, here’s to 2013 :o)

Evaluate And Plan

It’s all too easy to forget the achievements of the past year, especially as we edge towards the final days of 2012. Races have come and gone and we are left with experiences, memories, times (hopefully new PBs), and finishers trophies. Those early months of 2012 already seem so long ago. For me, the race season started back in March at the D33 ultramarathon with a further 6 events in fairly quick succession, finally ending in August, which itself now feels like a distant memory!

As the New Year approaches, consider the following:

  • What were your goals in 2012?
  • Did you achieve them?
  • If not, have you identified where things went wrong?
  • What have you learned this past year?
  • Did races and training go to plan?
  • Did nutrition strategies work for you?
  • Did trainers and kit work for you?

The list is by no means complete. There’s one question that is almost guaranteed a response in the affirmative.

  • Is there room for improvement?

Most people, myself included, will be able to easily identify where improvements can be made. Don’t, however, get hung up on the negatives. It’s all too easy to focus on these at the expense of giving ourselves a well deserved pat on the back. Maybe that new PB eluded you but what can you take from that day?

Anyone who has run an ultra will appreciate that there’s no such thing as a typical day. You can run the exact same route and yet experience a completely different run from one day to another. One day you might find yourself in ‘The Zone’, the next might be the biggest slog of your life. The difference may be down to some obvious factor such as an increased temperature, or it might have no discernible cause.

What matters is how you deal with it. You may not finish the day with a new PB, but what you can take from that day? What did you learn from it? Did you finish in the face of adversity?

My experience at the West Highland Way Race this year is a perfect example. Anyone who reads my posts will no doubt be all too familiar with the tales of stomach issues and projectile vomit. Reflecting on that race, I took away a number of positives. For one, I have a new definition of ‘low’, which has set the bar for how bad I can feel and yet still finish.

I put that lesson to good use at my very next race, the Clyde Stride. My body hadn’t recovered fully by the time of the race and, by the 13 mile mark, I was really suffering. However, I didn’t quit. The pain and suffering just didn’t compare to that of the West Highland Way Race and, at ‘only’ 40 miles, I was sure I could grind out a finish. I did. It wasn’t pretty but I did it and, as a result of my determination to finish, I took away a few great memories – Running and enjoying some banter with Thomas Robb up until approx. 18 miles; Slogging it out with Neil MacRitchie, who was similarly suffering from the West Highland Way Race, from mile 20 through to the finish; Having a red squirrel shoot through a field to the left of me, jumping through a fence and landing at my feet before scurrying away; and, of course, finally crossing that finish line (only to be reminded that the Devil O’ The Highlands was only 2 weeks later, not 3!). Had I not finished, I would not have most of those memories.

So, be sure to evaluate your year, celebrate your successes, and consider how best to improve on these to attain your 2013 goals.

Happy Running :o)

Lizzy Hawker’s Top 5 Tips For Would Be Ultra Runners

Catching up on some reading over the Christmas break, I came across the following 5 tips from ultra running legend Lizzy Hawker in the November 2012 issue of Running Fitness Magazine. Sound advice from the 5 time winner of The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc:

  1. My main piece of advice would be to have the confidence to take that first step; to dream, to have a goal that you want to work towards and then to give yourself the chance to start to explore that dream.
  2. Keep in the moment; literally take it ‘one step at a time’, focus down to right where you are whether it is getting to the top of the next col, making a safe descent, reaching the next checkpoint.
  3. Believe in yourself; have confidence in your training and preparation, your body and mind CAN go the distance.
  4. Be light; focus on running lightly (body and mind), with less strain and tension you will not tire yourself so much physically, and with happy positive thoughts you will keep your motivation.
  5. Give yourself a second chance; if you feel you’ve come to the end of your limits, stop for a few moments, eat and drink something and coax yourself onwards to the next checkpoint – give yourself a chance to find that second (or third, or fourth) wind.

1 Minute 2012 Analysis

A great idea from Ian Minty over on Facebook, a 1 minute analysis of your running year. Mine reads as follows:

  • D33, March, 33m, 05:35:59,
    Enjoyable start to the year (PB 23 mins)
  • Highland Fling, April, 53m, 12:36:12,
    Torture in the heat (PB 27 mins)
  • Cateran, May, 55m, 12:27:00,
    Picked up an Achilles injury after just 6 miles (PB 38 mins)
  • WHW Race, June, 95m, 31:01:51,
    Apocalyptic weather, stomach issues, projectile vomit (New PB)
  • Clyde Stride, July, 40m, 08:54:08,
    Still suffering from the WHW Race (only non PB)
  • Devil O’ The Highlands, August, 43m, 09.50.55,
    Unexpected return of running mojo (PB 12 mins)
  • Speyside Way Race, August, 36.5m, 07:16:33,
    A very wet end to the season (PB 7 mins)

August seems like such a long time ago, and the running mojo has come and gone numerous times in the months leading up to Christmas. Time to get training back on track with a view to achieving some new PBs come 2013, especially in my second West Highland Way Race.

How’s My Running?

Christmas came early for me today thanks to Ten Point, The Triathlon Store. I received a pair of Patagonia trousers and a t-shirt in their recent Secret Santa competition. Ten Point is owned by Natural Running Coach, Helen Hall, who was one of the presenters at the inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run this year.

Check out the shop for minimalist footwear from the likes of Vibram, Newton, Inov8 and Vivobarefoot. Anyone looking for a Hoka bargain should also check out their Hoka stock, selling at approx. 50% of RRP. Ten Point also stock the excellent Ashmei range of clothing.

Love the humour in the t-shirt, “How’s My Running?”

2013 Goals

2012 was quite a year. Seven ultramarathons completed, including my first West Highland Way Race. Five new PBs, one brand new ‘PB’ set at the West Highland Way Race, and one ‘non PB’ at the Clyde Stride as I struggled with my form in the aftermath of my first shot at the 95 mile distance. How do you top that? Not with another 7 ultras, that’s for sure. 7 ultras in such close proximity left my body feeling pretty trashed. Maybe something I would consider at some point in the future, but certainly not in 2013.

There’s talk of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series being extended to include more ultras. I think it’s a great idea. More races will mean greater choice and, potentially, longer periods between races, perfect for improved recovery from race to race. Further, there would be more opportunity to vary the races you compete in from one year to the next. And let’s face it, at the end of the day, why should any Scottish ultra be omitted from the series? There are races I would loved to have participated in but chose not to because they didn’t contribute to my overall SUMS point score. Let’s hope that all the Race Directors agree to the proposals.

I still recall that feeling at the end of the Clyde Stride when I realised that there was only 2 weeks ‘rest and recovery’ before the Devil O’ The Highlands race. It was Colin Knox who said, ‘See you in two weeks‘ and, at first I thought he was mistaken. A quick check of the calendar soon revealed that the Devil O’ The Highlands was indeed only 2 weeks away. Bugger!

The Clyde Stride was an example of ‘grinding out a finish’, the triumph of stubbornness over common sense, where I got to the end largely by telling myself ‘If I can finish the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, I can finish the 40 mile Clyde Stride’. From approx. 13 miles in to the race, my body was screaming at me to stop! After this far from pretty finish the thought of grinding out a difficult 43 miles so soon after filled me with dread. Thankfully however, things came together nicely for another new PB at the Devil.

So, for 2013, a reduction in races, with 4 ultras the most likely scenario, 5 at an absolute push. Whether I even get to the start line of those races will largely depend on another of life’s challenges, but a most welcome one at that! We are expecting our first child in February and this in itself will have a huge impact on life (and training!). It may sound hard to believe but I am prepared for that and am happy to accept that things may not go to plan. Actually, who am I kidding – ‘may not’! There’s little doubt that there will be an impact and that, until we experience it, we haven’t got a clue as to how far reaching it will be!

Goal number one for 2013 is to be the best dad & husband that I possibly can be. Only then will running and the notion of ‘training’ and ‘my time’ even come in to the equation.

Goal number two is something that I will strive for regardless of everything – a considerable reduction in my weight. How this is going to come about is not entirely set in stone. Let’s face it, it’s not as if I haven’t been trying for as many years! What I do know is that I need to see some results, and will take whatever approach or approaches necessary to impact on my weight.

Goal number three finally sees me get around to running. I want PBs in each of the races that I do. Realistically, my main focus, assuming I am lucky enough to get in to the West Highland Way Race, is a large PB over the 95 mile distance. With a bit of luck, I wont encounter as many issues as I did at WHW Race 2012. Assuming I can avoid the stomach issues and the projectile vomit, that alone could take between two and three hours off of my 2012 time. Weight loss and good quality training will hopefully add to that reduction.

Goal number four is to develop the minimalist aspect of my running, and to hopefully carry this over into my choice of shoes come race time.

All things considered, that’s four goals that are going to take up the majority of my time in 2013. It’s not going to be easy, but then, nothing worthwhile ever is.

What are your goals? All the very best with them in 2013.

Everybody Needs A Goal

New post on The Running Bug, ‘Everybody Needs A Goal‘.

So, you are a ‘few’ pounds (ahem, more like stones!) overweight, asthmatic, never been particularly athletic, smoked (often heavily) for the best part of 16 years, and have a far from Adonis like figure. Choice of sport – running ultramarathons. Go figure!

Goal for 2013: A return to the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. The aim: completion, ideally with a new PB and hopefully without all the ‘stomach issues’, projectile vomiting, and apocalyptic weather of last year.

I know now what lies in store, having completed the race once previously. I know that I will likely run through two nights, deal with all kinds of issues, and will suffer for days, if not longer, after it.

Writing this, I am actually questioning my own sanity. Why choose a sport that puts you out on the trails, often in very remote places and in treacherous weather conditions for anything up to 31 hours of continual exertion? (West Highland Way Race 2012, 31:01:51)

Why indeed – It might not make sense now but, hopefully, by the end of this post, it will!

My last ultra of the season took place on August 25th and, since then, my running has taken a nosedive, though a mixture of fatigue, illness, lost mojo, and, finally getting to the point, lack of direction. It’s not the first time it has happened either. A couple of years back I found myself in exactly the same situation. With no definite goal, I ‘let myself go’. The race fitness accrued throughout the season soon faded and I found myself back at square one, having to start over.

That’s why I need a goal! But why ultramarathons?

I’m sure many of you are already familiar with the feeling of success. There’s nothing quite like it. Whether it be completing your first 5k or your first West Highland Way Race, it’s a feeling that can’t be beaten. It’s a wonderful feeling, guaranteed to give you a boost.

Generally I have found that the greater the effort required to attain the goal, the greater the satisfaction upon completion of that goal.

The feeling of completing:

  • My very first ultra
  • An ultra that just the previous year had given me my one and only DNF
  • An ultra with a new PB
  • An ultra in the face of injury and/or adversity
  • My first 95 mile race in the face of not only adversity but also apocalyptic weather conditions

The sense of achievement increased with each event and especially on completion of my first West Highland Way Race.

My working days are spent behind a desk, one of the ‘hazards’ of being a web developer. As a result, come the weekend, I find that I want to test myself, to reach beyond what I perceive to be possible. I want to push myself to my limits to see what I can achieve and, in completing what I had previously considered to be impossible, I savour the feelings that accompany the success.

Given that the majority of Scottish ultramarathons are oversubscribed and have sold out in a fraction of the time it took last year, it would appear that I am not alone in my quest to push myself to the limits.

The Benefits Of A Goal

A jigsaw starts with a single piece, around which you construct the greater picture. A training plan is no different. Armed with a goal, you have all that you need to construct a training plan with the specificity required to get you to the end of your race.

  • What distance is your race?
  • Are there any time limits, cut-offs and/or time expectations?
  • What kind of terrain will you encounter?
  • At what time of year does the event take place? (Time of year will likely impact on the weather that you experience. Are you likely to be running through a heat wave or a whiteout? – Admittedly, in this country, we can only ever really hope for the best!)

All of the above should be factored into the creation of an appropriate training plan.

With a target event or events in mind, you should also find that motivation increases. There will likely be setbacks and obstacles along the way but, with a degree of flexibility, you should find yourself able to follow the plan. You also need to consider the following:

  • Test your kit in advance (check that your kit meets any race requirements and be sure to add a space blanket to the kit list, just in case. You never know when it might come in handy)
  • See what works in terms of nutrition well in advance of the event itself (if you are used to gels, be sure to consider if you could stomach them for the length of an ultra)
  • Log quality miles with a mix of hill, tempo and long run sessions
  • Train on terrain that is as close to your race terrain as possible
  • Include back to back weekends, running long distances on consecutive days so that you experience the effect of running on tired legs
  • Finally, taper before the event

Dispelling The Myths

When you announce your intention to run an ultramarathon, the chances are that people will think you are nuts, superhuman, or both! Now that’s quite funny considering that 50k is a common ultra distance, ‘just’ 5 miles more than a marathon. I don’t think I am nuts, although there have been times when I have doubted that. Usually when I have found myself in the depths of despair, battling the demons in my head, miles from nowhere and with many miles still to run. I can categorically state that I am most definitely not superhuman however. Of that, unfortunately, there is no doubt!

I am also no spring chicken, having started running ultras just 3 years ago at the age of 37. Don’t let age put you off. 168 of the 249 runners currently on the starting list for the 2013 West Highland Way Race are 40 or over, with 44 in the Supervet category (50-59), and 14 in the Vintage category (60+). This is not uncommon in ultras and, believe it or not, there have been times on the start line when I have actually felt relatively young.

You also don’t need to be in peak physical condition, although you will most likely find yourself surrounded by a lot of people who are. Look around, however, and you will no doubt spot someone like me (it might even be me!), especially now that the popularity of these events in on the increase. As far as I am concerned, it’s the extra weight that I am carrying that impacts on every step of my race. However:

“Running with extra weight is far from easy, whether it is bulky muscle weight or fat. But weight has almost no effect on your potential to cross the finish line. This finish line is about mental strength and raw determination. Don’t worry about achieving perfect fitness. The more you run ultras, the more your body will adapt to running ultras. Then before you know it, your body will be perfect for – running ultras.” (7 Ultrarunning Myths That Hold You Back, Vanessa Rodriguez)

Don’t get too hung up on speed either. Someone has to be last. So what if it’s you. There’s absolutely no shame in it. Other than those elite few at the front of the field, the main goal on the starting line for most people will be completion, possibly with a new PB. Whatever happens, be sure to run your own race. Don’t get caught up in the pace of others who may have trained to run the event at a faster pace than your own. If you set out at a faster pace than you are used to, there’s every chance that you will suffer later in the event, something that I unfortunately have prior experience of!

Be Prepared

Training the body is one thing, but don’t neglect the mind. You are doing something out of the ordinary, challenging yourself, pushing yourself to the limits, putting yourself ‘out there’. There’s every chance that you will experience tremendous highs but also really punishing lows that test your resolve to continue.

You will likely find that you run the gamut of emotions, on an emotional merry-go-round, from laughing out loud to finding yourself choked and on the verge of tears and, by the time you cross the finish line, both body and mind will have gone through the wringer.

Be prepared for this, especially on those first few ultras where it might come as a surprise to you. Rest assured that the feelings are generally transitionary. At mile 50 of the West Highland Way Race I was in a place that I never anticipated recovering from. Just thinking about it now still moves me. I was as low as I can ever recall feeling, having just experienced an extended period of projectile vomiting. There was no way I could continue, no way I could run a further 40+ miles. And yet, thanks in large part to the support of my support runner and crew, I was back on a high 5 miles later, running at a pace that I had not run for quite some time. The high of completing that event, especially in the face of adversity – well that just goes without saying.

“When you run an ultra, you are out on those trails by yourself. You’re facing your demons alone on a foreign terrain. There are no motivational signs to lift your spirits. There are no cheering fans to scream your name. If you’re lucky, you may get some weak claps or cheers at the finish line. But that finish is unlike anything else. It’s yours and yours alone. Nobody can know what it took for you to get there, and nobody can share in your glory. That finish line is where you first realize that you can do anything.” (7 Ultrarunning Myths That Hold You Back, Vanessa Rodriguez)

There are 1440 minutes in a day. Be sure to put aside 30 to 60 of those minutes for your own training needs. So what are you waiting for? Go find your goal for 2013, define your training plan, make time for it, and achieve it.

I will sign off for 2012 with the wise words of Henry Ford, highly applicable when it comes to the completion of any running goal:

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right”

Gear Junkie

My long awaited Ultimate Direction Signature Series PB Adventure Vest will not be with me in time for Christmas. Fortunately however, I will have a lovely new Montane Minimus to test out on the trail and, given the weather these past few days, it’s going to get a considerable amount of use!

Christmas is a great time of year for the gear junkie, especially when friends and family appreciate that you use the opportunity to get much needed items of kit, whether it be smaller items like socks (Drymax) or larger items such as a new waterproof and vest pack.

I came across a great blog post by Red Wine Runner that documented the transition from ‘casual hobby jogger‘ to ‘runner (with a capital R)‘. The turning point for Rhona (Red Wine Runner) was the realisation that, despite numerous non-running events (festivals, weddings, holidays), all she had bought throughout the year was running kit.

The sentiment of the post struck a chord with me. While I haven’t been to any festivals or weddings this year, I seized the opportunity presented by a holiday in the sun to stock up on some new Salomon running vests and Salomon recovery sandals.

A quick glance in the shoe cupboard confirms my fears. My trainers outnumber my wife’s shoes by at least a ratio of 5:1 (conservative estimate!). Bag check. I win again. Waist packs, vest packs, rucksacks, lightweight packs, all day packs – a running pack for every eventuality.

I have a confession to make. I am a gear junkie, and I have no problem with it. I love the feeling of getting some new kit to try out, be it a new pair of trainers, the latest running pack, or some running clothing. Whoever said running was cheap certainly didn’t have my fondness for new gear! Fortunately, I have received a fair bit of kit this year for review which helps keep costs down, something that will be even more essential in 2013. Thanks to everyone who has supplied product for review.

Hope everyone gets some great new kit this Christmas :o)