It’s The Running Bug‘s 3rd birthday! The Running Bug website has reached 150,000 members AND 500,000 bugmiles – that’s the equivalent of running all the way to the moon and back! I’ve been involved since September 2011, when I first came across the website and submitted a blog post for consideration. I’ve posted 50 times now for The Running Bug, including the following blogs:
You may have heard about Write This Run, an event scheduled for 12th May 2013 and billed as “a chance for UK running bloggers to get together, learn from each other and hear from guest experts on all things running and blogging”. An email arrived from Write This Run today with a challenge to “write a blog post about what running and blogging means to you”, a challenge that I decided to accept.
From a purely running perspective, I think of running like a great friend, one who will, from time to time, lead you astray, who will, on occasion, punish you, and yet, regardless of any neglect or the time of day or night, will always be there for you. It never asks anything in return, and it doesn’t always treat you kindly, but you know that any punishment dished out is for your own benefit, a well intentioned reminder that you should visit this particular friend often. It doesn’t particularly mind if you are running just to keep fit, to explore, to experience nature, to create memories, to switch on, to switch off, to challenge yourself and test your limits, just so long as you are running.
As a web developer, I had dabbled with the idea of creating my own website for quite some time and had sat on the www.pixelscotland.com domain name for a number of years, never quite finding the time to develop the site, nor the direction to take the site in. However, my immersion into the world of running, and especially ultramarathons, soon provided the necessary direction.
In April 2011 I wrote my first blog post, a retrospective of my one and only DNF, at the 53 mile Highland Fling back in April 2010, and charting my efforts at the same race in April 2011, when I completed the race and successfully banished my demons from the year before. This was quickly followed up with race reports of the 2011 Devil O’ The Highlands and Speyside Way Ultramarathons.
What started out as occasional posts, usually race reports, soon developed into a site with approximately 20 posts per month as I blogged most days, covering everything from races, links, gear, routes and product reviews.
Towards the end of 2011, The Running Bug put out a request for bloggers and I duly ‘auditioned’ with the submission of a proposed first blog post. The post, ‘Setting the scene‘, appeared on The Running Bug website on 20th September 2011 and outlined my transition from overweight smoker to ultramarathon runner. Some 16 months and 46 posts later, I am still writing my Aim high, anything is possible blog.
Initially, blogging was something that I did purely for myself. It was a way for me to record the events that I competed in and the feelings that accompanied those events – The pain, the suffering, the satisfaction, the achievement – with the idea that I could one day point any children that I have in the direction of the blog, and hopefully inspire them to make sport a part of their lives.
In the relatively short time that I have been blogging I have received some great feedback, both verbally and in the form of comments. I always appreciate when people take the time to comment on my musings and, especially, when someone tells me that they find my posts inspirational or informative.
My journey has taken me from one extreme to the other, from actually despising running to running ultramarathons and, whilst I may now be in a much better place, I still have a long way to go. If what I write can be even remotely considered inspirational or convinve someone in a similar position as myself to at least give it a go, then I have already accomplished more than I set out to achieve.
There is another positive aspect to blogging. Thanks to The Running Bug and my own www.pixelscotland.com website I am now fortunate enough to receive product to review, my idea of heaven as a self confessed gear junkie!
I would definitely recommend starting your own running blog. You just never know where it might lead.
Note that those of you who read my www.pixelscotland.com blog will already be familiar with the content of this post.
So, 2013 is upon us. Following on from my previous Running Bug post, ‘Everybody Needs A Goal‘, I want to ask – What’s your goal?
My main goal in 2013 is a new PB at the West Highland Way Race in June.
However, another goal, and one that will hopefully help me to achieve the above, presented itself in a most unexpected way. It was New Years Eve and I found myself in a less than happy place. Despite my best intentions, it was clear that I just wasn’t going to match last years running mileage. I keep telling myself, quality not quantity. It’s stupid I know, but something about not matching that target just made me feel like I had failed. Ironic given that 2012 was my best year to date as far as races went.
But back to New Years Eve. It certainly wasn’t the frame of mind that I wanted to greet the new year in but, looking at the mileage, I had 28 miles to run to match my total from the previous year. Now, relative to some of my races, that’s not actually that much. However, my legs were trashed from a 10 mile run a couple of days previously and I had no intention of deserting my wife for the time it would take to run 28 miles!
And so, resigned to ‘failure’, I set out to punish myself.
Treadmill set to 10% incline. Speed set to 5 miles per hour. 3 mile session. Go.
And that was all that I intended to do.
Until just over 1 mile into the run when the ascent ticked over to 1000 feet.
Redemption arrived with a light bulb moment!
I decided to run, not for 3 miles, but for as long as it would take me to run the 4409 feet of ascent that would equate to running up Ben Nevis. A very sweaty 9 miles later I finally achieved my goal. I had taken short walk breaks throughout at approximately 1 mile marks before returning to my 5 mile per hour running pace (Equivalent to just over an 8 minute mile on the flat).
My mood lifted. I experienced a ‘double whammy’, the feel good factor of a good run coupled with the feeling of achievement of having ‘run up Ben Nevis’, the highest point in the British Isles and the highest of Scotland’s Munro mountains.
Just in case you don’t know, a Munro is described as follows:
“A Munro is a mountain in Scotland with a height over 3,000 ft (914.4 m). Munros are named after Sir Hugh Munro, 4th Baronet (1856–1919), who produced the first list of such hills, known as Munros Tables, in 1891. A Munro top is a summit over 3,000 ft (914.4 m) which is not regarded as a separate mountain. In the 2012 revision of the tables, published by the Scottish Mountaineering Club, there are 282 Munros and 227 further subsidiary tops. The most well known Munro is Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, with an altitude of 1,344 metres (4,409 ft).” (Wikipedia – Munros)
Fast forward a few days and Mrs Mac suggested that I run ‘up’ the rest of the Munros as part of my ultramarathon training. A brilliant idea and one that would supplement my overall training, especially given the rather flat area in which I live. I have often overlooked hill training in the past, neglecting it entirely or, most recently, not giving it the attention that it deserves in my schedule. Time for that to stop!
On 3rd January I ran ‘up’ another Munro (Ben Vane), this time from the bottom of the Munro chart at ‘only’ 3002 feet. On 4th January I ran ‘up’ yet another (Beinn A’ Chleibh), 3005 feet this time.
What a difference a day makes. I completed running without a single break at my constant 5 miles per hour pace and I even managed to nudge the speed up a fraction in the later stages. Gone were the walk breaks of the previous two ‘Munros’.
Peeling myself off the treadmill, the sense of achievement matched that of my earlier Ben Nevis run. Now that’s progress!
So, 3 down, ‘only’ 279 to go!
With 282 Munros to run ‘up’, it will likely take me over a year to complete the challenge. With events to train for, I need to ensure that my training is balanced with a good mix of long slow runs, speed work, and hill training. What’s more, I need to ensure that at least some of that hill training is done on actual hills as I need to train for descents as well as ascents. Getting to the top can be brutal enough but people often forget that descending can be just as bad, if not worse. Quads in particular take a total thrashing on descents.
On 5th January, legs feeling ever so slightly trashed, I headed out on for a trail run. Despite the stiffness in my legs and the overall fatigue from my previous efforts, I could feel that progress had been made. On 6th January it pained me not to run, especially given that it was my last day of ‘freedom’ before heading back to work. However, the legs left me in no doubt that they were in need of a rest and I duly obliged.
So you don’t get the varied terrain, fresh air and stunning views afforded by climbing the real thing. On the plus side, however, there’s little or no travel to get to your ‘destination’, you can run when it’s most convenient, and you really will work for your completion as you will always start at 0 feet. There’s no starting from the car park at Cairngorm, for example (approx. 1000 feet out of the total 4081 feet).
Totally unexpectedly I have a new supplementary goal, and one that, for me, requires no travel. With a new arrival due in February, the treadmill may prove to be my saviour when it comes to training. There’s no telling how much ‘Bubbs’ is going to impact on training but I am sure that will become evident soon enough!
It’s a goal that will also help to give some direction and an edge to my training where previously there was none.
Fancy joining me on this challenge? It doesn’t need to be Munros. Why not run the Donalds (over 2000ft), Grahams (2000-2499ft), Corbetts (2500ft-3000ft), Nuttalls, Hewitts or Wainwrights! (Wikipedia – Lists Of Hills In The British Isles)
You don’t even need to set the treadmill to 10%. I chose this for maximum impact, to get to the ‘top’ in the shortest possible distance. Set an incline that’s just slightly beyond comfortable for you and watch your progress as you get used to the extra effort required.
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!
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”
In the run up to the 2012 West Highland Way Race I was pretty stressed, from the daunting prospect of completing the 96 miles of the West Highland Way in one go and under the 35 hour cut-off, to the prospect of sleep deprivation, chaffing, blisters and, well, basically all manner of things.
Having previously completed both the Highland Fling (first 53 miles) and Devil O’ The Highlands (last 43 miles) races, I was all too aware of what lay ahead. The mixture of stress, nerves and excitement in the weeks leading up to the race made it almost impossible for me to give much thought to much else.
Like everyone else connected with the race, I experienced a focus, a ‘tunnel vision’ if you like, with the single focus of covering the miles, arriving in Fort William, picking up the much sought after goblet, and becoming ‘one of the family’.
And then, just a few days before the race, Leanne announced that she was pregnant.
Having been together for over 8 years, and having been married since July 2010, we had not long decided that it was finally time to start a family. Neither of us expected it to happen quite so soon and, in the run up to the West Highland Way Race, it was most unexpected news, but also most welcome news.
My only concern was the thought of putting Leanne through the stress of a West Highland Way Race weekend, especially so early in the pregnancy. Little did I realise that it was going to turn into one of the THE most stressful weekends of my life.
Actually, thinking back, I don’t think it was actually that stressful for me as such. I ran. I also dealt with ‘stomach issues’ for a lot of the route, and projectile vomit at mile 50. But, mostly, I ran. And that’s all there really was to it for me, getting from point A, in Milngavie, to point B, in Fort William.
It was probably a great deal more stressful for those around me, including Leanne, Minty, John and Sandra, the support crew who saw me at my worst, hitting absolute rock bottom, and yet never once suggested that I quit.
As is normal for the early stages of a pregnancy, we told no one and it was quite some time before we were able to share the news with the support crew. I have to admit that, during the race, I wanted to tell my crew and especially Minty, a running acquaintance who became a close friend and who guided me to the end of the race despite all the obstacles that we faced.
So, from probably THE defining moment of 2012 to one of THE defining moments of my life. The mini Mac, or Bubba, as he/she has been named, will arrive at some point towards the end of February all things going to plan.
We can’t wait to welcome Bubba into our lives and, already, there is a new sense of direction. I expect that Bubba is going to change our lives in so many ways and that certain aspects of the lives that we enjoyed up until now will be challenged. While my early morning training runs fitted nicely into Mrs Mac’s calendar, leaving her to enjoy a long lie, I am not so sure that Bubba will appreciate the need for training.
However, at this point, my plans are to continue running and, hopefully, to still complete a number of ultramarathons in 2013, including the West Highland Way Race again, assuming I can get a starting place.
In this largely sedentary age, I want to set an example for Bubba. I want Bubba to experience the running community and, in particular, the ultra community. I want Bubba to see the camaraderie, the perseverance, grit and determination that is part and parcel of ultras, to show he/she that the best things in life, the best achievements and successes don’t necessarily come easily, and that life’s true ‘celebrities’ are the ones that overcome all manner of adversity to get to the start of a race and, hopefully, also to the end.
The thought of one day crossing the finish line with my son or daughter fills me with joy and would, I am sure, only serve to add to the feeling of accomplishment. The thought that, regardless of time or position, I would hopefully be setting a good example and perhaps even inspiring them, not necessarily to run ultras, but to see sport as a worthwhile pastime that brings joy to life along with the many other benefits.
But then, perhaps, I am thinking too far ahead already!
November the 1st, a date of great importance in the Scottish running calendar. Race applications for the West Highland Way Race are now open. It’s time to make a choice, to decide whether you want to enter this, the ‘holy grail’ of Scottish Ultramarathons. Entry is not done on a first come first served basis. You have the whole of November to enter before each entry is considered on its merits. And yet, people still rush to enter, myself included. That’s the kind of enthusiasm that this race engenders.
Back in November 2011, I decided to apply for my first West Highland Way Race and, despite the stomach issues, projectile vomit, sleep deprivation and torrential rain, I am back for more in the hope that I am lucky enough to be selected for the 2013 race.
I remember entering at the very beginning of November 2011, the night that race entry opened.
I remember getting the email at the beginning of December to say that my entry had been successful and the Facebook and Twitter frenzy that followed as fellow entrants took to social media in their shared excitement.
I remember the highs and lows of both the training and the races that led up to the event, starting with the D33 in March, the Highland Fling in April and the Cateran Trail ultramarathon in May.
I remember (vividly) the weekend of the race itself, despite some 50 hours awake and the effects of sleep deprivation (including the odd hallucination!).
I remember what a great support crew and support runner I had and how, without them, I would most likely not have made it to the finish, especially given the issues I had that weekend.
I remember thinking to myself ‘never again’ and even ‘I will never run again’ as I trudged along feeling sorry for myself as my carefully prepared race plans fell apart.
I remember the feeling after 95 long miles, as I finally made my way through the doors of the Leisure Centre in Fort William, the ‘finish line’ of the West Highland Way Race.
I remember the feelings of accomplishment and of absolute relief, knowing that I had finally finished and that I no longer had to put one foot in front of another (at least not until the award ceremony). Both feelings vied for the number 1 spot in my mind.
I remember the feeling of pride at the award ceremony, not just in myself but in each and every finisher as, one by one, we all collected our sought after goblets.
I remember that feeling of ‘never again’ slowly dissipating as I realised there was no question that I would enter the 2013 West Highland Way Race.
Completing the WHW Race in 2012 was arguably my defining moment of the year. I had set myself a goal, an admittedly very ambitious goal, especially given my size and speed, and I had achieved it.
In all honesty, I think I was surprised to complete the West Highland Way Race, possibly more so than others that I managed to complete it. Maybe they had more faith in me than I had in myself. Who knows. Regardless, I now know that I can do it, I just want to do it better, with less issues, with less complications, and with weather that can’t be described as apocalyptic.
Is that too much to ask? Only time will tell.
I don’t think you ever need to ask yourself if you want to do this race. There’s just something about it. You know you want to do it.
Once the entry goes in there’s a month of suspense wondering if you will be lucky enough to get a coveted place. The race is always oversubscribed and having completed the requisite ultras is no guarantee of a place. Quite rightly, the race organisers need to make sure that there are spaces for first timers, for which, as a newbie in 2012, I was thankful.
If you are lucky enough to secure a place, the race is on to get in the appropriate training and, also, to ensure that you get to the starting line uninjured.
No doubt, during training you will ask yourself ‘why’!
When it comes to the actual race itself, and especially if your race experience is anything like mine was, you will ask yourself ‘why’ so many times.
The one thing to be assured of. Once you do complete the West Highland Way Race, with it’s 95 miles and 14,760ft of ascent, you will never again ask yourself why, you will only ask ‘when’ – when is the entry open for next year!
Ever since completing the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, back in June of this year, my weight has been slowly creeping up and the weight loss that I had managed to achieve at the beginning of the year has all but gone. Those of you who are familiar with my blog will know that the race didn’t go to plan (understatement!) with stomach ‘issues’ and projectile vomit. That alone would have been bad enough but the race was also run in apocalyptic weather conditions. And yet, if I get a place, I still plan to take part in the 2013 West Highland Way Race. I have a PB to beat, and hope to run the race under altogether more favourable circumstances!
In the weeks after the race my appetite could only be described as voracious and, given a retrospective look at what I did manage to consume (and keep in/down) during the race, it’s not surprising that my body was crying out for food in the aftermath. I didn’t go mad for too long however and soon returned to what I consider to be a healthy diet. And yet, despite running a further 3 ultramarathons since the WHW Race, and despite continuing to train, the pounds have slowly crept back on.
I have lost count of the number of people who have commented on how thin I should be with the amount of running I do. If only it were that simple! Over the past few years I have tried all manner of diets, counting calories, calorie deficits that do take into account exercise and calorie deficits that dont, reducing carbohydrates – You name it, I have tried it, and nothing appears to work for anything other than the short term. I honestly feel that my metabolism has suffered to the point that it needs a huge kickstart, which leads me on to the role of running.
Despite completing 13 ultramarathons over the past two years there has been no improvement in my running to speak of. Quantitatively, my mileage has improved each year. Qualitatively however, there have been little or no visible improvements. I still run at the same pace as I did when I started running ultramarathons. The only ‘improvement’ is that I am now more accustomed to the distance and, thus, have found myself able to run further.
I believe that the combination of low calorie intake combined with high mileage may well have impacted on my metabolism, slowing it down, preventing weight loss, and actually creating a ‘no win scenario’ where dieting is concerned.
Approximately 3 weeks ago I turned my attention to both the weight and the speed issue. My proposed ‘solution’ to both issues is to kickstart my metabolism whilst at the same time looking carefully at what I eat. The standard calorie based approach has failed to work for me long term and, as such, I am looking at other approaches. The logic is simple. Reduce the weight and the speed will follow.
Three weeks ago I started running intervals, something I have always avoided like the plague. I ran 3 miles of 1 minute intervals, running alternately at approximately 9 miles per hour pace, followed by walking at 4 miles per hour pace. To provide a context, I usually run at 6 miles per hour pace.
“Interval training is a type of discontinuous physical training that involves a series of low- to high-intensity exercise workouts interspersed with rest or relief periods. The high-intensity periods are typically at or close to anaerobic exercise, while the recovery periods may involve either complete rest or activity of lower intensity.”
Initially I hated it and, in all honesty, despite getting more used to the speeds involved, I still have sessions where I continue to hate it! Peeling myself off of the treadmill at the end of that first session, I was a soaking, sweaty mess. In terms of distance/time, I had covered pretty much the same distance in the same time that I would normally have covered had I ran at my usual constant pace.
Torture – I asked myself why I was doing this to myself!
Fast forward to this weekend and, after only 3 weeks of interval sessions, I am starting to answer that question already. At this point in time, the weight remains the same. However, there are visible improvements in my running.
Back after my initial weight loss at the beginning of the year, I recorded a top speed of 8.5 miles per hour (7.03 minute mile). This weekend, while almost a stone heavier, I recorded a top speed of 11.3 miles per hour (5.18 minute mile) and no, before you ask, it wasn’t on a downhill section – It was a sprint on the final stretch of an 8.5 mile run.
Let’s not get too excited. There’s no way at this point that I could sustain either of those paces for any real length of time. However, at least in my mind, this represents progress, a reward for my efforts and the foundations of a new, hopefully speedier, running pace for me.
The intention is to continue with interval training through the week for at least the remainder of the year with the intention of improving on next year’s ultra times. Hopefully the metabolism will get the kickstart that it requires and my base speed will continue to improve. Despite the relatively short timeframe, my perceived effort has already changed and the speed that I used to consider my ‘max’ now feels that bit more comfortable.
An excellent, highly informative day was had by all at the inaugural Scottish Barefoot Run and we even got a glimpse of what summer should have looked like, albeit a slightly windy version from our viewpoint over Edinburgh from the crags underneath Arthur’s Seat.
The event got underway at 11am with registration and the opportunity to view current and future product from the likes of Merrell, Vibram Five Fingers, Vivobarefoot, Inov8 and Pearl Izumi.
Vibram Five Fingers and inov8 offered participants the opportunity to try out some product while out on the run and I opted for a pair of the new Inov8 Trailroc 235 with a 0mm drop.
The run was from Bruntsfield Links down to Holyrood Park entering by the Commonwealth Pool, up on to Salisbury Crag and along the top, providing excellent views of the Castle and the rest of Edinburgh, then down to the Palace and on to the Royal Mile at The Scottish Parliament. The route then headed up to the Castle and dropped into the Grassmarket. From there, it was up some old town steps to Lauriston Place past the spectacular Heriots School, into Middle Meadow Walkway and back to Bruntsfield Links.
With a perfect mix of terrain, taking in the sights and sounds of Edinburgh (pipers on the royal mile for that traditional Scottish sound) and a distance of just over 5 miles (not including the slight ‘detour’ my wayward group took!) the run had something for all tastes and served to promote Edinburgh as a potential running destination. I think there were more than a few of us left wishing that we had somewhere as cool as the Crags to run on a daily basis, especially given the close proximity to the city.
I ended up running for a while with top Vibram Barefoot Coach Helen Hall and her partner, and benefited greatly from advice offered both directly to myself and to others. I immediately felt the benefit of some of the tips, including:
Adopt a similar zig-zag approach on descents as you would while skiing as this saves the legs and lets you better control your descent
Stand tall and push from the rear – avoid slouching forward
Rotate the upper body
Aim for a high cadence with lots of little steps. Your feet should land underneath your body rather than far in front of it which helps to avoid heel striking
After a leisurely lunch out on the Links, the group decanted to the Eric Liddell Centre for the afternoon’s events, the conference element of the day. The conference was excellent, with 2 great presentations, each with a slightly different focus. Both Ben le Vacant from Vivobarefoot and Matt Walden from Primal Lifestyle, official distributor of Vibram Five Fingers in the UK, delivered informative, engaging presentations that kept the audience interested and, more often than not, amused. I particularly liked the point that 3.6 million years worth of evolution can’t be wrong!
All participants received a pair of TEKO Socks and there were various other freebies on offer from buffs to keyrings.
The event finished with a Q&A session which, I am sure, could have run on a lot longer had time permitted.
This looks likely to be an annual event and a Facebook group has been set up to promote minimalist running in Scotland.
Thanks to event organisers Colin McPhail and Donnie Campbell for an excellent day, and also to all of the helpers on the day. Thanks also to all the companies who came along to instruct and to let participants see and use both current and future products.
The Scottish Barefoot Run High Speed
The following video, prepared by Colin McPhail, shows the route that was taken on the day.
“There will be weather”. This by now infamous line from the West Highland Way Race may sound daft out of context but anyone running that weekend, in the torrential rain best described as ‘apocalyptic weather conditions’, will fully appreciate the impact of the weather. On this particular weekend, it made the job of running 95 miles, including 14,760ft of ascent in under 35 hours, all the more difficult.
One good thing to come out of that weekend is that, regardless of the ferocity of the rain, I have yet to call off a run because of inclement weather. Having run in the conditions that weekend, nothing seems that bad any more.
As residents of this island we are all too accustomed to dealing with poor weather. We don’t have the extremes experienced in some countries but our weather can be quite grim. As such, as runners, we generally just get on with it and deal with it, adding an extra layer and/or waterproof when required, throwing on a hat, some gloves, a buff etc. etc.
However, the other end of the weather scale is a different matter altogether and, especially, when it just happens to fall on a race day.
Like most people, I love the heat when all I have to do is relax. When it comes to running however, it throws a spanner in the works, especially given that I weigh considerably more than I ideally should. Slowed down, sweating profusely, challenging any chance of a PB, I would go so far as to say that I dislike running in the heat. And yet, this weekend, I set out for a 10 mile trail run in the heat of the day.
When I looked outside, I knew we were in for a hot one. However, rather than rush out to try and avoid the worst of the heat, I waited. It’s not often enough that we get days like this, at least not this year, and what’s to say that the next time I have a race it wont be one of these days. Generally, I tend to get the worst or the best of the weather on race day, seldom anything in between!
As such, I decided to face my demons, to man up, to grin and bare it, to get on with it, to learn to cope, for it is only through adaptation that our bodies become accustomed to running in high temperatures, just as the same process of adaptation facilitates our development as runners in terms of speed or distance.
It was worth it. I went out prepared for the heat of the day and, while I toiled, it was expected. I would go so far as to say that I enjoyed it, and I certainly felt a sense of achievement having finished the run in a time only a few minutes slower than I would normally have done.
It wasn’t until after I completed this post that I found a similar post from fellow Running Bug blogger, Kim Ingleby but I decided to go ahead and post this regardless as there are sufficient additions and differences to justify the post.
So, down to it, my tips for running in the heat.
Apply Sun Tan Lotion
Be sure to apply suntan lotion, ideally before putting on whatever items of clothing you have selected for the run. If you apply after you put your clothes on then there is a chance that your clothing will move and expose untreated skin, resulting in a burn. There’s nothing worse than thinking you are protected only to end up with burnt skin.
Recommendations: Coppertone Sport and Banana Boat Sport sprays.
Look out your lightest running gear and, if you are running longer distances, choose your backpack or waist pack carefully.
Recommendations: Check out RaceReady shorts. This super lightweight US brand has long been a favourite of ultra runners stateside and, thanks to www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com, is now available in the UK. Check out how I got on with a pair of RaceReady LD Sixer Shorts on my personal website.
Chaffing is bad enough at the best of times but can be particularly bad when caused by soaking wet clothing. Consider applying a lubricant to sensitive areas like the groin, nipples and anywhere a backpack or waistpack might rub on your skin.
Recommendations: BodyGlide or Vaseline, though I have found that the former is kinder to clothing when used long term
Cover Your Head
This might actually sound counter productive in the heat of the day but there’s nothing worse than a burnt head and/or neck. Some head protection can also go a long way to reducing the amount of sweat streaming down onto your face and into your eyes.
Recommendations: Visors, Buffs and caps are all useful in their own way. Visors offer some protection and mop up sweat whilst letting air get to the head. Buffs might sound like an odd choice on a hot day but they soak up sweat well and, when soaked in cold water, go a long way to helping cool you down. Caps protect your head and mop up sweat. If you are running in locations where you are likely to be bothered by flies, consider something like the Raidlight Sahara Sunhat, available from www.likeys.com, with its ‘cape’ that protects the back of the head and neck. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of being chased by flies and having them ‘ping’ off the back of your head when you stop! You will likely get some funny looks from people though, as they will likely be unaccustomed to seeing someone in a desert hat.
Be kind to your eyes (and face) and wear sunglasses. There are many lightweight brands out there that are suitable for runners.
“Studies carried out by the National Eye Institute, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicate that eye exposure to UV radiation increases the likelihood of cataract development. Additionally, excessive UV exposure has been linked to keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), pterygium (abnormal tissue growth in the sclera), and macular degeneration (a breakdown of the part of the retina that deals with visual perception). Sunglasses that block 100% of this UV radiation are the best way to maintain healthy eyes.” (runnersfeed.com – Why Runners Should Wear Sunglasses)
Recommendations: I have been using Adidas Evil Eye sunglasses for years. The lenses can be swapped according to the conditions and can be easily replaced. After years of use I found that constant exposure to sweat (and the occasional tumble!) had taken its toll on the lenses. It cost approx £35.00 for two new lenses and prescription lens options are also possible. The sunglasses also have a sweat band which goes a long way to keeping sweat out of your eyes.
Consider Your Hydration
On hot days you should always carry fluids and, depending on the length of the run, I would recommend increasing the amount that you normally carry. If you know that your route will take you past a shop, carry a bank card and/or some cash and top up your fluids rather than carry them from the start. A Jimi Wallet is an easy to carry option that keeps cards and/or cash safe and dry.
Be careful not to over hydrate, especially if relying on water alone. Hyponatremia, or water intoxication, can result when water and sodium lost through sweating is replaced with only water. This leaves the body low in sodium.
I would also suggest reading this article on a new and controversial book, ‘Waterlogged’ by Dr. Noakes, which challenges many of the common beliefs surrounding hydration.
Recommendations: Use High 5 or Nuun tablets in water to restore the balance of nutrients in the body and to offer a range of flavours. Just add the tablets to water. I personally prefer using bottles to bladders as I find them easier to fill at check points in races and, perhaps more importantly, I find that it is easier to monitor how much (or how little) fluid I have consumed.
Some days are not for racing. Arguably, at least for the majority of us, really hot days fall in to that category. The heat will likely impact on your mile times, your chances of a PB and so forth. Be ready to accept that. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Chasing a PB that was attained on a day far more favourable to racing could prove risky to your health.
Recommendations: Stop and walk if you have to. In ultras, walking is all part of the race strategy and I have seen me clock miles just as fast from a run/walk strategy than grinding out purely run miles.
You may find that it is better for you to run early in the morning or later in the day/early evening when the weather is not as hot. Arguably this approach reduced the opportunity to adapt to the hotter temperatures that you may experience on race day. However, if you have a specific goal or are working to a schedule as part of your training, training at the coolest point of the day may make more sense.
Recommendations: Check the forecast for an approximation of likely temperatures at a given time of day.
It is all too easy to let the heat get the better of you and to get flustered. Keeping control of your head is half the battle. Think positive. Be realistic. Expect and accept that your running will be affected by the heat. Adapt your plans as the circumstances dictate. I actually found myself running further than I had initially planned just so that I could spend some time in the shade in a forested area of my route.
Recommendations: Try to think ‘light’ and ‘cool’. Stay positive and try to visualize a successful run.
Dehydration: Symptoms include dry mouth, nausea, extreme thirst
Heatstroke: Symptoms include stopping sweating, confusion, unconsciousness, hot and dry skin
Most of all, be sure to enjoy it!
Recommendations: See all of the above to try and ensure that you do enjoy your run!