2014 Review

Given that it’s now the start of February 2015, it’s technically getting a bit late for a ‘2014 Review’. Things keep getting in the way, not unlike the way they keep getting in the way of training, but I set out to write a review of 2014 and I am determined to complete it. After all, if I can’t even complete a review, what hope have I got of completing 2015’s planned event schedule.

My ‘2014 Review’ will be quite unlike many of the reviews that I have been reading online.

For one, my ‘2014 Review’ is actually going to go back as far as 2013, so we can get the whole picture, as my running spiralled into oblivion.

Further, my review is different because I didn’t run in any organised events, let alone any ultramarathons, and I ran fewer miles than I have since at least 2010 and, most likely, since 2007.

There were no big events, no (official) PBs, and no logging of mileage. I couldn’t even give an approximation of how many miles I ran.

Sounds a bit chaotic really but the truth of the matter is that I was ‘otherwise engaged’, ‘on sabbatical’, ‘out of office’ as far as running was concerned.

It’s a situation that, given the prominent role that running has played in my life these past few years, I would never have envisaged, and yet, 2014 was the first year since 2004 that I didn’t compete in an organised event.

Since late February 2013, it has all been about parenthood, attempting to master the role of ‘daddy’, a challenge that I have relished despite constantly feeling like I am making it up as I go along!

My last ultramarathon was the 2013 D33, just weeks after the birth of my son Harris. ‘Training’ had been severely impacted by preparations around the house for the impending birth, with practically the whole house decorated, including a kitchen that was finally finished just a couple of weeks before Harris’s arrival. I hope never again to repeat the chaos of those few months.

By the time the D33 came, in mid-March and just a couple of weeks after our new arrival, I had mustered ‘long run’ training, and I really do use that description in the loosest sense, of just 11 miles, 1/3 of the total distance that I expected to cover.

I did grind out a finish, along with a PW time, but admittedly not actually that much over my first ever D33 time!

It wasn’t pretty.

Understatement.

It hurt.

A lot.

Huge understatement!

I knew there was no chance of me making it to the 2014 D33 and was gutted to lose my place as one of the ever presents in this, the 5th year of the event.

So, we’ve established, 2014 wasn’t about the running.

It wasn’t, however, a complete write-off where fitness was concerned.

But we are not quite at the positive part, not just yet.

Following injury and my resulting failure to attain a 1/2 marathon PB at the Great Scottish Run in October 2013, a very visible failure thanks to my role as a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador with PUMA and The Running Bug, I found my running mojo plummeted.

I was then unfortunate enough to catch something called Hand, Foot & Mouth from my son. Fortunately, he appeared to have a fairly mild reaction to this viral infection, something which, according to the NHS mostly affects young children.

I, on the other hand, did not. One of the symptoms is described as follows:

“A non-itchy red rash, made up of spots or small fluid-filled sacs (vesicles), which usually develops on the hands and feet, but may also occur on the knees, elbows, groin and buttocks; sometimes the rash can develop into painful blisters”

I ended up unable to walk thanks to painful blisters that covered the soles of my feet, amongst other areas, almost in their entirety. My feet were in a better condition at the end of 95 miles of apocalyptic weather on the West Highland Way than they were after just one single day of hand, foot and mouth.

It was a good few weeks before I could even walk, let alone run without pain, and the skin of my feet took months to properly heal.

My weight started to creep up, nullifying all the gains that I had made thanks to the nutrition element of the PUMA PB Challenge.

2014 started with illness. I was in the Cairngorms for the start of the year but was under the weather thanks to a bad chest infection. I made the most of my time there but I was most definitely held back by the severity of the infection.

Finally, around the middle of 2014, things took a positive turn on the health front. By this point, my weight was up around the 16 stone mark.

Following the opening of the new Aquatics Centre at Aberdeen Sports Village, I popped across for a swim, just to see what it was like. This made a change to my usual approach of working through lunch, eating a packed lunch at my desk.

My single visit turned into a daily pilgrimage to the pool. When I tired of swimming every day, I alternated between the gym and the pool, and this is pretty much how it has been since.

I started 2015 some 3 stone lighter than my 16 stone peak, still heavy by a lot of people’s standards but, certainly as far as I am concerned, the lightest that I have been since… well, since I can actually really remember. I was possibly lighter at some point back in my early 20s, but that’s a good while ago now and the memory isn’t ‘that’ good!

I’m not finished yet. Despite a plateau over the past few weeks, I am determined to lose more weight, hopefully in time for 2015’s planned events.

Losing weight does bring new ‘problems’. For one, I need to replace a large portion of my wardrobe as and when finances permit. That’s not such a big deal.

I also discovered that I am no longer impervious to the cold, resulting in the purchase this past weekend of a Rab Summit Jacket, a toasty warm down garment that should hopefully keep me much warmer.

The main issue is with regard to the impact on my running.

On the plus side, I’ve found myself able to run considerably faster than previously, notching up a massive PB at the 5k distance and taking over a minute off of my 10k PB, a time which itself was a fluke, much faster than my usual times, set way back in 2008!

On the negative side, my pacing has gone out of the window. I’m no longer ‘Mr. Single Speed’. I can now mix it up. Unfortunately, however, I usually do mix it up, each and every long run, and I have yet to find the optimal pace for completing runs over the 6 mile distance. That’s obviously something that needs to be resolved, ideally before the D33 in March.

I had, admittedly somewhat naively, hoped that muscle memory, coupled with the not insignificant weight loss, would see me easily smash all of the ultra PBs that I have set in the past.

The reality, as I found on one particularly bad 18 mile run the other week, was that I will need to a) find my optimal long run pace and b) train just as hard, if not harder, than I have in the past, to try and get anywhere near to the levels of ultra endurance that I had previously accrued over 3 solid years of ultra training and racing.

To add insult to injury, I actually struggled from the 3 mile mark on that 18 mile run. Still, I persisted, something that I obviously haven’t forgotten from my time running ultras and, further, an 18 mile run, albeit a bad one, is still 7 miles longer than any run I managed while training for the 2013 D33! As such, I can’t really complain.

So, that’s where things stand now. I am attempting to get enough running in, albeit mixed up with swimming, cycling and cross training. Gone are the days when I run simply to log miles and add to yearly mileage totals. I haven’t in fact, logged any of my mileage. I just have a rough idea of how things are building up.

With a bit of luck I will complete the D33 and the Highland Fling, the two events that I have signed up for at the time of writing. I’m also keen to do the Great Glen Ultra, a 72 mile run from Fort William to Inverness that I have never run before. It would, in fact, be my first BaM (Bill & Mike) event. Having cycled the route, from Inverness to Fort William, a good few years back, it’s a race that excites me, and especially with the prospect of running some of it on the new higher level path, with the improved views over Loch Ness.

Ideally, I would also like to round off the year with a return to The Speyside Way. Hopefully training, finance, and logistics, will allow that. As an ‘Elgin loon’, it’s almost like returning home, even though running, let alone running endurance events, was about the furthest thing from my mind in those first 18 years of my life when I lived in Elgin and Lhanbryde (located 4 miles out of Elgin, not in Wales, for those that don’t know the area).

There are elements of that Speyside Way Race route that are amongst my favourite trails outside of the Cairngorms and I can’t wait to run them again.

So, in summary, 2013/2014 didn’t have the best of starts health wise and running was always a secondary, if even that, part of my life in this time. However, 2014 was the year when I finally, after years of trying, turned a corner where my weight was concerned, something that will hopefully have an impact on my 2015 ultra schedule and for many, many years to come.

Weighty Matters & Evil Intervals

New post on The Running Bug, ‘Weighty Matters & Evil Intervals‘.

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.

September Summary (Better Late Than Never!)

New post at The Running Bug, ‘September Summary (Better Late Than Never!)‘.

September was a memorable month for me in a number of ways and I wanted to share this with you before we get too far in to October!

In terms of running I hit, and passed the 1000 mile mark, slightly earlier than last year. In 2010 I ran the Loch Ness Marathon and hit the 1000 mile mark in mile 26 of the marathon for that double accomplishment feeling. An injury in the run up to the marathon had done its best to try and spoil my carefully planned 1000th mile and, as a result, instead of tapering in the week leading up to the marathon, I ended up cramming in the mileage to make up for lost time (definitely not recommended as an approach to ‘tapering’!). Having made up the mileage shortfall, I was delighted to cross the finish line, hitting my mileage target and setting a new marathon PB.

Without a race in the foreseeable future, I then did what I have done on so many occasions. I let the running slip. Not altogether, but in a sufficiently unstructured way so that, by the time I lined up in March of this year for the first ultra, I was essentially back to square one. Talk about making things difficult for yourself!

This year, with the benefit of hindsight, I am determined not to do the same thing and, as such, I have set both short and long term goals, with the short term goals focusing on both pace and weight.

As mentioned previously, I completed 6 ultras this year whilst tipping the scales at a weight of just over 15 stones. I have spent much of the past few years following one calorie counting diet or another and, it has to be said that, other than a few pounds here and there, which generally ‘sneak’ back on, I have not had much success. Last year in particular I found that the combination of running long distances and attempting to diet did not sit well together and I found my health suffering as I picked up every bug and sniffle going!

In 2011 I decided to stick with my normal diet for the duration of the ultras. With only 3 weeks between the majority of the races, getting ill was not an option. When my wife came home at the beginning of September and told me about a colleague who had shed approximately 2 stones in the space of 2 months it was a timely ‘ray of hope’. Never known for my patience, this sounded like my kind of diet – results… and fast!

Tasked with finding out more, my wife returned from work the following day and advised me that I needed to eliminate carbs from my diet.

Initially I found this really tough. For one, I realised the huge carb reliance in my current diet. My eyes were opened to my ‘dependency’ on everything from bread, to porridge, to pastas. I eliminated everything that was not meat, fish or vegetable and, as I later found out, I was essentially following the ‘Dukan Diet’, albeit having ‘skipped’ the 100% meat ‘attack phase’ recommended by the diet.

The ‘Dukan Diet’ lets you eat meat and fish and lots of it! Hunger pangs are not an issue on this diet as you are free to snack on meat and/or fish whenever hunger strikes. An increased water intake is also recommended and this also helps to keep hunger at bay.

I am not advocating that this diet is a good choice for anyone. I simply do not know enough about nutrition to comment on how good or bad the carb depletion approach is. However, as far as I am concerned, it worked for me and, having emerged from those first few days of thumping headaches (withdrawl symptoms apparently), the weight started to drop off.

By the end of September, I had lost a stone in weight.

Alongside the diet, I endeavoured to run at least 5 miles every day in September, which I did on all but 5 days where running was not possible due to other commitments.

The constant running eliminated recovery days from my schedule and each run felt like the end stages of a race, where the legs are tight and tired. Combined with the effects of the carb elimination, the runs increasingly felt like they were being done whilst ‘running on empty’. However, I persisted, partly through determination to log a high mileage month and partly to try and ‘assist’ the diet.

At the end of the 3rd week I decided to have a small bowl of porridge before heading out to run. The bowl was half, if not a third of the size of the bowl that I would normally have had.

The lethargy lifted soon after starting the run and I really felt like I was flying. The combination of the weight loss and the reintroduction of carbs into my diet, albeit on a small scale, powered me through my run and I logged the fastest mile that I had run in years. In fact, all 7 of the miles I ran that day were on average 2-3 minutes quicker than those that I had logged running on those particularly lethargic days of the third week.

The weight is still coming off, albeit at a slightly more moderate 2-3 pounds per week. I have reintroduced carbs back in to my diet now but in much smaller quantities than before and it is unlikely that I will ever return to the carb intake levels that I previously consumed. I still aim to lose a further stone in weight and with this weight reduction, I will also benefit from an ‘unintended’ increase in running pace.

This week I recorded another mile PB, knocking a further 30 seconds off of my mile time. Not bad at all considering that, at this point, I have not actually turned my attention to speedwork!