Nearly there…

I can’t believe that I’ve actually made it through a training block and am tapering for a goal race, uninjured and feeling relatively fit. It has been a long time since I’ve made it to the start line of an important race. This coming weekend I’ll line up at the start of one of the Skyrunning World Series races: the Ring of Steall Skyrace in Scotland. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. It’s relatively short in distance, around 30k, but really tough, and if I get under 5hrs 30 I’ll be very happy indeed. Actually, if I finish I’ll be happy. 

I am still nursing pain and scar tissue in both Achilles’ tendons and they can be very sore when I start running but once warmed up they feel ok. I’ve taken the pressure off myself with the training and been much more organic than before, not chasing a certain distance goal each week. I peaked at around 80 miles two weeks out, and then started a fairly aggressive taper. But I’ve adveraged around 80 kilometres per week, far less than usual, although my climbing has been fairly consistent week on week. I’ve also slowed right down and waited for the speed to feel easy instead of forcing it. Suddenly it was there and I ran a 10 mile tempo last week at under 7 mins per mile, a decent pace for me. 

On the road, I’m wearing Altra Escalante shoes, hands down the best road shoes I’ve ever had. Altra have totally nailed it with these shoes.  They are light, super responsive, flexible and soft around the foot, while being just cushioned enough for long runs (24 miles on concrete paths in France!). They are like the holy grail of running shoes. So impressed. Trail shoes are a bit of a problem. My Altra Lone Peaks are not grippy enough for a very technical skyrace, so I’ve gone for Salomon Speedcross 4s, but they are so narrow. They do make my feet ache, but I think it’s because I’ve been exclusively wearing the Altras. So for the next few days I’m doing everything in the Speedcross to try to get my feet used to them before the weekend. I did wear them training in the mountains for around four hours and they were ok, and the grip they give on the descents makes it worth it. 

Taper madness is a thing, I’ve got a cold and feel rotten. Wish I could fast forward the next few days and just start the race! 
Planned gear: Salomon advanced skin pack; Montane minimums jacket; North Face waterproof trousers; Salomon s-lab skirt; Lornah sports top; merino wool base layer. Salomon Speedcross 4 shoes, Sunnto ambit peak 3 watch, pezl head torch. 

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Training in Ireland – a scary half hour on Knockboy. 

I spent a week home in Cork, and got two decent days in the mountains done. The first was an ascent of Knockboy, the highest point in Cork, in a very wild and beautiful part of the country just on the border with Kerry. Like most Irish mountains apart from the most well known, there is no marked path and the going is extremely boggy. It seemed to be a bright day, and I had great views down to Glengarrif by the sea on one side, and over the Kerry mountains on the other. I didn’t have a compass with me, but didn’t think much of it as I headed up the road and turned off over a stile to start up the mountain. 

I was moving quite well over the bog, and could see the trig point at the top where I was headed, I knew it was at about 800m, and I chose to run along a fence line as it skirted the worst of the bog. It started to get cold, but I had a jacket in my pack. Suddenly, within a few minutes, the clouds closed in. I was extremely lucky I had decided to stay on the fenceline as I could no longer see anything more than 5m around me. The world had shrunk into whiteness and it was now very cold. I stuck to the fence and using the navigation app on my phone (ViewRanger), I got to the trig point at the summit. 


Now it was time to go back. I followed the fenceline back down the way I came, then got to a lake, which I could identify on the map. At this point I decided to try to navigate back to the road, but as soon as the lake was out of sight, all landmarks simply vanished. I had no idea which direction I was moving, my phone wasn’t much use, and the compass on my watch told me where north was, but not how to get through the maze of bog I now found myself in. The whiteness was disorienting and eerie, and I was moving so slowly it was hard to stay warm. I decided to climb up a hillock to try to get onto firmer ground. Suddenly, as quickly as it came in, the clouds cleared. I could see the road! I could also see that I had been headed in exactly the wrong direction. 


Lesson learned. Mountains, even small ones, are very dangerous. If I hadn’t had my jacket with me, and the mist hadn’t cleared when it did, this could have been a very scary experience. It had been warm and bright at sea level, a good 21 degrees and clear sunshine. It was probably 15 degrees colder on the hill, windy, and all landmarks completely invisible. Always bring a proper compass and map. Don’t rely on technology. Bring warm clothing, gloves and extra food. You just never know. 

Learning from the very best: Runing with Nicky Spinks

Nicky Spinks is a familiar name to anyone interested in long distance running in the UK. A former holder of the female fastest known time on the Bob Graham Round, she recently became the fastest person ever to complete a double Bob Graham, an almost unimaginably difficult feat. She has held records on each of the UK long distance rounds, and has been highly placed in mountain ultras in Europe and further afield, including at UTMB. Now in her 50s, she has been running competitively for over a decade, she is an Inov-8 sponsored athlete at the top of her sport, but she is also a full time farmer, and a survivor of breast cancer. In summary, she is a very inspirational and knowledgeable person, and a fantastic runner and athlete.

 

I was very lucky to get to go to her day-long course on preparing for a Round, or an Ultra race. I also was even more fortunate to go for a run with her over the high moorland of the Dark Peaks, more of which later. The course was a day of conversation and learning, including watching the film that was made of her double Bob Graham. It was held in a renovated barn in the Peak District. There were around fifteen people present: mainly experienced runners and mountaineers of various ability and speed; a few people planning their first attempt at a Bob Graham or other round; and me – the road runner with ambition to take on the hills.

 

Nicky started by giving a run down of her own background in the sport, beginning with an ill-prepared hike up Ben Nevis during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. From there she got into fell running, but struggled with bad nerves and lack of confidence. She did her first Bob Graham in 2005, followed by an attempt at the Paddy Buckley (the North Wales equivalent), which failed due to bad weather. After that failed round, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. After her mastectomy and treatment, she went into full remission and resumed running. She succeeded in completing the Paddy Buckley the following year, and went on to complete the Scottish Charlie Ramsay round in 2008. She also set a record for the Lack District 24 our round in 2011. Overtraining, fatigue, and bad nutrition saw her struggle at UTMB in 2014, but she returned two years later having learned her lesson and had a much better run. Finally, in 2016, to commemorate ten years of remission from cancer, she attempted and achieved a double Bob Graham round.

 

She spoke in detail about her training approach, which is periodised into meso-cycles of hard weeks and easy weeks, with back to back long runs and some speed work an integral part of her training. However, she does not run very high mileage, preferring to focus on quality, time on feet, and being specific for the terrain she is training for. She also sees three different sports therapists as required.

 

In terms of pacing during a round or race, she believes in walking strongly on the uphills, but getting used to running over the tops and down, to get the legs turning over quickly. One of her sayings is “think like a sheep”, to try to learn how to move efficiently over difficult boggy terrain.

 

Her nutrition strategy is relatively simple: eat as much as you can get down. Eat within the first hour to keep the stomach digesting and prevent sickness later. Get your stomach used to eating little and often by eating that way in the week leading up to the race, instead of your usual standard meals. Eat real food as far as possible on long efforts but don’t assume that just because you liked something once, you will like it again. Have a good range of food types to choose from, and trust your stomach.

 

We discussed practical issues around using poles (recommended for rocky, high mountain races, but not for UK terrain as it is usually too wet). After this we all got taken out for some navigation practice with a map and compass, practising taking a bearing and navigating to a point on a map. This was good for me as I know how to navigate but lack confidence; having someone that experienced assuring me I was doing it right was very helpful.

 

The final part of the day, after eating the lunch that Nicky had prepared, was spent watching Run Forever, the film of her double Bob Graham: Run Forever.

It is a moving film, made even more so watching it while sitting next to the subject of the film!

 

When the course was complete, Nicky had agreed to take me out for a run. We ended up running a 10 mile route over the moorland, finishing with head torches after the sun went down. For me, running on totally unfamiliar terrain, over some deep bog and tricky climbing, in the dark, was an incredible, never-to-be-forgotten experience. My anterior tibialis pain had flared up and I hadn’t been able to run much (and haven’t been able to run since – but it was worth it). It was a beautiful evening, not cold, and quite still even on the high hills. I did manage to fall twice, but slowly my legs got used to the terrain and I was able to keep up with Nicky, who truly does move like a sheep over the bog. We topped a trig point and she showed me the remains of a WW2 plane that had gone down on the hill and had been rusting away ever since. Slowly the light failed and we turned on our headlamps. On our way back, in the thick darkness, our lamps picked out the image of a sheep’s skull, picked clean and staring at us out of the night. We talked about running and life in general, about animals and friends and travel. I am so grateful to her for showing me such kindness and hospitality, sharing her running playground with me, and opening a door for me that I would never have got through on my own.

 

 

 

Back on the trail of winning ways

I’ve had to be patient over the last few weeks and work on getting my fitness back to somewhere close to where I’d like it. It is difficult to be realistic, when the body does not respond in the way you assume, and it is hard not to get frustrated by injury and setbacks. My main frustration is that I feel that I do things “correctly” – I train properly, eat well, sleep well, do my strength and conditioning sessions, yoga, stretching – but I still have been struggling with injury.

However, it seems that things are slowly coming back. A week in France at the beginning of September gave me a chance to do some big mileage, and I managed 80 miles, including two 20 mile runs on the sandy trails of Aquitaine. I love running in the heat and when not running I was able to lie on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and watch the Atlantic waves roll in.

Returning home meant some races. First up was 10 miles on the road, quite hilly, local race to me and a favourite. I didn’t really know how I would feel, but I started conservatively and realised that I was going to be OK. I pushed on up and down the hills, and was only just out run on the flat 2 mile finish by a clubmate who is normally minutes ahead of me. I was happy, we won the team prize and I was 4th in my category.

The following week I was back in my comfort zone of the trail, with a 10.6 mile trail run on the Ridgeway, very hilly, including one 18% gradient up to the famous White Horse monument. I went out with the leading group and was passed by another woman in the first mile. I let her go, sensing that I would get her back. Even having to stop to tie my shoelace (first time ever in a race!) didn’t quite dent my confidence. I was able to put on some decent surges on the more technical downhills, and caught her at mile 8, went past, and ran in for the win. A great confidence boost and my first win since the White Peak race back in June.

A slightly niggly left quad has been the consequence of pushing hard on the downs, but I don’t think it is going to be a real issue. I had to scratch my planned long run the day after the race, but I should be able to pick up again once the quad settles down.

My main goal is a 50k at the end of October. I’ve agreed to be a pacer at my local city Half Marathon in a few weeks, I’ll be wearing the 1:45 flag and am seriously terrified! I’ve had experience of fantastic pacing (and not so great pacing), and am quite nervous at being responsible for other people’s racing success or failure. It will be a great experience for me and I want to give something back rather than focusing on my own times. It will also stop me from going all out and needing too much recovery time before my 50k.

Injured with -14 days to go

The pain in my leg got worse, and I simply couldn’t run through it anymore. In fact, I was left limping and crying on the side of the road as it got so bad I couldn’t even make it 2k home.

Luckily I have a really fantastic physio who saw me the next day. He (and I) feared a tibial stress fracture, but luckily he is pretty sure it isn’t that. However, the anterior tibialis muscle is torn. This is a painful and acute injury and there is no way I can run for at least a week. Whether it will heal in time for me to do the 48km Peak Skyrace on August 7th – who knows. Physio thinks I have a chance. The pain has subsided but I cannot run, tried to run across the road and the pain returned with a vengeance.

So yet another injury. I have had the  most successful running year of my life and the most injury prone year all at once. My birthday is in a week, which means it is a year since I started this blog. What do I want for my birthday? Not to be bloody injured! And to be able to run the race I’ve been dreaming of and training for.

 

Some bog surfing in the Peaks

I’m doing a 48 kilometer Skyrunning race in a few weeks time, and decided that it would probably be wise to recce the course in advance. I’m so glad I did! What I discovered is that a large proportion of the course is heavy bog, caused by the wet weather that has been the story for most of this year. Trails that are supposed to be dry and fairly runnable are thick, sucking mud, and at one point I ended up above my knees in a sinkhole of black mud. I’m quite worried about the race now, as it is nearly impossible to run over such terrain. It is going to be a long day’s slog unless things dry out significantly. I didn’t realise how bad it was going to be, and headed out with plenty of water, but no food, as I was only planning to do around 12 miles on various bits of the course.

Nearly 4 hours later….I made it back to the car, completely ravenous, having not eaten anything apart from two chia seed gels (33 Shake, amazing stuff), which luckily I had stuffed in my vest without actually planning to eat them.  My then two hour drive home took me well over 3 as the traffic was awful, and my phone died. My shoes had to be scrubbed in the sink as they were submerged in thick black goo, and I can’t get my feet clean at all, after two showers and plenty of soap.

It is going to be great fun!!!

Lanzarote!

 

I spent last week staying just outside Playa Blanca on the south of Lanzarote. I got there having not run more than 15 kilometers in the previous four weeks, but came home having covered 80k, and well over 2000m of climbing, and feeling pretty good.

We were staying in a house right at the bottom of the Montana Roja, a volcano and crater that is a focal point of the area. It was the perfect place to get some climbing and descending practice, and to try to get some running in my legs and test out my foot.

I managed to do three runs of over half marathon length, and plenty of shorter ones just up and down our “local volcano”. My final run took me up to the highest point on the other side of Playa Blanca, from which I could see down the east coast towards the capital city. I wasn’t particularly keen on Playa Blanca itself, which is a very touristy resort town. I felt like something from another species running along the promenade in my hydration pack and trail running gear, dusty from a day in the mountains, dodging the tourists eating burgers and chips by the sea front. But once out of the town, the trails were incredible, and I could run for hours without seeing another soul. It was impossible to get lost thanks to the clear sky and distinctive mountains, and while I did end up off trail on occasion (not easy to run off trail through a volcanic landscape), I never felt worried or unsure.

There is such complete freedom in packing a bag with a towel, some water and a bit of food, and running out into the mountains. Swimming to cool down, then packing up and running on further, climbing hard, and descending as well as possible, never wanting to stop. I know how lucky I am to be able to do this – both physically, especially having been injured, and mentally – having the will to just head out into a foreign landscape on my own, something that I know not everyone would have the confidence to do.

Training wise, I got a lot of benefit from the week, feel fitter already and happier on the uneven terrain and much improved in my downhill skills. I have a 16 mile trail race in the Peak district this weekend, so we will see how I get on. I can still feel my foot but it help up well to the miles, I just hope it can cope with a bit of road running, and the softer, boggier off road that I will face in the UK.

In December I will be back, staying at Club La Santa on the west of the island for another training week and possibly to run the Lanzarote marathon. I wish I could go back sooner.

 

 

Goal setting and one week, two days of marathon training down

I’m just over a week into my Pfzinger marathon training plan, 16 weeks leading up to the London Marathon on April 24th. I’ve been setting goals and my race calendar has filled up quickly. My first long run of the year was 17 miles and over 1,000 ft of elevation gain. It was a great run, and I felt a lot stronger than I had anticipated. However, despite thinking that the plantar fascitis was beat, it has obviously affected my stride pattern as I ended up with a nasty blister and black toenail on the little toe of my bad foot. OUCH! I really hate blisters and my feet seem annoyingly prone to them. I’ve been able to run with a silicone protector on that toe, but it is still a niggle, and very annoying.

 

“A” races for the first half of 2016:

World Half Marathon Championships, Cardiff, March 26th

Virgin London Marathon, April 24th

Peaks Skyrace (30 mile Ultra) – August 7th

 

“B” races:

Race to the Stones 100k, July 16th (of which I will probably only run the first 50k, as my “A” Ultra is only three weeks later)

Wokingham Half Marathon, February 21st

Bourton 10k, February 28th

Grand Canaria Half Marathon (courtesy of the fabulous Marathon Talk) is on January 25th, but I will not race it, wanting to enjoy a holiday and take it at marathon pace and enjoy my surroundings.

 

Later on in the year, I will do the Bounder trail race again (I was second last year), and possibly the Mourne Skyline Ultra in October.

 

Thanks, Marathon Talk!

I listen to podcasts while I run. Most of the time I listen to either Marathon Talk  or to Talk Ultra

On a whim, I entered a competition on Marathon Talk for a trip to Las Palmas to run the Grand Canaria Marathon, Half Marathon on 10k. Much to my absolute astonishment, I won. Thanks so much to Tom and Martin at Marathon Talk for this amazing opportunity!

So, in a few weeks time, I’ll be leaving this gray place behind and heading out to the sunshine. I’m going to do the Half Marathon, but I will not race it hard as I’ll have just started my training for the London Marathon at that point. I’ve been suffering with a bit of plantar fascitis in my left foot and haven’t run much over the past few weeks.

In a bid to give myself something to really get my teeth into, I’ve entered the Race to the Stones which is a 100k race in July. It will be my first Ultra, and it counts towards UTMB qualification points, which is my aim for the coming years.

I’m staring with trepidation at my 16 week London Marathon training schedule, based on the Pfizinger and Douglas Advanced Marathoning regime. It is based on between 70 and 90 miles per week, and it is scaring me half to death right now. Once I start doing it I’ll be ok. I hope.

My plantar fascitis pain has caused me to buy yet another pair of shoes (actually two pairs). I bought a second hand pair of Hoka trail shoes on ebay, to see how they felt. They made my foot feel better almost immediately. I’m trying to keep off road at the moment to keep injury at bay and I’m hugely impressed by the Hokas performance in mud and rugged trails. I’ve also bought a new pair of Hoka road shoes (Huaka), which I hope will help me through my higher mileage marathon training and keep the foot pain at bay.