Smaller Cogs, Bigger gears.

Really pleased to have finished last week with a run of 20km. My ankle is stiff, but not painful so the rehab is working.

I’d swapped out my rear cassette of gears from a 13-29 to a 12-23. This makes it harder to climb, but the bike rolls faster. Perfect for two things. First smashing my legs, second climbing the leaderboards on Strava.

Early mornings and gears being bigger and smaller make for confusion when making a video diary. Excuse the mistake! 

Strava is a great motivation for me, and training solo. It makes it much harder to ease off on a particular goal. It’s like a virtual race, but one you don’t know where you are in relation to your competition until you get home. That works both ways, either complacent or too aggressive.  Either way it keeps me focussed on pushing hard on climbs and descents.

I’ve been eyeing “Aero” a segment climb in Coed y Brenin in the Wen valley. It’s about 1.3km with an average grade of 10%, though the steepest section is 25%. With my normal time of around 7 minutes and the KOM being 5:38 to get the first spot would need a lot of pain. 

I moved from fifth to second after the ride, 16 seconds back from KOM but 38 seconds ahead of third.  I’ve an idea where I can gain the time. It needs a later start than 0530 and a bit more temperature in the air. I’ll be back.


12.8.2013 Training from Ashley Charlwood on Vimeo.

Cooking, a teaspoon of cement and soup for the soul

So having just written an article about balancing training and life for Andy Mouncey  this week sucked a big one for training. 5am starts and at 11pm finishes meant for 5 days training wasn’t an option, and Saturday I was washed out totally so training was completely unappealing.

Saturday then, I put to checking out how my cook kit would work out for Marathon des Sables. I’ve got the equipment and fuel to under 200g for the race, but I really wanted to check that it’d work in the wind. I’m going to be eating dehydrated food, so need to get some heat into the water I’ll use for reconstitute. I’m using an Alpkit Mytimug  to cook in, an MSR Titan tool spoon, both of which I have used a good bit on different trips. But to get the weight down, and as I’m not going to be worried about speed I’m going for an Esbit titanium stove. That and some solid fuel tabs will see me through the race, tests show that 10 mins is what it takes to boil the right amount of water. I can wait whilst I’m recovering! The only thing I need to work on is the high performance wind shield – tin foil. Job done.

Last night I realised that work wasn’t going to be much better this week, I might get the chance to do a few 40 minute runs in the morning, but not much else. So although I woke up really tired, and it was miserable with wind and rain, I needed to head out for some kind of exercise. My ankle is taped at the moment because of a sore Achilles, so a long run would have been a bit daft, though it is getting to the point where I want to test it.

A long ride would be perfect. Took a metaphorical teaspoon of cement and went out. Got a category 2 climb  in and a bunch of category 3’s so the training effect is good.

Achilles KT taping.
Achilles KT taping.

What the ride has taken out of me physically, it has given me a whole load back mentally. So it was definitely worth it!

Making things hot

In this hot weather, I’ve been out running in a fleece, just to try and replicate the 40+ degrees that its likely to be in Morocco for Marathon des Sables. 

I tried to make a time lapse video of some rowing training that I did in a warm conservatory but it didn’t work well. 

Instead it’ll just have to be this before and after photo. 7800m in 30 minutes at about 42 degrees. Good threshold training. I weighed my t-shirt when I took it off, 1kg which I reckon is about 800g of sweat lost in half an hour. Hydration is going to be key in the desert! 

Before and after rowing for 30 minutes in a warm room.
Before and after rowing for 30 minutes in a warm room.

Hill Training and Strava KOM

I love travelling around the hills of Dolgellau and this morning was on the road bike again. A new route, with a climb I haven’t done before on skinny tyres. As you’ll see on the video, I had Strava in mind, but specifically one descent segment. It’s great when you come home and nab 3 KOM’s, 1 in ascent and 2 in descent. I also know on a dry day I can take a bit more out of the nasty climb!

Strava makes the solo training feel like a real achievement. Though this isn’t good if you’re competitive and can’t get rid of the devil on your shoulder-be careful out there! 

Sheep on the road

With a sore right ankle, time riding is what I can do. It gives me some really good thinking time to keep planning Marathon des Sables and keep my mind sharp. 

11 things to make you a better Trail Runner

Running the traills
Running the traills

It’s difficult to define what being a “better” trail runner means. For some it means faster, for others it means further. For me it means using running as a method to move through places where there isn’t a made up pathway. Whilst lots of people have written about performance, I’m going to go all “Point Break” and this is about being a better “soul” trail runner. That is trail running just for the love of it.


1. Running at night makes you focus on the bubble of your headtorch light. The lack of depth perception and more confusing shadows means your foot placement will not always be as certain.

2. Leaning forwards downhill gives you more grip. If your body is perpendicular to the ground your contact patch (between the sole of your shoe and the ground) is bigger. Bigger contact patch = less chance of slipping.

3. Understand maps, reading a map is different to looking at a map. Maps let you see the terrain and do lots of mental preparation before you get on the trail. On open ground Google Earth is a great visualisation tool, but it’s not reliable as a source whilst out running. Get a detailed map of your local countryside that you know already, teach yourself what those features look like when drawn and what different map scales look like too.

4. Look around more. Trail running is always beautiful, looking at the view is an important way to relax your mind. Reminding yourself of the environment you’re running through will make sure you respect it, and sometimes how vulnerable you are.

5. Core strength exercises make running uphill, cross slope and uneven surfaces easier. The more control you have of your mass the less energy, physical and mental, you’ll spend running. Kettlebell swings, press ups, rowing in fact anything that engages  your core will make you a better trail runner.

6. Flexibility exercises make bouncing from the inevitable fall or injury more likely. Even 5 minutes a day will make a noticeable difference. Don’t do stretches on cold muscles.

7. Proprioception makes you like a mountain goat and less likely to turn an ankle. Standing on a wobble board with your eyes shut is the best way to learn this. Start holding onto something about nipple high!

8. Sleep on the trail, doesn’t mean running miles, but learning to be part of the environment you’re running through might pay off in an emergency. Most big accidents due to bad conditions or injuries are caused by people panicking. Being confident to stop and rest is a key skill for running remote trails.

9. Shorten and lengthen your stride. Track runners do their thing on a flat, uniform surface. On trails the surface changes, the gradient changes and so should your stride length. Short quick steps going uphill is like a low gear on a bike, whilst long loping downhill strides are the runners equivalent of freewheeling. Experiment on the same bit of trail and find what works for you.

10. Think trail, this is in addition to reading maps. Visualize your run. Think about key points-top of climbs, feed points, views, navigation handrails, escape routes or points of interest. Trail running is as much mental as physical, so thinking about it is really important.

11. Trail running is the best thing to do to make you better at trail running. So stop reading, go run!

Have fun!


Antibiotics *bleurgh*

The night after my last blog was pretty rough. 

Vomiting, collapsing, waking up in pools of sweat. It hurt. Lots. 

Turns out I’d picked up a bacterial infection from some stagnant water I’d been working in. I knew there was a risk. Most canoeists do. But I risked it, and got ill. 

Some pretty strong anitbiotics and a fortnight of being felt like I was hit like a bus and the recovery started.

My short term running aim was to hit a target time at Trail Marathon Wales (TMW). Whilst everyone else has been doing their “last long run” and starting their taper, I’ve been trying to get out of bed and do a days work. 

The last few days I’ve managed to do a couple of runs. They’ve left me feeling tired, but I’m pretty happy I’ll be on the start line. I’ve used the time to do some mental preparation. After adopting Stuart Mills approach of total preparation, I realised that when I’m physically broken there are still things I can be doing that will help with physical performance.

*If* I can finish TMW in under 4 hours I will hit my goal since the day after last years. It’s a big ask given the last few weeks, but I actually think I’ve done the right preparation. As long as I can make it round, I actually think I’m physically prepared.

Time will tell. 

One really special moment for me, last weekend, was running with my daughter for the first time on a trail run. I was incredibly proud of her as she ran the hills, up and down and didn’t stop at all. Very, very cool to see her smiling, pushing and enjoying something that I have no expectation of her to follow me into.


Trail Running with Ciara
Trail Running with Ciara

You win some, you lose some-dealing with disappointment

Mynydd Moel from Coed y Foel near Brithdir
Mynydd Moel from Coed y Foel near Brithdir

I’m trying to stay positive, I’d had in my head a whole load of subjects to blog about, but today’s run went not quite to plan. That’s left me trying to juggle a positive.

This weekend I wanted to average a marathon a day. I wanted to prove to myself that back to back marathons were in my grasp. All part of building the mental game up for Marathon des Sable.

Saturday started well. Out the door at 0530, run down to Barmouth, over the wooden railway bridge, up to Cregennan, up high above the A470 to Cross Foxes, down to Brithdir and then back home, 42.7 km in a shade under 4 hours. Cold to start, but a stunningly bright day being beautiful to run in. A nice day with the family and a great BBQ with friends up in Coed y Brenin – I made the most of having some calories to consume.

Sunday, out the door at 0600. A run out the Wnion valley, then back round the ride of Rhobell Fawr, through Llanfachreth and back home down the Mawddach valley. 33.4 km feeling pretty strong. Get home, do jobs, cut the grass, chill out with tired kids. All really good stuff.

This morning, I planned to run 58 km. Bed early, alarm on for 0415. Up and out the door at 0445. Tired legs, slightly heavier pack, but everything ran off well as I headed up the Tabor road out of Dolgellau. Everything feeling loose and comfortable as I ran down the Tal y Llyn pass as the light improved. Into the Dysynni valley, starting to feel like I was going to smash the long run before the weather broke. Just near the junction with Llanfihangell y Pennant a really sharp twinge in my calf slowed me. A quick stretch, then walked on it as I drink and eat. A light run and the niggle is still there. That’s it. No point in pushing. I want to run Trail Marathon Wales in 4 weekends. I tap out a text message, tuck the phone away, knowing that the message will go somewhere down near Bird Rock-no signal here.

I complete 27.5 km by the time the Pyjama Pant Patrol arrive-it’s early and everyone is in PJ’s. Katie asking me whether I’ve hurt my head. I suppose Buff’s look like bandages to a three year old.

The positive, 100+ km run in three days. Enough to slide me up the May Massive on Strava, would have been in the top ten (out of 2400) in UK had I finished today run. But the damage is in my head mainly.

My calf is fine, it’s a minor strain. I had really wanted to change my belief of being able to back to back marathons into knowledge. A really, really powerful talisman to have. But instead, I’ve grown a bit of doubt. Not lots, but enough that I’m going to have to work actively to take to pieces.

I know the long run is fine, but that is not the challenge for me in a stage race like Marathon des Sable. “It’s not a race… it’s a war!” The YouTube clip beneath is a good example of what I’m looking to do. I want to be in great mental condition to win the war.

I’ve a number of blog subjects I want to cover – Cancer, Awareness of the work of Myfanwy Melanoma Research Trust, sponsorship and loads of other random things. My goal was achievable, and it’s gutting to miss it through minor injury. But it’s one small goal in a much bigger picture. The other subjects going to have to wait for me to just find the belief again. It’s just round the corner, but it’s a really annoying corner to have to go round!

On winning

Today was the TORQ Trail Team assessment in Church Stretton. I have to admit to being really, really pleased to have been selected for assessment. Getting a place on a team like this would make a whole heap of difference to me, well to anyone. I went with a level of intimidation, surely everyone would be better than me? The venue was open an hour before the start of the programme and there was lot’s of chatter about the “how’s” of the assessment.

TORQ meeting before #TORQTrailTeam assessment.
TORQ meeting before #TORQTrailTeam assessment.

As with most off road running events it was really friendly. Chat’s about races done, doing and targets. The normal small talk about the journey, and I suppose a little bit of figuring each other out.

The programme was kicked off by Julie and Simon from Freestak, a social media marketing company specialising in running. They gave context to the day and were quick to point out that they wished they hadn’t called it an assessment. To take what they were saying and put it in my own words, they wanted a speed dating style networking event for trail and ultra runners. They certainly achieved that.

Next up was Ben from TORQ. In the cycling world TORQ is a very well known nutrition brand. It’s built from passion, and grounded in science. Ben was clearly able to cope with both. I’ve played with nutrition in the past, but not with any great science. Ben gave clarity to a few things, and was easy to talk to during the rest of the day. In a stage race like my target of Marathon des Sable it’s obviously something I need to get spot on, or do I?

After Ben was a quick lunch break, cheese rolls and fruit. I have to say that given Ben had just been discussing the block that fat puts on our metabolic pathways for carbohydrate, there were a few discussions about whether we should be picking out the cheese. All in jest though.

Stuart Mills at #TORQTrailTeam day
Stuart Mills at #TORQTrailTeam day

Straight after lunch was Stuart Mills. Stu is a Kiwi who has become a pommie. He is also a very talented ultra runner and a sports science lecturer. He laid out some challenges to conventional thinking, and pushed us to think about ourselves. This guy wins 100 mile races by running 40 miles a week at 9 min/mile pace. But, he spends as much time on mental preparation. That’s preparing his mind not going at preparation at 100 mph.

I can’t really explain the effect of some of the challenges on me. They made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck-it really affirmed my approach. As of right, there is no way I should have run 50km on New Years Day, but crucially I had rehearsed it and believed in it. I had no doubts.

Here was a legend to ultra trailies, reinforcing everything I believed about the preparation I need to run across the Sahara, that no-one else seems dare to say. No warts, no ifs, no buts. And in typically Kiwi style, denouncing anything that he didn’t believe in, like genetics and talent as “Bollocks”. Even if ‘science’ was against him, he believes in himself. Sound.

Next up was a “non-competitive” run in to the hills around Ratlinghope. Nice, easy trail running, a few slippy bits, a few bits of snow, but despite the low cloud and drizzle, a really nice run with everyone. At the top of the run there was a need to re-group a bit. I doubled back with Simon from TORQ and swept a few people up who had been sightseeing (temporarily of course). Then three of us ran back talking, and enjoying the moment. I guess for me, a solo adventure runner by choice, the smaller group suited me, but it was quickly back in to social mode at the hostel.

We started to go our separate ways. It was a shame to miss a pint in the nice looking pub. I spent the drive home thinking about the session.

The day actually made me feel more positive, more confident. I’ve heard not to set restrictive goals, I heard to believe in me and I enjoyed running easily with people who would have intimidated me 12 months ago. That for me is a win, a massive win. That average Ash, actually isn’t that average. That’s flipping brilliant. Imagine if I was immersed in this environment, for a year. What might I achieve?

I want to be a part of TORQ Trail Team (I still have no idea what the selection criteria might be). Unfortunately, believing I might run MdS with a black and gold TORQ shirt on probably isn’t enough. I’ll be keeping my eye on my e-mail though, just in case.

A massive thanks to the organisers, the venue, the partners who supported the event and all the others there.

To read more about the companies/people, here are their websites:

Apologies for the phone camera pictures, there are some professional photo’s to come.

Best foot forward

March has been a bit of a weird month, lots of positives, a few disappointments, some good achievements and some hope for the future.

I started slowly with running in March, I was keen to check my leg was completely healed. Apart from a tight calf (the other one) all is good and I managed to get a couple of longer runs in and although my running fitness has fallen off a bit, I can still get some miles under my belt with no discomfort.

I received an email in the last week, inviting me to assessment on the 13th April to joing the TORQ Trail Running Team. I’m a realist, I’m no elite athlete and I suspect my chances of getting a supported place on the team is relatively minimal. However, I think just going along will teach me lots. Although the chances are small, there is a chance and so I’m off to Church Stretton to run in a new place, meet some new people and learn lots. With some sessions being taken by Stuart Mills, there is some serious expertise on offer. Stuart has a great blog – UltraStu, definitely worth a nose around!

I had my first ever sports massage. I’d had a nagging worry about my calves and wanted to get them rubbed down. I headed up to Plas y Brenin for a session with Bodhi Movement. First up, an induction of all the things I’ve broken, when and what I was doing training wise, and an assessment of how I plant my feet from my trainers. Then it was some elbow needling tight bits, but generally ok. A few tight spots on my right leg, but it seems stretching, foam rollering and wobble boarding are doing some good things. I’ll go back for another session to try and get my legs free of knots (though I know now that this isn’t the technical term). The day after I’d been warned that I might feel a bit fragile. Wow, I felt pretty assaulted on the morning after, but with fluids and some light exercise it all passed quickly and my legs felt terrific.

Twisted ankle
Twisted ankle

I had planned to do a few longer runs back to back over the Easter weekend, but a game of squash on the Thursday night put that out of possibility. On game 2 of 9 games I turned my ankle over. The result was a lot of swelling and a good bit of discomfort.

This gave me a bit of an opportunity to see how much mental strength I’d have. After working on Good Friday I decided to see how the injury would cope on a rowing machine-limited range of motion but not too painful. This meant I was going to be okay to ride. Friday, Saturday and Sunday totaled 296km. So despite not getting lots of running in I definitely managed a bit of mind training. The mind is such a fundamental bit of endurance sports it never hurts to train it.

A quick round up of my human powered miles for March and a tune up towards 2013miles in 2013. March reads:

  1. Rowing 81.6 km
  2. Running 128.8 km
  3. Cycling 316.2 km

This gives a total of 526.6 km or 329.1 miles. (monthly target is 167.8 miles). So a solid month. 691.4 miles year to date so well ahead of the 503.3 miles I was aiming for.

I didn’t get much chance to snap any activity pictures so it’s just a few pictures from being out and about.

Oh, and there was an excellent game of rugby on 16th March !