Towards the light

It was a conscious effort to make this a “half full” title and not the “out of the darkness”.

Training recently has been a tricky place. Little niggling injuries, stresses in life and an almighty man flu. Well ok it was a vicious little snotty nose and head cold.

Net result has been that I eased back a lot and have found it difficult to get going again. But now with 8 weeks to go to the start of Marathon des Sables I feel like my mojo is back with a vengeance.

Coming back to training in January, everything was hard work, even a 40 minute run was hard. But a month on everything is good again. I’m back to half marathons before breakfast, recovering well and also doing 6 days a week of cross training. There is a secret weapon in here, which I’ll blog about soon.

The turning point was a run in Coed y Brenin. I ditched “training” and went out for a run. Just cruising around the East side of the forest and not looking at time. Following my nose and enjoying the journey. I ran through a rattling great thunderstorm that proved less enjoyable for some hillwalkers on the nearby Arans. Although really tiring I had a great 30km and recovered quickly.

The last few mornings that I’ve been able to get out for a longer run I’ve been using the Mawddach Trail-an old railway bed. This has a massive advantage of not having a huge amount of climbing and not being on a road. Steady training is easier and a straight out and back logs about 20km. It really is a great place to run, superb views and a trip home with the wind invariably behind you – what could be better?

Better, was getting home from one run on a Saturday morning, eating breakfast and my eldest daughter, who had earlier in the week got some trail running shoes for her upcoming first season doing fun fell runs saying – “Hey Dad, it’s not raining let’s go run the Torrent Walk”. Watching her skip and jump down a footpath, trying out landing on rocks, sliding on mud before climbing back up the other side couldn’t make me more proud. Running for fun, a great reminder for me!

Out riding

Not running due to injury has been a pain, but today a ride out across the back roads was just what I needed to keep my head in the right place.

I slept well last night, really well. I'd arranged to do something today and after my first deep sleep for a long time it was nice to wake up refreshed and full of anticipation. The house was quiet so quickly shovelled down some breakfast and fluids and headed out on the road bike.

Out of our road and up the hill towards the Nannau estate, quiet road, nice warm up climb. Enjoying lots of energy in my legs, keeping my heart rate down. The sun just starting to rise, enough ambient light to ride without lights, but not fully light. Over the top by the precipice walk and then down into Coed y Brenin. A couple of big patches of ice reminded me that it was still cold, although the sky was clear and bright and the air temperature was up a bit. Dropping altitude, letting the bike run, searching for the good lines giving vision, only braking where the speed would put me in the bonnet of an unseen car. I clipped a stone, momentarily shaking my balance. But on down, over the Babi Las. The sound of my front tyre changed. Gutted, a puncture.

Whip off the front wheel, grab my saddlebag. Pull the zipper and the tag came away in my hand. A little bit of road salt had eaten through it. A bit of MacGyver style work with the valve stem and I got the little bag open. 10 minutes I reckon!

Tyre levers in, strip one side of the tyre off. Pull the tube, I don't even check it. I know it's a snake bite and I'm going to swap in a new one. Push the new valve through, a couple of turns on the rim nut. Work the tube in flat, work the tyre over the tube near the valve, run a lever round the edge reseating the tyre. Put the rim on my feet to put a bit of force on it to slip the tight part of the tyre over. Work round the tyre quickly to check no pinches, then use my favourite ever bit of puncture kit. The microflate nano from Genuine Innovations, takes about 5 seconds to dump its 20g of CO2 into the tube. Hey presto, a 100 psi front tyre again. Slot the wheel back in, do up the quick release and re pack the rubbish into my saddlebag. Getting the zip done back up takes about another 10 minutes and the use of a bit of brake cable. The tube change took about 5 minutes, the bag took nearly 20!

Back on the bike and following the Afon Wen up, and over to Abergeirw. A steady climb with a little kick as it steepens up. Ice still all over the place. A lovely quick descent across the moors to Pont Grible, only interupted by the biggest Buck Hare I think I've ever seen. Turn right to follow the Afon Gain and up across the “ranges” road. So called after shelling took place until 1959 from Bronaber, leaving loads of unexploded ordnance. Some terrific old pictures can be seen here.

Over the top, into the Llew valley, the Arenig looking great to my left, mottled with snow. A long sweeping descent, encouraging speed, great vision ahead. Loading the outside pedal with weight, standing the bike up on icy patches to ensure balance before throwing the bike back over again for the next corner. Tucking in, head down. The rythym only being broken by four gates.

In the soft grass around the gates are tracks from two road bikes, one shallow, one deep. I know from Strava that this was Andy Braund and Dave Liddy from the day before. I chuckle to myself knowing who made the deeper track.

Just glancing in time to spot Dduallt, an unusual mountain that has the Dee rising on it's slopes. I'm reminded I want to work out the route from the Arening to Ddualt. Looks obvious today!

Down into the outskirts of Llanwchllyn, as it flattens out I shove a banana and an energy gel into my mouth- not at the same time. Spinning, chewing, enjoying this amazing day.

I cross the main road and out through the main part of the village, before crossing the Twrch. A right turn back on myself and I settle in for the long climb up to Bwlch y Groes. Mainly seated, but a couple of the steep bits get me out the saddle. The clouds closing in, and some large lumps of snow make me think about the descent on the other side.

At the top, I pause to take a picture into the amazing valley at the top of the Dyfi. Launching down the other side is steep and fast though I'm cautious of the ice.

Now tracking alongside the Dyfi I eat my energy bar, and drink the last of my water as I pass Cwm Cywarch. The leper colony springs into my head, must have been tough back in the day.

Through Dinas Mawddawy and spin along the A470 to the base of the Bwlch Oerddrws. The first two way road of the day, and the first cars after 60 odd kilometres. On the lowest slopes I can feel my legs tighten with lactic acid. This is going to be a painful climb! The steep sections are out the saddle for as long as I can bear, before sitting and trying to get some relief before grinding some more metres. Over the top of the Bwlch and Cader Idris comes into view. A quick zip up, click into top gear and blast down the other side. Into the new traffic works, an irate Nissan Qashqai doesn't like me filtering passed at the traffic lights, revving his engine. I stay at the speed limit as I sprint to the next traffic lights, filtering passed 5 cars and getting the jump as the lights change. The new surface is lovely, lots of speed putting 2-300m between me and the first car. Finally as I cross the Wnion bridge the Qashqai comes passed. A middle age “lady” effing and jeffing at me about how cyclists shouldn't be on the road. I smile pleasantly. They rev off into the distance, clearly feeling they had won.

A kilometre or two home from here. Clear sky, tired legs but a great ride. My head had been buzzing about all sorts of things, work, friends and random stuff, but now relaxed.

Wash the bike down, drink a protein shake, have a shower.

Lunch and a swim with family sounds like a plan.

Great ride.

Another silly injury!

I can't help but get excited by the snow-a couple of photo's from Coed y Brenin to start.

Not sure what's caused it, but I've got shin splints.

Well that's a lie, I know what caused it-too much running on tarmac! I'd been getting lazy in exploring new places off road. That'll learn me!

I'd felt really good about my training, getting some good miles in, and then the weekend before last I had a dull ache on my shin, just above my ankle. So, I eased back on pounding the pavement and rested for five days. No aches at all. Then over this weekend I couldn't resist a run in the hills with all the snow. It's not a pain I feel, but an ache and after 15km it was there niggling away at me. The scenery is beautiful, even before the sun was up-so much ambient light. Apart from picking out the big icy patches no head torch was needed.

Up on Bwlch y Goriwared (400m)the dirfts were over head high, so I stopped as the sun was rising to take a photo. Not a great picture from a moile phone but not too bad!

Anyway back to this silly injury. Nothing to do but rest it from the impact. I'll get it better. Just annoying when everything was going so well!

Worse still is the “other option” for long cardio work is really hill sessions on a bike. When it's icy it really is hard yards to get the miles in. I'm sure I'll get on it though.

Just to toughen up a bit I thought I'd get on the rowing machine, which is great cardio and resistance training. I always target 8000m in 30 minutes if I'm not doing Tabata or Fartlek.

I followed that with a bit of Pavel Tsatsouline style, comrade toughness, take your MTFU juice and get some snatches done. I do love kettlebells!

Who said it was cold out?

Back to the bike!

Well, I thought I was back on track. But another twisted ankle on an icy early morning run put me back on the bike.

Just to do something different, I decided to go and do the classic loop of Snowdon. It was recommended to me more than a year ago, and I really wanted to ride in better conditions.

I parked near Beddgelert and wished I’d arrived half an hour later. It was pretty overcast and the sun was struggling to show it’s light. That and a really heavy rain shower didn’t help. A nice flat, spin into Beddgelert put a bit of heat in the legs before a gentle climb up towards Cwellyn. This passed and Rhyd Ddu and Waun fawr zipped by. The clouds were more broken out on the North side of Snowdon so the glasses went on, and the jacket unzipped a bit. Then the climb up to Pen y Pass. Definitely felt the lactic building towards the top of the climb. Over the pass and then the roller coasted back down to the van. The descent was quick, but really slippy so I didn’t commit to much. I’d like to go back when I could trust the tyres. Back through Nany Gwynant and back to the van. I’d targeted 1:45, but had to settle with 2 minutes over. I’ll call todays ride a sighting lap!

Looking forward to getting my running legs back under me. Too many road miles makes me run like a duck!

A quick change of direction.

Bit gutted this week. I was all set to knock out some big mileage this weekend as part of The North Face Ultra Challenge on Strava. I'd put in enough mileage to be happy with smashing the 50k- I was hoping to do 3x 10km and 1x 40km. Unfortunately a moment of not concentrating in the dark on an easy run early on Monday morning I sprained my ankle really badly. This put the immediate stop on doing the run. I must be growing up! On the plus side I've done a reasonable week of cross training, just under 30km on the rowing machine (2x intervals, 2x 30 min threshold) two good kettlebell sessions and one 55km road ride. Along with a roller session every day and a wobble board session twice a day, it's not a bad week really. Think it might be time to chuck on some longer legs when riding the road grime is minging at the moment!
Bit gutted this week. I was all set to knock out some big mileage this weekend as part of The North Face Ultra Challenge on Strava. I’d put in enough mileage to be happy with smashing the 50k- I was hoping to do 3x 10km and 1x 40km. Unfortunately a moment of not concentrating in the dark on an easy run early on Monday morning I sprained my ankle really badly. This put the immediate stop on doing the run. I must be growing up! On the plus side I’ve done a reasonable week of cross training, just under 30km on the rowing machine (2x intervals, 2x 30 min threshold) two good kettlebell sessions and one 55km road ride. Along with a roller session every day and a wobble board session twice a day, it’s not a bad week really. Think it might be time to chuck on some longer legs when riding the road grime is minging at the moment!

Last long run

50 year storms rolled across the UK last night. Summer hasn't come yet, we had some warm weather but nothing long enough to call a season. I was out the door this morning for my last long run before Trail Marathon Wales. I've really enjoyed coming away from
50 year storms rolled across the UK last night. Summer hasn’t come yet, we had some warm weather but nothing long enough to call a season. I was out the door this morning for my last long run before Trail Marathon Wales. I’ve really enjoyed coming away from “the” training programme. Todays run wouldn’t have been on the schedule. I left the house just before 0545 in a bright patch between showers. I wanted to run slow and steady but somewhere new. I headed roughly NE out of Dolgellau on to the side of Rhobell Fawr. Then tracking round on a bridleway that follows the 300m contour round the West side of the hill. My one whinge with this bridleway is the fact there are ladder stiles crossing stone walls. Bridleways are usable by bicycles and horses, the latter, I suspect would find this “countryside furniture” a little tricky. Anyway, when Victor (Meldrew) quietened down in my head the run passed quite quickly. The main memory on this run was the beautiful sight of a Doe with her Fawn just short of Abergeirw before I climbed up onto mountain bike trails for the run back towards home. My legs felt good when I got back to Glasdir copper mine, so I chose to climb steeply up to the precipice walk. From here it’s a nice fast road run home, though by now the rain was heavy, the wind strong. Longer strides were the order of the day! A good stretch and foam roller relaxed my still slightly tight calf, but overall a great last long run. My new trail shoes are still brilliant, absolutely no complaints! This week will be one run. I really want to do more, but I won’t. Lots of roller work and stretching. Race report next!

Ashton Court “Nova” Mountain Bike Trail Bristol #mountainbiking

Staying away from home with work can alsways be a drag. Either sat in a hotel room watching rubbish telly or working into the night. On a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the South of England, yesterday I ended up in Bristol. A quick call earlier to Matt Willams of The Physio Clinic in Bristol discoverd that I could catch up with Matt. Matt was instrumental in getting my calf injury fixed, is a professional Physio and is really easy to talk with about a range of things. The fact that he can help me out by Skype is really great for me. Matt is currently helping triathlete Jon Wood out. Jon has just acheived 5th in his age group at the European Championships. Matt promised me an evening of mountain biking, and to be honest I was a little sceptical about the riding around Clifton Downs. We parked high above the Avon, as we set off a few spots of rain started and became heavier and as we pedalled across Clifton suspension bridge, I tried to convince myself that I could see the sun behind the squall. Matt stopped to talk to people he knew out on running sessions, a testament to how much sport he is involved with before arriving at Ashton Court. The
Staying away from home with work can alsways be a drag. Either sat in a hotel room watching rubbish telly or working into the night. On a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the South of England, yesterday I ended up in Bristol. A quick call earlier to Matt Willams of The Physio Clinic in Bristol discoverd that I could catch up with Matt. Matt was instrumental in getting my calf injury fixed, is a professional Physio and is really easy to talk with about a range of things. The fact that he can help me out by Skype is really great for me. Matt is currently helping triathlete Jon Wood out. Jon has just acheived 5th in his age group at the European Championships. Matt promised me an evening of mountain biking, and to be honest I was a little sceptical about the riding around Clifton Downs. We parked high above the Avon, as we set off a few spots of rain started and became heavier and as we pedalled across Clifton suspension bridge, I tried to convince myself that I could see the sun behind the squall. Matt stopped to talk to people he knew out on running sessions, a testament to how much sport he is involved with before arriving at Ashton Court. The “Nova” Trail  has no where near the height gain I am used to, but is well laid out with some nice swoopy turns, and jumps. There is a lot crammed in, with the final descent being really enjoyable. Looking back, this last descent is the only bit which doesn’t feel a little bit too contrived. It journeys down through the woodland, jumping and turning with the contours, rather than being forced around a track that is synthetic. Don’t get me wrong, for urban riding it is all really good, but the last descent would be the bit I would “loop” if I did it again. I was riding my XC hardtail with Maxi Hi Rollers, for a more enjoyable ride I’d want a more relaxed hardtail or a full suspension bike with somehing like Larsen TT’s-the surface is hard pack and the rain wasn’t affecting the surface. Some of the smaller whoops wouild flatten out nicely on a bouncer, but a jump bike would be fun doubling up on some of the table tops. The sun broke out the other side of the squall as we arrived back at the car. You couldn’t have writtem it, but we only got a little ‘moist’. Nice to know the trail is there, great to ride in company for the banter. All in all, far better than sitting in a travel lodge. Nice cross training and some more thoughts from Matt about getting more from my training. Just wish I had my foam roller with me as my calf is feeling a bit tight. A bit of post ride research showed me something I completely missed… Nova, backwards is Avon. There was me thinking it was all about the ‘new’!