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 tiny changes-believing in big returns.

A pretty misty run on the Long Mynd with others from the TORQ trail team
A pretty misty run on the Long Mynd with others from the TORQ trail team
Lots to think about at TORQ Trail Team.
Lots to think about at TORQ Trail Team.

Nearly a week on from the TORQ Trail Team weekend; it’s made me think a bit. 

Roy Belchamber took some great photo’s of the event, and was kind enough to send some to me for use. The chap sat next to me, also chin stroking, is Mike Evans, have a look for his results at the London Marathon this Sunday, he’s aiming for a PB of sub 2:30hr. Anyway more about the TORQ weekend later.

Mid week, I went to see Bodhi Movement, for my fortnightly treatment to try and get rid of some the damage I’ve accumulated in my muscles. As always, I felt a bit bruised afterwards and Sam gave me a telling off for not spending enough time on my foam roller and stretching. I’m definitely improving but there is more I can do!

When I had a lower leg injury last year I saw Matt Williams from the Physio Clinic. Matt’s advice and know how is a really important part of my preparation for Marathon des Sable. Recently Matt has been getting more involved in performance. With a new(ish) arm to the business which is the Sports Performance Clinic. Matt has been involved in improving some pretty high level athletes and I’m confident he’ll help me along with MdS. As well as physio advice he recently put me through a performance screening session. A few low threshold movements and some high threshold movements. Nothing that breaks a sweat, but enough to identify where there are any muscle imbalances. These imbalances are what can cause injury when doing high miles, and also make the stride more inefficient. Inefficiency over long distances obviously challenges the chance of success. I was really surprised at how simple the screen exercises were, but how much control they took.

It’s identified that I’ve got a few areas to work on, and the screen is followed up with 7 simple exercises I need to do twice a day. I’ll be back for another screen in six weeks and we’ll see how my muscles are changing. If you’re serious about not being injured in a sport that you love, I really recommend making the effort to discuss the Performance Matrix with Matt.  

These small changes in training take me back to the TORQ trail team weekend.

At the weekend there were a couple of people who were of the opinion that cross training wasn’t a part of an Ultra runners armoury. You want to be trail fit – just run on the trails. I disagree.

Now, these people have far more experience than me, so why am I so sure? Well those same people are also adamant that you have to believe you have done enough training for your event. Mental and physical training. Cross training for me is an inherent element of my mental training, but it also has a physical benefit. I believe I need to cross train, and target specific exercises. I do not want to be on the start line thinking “I wish I’d worked on loosening my hamstrings, or strengthening my core”. I want to hit that start line feeling the strongest, most powerful and fittest I’ve ever been. For the first time in 20 years my body fat is heading down into the mid teens. I’m starting to feel the benefit of having watched my diet for four months. I’m starting to feel competitive.

I’d describe the running I most enjoy as solo adventure running. I love to run new places, on my own, challenging myself. I’m not fussed about racing too much. The competition is with me, further, higher, longer, more remote or quicker than I was before. I don’t need, well haven’t needed, to be quicker than person X or Y. The Saturday in Ratlinghope challenged that a bit. Maybe I’ve got a bit to go performance wise, but I might just start to feel like racing! Eek.

That said, I’ve had some lovely soulful runs this week. This morning particularly – I woke up early thinking about work, stressed about work at 4am. Lying in bed knowing I wasn’t going to go back to sleep just made me want to use the time to set me up for the day.

I love going out before dawn, I always have. Getting ready to fly balloons, sailing the ocean or being up early for a mountain adventure has always been special. Sometimes cold, but always really peaceful, undisturbed. Better still with running at this time of year when it’s warmer than the winter. All my senses focussed on my breathing and my foot strike being even, restricting other senses is great for this. I just love it. The sky slowly brightening, switching the head torch off and running in the first glow of light. No stress of being able to see a watch. Just running for the feeling of covering the ground, journeying, moving through the countryside. It’s my spiritual thing I guess.

Running easily down the little lanes and into Coed y Brenin. Seeing Barn Owls hunt, deer finishing grazing in the open and heading back into the forest. Knowing that anyone after me just won’t see those same sights is really special. I grew surrounded by a wood in Sussex. It’s a comfortable, familiar environment for me. Even though Coed y Brenin is technically a Forest (an area set aside as a royal hunting ground) and much bigger (9,000 acres) than my childhood woods, I still think of them as woods. So running 20 km around the woods and then being home in time to have breakfast with my girls before 7 am is pretty special.

I’m pretty sure Sam will be grumpy though, I spent the rest of the day driving a laptop, which probably means my hamstrings and back muscles are shorter now than ever. Hey ho.

TORQ haven’t announced who will be joining their trail team yet. Social media means we are all able to stay in touch. The ‘official’ hashtag is #TORQTrailTeam so if you’re interested in all the news, look it out. There are a couple of Twitter and Instagram feeds beneath.

Have a great weekend running, or having a fun time whatever you choose to do!