Salomon Trail Marathon Wales, 2015

This journey starts a year ago at Trail Marathon Wales 2014.

TMW is a local event for me, when it comes to participation events in Dolgellau, it is by far the biggest, and as running events go it is a tough marathon. Also, 2015 was the first year of a 3 years sponsorship deal from Salomon. This is fantastic news, and completes major sponsors for all the trail running events hosted by Run. Coed y Brenin.

2014, I came back from MdS and treated the event with complacency. It took me a good while to recover my feet, and then I just didn’t commit to training. A full write up from last year is here, but the brief line is that I had a big lesson, and didn’t achieve what I set out to.

I’ve had two goals in running this year, TMW and Ring o Fire (September). As well as challenges in work and family life it has been a bumpy journey for sure. However I’ve had a good deal of support from friends and family, and although not as solid as I wanted I followed a training plan, watched what I ate and stayed focussed on that finish line.

What does training mean, it means doing speed work, distance work and also getting my head in the right space. Training in the dark, the rain,  between meetings and just whenever I could was a strange constant in amongst all the other noise. Even working out how to combine a few shorter runs with my 10 year old Daughter, all very calming.

Focussing on the food a bit was helpful, getting rid of a lot of processed food, and just being sensible with portions helped me. At the startline of TMW 2014 I was 93 kg, where as this year I was 78 kg. For those still in old money thats a couple of pounds shy of two and half stone. On me, it means instead of wearing 34″ waist jeans, 30″ waist is the order of the day now. I’ve lost a lot of upper body strength too, but I’ll work on that in the winter, maybe. Possibly after Ring o Fire, anyway.

I’ve never been so anxious on the lead into the race. A couple of big emotional strains in the week leading in were tiring, and general stress levels had reduced sleep to a few hours a week. Hardly the best preparation for an endurance event.

A few friends came to stay the night before TMW, and we headed up to the pre-race party, nice to catch up with a few people, register, and share the atmosphere with Ciara (my daughter). MG Spalton was around with Lucy Bartholomew. Briefly, Lucy is the Junior World Champion in SkyRunning, and a really warm and inspirational character. MG has always been super supportive and warm towards running, and I’ve always been impressed with how she blends happy, warm, competitive running with duties of being a mum. No mean feat for sure! So after a bit of banter, music from CeadCyf we headed home for fluids and a snooze. With house sharing happening I was treated to my daughters bed, complete with princess net and snuggly blanket. Surprisingly I had a good night sleep, and though I woke feeling jaded the general feeling was good!

We woke to a slight drizzle, so I went with wet weather plan. I’d had two choices to make, shoes and tops. I was absolutely set on my Scott TR10 Trail shorts (no need for a belt). I was between a vest and a t-shirt. The T-shirt won easily. Then the choice was between my newly acquired (after demoing) Salomon Ultra 4 Soft Ground and the tried and tested Salomon Sense Pro. I went for the Soft Ground, knowing that both would struggle a bit on wet rock, but knowing a few soft descents would be quicker in them. I still slathered on the “Skin so Soft” to beat down the midges that are present at this time of year in Coed y Brenin. Breakfast down and then up to the forest.

Parking was even more slick this year (quite an achievement) and we all wobbled down to the event area at around 08:15. We met up with a few people who were also running, and the half marathon an hour later. My mind was all over the place, I just couldn’t focus between trying to make sure I was looking after Ciara, but also trying to get my head around what lay ahead. Gratefully my very good (best) friends Jeremy and Kim appeared, and Ciara happily went to hang out with Kim as planned. Phil and I went off for a short warm up and I tried to get “in the zone”. Phil was very gentle in encouraging me, and as a runner I greatly look up to this was, in hindsight really important.

I was starting to find my focus as we walked down to the start, underneath the Visitors Centre. This year I chose to start somewhere where I thought there was about 100 people ahead of me. This was very different to where I normally look mid pack. It was hard to hear the commentary own in the start box, the general chatter was loud. I could just glimpse Ciara and about 10 seconds out I waved, and then checked my watch. Glanced at Iori (game keeper with a rifle) and waited for the bang. 

Found my focus!!
Found my focus!!

My aim was to chase a 5min42sec km the whole way round. I’d set my watch to give me that information every kilometre. I knew the first half needed careful pacing. I wanted to make sure I went fast enough to hit 4 hours, but not too fast that I blew up too early. The initial jostling settled down, and I started running within myself. I could hear Matty Brenin telling me not to fight the hills. I was remembering that downhill were free miles. But, also I didn’t want to smash my legs, so held back a bit on the initial downhills.

Where people had gone off fast, I settled into a pace, and was picking people off on the climbs. I’d worked hard on my posture  and technique whilst running and this had felt good in training. In the race it felt useful to focus on that and my breathing. 

Mawddach switchback (Pic credit Rhys Williams)
Mawddach switchback (Pic credit Rhys Williams)

At around 3 miles the marshalls, Elly and Chris, were whooping and hollering. Whilst I always try and say thanks to marshalls, I was still not relaxed into the race, and thing I uttered something about not being able to be friendly. The next long descent to the Mawddach is definitely free miles, and as I crossed the bridge, I was now on my own a bit. I spotted Rhys who was out on his bike supporting Sandra. 

Everything was feeling good, and I wanted to get into the single track ahead in a place where I was free to run at my pace. In previous years I’d been held up, so this year I pushed into a bit of clear trail and tried to clear my head a bit too.

Things were feeling good, I was on target with my splits, and had my first feed coming up at the 10km mark (about 40 minutes in). A quick TORQ gel, and some electrolyte from the ‘usual team’ at feed point 1.

In to the top of one of my favourite descents, down to the Wen, last year I had a bit of a fall here, but this year with a lovely new bench cut trail, and being in the right area of the field the descent went well. The next firetrail shocked me a bit, at an hour MG came into view. Shocked because MG would be on for about a 3:40, and because though she was a good few hundred metres ahead I was closing on her steadily through the climbs.

A quick bit of tidy single track through Penrhos and here I caught MG. A quick hello, then she asked me to pass. I knew from this, and my splits that I was running the first half well. From here through to Sting in the Tail, my head really started going to the “am I going too hard”. As I’ve said before, because I don’t race that often, pacing is my biggest battle, but everything was feeling pretty tidy, so trust in my training was order of the day.

A committed run up Sting, a great undulating run through Cefndeudwr saying hi to half marathoners heading out, including seeing Sharon and Jude looking very strong. A quick TORQ gel ready to take on water at half way. Great camaraderie here, then the cheering (and slightly bonkers) Elly and Chris and the descent down the new demo loop to the half marathon. My chip split was 1:46:38. This was great news for a 4 hour target, potentially a lot better! A cup of water and then off under the A470.

I’d practise the next section a bit, early in the morning. Trying to learn the shapes and where to push well. At the top of the long climb, there is a feed station in an old quarry. Electrolyte, and a bit of banana and quickly on.

Some lovely downhill running here to the water point that gets two visits and cheerfully manned by the Hide’s. I was chasing a pair of runners, and was still gaining on the technical ground, right to the bottom of “snap, crackle and pop”. Well, at least nothing went snap or pop, but coming off the descent into the climb, my right quad started to cramp viciously. I tried shortening up my stride, and this helped a little, but I knew here that it was going to be a tricky run in.

The 20 mile mark was up at about 2hr38, which in theory gave me a decent crack at 3:hr30! This was enough to push on, but coming out of “Heart of Darkness” and starting the descent my left hamstring started cramping really painfully. Again a quick shortening of the stride to try and let it rest. I did manage to run much of the bit in from here, but it wasn’t very enjoyable. The single-track descent was ugly, I could hear the PA over in the visitors centre welcoming runners in, but now I was just trying to keep up enough pace to stay under 4 hours.

Running into the top of R72, not loving cramp here. (Pic Credit Al Jones)
Running into the top of R72, not loving cramp here. (Pic Credit Al Jones)

Al Jones was at the  marshal point at the top of the last single track, a quick sip of water, and then down to Mark Atherton who was on the road crossing.

Just here I lost two places to some quick runners, and then onto Pont yr Eden.

Just as I finished the switchback, there was a shout of “Ash!” and MG was catching me up.

Just as the climb on the animal trail reached it’s steepest, my left hamstring cramped again and MG came passed looking strong as always. I tried to stay with her, but I had nothing left.

The last little rise to the finish line was lined with plenty of people, my daughter, included. Across the line, and I knew I was under 4 hours, but everything was a bit of a blur. A hug from MG, Es (in charge of all the goodie bag packing) and round the finish funnel to find Ciara.

My chip time 3:43:34, and MG? exactly the same. Couldn’t have written it.

Ciara, Katie, Snooby, Phil and I pausing on a cool Foel Offrwm for a Summit Selfie
Ciara, Katie, Snooby, Phil and I pausing on a cool Foel Offrwm for a Summit Selfie

Then the meeting, cheering and supporting people coming in. Yes, I’d smashed the 4hrs, but know there is more in there. To have been on schedule for a quicker time, and then to have got my nutrition wrong is a good lesson. Definitely something to build on, in a positive way.

The trip out to mobile signal caused a bit of a jaw drop – 27th overall and 9th in category. That put the effort in perspective.

A really nice evening wearing my cozy new TMW15 hoody with some good friends, a few beers and some good banter. Then a little recovery jog up Foel Offrwm the next day and a great recovery massage from Katie from the Run.Clinic finished a great weekend.

A load of thanks are needed to quite a few people. Thank you all!

Looking forward to 2016 already, though I hope my legs have recovered by then…it’s taking a while!

For those with love of data, it was a 5:21/km average. Splits are here

What are the best trail running shoes?

Here’s a question that gets asked a lot. And there are some things that make the best trail running shoe.

In my opinion the best trail shoes should:

  1. Fit you
  2. Instil confidence in your feet
  3. Be well made

Now, because of the difference in trails there is always a compromise. Here in the UK we have a variety of different styles of trails, and these throw heaps of challenges to shoes. Consider the difference between hard pack, dusty, dry forest fire road trails  and sloppy, boggy, marshy trails after rain and you’ll start to see the fact that no one “foot tyre” can fit. Tractors have big aggressive tyre patterns compared to a formula one car. I dislike “waterpoof” shoes, instead I prefer quick drying shoes, which allow water to drain from the inside out. Think if you will about filling your wellies up with water and then walking 10 km. Your feet will be soft and broken. This is what having a liner in creates in UK conditions. There are places where it’s useful, but in my opinion, not on UK trails.

In the same way, everyone feet are slightly different. High arches, wide forefoot, bony heels the list of “I’ve got’s…” is impressive. Get the right length shoe, and then learn how to lace you shoe up properly.

Trail shoes aren’t a one trick pony – I have three shoes that I run trails in. I can run any trail in these three, but my speed will be massively affected by what I have on my feet.

I’m looking at three shoes (L-R)  Inov-8 Roclite 315, Salomon Crossmax Neutral and Asics GT2000. At the time of being pictured I have racked up, collectively, 2700 km on these shoes, split as follows:

  • Inov8 Roclite 315 – 700 km
  • Salomon Crossmax neutral – 620 km
  • Asics GT2000 – 1,380 km

I primarily use the Roclites when I’m heading off the beaten track, mountain, forest and although not this pair, these were the shoe I chose for Marathon des Sables, Trail Marathon Wales, Brecon Ultra and some other off road races. The sole is, in my experience pretty spot on for UK trail running. The rubber is soft enough to give good traction on rock, wet and dry as well on wet tree roots. As the pictures show, despite this soft rubber, the wear has lasted well, bear in mind my running weight is a minimum of 85 kg, sometimes 90+ depending on how much water and kit I am carrying. The upper too deserves credit, these have smashed new paths through heather, run down scree, kicked big rocks in slate fields as well as pottering through Skye’s vicious Gabro rock. There is a bit of material damage inside the heel cup of one shoe, but that is my fault not the shoe, and after 700 km I think that this is a massive success for a shoe that often gets sodden!

The Salomon Crossmax I use when I know I have a large amount of tarmac and hard pack and when I know there are not steep grassy slopes involved. I love these shoes for running alongside canals and rivers. I haven’t raced in these, primarily because I’ve not entered a race where the terrain has suited, but I would use them for any of the Thames path races, or at this stage, something like Ring o’ Fire. These also get a fair hammering through the undergrowth. Though I don’t think this is the reason for the failing upper over the bridge of the toe. The speed lacing system is very effective, and I do like this very much where I don’t need to tension the shoe in a non standard way (swelling feet, steep terrain). The rubber compound is very solid, sometimes at the detriment to grip in the wet. I don’t trust the soles much on wet rock, or tree roots, but this is perhaps because I’m acutely aware of this where I run the majority of my routes.  

Whilst the Asics get used mainly on tarmac, I’ve added them here for a specific reason. I use these where I’m running fire trail, or prepared trails where the surface isn’t broken. I also think the Asics demonstrate how it is possible to make a very long lasting shoe. Whilst these upper do not get abused anywhere near as much as the Inov8’s these do get wet and mucky fairly regularly and I’m really impressed how well they look after 1400 km’s. The sole rarely gets anything more complicated than some big pebbles, and some pretty steep tarmac that I have locally but the sheer volume of footstrike these have experienced (nearly half a million) with my 85kg on top of them are a massive testament to the build quality of these shoes. The grip side of things is never an issue for me, but that is because they are never pushed in a position where I ever really test it. The major win for these is the sheer contact area that they have available without knobbles!

Which are the best trail shoes? Well they’re the ones that work for you. I consider that I’ve tested these three shoes reasonably extensively in UK conditions. Is one of these the best pair of trail running shoes? For me yes, I could pick one pair for all my trail running. I’d prefer to have all three pairs, and I will probably keep on experimenting over the coming shoes. Technology is still evolving in trail running and that will bring about better shoes. Which should you choose? You should choose a shoe that suits the majority of the conditions that you run in.

If I had to choose one pair of shoes from these three, it would be the Inov8’s. In fact I have a few pairs and would happily run any route that went off road in them.

Trust the shoes on your feet, and go run exploring. The best kit in the world does no good sitting on the shelf!

A couple of inspirational videos

After the OMM last weekend, I’m really fired up by running off tarmac.

I’ve come across a couple of videos that to me, explain the joy and freedom of why trail, mountain or off road running is such a great sport.

Whether you compete at the elite level or just with yourself, it really offers the same challenge to everyone. You don’t need hundreds of pounds worth of equipment, just the motivation and dedication to get out there. If you haven’t run for a while, then try and remember that feeling as a kid where you run without thinking about it down hills and round corners.

Take a few minutes and watch these two videos-then grab that pair of trainers that you bought with all good intentions and get out there!

The first is a round up of this years OMM, some great footage and some nice words from the top competitors.

The second video is from Salomon Trail Running, and whilst some of the voice over I don’t understand there are a couple of quotes which I think are really powerful. The best for me is right at the end!

 

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!

Salomon XR Crossmax neutral

In two other posts (here and here) I've written about the problems I've been having with my trail shoes and damage to my feet. Choosing shoes for Marathon des Sable is something that is making me think carefully about what I need. I need a comfortable shoe, that is something I can forget about. About 12 years ago I had a pair of Salomon trail shoes that I used for an approach shoe, but never as a running shoe. I remember the last being really comfortable. I had a few reservations about the width of the heel before buying as I'm used to a narrow fell shoe and the Crossmax is more like a road shoe. I picked a mixed 8 miles for my first run in the neutral version of the shoe. About 3 miles of tarmac, 2 miles of forest track and about 3 miles of singletrack. It was wet, really wet. So wet that the area made the news for evacuations due to flooding. The quicklace system tighten the sensifit system, is a quick system, There is quite a lot of lace on the system, but it all tucks away nicely into the lace pocket. I'd say on the sizing that this shoe comes up a bit smaller than I'm used to, but not to a point of being uncomfortable. I think I'd pick a metric size up next time round. Out the door and into a slow warm up on the road. The shoes feel exactly like a road shoe, Good cushining and light and it wasn't wrong before I wasn't thinking about the shoe at all. After a little climb up to the start of the fire trails, nothing really changed, the sole unit has enough protection that big rocks don;t penetrate at all, making for a comfy ride. The singletrack starts with a downhill that loses about 100m in 500m, and here I was thinking about the shoe again. The reason is that trail shoes always have a lower profile tread pattern and I was expecting to slip and slide a bit on the really wet top surface on the singletrack. Pretty quickly I built confidence in the sole and it was biting nice through and finding loads of grip. I quickly got back to picking lines and not thinking about the shoe. So first impressions- the Salomon XR Crossmax Neutral trail shoe is pretty forgetable, and that is a massive compliment! I've added the shoe into my miCoach so I'll be able to keep an accurate log of the distance I do with the shoe.           
In two other posts (here and here) I’ve written about the problems I’ve been having with my trail shoes and damage to my feet. Choosing shoes for Marathon des Sable is something that is making me think carefully about what I need. I need a comfortable shoe, that is something I can forget about. About 12 years ago I had a pair of Salomon trail shoes that I used for an approach shoe, but never as a running shoe. I remember the last being really comfortable. I had a few reservations about the width of the heel before buying as I’m used to a narrow fell shoe and the Crossmax is more like a road shoe. I picked a mixed 8 miles for my first run in the neutral version of the shoe. About 3 miles of tarmac, 2 miles of forest track and about 3 miles of singletrack. It was wet, really wet. So wet that the area made the news for evacuations due to flooding. The quicklace system tighten the sensifit system, is a quick system, There is quite a lot of lace on the system, but it all tucks away nicely into the lace pocket. I’d say on the sizing that this shoe comes up a bit smaller than I’m used to, but not to a point of being uncomfortable. I think I’d pick a metric size up next time round. Out the door and into a slow warm up on the road. The shoes feel exactly like a road shoe, Good cushining and light and it wasn’t wrong before I wasn’t thinking about the shoe at all. After a little climb up to the start of the fire trails, nothing really changed, the sole unit has enough protection that big rocks don;t penetrate at all, making for a comfy ride. The singletrack starts with a downhill that loses about 100m in 500m, and here I was thinking about the shoe again. The reason is that trail shoes always have a lower profile tread pattern and I was expecting to slip and slide a bit on the really wet top surface on the singletrack. Pretty quickly I built confidence in the sole and it was biting nice through and finding loads of grip. I quickly got back to picking lines and not thinking about the shoe. So first impressions- the Salomon XR Crossmax Neutral trail shoe is pretty forgetable, and that is a massive compliment! I’ve added the shoe into my miCoach so I’ll be able to keep an accurate log of the distance I do with the shoe.