Run training with Strava premium, is it worth it?

I choose to be a Strava premium user. I like statistics, my running buddies often ask me whether paying for Strava is worth the money. I think it depends on what you want, but if results is your thing I would say, yes, it’s a handy tool to have in your toolkit.

So here was my test. In May, having come back from Marathon des Sables, and *ahem* eaten my way through my recover. I needed a clear goal to get me back and training hard. So I looked out the window. And this is what I saw, obviously without the writing!

My motivation
My motivation

Next job was to create a segment, so 4th May I went for a run, starting and finishing where I wanted my goal to be. Here’s the link to that segment, so now I have the statistics it’s 6.6km with an 825m ascent. I also now know that it takes me about an hour and eleven minutes to get to the top. It is also a climb category “HC” which is tough!

Now, this is where premium kicks in, you can then set a goal for the segment, which is time limited, and this appears on your dashboard every time you view Strava. It counts you down to the deadline. I picked 4 months as that felt sensible.

Then, I almost forgot about this goal for 8 weeks, I focussed on training for Trail Marathon Wales, well when I say focussed, I focussed on the race, but not the preparation and got the result I deserved…slow.

But then, I started using Strava to analyse where I needed to gain. It was in my speed. My stamina was good, but I needed pace work. So, I set a one km segment and tried to get that speed down. I entered a short trail race and set myself the challenge of a Cooper Test (all out effort for 12 minutes). One thing, each month where speed was being measured. Then I looked at my daily training against my heart rate. I then made sure I was spending one session in my tempo category, and one in my threshold, as well as keeping up the long steady runs.

I used the “goal segment” for a couple of my long runs, just to check the route and see where my pace was naturally going. By mid August I had taken just over five minutes off my time. The segment analysis now lets you see where gains can be made, and that is mentally noted to go hard at.

Strava training log
Strava training log

The training log gives a visual record of how you’re getting on against your weekly goal (another premium add)

This all means that staying injury free is easier.

All the while I’m learning more about how and when I run at my best.

I had a slight hiccup, my aim was to have a go at the goal three weeks before the deadline, however darling daughter giving me a cold put paid to that!!

So, finally I had a shot at the goal today. In 4 months, I knocked nearly 14 minutes off my time (that’s nearly 20% lost). Yes it hurt, but looking at where I made pace, I was moving consistently faster across the terrain. I’m very, very pleased!

Could I have done it without Strava, probably. But as someone who trains on my own, a lot, it’s great getting kudos and feedback from the followers. It really keeps me motivated not to duck a training session.

Strava premium, is it worth it? I think if you want to make gains in your running. Strava should be there in your training toolbox!

 

 

“If you don’t know where you’re going….

…you can’t get lost”, goes the saying.

I’ve an impending sense that everything is about to go off the hook busy. Now I’m a busy person, but I feel like a lot of buses are going to come along at once. That’s ok. I just need to keep working on the balance.

So today’s run I needed to go somewhere where I didn’t think, just relaxed into it. It was supposed to be a “lunch run” but that got put back a bit, and I spend a little longer running than I wanted, but that’s ok too. 

I’ve been trying to process what Rachael (Meirionnydd’s latest member and relatively newcomer to the Ultra scene) has being saying in her recent blog. I know where she’s coming from, in that competition has to be appropriate, and as a self confessed “soul runner”, what she says, in many places, resonates with me. Except, I’m starting to get more and more competitive. Perhaps my frame of reference has changed, or maybe I just need to run my hardest at the moment. Hard to say. I’m sure I’ll process on one run, soon.

Today, I took the camera with me, I didn’t run against time or distance, I started the run as a journey and that stayed with me. And, perhaps more importantly, I didn’t really know where I was going. I knew where I was starting, and I sort of knew the topography of the area, but the rest was just a meandering run to pick up the views and bimble around some amazing places.  As usual, I was rewarded by this approach! In this part of Coed y Brenin the views are far reaching, picking up the Rhinog, the Migneint, Rhobell Fawr, the Aran and Cader Idris.

The panorama from Moel Hafodowen - so many trails to explore
The panorama from Moel Hafodowen – so many trails to explore

The point at which I contoured round Moel Hafodowen, always shows me the opportunity for outdoor sport in the area. Each river valley, hill, trail and area full of so much potential and relatively unused.

I enjoyed the run, because it was a bit wild and wooly, and also nothing occupied my mind but running through such a beautiful space. No glancing at my watch, no worry about map reading. Bliss! I’m planning on a “Cooper Test” tomorrow, so back to pain and suffering in my training. I think the test has to be one of the most horrible 12 minutes of running ever! But, with the Wye 50 miler race is looming this month I’ll be glad of the discipline.

As always, I come back from bimbling refreshed and reinvigorated. Now, time to find a place or two to park these buses.

Trail Running Review – why you should try it!

A review, so Google says – 

noun
1.
a formal assessment of something with the intention of instituting change if necessary.

I’m not sure how formal, or how intent I am of changing anything I am, but I’m still going to call it a review. I guess it’s also a description or a beginners “how-to” for trail running.

Trail running is becoming more fashionable, fitness magazines are covering it more and there are definitely more videos being made about it as a pastime.

What is trail running?

It is running (and quick walking) off an athletics track or road/pavement. It is different to cross country running in that it tends to be longer distances so slower paced.

Trail running, at the moment isn’t recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)

Why go trail running?

There are lots of good reasons to go running on trails.

Views out and about trail running
Views out and about trail running
  • You get to see things you can’t on a bike or in a car, it really does get you closer to nature
  • Because fast walking is a part of trail running it is a great way to build fitness
  • No hard surfaces jarring joints means less chance of repetitive strain injuries
  • Uneven surfaces and hills use more core muscles and so build strength and stamina
  • If being watched running around the village/town you live in isn’t your thing trails get you away from curtain twitchers
  • It’s social if you want it to be
  • Above all it’s fun

Where to go trail running?

Trail running can happen anywhere there isn’t a hard surface, and the opportunities are massive. Footpaths, bridleways, canal towpaths, forest centres, mountain tracks in fact anywhere. A sense of adventure and exploration will get you uncovering places near to home.

I’m lucky to live right next to Coed y Brenin near Dolgellau. Here there are easy to follow way-marked trails of all sorts of different lengths. There are also a wide range of routes on National Trust estates too.

How to go trail running for the first time

I’d suggest picking a walk you know, nothing too long, something that you can walk comfortably and know pretty well. Personally I’d choose something that isn’t flat because I’d want places I can walk. A walk that takes about an hour (3 miles or 5km) would be a good place for someone not running regularly.

Then, go round that walk, perhaps running the gentle downhills and some of the flat. Listen to your breathing, don’t exert yourself too hard and don’t be afraid to walk.

How to improve your trail running

Local running clubs are a great source of knowledge, they’ll introduce you to like minded people and probably have sessions where you can join runs. This works for a lot of people and is the most common way to improve.

That didn’t work for me though. I started exploring my local footpaths and forests. Over a period of 18 months I went from 5-10 miles a week to being able to run 90-100. Be careful not to increase your mileage to fast, or start running more hills than you are used to. Muscles can tighten and it really is a good idea to do some simple stretches and strength exercise (I often work my calves whilst on the phone).

What do I need to go trail running?

In short, nothing is needed to go trail running. But there are a few things that will make your run a bit more enjoyable.

Trail running shoes 

From L-R Inov8 Mudclaw 300, Salomon Crossmax neutral, Inov8 Roclite 315, Ascis 2100GT
From L-R Inov8 Mudclaw 300, Salomon Crossmax neutral, Inov8 Roclite 315, Ascis 2100GT

The first upgrade is your feet, where you touch the ground. It can seem an impossible choice and be quite overwhelming. Don’t be put off. Find a local running specialist and ask for advice. Most trail runners are only to happy to give an opinion.

Any well fitting running shoes will work for trail running. However, trail running shoes have grippier soles and generally slightly stronger materials. Bear in mind they will get wet and have to deal with stones, mud , tree roots as well as grass and harder surfaces. There are some major brands out there Salomon, Inov-8, Asics, Saucony and Brooks are some of the more popular brands.

They all do slightly different things; hard stony trails, soft muddy trails or mixtures. Get something comfortable and go wear them out!

As a note, waterproof trainers are only waterproof until the water goes over the top of the shoes, then the water can’t get out. For this reason I like well draining, quick drying shoes and just get on with splashing in muddy puddles.

Clothing for trail running

This is really personal preference. Baggy or tight makes no difference. On longer days out baggy things can chafe a little, but in my experience makes no difference at all for runs of up to about 20km (half marathon). I would prioritise buying running clothing in this order:

  1. Socks
  2. Shorts/legs
  3. T-shirt/top
  4. Waterproof/windproof

Of course, like all hobbies you can go eyewear, headwear, gloves and on and on. Like shoes all clothing, except a waterproof should be light and quick drying. Building layers of clothing is by far the best way to be comfortable and have the right kit for any occasion.

The shell layer (outer waterproof) -very often if it is drizzly and not too cold I prefer to run with a windproof layer (Pertex or similar). The reason is that when I’m running I make heat and sweat. Whilst I have a good waterproof, if I push hard then I can make myself wetter inside a waterproof than on the outside, so I prefer to let my body heat push the sweat out of the jacket or gilet.

Food and water for trail running

This is a subject in itself and I’m not even going to touch the surface here. In general, up to an hour your body can cope easily on its own. Beyond that it is worth thinking about fluids and food. If I am heading somewhere really remote I like to take some emergency snacks, really just for reassurance

Carrying things for trail running

Bumbag and emergency kit for trail running
Bumbag and emergency kit for trail running

Bumbag, rucksack, waistbelt, ultra vests, hydration packs, bottles – all these are just a short list of what some people choose to use. I don’t use a hydration pack for trail running as it encourages me to carry too much weight. I prefer a sports bottle, this lets me see how much I have drunk to, and also on much longer runs, in two bottles plain water and one with a flavour and/or electrolytes.

My 15 year old bumbag is still in service and in this I can carry waterproofs, basic emergency kit, food and water. If I need more (going further, or worse conditions) then I’ll take a small rucksack. On the occasions I go multiday running I’ve never needed anything bigger than 35 litres.

Gadgets for trail running

I’m using the term gadget here, some are occasionally essential, some are luxury, I’m mentioning them here just to think about. But, don’t ever carry anything you don’t know how to use, otherwise you’re carrying weight for the sake of it.

Map and compass. If you have any doubt about where you’re going, these are an essential.

Headtorch. If you are either going out in the dark, or might be at risk of getting stuck out in the dark, this is an essential. (Chris Baynham-Hughes did an extensive independent buyers guide to head torches)

Watch. Time, pace, place, heart rate, altitude, tide. Watches can measure all sorts of things. Sometimes this can be a motivator, sometimes it can be a de-motivator.

Emergency kit. First-aid and survival blanket can be useful, both for yourself and others you may need to help. I always carry these on the trails out of personal preference.

I’m going to repeat myself, especially about the Map, Compass and Emergency kit – KNOW HOW TO USE THEM!!

Competitive trail running

Shattered, but massive sense of achievement at the end of Marathon des Sables 2014
Shattered, but massive sense of achievement at the end of Marathon des Sables 2014

Trail running is more loosely organised than other running disciplines. Events are a great way to go to places you wouldn’t go to normally, meet new people and test yourself (if that’s your thing).

Trail races can range from 5km upwards. Beware though a 5km trail race will be much tougher than a 5km road running race.

My experience is that trail races are really friendly and run by people who are passionate about running off road. Ask questions will get you lots of answers!

Training for trail running racing will follow the same type of sessions as road running. Build a stamina base, then building pace and power with shorter speed sessions or on hills or (yuk!!) both. Flexibility (stretching or yoga) will help you enormously with recovery and speed.

Finding more information

There are some good Facebook pages with heaps of information about trail running. The two most popular UK best pages are Trail Running Magazine and The Trail Running Association.

As a resource for competitive world wide running, Mud, Sweat & Tears is hard to beat as a website.

Runners World is still the most readily available running magazine in the UK, but is more focussed on running generally rather than trail running.

Finally…have fun trail running

I trail run because it’s fun. Normally not to be the fastest, not to beat people, nor to be fitter. I love the journey and trail running lets me make more of my free time, exploring the places I want to go. Every now and then I like to race, just to test myself, and by every now and then I mean less than 5 times a year normally. 

Trail running shouldn’t ever be a punishment (it was for me at school). 

If you remember running around outdoors as a child, running with your legs out of control down a hill or through high grass and those memories make you smile then have a go.

Let trail running take you new places, let it make your body feel alive and your mind clear. Sometimes you’ll exert yourself and it’ll be hard work. Sometimes it’ll be cold, windy or dark. Sometimes you’ll see a deer, a sunrise, sunset or a view all of your own.

Learn to enjoy the ups and downs, make it fun and enjoyable.

So, my formal review, not very formal, and the need to change anything, not really for me. I always need to remember that I really really enjoy trail running.

Here’s a video I made a couple of years ago to explain trail running in Coed y Brenin, a forest near home that is better known for mountain biking at the moment. Hope you enjoy it.

Where next?

So what do I do after Marathon des Sables? It all feels a little black and white at the moment.

Stone gateway about Sligo, Eire
Stone gateway about Sligo, Eire

As I try and claw my way through the post event blues, which is a common occurrence, I know I need to focus on something big in the future. It’s like trying to step over a massive gateway! I’ve run a good bit since getting back, but I have to admit to running being a massive struggle to stay consistent with at the moment.

As much as I am really enjoying not having the early morning running sessions, and getting on top of a few jobs here and there, as well as starting a new business I am feeling hungry to compete. Though I’m not ready to go all out again at the moment.

I’m fortunate that I have Trail Marathon Wales on 21st of June, I’m looking forward to this, but I do feel a complete sense of fatigue at the moment. It’ll be a trial to get round, but I want to get out there and race. It’ll be brilliant to see my tent mates Andrew and Phil again who will also be at TMW. We’ve all had post MdS niggles, so I’m sure the social catch up will be not so subdued!

Depending on how TMW goes I’ll look to run Race the Train in Tywyn in August as it is part of the Welsh Trail Running Championships, but it really does depend on how TMW goes! After that it is the Wye One Way Ultra Race in Septemnber and then the OMM in October. That’ll be my big event year done.

It's all about balance. Strandhill Beach, Co Sligo. Eire
It’s all about balance. Strandhill Beach, Co Sligo. Eire

I’ll probably do the Meirionnydd Winter Fell Series for the first year ever too. Just to keep the legs turning over.

Other than that this year will be about exploring and enjoying the hills around home; and preparing for a personal challenge I’ve set for 2015. As far as I know, this challenge has never been attempted before, so I’m going to keep a little quiet about it!

One thing though, MdS has made me appreciate the smaller things, a whole lot more. Like the can of coke on the long day it’s amazing what little things can arrive in technicolour when we appreciate them!

Rawhide

The horizon line that inspires me
The horizon line that inspires me

I remember very clearly when I was 24, my friend saying “you’re going to have to grow up”. This was when I’d just bought my new mountain bike. In his eyes, in the south of England, in the mid nineties adults didn’t mountain bike.

Of course, being stubborn, I carried on with mountain biking. And, as I’ve explained before it was the bike that brought me to live in North Wales and ultimately run the Marathon des Sables. Two wheels have always been fun, and the more I’ve reflected on MdS, the more I’ve realised that its even simpler.

I like moving.

BMX bikes rocked
BMX bikes rocked

As children we’d ride bikes round and round the same route. We’d learn and know little tracks, jumps, kerb edges, alley ways and back lanes really well. I lived on my BMX for at least 6 weeks each summer holiday for at least 5 years. From early in the morning til it got dark, and sometimes beyond we’d be repetitively skidding in the same place, wheelieing between shadows, lampposts, encouraging each other up and down steeper hills, bigger jumps, higher bunny hops, riding by a stream eyes shut, or disastrously, the night before a maths exam riding down the biggest hill cross handed. Looking back there was no reason. It was fun, no winners, no losers in a competitive sense, just the joy of living in the moment.

My very first road bike in around 1990
My very first road bike in around 1990

BMX bikes gave way to road bikes, I found my love of surfing along the edge of the lactate threshold, the moment where the noisiest thing is your breathing, your heart or the wind.

All that repetitive stuff creates something that is now known as physical literacy, and a healthy heart. I know I played ball sports and racquet sports (I’ll miss out accurate stone throwing) and that does develop a different kind of physical literacy.

Bikes, pedal or engine powered are lovely, I like the feeling that moving on one creates. That sensation in your inner ear, leaning in, trimming the bike, lifting the front wheel, whipping the back wheel or free-wheeling with the wind blowing is something I can always fall back on. It is moving quickly so close to nature, so part of nature that is enjoyable. But, as a mode of transport you’re not in a steel box, people talk to you empathise with you. Also, if you drift from the now, there are consequences that tend to keep you in the now.

I got into simple multi-day mountain walking, not instead of bikes, as well as bikes. The camp craft, the endurance, the touching nature really hit home with me in my mid teens. An escape from daily life and the extra responsibilities I had due to terminally ill parents. On reflection this taught me self reliance as well as new skills. Scrambling up Cneifion Arete with a big pack, having crossed the Carneddau was a big moment in my teens. I suddenly felt capable of surviving in a very primitive way. Add a few ropes and some more skills and new dimensions are available, bigger mountains. Never a rock climber, more a mountaineer, but that sounds too grand. Just journeying through mountains, immersed in some remote spots.

Then boats came in to play, sailing, paddling, navigating. This was a new challenge, moving on a dynamic environment. I was fascinated by being able to predict the water height on the sea at any given point, the variance the weather made. And on water, to move effectively there needs to be a different reaction. A sailing boat on a different point of sail, with a different sea way needs to be helmed differently. Kayaking, journeying on white water initially seems even more chaotic, but the more you learn, the more you become experienced, again through repetition, the more reaction can be instinctive. The now becomes more fluid [sic] but still a journey, a movement.

“Big black” in Morocco

And then trail or mountain running, far more basic, far more heart, lungs and legs and far simpler. But, all the skills come together in a different way. The exposure felt is more immediate. I can  compare travelling in the sub-Sahara on a motorbike to my recent experience running. A lot is the same, managing hydration, fuel (for you or the bike) and keeping moving, and I enjoy the journey in very different ways. Probably, even though much harder, on foot is more enjoyable.

I still ride bikes, I still visit the mountains, I still love boats. I like doing these things solo, I love the feeling of self dependence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete misanthrope and I do love sharing the experiences too, but to get the most I like, if not need to be exposed, on my own. That original enjoyment of lungs, heart and wind being the only noise, the movement being beautiful things.

Many see my pursuits as dangerous, but that’s different to the view I hold. Managing danger and fear is about experience and judgement. And when you’re in that moment there is an element of purity that is really grabbing. I have and do walk away, the hills, rivers, forests and oceans will be there another day. So far I’ve never regretted keeping going. I’ve regretted stopping, but that is a momentary regret compared to the alternative. Yes, having children has taken the extremes out. Those moments where a wrong decision means instant injury. Big jumps and steep gradients are mighty thrilling, but the adrenaline can come in different, more controllable ways.

Chris Baynham-Hughes is a very experienced mountain ultra runner. In his blog here he goes through the iterative process of defining risk. In many cases we experience risk when it is managed by someone else, at an event where the judgement of Event Directors either cossets or denies you your own responsibility in decision making. I agree with Chris the more experienced you get, the more intuitive risk judgement becomes and therefore in many ways the better mentally we’re prepared to handle experiences.

The video here is from Daz who has kayaked solo down Everest and in the last minute sums up, for me, the feeling that pushing yourself in whatever format “is”. Surfer, climber, cyclist, runner or even businessman the question Daz asks is one we should ask ourselves, regularly.

“When was the last time you put yourself in  place to open yourself up to the passion and the grace and the silence and the noise of the now” 

I’m fortunate to have met some very inspirational people, especially in the years I have lived in North Wales. And now I recognise that not “growing up” is something that is challenging to those in the mainstream.

Being responsible doesn’t mean not having fun; it can do if that is your choice. But to live a satisfied life, to live in the now is so important. None of know when the now won’t exist for each of us. Experiences are so subjective, it’s not possible to judge whether one experience is more satisfying for one person, than it is for another. 

How we express ourselves is limitless, music, art, sport, gardening, religion, what ever.

For me feeling the “passion of the now” needs me to move, to take responsibility for my own movement, use my own judgement. The mechanism doesn’t matter. The journey and the experiences on the way are far more exciting to me than the destination.

When my parents died I had a choice-join the gravy train and conspicuous consumption. Or move and consume life. It went a bit blurry in there for a while, but the Marathon des Sables has really reminded me… 

“Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’, Keep movin’, movin’, movin’, Though they’re disapprovin’, Keep them doggies movin’ Rawhide!”

Likeys Beacons Ultra

My big fear for MdS 2014 is the “big” day of 80 odd km. I needed a challenge to put the mental bit to bed. So back in March I decided I wanted to race an Ultra of about that length. Racing to me means crossing the finishing line with not much gas left in the tank, this’ll be different in the Sahara, maybe.

I settled on the Likeys Beacons Ultra because it’s local(ish) to me, has lots of big rocks, has one steep hill and one runnable climb and is two laps. I liked the idea of being self sufficient and this clip on youtube had so many people smiling it must be a good un!

My preparation hadn’t been exactly what I wanted it to be; stresses in other parts of my life has been taking a lead and making training really hard.

In the few days leading into the race I was starting to feel a little doubtful, niggles, not trusting my training and a general feeling of being tired. But, I figured that dealing with these things were important in the bigger picture of a multi day stage race where things are not likely to be too smooth the whole way.

Friday night I arrived in Brecon, headed to the Likeys new shop to register. I had a bit of a gaze around the shiny bits of kit and picked up my race number.

Next stop was Morrisons for those last minute bits that I needed (breakfast and wet wipes) and then out to the campsite at Talybont. In to bed at about 10pm was about right as I had my alarm set for 0430 for some breakfast.

The race starting at 0730 means that breakfast needs a little bit of time in the system so that digestion doesn’t grind you down.

It was a cool night but I didn’t notice it, the alarm woke me up for breakfast before I dozed off for another hour straight after.

Dressing was a little bit rushed, but I got over to Henderson Hall, the race HQ, with a few minutes to spare before the briefing from Martin Like. The race attracts a wide range of people including the current World Trail Running Champion, Lee Kemp who was making a return after an injury.

As soon as the briefing was done, it’s a 2 minute walk to the canal edge and the start line. The off road running scene is a friendly one and the Ultra one no different. Lots of jokes, greetings and “fare thee wells”.

And then, suddenly we seem to start, it’s a narrow tow path and I immediately tried to stick to my race plan and not get sucked along by everyone else. My realistic aim was to finish before dark, my stretch was to finish under 8 hours. 46 ish miles translates to 10ish minute miles to achieve under 8 hours, so that was what I wanted to average.

The normal jostling for position wasn’t quite so obvious, there were a few keen people heading passed, but also a lot of people taking it nice and steady. At the end of the canal section there is a small bridge over the canal and into some woodland, everything runnable. Out of the woods and up to the right Tor y Foel is visible. On a shorter day it would be runnable, but I elected to run walk this, walking where it is steep. The number of false summits (three I think) was annoying, and one I clocked for lap two. I was making my usual effort of being friendly to the marshalls, and one photographer with spotty boots was nice and chatty (and I later found out to be the daughter of the organiser-what a team!), right near the top. I ran through the top and into the small, steep descent with Talybont reservoir beneath us.

Image from Likeys.com
Image from Likeys.com

Onto an unsurfaced road that has CP 1 at the end of it with more friendly marshalls, telling us to turn left-I had to point out that it was their left, but our right. This little track was the first of some rocky nastiness, good fun, but a bit of care needed with not slipping or twisting an ankle. At the bottom of this descent the course joins a fire trail. I was in a goup of four others. Neal, bouncing along in an effortless way was the first chat I had. It turns out he too was on his first Ultra, and he too is heading to MdS 2014. We talked about various things, sponsorship, expectations and his friend who had persuaded him that the MdS was a good thing to do. This forest trail gains height, slowly and steadily, before getting a little steeper, climbing up to some tarmac. I was comfortable running this and for a few minutes the group of five split up. Neal came zipping passed again on a short descent and stretched out a lead as we turned of into Taf Fechan forest. More marshalls, some friendly mountain bikers and a few army vans here.

I settled into a steady pace, knowing that this climb was the one up the “gap road” reaching the col under Fan y Big. Here I got talking to Katie, one of the other group of 5. Another Ultra first timer, with an easy gait (later I heard it described as a metronome, and she really is a rhythmic runner). Katie was running for charity, and had completed her first marathon a month or so earlier. In testament to her modesty, it took me a while to find out she’d earned a silver medal there. We talked about the environment, her job co-ordinating learning outside the classroom with Plymouth Uni. We ran together up the gap with streams of very tired looking military guys coming down with full bergans and rifles. Over the top and a little rock hopping dash saw Katie and I pass Neal and a few others before stretching our legs on a long steady descent to CP 2. Some of this track has grapefruit sized boulders, and needed quick feet, some times finding dirt, but mainly on rock. Katie led into some single track and I had to ask her whether her odd socks were a superstitious thing. “No” came the answer “they’re a chaotic life thing”. The humour was welcome!

Image from likeys.com
Image from likeys.com

Back onto the tarmac and aware that I was starting to run a bit harder than I wanted to, I let Katie pick up pace and dash off. I started talking to a chap who had been on the OMM and we started talking bottoms, pains and all sorts. After a bit of  pleasant running round some fields we were back on tarmac, and meeting spotty booted camera lady again, Neal was back along side. We ran down to “Simon’s Bridge” greeted by a tail swinging purple dragon. Simon’s Bridge is named after Simon Robinson who was there with X Bionic’s. A quick right hand turn onto the canal tow path for a run into the half way point and CP 3. I was pleased with my lap 1 time of 3hrs 44 and a position of 30th. I refilled my water bottle, grabbed some gel and chatted again to some friendly marshalls. Neal ran on, whilst I walked for a few minutes whilst getting some fluids and gels down me, Then back to running the same route.

My guts were cramping mildly on the canal. I passed Neal again who was having a quick meal and then turned up hill to Tor y Foel again. Ready for the false summits I tried to control my stomach and keep a good pace going. This was definitely less pleasant this time round. Back on the track again and I took on more fluids. I had planned to mix some TORQ fuel at the next checkpoint ready for the run up to the gap again. CP 4 arrived, or I at it, and I topped off my water and enjoyed a little run down through the broken path in the woods. On the flat section I took the chance to add some powder to my bottle. The mix tasted strong and as I turned into Taf Fechan Forest for the second time, my stomach started to rebel. About a third of the way up to the top, I couldn’t get my body to accept food and I just had no power left in my legs – my stomach was really uncomfortable. This time, being slower, I took the chance to have a good look at Neuadd Resevoirs. Over the high point, and my world was definitely a bit smaller this time round-in my own little bubble. Still managing to run the descent was good and I had my eye on a few runners ahead of me. This bit was really lonely, I just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. At CP5 I ditched the mix out of my water bottle and took on some water only. A gel and some water and my stomach began to feel a bit better. Back to Simon’s Bridge, the man himself was there handing out Jelly Babies to give runners a lift-I rambled something incoherent about Cookeen.

Image from Likeys.com
Image from Likeys.com

Now the run back into the finish along the tow path. It was a bit longer than I was expecting, I’d been nattering to Neal the last time and hadn’t paid attention. A group of three runners caught me in the last 200m, I couldn’t get back passed the first two, but managed to hold the third off and under the finishing arch.

Katie had finished her first ultra in third place, Neal came in just a few minutes after me. A few chats with faces I knew and then a quick shower at the campsite before heading back home.

A great Ultra for me, I’m happy with the results, and what I learnt. A little disappointed not to sneak in under 8 hours, but there is always next year. The Beacons Ultra is a super friendly race that taught me lots-as one very experienced trail runner said to me its an ideal entry level ultra. I’d agree, but the racing at the top end of the field is pretty clear that it’s just a great Ultra!

I’d added another 20km to my longest training run and 35km to longest race-happily this was good for my brain training!

My final finishing time was 8hr 12 mins and 23 seconds, and despite the provisional results having me down as 27th, I definitely finished ahead of Patrick, so I’m taking 26th. I’m happy enough with that for a first Ultra.

That’s one more demon down on the way into April 2014!

A massive thank you to all at Likeys and especially the volunteers who were standing around in the cold making the race so friendly!

Penmaenpool Trail Running Festival

I try to convince myself that I don’t like racing, but in reality I’m competitive enough that testing myself once in a while is a bit of fun. 

With the current aim of running 250km in 6 days in the Sahara my training is focussed on long steady load carrying running. But some sessions have to be speed work, so why not make that a race.?

Traditionally the “Pen 10” stayed on the flat of the old railway bed, and I never ran it. But this years race was re thought and re branded and now there is a Trail Running Festival that has a 1.8 mile Junior Race, a short course trail race of 3.6 miles and the long course of 8.9 miles. It’s still organised by Meirionydd Running Club and draws runners from quite a wide area.

In the last 7 days I’d run 64 (ish) kilometres and so I wasn’t really looking at this as a competitive race, more a training session that was quick. Naive! 

I jogged down to Penmaenpool from home, my Achilles warming up gently. Dolgellau was warm and sunny, but by the time I got to race HQ it was windy, drizzly and definitely a little cooler! 

Signing in was in the building alongside the old railway signal box and at £8 a fairly reasonable entry fee for a trail race. I watched my youngest daughter head off on the junior race.   They’d driven down and grabbed some parking really close. Helpfully there are also toilets in the car park so no sneaking off into the bushes needed.

I dropped my rucsack into race HQ and tootled off down the Mawddach trail to warm up. A few stretches and little springy runs and all felt okay. A quick race briefing was carried out ny Kev Jones and I’m guessing the 40 or so long course starters were ready to get going

With a quick toot of an air horn we were off with the first mile or so down the wide trail beside the Mawddach. This gave ample chance for everyone to get into an order without too much jostling on single track trail. First turn is through a gate in the stone wall and onto the trails that wind around Coed Gwynant. An undulating trail winds through the woods and after a water stop spits you back on the Mawddach Trail for a flat blast down to Coed y Garth. By now I was running with a Warrington Runner, we were passing one or two people, I seemed to be quicker on anything down, and we were pretty evenly matched on the flat and ups. Into Coed y Garth and a 3.7 mile loop of un marshalled track, the signage was good and the running reasonable. As we dragged up one longer slope Warrington chap said “as long as we don’t blow up no one will pass us.” Some of the trail had been flailed recently so there were some softer bits but otherwise everything was good going.

We looped back on to the Mawddach Trail again and ran back towards Abergwynant. A quick glug of water and we climbed back round towards the main trail. My legs were starting to run out of uphill power. Warrington runner pulled out a lead of about 35 metres on one climb and I just couldn’t get this back. The final descent back to the trail has a few cleaved oak steps, which turn out to be quite slippery, gave me the only windmilly arm moment of my race as I skimmed down three steps on the heel of my left foot. All got gathered up again and I found a rhythm to run into the finish.

All in all, for the first year of the new race was really fun, well organised and friendly. A nice way to get a trail race under your belt if you’re thinking about trail running.  If you’re looking for a weekend away, this would make a good race on the Saturday before heading off and exploring other trails in the area-Coed y Brenin has miles and miles of them.

I gathered up my bits from race HQ, chucked on my rucsack and ran back home. Back in Dolgellau, still no cloud cover, so the estuary was doing it’s autumnal thing of having a little micro climate. 

As a pace work session it was really great training, and nice to let a little of the weeks frustrations out with a bit of competitive running with Warrington Runner! 

Thanks to all the organisers and supporters who made the race what it is-brilliant! 

*EDIT* Warrington Runner was Nik Avraam and results are here and as it’s a new race I go the M35 club record.

Here’s the Strava of the long course:

 

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!

 

Gold!! (in the hills)

WA Trail Championship (Long) Team Gold for Meirionnydd Running Club
WA Trail Championship (Long) Team Gold for Meirionnydd Running Club

Trying to write a story like my old English teacher taught me, when I’m this excited is difficult. A start, a middle and an end, never use the word nice!  Good rules to work on!

This week has been Melanoma Awareness week. If you have a laugh about getting burnt in the sun, or don’t know how quickly melanoma is becoming a massive problem please, please take a few minutes and educate yourself. The best presented information is here – www.melanoma-fund.co.uk

On Melanoma, one of the things I have been struggling with is how I can use my run across the big, hot beach (Marathon des Sable)  to raise awareness and money. After this week I feel like there is a campaign coming together. I met with Michelle from Caffeine Communications this week (actually on the day my Mum would have been 65 if she hadn’t died 23 years ago). Michelle has an idea or two, and I’m really excited to be working with her to promote Myfanwy Townsend Melanoma Research Fund. I’m certain you will be hearing more about this in the weeks to come!

Trail Marathon Wales 2013 held a few nerves for me this year. I really wanted to race it, and I felt confident of breaking 4 hours until I was knocked flat by a bacterial infection in my organs. My plan was to complete rather than compete, run my own race, at my own pace. Being a bit competitive I knew I’d get swept along, but I was keen to run it my way. 

I don’t race very often, but when I do I wear Meirionnydd Running Club colours. As a small young club, I’m very proud to be a part of the club.

Race day was due to be wet, which was good as it would keep the midges down and keep me cool. Early morning breakfast was looking out on rain. A light drizzle joined us on the drive to Coed y Brenin. But stopped almost as soon as I got out the car. 

Coed y Brenin looks great year round, but when the flags are up, the PA system is going and the excitement of a thousand people milling around for an event it really is a special place. 

I arrived later than I would normally. 20 minutes before the start. A few hello’s to familiar faces, and then 5 minutes to go, jeans and sweatshirt off, tie my shoelaces, strap on my bum bag. Lose my rucksack to an old paddling buddy who was serving up Carvetii Coffee. Stroll into the pack as the final countdown started to play. Listen to Matt Ward speak his prerace pep talk. Listen to the shotgun of Iori go bang-and it did, much better than last year. Then we all start shuffling towards the start line. The steady incline away from the start meant enough time to wave hello to the family. Settle into a good pace that I knew I could hold onto and see whether my legs would go the distance. 

Lots of people heading off fast, really fast. But this was my pace. a kilometer later, I’m still doing my pace. Instead of being passed, I’m now passing. I know if I’m going to come in under 4 hours I need to average 5:42/km. My watch says on this steady climb, I’m about right. I pass Dafydd Roberts (to my mind the founder of CyB) heading along Sarn Helen. I’m starting to forget the “complete” plan for this race. I’m starting to compete. There is a lot of cat and mouse, I climb passed people, they over take me on the downhills, I level with them on the flat and climb passed again. After about 15km not many people are coming back passed me on the downhill and I’m still climbing passed a few. I pass one guy who has had a pretty minging tumble on steep downhill rock, another guy who has hurts his ankle, another whose knee has seen better days.

I’m feeding well, making sure I say thank you to every marshall who is there. Standing in a cloud of midges is not a great way to spend a day, but the race needs these kind volunteers. 

Climbing away from the upper Mawddach I’m constantly on the edge of cramping, it’s a long climb and I decide to back off a bit, get electrolyte at the next feed station and keep going as hard as I can. At the next feed station there are some familiar running club faces, and I get a pat on the back from the winner of this years Cader Race. “It’s all hurting Ifs” I say. He smiles.

Crossing the Wen, I know the next climb is a bugger. It’s lonely here, I’ve had no one around me for a few kilometres.  This is the first walk I’ve had, it’s steep though and my legs are cramping in my calves and my abductors. I take moving slower as an opportunity to bang in some TORQ gel, some water and mentally commit to running everything but 500m to the finish.

I reach the forest track the heads down to Glasdir. I have 30 seconds of self talk out loud. I’m going to do this. My watch is showing an average pace of 5:42/km.  I know I’m going to have to use all the downhill to get that average pace down.

I do what I can and arrive at the bridge back over the Mawddach with 5:40/km as an average pace. This next climb is the sting in the tail. It’s steep, and late in the course. I settle on walking as fast as I can. There is a struggling runner who is running the half marathon. She’s very emotional, and close on giving up. I try and encourage her between breaths, but she is sat not moving and I was hurting (she did finish later). I get to the top of the steep bit, try and run but my legs are now cramping hard. I can only just manage a shuffle over walking pace on any ascent. As it flattens out I build the pace, but my average pace has slipped too far on the climb. I know I’ve missed 4 hours.

The run in to the finish is really flattering. It’s downhill, not steep, but a nice gradient to actually run quite hard. 

Trail Marathon Wales finish
Trail Marathon Wales finish

I cross the line, 43rd overall in 4 hours 5 minutes and 35 seconds. I’ll be back to take those 5 minutes and 36 seconds next year! 

I did the Native American War dance getting some trousers back on. Cramping legs were very funny for my daughters to watch me struggle with. My lower leg not bending when I need it to, hopping on one leg trying to balance without putting my foot in the mud.

Apart from a pair of skinned nipples, a sore toenail and some shattered legs the event went really well for me.

I was getting over the disappointment of being over 4 hours. Consoling myself that 43rd overall was ok with the illness I’d had, and my complete lack of experience in racing when I got a message.

Meirionnydd Running Club had won gold in the Welsh Trail Championships (Long). I was part of the team that won. Now, I’m under no illusion that Glyn Griffin and Dave Parker (who placed 5th and 8th) did the lions share of the work. But I won a medal as part of the team. I’ve never won a medal before, let alone a gold one in a Welsh Championships. A massive thanks to Glyn and Dave! It’s also really inspiring that our “little” running club, with two of it’s strongest runners not present at Trail Marathon Wales could see off clubs who have a big reputation. Very proud to be part of the team! It’s an exciting future for the club with the depth of talent we have.

What a week! Great news for the MdS, and personally the lift of winning a medal is nothing less that astounding. I know I can train more, run harder. I’m not at my limit yet. I’m really inspired to try and find it over the next little while. 

My next solo event is the Brecon Ultra in November.  I might have to have another look through the race calendar though for something sooner.

This week has left me fired up and that is, well, nice (Sorry Teach).

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