Not quite a full thought

The Rhinogs in the distance
The Rhinogs in the distance

Today I stood on a very pretty crossroads and watched 505 people run Winter Trail Wales. This is a brilliant trail half marathon  in Coed y Brenin.

As I stood there watching people racing, and achieving goals it really let me think a little bit more about running for me.


And this is how I thought – in 2015, I ran for 224 hours. 8 hrs and 13 minutes of that was race time.


Night time turn round on Mynydd Moel
Night time turn round on Mynydd Moel

Now, I really enjoyed my races last year, there were some bits of really important achievement, but I ran for nearly 30 times longer than I raced. And my training last year, whilst I did it, I didn’t love it.

So here’s my not-quite-finished-thought. Where should my focus be, on the  hours that I run in training, or on the events. And why are events important to me.

If you run, or train for something, does your event time, or the feeling you get from the event compensate or give a reason for the time and effort in training?

And the importance of these pictures? Well it is a reminder to me that instead of the stress, and anxiety of lining up on a start line, at a given time, to compare myself to a previous time, or to some other runners there is a deep sense of satisfaction of journeying in wild places, on foot. Challenging myself in a way that feels right for where I am on that given day.

I know I need to focus on the good times between a few events, rather than the events themselves, for now at least!

So, maybe I’ll go gentle on myself, or maybe I’ll get cabin fever and need an event to push my training. Can’t be sure, it’s not quite a full thought yet.

Rhobell Fawr
Rhobell Fawr

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!



Starting to sweat the small stuff – but now with good help

Just recently a friend who I’ve had some amazing adventures with wrote to me and said

I’m pretty sure you must be getting excited/apprehensive by now.  Think the small details will probably matter more to you than me, and I bet a lot hinges on getting those tiny details just right.  You were always good at that though; more of a fine brush artist compared to my broad strokes!

Funnily, I’d be looking at everything in massive strokes, and am really only just getting down to the detail.

Fortunately I’ve been looking after a good few things as part of my, that are the detail so my list is pretty short and seems surmountable. Even though someone helpfully posted that it’s less than 1000 hours now before we jump on the plane. Ooof.

One of those detailed items is nutrition – fuelling the body. Because I have to carry my food for the event, calorie to weight is an essential consideration. I’m lucky that I’ve been looking at this for a while, tested items in events and training and am now pretty confident that my final details are getting sorted. A more detailed blog to follow.

Trail food is a real pick me up, and having something that picks you up psychologically is as important as the nutritional value. Having considered and tested fat and nuts for a long distance rowing project and woofed down chicken curry with Mars bars melted in I can definitely testify to food fuelling a campaign like this.

I was introduced to Bounce Balls about 7 months ago, and was initially hesitant. However, feeding my body with good quality, balanced natural food is essential. When pushing the body hard recovery is an essential part of training. I’ve found for the last 6 months. Bounce natural energy balls are a really convenient way to fit quality calories into a 5 meal a day eating plan. This has become really important whilst looking at weight management. The balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate is perfect and the various tastes are delicious. They are absolutely perfect when I want a treat and are really filling. I’ve also found that they are well packaged for training food. I choose to eat them through rest cycles, and they immediately stop rumbling stomachs.

As well as using them day to day for training, I will be using Bounce Balls for breakfast during the event.

You’ll spot Bounce products in a number of high street retailers or you can but them online. I really recommend giving them a go. Look out for the logo!

Bounce Natural Energy Balls
Bounce Natural Energy Balls

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!

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:


Smaller Cogs, Bigger gears.

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

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

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

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

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

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


12.8.2013 Training from Ashley Charlwood on Vimeo.

Making it home-the mind games.

Lots of people have said
Lots of people have said “you’re daft”, “that’s crazy” or just raised a very quizical eyebrow when they’ve found out that I want to run across the desert for 6 days, averaging a marathon a day. A few people have been more helpful and asked “How are you going to do that?”- the honest answer is that I don’t actually know how, I just know that I will. I think of myself as an average runner, I haven’t got a list of 5km, 10km, half marathon or other events under my belt. I just run. I’m not going to make the cover of Men’s Health. I have ‘normal’ body fat. What I have always been quite good at is managing my mind. It doesn’t matter whether you reach your comfortable limit at 500m or 50km managing what’s going on inside your head is crititcal to getting to your goal. For me, for now, whilst I’m training that is normally getting home.  It might sound oversimplified, but I actually believe that when you get to a certain state of fitness then running just becomes about the mind. In fact whatever your fitness level running is about the mind. Think of the techniques beneath like a concertina. You might want to compress some of them, or you might want to stretch them out. If nothing else, have a tool in the back of your mind if you do ever get to that dark place where you doubt you can go on! This isn’t sports performance psychology in the true sense. I think it’s a bit more primal than that. John “Lofty” Wiseman wrote a really interesting piece about survival 25 years ago and I can’t say it any better! The human body has an amazing ability to cope with arduous situations and testing environments. People who have come through, after enduring terrible hardship under seemingly impossible conditions, are a living proof of this. Male and female, young and old, they have all had the will to live. Everyone has this basic instinct to some degree and it can be developed by training. Lofty Wiseman was a professional soldier and wrote “The SAS Survival Handbook” which I got as a Christmas present in 1986. In this book, along with specific survival techniques, it discusses layers that are important for success in surival. This had a profound effect on me, and is something that has been useful in a number of scenarios that aren’t always physical. He suggests a pyramid with the base being the will to live. The next layer up being knowledge (it breeds confidence and dispels fear). The next layer is training and the top of the pyramid is kit. So taking this out of the military context I think for running it looks like: Will to complete Training Kit  Don’t forget you can use a concertina on this. Stretch the bits that you’re not as good on, compress the bits you can breeze. For me, number one, I never doubt this. The moment I plan to go for a run, I am totally committed to it. Number two-I’m not training to be fast, I’m training to ‘enjoy’ the race. That means training hard, but not with a goal relating to time for Marathon des Sable. This mainly means training my mind, giving me knowledge and understanding as well as training my body.  Kit. I have a bit of a thing about this. I like kit, but I don’t need kit. I was brought up playing sports with equipment 25+ years old. My Dad was really strong on this, I played squash, tennis and cricket with gear he’d had as a boy. When I got good, then I got up to date equipment. When I had my own income, I rebelled against this, but the older I get the more I know where he was coming from. I always remember talking to my friends’ grandmother. In 1940, she put her family in a wheelbarrow, literally, and walked from Poland to the UK across war torn Europe. No Gore-tex, no special shoes, not even a pneumatic tyre. She pushed her two daughters when they couldn’t walk and made an extraordinary journey. Just pure, raw determination. Extraordinary actions are rarely reliant on top of the range kit.  Kit is a useful talisman for me. I don’t need the most expensive kit, I need efficient kit that I can believe in. In a way it is part of training the mind. It works, it will keep working, it lets me get on with processing the mental stuff. Kit will make you comfortable and let you stay focussed on dealing with more fundamental things. Don’t get lost on kit though, I’ve flown with balloon pilots that have to walk on to launch fields backwards, wear odd coloured socks and receive a wave from their ground crew-none of this is about their ability to pilot a balloon, but it is about relaxing themselves through familiarity. That makes them fly better. I think kit can help with this, my shoes have the Salomon Quicklace™ system. It’s quick, gets even tension and doesn’t come undone, I know all that. In itself those laces don’t make me run better. But, the process, snugging my foot in, sliding the plastic keeper up the lace, tucking the excess kevlar lace and keeper in the little pouch are all a part of my familar habit. It sounds inconsequential but it’s part of clearing my mind to deal with things when it all starts getting hard. I’ve posted before about random thoughts I have whilst running, but I realised there is a totally different way of thinking when you’re on the run home. In a way you’ve done the hard bit, it’s now just hanging in there. I nearly always have a rough idea of where halfway is in the run I’m doing, even if I don’t know where I’m going. This means, whether by time, or distance, I know when I’m heading home. Then I start thinking about different things depending on what physical condition I’m in. I’ve never finished a 3 hour plus run without some discomfort-tweaking hip flexors, a blister, a twisted ankle, bleeding bits from chafe, but I’ve never got to the point where I can’t go on. Generally, it’s about dealing with the pains you feel and making it manageable. What works for me, might not work for you, but here are my top tips: Be honest with yourself- do you really, really need to stop? Sometimes easing off is better than stopping, but you need to really know what that feels like. Chunk it-break the next part of time or distance into more manageable, achievable chunks. Even if you’re getting tunnel vision really badly then getting to the next lamp post is a step nearer to home. Think about something good- the view, family, food, sex, cars just anything that diverts your mind wholly for a few minutes. I spent a good proportion of a run recently designing my perfect garage! I have a friend who focusses on his best sexual experiences. Whatever distracts you is the thing to think about.. Lie to yourself- completely at odds with the first, but sometimes telling yourself that things aren’t that bad, not hurting, etc is a good way to get round. Self talk is a well know sports psychology technique. It really applies when you get towards your limit. Finding these in the right combination for a given situation is important. As an extreme example and not one I’d suggest reproducing, I went out to find my wall, I knew things were going to go badly wrong. It came 2 km from home. I knew the last bit of road to home well and broke them down into sections between bends, I thought alot about necking something sugary, sung bits of “Mary had a little lamb” to check how badly I was slurring AND to lie to myself that things weren’t that bad. There is one straight bit of road about 200m long, I broke that down into groups of 5 paces. I got home with more knowledge. A valuable thing to have done, though it was unpleasant! If all else fails quote Dean Karnazes always works for me-“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” Dean is THE Ultramarathon man, he’s got some other good quotes available on his website here. Don’t ever compare your limit with someone else. Know what your body is telling you, then use a technique that works for you. I saw this quote on a friends Facebook feed- “dead last is greater than did not finish, which trumps did not start”. Whatever you do, whether it is running or something else entirely. Start, acknowledge half way, hang in there and get home! And one bit I’m really, really bad at, but is really, really important-recognise that you have succeeded in what you set out to do!