Vibram Fivefingers class action settlement

Hot off the heels of my annoyance that barefoot running escaped snipes in Running Free thanks to being the author’s choice, it appears that Vibram have found it easier to cough up nearly 4 million dollars than come up with any evidence that Fivefingers really do provide any benefits.

One would imagine that certain research won’t have helped their case (full text here).

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Book Review – Running Free

I was in the library last week and discovered that Richard Askwith, the author of Feet In The Clouds, had a new book out. I snatched it up, determined to read the new Running Free as quickly as possible and fully expecting to enjoy it as much as I did the 2009 volume on fell running. Once I’d started reading I couldn’t wait to finish it, although not for the right reasons.
Continue reading

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The Secret

In 1978, John L Parker Jr wrote a book and published it himself, selling it out of the back of cars at races. The story of Once a Runner concerns a student miler called Cassidy who is training for the Olympics. It’s a good read, though not brilliantly written, and it contains one paragraph of great value which I’m reminded of whenever we’re told that running well is all just to do with knee symmetry, calf elasticity, or even culturally imposed childhood trauma.

My plan for 2014 is to throw all efforts at running a marathon in under 3 hours which is a huge stretch goal so, in doing so, I will think of that paragraph often as it truly contains The Secret. If you’re struggling in a hard session, or to get out the door in this winter weather, then consider this, Cassidy being asked about his success:

“What did he eat? Did he believe in isometrics? Isotonics? Ice and heat? How about aerobics, est, ESP, STP? What did he have to say about yoga, yogurt, Yogi Berra? What was his pulse rate, his blood pressure, his time for the hundred-yard dash? What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret.

And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared, to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes.”

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Fear and Loathing on the Taff Trail

I was somewhere around the 2k mark, on the edge of the river Taff when the lactic acid began to take hold…

I remember thinking something like “7:46 for 2k… Holy Jesus, way too fast man, you’re going to blow!”

Suddenly there was footfalls behind me and the course was full of what looked like fast runners – all huffing and puffing around me.

 

And a voice was screaming “Hey San Dom – keep up”

“Did you say something?”… Never mind, it’s your turn to pace me… No point mentioning the lactic acid, I thought. The poor bastard’ll feel it soon enough.

I had a pair of Nike Free 3.0’s complete with Lock Laces, a couple of Compressport calf guards with colour-co-ordinated Injini socks, 5” Nike tempo shorts, my new San Domenico club vest and a whole host of technology including a Garmin GPS watch and heart rate monitor.

… Not that I needed all this for the race you understand – but once you get locked into a serious running paraphenalia collection the tendancy is to push it as far as you can…

The only thing that worried me was the Garmin… There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of a Garmin pacing binge…

and I knew I’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.

2km to go…

“Are you the one with the 20:11 PB” Alistair shouted “Yes” I gasped back…
“We’ll smash that today – keep up, you’re the same age as me” he replied…
“Wait till you feel that goddam lactic acid, man” I thought…

1km to go…
and I look at my Garmin…
“Leave the timing to me – just keep up” Alistair shouts at me…

My heart feels like it’s going to burst from my chect, eyes on stalks, snot dribbling from every orifice… lungs burning, lactic acid corroding my legs like sulphuric acid

“400 metres marker, one lap round the track – think PB”
My legs take on a new life and I edge ahead… going for glory…

…Whooosh – Alistair flies past in the last few metres and I arrive a second later, scarlet faced and gasping and hit the “STOP” button on the Garmin

When my vision returns… I look down…

19:18…

Pure Gonzo :-)

Footnote: I wrote this blog a couple of years ago and have been reminded of it recently when people have commented that they can’t write about short races – and that my blogs are generally about epic 10-30 hour events… A 5k event can be as emotional and memorable as a 100-mile race through the mountains….

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Double Snowdonia Marathon

At about 09:45, just as I’m passing the 2-mile marker heading towards the start of the 2013 Snowdonia Marathon a car pulls up beside me, the driver winds down his window, looks at my bib with my name on and following short conversation ensues:

Driver: Hi Guy – do you want a lift to the start

Me: Cheers mate, but no – I started at 5am and am running the route in reverse before doing the marathon with the masses at 10:30am

Driver: I don’t want to know

And with that parting comment, he rapidly shut the window, locked the doors and sped off towards Llanberis and away from an obviously dangerous and mentally disturbed individual.

“Double Snowdonia” – Why? A question I’ve been asked, and asked myself many, many times over the past few days, scattered through this blog is a few of the justifications I’ve made to myself and others.

Why? #1 – Because 2011 was too easy:  In 2011, at the finish Ian said “I looked like I could go round again” and to be honest, it was a pretty comfortable run. I think that was the first “seed” planted

05:00

05:00

At 05:00 on Saturday morning, I’m standing on Llanberis High Street at the, (as yet unconstructed) finish line. It’s another 5.5 hours until the start of the 31st Snowdonia Marathon, and at least another 8 hours until the eventual winner will be passing over the area I’m currently occupying. But, for now – it’s quiet, dark and peaceful… I take a quick photo, post it to my Facebook status and head off down the High Street, turning left towards the first big climb out of Llanberis towards Waunfawr.

Within minutes Llanberis starts to recede below me and the headtorch goes on, it’s a beautiful night with broken cloud cover and little wind. This is the legendary final descent in the Snowdonia Marathon, the one which everyone remembers but I imagine few have been able to take-in and enjoy as much as I do. I imagine that in 52 miles and 10-12 hours time, I too will be looking forward to seeing that finish line again.

Why? #2 – Value for money: All-in with hotels, petrol and race entry it’s a £200 weekend ‘just’ for a marathon. That’s £8 / mile, doubling it makes the journey and cost more justifiable!

At the summit it’s foggy and wet underfoot, but soon clears up on the descent into Waunfawr whose residents are still sleeping, unaware that a lone runner is passing through their village in the darkness. I manage to find a garden with an outdoor tap to refill my water bottle and continue on towards Beddgelert counting down the mile markers in reverse. 20, 19, 18 down to a 13 painted on the road in Beddgelert. The occasional car drives past me on the dark road, and I say hello to some dustbin men, (or are they called something more grandiose these days – refuse collection executives I imagine?)

Dawn has broken by the time I get to Beddgelert so the headtorch comes off, I hid a bottle of water near the 12-mile sign on my way past the previous day, thankfully it’s still there as I come through so I pause for a while to take on some water before plodding on towards the off-road uphill section at the 8-mile marker.

Why? #3 – Jumping on the bandwagon: I may have been a little bit inspired by stories from Mimi Anderson in doubling Comrades, Badwater and 2013’s GUCR and Spartathlon attempts. Though I realise that my adventure pales by comparison

The off-road hill from the 8 to 5 mile marker at the top of Pen y Pass convinces me that I was right to do the course in reverse! I could have just gone around the normal course twice – but then I wouldn’t have got to see the views from this angle. There’s cloud covering the top of Snowdon, but the range is imposing and impressive in the broken cloud and early morning light. I reach the YHA at Pen y Pass with nearly 90 minutes to get to the start line, 5 miles away – mostly downhill so it’s an slow easy jog down through the valley past bemused motorists, hikers and cyclists.

At the 1-mile marker I pick up a can of coke which I’d also craftily hidden on my way to Llanberis the day before and I walk the final mile to the start line where around 2,000 people are warming-up for the start of the marathon. I bump into a couple of people who know about my warm-up lap and we have a bit of a joke, but soon decide to slink off to the back of the pack, drink my coke and get ready for the return journey.

Why? #4 – To see the course from a different angle: Have you ever run a familiar route in a different direction? Everything looks different – you see new things from a different angle

Want a lift mate?

Want a lift mate?

At 10:30 the race starts, during the 30-minutes or-so that I’ve been hanging around at the start my left calf and hamstring have started to seize-up. I set off with the main pack but it’s evident from very early on that the second half could be a different experience.

A couple of familiar faces pass by at the start and we have a quick chat, it feels strange though – having had the roads, trails and mountains all to myself for 5-6 hours, suddenly it’s full of people and even though I’m fairly near the back of the pack it’s a bit claustrophobic.

Progress is pretty good all things considering, the first half of the race to Beddgelert is over in about 2.5 hours which surprises me considering the amount of walking I’m doing. However, at about 16 miles my left calf and hamstring have had enough – it’s far too painful to run. However, I can walk at a reasonable clip – I’ve been going 3 hours and reckon I can walk the final 10 miles in around 2.5 hours, quitting is not an option as long as I’m ahead of the cut-offs.

So I walk, and walk… Back along the roads I passed in the dark earlier, through Waunfawr – now full of happy, cheering supporters. Back up to the top of Bwlch y Groes and to the start of the final descent down into Llanberis, back to where I was 10.5 hours ago, alone and in the dark. The weather takes a turn for the worse, gale force winds and horizontal rain lash down, nearly blowing the runners and marshals across the mountains.

I start the descent, attempting a little jog and the pain is bearable so I pick up the pace a bit. My legs start working again and finally the descent levels off and we’re back into Llanberis, a quick right-turn onto the High Street and there it is – the finish line gantry. The clock ticks over 5hrs 30min as I approach but finally I’m over the line and finished.

The weather is now horrendous, seconds after I finish the inflatable gantry collapses and gets taken down! I’ve been so lucky that, despite a few squally showers the last 11 hours has been OK, I doubt I could have made it in the current conditions.

So – thank you Eryri… I enjoyed your mountains, and thank you for keeping the worst of your weather until I’d nearly finished. However, your marathon just has too much tarmac for me and I’m just not a road Guy – I said that after 2011 and the same is still true. I’d like to give that 10-mile race a go though, maybe next year?

Why? #4 – Why Not?

Pen y Pass “Devil Horns”

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The Bear 100 Mile Endurance Run

This year I wanted to do an epic, destination 100-mile race, I entered the lotteries for Western States and UTMB and was unsuccessful in both. Next-up, my eye fell on Leadville – the “Race across the sky” made famous in Christopher McDougals book “Born To Run”, I also started looking at other, less well known American 100s and finally settled on The Bear 100 Mile Endurance Run, committed myself to the $190 entry and booked flights – I was going across the pond to play with the big boys in the mountains.

With nearly 27,000′ of ascent it seemed to tick all the boxes, big ascents but not stupidly high or steep, not too hot or cold, spectacular scenery and a finish rate in the 80% range which is unusual for a 100-miler.

Elevation and Aid Stations, (AS)

Elevation and Aid Stations, (AS)

The more I heard about the race, the more I liked it. Not as big or crowded as the iconic US races but still attracting some pretty tasty names from the ultra running scene. The website where you enter the race has a list of all the registered entrants, I contacted the other Brits registered – Tim Adams and Traviss Willcox and we build up a bit of a rapport over the weeks leading up to the race.

Finally September arrived and I flew to LA on Sunday before picking up a hire car and driving 1200 miles across America to Logan in Northern Utah, (that in itself was an adventure, but not one for here-and-now). The hotels in Logan were packed with people wearing various t-shirts and caps from races you only read about, “Western States”, “Leadville”, “Hardrock” etc… The car park was filled with personalised number plates such as “N8RUNR” and “GSLAM04” – there was a buzz in the air.

Flyimg the flag with Tim and Texas John

Flyimg the flag with Tim and Texas John

The race briefing and registration was on Thursday just out of town at 4pm, I met up with Tim who introduced me to a few people he knew from his adventures at Leadville and Hardrock. Everyone seemed to know each other, it was great – there was a real community feeling in the air. Tim hooked me up with John – a Texan he’d run Hardrock with who I’d co-incidentally met in the hotel car park. He offered to give me a lift to the start the following day, so we agreed to meet in the lobby at 05:00

The race is described as “36 hours of Indian Summer” – now, to me – that means nice and warm. I’d expected the weather to be warm in the day but cool at night and had packed accordingly. The week leading up to the race was hot, up in the 90’s and I was a bit concerned about the heat. Then it all changed on Wednesday, a cold front came and the temperature dropped 30 degrees overnight. Driving into Logan over some of the higher plains in Wyoming there were blizzards and up on the peaks of the mountain range we’d be traversing – an ominous layer of white!

Fortunately, I’d packed expecting freezing weather at night so had my jacket, arm warmers, gloves and mittens, (no leggings though) at the race briefing i managed to blag a long-sleeved tech top so I threw it into the 52-mile aid station drop bag just in case. Expecting it to be wet, I opted for the close close fitting Skins shorts with trail shorts on top for extra warmth, below the knee down to my socks would just have to tough it out.

After an early night 04:00 on Race Day finally arrived, the usual preparations made I met John in the hotel lobby and we headed off to the race start at the base of the mountain. Tim appeared and said hi and I was introduced to more of the community before we all headed back to the car to warm-up and wait for the start at 06:00

The start caught me off-guard as I was busy changing from lightweight gloves to my waterproof mittens so was scrabbling around with my pack on the floor. Suddenly a cheer went up and 250-or-so people headed off in the dark through a housing estate. Hastily throwing my pack back together I legged-it up the road, around a corner and up a hill on a residential street.

Soon we hit the trail and single track, this was the start of the first, and longest climb of around 3,800′ over 10 miles. Most of it was single track on switchbacks up the side of the mountain and through forest sections – there was no point trying to overtake, it wouldn’t have got you any further up the field – you just had to settle into the group you were in and go at that pace which, if I’m honest – felt a little bit too hard for me this early.

Sunrise over Logan

Sunrise over Logan

Slowly it started to get light and the mountains came to life, we started moving up towards the clouds and Logan and the start line was revealed below. Just before hitting the cloud line I bumped into Traviss who was taking a photo of a particularly stunning vista, we did the old “you take one of me, and I’ll take one of you” camera swap and set off for the next uphill section to the first aid station.

Once above about 8,000′ the air became noticeably thinner and breathing became noticeably more difficult, having never really been up to altitude I didn’t know how this was going to affect me. The race never goes much above 9,000′ but spends quite a lot of time up in the 8,000 range and boy was it noticeable when you hit that elevation, time and time again.

I’d not really made any time predictions for the race but had looked at previous results and times and thought that, on a perfect day I could go under 24 hours. The Bear has a generous 36-hour cutoff and rewards runners a category based on their finish time, with a corresponding belt buckle as follows

  • Sub-24 Hours – Wolverine
  • 24-30 Hours – Grizzly
  • 30-36 Hours – Black Bear

I’d made up a little pace card with 24 and 30 hour pacing notes and times for each aid station, (AS) About halfway up the first climb I knew sub-24 wasn’t going to happen. This was a different league to what I’m used to, combined with the weather and the elevation aspects I decided to settle into a more relaxed pace and look into becoming a member of the Grizzly Club instead, sub-30 hours would do nicely – plus I’d actually like to be able to drive and walk the following week.

Feet in the clouds

Feet in the clouds

Anyway – back to the race, I lost Traviss somewhere before AS1. As the elevation increased it got colder, snow appeared and the wind picked up. I didn’t linger at AS1, my hands had seized up just taking them out of mittens to grab some food. The volunteers were amazing, here and throughout the whole race – every time you came in to an AS, someone would run up to you, grab your bottles fill them up and generally run around for you – it was great.

Descent to AS2

Descent to AS2

The reward for all that climbing was a 9-mile descent to AS2 on the side of the mountain through switchbacks and through the fall forests. This was easily the most enjoyable part of the race as we’d been hiking for 2.5 hours so it was nice to stretch the legs out. Once again, most of this was singletrack, but I fell in with a group of people and everyone chatted away. The first question is always “Where you from”, so having the advantage of being from the UK, I always had someone to talk to. The Yanks all seemed to be interested in the UK/Europe scene and fell running in particular.

Another thing that struck me again, and again is the community over in the States. There’s less of a club scene, and certainly nothing like we have in the UK – it has much more of a loose-knit, open feel with individuals organising races. I lost count of the number of times I got involved with a conversation that went “I’m the Race Director of A”, to which someone else would shout “oh Hey – you should come and run my race B” it was nice, just people doing what they love and sharing that with the community.

Coming out of AS2 I’d warmed-up and there was probably 4 hours or-so gone, the next section started fairly flat before heading up-and over a couple of peaks. As is fairly usual for me I had a bit of a crisis for a while, asking myself if I really wanted to do this – I was 6 hours-in and would be doing this for another day possibly? I knew how tough it was going to be, it’s really strange – this was a race I’d been looking forward to all year, I’d DNF’d at UTSW100 and cut TR24 short for, the trip was going to cost over £2,5000 all-in, and here I was thinking about quitting and going to the pub after 6 hours!

Death before DNF

Death before DNF

But – it wasn’t going to happen… Not today… No Sir! As I moved through the field I picked-up conversations with loads of people which kept my mind from betraying me. The Britsh accent always intrigues people – though I’ve been asked at least 3 times if I know Tim Herman, next time I’m going to reply – “Sure thing mate, Tim lives down the road, next door to David Beckham and Posh Spice”

The photos don’t really do the scenery justice, without suitable depth and perspective cameras always seem to “flatten out” mountains a bit. But the scenery was just incredible… The colours were spectacular, with the trees losing their leaves to the Fall, (oops – sorry, Autumn). The trails too, in general were immaculately maintained. They’re used by everyone from mountain bikers, campers and hunters on quad bikes/ATVs – a couple of times we had to give way to quad bikes filled with men in camouflage gear sporting big gun-shaped cases. There was also the occasions retort of what sounded like a powerful hunting rifle across the mountains.

On many sections of the trails, there were HUGE piles of dung – probably from grazing cattle but could it have been from a bear? Whatever it was – I wouldn’t have wanted to meet it at night, alone and in the dark. One of the Yanks started recalling accounts of Sasquatch, (Bigfoot to us) – yeah, cheers buddy.

The afternoon progressed, up and down a mountain or-two before a big climb up to Tony Grove at 52 miles. This was a long, nasty climb up a muddy trail which eventually turned to snow and ice. I was following a chap using hiking poles for a while – he seemed to be making good progress so I fashioned myself a pair out of a couple of tree branches! They helped a little on the uphill but I discarded them at the top.

Tony Grove

Tony Grove

Tony Grove was the first major AS and milestone for me, this was just over halfway and it would soon be dark with sunset at 19:30. I arrive at 18:45, well inside my 30-hour schedule – but it’s so cold here at over 8,000′ that I can’t stop for long. The free long-sleeve top I’d thrown into the drop bag goes-on, and my thin wool gloves under the mittens and I have to leave and get warm again. Really, I’d have liked to have stopped to have some soup, but I need to keep moving and keep warm.

The next 9 miles is amazing, after the punishing climb up to Tony Grove it’s a fantastic trail down through forests and across mountainous plateaus with the sun setting and the colours taking on different shades, finally it’s time to put the headtorch on and enter the world of night trail running for the next 11-12 hours.

I really enjoy night trail running, there’s something so relaxing about it – just you and your own little world illuminated a few yards ahead of you. You never really know what’s too far ahead which means you can’t see that massive hill until you’re upon it – so no need to worry about it.

The night heralds a series of up-and-down sections. Basically, it’s up-and-over a peak to an Aid Station, over-and-over again. The format starts to become familiar… Get to an AS, fill-up with food and water and head out onto a relatively easy climb on a nice trail. As the trail gets higher, and the air gets thinner, (at around 8000′) the trail gets rockier and steeper at which point you want to die. Arriving at the top, in the dark, half dead from exhaustion there’s a descent back down to the next AS – but somehow, this doesn’t seem to be worth the pain of the climb.

My 30-hour pace notes indicated to me that after 60 miles I could basically hike the rest of the race and still make it, so that was my plan and I don’t think I ran more than a few yards after about 10pm. On this terrain, walking is often quicker than running and I overtook lots and lots of people who were running bits of the course.

It was a long, hard night… After my earlier crisis of confidence, once I got to 60 miles I KNEW I was going to finish, the tough bit was done – all I needed to do was walk and eat for 12-13 hours and it was in the bag, any fool can do that.

Aid Station supplies, grilled cheese - mmmmm

Aid Station supplies, grilled cheese – mmmmm

Talking about eating, my nutrition strategy was the same as I’d used for NDW100 and Run24 which had worked well, namely – real food at the Aid Stations and gels in-between. This seemed to work OK, but as it could be 2-3 hours between aid stations and with gels only having 100 calories / each, getting 300 cals/hour means eating a lot of them. Which I did… Thankfully the aid stations were well supplied, but I was fed up of them by the end.

The Aid Stations were magnificent, as I said earlier – the volunteers couldn’t do enough for you. As night drew in, they all had roaring fires and chairs around them and lots of runners looked like they had succumbed to comfort – “Beware The Chair”. The hot food was very welcome, I’ll never forget the grilled cheese sandwich I had at about 2am, it was just about the nicest thing ever – especially after all those gels.

State line - beer is stronger in Idaho, woohoo!

State line – beer is stronger in Idaho, woohoo!

At around 3:30am I crossed over the state line into Idaho and was firmly on my way to Bear Lake now. Despite hiking I was staying around 90 minutes head of the 30-hour schedule so was happy to continue.

But it was a LONG night, about 12 hours of darkness which was tough – the night races I’ve done generally have 6-7 hours in summer. The other problem this caused me was with my headtorch. At around 4am it gave a warning flash, and then at 5am conked out totally, the rechargeable battery is supposed to last 14 hours but in the cold a lot less than that. I had a little LED backup light which I’d used in the morning so pulled that out but that failed too after a few minutes!

Bugger… It’s 5am, I’m on my own in the freezing cold, snowy trail somewhere on a mountain in Utah. I can’t see the trail markings, (which are reflective so, no light – no markings) this scared me for a minute or two. However, I figured someone wouldn’t be far behind so stopped and waited. Sure enough after a few minutes a bobbing headtorch appeared and I flagged the runner down.

“Hey – my headtorches have died, can I hang with you until it gets light please” I asked…

Roch turned to me and in his gravelly voice said

“I think I have a spare”

And with that he pulled out a lovely Black Diamond headtorch switched it on, handed it to me and ran off into the snowy mountains! What a guy… I later found out he’s a bit of a legend in the community and has run The Bear many times…

Warning snow covered pine trees may cause hallucinations.

Warning snow covered pine trees may cause hallucinations.

Eventually it got light and I approached the final few hours of my adventure, by now I’d been up for over 24 hours and expended a fair amount of energy during that time – it’s fair to say I was pretty tired. My eyes started playing tricks on me and I had some pretty great, (mild) visual and auditory hallucinations. The Marboro Man was waving to me at one point, and I also saw Rudolph a couple of times – on closer inspection, both turned out to be a pine tree covered in snow. I also started hearing rattling and thought they were rattlesnakes for a while, but convinced myself that snakes probably don’t like sub-zero conditions.

Sunrise in the mountains

Sunrise in the mountains

The mountains were beautiful at daybreak heading down to the final AS, I’d been warned about the last ascent. It looks tiny on the profile, but it’s short and vicious. I’d completely run out of energy by this point and couldn’t stomach any more gels, (having already gone “bear-style” in the woods a couple of times in the night). Somehow I dragged myself up the hill to the summit and was rewarded with a view of the prize – Bear Lake.

Bear Lake, the finish

It was 7 miles to the finish, I looked at my watch… 8:30am, I could try and run and get in under 28 hours, or walk for 28.5, same buckle – less effort, walking wins. The descent was deceptively tough though and several people passed me on the way down, obviously eager to go sub-28. Towards the bottom of the hill I suddenly got a shooting pain in my left foot – it felt like a blister, this further reduced me to a hobble. To add insult to injury, it appeared that there was another little hill to go and then a couple of miles on road to the finish.

I was in agony and hobbled down towards the finish, in that last stretch – probably 15-20 people passed me, the only people to have overtaken me since 60 miles. But I didn’t care – I was going to finish The Bear, and do it under 30 hours to join the Grizzly club.

And so I finished, shook the Race Director, Leyland Barker’s hand and then cheekily asked him to take a photo of me under the finish gantry.

28:34:07 - Bear 100 finisher

28:34:07 – Bear 100 finisher

There was no sign of Tim or Traviss at the finish line, I’d booked a room in a local lodge to clean up and lie down at, so hobbled up there before coming back down at about 4pm to catch up with everyone, pick up my spoils and have some food at the BBQ.

Tim had dropped at 60 miles having not trained sufficiently and was having problems with the cold but was very philosophical about it, being a veteran of Leadville and Hardrock he certainly has the credentials. Apparently he saw me come into the 60-mile AS but was wrapped up by the fire and didn’t want to distract me. We saw Traviss come in at around 35 hours, happy and suitably exhausted from the experience.

There was a great atmosphere at the post-race area, unlike most UK races where people drift off, here everyone stuck around cheering on the runners as they came in, right up to the 36-hour cut off time. Our little group of Brits decided that he Yanks need some new motivational shout-outs as “Good Job” and “Nice Job” gets old after a while!

Finishers plaque

Finishers plaque

Yeah! Grizzly Club buckle

Yeah! Grizzly Club buckle

And so, that was The Bear… And what an adventure it was too. It has totally opened my eyes to the whole US mountain running scene, I’ve qualified for Hardrock 100 which absolutely everyone says is a must-do so I guess I’ll have to enter the lottery for that.

But for now, I hope you enjoyed the read – I’m off to Las Vegas!

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Lie-Ins and Ciders and Bears – Oh My!

Oh My!

100 miles? Oh My!

As I approach my 2013 “A” race, The Bear 100 in Utah, USA I’ve put together a bit of a retrospective of the year so-far. This blog is mainly for me, so I can pull together my thoughts and feelings about the last 8 months – but I thought I’d put it out there for anyone vaguely interested in what goes through the mind of someone preparing for a 100 mile race through the mountains.

Training, Racing & Recovery

This year, I didn’t have a plan! Towards the end of 2012 I set myself a budget of £500 and went out and booked-up loads of ultras for the first 6 months of 2013 to keep me busy. I knew there was going to be a ‘destination 100’ at some point in the year, but hadn’t decided on the event at that time. The idea was to use these races as long training runs and so between mid-Jan and mid-May I completed 15 races ranging from 26.2 to 62 miles and also threw in a marathon / 50k on the gym treadmill during some of the worst of the weather.

Somewhere in the middle of this I made the decision to do The Bear. It was a choice between that and Leadville 100 after failing in all the lotteries, (Western States, UTMB, GUCR and the London Marathon – the hardest, longest race on earth – apparently). As it looked a bit mountainous, I added-in some races with some reasonable ascent/descent for good measure.

These long weekend runs became the core of my training in the first 6 months, I didn’t do back-to-backs – and found that I was doing very little running during the week, focusing on cross training and functional strength work, (TRX, cables, stability ball etc…) This was partly due to the weather we experienced in early 2013, and partly just having to listen to my body and recover from the big weekends.

May was a milestone with the Cardiff Ultra where I smashed my 50-mile PB, (I’d also taken considerable chunks off my 50k and 40-mile PB’s along the way). After this my attention turned to the hills and longer distances. UTSW100 and Thunder Run were both going to be 100-mile attempts. I started doing more ‘solo’ runs on the weekend, I’d get the bus/train somewhere and run 30-50 miles unsupported back to another point, often along the Wales Coast Path.

UTSW100 was my first BIG event and also my first DNF. I learnt a lot from that race, I wasn’t emotionally committed to it and hadn’t practiced all the mental preparation I need for a 100-miler. Still, it was an excellent 50-mile / 12 hour through-the-night training run in brutal conditions.

At TR24 I was on target for my goal, (which would have put me on the podium) but felt that achieving the goal would take too much recovery and I’d be better-off retiring at 100km/62-miles in 12 hours, with minimal recovery required to get through the final weeks before The Bear.

After TR24 my attention turned to back-to-back long runs, doing 40-60 miles over Sat/Sun with lots of hills. Fortunately a load of races combined to give me an almost perfect schedule and mix of distance and terrain. More 4am weekend alarm calls, but a great few weeks of running.

I am Tin Man

I am Tin Man

During the final few weeks I’ve dropped off the gym sessions – mainly because of a change in work location, and it meaning a 5am start to get to the gym on Mon/Fri before the commute. I’ve found this REALLY detrimental and having just got back into the routine would have to say that I need to keep these sessions in. Without them, everything starts to seize-up, I guess a bit like the “Tin Man” I need to keep oiled and moving, even if it’s just for 30-minutes or-so.

My other major takeaway from this is that I’ve loved the weekend racing, despite the early weekend alarm calls. It’s taken me all over the country and I’ve been to places and seen stuff I’d never have normally experienced. Some of the coastal routes we have are just breath-taking and we can all run them for free thanks to trails like the Wales Coast Path and the South West Coastal Path.

The people I’ve met, run and raced with are fantastic and I’m proud to call them my friends. As a former Facebook sceptic, the groups I belong to and friends I now have continually inspire me to bigger and better things. There’s always a race to be run somewhere, and someone to offer you advice – these people are more than just friends, they are my kin and while one-or-two may occasionally post useless drivel, (“John is having Lasagne for tea”) most of my news feed is filled with stuff I want to read.

Nutrition

The year started strict paleo. That’s gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, grain-free! Sounds like fun? Well, actually I’d been doing it for a while and felt really, really good on it. My downfall is alcohol – but, that’s OK as red wine and cider is allowed on paleo, (hooray). This was working for me – I can run a (sub-4) marathon on a breakfast of avocado / mackerel with 9bar or-two during the run… No problem…

My nemesis

My nemesis

Then, somewhere along the way I turned this into more of a low-carb approach, it was probably about the time I decided that I missed cups of tea, (no milk on paleo) It may also have been after I went on holiday post the Cardiff Ultra and went on a San Miguel and pizza bender… Maybe?

I like the biology behind the low-carb idea – I’m not going to bore everyone with it here. What I can say that is, when I fall off the wagon, (and it happens regularly) I feel absolutely rubbish for 2-3 days while I detox the refined sugar out of my system and get back on low-carb. Once again, (Tin Man analogy) everything just works better, smoother and more efficiently for me without the sugar, (and by sugar – I don’t mean just the granulated white stuff, I’m talking refined carbohydrates – bread included)

Ultra fuel!

Ultra fuel!

Protein – now there’s another big lesson from this year! After a long run I have to load-up with protein, 50-60g over a couple of hours with 30g immediately after. When I don’t do this then recovery takes a lot longer, a week after the hardest 50-miles of my life at UTSW I did a 40-mile run on the Monmouth & Brecon canal. I truly believe I was only able to achieve this because I focussed on protein and active recovery, (including 8-10 hours sleep a night in a pitch-black room – but that’s another story, for another day)

But, as I said – things change… At the moment I’m still living la vida low-carb, but trying more of a “train low, race high” approach which also seems to work – fig rolls are the ultra-food of choice at the moment and are going to fuel me through my double marathon this weekend.

Gear

There’s also been a few changes in my choice of clothing and kit over the past few months. I’m still wearing minimal shoes with 0-4mm drop, at the gym and on the treadmill I’m still in my Vibram FiveFingers and on the trails use the trusty New Balance MT110’s and also the Merrel Trail Gloves which are mega-comfortable. Road work is in Brooks Green Silence which I’ve stockpiled since they’ve stopped making them – WHY????

Best... Vest... Ever

Best… Vest… Ever

Having moved away from bladders in backpacks last year I’ve now moved onto front-mounted bottles with the Ultimate Direction AK pack which is amazing. Switching-out the supplied hard bottles with Salomon Soft Flasks makes this pack the most comfortable and versatile pack I own. It’s going with me to the USA for The Bear, it should carry everything I need comfortably for 100 miles through the Utah moutains. I’ve recommended it and the soft flasks to so many people now I’ve lost count – nobody has a bad thing to say about it – highly recommended.

Compression – the calf guards and skins shorts have gone. Early in the year I ditched them as an experiment and found I enjoyed running in baggy stuff more, they didn’t seem to improve my performance or decrease the inevitable pain that eventually comes. I still like the Skins recovery tights, though am pretty sure they make no significant difference, maybe it’s just the feeling of compression that is nice after a long run?

Aside from that, my Helly Hansen tops are what I always use – snug fitting and chafe-free they just work. Injinji socks every time and Sudocrem on the feet before putting the socks on. It used to be Vaseline, but I switched to Sudocrem after getting very sore feet at UTSW and haven’t had any issues since.

The Bear

The Bear - They said it was flat...

The Bear 100 elevation profile – double gulp

So, with less that 3 weeks to go before I face-off against The Bear 100, retrospectively it’s been a good year. Yes, I could have run more, I could have run faster, further, longer and higher-up. But I haven’t… What I have done is put in 8 months of consistent hard work, regular weeks of 12-15 hours of training during some of the nastiest, coldest, hottest weather the UK has to offer.

Is that enough? I’ll let you know in a few weeks…

The Bear vs Spartathlon

And finally – for your amusement, and taken from the thread on Fetcheveryone!

On the 27th Sept, the cream, yes THE CREAM, of the British Ultra running elite along with a few fetchies will be tackling the hardest, toughest, most feared race on the planet, no sorry thats the MDS. This bunch will be tackling the 153 mile long Spartathlon! 

However, just to make it a little interesting, over on the other side of the pond, a slightly shorter race is starting about 9hrs later. Three fetchies are taking on The Bear, 100mile race.

Spartathlon starts at 7am (Athens Time) on the 27th, The Bear starts at 6am (Utah Time) on the 27th. So the Spartathletes have an 8hr head start to run an additional 53miles.

Gauntlets have been thrown & it has come to this. 

Whoever finishes last has to run their local parkrun in a Onsie & have it filmed for uploading onto here for our viewing pleasure.

Spartathletes:- Avon, Binks, Els, firemannotsam, ps-66, Mmimi, Mmimi (Mmimi is running the double)
Bearathletes:- GeeeM, vamosprabalada, Traviss

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