Saturday, 9 July 2016

NDW100: One month to go...

It's one month until my first attempt at the 100 mile distance.  Having absolutely loved North Downs Way 50, and the South Downs much less so, the choice was to go for North Downs Way 100.

The North Downs Way is simply gorgeous.  And it's a bit hilly.  So for annual holiday this year, we decided to spend a couple of weeks in the Lake District, which would give me lots of mountain trails to get into my legs as a bit of conditioning.

Mmm, contour lines.
Elevation... ooo...elevation...
It was the most glorious fortnight.  Sunny and mild for the first week.

Glorious views, climbs over rocks...

And fun little descents in the sunshine.

Did I mention the steps yet?

Then in the second week it got a bit more serious, I ran more by myself and the rain came in.

Sometimes we got wet, sometimes we didn't.

Sometimes it was pretty much scrambling, never mind hiking.

And more steps.  Good practice for North Downs Way!

So, all in all some pretty good endurance gains, hiking and steps practice and testing out wet weather gear pretty seriously (I got drenched for hours and had a tantrum when I got back to the cottage from one particular solo run - turned around and went straight back out to the shops and bought new stuff!)

Now it's 4 weeks out from the race and the nerves are already closing in.  Am I fit enough?  Am I too heavy for my strength capabilities?  Will I get blisters from shoes I want to run in?  I've never run further than 52 miles in one day, what will happen to me after 60, 70, 80 miles?  How will I cope with sleep deprivation?  Some of the answers are obvious and nothing to be worried about, but some need more thinking about and discussion with CoachJames.

I've already sorted out the pack/kit I will be carrying on the day (after freaking out on a test run home with 2.5kg pack) and I'm happy with the weight.

Full pack & kit inside the dry sack I'll be using to keep it dry (even if it doesn't rain, I'll sweat through my pack and get things wet).  Add 1kg water to take it up to 1.9kg at a maximum, add ~150g for a base layer and I'm happy.

Especially when I get to not carry this for the first 50 miles, so I can deduct 200g from the pack for the first half.

Some of the worries are diminishing, but some are still there and new ones will come up I'm sure - human brains are great at sabotaging themselves.

I've still got work to do before 6am on race day - a 16 mile run with full kit on a hilly route tomorrow (so, hey, why not the North Downs Way!?), 38 miles next week, 46 miles the week after that, 142 miles the week after that (because I'm an idiot, but it'll be at *super* easy effort), and 6 miles in the week leading up to the Saturday of the race.  I'll have run the first 25 miles of the route 3x before race day, the next 10 miles 4x, the first 50 miles of it twice and the rest once.  I'm not so great at remembering routes, so recce runs can be quite lost on me, but I'm sure it can do nothing but help in this case.  Having run one of the hills twice already, it was way less horrible the second time and I knew it was coming.

So, yes, I need to keep focused and keep trucking with the sessions and the mileage and not get stressy, bored, distracted or lazy just yet.  And see how I feel in the huge mileage week.  It could wreck everything, but I'm taking measures as best I can to see that it doesn't.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Memories of being fat: 10 years on...

On May 8th 2006 I came out of a GP appointment for a chest infection with more than just anti-biotics. I came out shocked and with my bum well and truly kicked. The doctor also said "you're rather overweight aren't you?", plopped me on the scales and I was horrified to see it saying 94kg, then she took my blood pressure and said I needed to be monitored as it was quite high.

Packed off with a prescription for anti-biotics and an appointment for a follow-up blood pressure appointment in a month with the nurse, I left with a switch in my head flipped. I didn't know it at the time, but this was a huge turning point in my life and instrumental in completely changing my life.

Over the coming months, I took positive action by keeping a food diary and learning about the nutritional content of the food I was eating. I pretty much always had cooked everything from scratch, but portion sizes had crept upwards and with the proportion of carbs in the meals, I was "happily" eating more than I needed.  Though I ate little sugar, I ate a lot of pasta, rice, potatoes and tons of bread.

After 3 months of focused effort, which involved a dramatic cut in the amount of starchy foods (Restricting myself to 50g bread per week! One chunk of crusty baguette at the weekend.), I hit my first weight target of "healthy BMI" (for me that was 72kg). OK there were a few tantrums and tears along the way (mostly because I was missing bread), but compared with a lot of people I had a pretty easy ride with no real plateaus.  Much frustration came from "knowing" that fat was fattening yet not wanting to eat synthetic or highly processed foods instead and not having the knowledge to tackle that.  And just skimming a healthy BMI, especially being very inactive (OK I walked a lot, but that's it), didn't mean I felt (or in my opinion) looked great. So I set a new goal of 67kg which was right in the middle of the "healthy BMI" range and reached that a couple of months later.  Then down to about 64kg shortly after that, in late 2007.

Skip forward to 2009 and I was happy that I felt so slim and could buy clothes in pretty much any shop I fancied, but was "weak like kitten" and wasn't happy about that.  So took up weight training and did that for a while, loved it and, having taken up a bit of light cycling in 2007 and being a swimmer as a child, started to run a bit so I could do triathlons and did my first in 2010.  But still calorie counting to keep my weight in check.


This culminated in 2012 with a bunch of Ironman races and a great time of it.  But one of the important things I learned from Ironman was that I did not want to be stuffing bars and gels down me to get through a race and I put a few pounds back on too - up to 67kg.  Calorie counting seemed to be how it would have to be for the rest of my life and that didn't seem like a great prospect, nor like it should be right.

Cue an un-prompted intervention from Dr Tamsin Lewis, who recommended "Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It", by Gary Taubes and that changed my life even more.  I devoured many more books on the topic, grabbed some practical help on recipes from a couple of books (like Raising Superheroes, by Prof Tim Noakes) and changed my diet pretty much overnight.  No more calorie counting and messing about figuring out how much I needed for a ride or a run or how much I could have when I was starving, because I stopped getting the ridiculous hunger and the weight dropped off a bit again too.

I ended up being featured in a few "inspirational" articles...

Then I dropped triathlon at the end of 2013, despite having had a great year that year as part of a fantastic amateur triathlon team.  Everyone else on the team was an elite athlete, winners of all sorts of incredible races like Norseman and age group podium places at the Ironman World Championships.

Triathlon was making me put too much pressure on myself.  Seriously, I was better than average but no more than that and surrounded by so many high performing athletes a lot of the time. I was enjoying doing quite well (i.e. better than average), but the process was draining me mentally and needed more time than I was happy giving to get better.

So, I took up ultra marathons ('cause yeah, why not focus on the one discipline of triathlon you're worst at :o) ) and haven't looked back.  

Keeping mostly Low Carb, High Fat with excursions every now and then - some really good fresh bread with a special meal, a dessert a few times in the year etc. and whatever I feel like *during* ultras.  I had blood work done to validate that everything was in a good place on the insides - and it is.

Now it's 2016 and aside from a little more wine than I probably should have, I'm still Low Carb living, still running ultra marathons and still maintaining 30kg of weight loss since that day in 2006.

It *is* possible to be a healthy weight, have a healthy body in terms of fitness and wellness, and not be hungry or have cravings and it *is* possible to keep it like that. But it takes some education and a lifestyle change if you didn't start out that way.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Race Report: NDW50 2016

I couldn't have a better topic for my 800th post in this iteration of my blog. (Thanks to James Craig Simpson, Ben Pine and Steve Wellsted from the Centurion Facebook group for the photos I didn't take in this post.)

Thanks for the day go to: James Elson (for being a great coach, a brilliant race director and finding such a stunning route for this race), Nici Griffin (for lots of things, especially threatening to charge me for transporting my race number if I didn't end up using it all the way to the end!), every single volunteer (you guys make this special and you work so hard), Louise Ayling (for being there, popping up at unexpected places, being encouraging and, though she'd hate it, inspiring!) and MrTOTKat (for driving me around and burbling at me via texts).

The North Downs Way 50 is the best ultra I have run. The course is stunningly beautiful...

Most of it is in woodlands along woodland trails (go look at the Google Street View images - it's the first National Trail that's been covered by the trekker cameras).  I can't describe how perfect that is for me.  It's the vision I have of ultras and so many don't deliver that.  So many end up along the side of main roads for a large proportion, through industrial estates, down the back of chemical/power plants, through the local area where everyone seems to fly tip, etc.  But this route is almost all woodlands, with some open expanses where you have views down from the hill you just climbed and a few trots through pretty little villages.

After the first 24-25 miles of undulating/rolling trail and a little switchback to cross under the A24 so you don't die crossing it; you come to the bottom of Box Hill and the stepping stones.

The organisation is so slick and friendly...

Useful info at the checkpoints.

Easy to spot and welcoming!

And just look at that spread!  Cherry tomatoes are perfect and there was fresh pineapple at a later station - soooo good to perk things up.

Where else would there be a "bacon boat"? With the Centurion Running "Naval Division" and a Stormtrooper handing out bacon sandwiches! It was absolutely perfect, unexpected and not only a needed salty hit but a good giggle at the sight of a Stormtrooper.

You cannot possibly get lost - you'd have to try really hard!  The whole route is on the North Downs Way National Trail which is well marked with the usual little acorn symbol, but on top of that there are bright orange chalk paint arrows and lots of red & white stripy tape to give you the confidence you're on the right track (all removed by sweeper runners following the cut-off times).

And the profile is nicely challenging without being so tough it makes you cry (but the *steps*!)

There are quite a lot of steps. Many many up, and later on when legs are getting a bit used, lots down too (ow!).

The day was perfect; weather was 6-12 degrees, sunny and light breezes every now and then.  The shade of the trees kept the sunburn at bay though I am a little pink in places the morning after.  I did manage to throw myself down a couple of descents onto hands & knees so they got a bit scraped up.

The second trip and fall was the only time I had a dark moment in the whole run - which is phenomenal.  No thoughts at all of "why am I bothering?" etc. apart from 15 seconds or so after the second fall.  And then in the last 3 miles, I tripped AGAIN! But this time, I yelled "seriously!", recovered it without hitting the deck. Yay!

The first half, as I said, is undulating/rolling and the second half is pretty lumpy.  This means you get to half way in much less than half of the total time.  Which can be a bit difficult to mentally deal with unless you're really ready for it.  Having gone out and recced the lumpiest bit of the route by chance, I was pretty ready for it.  And James had prepared me for it well too.  5 hours for the first half, but 6 and a half for the second half.  Yes you're more fatigued in the second half, but there's a lot more up and down in that half.

As the National Trail guide says... "more challenging" (a little understated for a run rather than a walk).

Overall I really enjoyed myself. I had a great day out. Yes stuff hurts at the end and there are aches the next day, but it was beautiful, safe, challenging and really spirit-lifting stuff! I can see why it's the race with the highest return rate. Thank you Centurion Running! (and thank you to all of the volunteers!)

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Race report: Seville Marathon 2016

The target was 03:59:59 and it was going to be a stretch.  For that time, I'd have to do 26.2 miles at only a few seconds per mile slower than my half marathon PB from September.  On average only 17s/mile slower including any congestion, water and/or wee stops.  Quite a big mental stretch especially given what happened at the Lee Valley Marathon in October (I stopped at 1/2 way as I simply couldn't keep any kind of pace (and my shoes were hurting)).  That and the last time I actually finished a marathon, I was 3kg lighter.

One of the streets on the route - I don't remember it at all, I saw a lot of yellow balloon...
Seville is also quite pretty.  I'd been there very many years ago with a university friend of mine and we mooched around the old part of the city but this trip wouldn't have much sightseeing really.  Arriving late on Friday, Saturday a lie-in and a trip to pick up race numbers etc. from the (not that exciting) expo - the expo at Rotterdam was muuuch better.  And then up early on Sunday to go run.

And that's what we did - via meeting some of @abradypus'  running club mates as well as some of the Centurion running team (including @jameselsons, my coach :o) ) at the expo and then for dinner.

Cutting a 4ish hour race story short - I set my watch for a target pace that would get me 03:59:xx and stood in the start pen right behind the 4 hour pacer with his enormous yellow balloon.  And I stayed mostly behind him for the first 30km (EU race, everything is in km), getting banged on the head every now and then by the balloon bouncing around and thinking "03:59:59" as a mantra.  Every time I started to doubt, thinking "03:59:59".

Ignore the total time - I stopped my watch oddly.
The pacer didn't slow through the water stations; someone else got a bottle and brought it to him.  So, as I slowed to take water every other aid station after the first 10km as the temperature rose, I had to catch back up to the pacer with a bit of extra effort.  Which got pretty tricky after a while.

I got to 18km and was really happy that I felt pretty OK - having had the wheels fall off at Rotterdam at 18km, I was worried that setting off at a spicy pace again this time could end the same way.  20km came and still good, 25km... 28km and a bit of grit started to be needed.  I was a bit fed up with having a balloon hit me quite so much, and some annoying short guy in a green vest cut me up every few km but was hanging on to the 4 hour bus still thinking "03:59:59".  There wasn't any shade from the sun any more and I was starting to get too hot.  30km... and I don't remember much until 34km when I was so hot I had to dump cup after cup of water over me, drenching me completely - at which point I peed myself quite thoroughly, which was a surprise.  At least it meant I was drinking plenty enough :o)  I had a massive maths fail though (unsurprisingly for while running), 8km to go... that's about 75 mins to the finish and looking at the time, I worked out that'd mean I'd finish around 04:12.  Not happy with that, I lost heart for a little while, but persuaded myself to try to get as close to 4 hours as I could.  Yeah.  Running maths.  Gotta love it.

I just about caught the 4 hour pacer up again after that extended, slow walk through the water station but at the next one I had to do the same again and totally lost the pacer.  Never saw him again after that.  As I'd thought I was looking at a best case of 04:08 (more fabulous maths) I walked a little up one of the alleyways shortly before the 40km mark, saw that marker and then made a deal with myself to run to the finish from there as it was only 2ish km.  My watch said 03:51:xx.  That perked me up a hell of a lot!  I still wouldn't make sub-4, but I'd still get close to 4.

26.2 miles on the watch, I hit the lap button so I could have a "technical" marathon time vs the race route time.  When I set up my watch for pacing, I set a pace range "until lap button press" but no cool down section.  I thought I'd hit the lap button and get a 26.2 Garmin split and then hit stop at the finish line itself.  What I totally forgot was that if you don't set a segment after the lap button press to end the main workout segment... IT STOPS THE TIMER COMPLETELY!  And I didn't notice that happen when I hit the lap button.  So when I rounded the running track, leap-frogging the walkers who were on the inside lane, and finally crossed the line I hit the stop button.

Weaving through the other finishers, I cursed a lot like I did at Rotterdam.  Though there were easily accessibly plastic blankets to keep us warm, the folks giving out medals were hard to find and there was no bloody water!  Why do race organisers do this!?  OK so there was a water station at 40km but I didn't bother with that one thinking I'd get water at the end.  Hah!

Weirdly, cadence dropped off more than pace. But you can clearly see where I slowed right down at the later water stations to cool down.
I needed to find MrTOTKat and wasn't sure where he might wait for me.  After wandering with other finishers for a little while, I decided to look at my watch to see what time I might have got.  It was still running!  Gah!  So I hit stop, not realising what had happened earlier.  It said 04:02:51.  Cor!

Little bit bloody - lottle bit stinking of piss at the end.
 I found MrTOTKat; he was quite light headed and both of us needed to get out of the stadium to somewhere less echoey and loud.  Grabbing a couple of finishers' goody bags (can of Coke, bottle of water, an orange and a chocolate wafer) we got out and sat down for a little while.  I even drank the whole can of Coke, which at the time was glorious!

The official finishing time being released revealed what happened with my watch at the end of the race.  I'd actually ended up stopping it when it thought I'd done 26.2 miles, it didn't record the next bit until I hit stop(start) at the finish line, so it then recorded while I was wandering around after the finish line until I saw that the timer was running and stopped it.

This race was much nicer than Rotterdam - staying near the start/finish was a great idea.  There were plentiful pacers, water every 2.5km-ish and no worry about running out of water or having to wait long between stations.  Road surfaces were a bit rough in places and sticky in the latter stages going through and after water/fuel stations but I'd be very happy to go back and have another go.  Sub-4 is definitely possible!