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!

Friday, 22 January 2016

Race Report: Country to Capital 2016

Country to Capital; first race of 2016 and my longest run in 2 years!

I went in with big expectations and a big set of targets:-

  • Complete the race
  • Get to the canal feeling good
  • Don't walk in the canal section
  • Beat my 2014 time
  • Go under 08:15
  • Have a finish time that starts with a 7.
TLDR; I hit the top 4 goals.

The longer version...

I decided to stay overnight in Wendover the night before.  I like sleep and given the race start of 08:45, with a request to have folks not on the train up from London that morning to be registered by 08:15 I thought it'd just be nicer that way.  This meant I had to take everything I needed to work and wear my kit all day on Friday due to needing to save space in the 1 reasonably-sized drop bag allowed for the race.  Good thing I have no shame really, as it meant looking like a PE teacher all day.

The morning of the race, I had breakfast prepared with me - an avocado, two hard-boiled eggs and some cream cheese that I mashed together and ate after registering at The Shoulder of Mutton race HQ.  I met with @UltraBoyRuns, his partner and baby and @ChiltonDiva who was running her first ultra.  We got ready & chatted in the pub as it filled up and tried to work out exactly how muddy it was going to be on the way to the canal.

My amazing coach @jameselsons was running and gave me a quick hug & a cheery "enjoy it!" just before the start and not long after that, with drop bags safely stowed in the van to Paddington, the race was started.
@jameselsons at the finish (having just won), looking remarkably mud free in his quilted jacket!
The fear about slippery mud for a large proportion of the first 21 miles to the canal quickly evaporated.  The mud was pretty much frozen solid and there were only small patches of pretty thick ice to contend with as well as queueing for some stiles and kissing gates in the first couple of miles.

It was basically a lot easier going than in 2014 with the lack of slippery mud and the only real hindrance I had in the first half was not trusting the breadcrumb trail I had loaded onto my Garmin a couple of times and following the herd only to add 0.6 miles to the route.  Hey ho.

So I got to the canal with no real idea of how I was going in terms of time as I'd been deliberately not looking at the mile splits on my watch as they came up, but I felt pretty good.  As I turned onto the canal, the thought was; "Right! Time to crank up the diesel engine and just steady pace to the end from here."  And I set off at what felt like a reasonably steady pace.

The first mile split ticked by and I took a look. 10:32 for that first mile made me quite happy as it felt slower.  The next mile split... 10:32 and I felt pretty good about that.  Then the next mile felt the same, but when I looked at the time... 11:32.  Hm.  OK, it could be a GPS error or something.  The next mile felt exactly the same again, but... 12:21.  My heart sank.  My inner monologue was threatening that if the next mile wasn't good, well, I don't know what but it wasn't happy.

And it wasn't great but not quite as bad.  11:17 for that mile, but already my brain was sunk.  An 11 minute mile after that would have made me feel OK, but I fiddled with my watch for some reason and stumbled across a screen that told me that my estimated total time for a finish was now 8 hours and 40 minutes.

So, lo and behold, I had a tantrum.  I texted Mr TOTKat in a funk.  He had a go at making me feel better but there wasn't a lot to be done at this point and my brain was going to go to the bottom before it could turn around again.  So having got the texting tantrum out of the way, I burst into tears and heaving sobs with a good old wheeze like a dying donkey.  And I walked through the tantrum until I talked myself into getting running again; partly to just get to the finish in less than another 5 hours, and partly because despite 8 hours 40 really not being what I'd wanted out of the day, it was still going to be a PB.  Of course with the walking tantrum, I lost another few minutes so 08:40 became 08:55 estimated finish (as Garmin works on moving average pace or similar).

I had a further melt down which was actually worse than the first, and I walked through it, but I sort of realised that it was related to the Gingerbread Man wanting to pay a visit.  Which eventually became non-negotiable and I had to make use of my shit kit in some pretty scrappy bushes.  I was also stiffening up from the cold combined with not moving as quickly as I was in the first section - I ended up having to vigorously rub my hips & quads to get some warmth into them a good few times.

Checkpoint 4 came and went just after 15:10 and I was glad not to be paired with another runner as is laid out in the checkpoint information (runners must be paired if leaving the checkpoint after 3pm).  Checkpoint 5 hit just as the sun was going down and I was well after the pairing up threshold of course, but... no pairing up!  Pretty relieved about that as I was worried I'd be paired up with someone who had left all their beans out in the first half and would want to walk a lot.  To be fair, the chap who left CP5 shortly before me then run/walked at exactly the same pace I was running at until the final couple of miles when he finally overtook me (to beat me by about a minute in the end), so I could have paired with him just fine.  We had a good old laugh about that for a few miles.

I cracked open a glow-stick to put in my rear mesh pocket so that cyclists coming up behind me could see me in the dark, and had my fabulous head torch (upside down which keeps the glare out of my eyes) on for seeing the towpath after sunset as there's no lighting.

The final few miles, I jogged pretty slowly but determinedly to the end; feeling a lot less mushed in the brain, but disappointed that I'd not gone as quickly as I'd've liked.

Finishing in 08:48:45 I beat my 2014 time by 10 minutes and 15 seconds.  Yeah, the going was easier in the first section, but there are a few things that I need to keep in perspective:-
  • This time last year it was a two weeks before I began to re-learn how to walk
  • This is the furthest I've run in one day in 2 years
  • I was a couple of kg lighter last time I ran this race and still running off the back of Ironman training fitness
So. All in all, a good start to the year.  And a great long-sleeved t-shirt to remember it by!  I have no idea what the checkpoint food was like apart from CP3 where the savoury snacks were and I had a micro pork pie that took me a mile to eat while I jogged on.  The checkpoint volunteers were great though and helped brilliantly with filling bottles etc. while standing around on a really cold day.

Monday, 4 January 2016

2015 - The Year of Recovery

2015 was never going to be a year of amazing races, having had my ankle chopped open, my anterior talo-fibular ligament (the one that stops you from twisting your ankle when it's working properly) sliced in half, a couple of bits of metal tapped into my bones and some plastic string sewn into them to strengthen up the whole thing.  Given that I was in a plaster cast and on crutches at the beginning of the year and not allowed put any weight on that foot still until I got an air boot on 17th January and then was allowed put weight on that foot without the boot 2 weeks later... any running was totally off until March.  It then turned out that once I was allowed out of the air boot, I had to learn how to walk again having not felt anything touch the bottom of my foot since the start of December 2014.  And that kinda cramped my style running-wise on top of the 4 months of zero aerobic (or even any load bearing) exercise.

I was terrified that I'd be totally back to zero.  Everyone told me that was rubbish and that I was fit and it'd take no time, but that only really applies to life-long athletes, or at least those who have been pretty fit for many years.  And that's not me.

And it did take a while.  A really good while.  And I'm still not quite there yet.  The graph above is the effects of my last 2 years of training. The blue curve is my chronic training load - long term training effect on fitness which you can read as "fitness level". (Pink is acute training load, so the huge spike is when I ran the Thames Path, then a flatline afterward when I did literally nothing, not even walking; and yellow is "freshness", so again a huge drop during Thames Path and then a big recovery when I sat on my bum for 4 months.)

2015 did, however, see some PBs of the 1/2 marathon variety.  Which was quite nice.  But I bottled a marathon and did rather averagely at a multi-day ultra.  That said, I hit the ultras again pretty early on in the recovery, which was a great psychological boost at the time.

Now that I'm pretty much recovered, in 2016 I want to get back to doing what I want to do, not what a broken bit of body limits me to.  So, after I've got Country to Capital out of the way (a silly little 43ish mile race), I'm knuckling down to a quick & dirty marathon then it's time to hit the 50 milers.

I want to do the Centurion Running 50 Mile Grand Slam this year.  And have a go at a 100 miler.  So let's see what happens!