Learning Lessons

It has been a while since I have written something here, mainly because I didn’t really have too much to say.  This year has been a bit of a write off on the running front, which is OK I guess as we can’t keep going further, higher, faster forever and sometimes life gets in the way.

Not running much means that Helen and I have spent a lot of time this year helping out at races either marshaling, sweeping or just generally doing what needs done to make a race happen.

I am lucky enough to have some interesting races lined up for next year:  London Marathon, Miwok 100, and West Highland Way take care of the first half of the year. Hopefully another trip to Chamonix for UTMB week in August as well. This has helped restore my motivation, and touching wood, I have had a consistent few weeks slowly building a base for next year’s big efforts.

A couple of hours on the trail yesterday gave me the headspace to reflect on what I have learned this year from all the watching I have done. So what lessons have I learned about what makes successful ultra runners?

  1. Unless you are at the very sharp end success is not defined by where you finish, that is often down to age and genetics, it is how you finish that defines success.
  2. You can’t bluff it. If you haven’t done the training, it will come back and bite you on the bum.
  3. Happy runners are successful runners. Those who smile and chat and enjoy the experience do much better than those who huff and puff and toil.
  4. Successful runners plan carefully, but are flexible and roll with whatever the day throws at them. They don’t over think kit and nutrition.
  5. Stress kills performance. Doesn’t matter whether it is work stress, personal stress or race stress, but too much of it and you can’t train or race successfully. See point 3.
  6. Successful runners are lean. No getting away from it, excess weight kills performance. That doesn’t mean you have to be skinny to run, and plenty runners carry too much weight (me included), but being at your optimum weight undoubtedly helps.
  7. Successful runners race judiciously. Too many people suffer from FOMO and do too many races or races which are a step beyond their current capabilities. See point 5. and point 2.
  8. Successful runners are consistent. They train consistently and build up carefully and steadily to their races. Too many people end up in a cycle of boom and bust, playing catch up from injuries, doing too much, then getting hurt or burning out. See points 2, 3, 4 and 5.

My prescription for myself for 2016 therefore is:

Train patiently, manage work/life balance better, lose weight and the hardest of all – smile more and enjoy it!

 

The Highland Fling – Tyndrum to Crianlarich

On a sunny day I took myself for a run on the section of the West Highland Way heading south from Tyndrum.

This is the reverse of the way the route is normally travelled.

On the way I tried out my new camera with some mixed results.  The following clips are unedited, apart from the Auchtertyre demon sheep.

The first mile was sunny with spectacular views. This is the last mile of the Highland Fling race. The only things disturbing the peace are my heavy footsteps

The next section is a pleasant run past the farm at Auchtertyre, on by the ruins of the church at St Fillans and down to the A82 road crossing. This video contains some high speed sheep

Across the road and into the forest is the undulating section to Bogle Glen known as the Rollercoaster.  18 minutes of heavy breathing as I tried to run all the way over some pretty steep hills. Confession – didn’t make it had to walk a few steps on the very last up! The scenery is nice and hopefully the soundtrack is reminiscent of the extended version of Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby 😉

 

 

The Highland Fling

On a sunny day I took myself for a run on the section of the West Highland Way from Tyndrum to Beinglas Farm.

This is the reverse of the way the route is normally travelled.

On the way I tried out my new camera

The infamous Cow Poo Alley was quite dry for a change

Down to the road crossing

Under the road and through the Cattle Creep

Running along Glen Falloch

This clip shows the approach to Derrydarroch Cottage from the North

Don’t Panic Mr Mainwaring

I have been feeling poorly these last few days.  Might have been man flu. Might have been jet lag, but running was either rubbish or didnt happen at all.

I had a reasonably good November/December where I ran every day for 32 days and started to build mileage sensibly, and even though a Christmas day flight with Champagne and Caviar scuppered this year’s Marcothon effort, I still managed to run a pretty solid time for the Boxing Day 10 miler in Hamilton, Ontario.

After that I swapped running for holidaying and only managed one run in the following week.

2015 arrived with a big fat zero in the training log and a big fat jump on the scales. I tried a run one day and managed all of 2 horrible miles on aching legs, and with that abject failure my running career was over. At least according to Private Fraser bouncing around in my head yelling “We’re Doomed! Doomed I tell ye!”

Fast forward a couple of days and feeling a wee bit brighter I jumped on the treadmill after work for the scheduled Yasso 800 session fully expecting another fail. The first few minutes of the very slow warm up were yucky and I nearly chucked it. Legs weren’t working properly at all, but slowly minute after minute they warmed up until there was no more room for excuses, time to hit the first interval. It was so hard! By the time I reached the end of the interval I thought my legs were going to fall off. The second interval  was nearly as bad. Somehow, as if by magic, the third interval wasn’t too bad at all and the fourth was actually relatively easy. And so it continued.

Maybe I will still be able to run this year after all.

Lesson learned?

1. You don’t lose fitness overnight so don’t panic about missing a few days

2. Don’t stop just because it doesn’t feel good. Ease into it slowly and if you keep going fitness will prevail.

3. Intervals 3 and 4 are always easier than 1 and 2. Remember this fact.

4. If you know all of the above don’t be a drama queen just because things aren’t quite going to plan

Quit while you are ahead

The second half of last year saw me injured with an achilles injury which took nearly 6 months to get better.  Since January my achilles has been behaving, though it still niggles,  but I have also been struck down with plantar fasciatis, a sore ankle caused by bruised cartilege, a long running sinus infection, and a really busy work schedule.

Foremost in my mind has been my appointment in Hopkinton on Monday April 21st and the need to get there in one piece.

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Boston ’13 eyeing up the finish line

Now normally when I train, I am  of the blood,  sweat and snotters school of training.  No finesse but lots of effort.

This year, with so many ailments I have had to adopt a painfully cautious approach to training.  I have tried to follow the 10% rule, upping my mileage slowly. I have been disciplined in my long runs, turning back early in some of the long group runs on the West Highland Way when it would have been easier just to slog them out with my chums who were all running longer. Turning back when you are competitive is really hard. I even dropped out of the D33 race at 25 miles because my foot just wasn’t right. My first ever DNF  and those who know me will appreciate how painful that is.

I have done next to no speed work. My usual set of Yasso 800’s has slipped off my plan. Even tempo runs have been done at about 80%.  I started training without a base and whereas last year I was running 200-250 miles per month this year I have been in the region of 175-190.  This time last year I raced a pretty speedy half marathon and got a new PB. This year I haven’t raced at all.  Not even a parkrun.

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Boston ’14 training miles

 

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Boston ’13 training miles

 

I am  undertrained. I have no speed.  I feel like I am about 4-6 weeks away from full fitness, so having been cautious all year, I am going to have to keep the caution going and run the race with my head and not with my heart which is what usually gets me into trouble anyway.

My mantra throughout this whole training programme has been to quit while I’m ahead.

So where does that leave me?

First off it means that barring accidents I am uninjured and ready to go run Boston. Success!

My goal for race day? To run safely and sensibly for 20 miles and get over heartbreak hill with 6 miles to go and be feeling strong.  If I can do that then I should be in with a chance of beating last year’s time. The trick will be to resist the temptation to push on and to remember where I am now, not where I used to be and tailor my ambitions accordingly.

Despite being tedious at times, I have plodded through the last 16 weeks doing what had to be done, to be safe rather than sorry. It has been frustrating and it hasn’t been enjoyable, but it has been successful and I will be on the start line with a semblance of fitnes

It is now taper time, and I will be getting wrapped in cotton wool because at the moment I am just about ahead, so definitely time to quit until race day.

 

 

Every Day is a School Day

Black Mount
Hopefully the road to Glencoe will be easier for runners in June

I have just spent a couple of days at the Highland Fling training weekend in Tyndrum. Although I am not running either the Fling or the WHW this year it was good to spend time with like minded souls, enjoy some wine and some hard training.

I spent some time running with Amanda Hamilton who is building up to her first West Highland Way Race this year and we had a chat about what worked for me as well as what went wrong as I ran my first WHW race last year.  I am sure that Amanda will have a strong race as she has her head screwed on the right way and is putting in the hard miles.

So what would I do differently next time?

1. I would practice running during the night.  When I left Milngavie I had no problem running in the dark, but I did have a big problem with my body clock not wanting to start running at 1 am and I really struggled to maintain what would normally have been an easy pace at the start of the race.

2. I would do more long slow runs. I struggle for patience in long runs and tend to rush them to get them over and done with as soon as possible, so while I had the distance in my legs, I didn’t necessarily have the time in my head.

3. Getting carried away and charging over to Glencoe like a demented warthog may have felt great at the time, but I probably suffered for it later.  Resist the temptation to rush.

4. Spend less time at checkpoints. Despite having a strict plan for my checkpoint times, time seemed to slip away, especially later in the day.

5. Don’t worry about the weigh-in. I was getting a bit light when I left Auchtertyre, even though I felt absolutely fine and it worried both me and my crew in case I would have a problem in Kinlochleven. This resulted in me spending time at our van trying to feed up before I went in to the Leisure Centre. Daft when you look back on it sitting outside in the cold and dark when I could have been inside in the warm.  Kinlochleven checkpoint is a great place. If you are well, no-one will pull you from the race. Get inside and feel the tough love being dished out.

6. The haggis and beer at the ski centre probably wasn’t a great idea either even though I enjoyed them at the time.  I think I would probably try to eat more real food earlier in the race and stick to softer food in the second half.

As for the things I got right there are probably a few

1. Do the training miles but don’t do them too early and try not to  get mileage envy of the nutters who are knocking out 40 mile runs at christmas.

2. Know the route inside out

3. Have a training plan and trust it. Don’t chop and change just because you hear someone else threw in an extra long run and don’t get sucked into going on every social training run just to be part of the gang.

4. Get a support crew you trust absolutely. Your needs become very childlike in the race and your crew needs to know when you need and cuddle and when you need a spank.

My final tip is that there are many ways to skin a cat and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. You need to experiment early in the year with gear, mileage and nutrition so that when it gets to the business end you are settled on the logistics and all you need to worry about is running.

And finally no matter what you get right or wrong, at times it will get horrible and dark, but if you keep going, no matter how slowly, it won’t get any worse and might even get better, but either way, you will make it to Fort William.

Inadvertantly Mooned

bartInadvertantly Mooned

Somehow, someone ended up on my blog today by searching the web for the phrase “inadvertantly mooned”. This is a tad surprising on two counts: first that someone would search for pages relating to inadvertant mooning and secondly that my blog contains that very phrase!

Which is a slightly different start to tonight’s post than intended, but the subject matter is related.

Tonight’s lesson is from the book of John the Hobbler and is on the subject of humility.

My run tonight consisted of 2.5 miles spread out over 45 seconds walking/45 seconds running, with the running at a feeble 15 mins/mile pace. It was probably my best run for 7 weeks.  It probably didn’t look very impressive to the burly 20 something lad who bounced towards me with that smug look of superiority on his face.  It probably didn’t look very impressive to the passengers in the steady stream of cars whizzing along the busy road I was running beside. I couldn’t quite tell whether the glances in my direction were sympathy or amusement.

One thing which is certain is that I wasn’t impressing anyone with my running prowess.

It is difficult to accept that this is my current level of performance, but even if I ran with a banner proclaiming ” I ran the West Highland Way” it wouldn’t alter the fact that at the moment I can’t run more than 45 seconds at a time.  If it is true that you are only as good as your last run, then my last run was nothing to write home about. That isn’t to diminish how I used to run, but how I used to run is sod all use to me today.

So I have to try to run with humility.  In the words of Dirty Harry “A man’s gotta know his limitations”.  The sure way to get re-injured is to run with your ego not your brain.  Try to do more than you are able to and your body will break down. Or to continue with the film quotes as they told Tom Cruise in Top Gun “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash! ”

And as for the blog, while I may think it is flowing prose, to the world it is just Inadvertant Mooning.