Saturday, 28 January 2012

Training - a bit of discipline maybe......

Well, there was a bit of disappointment in not getting a place in the UTMB ballot but I see many people I know had similar bad news so that's life I suppose. It will seem strange missing out on the Chamonix party for the first time in seven years but I've opted not to transfer to the TDS and instead take my guaranteed UTMB place in 2013.  I'm thinking about a Plan B and should have something sorted out in a week or two, but the hiatus has prompted me to think a bit about training. I don't normally post about this sort of stuff but I'm interested in what others do so here's my bit for the year.

Anyone who follows my ramblings will remember that I went for a performance assessment back in November, the result of which was that I was advised that I was good at running very slowly, but if I wanted to get better results I was going to have to put a bit of effort in on some faster-paced work. Well, I tried, really I did. I went out and did the tempos and the intervals and whatever, but I just didn't enjoy it. I was perpetually knackered and started to feel I didn't want to go out at all This isn't what running's all about, I told myself, we do it for fun not as a chore. So I went back to my old ways, a few runs here and there as I felt like it, and I turned up for my last two ultras of the year in the Brecons and the Lakes and enjoyed them. I convinced myself that running quickly wasn't really required, for ultras it's time on your feet that counts, that's what everyone says, right?

Then over the Christmas period, people started reviewing their year's efforts, and some of the details were interesting. A lot of runners who don't have my sort of free time to go out for two or three longish outings a week do a lot of shorter faster stuff  -  and get much better results than I do. Well, they may just be better runners (what do I mean "may"?) but it made me think again. A bit of guilt, maybe. Perhaps I hadn't given it a fair chance. So on the dot of Jan 1st, I started again.  This time I was determined not to overdo it, but to make a sensible controlled effort. So for the past four weeks my schedule has been like this:

1. A steady run of 7-10 miles a shade faster than marathon pace (which for me is 8 minute miles)
2. A 40 minute tempo run. I'm averaging 7:15 minute miles now, trying to get this down to 7:00. I find this the hardest session of the week.
3. An interval session, combination of 4, 5, and 6 minute intervals totaling 24/25 minutes now, working up to 30 minutes, 2 minutes recovery between intervals. At present my pace is around 6:40, I'm trying to get this down to 6:30.
4. A steady 5 mile run but doing two sprints (50m and 100m) during each mile, while keeping the overall average pace just below 8:00.  I enjoy this one, but it's harder than it sounds.
5. A steady run of 10-15 miles, around or just over marathon pace. Every two weeks I'm allowed to replace this with a longer trail run!

It's needed a bit of persistence, but this time I think I'm getting there. Every fourth week I'm planning to miss out one of the faster sessions to get a bit of a rest, but I'm intending to keep it going for at least twelve weeks to see what effect it has. I got the impression I was missing out a lot of miles so I did some comparisons with last year and found that this isn't necessarily the case. I compared the first four weeks of this year with the four weeks before last year's Highland Fling (excluding the taper week) and the four weeks before the Lakeland 100 (again, not the taper week):

                        Miles below     Miles between      Miles over     Total Miles
                          8:00 pace        8:00 and 9:00      9:00 pace
April 2011              25                      56                     77                 158
July 2011                 7                       27                    130                164
Jan 2012                 59                      41                     55                 155

So similar miles, just shorter and faster.  It should be interesting to see how it goes from here.

A couple of weeks ago I went for 20 miles along one of my local trails. Cold, clear air. Bright low sunlight over frozen ground. Woods, hills, lakes, steps and stiles, rocks and tree roots. Brilliant trip, made you feel great to be alive, I could do this all the time. But it took three and a half hours, average pace ten and a half minute miles, average heart rate 115. And that, I suppose, is the point.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

2011 and all that

A week into the New Year so I'm a bit overdue for a look back on the one just gone. Still, it's a useful exercise for me and may be of passing interest to anyone else starting to plan their 2012, so here goes.


I ran 181 times during the year for a total of 2178 miles. Taking straight averages this means a run roughly every 2 days with an average length of just over 12 miles, but of course it's a bit more complicated than that, so splitting the runs into length bands gives the following:

6 miles and under    -    84 runs
6 to 12 miles           -    47 runs
12 to 20 miles         -    25 runs
20 to 50 miles         -    19 runs
50 miles and over    -      6 runs

Earlier in the year some of the shorter runs were at tempo pace (around 7.00 - 7.15 for me) but after May I didn't do many of these so all my runs were then at a very modest speed. I've mentioned this before so I won't dwell on it except to say that I will be concentrating a bit more on speed in the coming year.  I like going out for a longish day at least once a week in the spring and summer; maybe I do too much of this but one of the basic principles of ultra training is "time on your feet" so it can't all be bad. I'm thinking of covering this in a bit more detail in a later post. Overall, the outings were enjoyable and saw me through the year with no major injury problems.


I ran two marathons and eight ultras.  I run the marathons because I still enjoy a bit of the mass atmosphere, but I don't generally have a plan for them, maybe I should.  For a few years my focus was to get inside 3.30, but once I had done this the next goal of 3.15 seemed too far away to be taken seriously.  I surprised myself with a 3.17 a few years ago but that's likely to remain my best effort and these days I'm happy to finish in good shape in somewhere near 3.30. So Rotterdam in the Spring was a bit of a disappointment at 3.36.27 as I was training quite hard then, but Chester came as a pleasant surprise at 3.34.59 in the Autumn after virtually no road running since May.

Fine Weather on the Hardmoors 55

On the ultra scene, I started with the Hardmoors 55 in March. I treated it as a training run but expected a PB because it was far better weather than on my first attempt a year before. I beat my 2010 time but only by around 30 minutes, although I wasted about 20 minutes by leaving a checkpoint without my water bottle and having to go back for it, Overall, reasonably satisfying but I think still scope for improvement. The Highland Fling was a bit of a disappointment. I normally like the sunny conditions we had, but I messed up by only taking one 500ml water bottle and getting fairly dehydrated in the later hotter sections. My 10.18 was the second fastest of my 5 runs over the course, but I could and should have done better.

I love the West Highland Way Race, but I just didn't have a plan. I had got the long-sought 24hrs the year before so all I had on my mind was to enjoy the day and not get too tired with the Lakeland 100 coming up a month later. The conditions weren't great for me, continuously wet underfoot and with plenty of precipitation on the day, but even so 26 hours wasn't good enough, must have a more focussed plan for next time. I did recover quickly though as I was out for thirty miles in the Lakes the following weekend. 

Rain on the WHW

The Lakeland 100 was my most satisfying run of the year. Though not quite in the UTMB class as the organisers claim, this is still a big gnarly event where getting round is a good enough reward. It was good for me also in that for the first time here I experienced getting through a really low point and coming strongly out the other side  - up until then whenever a race had started to go badly for me it continued that way to the end.

Leg 1 of the Lakeland 100
I couldn't pull off the same trick in the UTMB though. Getting mildly hypothermic I pulled out for my fourth (!!) failure at this event. But I'll get it in the end, I'm nothing if not persistent. After the annual Chamonix experience the Autumn ultras don't hold the same sense of urgency for me and I'm happy to enjoy them as days out without any pressure to do anything too arduous. I managed a PB at Rotherham though suffering a bit from the Chester Marathon 6 days earlier, but it was in far better conditions than I'd ever seen it previously. The Brecon Beacons and the Tour de Helvellyn were nice events that I hadn't done before, really enjoyed, and didn't do spectacularly well in.

So some highlights, and I enjoyed the events as ever, but I think the teacher might say "could do better" for the year as a whole.

Other stuff

Without a doubt. the outing that I enjoyed most during 2011 was my three and a half day recce of the whole of the UTMB course in glorious sunshine in mid August, almost made up for failing in the race, and one of the views from which appears right at the top of this post.

Another significant event was when I chatted to Mark Barnes in the bar after the Hardmoors 55. He was wearing some strange looking running shoes which he said were called Hokas. They were rather reminiscent of the crepe soled jobs that went with a bootlace tie and a velvet collar when I was a lad, but I was intrigued and bought a pair. Difficult to get used to, they have very little heel lift so the gait has to be rather like barefoot style and the toebox is a bit low for me which sometimes isn't always kind to toenails, but their overall comfort on a long day out and superb descending ability are both remarkable. I can only describe going downhill as being the difference between riding a mountain bike with suspension and one without. I didn't dare try them in the Fling or the WHW, but I bit the bullet for the Lakeland 100 and haven't worn any other shoes in an ultra since. They now have over 700 miles on the clock and I'm thinking of a replacement pair.

Well-used Hokas

So that was 2011.  I haven't sorted out 2012 yet, the overall game plan will depend on the UTMB ballot on 20th January - looks like like this year there will only be a one in two chance of getting in, with no automatic transfer to the TDS, so I'll need a Plan B just in case. Watch this space.