Monday, 16 December 2013

Runners or Tourists?

Whenever I have a tough time in an event and come out with some sort of disappointing performance I can guarantee that some of my wise friends will say afterwards, "Ah, but it's because you're trying to do too many races. You hadn't recovered from the last one." To be fair this is a fairly common point of view, and these guys are in good company. In his "Lore of Running" all-time running guru Tim Noakes says that "....recovery from a short ultramarathon may take up to six months and between 9 and 12 months for runners who compete in 160km/24-hour events. Although you may be able to race two marathons a year, runners who wish to race ultramarathons regularly for more than a few years should limit these to one per year, with the possibility of running one other long race three to four months before, or four to five months after, that ultramarathon."  I have many running friends who would say the same - "pick your big race, train for it and give it your best shot, anything else is likely to compromise your performance".

Now all these guys may be right. But I'm choosing not to believe them. Two reasons. First, if you load all your ambition, hope and focus on to just one event, and then for some reason it doesn't work out (say you twist your ankle or catch a cold three days before the race), then you're left with not much satisfaction for all the months of effort you've put in; and second, I just enjoy the events  -  and one day per season seems a rather meagre ration for something you spend quite a lot of your time thinking about and preparing for.

Some runners seem to have no difficulty in successfully completing multiple long events in a season. In 2012 Terry Conway broke the record for the West Highland Way then 5 weeks later broke the record for the Lakeland 100. In the same year Jon Steele ran an ultra a week for 50 weeks, and Nick Ham regularly works through an annual programme that many runners would consider a 5 or 10 year project. There are plenty more examples. But are these guys just exceptional? Maybe those of us who are of more modest abilities just can't cope with more than one or two big races a year. Maybe.

I've been mulling this over and two thoughts keep coming back into my mind. The first one is the recent West Highland Way podcast in which John Kynaston interviews John Vernon.  The starting point and prompt for the interview was that this year JV completed his tenth WHW in as many years. Now this in itself is an impressive enough achievement but it's by no means the only thing John has on his CV.  He does several long races every year; in the same 10 years he also has 10 Fellsman finishes  -  a race generally thought to be about as tough as you can get without running a hundred miles  -  and in 2010 he completed the LDWA 100, the West Highland Way, the Lakeland 100,  the UTMB, and the Hardmoors 110, all within a four month period.  I've known John for a few years and we've shared many events; if I finish I normally finish faster  -  but I don't always finish and he always does!

When asked in the interview what was the secret of his high success rate, he was very clear. I like to do the events he said, but I don't see a need to do them fast, if I get home in something around double the winner's time then that's OK by me. Depends how you want to measure success I suppose, but it's a sound enough proposition.

The other thought took me back to a climbing trip to Chamonix about 15 years ago. My partner and I had ambitious plans and decided to kick off with a training day by going up Mont Blanc du Tacul. This is a straightforward snow climb but it's readily accessible from the valley and gets you quite easily up to over 4200 meters for a bit of altitude acclimatisation. To get there you descend a few hundred meters from the Aiguille de Midi cable car station, walk across the top of the Vallee Blanche, then climb up the face of the Tacul, reversing the whole thing on the way back. We took an early cable car up to the Midi and planned to be up, down and back to town by mid afternoon.

About half way up the Tacul face we caught up with another team, a pair of French girls, and we chatted for a moment or two while we all took a breather. They had set out quite early from the Cosmiques Hut which is quite close to the foot of the face. They were in no hurry, they said, they would probably take most of the day to get to the summit and return to the hut for another night. They were not really mountaineers, they insisted, "We are just tourists!". But they were clearly more than that, moving slowly but competently up the face. We pressed on to the summit, and after a few minutes set off down, meeting "les touristes", still on their way up, all smiles and clearly having a wonderful time. We got back to the Midi as planned, satisfied with our day but nevertheless somewhat knackered.

And so to 2014. Well, I've entered a lot of races. I suppose I have to admit that at the moment I'm unable to run at all  -  my last attempt to cover a flat 5 miles at the dizzy pace of 11 minute miles resulted in a recurrence of the calf strain that has kept me out of the game for the last six weeks or so  -  but I'm assuming that I will get through this frustrating interruption eventually. So, as I say, I've entered a lot of races.

And I'm thinking of becoming a tourist.

Monday, 25 November 2013

On Yer Bike! (a cautionary tale of serial incompetence)

I'll begin at the beginning. I've related some of this before, but, as I say, I'll begin at the beginning because there may now be an end in sight, or maybe the beginning of an end, or at least an end of the beginning, if you see what I mean.   

I don't get injuries. Well, not strictly true, back in the days when my ski-ing and mountaineering were more adventurous I did have the odd excursion away from the intended course leading to some sharp contacts with nature, but nothing resulting from overuse, a word I wasn't really aware of at the time. And now I have mellowed into jogging round the hills occasionally and rock climbing only when the weather is supportive, I wasn't expecting to get hurt. But I had had what seemed like a hard summer with a couple of disappointing DNF's and my joints and muscles seemed to be protesting a bit more than usual, so I cheered myself up with an encouraging performance in the Lakeland Ultimate Trails 100k in mid September then decided on a month off for a bit of R&R.

After the month off I started running again. I was disappointed to find that the rest had done nothing for my knees so I went back to the knee man and had them both scanned. Nothing major since the previous look-see three years ago but everything had just got a bit worse, displaced bits of cartilege from over-rotation of my right knee due to a ruptured ACL, increasing  tendonitis in both patella areas, a bit of bone degeneration, etc,etc. Probably does you as much good to carry on running as to stop was the general verdict, it's just that it's going to hurt a bit more. We talked about a bit more surgery, I said I would hang on another year or two and take some paracetamol.

I started running again too fast, too soon. I pulled a calf muscle so went back to the physio. No running for three weeks, just massage, stretching, and a bit of walking. She passed me off as good to go, with the proviso to take it easy. I tried. I jogged round the local forest at barely five miles an hour. The calf started hurting after a mile and I limped back. Another week off then a determination to start even more easily. Walk three miles with 5 minutes jogging. Walk three miles with 6 minutes jogging.  It was sort of working but every time I felt I was getting somewhere the pain nudged me back a notch. 

Last week I was still contemplating the Tour de Helvellyn, a great outing on the cards just before Christmas, 38 miles through the normally wintry Lake District. I was trying unsuccessfully to convince myself that I could probably get round by walking most of it when the problem resolved itself at a stroke. Jumping off a bouldering problem at the local climbing wall, I landed badly on my unstable knee with the result that I could then barely walk. Five days later the swelling has nearly gone down and I can make the limp almost undetectable if I concentrate. But I think that's the full stop for the year, I'll concentrate on getting going again for 2014.

The moral of this little saga  -  well, until I decided to have a rest I was going OK, I'd just done 66 hilly miles around the Lake District  -  so I'm left to reflect that "if it aint broke, don't try and fix it!" The picture below of my mileage from the start of the year until the end of November for the past five years tells the sad story of autumn 2013.

But there is always something that you can play at. I decided to join in a climbing club meet going night mountain biking at one of the forest venues near us in North Wales. It was a whole new experience for me, I hadn't had my bike out for a couple of years but I reasoned that you can normally ride a bike even if you can't walk so well, and at the place we went to you can rent a powerful headlamp for the evening. After that, it's just like running through the hills in the dark, except that everything happens a bit faster.........I think it will keep me interested and maybe even help to stay marginally fit until I can go running again.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Bad News and Blisters

Well, not such disastrous news really. Just that I went to the physio a couple of weeks ago and have been banned from running until my calves and hamstrings are in a bit better shape. Hopefully I can start again in a week or two, but probably have to work back up slowly. I'm not too bothered, it's the right time of year to sort out this kind of thing. I've also been to see the knee guy, scan fixed for Friday though I expect it will be a similar story, general wear and tear, not much to be done, figure out some sort of coping strategy. If I can get going again by the New Year I'll be happy enough. Plenty of decorating and gardening to do in the mean time, it's an ill wind and all that.


But I need to keep my hand in on the blog or I'll forget how to string a sentence together, so I got to thinking about a conversation I had with a runner back in the summer. He'd had to pull out of a race he'd trained long and hard for because of blisters. I've seen it happen to others over the years, and I've also seen runners put up with a lot of pain and submit to monumental tape jobs just to get them to the finish. I don't get it. I don't mean that I don't get blisters (although I don't), I just don't see why people put up with the whole blister thing to the extent that they do. I've also noticed that in quite a few events I've entered recently, one of the kit requirements is to have a basic first aid kit with "blister plasters" as an essential part of it. Again, I don't get it. Once you put a piece of Compeed ("other brands are available") on top of an already formed blister, the only way it's going to come off is attached to most of the skin it's covering, and that's not pleasant. Been there, got the teeshirt (or more accurately the several days of discomfort while the skin grows back again). Once you're treating blisters, the battle is already lost, your feet are going to hurt for a while. Why not stop them forming in the first place?

I can't guarantee that if you listen to me you won't get blisters. Everyone is different so the precise solution that works for you will be individual. But if blisters are a problem for you, you ought at least to be able to work out why the problem arises and have some logical strategy for preventing it.

What causes blisters - the engineering

This first bit may be hard going.  You can skip it and go directly to "What causes blisters - summary" if you like, but I always like to know where someone's theories have come from, so here are mine. Now as I've said many times on these pages, I have no medical knowledge whatsoever, but then I believe that blisters are not a medical problem  -  it's just down to engineering (but then what isn't?). I'm just going on what I've observed, and applying a few simple rules of analysis:-

1. A blister forms when skin is rubbed. Actually, I suspect that what does the damage is when the layer of skin being rubbed moves over the tissues immediately underneath it, but we can leave that medical nicety to those who understand these things, for our purposes it doesn't matter; all we need to know is that blisters come from rubbing.

2. Rubbing comes when the material next to your foot (normally your sock, unless you're one of these strange runners who don't wear any) moves along the surface of your skin. You can also get rubbing when individual toes move against each other, but let's park that for simplicity and come back to it later. For now we'll concentrate on the sock to foot movement.

3. Whether, or how quickly, rubbing from this movement produces a blister depends on three factors:-
  (i) How hard is the rubbing -a gentle caress that you don't notice or a discomfort that is apparent from the first step?
 (ii) How big is the movement - does your sock slide relative to your foot by one millimeter or ten?
(iii) How long does it go on for  -  fifteen minutes or fifteen hours?

Let's look at these in reverse order (mainly because it's easier that way!)

(iii) How long the rubbing goes on for is not really within your control. OK, you could run a little faster and complete your race in eleven hours in stead of ten, but we're talking ultras here and their nature is to go on a bit; in these terms a 10% reduction in time is unliklely to make a difference.  The real point is that a foot/sock/shoe combination that causes a blister to appear in a 50 mile race might have been completely trouble free over 10k. Or to put it the other way, until you start doing longer distances, you don't know whether you have a problem or not. The key learning here is to get out and do the distance, or somewhere near to it, before you get to an event that means something to you. You may be able to step up from a marathon to a 50 miler quite successfully without doing a distance in between; on the other hand you may not, and you won't know whether you're crossing your "blister threshhold" until you try. So this is the first key point  - understand whether you have a problem or not.

(ii) How big the rubbing movement is will ultimately depend on the freedom that your foot has to move within your shoe. There are a lot of complex force transfers going on inside your shoe when you run - just think about two or three of the simpler ones:-

- To move forward you must transfer a muscular force to the ground beneath you. This is transferred partly through a reactive force on the back upright piece of your shoe (which will then compress slightly), and partly through sole/sock/shoe friction inside the shoe, then ultimately through friction between the underside of your shoe and the ground. All this forces your foot backwards inside the shoe. As soon as you have pushed off from the ground, all this force is removed and your foot will "relax" slightly forward inside your shoe. Throw in some uphills and down hills and this potential for your foot to move forwards/backwards inside your shoe increases dramatically.

-As you lift your foot off the ground on each step you're hoping that your shoe will come up with it, so there must be some force holding it on. But the shoe also has weight (gravity)  holding it down, so there is potential for your shoe to lag behind your foot as you lift it up, then for your foot to sink back into your shoe as you return it to the ground.

- On anything other than a perfectly level surface, the ground will impose some (however small) sideways force on your shoe as it lands and pushes off. You try to keep your legs upright as much as possible so the shoe effectively "rolls" around your foot as the forces are balanced.

All these forces (and many others) want to make your shoe to move relative to your foot. How far it moves depends on how much you let it  -  that is, how tight your shoes are. Park this thought for now.

(i) To understand what affects how hard the rubbing force is at any point on your foot, you need to go back to a bit of mechanics you probably learnt at school.  The rubbing force is friction, and there is a simple relationship which says that the magnitude of a frictional force between two surfaces is equal to the normal force between the surfaces (the force holding them together) and the coefficient of friction between the two materials (F = mu x R, remember that one?), Rather than worrying about the equation, imagine (or carry out, if you've a mind to) a little experiment. Put a finger inside a sock and rub the back of your hand with it. The harder you press, the more you feel the rubbing; this is because you are increasing the normal force (R). Now wet the sock and repeat the experiment. You feel the rubbing more because you have increased the coefficient of friction (mu); you could decrease the coefficient of friction again by say smearing a bit of vaseline on your hand; simple. Now a final experiment. Rub with one finger inside the sock as hard as you can, and then compare the effect with rubbing with four fingers inside the sock as hard as you can. It hurts more with the single finger because you have concentrated the same force into a smaller area, and this is one of the most important things to remember when thinking about blisters. They are nearly always caused by the unintentional creation of a point load, in conjunction with a point at which your sock can move around on your foot.

Probably time for a G&T while we pause to summarise where we've got to here.

What causes blisters  - summary

- Blisters are caused by your sock rubbing against the skin of your foot
- The likelihood and/or speed at which a blister forms is governed by
     - how much the sock can move relative to the skin (in the direction along the surface)
     - the force holding the sock against the skin
     - the coefficient of friction (the "stickiness") between sock and skin
The longer the rubbing goes on, the more likely a blister will form, but in a race of a definite length we can't do much about that.

Blister Prevention

OK, so now we have some idea of why we get blisters, how do we stop it happening. Let's look at the causes I summarised above in turn:

(a) Cutting down the movement between skin and sock.

When you run, your shoe stops momentarily when it hits the ground, but your foot wants to carry on moving. Any spare space you have inside your shoe will let your foot move inside it, and what your sock then does (at this point in the discussion) is anyone's guess. The more your foot moves, the more the potential for rubbing, and so for blisters. The only real corrective action for this  is a no-brainer, but I still wonder about it when I see some discussions on forums and facebook groups. You have to have shoes that fit. This is simply the most important step by a long way in blister prevention. Now this doesn't just mean shoes that are nominally  the right size; you need shoes that match your foot shape. So forget about picking a shoe model because someone else has recommended them. It might be perfect for them, but unless your feet are the same shape as theirs there is no reason whatever that it will be equally perfect for you.

In my book, a shoe should allow you about 10mm in front of your toes, and a couple of millimeters above them in the toebox (both of these to allow for expansion during longer races and for an inevitable bit of movement when going down steep hills), but the lacing should allow you to make them a completely snug fit everywhere else. No lifting of the heel inside the shoe as you step off, no sideways movement when you stand on a lateral slope, toes not touching the front of the shoe when going down a steep slope. If you can't get this with the shoe you're trying, move on to another shoe until you can. Salomon, Hoka, Innovate, Brooks, etc, will all be perfect for some people and useless for others. Models vary even within the brands; Hoka Stinsons are near perfect for me but Hoka Mafates are a waste of time. Forget about how brilliant the technical claims are, if they don't fit your foot then all you're buying is pain. You may even have to mess about with different insoles and tongues, but I can't emphasise too much how important shoe fit is.

But even with a perfect fit, there will always be some movement, what is the next stage of prevention?

(b) Cutting down the force holding the sock against the skin

This force is there because it's necessary to transmit muscular effort to movement over the ground, so you can't take it away. But remember the little experiment we considered earlier - one finger in the sock hurt more than four. This means that you have to spread this force as evenly as you can over the whole sock area, and avoid "pressure points" which carry more than their fair share of the load. So how do we do this? Yes, I hope you're there already, you have to have shoes that fit. It really is a double whammy.

Now sometimes you can't get this absolutely  perfect. I have quite protruding heel bones (they wear holes in the back of my shoes before anything else goes) so there is an inevitable pressure point here for which the subsequent prevention methods are needed. And again, however much you even out the pressure force on your socks, it is still there. So although we might have minimised them we still have some movement and some force. So where do we go from here?

(c) Cutting down the coefficient of friction

Socks rub. Wet socks rub worse. Think what is happening here. The foot moves inside the shoe, but what happens to the sock? Either the sock grips the inside of the shoe and moves against the foot, or the sock grips the foot and moves inside the shoe (or maybe a bit of both!) We want the sock to grip the foot and move inside the shoe (no rubbing if this happens), but in general the outside of your foot is smoother than the inside of your shoe so the sock is likely to stick to the shoe.

One tactic I've used with success on occasions is to wear two pairs of socks, a fairly thin tight-fitting pair next to the foot and a thicker pair on top. The movement is then taken between the two pairs as they run fairy easily against each other. This got me round the 200 mile Tor des Geants with no blisters at all, when I saw many runners in a lot of pain and even having to retire in the same event from blisters. However this method has a real downside, in that in the very wet conditions underfoot typical in the UK the two pairs of wet socks just stick to each other and you lose all the benefit of having two pairs.

So, at the end of the day we are left with trying to minimise the coefficient of friction between sock and foot, because this is the only area that we have some chance of really controlling across a range of conditions. A number of tactics are available:

  i) Taping. This can be successful, but we need to remember what we are trying to do. We are not simply "covering up" skin, we are trying to reduce friction. So if you put a smallish piece of tape over a potential "hot spot" and the tape has a rough outer surface (like a fabric plaster, zinc oxide tape, or Kinesio style tape), then you will stop the sock rubbing against that bit of skin, but you won't stop the sock dragging the tape and the skin underneath it backwards and forwards. That's how you get a blister under the tape you've applied. If you use tape, my view is that you need to tape a substantial area to anchor the skin to prevent it moving, and preferably go for a shiny top surface to reduce friction  -  that's why a lot of the US runners favour duck tape ("gaffer tape") in preference to medical products. I used to use tape but I rarely do these days, I think other methods work better for me. Tape systems can also be less effective when your feet get very wet.

 ii) Lubrication. Again, remember what we're doing here  -  reducing the friction between foot and sock. I used vaseline for years with some success but then went on to Sudocrem, a product designed for preventing nappy rash (and therefore designed to work when wet!). It's very white and a bit messy, but a good coating on your feet before you start a race should see you through 24 hours or so, no matter how wet you get. These sort of products are also one way to deal with blisters you may get between your toes, the result of skin on skin rubbing (see, I hadn't forgotten about that).  Again, I believe the best starting point is to get shoes that fit properly, to minimise this movement in the first place, but if this type of blister is a real problem for you then you may find Injinji type socks (with individual toe pockets) a good plan - the principles are still the same, they prevent rubbing by holding each toe in a pocket that moves with it.

iii) Magic Socks. There have been a number of socks claiming to prevent blisters on the market in recent years, but one that has really cracked it for me is Drymax. The design principles are really sound, there is a Teflon type material woven into the sock to reduce friction (between foot and sock and between sock and shoe), and the material also draws water away from the foot (they insist it's capillary rather than wicking but the effect is the same), so preserves the effect of the Teflon even in wet conditions. They do require a bit of an act of faith because they say that if you use lubrication (vaseline etc) you compromise their effectiveness, but after biting the bullet on this a year or so ago I haven't used anything else in race since then. No tape, no lubrication, just well fitting shoes and good socks!

So there you have it, if you've made it this far, for I've realised this has turned into quite a lengthy piece.  I'm sure all of us will still from time to time have the odd blister, because we didn't do something quite right, or a different set of conditions caught us out. But they are certainly not an inevitable consequence of running long distances; with a bit of understanding and planning, you can always look after your feet.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Back in action again?

Although in possession of both MA and PhD degrees, I frequently exhibit the intelligence of a gnat.

I'd had a month off running. Actually if you dig deeper it was quite a lot more than a month. I'd had no activity since the UTMB at the end of August other than the one day I spent progressing fairly conservatively around the Ultimate Trails Lakeland 100k. Worse than that, the last time I actually ran, as opposed to walking up hills and shambling down them, was on August 11th. The theory was that a good rest should see my knees in better shape for the winter.

So this week was the week. Le grand retour. I was quite keen to get going again. Monday was a nice gentle outing along the canal bank, 4 miles at just under 9 minutes a mile. All very fine, I got home feeling pleased with myself.

Tuesday is the day of the week I'd allocated for a day in the hills, so I decided to crack on with that but start gently. I've more or less decided that I'll have a go at the Joss Naylor Challenge next year, a sort of easier version of the Bob Graham round aimed at at more "mature" mountain pedestrians. I went up to the Lakes to recce Leg 2 which is the shortest leg from Kirkstone Pass to Dunmail raise, over Red Screes, Hart Crag, Fairfield and Seat Sandal. Barely eight miles and with only around 3000ft of ascent. Mist and gloom the whole way but it was still good to be out again. As soon as I hit the rockier ground along the Fairfield horseshoe ridge it was clear that a month or so off had done nothing for my knees, they still felt as creaky as ever. Three figures emerged from the murk on Fairfield summit, the Man of Steele and friends, it's a small world. The descent off Fairfield wasn't too bad but the one off Seat Sandal is one of the longest and steepest on the round, and in my untrained state I arrived at the bus stop on Dunmail Raise with well-trashed quads.

These curtailed any running on the Wednesday, so I paid a visit to a new climbing wall near Chester to practise another activity I'd ignored for several weeks, which resulted in a bit of fun but severely stiff fingers and forearms.

By Thursday the quads had started to settle down (well, a bit anyway) so I headed out round a local loop determined to put a bit of work in. Alternating 8.30 miles with 6.50's seemed to be going well until the third set, when I felt a hamstring starting to hurt. I've been here before so I slowed and jogged gently home, by which time I had a slightly sore Achilles as well.

On Friday I did the sensible thing - I cut the grass and went to the pub for lunch.

The CMC (Chester MountaineeringClub) had an exchange meet with one of our sister clubs at the weekend, where they use our hut in Llanberis and we have access to theirs in the Newlands valley.  I'm always up for a convivial evening at the Swinside Inn, so I decided to join in and combine the trip with a Recce of Leg 1 of the Joss Naylor on Saturday afternoon. This goes from Pooley Bridge to the Kirkstone Pass over pretty well every top in the High Street range, and while it's a bit longer than Leg 2, about 16 miles with just under 4000ft of ascent, most of it is easy grass under foot so I reasoned it would be kind enough to my now somewhat suspect lower limbs. Another trip with pretty well zero visibility  -  along the way I encountered several parties who were interested in an opinion on where they might be  - but the running seemed to go well enough until somewhere around High Street summit, where I developed a rather disturbing pain in my right calf. I hobbled over Thornthwaite Beacon and Stoney Cove Pike and down to the Kirkstone pub.

After a warm shower, Saturday evening was pleasant enough but this morning I could only walk with some difficulty.

Ah well, two phone calls tomorrow morning I think. One to the physio so that I can go and pay to be hurt and ticked off for doing what I probably knew was a bit daft anyway. And one to the Knee Man, to see how much closer to the end of the road I've travelled since I last saw him nearly three years ago.

And then perhaps a slower and more sensible return to running.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Well, I think I'd better stop now........(DNF's, Confessions, Tea and Reflections)


Two well known quotes are turning around in my mind

- "Pain is temporary, quitting is forever"
- "A 100 mile race is an eating contest with a bit of running thrown in"

This is going to be a long post, even for me. And no pictures even. This what I think I've learned about how to survive an ultra through to the end, and what I've still got to learn. It's good for me to write it down, and it just may be of help to one or two others out there.

Since I started this game in my not-quite-dotage a few years ago, I've run 45 ultras and 15 marathons and finished all but 7 of them. What a girl, I hear Keith the Aussie saying, get a grip and MTFU.  But a near 90% hit rate doesn't seem so bad, we all have good days and bad days.  I could take this statistic on the chin if the DNF's were spread nicely through all the races I do. Except they're not. I've pulled up 5 times in the UTMB and twice in the Lakeland 100.  The big ones. Can't do the big races. I said it in a post after this year's UTMB - "this event is too big for me, time to move on".  Perversely, I finished the considerably bigger Tor des Geants in good shape. How come?

Anyone who thinks a DNF is an easy way out has never had one. You stop only because you simply cannot go on. I wrote this a day or two ago, but I've since read James Adams's fascinating account and speculation about his experiences, particularly the recent Spartathlon. He maintains that probably 80% of all DNF's are because the runner just chooses not to continue. Once things start going wrong a lot of his thoughts begin to turn towards  how he can escape the event and still square the decision with himself and others - looking for acceptable reasons to justify failure. James calls this the "lazy cowardice" route to a DNF.  I've heard this point of view before but James expresses it in a challenging way, exploring thoughts that I'm sure all of us have at times. I'm well over half way, I've accounted well enough for myself, better stop now before I do any damage. This event is not as important to me as the one coming up, don't want to spoil that one........ And so on. I'm sure we've all been there. But I would argue that most of us get through that point somehow. For me, that's where the "pain is temporary, quitting is forever" mantra works. Yes, I know it's a Lance Armstrong quote but that doesn't make it a bad thought. We know what we're going to feel like tomorrow and we know that however we project ourselves outwardly that it will hurt, and it's going to go on hurting until that particular ghost is laid - if it ever can be. Anything is better than knowing you have to go through another "morning after". So I'm happy to go back to where I came in and say that for me, and I'm sure many others, we stopped because there was just no way of going on. There may be different reasons for different runners but all my DNF's have in essence been identical. I reached a point where I was unable to eat or drink anything at all and subsequently slowed to a pace at which I couldn't complete the race. I've carried on for 10 or 12 hours on occasions without any effective food or drink but if you then simply run out of time there's not much else you can do.


I have to come clean here. Even setting aside the DNF's, many of my successes have been far from resounding. I have finished all of my marathons and maybe half my ultras in what I could call reasonably good shape. That is, I finished, was ready for a good meal and a beer or two and went home knackered but happy. In the others, at some stage in the race or immediately afterwards I have started to feel some degree of nausea.  After the feeling starts I find it progressively more difficult to eat or drink. It doesn't make any difference whether I'm actually sick or not, that's just a temporary hiatus if it happens, the feeling doesn't go away, it just gets worse until eventually I'm eating and drinking nothing.

Experience over the years has taught me that when I get to this stage there are only two options.  One is to stop and do nothing until the feeling goes away, then I can start eating and drinking, then walking, then eventually running again. But I know that for this to work I have to stop for about two hours at least, psychologically very difficult during an event, and sometimes I just don't have that amount of time to spare ahead of the cut-offs. The other option is to tough it out and carry on to the end of the race without eating or drinking. This is not enjoyable but sometimes the only way to get a finish. I've finished the West Highland Way once from Kingshouse (about 22 miles) and several times from Kinlochleven (about 14) without eating or drinking from there to the finish. I've finished at least one Hardmoors 55 and several Highland Fling's feeling bad, and I've struggled in most of my longer races. So it seems to be distance-dependent, but perversely I finished the recent 66 mile Lakeland 100k, and as I said earlier the 200 mile Tor des Geants, feeling fine.


Tea is the end. I really enjoy a cup of tea during a race, and when there's time I get one whenever possible. But the flipside is that when I get to the point that the only thing I can stomach is tea, then I'm not far from the shut-down point  -  the beginning of the end. So if I can just cure my eating problem before teatime then I'll be OK................well, maybe.

Reflections  - Understanding the problem

It's tempting to look for and then jump on a single reason for any problem; that way we can convince ourselves that there is a ready solution, a magic bullet to cure it. I've been guilty of this over the years but I've now come to the conclusion that the issue is much more complex than I first thought. I believe now that whether any individual runner is likely to finish any particular event in good shape depends on a whole raft of related factors. I may not have them all even now but I think a good list for a start might be:

- length and "difficulty" of the event
- weather conditions on the day
- start time
- training and state of fitness of the runner
- race strategy and pace
- nutrition
- hydration
- nervous state
- luck

I''m going to have a go at all of these - I told you that this was going to be a long post, and you don't have to stay with me if you get bored  - but if you do the usual health warning applies; this is what has happened to me, and the conclusions that I have drawn from my experiences  -   for anyone else it may not necessarily be the same.

Hydration and Nutrition

I'm going to cover these first because for years I thought food and drink was the only aspect of my game that I really needed to fix. I now realise that it's probably not the only problem as we may see later, but it's still significant and it shows up consistently as my only real symptom of failure, so needs to be addressed.  Let's start with nutrition.

I've tried every food strategy I've ever heard of during ultra events: eating little and often, eating at "mealtimes", eating "real food",  relying only on liquids and gels,moving from solid to liquid and vice-versa, eating as much as I can, eating sparingly, managing sweet and savoury, and so on  -  no single strategy has been a complete success. Foods that have seemed to be a really tasty in one race have proved completely unpalatable in the next.  For me, the advice to "try everything in training" simply doesn't work, because training cannot replicate the effort required in an actual event. Very few of us go for 50 miles training runs, let alone 100 mile ones.

I think the science is helping me a bit nowadays. I used to worry that if I didn't eat substantial amounts to balance the huge amount of energy being used that I would be in real trouble, and this just added some psychological pressure to the problem, but the accepted key points now seem to be:

(a) Physical exertion demands blood flow, which is not then available to promote digestion. The harder you run, the harder it is to digest so you may have to slow down as you eat. Liquids are easier to digest than solids.
(b) You will not be able to replace anywhere near the number calories you are burning. There is inconsistent advice on how many calories per hour you should attempt to take in.  Marc Laithwaite (in his articles as "The Endurance Coach") and Tim Noakes (in his book "Waterlogged" - more from this later) both suggest aiming for around 240 kcasl/hr, whereas Corinne Peirano (official dietary advice for the UTMB) recommends 60-80 kcals/hr for "fragile digestive systems" and up to 200  kcals/hr for "big eaters". These are all respected sources so I guess no-one really knows, but it gives a range to work with and of course everyone is different, not only in their body size and makeup, but also in how much energy they are expending during the event.
(c) You will get a significant amount of your energy during an ultra event from body fat stores. This is harder to access than recently digested carbohydrate so if you rely on it alone you will go significantly slower, but it is sufficiently important to warrant at least some training directed to improve your ability to access it.

The key things I've learned for me is that I'm not turned on or off by any particular foods, it depends on the day, so I don't fret about "not having the right thing". I can take in a regular 100/120 kcals comfortably for many hours (until things start to go wrong), I usually do this with gels, shotbloks and so on, and if it's a race with food provided I'll go for bananas, flapjacks, crisps, general snacky stuff.. I found the ginger biscuits provided in the recent Lakeland 100k a real treat. Later on in the event I'll go more for soup if it's available, rice pudding, yoghourt and so on. I have to avoid eating too much in the early stages of a race, and if I stop to have something more substantial - a bowl of stew or some pasta for example, then I have to remember to walk for at least half an hour or so immediately afterwards. It works now, food choice is not a prime cause of DNF's for me, though it may have been in the past. The key thing is that reviewing all this, I'm not actually doing anything wrong here.

Hydration is an aspect of ultras that I still haven't cracked. I've just read Tim Noakes's book "Waterlogged" - fascinating but rather long, so I have to admit skipping over some of the more technical stuff - which supports (or maybe started, I don't know how it came about) the modern wisdom that you should drink only when you're thirsty. The only problem I have with this, in spite of how much Noakes goes on about it being a proven physical trigger, is that I don't get thirsty. Not when running, not when doing mostly anything. I'll have a drink with a meal and the odd one between meals because it's convention - coffee at coffee time and so on  -  and I'll have a beer or a glass of wine because I'll look forward to the particular flavours that those drinks have, but I rarely if ever have the sensation of feeling "I'm thirsty now, I need a drink". To make matters worse I don't particularly like the flavour of plain water.

In races where you supply your own drinks via a support crew or drop bags, I'll have a variety of drinks  -  sports drink, flat or fizzy coke, ginger beer, fizzy water and so on, and this seems to work, at least for the first few hours of an event. But in events where the drink is provided, water is often the only option.

So I have two tasks: to find out how much I should be drinking, and to learn how to drink water.

How much to drink? Well, it must depend on how hot and/or humid it is, how much energy you are using, speed, height gain, and so on. I know that I can be happy walking most of the day in the Lakes (say 6-8 hours) in average weather with only a litre to drink.  And yet on a warm summer's day, cruising easy ground at 9 minute miles I can sweat a litre in an hour (I've measured it a few times).  I've tried several strategies in races, usually around the 3 to 4 hours per litre usage rate, and had difficulty maintaining either for longer than 8 hours or so. I don't think I've learned much, except that these rates are way below rates covered in Waterlogged. Noakes's advice is "drink to thirst and not more than 800ml/hr" -  that is a litre every 1.25 hours, ie more than twice the rate than I've ever contemplating drinking. Yet I'm fairly convinced that I end every race dehydrated. I find it impossible to detect dehydration during an event, factors like colour and frequency of pee are notoriously unreliable predictors  - but I do find I'm drinking more for a day or so afterwards. When I start running again (I'm having a four week break at the moment), I'm going to try using 500ml/hr as my benchmark for average conditions, and work up and down from there and see how it goes.

To get used to drinking water, I guess you just have to drink a lot of water. A bit like when your mother made you eat your greens and nowadays they seem quite tasty. I've tried putting all sorts of stuff in to make it taste better, some more successful than others, but in the end I think it comes down to the fact that water is often all you can get, so you have to get used to dealing with it.

I suspect hydration is one aspect of races that I frequently get wrong, so it's a thing I'm really going to work on over the winter.

Start time, Nerves and Luck

I've grouped these together because although they may individually or collectively have a significant effect on the outcome of an event, they're not factors that you can do much about.

I personally have problems with events that start in the late afternoon or evening. I always assume they're that way for administrative convenience, but given a choice I would always prefer to run through two days and a night rather than two nights and a day. Starting in the morning, most runners will have at least 50 or 60 trouble-free miles on the clock before nightfall, and you're then psychologically prepared to slow down as darkness and tiredness set in together, but with over half the race done. In an evening start you're quickly into darkness when everything goes slower, so you face the first "whole" day already tired and with seemingly not much distance as a reward. There are probably some sensible tactics here, I'll come to that later.

When I first started running I was trying to do a three and a half hour marathon.  I got below 3.40 four times but couldn't get the last few minutes. Eventually, in a run which hurt most of the way, I made it in 3.24. I was satisfied, but because the experience was so unpleasant I decided I wouldn't attempt it again, I would just do marathons for fun. The next time I tried one I didn't bother to take a stopwatch; I enjoyed the run from start to finish, and got home in 3.17. It felt like a walk in the park. We all need a bit of pressure to perform at our best, but if we put too much on ourselves it becomes counterproductive. I often ask myself, have I had 5 DNF's in the UTMB because the event is too big for me, or is it now too big for me because I've had 5 DNF's?

I think it was the golfer Gary Player who first said "the more I practice, the luckier I get", but we all have days when things genuinely beyond our control just go wrong.

So I'm not sure what one can do about these aspects of running, maybe just accept that they happen, relax, and as Joss Naylor would say "just shrug it off".  Time to get back to some factors affecting our ability to finish that we can maybe control.

Length and difficulty of the event
Weather conditions on the day
Race strategy and pace

I've again grouped these together but for a different reason, and that is because they're all connected.

About 18 months ago I published a post called "The toughest race in the world?" in which I compared the "difficulties" of various well-known races. I came to the conclusion that while of course a longer race is tougher than a shorter one, hillier tougher than flatter, and so on, the key factor which governs the overall difficulty of an event is the time you are allowed to complete it.

Now if you are in an race which is well within your capability and the only unknown is how fast you will complete it, then this aspect has no relevance to you. Unless something goes wrong way beyond your control, there is no reason for you to DNF.  For example, if you run the 53 Mile Highland Fling and expect to complete it in around 9 hours, then the fact that it has a 15 hour cut-off is no interest to you  -  you know you won't run out of time. But if you know that you are going to be out somewhere near the full 15 hours, then it becomes an event for you that if something goes wrong you may DNF, and a race like the Lakeland 50, which on paper is slightly tougher but has a cut-off of 24 hours, would be for you a much easier event to complete. One of the reasons I was able to complete the Tor des Geants while never having finished the UTMB is simply that to beat the cut-offs you can go at a slower pace than in the UTMB, one that I was completely comfortable with and could keep up pretty well indefinitely.

Weather conditions can make any course easier or harder than "average", and although they're beyond your control (but not beyond your control to be prepared and equipped) they will affect how close you are to your limit in being able to complete. I decided to run this year's Hardmoors 55 as a "training" event, aiming to take maybe an hour longer than my normal 11 to 11,5 hours. On the day, the fairly extreme weather (below zero all day with a fierce wind and a lot of powder snow) added at least another hour to that. In the tougher events with demanding cut-offs, the DNF rate rockets when the weather is adverse (hot, wet, cold, etc).

So here is the key. If your expected pace for a race takes you well inside the cut-off times, you don't really have a danger of a DNF. You might get strategy or tactics wrong and hit some low points, but you will have enough time in hand to tough it out to the finish if you choose to. I made a complete mess of my first attempt at the 95 mile West Highland way race and ended up walking the last 40 miles and stopping for a longish sleep , but was still able to complete the event in 32,5 hours, still 2,5 hours inside the cut-off. I've subsequently finished the race in a time 10 hours faster than this, so the cut-off was never going to be a problem.

But if your average pace takes you near the cut-offs, your strategy and tactics need to be very different. In the Lakeland 100 (cut-off 40 hours) and the UTMB (46 hours), a very high proportion of the field finishes in the last allowable 5 hours or so, and they both have DNF rates around 50%, so for well over half the runners entering, these events are not about getting a good time but about avoiding a DNF. 

If you want to complete an event that's near your limit, you can't adopt the Stu Mills "start fast because you're going to slow down anyway" approach. That's OK in races where you personally have plenty of time, because you will slow down - you just don't know by how much, and you should have enough to spare. No, if you know you're near the time limit from the gun, I believe you should plan your race to meet the intermediate cut-offs safely, but with the minimum of expended effort. I think that's the best way to avoid running out of time later on. I have been really guilty of not adhering to this strategy and I think it's cost me several finishes. I have always wanted to build up to a couple of hours or so ahead of the cut-offs, but I have frequently tried to do this too early in the race. The cut-offs always get easier later in the race so long as you have preserved enough energy to keep going. I have on several occasions got to Braithwaite in the Lakeland 100, or Chapieux in the UTMB (both about 30 miles in), an hour and a half or so faster than I needed to, and I'm convinced that I paid for that extra effort later in the event. It's especially hard to judge whether you are going easily, comfortably, or just a bit too hard early in the race at night, when everything seems that bit more effort anyway. Another reason that I am stressing the need to go at minimum effort when you are near your cut-off limits is that then you can eat and drink better, and so keep going for longer. Another reason for my TdG success was that at the pace required I could eat and drink more or less as if I was hillwalking, with proper meals at regular intervals.

So my take out is that if I know that a "finish" is my only goal, I must not get carried away by thinking that I can do better than that when I'm in the early part of the race, no matter how comfortable it feels; I'll pay for it later.

Training and State of Fitness

Tim Noakes makes what I think is a very telling observation in Waterlogged. I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the quote (it's a long book - and pretty difficult to search on an old Kindle!) but he says something like: "By now (when the idea of "drink before you're thirsty" had full sway)  runners were blaming their failures on failing to hydrate properly, but maybe they just weren't sufficiently trained for the event they were undertaking".

I was quite happy when I finished my last ultra, the Ultimate Trails Lakeland 100k. I finished in reasonable shape. John Kynaston was there too, and finished a couple of hours ahead of me; he was looking in fine form at the finish. I could probably have made some inroads into that two hours if I had decided to push a bit harder through the race, but I then wouldn't have finished feeling so good. It was a choice on the day. But why was John able to get those two hours and still finish in good shape? He was simply fitter than I was, better trained for the event. Something we often forget.

So the final point for me is that you can get everything right in terms of nutrition, hydration, pacing strategy and so on, but if you're not sufficiently trained for the adventure you're taking on, failure is so much closer.


One factor that I didn't put in my list of possible contributors to a DNF is event overload. It's been put to me a few times by friends and acquaintances that if you run too many events you invite failure by not recovering sufficiently between them. While I respect their views, I don't buy the idea for two reasons:

(a)  I don't suffer from muscle aches or soreness after events, even long ones. I'm usually running again a couple of days after the finish. Luck maybe, but my limbs cover a lot of miles (maybe just not at a fast enough speed!) in training so I don't think I'm suffering damage. I just need to recover the calorie and fluid deficit and then I'm good to go.

(b) Guys like Jon Steele and Nick Ham have shown that it's possible to run far more races than I do and still perform well in them  -  and they suffer the inconvenience of having to make a living at the same time!

No, I won't be convinced.


I said a couple of posts ago that I knew why I had to stop in this year's UTMB and that I would maybe explain in a later post. Well it's all here (mostly). But just to put it into a sentence or two, here's what I think went wrong;

1. I wasn't trained appropriately for the event. Because getting a PB in the West Highland Way was a priority for me I trained for this, which is very much a running race with gentle climbs. It was only after this (end of June) that I started on proper hill training, and then because I had a knee problem which was making downhills uncomfortable I only managed 8000ft of ascent a week in July and August, sufficient for some people I'm sure but not for me. In the previous year on the run-up to the TdeG I had averaged 12000ft a week from May onwards.

2. On the day I ran a poor race by trying to build up too much of a cushion on the cut-offs too early on. I could have taken an hour and a half longer to Chapieux which would have put me in much better shape. On the ascent of the Col de Ferret then again up to Champex (where I retired) I was passed by numerous runners going steadily who had just got their pacing right.

Are these things that I could put right in future. Possibly, but I haven't yet changed my view that even with more sensible pacing, the overall speed you have to go for the first half is still probably too fast for me.

Well, we've eventually reached the end. My four weeks are up on Saturday so next week I'm intending to start a bit of gentle running again. Tour de Helvellyn in about 10 weeks, I'm really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Ultimate Trails Lakeland 100k

The bad news was that it was only 2 weeks after the UTMB and I was trying to recover from a heavy cold. The good side was that I knew it was a great course and the weather forecast looked very promising. And it's always nice to be in at the start of a new event, for this was to be the inaugural running of the Ultimate Trails 100k, which describes a biggish circle around the South-Eastern quarter of the Lake District, starting and finishing at the Brockhole Visitor Centre near Ambleside.  "100k" is in fact a rather modest description of the treat on offer as most of the watch technicians on the day had its length as somewhere between 66 and 68 miles, confirming what I had found when I reccied the route back in May. The 11000ft of climbing is also not huge, but the course has a fair amount of technical ground which makes it a rather bigger day out than say the Lakeland 50 while still being a long way short of a typical "100 miler" undertaking.  My reccie over two days, missing out a couple of miles or so of the total course, had taken a total of 15 and a half hours, so I reasoned 18 was a good enough target for a single push. After two hard recent events, this should allow me to take things a bit easier and, as my friend and mentor Murdo would put it, take some time to smell the flowers.

I wandered up on the Friday afternoon, registered and met up with John and Katrina Kynaston and their friends Jonny and Frances, all of them here to run, with the ladies taking on the 50k course starting at the halfway point of the 100. After fish and chips in Ambleside we wished each other luck and sidled off to our various tents and cars for the night.

The 100k started at 6am on Saturday morning. It's not a time I'm very familiar with so I was fairly surprised to find it still dark and had to fumble around in my carefully pre-packed rucksack for the torch before making my way down to the start.
Trying to wake up for the start (photo John K)

I met John and Jonny and wished them well, I didn't expect to see them again. JK in particular was a man on a mission, Katrina was due to start from the half way point in six hours time and he was going to try and catch her before the finish. I think there were maybe a hundred and fifty or so in the field and we were off on the dot, a loop of the Brockhole grounds then out into the breaking day.

Countdown to the start

By the time we were out of the grounds it was light enough to put torches away, and it was clear that the weather forecast was good, it was going to be a beautiful day. I won't waste a lot of time describing the route (you can go back to my post on the May reccie if you're interested), I'll just recall a few random impressions of the day.

Sunrise at the top of the Garburn pass was so bright and straight into our eyes we could barely see the ground underfoot, then it was down to the first CP at Kentmere, a banana and water top-up and away. The way over Nan Bield to Gatescarth is beautiful, they really should use this route for the Lakeland 100, and the field started to thin out. I was taking things very easily at the start, walking anything that even sniffed of uphill. My cold hadn't really gone away, my nose and eyes ran better than the rest of me for most of the day and I must have presented a fairly snotty sight to marshals and fellow competitors, but it didn't really get in the way of forward progress.

Marshal on Nan Bield posing for photo...

Along the side of Haweswater from Maredale Head it started to warm up and I rather wished I'd brought a cap, but it didn't turn out to be a problem, though I think most of us picked up a bit of sunburn along the way. I was happy and running slowly and easily. From Mardale Head to Howtown is the easiest section (two legs in fact) of the whole route, time to relax and make some easy progress. I enjoyed the cinnamon porridge at the Brampton CP and was welcomed by Dave Troman on marshalling duty at the Cockpit on Askham Moor.

Warm sunshine along Haweswater

Approaching the Cockpit (photo Dave Troman)

We took the "Tour de Helvellyn" route down to the Howtown CP (slightly quicker than the Lakeland 100 one past Mellguards) and just coming out of here I caught up with  Mark Barnes who was running with a friend of his; we carried on more or less together for a mile or two. I left them eventually and had a good steady run up Boredale, knowing it was the last easy ground for quite a way. The little hill up to the hause always seems to go quickly, then it was an easy cruise down to the halfway CP at Patterdale, which I reached in around seven and a quarter hours from the start. I hadn't stopped much up to that point but I had a drop bag so decided to have a change of shirt and a cup of tea, and a top up of food supplies. I found the food at the checkpoints suited me pretty well, I was eating crisps and ginger biscuits at each one, coke when it was available and "treats" when they were there, like the porridge at Brampton and some great soup at Langdale. The CP marshals were really helpful, and I found someone to make me a cup of tea at almost every CP from Patterdale to the finish. In between CP's I was going well enough on the odd gel or shotblok, and a half litre of water seemed enough to see me through each leg.

I sloped out of Patterdale after a stop of nearly 15 minutes (where did that go?) and on to the second half. Unlike the Lakeland 100, the second half of this event is quite a bit tougher than the first (which in itself makes the 50k a good run), but has a lot more interest and variety, a bit of almost everything that the Lake District has to offer. I carried on my way, ambling the ups, shambling the downs and trying to joggle along the flat bits. It was a gentle run for the first part of Grisedale, a steady walk up and round the tarn, then a short but technical descent down to Dunmail. I expected to see the CP on the flat ground of the Raise, but it eventually turned up in the woods above Thirlmere a half mile or so further on, another little oasis in the sunshine. I was a bit surprised to see Jonny turn up here a few minutes after me; the explanation was that he had taken a wrong turn coming up Grisedale and wasted maybe 40 minutes, very frustrating for him. We saw each other at every checkpoint after that, with me leaving just as he turned up, until he finally got his act together over the last leg and came cruising past to beat me to the finish.

After the rocks of Grisedale we were then treated to the boggy wastes of the open fell over to Watendlath. This is quite a tricky path to follow even in good visibility, but the course had been marked with wands at regular intervals (more about this later) so the navigation was very easy but you never escape from here with anything other than completely soaked feet so it was good to hit the dry land again just before the final descent to the Watendlath CP.

The next leg was the longest on the route, 9 miles according to the route map but nearer to 11 by my reckoning. I left Watendlath just after 5.30pm hoping to reach the Langdale CP (at the New Dungeon Ghyll Stickle Barn) in daylight, leaving only the straightforward trails to the finish to be covered in the dark. I was soon up and over the hill to Borrowdale and kept up a steady jog up past Stonethwaite and for the first half of the Langstrath valley. Then the path, although still virtually flat, got very bouldery and difficult to maintain an easy rhythm. I felt the going a bit tedious for the first time since the start, so I decided to walk from here until the top of Stake Pass. This mile or two of walking on the flat turned out to be a good move. I slowed down a bit but really regained some energy. The pass itself is steep but on an easy recently rebuilt path and I was now able to power up it which  gave me a huge mental boost for the final few miles, especially knowing that it was the last big climb. I jogged down the other side and along to Stickle Barn, arriving well before a light was needed.

Again, I probably stayed in this welcoming haven a bit too long but I wasn't rushing and it looked like an 18 hour finish would be OK from here. It was dusk as I left but I didn't mess about tripping over in the half-light and put the headlamp on straight away.

Not a lot to say about the trip from here to the finish. I was mostly alone in the dark, enjoying moving through the countryside and thankful that the weather had stayed so fine all day.  A last cup of tea at the Ambleside Church CP then it was just up through Skelghyll Woods and down the final stoney lane (real Hoka territory!) to the finish. I was home in 17:10:58, which turned out to be 37th place and good enough for the Vet 60 prize. I really had a lovely day out. Katrina, Frances, John, Jonny and I finished within a couple of hours or so of each other so gathered for tea and soup in the Brockhole cafe. John and Katrina both had particularly good runs; John finished in 15 hours 18 mins, although with Katrina managing 8 hrs 19 mins for the 50k, he never did manage to catch her!

For the first running of such a big event I thought the organisation was very good. It was a great course with evenly spaced checkpoints and the marshals were friendly and helpful everywhere. It comes at a good time of year and I hope it becomes a regular feature of the calendar. There were a few teething problems drawing criticisms from some competitors but these seem to arise with every new race and I'm sure will be ironed out next time around. Personally, my only concern was the philosophy of going for a fully marked course requiring no navigation. I've only come across this in shorter races in the UK, run in daylight and over much easier terrain, and in the big European events which are on much better defined tracks and even then have a reflective marker every 50 yards or so. We were lucky with the weather on Saturday but the Lake District can be an unforgiving place when conditions worsen so I think the requirement to have a map (the Harveys 1:40,000 covers all the course except a few miles of road) and the ability to use it to get yourself around the course would be a safer approach.

So, some success after a summer of being battered by a couple of bigger events, but what now? Well I'm going to have a few weeks off from running, something I haven't done for several years, to try and cure a few aches and pains, then I hope to be back in December for the Tour de Helvellyn and looking forward to next year. But I'll keep posting on the blog now and then, when I've had a chance to think about what this year has taught me. Watch this space.