Monday, 21 January 2013

Weighty Matters

Well I thought that by about now I would be posting a little report on my first event of the year, the Anglesey Coast Ultra. I'm not because all competitors got an email on Friday evening saying that it was cancelled owing to drifting snow on Holyhead Mountain. Can't be helped I suppose, race directors have to call it as they see it; events like the Tour de Helvellyn and the Spine go ahead in these conditions, but maybe it's just a different clientele.

So I went for a run in my local forest and hills, and for more than twenty miles I didn't put a foot on anything but snow, most of it about 10cm deep and beautifully light and fluffy, a real treat. Now I'd done a couple of 30-odd mile runs in November and December and found them fairly comfortable, but I'd taken them really easy. Whenever it felt hard I'd slowed down until I got a bit of oomph back. I decided on Saturday that as I was only planning an outing in the 20-25 mile range that I ought to try to get a bit more of a move on, after all, real training for 2013 has to start sometime. Keep below 10 minute miles, that was the plan. For the first 12 or 15 miles it felt relatively comfortable but then it got a bit worryingly hard. I toughed it out to just over 21 miles, but then I was either going to drop below the target pace or stop, so I called it a day.

Why so hard, I puzzled afterwards, I should be fit enough for this sort of thing. Maybe it was a one-off, I was a bit below par, the next run would be better. So the following day I went for a conservative 4 miles around the roads, Yaktrax because the roads don't deal with the snow as well as the countryside, but not too arduous. Just run steadily but put a bit of effort in, say 7,30 pace. I arrived home pretty tired having achieved barely 8 minute miles, wondering again why I just couldn't do it. Was I trying to get back to proper running too quickly? Shouldn't be a problem, I have to make this little kick-start into reality most years. 

Then finally, a glimmer of illumination.I knew that I'd put on a bit of weight during a few weeks' inactivity back in October. I probably hadn't redressed that before Christmas and we all knows what happens then; I just hadn't grasped the scale of the problem. On the bathroom scales I discovered I was 11st 10lbs. The whole of last summer I was a shade under 11st. It was a bit of a surprise. I got out a dry bag and filled it with sundry items until it weighed 10lbs. I was staggered at how heavy it felt. 

Time to get a grip.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Time to Change the Clocks

I've had my Garmin Forerunner 305 for 5 years or so and it's been a pretty reliable and useful tool. It must have recorded the best part of 10,000 miles worth of activity without any problems, but over the last year or so the battery life really started to dwindle; it would last for 12 hours or so when new but it was getting down to 5 or less. Then just before Christmas it started switching itself off without warning from time to time, so it was clear that a change was called for.

This had been pre-empted somewhat in the summer when I entered a race for which one of the compulsory kit items was an altimeter. Sounds strange I know but when you're making your way up an Alpine pass, knowing how high you are is a sight more helpful than knowing where you are on the map, so I was happy with the reasoning. The 305 has a built-in altimeter based on the GPS which is fairly accurate. I argued in a blog a while ago that the calculated height gain it gave was rubbish, probably because the algorithm is insufficiently smoothed to reduce accumulation of errors, but the actual spot height you get at any one time is certainly good enough to navigate by. The real problem was the short battery life. I couldn't face the faff of going through a race having to recharge frequently, most of the time from one of those AA battery powered devices which also means carrying extra stuff. So after a bit of research and deliberation, I decided on long hilly races I wasn't too fussed about knowing exactly how far I'd gone and what the pace was and so on, so I plumped for a simple watch/stop-watch with a built in altimeter working from barometric pressure. This means that you have to get into the habit of resetting the altimeter every few hours when you pass through a known height location, but this takes seconds and is no big deal. The model I chose is the Suunto Vector,

which is light and comfortable to wear and has nice big face, easy to read in the dark. Because there is no GPS it runs off a normal watch battery which lasts several years, and I found it was exactly what I wanted for that type of event.

But it didn't fully replace the Garmin 305 because I like to record distances and pace and so on from training outings and in shorter events (the only ones where I can manage sufficient speed to make the consideration of pace a worthwhile exercise!). I limped on with the gradually failing 305 for several months, wondering if I could do without it and finally deciding that I couldn't. So I poked around the reviews again and eventually decided to go for a Garmin Forerunner 310xt.

This is by no means a "latest model", it's been around for some time but this is the first advantage because it can now be got for around half the price people paid when it first came out. The other advantages are that it is very similar to the 305 in operation so I didn't have to learn a completely new device (we old people find it hard to cope with new things, you may have noticed), and the claimed battery life is twenty hours, better than anything else on the market except the very expensive (and different from Garmin - see previous comment!) Suunto Ambit. I've used it for a couple of weeks or so now and so far have been very pleased with it. Seemingly minor design improvements over the 305 which I have nevertheless really appreciated are:

- it has a flat back rather than the "cranked" design of the 305; I have a small wrist and this makes it far more comfortable
- the strap and buckle arrangement is much easier to operate but more secure when done up
- the timer start/stop button requires a much more positive action to actuate it, so it doesn't seem to have the annoying habit of the 305 of switching off if accidentally caught on a rucksack strap, gate latch or so on.

Otherwise it seems to have pretty much the same features as the 305, although another plus I've noticed already is that the accumulated altitude gain is an order of magnitude more accurate than on the 305, so this must have been a problem that Garmin were aware of and have now rectified.

One thing I had to get used to is that my 305 interfaced with software loaded from a disc into the computer, so all the records were only held on my machine, whereas the 310xt interfaces to a web-based system called Garmin Connect, so your records are "out there somewhere" but so far they seem to be pretty easily and rapidly retrievable. I also like that the data transfer is wireless from the watch to the computer, you don't have to do or prompt anything, just leave your watch by the computer when you take it off and the latest outing gets transferred while you have a cup of tea.

So, hopefully I'm set up for the next five years (by which time I shall be a few months off seventy - quiet gulp...). Time will tell.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Plans for 2013

Well, here we go, a brand new year and a lot of nice days out to look forward to......

19 Jan:  Anglesey Coast Ultra 33m
23 Feb: Belvoir Challenge Marathon (trail) 26m
09 Mar: Wuthering Hike 32m
23 Mar: Hardmoors 55m
07 Apr:  Blackpool Marathon (road)
27 Apr:  Highland Fling 53m
22 Jun:  West Highland Way 95m
27 Jul:   Lakeland Hundred 105m
31 Aug: Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc 104m

This might seem like a lot (or just an easy year if you're Jon Steele or Nick Ham) but I've decided to take a different approach this year and concentrate mainly on just two events  -  the UTMB (because I've got a place this year and entry gets more difficult by the year) and the West Highland Way (because I haven't really taken this great race seriously over the past two years and it's time I gave it another proper shot).

All the other events are really preparation for these two. I love the days out so don't want only to run two races, but I'm aiming to treat the others as miles I would do anyway and I won't push them too hard or be concerned about the time. I used to find this hard, I wanted to do as well as I could in every event I entered, but nowadays I'm happy to enjoy a day out. In the closing stages of last year I ran the Glen Ogle 33 and the Tour de Helvellyn deliberately taking them easy for various reasons, and while I'm sure I could get much better times in both I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed both events.

So the runs up to the West Highland Way are "time on the feet" miles; it may be hard to resist having a good blast at the Fling but I'll try. There is a two month gap between the Fling and the West Highland Way. I toyed with the idea of a Bob Graham attempt at the end of May but I couldn't get near a 24 hour round except with an all-out effort which I think would take too much out of the tank so I'll leave it for another year. I may have a go at the Joss Naylor Challenge which doesn't have to be done too fast for my age group (although I would be allowed another 6 hours later in the year!)

I've entered the Lakeland 100 because it's a weekend not to miss, but also a good wakeup call to check that I'm in shape for the UTMB. It would be nice to get under 35 hours in the Lakes, but I wouldn't go for broke on that, finishing in good shape is what I'm after.
I haven't firmed up on anything for the last third of the year yet.  I'll see how things feel after the UTMB, but I've pencilled in the High Peak 40 which I've never done for September, then either Rotherham or the Liverpool Marathon for October. Attractive events dry up a bit in November, so I think this year I'll follow Dave Troman's example and have a month off. One thing's for sure though, I'll be back for the Tour de Helvellyn just before Christmas, wouldn't miss that one!

I did some speed work over the first third of the year last year, but as time goes by I find that running more quickly just leads to injury niggles for me, so I won't bother this year. I'll just cover the miles and rely on the hills to make me puff a bit.

Well, that's the plan, a lot to look forward to. But then don't the military guys always say that no plan survives the first contact with the enemy?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Cheers to 2012

Training in Zermatt  -  not a bad spot for a run

I enjoyed 2012.  Some things didn't go exactly to plan, but overall it was a pretty good year. First the statistics:

I ran a total of 2119 miles, roughly the same as in the preceding two or three years, although you have to interpret the term "ran" fairly generously, as a lot of the miles were fairly slow progress over hilly ground. This is clear when I split the total into my normal categories:
Faster than 8 minute miles (hard work) - 280 miles
Between 8 and 9 minute miles (just about real running)  - 378 miles
Slower than 9 minute miles (well.......)  -  1461 miles

I went out 168 times, an average of just over 3 times a week, making my average length of outing 12,6 miles. This  straight average hides a lot of detail though; I did regular 6-7 mile runs and a lot of longer stuff; I covered 20 miles or more on 24 occasions.

Out of the total, 514 miles were done in races.

An additional figure this year, because I was concentrating on hillier events I trained accordingly, so over the year I managed just under 350,000 feet of ascent.

Some of the averages were skewed by a couple of setbacks causing some "time out" which I'll come to.

Now the races. I kicked off with the Hardmoors 55 which took place mid March in pretty good conditions so I was hoping for a PB. Unfortunately I had a fall about 15 miles in, which I later discovered had cracked a couple of ribs. It hurt a fair bit on the day, but enthusiasm and adrenalin normally keeps you going; I got within a couple of minutes of my previous best but was pretty drained at the finish, more than normal after a race, and found I couldn't do anything energetic for a month afterwards.   
Finishing the Highland Fling

This left me a bit short of sharpness for the Highland Fling at the end of April, but I did manage to contrive a PB here. It was rather a cheat though as it was only by a minute or so and my previous best was to the old finish at least two or three minutes further on. Still, it's in the records so I'll accept it. I managed to retain my MV60 title for a third year, but I'm expecting a far tougher test in 2013 because two runners far more competent than me in the shape of Tony Thistlethwaite and the Magnificent Murdo have now joined the gentlemen's class.

6th completion on the WHW

The West Highland Way was wet for the second year running, only this time a bit more so. I realised quite early on that a good performance was very unlikely so I trundled to the finish in a fairly mediocre time (all my times for this year's events are shown in the panel on the right), trying to avoid getting too knocked about by the conditions  -  damage limitation if you like. Hopefully, we're due a good one in 2013. The plus side was that another Goblet appeared at the finish, making six for me now.

Elation on finishing the Lakeland 50

I entered the Lakeland 50 just to keep a bit of focus between the West Highland Way and the Tor des Geants, my main focus for the year which wasn't until the second week in September, so I started with the idea that it was a well supported training run in good company. On the day I had one of those outings where everything goes right. I had thought of somewhere near 12 hours but finished in just under 10 in 35th place, possibly my best ultra result ever.

With fellow Brits at the start of the Tor des Geants

And so to the Tor des Geants, which looked to be a wonderful though quite daunting adventure, which is what it proved to be. Enthusiasm carried me through the first day, I had a bit of a low point on the second, then got my act together and enjoyed every minute to the finish, which for me came five and a half days after the start, after a diet of the equivalent of three Ben Nevis's  and two hours sleep per twenty four hours.  I doubt if I'll ever do another event like it.

Home from Italy and I had an appointment with the surgeon to sort out two inguinal hernias that had been causing me a bit of a problem for two or three years, so another bit of downtime. It was a keyhole operation though, so four and a half weeks later I was able to jog slowly around the Glen Ogle 33, a nice run on a fairly flat but quite scenic course on what turned out to be a lovely autumn day, meeting some old friends along the way.

Back into some training and the year was rounded off with the Tour de Helvellyn, an event fast becoming a classic of the calendar. I had a non-stressful but sound run, feeling that I was back in the game again and looking forward to 2013.

Alongside the events, another project sidled into my life this year. When I knew I had a place in the Tor des Geants, I also knew that I needed to do a lot of walking up hills and running down them to have any sort of chance of completing the course. I really didn't fancy doing laps on Snowdon or Skiddaw so I decided to train by doing the Wainwrights. By the time the TdG came round they had got me fit enough, but they had also got me hooked, so I decided to carry on and complete them. I had hoped to get them finished in 2012 but other distractions got a bit in the way, and by the end of the year I had completed 189 tops in 24 outings, leaving me 25 still to do. I've decided that my new target will be to complete them in 12 months, and as my first trip was on 6th March 2012, that looks like being OK. It's been fascinating going to areas of the Lake District that I otherwise would never have considered - some have been outstandingly charming and others I won't bother to visit again!

And what else happened in 2012? Well, Jan and I became grandparents for the first time, a long-awaited joy for us,  we went to the London Olympics, a truly once -in -a lifetime experience, and I finally got around to completing a project that I had been daydreaming about for years, I built a Caterham 7.

Yes, all round, 2012 was a pretty good year. Here's to 2013!