As I approach my 2013 “A” race, The Bear 100 in Utah, USA I’ve put together a bit of a retrospective of the year so-far. This blog is mainly for me, so I can pull together my thoughts and feelings about the last 8 months – but I thought I’d put it out there for anyone vaguely interested in what goes through the mind of someone preparing for a 100 mile race through the mountains.
Training, Racing & Recovery
This year, I didn’t have a plan! Towards the end of 2012 I set myself a budget of £500 and went out and booked-up loads of ultras for the first 6 months of 2013 to keep me busy. I knew there was going to be a ‘destination 100’ at some point in the year, but hadn’t decided on the event at that time. The idea was to use these races as long training runs and so between mid-Jan and mid-May I completed 15 races ranging from 26.2 to 62 miles and also threw in a marathon / 50k on the gym treadmill during some of the worst of the weather.
Somewhere in the middle of this I made the decision to do The Bear. It was a choice between that and Leadville 100 after failing in all the lotteries, (Western States, UTMB, GUCR and the London Marathon – the hardest, longest race on earth – apparently). As it looked a bit mountainous, I added-in some races with some reasonable ascent/descent for good measure.
These long weekend runs became the core of my training in the first 6 months, I didn’t do back-to-backs – and found that I was doing very little running during the week, focusing on cross training and functional strength work, (TRX, cables, stability ball etc…) This was partly due to the weather we experienced in early 2013, and partly just having to listen to my body and recover from the big weekends.
May was a milestone with the Cardiff Ultra where I smashed my 50-mile PB, (I’d also taken considerable chunks off my 50k and 40-mile PB’s along the way). After this my attention turned to the hills and longer distances. UTSW100 and Thunder Run were both going to be 100-mile attempts. I started doing more ‘solo’ runs on the weekend, I’d get the bus/train somewhere and run 30-50 miles unsupported back to another point, often along the Wales Coast Path.
UTSW100 was my first BIG event and also my first DNF. I learnt a lot from that race, I wasn’t emotionally committed to it and hadn’t practiced all the mental preparation I need for a 100-miler. Still, it was an excellent 50-mile / 12 hour through-the-night training run in brutal conditions.
At TR24 I was on target for my goal, (which would have put me on the podium) but felt that achieving the goal would take too much recovery and I’d be better-off retiring at 100km/62-miles in 12 hours, with minimal recovery required to get through the final weeks before The Bear.
After TR24 my attention turned to back-to-back long runs, doing 40-60 miles over Sat/Sun with lots of hills. Fortunately a load of races combined to give me an almost perfect schedule and mix of distance and terrain. More 4am weekend alarm calls, but a great few weeks of running.
During the final few weeks I’ve dropped off the gym sessions – mainly because of a change in work location, and it meaning a 5am start to get to the gym on Mon/Fri before the commute. I’ve found this REALLY detrimental and having just got back into the routine would have to say that I need to keep these sessions in. Without them, everything starts to seize-up, I guess a bit like the “Tin Man” I need to keep oiled and moving, even if it’s just for 30-minutes or-so.
My other major takeaway from this is that I’ve loved the weekend racing, despite the early weekend alarm calls. It’s taken me all over the country and I’ve been to places and seen stuff I’d never have normally experienced. Some of the coastal routes we have are just breath-taking and we can all run them for free thanks to trails like the Wales Coast Path and the South West Coastal Path.
The people I’ve met, run and raced with are fantastic and I’m proud to call them my friends. As a former Facebook sceptic, the groups I belong to and friends I now have continually inspire me to bigger and better things. There’s always a race to be run somewhere, and someone to offer you advice – these people are more than just friends, they are my kin and while one-or-two may occasionally post useless drivel, (“John is having Lasagne for tea”) most of my news feed is filled with stuff I want to read.
The year started strict paleo. That’s gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, grain-free! Sounds like fun? Well, actually I’d been doing it for a while and felt really, really good on it. My downfall is alcohol – but, that’s OK as red wine and cider is allowed on paleo, (hooray). This was working for me – I can run a (sub-4) marathon on a breakfast of avocado / mackerel with 9bar or-two during the run… No problem…
Then, somewhere along the way I turned this into more of a low-carb approach, it was probably about the time I decided that I missed cups of tea, (no milk on paleo) It may also have been after I went on holiday post the Cardiff Ultra and went on a San Miguel and pizza bender… Maybe?
I like the biology behind the low-carb idea – I’m not going to bore everyone with it here. What I can say that is, when I fall off the wagon, (and it happens regularly) I feel absolutely rubbish for 2-3 days while I detox the refined sugar out of my system and get back on low-carb. Once again, (Tin Man analogy) everything just works better, smoother and more efficiently for me without the sugar, (and by sugar – I don’t mean just the granulated white stuff, I’m talking refined carbohydrates – bread included)
Protein – now there’s another big lesson from this year! After a long run I have to load-up with protein, 50-60g over a couple of hours with 30g immediately after. When I don’t do this then recovery takes a lot longer, a week after the hardest 50-miles of my life at UTSW I did a 40-mile run on the Monmouth & Brecon canal. I truly believe I was only able to achieve this because I focussed on protein and active recovery, (including 8-10 hours sleep a night in a pitch-black room – but that’s another story, for another day)
But, as I said – things change… At the moment I’m still living la vida low-carb, but trying more of a “train low, race high” approach which also seems to work – fig rolls are the ultra-food of choice at the moment and are going to fuel me through my double marathon this weekend.
There’s also been a few changes in my choice of clothing and kit over the past few months. I’m still wearing minimal shoes with 0-4mm drop, at the gym and on the treadmill I’m still in my Vibram FiveFingers and on the trails use the trusty New Balance MT110’s and also the Merrel Trail Gloves which are mega-comfortable. Road work is in Brooks Green Silence which I’ve stockpiled since they’ve stopped making them – WHY????
Having moved away from bladders in backpacks last year I’ve now moved onto front-mounted bottles with the Ultimate Direction AK pack which is amazing. Switching-out the supplied hard bottles with Salomon Soft Flasks makes this pack the most comfortable and versatile pack I own. It’s going with me to the USA for The Bear, it should carry everything I need comfortably for 100 miles through the Utah moutains. I’ve recommended it and the soft flasks to so many people now I’ve lost count – nobody has a bad thing to say about it – highly recommended.
Compression – the calf guards and skins shorts have gone. Early in the year I ditched them as an experiment and found I enjoyed running in baggy stuff more, they didn’t seem to improve my performance or decrease the inevitable pain that eventually comes. I still like the Skins recovery tights, though am pretty sure they make no significant difference, maybe it’s just the feeling of compression that is nice after a long run?
Aside from that, my Helly Hansen tops are what I always use – snug fitting and chafe-free they just work. Injinji socks every time and Sudocrem on the feet before putting the socks on. It used to be Vaseline, but I switched to Sudocrem after getting very sore feet at UTSW and haven’t had any issues since.
So, with less that 3 weeks to go before I face-off against The Bear 100, retrospectively it’s been a good year. Yes, I could have run more, I could have run faster, further, longer and higher-up. But I haven’t… What I have done is put in 8 months of consistent hard work, regular weeks of 12-15 hours of training during some of the nastiest, coldest, hottest weather the UK has to offer.
Is that enough? I’ll let you know in a few weeks…
The Bear vs Spartathlon
And finally – for your amusement, and taken from the thread on Fetcheveryone!
On the 27th Sept, the cream, yes THE CREAM, of the British Ultra running elite along with a few fetchies will be tackling the hardest, toughest, most feared race on the planet, no sorry thats the MDS. This bunch will be tackling the 153 mile long Spartathlon!
However, just to make it a little interesting, over on the other side of the pond, a slightly shorter race is starting about 9hrs later. Three fetchies are taking on The Bear, 100mile race.
Spartathlon starts at 7am (Athens Time) on the 27th, The Bear starts at 6am (Utah Time) on the 27th. So the Spartathletes have an 8hr head start to run an additional 53miles.
Gauntlets have been thrown & it has come to this.
Whoever finishes last has to run their local parkrun in a Onsie & have it filmed for uploading onto here for our viewing pleasure.
Spartathletes:- Avon, Binks, Els, firemannotsam, ps-66, Mmimi, Mmimi (Mmimi is running the double)
Bearathletes:- GeeeM, vamosprabalada, Traviss