Thursday, November 17, 2011

GNW 100s – Australia's Toughest Trail Race


This weekend was the last event of the year for me, the Great North Walk 100 mile (nearly 108miles in reality).  This is my third attempt at this ultramarathon, with a DNF in 2009 and a successful finish last year. On both occasions it was particularly warm with temps up in the mid 30’s, and with this year’s forecast being cooler around 27c I was quite optimistic, even though my preparation hadn't been ideal.
Loving the pre-race energy!
I was confident with what I had learnt in previous years and from my experiences running the Nullarbor a couple of months back that I’d be improving on last year’s time significantly. That said I was still very cautious of this course, renown as the toughest trail race in Australia, a title that it has justified with an average 50% attrition rate every year.


Crew captain - Dean
To enter this race was a special treat for me as it was my 40th Birthday on the night before, but given what I had ahead of me, the celebrations were somewhat subdued. I did manage to carb load on a beautiful cake that my great crew, Dean Cox and Jaci Richards, had organised, and whilst I was enjoying good company the challenge that lay ahead of me was never far from the front of my mind.

Other crew captain - Jaci


So with a 6am start, and an hour’s drive I made sure to get to bed early. I don’t know why as I didn’t sleep much, the mind was just racing. We got to the start at Teralba and it was great to see so many familiar faces, all bottled with excitement and nervous energy. It was great to be in the company of some of the best trail runners in Australia.


Dave Byrnes gave his race briefing with the warnings about the heat and wildlife, and this year a new feature of running beneath helicopters carrying logs a few metres above your head on the last section as there was some heli-logging happening. An entirely new and exciting hazard to deal with on the trail!


Final preparations are completed, checking you’ve got the right food and fluids handy and that your pack is secured and we wander to the start line. We’re in a residential area, so the GNW has the most underrated start of any race, with a quiet “Go!” from the race director (I’ve not heard it in 3 years!)


Having gone out far too fast in previous years I am far more reserved this time, after all there is a hell of a long way to go at this stage.  The field thins out after about 10kms and we get onto the trails proper.  At this point I find myself advancing through the field steadily, running very much to my HR, and I’m feeling very much in control of things. I’m chatting with fellow runners along the way (the main topic seemed to be about my HOKAs, as the curiosity in the trail community grows exponentially) and I’m keeping up with my fluid and nutrition strategy.


I remember chatting with Kevin “Brick” Heaton about the conditions and although it was cooler, it was humid, and with thunder rumbling away in the distance, it did look as though it was going to decrease. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts humidity is far more of a killer than heat, as at least with a dry heat your sweat will evaporate and offer some cooling benefit. To top that there was no noticeable breeze.


There are a number of aggressive climbs in this first section, which I approached with a strong walk. It’s been one of my strengths to be able to power walk up these hills, although it’s never easy and it was no exception on this occasion. I made the most of the flats and downhills, for gentle running and recovery. There is a technical section through the dense bush where the humidity was pretty oppressive, and in my mind was that the sooner I get through this the sooner I can rest and get some cool fluids on board, whilst at the same time tempering the enthusiasm to go too hard at it.


At the first Checkpoint (28.6kms) I’m feeling pretty good, there is no tiredness in the legs, mentally I’m sharp, the HR is steady and I’ve drunk 4.5l of fluids.  Dean and Jaci get me back on track within a few minutes and everything is going to plan.
Entering CP1
Fortunately the next section offers some respite from intense long hills, with gentle rolling fire trails. I catch up with a few other runners and leave them behind on the technical downhills to Congewai road. A 6km stretch of open track offering next to no shelter at the bottom of a valley where the heat just never seems to escape. This section had been a real challenge in previous years, so I was looking forward to embracing it with a view to overcoming it.  I managed to run all of it which I felt pretty good about, but was starting to get a bit of a headache. I had still been drinking well so thought that it must be related to either the hat being too tight or related to the lack of sleep as I was yawning running along here too.


At the checkpoint there was a weight check, and I had lost over 3kgs in this first 53kms. This threw up a number of concerns. Firstly, this was not sustainable, without being about 15% by the finish! Secondly, if I’m already behind on my hydration, then how can I catch up and keep moving forward effectively. Thirdly, how can I control my enthusiasm, as I was feeling pretty good at this point?


So I left CP2 with Nikolay, who had cruelly been keeping me about 50m behind him all the way up the road stretch.  Back out along the road and then a right turn up into the bush to commence the climb up and out of the valley.  My plan was to walk as much as possible and drink as much as possible at the same time, whilst still moving forward.


The trouble is there are two severe climbs on this section, where even by walking you are working hard. Basically you just keep plodding on up out of the valley for what seems like an eternity. Then jog along the ridge for a while before descending into the Wattagan valley. At this point the thunder gets closer, and we get a brief wetting (which wasn’t a bad result as I had visions of a TV appearance for being struck by lightning as I was on the only open part of the course during the storm).  


This was a cruel shower for it was so light as to offer no cooling effect, but it made the trail slick and slippery, and given the heat already in the ground the water turned to steam getting the humidity up to what must have been close to 100%.  By the start of the second climb out of the valley in these conditions I’m feeling a little dizzy and light headed, and the headache is coming in waves.  At the top of this climb is an unmanned water stop, and I take advantage of a good drink, pouring a cupful over my head to cool off a little, and to sit on a log for a couple of minutes.


I’m joined by Noel and Meredith (the subsequent female winner) and we trot off along the trails towards the next checkpoint, comfortable in the knowledge that it’s the end of the severe intense and long climbs for this section at least. From now on they’re shorter, but no easier. We run together, on and off until we get to about 4kms from the checkpoint. This is a densely wooded single track, and with huge number of fallen trees from recent storms this looked like a war zone!


At this point I’m feeling nauseous, dizzy and the headache is still throbbing. I take the decision to walk all the way to the checkpoint, and drink about half a bottle of water in one go. I kept it down, but couldn’t face drinking anymore for the rest of the leg. I was lifted by seeing so many other running friends on this out and back section, Spud, Chris, Ian and then Meredith heading back out – she obviously meant business with a very quick turnaround at the checkpoint.


I finally get into the Basin checkpoint and I’m not as cheerful as I might normally be which Dean detects straight away. I then speak to him with slurred speech, another sign of the next stages of dehydration.  There and then I take the immediate decision to stay here for at least an hour. I get off all the sweaty kit and then lie on the blanket for 20 mins sleep. I’m offered an IV as it’s obvious what the problem is, but at this point I’m thinking let’s see how we are after a rest, whilst thinking how good it would be if this was the end.


That thought festers in my head and I chat with Dean about options and thoughts, rational and emotional. These events bring up all sorts of stuff, and strip away a lot of what normal life builds. Can I make it to the next CP? Could I then make it to the end still about 100kms away? Could I end up in hospital as my running mate James did last year after we finished the event? But the real clincher question was on that was asked independently by Dean and Jane (who herself had been forced to pull out after tripping and landing on her face, and also someone who had collapsed through dehydration in last year’s event.) “Would I regret the decision to stop next week?” 


I thought hard about this. In the mixed up emotional state, and whilst not exactly feeling 100%, the drive to stop was gaining the upper hand. I have had a big running year, and there was no unfinished business on this course.  I’ve also had a fairly stressful year and my mental preparation were far from ideal. I certainly wasn’t focussed on this event in the build up weeks, and my family don’t need to see me in hospital to know that I’m prepared to push through the pain barrier. I’ll save that for another day!!


So I withdrew and without regret – and yet 3 days later I’m still wrestling the emotional and rational thoughts of “What if I had pushed on to the next CP?” The truth is I’ll never know, and the reality is that it doesn’t matter, I made the decision with the best information I had available to me at the time. I was still out there for 11 hours, and under different conditions things would have been very different. 


One thing is for sure I had again learnt more about myself, as I do from every event I enter, and I’ll share more of this in another post.


After make the decision to withdraw I had the pleasure of seeing and helping out a few other runners coming through and sharing the experience through them. Guys like Roger who was in his first 100miler, who is diabetic and has a whole gamut of extra stuff to be thinking about when he is out there, and yet he cruised on through to the finish line. Inspiring stuff.


The brutality of this race is without question, and even though I withdrew, I look at the results list and see that I am in some very good company. This race is known as the “Australia's Toughest Trail Race” for a very good reason.


Run Happy,
Andy


“There can be no real success if failure is not the most likely option”

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Linebreak Compression Gear Video Review


From now on I’m going to being doing more of my reviews on video, so that you can see the products in action, and I can describe their performance real time.

So first up I’ve done a short video of a pretty tough hill trail I train on, whilst wearing my Linebreak Compression gear. Clearly I need to work on my camera skills as you don’t get to see much of the kit, but I’ll get better with practice!

I also cut the video short inadvertently, so I’ve added a few extra comments and a summary below, as well as some photos.


In essence, I’ve found all reputable compression gear to demonstrate a similar level of benefit from a performance and recovery perspective, both short term and long term. Linebreak is no exception to this, and I have the added advantage of having done a lot of KMs in their gear, giving it a thorough road (or rather trail) test. I’ve done over 1500kms in each of my tights, shorts and calf guards, and they still feel as good as my new sets.  I don’t know how other brands perform (having only tested out new items), but believe this durability to be excellent. They are only showing minor signs of wear with a little bobbling on the insides of my calves where my foot occasional drags across the other leg. Given that I always wear them on the same sides, you could half this wear effect on the calf guards by swapping them over every other run.


So if we assume that the compression benefits are equal across different brands it comes down to 4 things:

The Look – Now I’m not sure that you could say that compression gear looks sexy, especially shorts and tights, but personally I think the Linebreak long shorts are different from the other brands and look pretty good.

The Comfort – Of all the brands I have worn I find the Linebreak to be the most comfortable whether they’re new or you’ve done 100’s of KMs in them.

The Durability – As I’ve mentioned already I’ve done a lot of KMs in mine and they are still in great shape and performing well. The tights which I have run over 1500KMs in are in better condition than a pair of Skins tights that I have only ever worn to sleep in as a recovery aid.  I did have a couple of stitches give on a pair of Linebreak shorts when I first put them on, but this did not impact the compression capability, and 1000kms on and the minor damage hasn’t spread or got any worse.

The Cost – This is aligned with durability as together they constitute value. When compared to other brands Linebreak are not just a little cheaper, but significantly so, with frequent special offers and bulk discounts amplifying this effect.

I wore Linebreak gear for all of the 33 Marathons run
So to sum them up the Linebreak gear does the job it’s designed to very well, and at a very affordable price.  I’ll be honest and let you know that when compression gear first exploded onto the running scene I thought it was just another fad, but have been converted.  I’m really happy with my gear and can’t imagine running without it now. 

Sadly there are still some people out there who perhaps, for the sake of the rest of us, have a look in a mirror before they venture out in their compression kit :)

Run Happy!
Andy

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go" - T S Elliot


Check out my other Ultramarathon Running Gear Reviews



Monday, September 26, 2011

Run Like the World is Watching

I have been away from the blog for a good while, busy attempting to complete my 33 Marathons challenge. I am in the process of writing up the report, but before that I wanted to share a couple of experiences from training runs I've completed as I get back into “normal” training (that is not 220kms a week with twice a day sessions – thankfully!)


This way to the trails!
The first couple of runs back on the trails took a little effort to get back to a normal stride after 7 days of shuffling along a roadside at 6mins/k. After reawakening the trail running muscles I decided to get back into some hills in training for the upcoming Great North Walk 100mile race in November. The first hit out was really surprising in that the hills were remarkably easy, all things considered.  


The pace was a little slower than normal, and the stride length a bit shorter, but I didn’t get the nagging complaints from my body to slow down or to walk. I put this down to 2 things. Firstly, the intense 12 hours a day, 7 day training session has put a load of endurance into my legs (the most likely explanation). Secondly, it is as if my brain either chooses not to listen to the cries to stop from my legs, or that it has got so used to hearing it that it no longer notices (like spending time in the house with the kids on school holidays, you just tune out of the constant noise!).  


Whilst on the Nullarbor I spent many hours fighting the “go on, walk” demons whispering in my ears, which I resisted repeatedly day after day, and I think having experienced this, I have a new found confidence that I can overcome it. It is almost a subconscious ability at the moment, and it will be interesting to see if this lasts. I certainly hope so, as it will make races so much more interesting, but time will tell.


The rewards for getting to the top of Mt Tinbeerwah are always worth it:







I had another experience on another hill run yesterday, which I suspect is also related.  I set out on my normal hill trail circuit of about 20kms. There are 3 routes up that I can take, and on this occasion I elected to tackle the steepest, roughest path. I have never managed to run all the way up this track always having to walk through a particularly steep section of about 300m length in the middle.  The track itself is about 2.5kms long and is all uphill bar a 200m descent followed by the inevitable climb back up.



Continuing to test out my body, I thought I would wear my heart on my sleeve and video the attempt (in a down market and far less extreme attempt to mimic the “Killian’s Quest” footage) to share with you all on here. In my head it was kind of like declaring a goal to the World, a commitment to give it a crack. I set the camera rolling and started off the ascent with some heavy breathing and dead pan commentary – it was no time for joking.


Before I had really given it too much thought I had past the place where I’d usually be feeling it pretty bad and be forced to walk. Then I past the furthest that I’d ever run before, and in my head all I was thinking was to keep going as in another couple of minutes the worst of it will be over and even though I’d only be half done, I knew that the rest was a done deal.


It’s funny how your mind fails to recall unpleasant memories, as I had clearly forgotten much of this tough section, even though I use this trail a lot. With each turn another 30m of challenging track appeared that I had forgotten about, until eventually the single track opened up to the familiar grinding trail to the summit and I knew that the worst was behind me.  


All the while I was conscious of recording the effort, as if I had you with me, and I just had to keep going. For me, I am very externally motivated, so this sort of visualisation works really well for me (the majority of ultrarunners that I know are more internally motivated – doesn’t make you a better or worse runner, it’s just that we are all wired differently).  The thing is from the outset I was only 20% confident that I would be able to complete this mini challenge, and feel that if I didn’t have the camera with me I would likely have pulled up in one of the spots where I’d usually walk. Having the camera rolling was like having a coach alongside me. I stopped thinking about how I felt and wanting to walk, and instead just had the thought of running all the way to the top.


Well it wouldn’t be much of a story if I didn’t make it, and amazingly I did. The irony was that I didn’t have the camera set up properly so missed recording it! It just goes to show what you can achieve when you find a way to genuinely motivate yourself, which for me was in meeting the expectations of virtual observers, and being able to be coach and athlete.  Basically, I had a scenario playing out in my head, a kind of play being performed by my conscious and subconscious minds. It’s a theme that I frequently cover in my blog posts, and one that more and more I believe is fundamental to the challenge of any endurance event.  


If I were to sum the concept up in one sentence it would be:


If your body is strong but your mind is weak you will likely never succeed, but if your mind is strong and your body is weak you will likely always succeed.


So I guess I’ll have to have another go to prove it wasn’t luck and this time I’ll make sure the cameras are rolling!


Run Happy,
Andy


“Nature never deceives us, it is we who deceives ourselves” – Jean-Jacques Roussea

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Training for a Multiday Ultramarathon


I haven’t blogged for a while, and the reason will be clear to anyone who has been following my preparations for my 33 marathons run. Multiday Ultramarathon training is a big commitment, and this is something I have learnt from picking the brains of people who have been there and done that. 

When I first decided to go ahead with this I quickly learnt that there is very little information on this sort of training. I put this down to the very low numbers of people who run in such events, and secondly because when running ultras day after day, each individual’s body will perform very differently, so generic training methods would likely not work for anyone. I’ve discovered that there is a lot of trial and error, and the need for flexibility given the time commitment.

I loosely designed my training program based upon conversations with some people who have been there before, and I have been lucky to speak with some of the best, Pam Reed, Pat Farmer, Ray Zahab, Deborah De Williams and Ryan Sandes. There are a couple of common themes that I got from their experience and advice.

Firstly, you need to have specificity in your training. This should be both mental and physical training. For me this has meant incorporating much more road running, and training when I haven’t wanted to. Basically in the middle of a multiday event you don’t usually get the option to stay in bed if you don’t feel like it, or to have a day off if it’s raining.

Secondly, and in line with the first, you want to be training every day. This toughens the mind and body, and helps improve running efficiency. When you body tires, you will subconsciously run with a style that minimises your energy expenditure (albeit slower). The more you do this the more it becomes second nature. For me, this has resulted in developing a normally slower pace, but with a much lower heart rate, hence enabling the body to go longer for the same energy expenditure.

Thirdly, training twice a day. This has numerous benefits, beyond the simple practicalities of fitting in high volumes of training around normal life. It teaches the body to recover whilst working, it also has a great mental strengthening benefit. The main benefit that I have noticed is that by running twice a day, you can cover a large daily distance whilst reducing the injury risks associated with running long. So your body gets the training effect, and the joints and tissues strengthened gradually, enabling you to run longer when you have to. 

Finally, when training for these sort of distances there is no such thing as “junk miles”. It’s all about getting distance in your legs, and getting used to extended periods on your feet.

Obviously, with any training you need to take a holistic approach and remember you will be using up far more energy than normal ultra training. So you will need to eat more (a lot more) and make sure you are getting enough sleep.

While the physical improvements for me have been a great confidence booster, the psychological gains have been more significant. I have learnt to embrace the pain (corny, but true), keep going through the lows no matter what (they always come to an end) and have taken great confidence from the dedication to commit to the training. It has enabled me to really identify and be aware of my weaknesses, and to pass these on to my crew so they know what to say to keep me going.

As with training for any running event, you can use these sessions to experiment with different kit, nutrition, and hydration strategies, and from that work towards developing a race plan.  This is very important to have and to stick to, especially from a nutritional standpoint. It’s an area where you are most likely to waver from the plan, and will suffer the most from doing so.

Unlike a normal ultra, you need to finish each day with as much in the tank as possible, and even more importantly make sure that you start the next day with a full tank (nutritionally and hydrated). This is a fact to keep in your head at all times, and one that your crew needs to be aware of.

So that is what I have learned over the past 4 months, and only time will tell as to how well it all works out. 

There will be plenty of regular updates from the Nullarbor Plain, on here, the event website (www.33marathons.com), the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/33marathons) and through our Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/33marathons) .

Please cheer us along, and if you are able, make a donation to our fantastic charities.

Run Happy
Andy

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle

“Obsessed is a word that the lazy use to describe the dedicated”


Sunday, July 3, 2011

How to run a PR in an Ultramarathon with no extra training

At the end of any ultramarathon race you look back and think how much better you could have done and what you’ll do differently for next time.


Now the obvious way to improve your times is through running more and better training, but that is not what this post is all about.  This is focused on how you can be more efficient in a race to save valuable minutes, even hours.


The most obvious way to reduce your time is to spend less time at checkpoints. This really comes down to good planning an organisation. If you have a support crew make sure they are well briefed and know what needs to be done. I draw up a check list for mine, and make sure that they have everything I need for the next section prepared and ready to go. I have even heard of people having separate packs that they can just swap at the checkpoint and get going. It may seem extravagant, but could save you a heap of time at each CP.


If you are relying on a drop bag you just need to be a little more organised. I include a checklist in mine as often after running for a few hours you may not be as mentally sharp as you would like and forget something. It’s also good to put motivational reminders on these too as a pick me up.


An important factor to consider at checkpoints and racing in general is to keep weight to a minimum. It may not seem like an extra kilo has much effect, but when compounded over a day long run the impact can be significant. So plan ahead. Know your fluid requirements (dependent on conditions of course) so that you are not carrying more than you need. If the distance to the next CP is going to take you 3-4 hours then are going to want to have a full load, but if it’s only an hour, then perhaps you just need one small bottle to get you through.


On a particularly hot ultra I added an extra bottle of drink to my pack at a checkpoint as it was likely that I would need it. As it turns out I didn’t and then forgot about it, so was carrying the extra weight for the next 80kms!


So your plan (which includes your drop bag notes or crew briefing) should include what you want to be carrying with you as you leave each checkpoint to get you to the next. This also includes an awareness of what is available at each checkpoint, and any mandatory gear requirements. There is no point carrying a torch and spare batteries if you are not going to need them. Basically you want to be finishing each section with as light a pack as possible.


A good way to minimise the weight you carry is to have a small pack, that way it is not possible to carry anything more than absolutely necessary. The tendency with a large pack is to fill it just because you have the space. (We’ve all packed for a holiday and thrown in an extra pair of shoes or a shirt just because there was space in the case). Nick Wienholt wrote a nice post on his kit list for the recent TNF100 showing his thought processes which paid off with a PR for him.


It is inevitable in an ultra that you will need to eat, drink, pee and usually adjust your kit while you are between checkpoints. The most efficient method is to time these when you are travelling more slowly, usually on uphills. The logic is simple if you have to slow or stop for say 30 seconds when running slowly you will lose say 50metres, if you were to do the same on a faster section you could lose 100metres. 


Knowing what lies ahead can help you be more efficient so that these interruptions have minimal or no impact on your pace.  So doing things such as taking a gel or extra fluid well before a tough effort will ensure that you’re muscles have the extra energy available when you need it rather than waiting until you are feeling tired.


Finally there is one other tip which will no doubt seem strange, but one that I have experienced on a number of occasions. Simply remembering to run! When you have been on a tough section which requires that you walk for any period, it is very easy to get into the walking rhythm, when you’re quite able to run.  This has made a massive impact on my personal performance, and again illustrates the psychological side of this sport.


So try adopting these principles and finish your next race with no regrets of what could have been. It could be the difference between taking home a buckle and having your pant’s fall down!


I haven’t been posting much of late as my available time has been severely reduced as I increase my training for my 33 Marathons challenge in 7 weeks time. The event website is now up and running, so please take a look and pledge your support for the great charities.  The Facebook page is also going live this weekend, so you can “like” it here to keep posted on progress, as well as follow us on Twitter:


Please also like to vote for my nomination in the Vegemite “Toast of a Nation”, any proceeds of which will go towards the event.  Thanks for your support :o)


Run Happy
Andy


“Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.” – Theodore Rubin

Saturday, June 18, 2011

HOKA Mafate trail shoes – Time to fly!

I first heard of HOKA one one shoes when Karl Meltzer ran the Pony Express Trail last year, and they caught my eye as they went against everything in the minimalist/barefoot shoe ideals, which had been adopted by the major shoe manufacturers.  I figured that if a guy can run over 1800miles in them, there must be something about them.


Since then there has been a lot of excitement and hype about these shoes, especially among the Ultramarathon running community and the people who run in them seemed to love them, almost passionately.


With this in mind it was an exciting day when I had my first pair to try, and it was difficult to contain the enthusiasm to give them a try. It started with a trot around the lounge room! That was about 2 months ago, and I held back from writing about them straight away as I wanted to give them a proper test and to let the emotional novelty subside.


Since then I’ve run over 800kms in them, including The North Face 100km race – the first time I haven’t changed my shoes, or needed to during an ultra. It’s safe to say that I too am now in the camp of runners who love these shoes.


Their appearance is certainly unconventional and they become a talking point whenever I’m wearing them. (At TNF 100 I was referred to on more than one occasion as “the guy in the crazy shoes”) Their appearance is not for everyone, but to me I like them, and their function is more important than how I look (I seem to be doing all my training in the dark at the moment anyway!).


The first thing you notice when you get them out of the box is how light they are. I don’t know the specifics, but they are noticeably lighter than my old trail shoes.


When you first put them on the thing that hits you is how soft and comfortable they are. They feel like a pair of slippers. You would think that with this you would lose all your feel from the ground (a concern of the minimalist/barefoot runners) but because the foam in the sole is much less dense and softer than in a traditional shoe, you still get good feedback from the trails (and no different from my “normal” trail shoes in my experience).


Given that the sole is considerably higher than traditional shoes, you do have to adjust to the height when stepping over rocks, etc, but this only takes about 5kms to get used to, and it’s no different to the adjustment you make when changing to running barefoot from running in shoes.


The area of the sole is about 30% bigger than a standard shoe, and it gives you the feeling that you can almost run on water, and it does keep you out of the water in shallow puddles! This greater area spreads the impact down force of each stride and makes for a smoother ride. I’m a mid/forefoot striker, and they certainly compliment this style, and I’d say given the curved design of the heel and fore sole they’d work well for heel strikers too.


Most of the wear I have encountered on the sole has been right at the very front under the toe, from the increased force and friction across the smaller area from the toe off phase.


A concern of many has been that with the increase height of the sole, then the tendency to roll an ankle would be greater, and the potential damage you could do to yourself would also increase with the increased torque. Again for me I don’t believe I’ve had any increase in frequency of unstable footing, as this really comes down to good trail running practice and proprioreception. I have had to make a minor adaption to cater for the larger foot print and my awareness of foot placement, which only took a few kilometres to adjust to.  


When attempting to “fold” the shoe they are stiffer than a standard shoe. As a result the shoe may not yield as much as you would like. I only found this required any adjustment when running the more technical trails.


On the occasions where I haven’t been able to maintain a stable foot placement there is an increased lateral force on the ankle, but not as significant as you may expect, probably due to the compression softness of the sole of the shoe. The major discomfort has actually come from the upper of the shoe pushing hard on the ankle when running along an intense camber for a long period (I have overcome this by loosening the laces slightly).


When I first tried them out I used the locking lace holes, and found this to get quite uncomfortable as the laces gripped tightly on my ankle, with very little give. The back of the shoe is a little higher than my standard shoes which compounded this difference.  However this was resolved by not using the locking lace holes, and since I have not experienced any discomfort.  


Another nice feature is that the laces pass through the tongue each time they cross keeping the tongue securely in position.


As for sizing they’re pretty true, although if you have wider feet, as I do, I’d recommend selecting half a size up on your normal. The toe box is well protected, but for me could be a little wider (that said I haven’t suffered any black toenails or blisters in them).


So all in all the HOKAs are a very good shoe. If I was the designer there is very little I would change, and certainly nothing significant. Currently I’m running in them twice a day, every day, in training for my 16 day, 1400km run and have felt no adverse affects from the shoes, in fact my feet and lower legs are the only part of my body that aren’t aching.


They are a fun shoe to run in, especially when really smashing the downhills, and it really should be fun!


Run Happy
Andy


“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 




Check out my other Ultramarathon Running Gear Reviews

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Running at night, a whole new experience

I’ve written previously about the benefits and techniques of training runs at night, but this is slightly different. Time pressures have been such on me of late that I have done 7 of my last 9 runs under cover of darkness! It seems that training for Ultramarathon distances is at least a part time job in terms of the time commitment needed.


So as before I have benefited from being able to focus on my form without other sensory distractions, as well as the pure enjoyment of running in the dark as it feels like you’re running somewhere different.  


What I have experienced recently have been 3 phenomenon which you will only experience at night under specific conditions.


First up, I am lucky to live in an area with little light pollution so not only has there been a a mass of stars, but more excitingly shooting stars. I’ve been lucky enough to see three in two successive nights – needless to say I took advantage of the opportunity to make some wishes, and I’ll let you know if they come true!


One of my pics from a recent storm
Secondly, and this was tied in with a shooting star observation.  It was a clear night and I ran up the local hill where you get a great view across the coast and hinterland. About 30kms to the south there was a large and energetic thunderstorm, with lightening flashes every 30 seconds or so. The cloud was lighting up like something out of some big budget movie, looking more computer generated than real.  On one occasion a shooting star streaked across the sky towards the thunder cloud, appearing to crash into the cloud itself, at which moment the cloud light up with the flash of lightening within it. This is the logical observation and explanation, although it could well have been an alien spacecraft attacking an experimental fusion powered spy plane, I’ll leave the choice up to you.


Finally and in my mind the most amazing was something that I had never seen before, and may never see again. Again it was another clear night with an almost full moon. I was running in the Noosa Head National Park, and was heading back towards Noosa. Although it was a clear night one small cloud had worked up enough energy to squeeze out a little rain (mainly on to me I think!). With the moon at my back, looking over towards Fraser Island I saw a moonbow, basically a rainbow formed from the moonlight shining through the rain.  At first I thought it was my eyes playing tricks on me and it took a couple of minutes to work out what it was. Because the moonlight is far weaker than sunlight, you could not distinguish the colours, but it was just a pale grey colour. Inside the arc was also a little lighter in colour than outside, just as with a normal rainbow.


Moonbows are very rare because the moon must be full or  a day or two either side, at a low enough angle in the sky, the sky must be clear where the moonbow is projected else you can’t distinguish it from a grey cloud background, and it must obviously be raining. So you can see that there may only be a 30 days a year when the moon conditions are right, and only a few hours of those nights when it is at the right angle, and it must be clear skies, and it must rain – all in all you may be better off buying a lottery ticket!
(Courtesy of Leigh Hilbert)
Sadly I didn’t have my camera with me, but I did manage to track down an image of one thanks to the wonders of the internet!


To add to these meteorological experiences, I had a few run ins with the local wildlife. I've spooked an owl, and had it flying a few metres in front of me down a wooded trail, and a similar experience with a flying fox (the biggest bats in the world I believe). The bat was so close to me that I could feel the draft from it's massive wings. All great experiences that you don't get when running in the daytime.


So rather than struggling to find something worth watching on TV, why not step out and see what your local night environment has in store for you?


Run Happy!
Andy


“The eye only sees what the mind is prepared to comprehend” – Henri Bergson

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

TNF 100 – 2011 Race Review and Lessons Learnt

For this year’s event was a little different to before having been there and done it a couple of times, and given my bigger picture training for my 33 Marathons event in August I had it in my mind to complete rather than compete. But who was I kidding, when you get to the start line and the adrenalin is pumping, excitement all around, you can’t help but realise that you only get one opportunity a year to experience this. So at risk of upsetting my bigger picture training plan I competed!


Andre has completed all Asian TNF's this year!
The build up for me was interesting as my lift to the mountains pulled out the day before, but fortunately my Hong Kong based running friend, Andre, stepped in. I just had to get to the airport early Friday morning. That was an endurance challenge in itself as I was caught in the travel chaos that ensued when some guys decided to protest on the top of the Harbour Bridge, crippling the Sydney transport network. However after a taxi, train, bus, ferry, and another train I got to the airport to meet up with Andre, and legendary ultra runner from Singapore, Jeri.


Registration was such a fun time for me meeting up with so many great running friends, including many new ones who I hadn’t met in person, as well as a number of readers of my blog who introduced themselves to me.  It was so good to be in the company of such a positive and enthusiastic crowd, all united in the same goal of kicking the backside of the Blue Mountains the following day. While waiting for my crewman to arrive I joined up with Ian Dunican and Nick Wienholt and their wives for a beer and to exchange running stories. All good fun, and it turned out to be useful for me as the girls were to step in for my support crew the following day.


So toeing the start line the energy was great and I had a catch up with fellow runners from previous events, Brick, Gordi and Ian.  It was pretty cold, but I knew I’d be warming up pretty quickly once we got going. Still I did hide behind a few guys to keep out of the icy wind!


With Gordi on Landslide
The goal was for a sub 13hr run and had in my head some rough splits, although the main goal was to keep CP times down, and to make sure that I remembered to run when I could. Previously I have got into the rut of walking, without actually thinking that I could run.


I ran the first leg fairly comfortably, and the seeded start made a big difference to trail traffic. I took a fairly big fall at about 15kms on unstable ground whilst wrestling a water bottle from my belt. I actually landed on my face and little finger, and would loved to have seen how it happened. The finger hurt like hell, and swelled pretty quickly, but this was not the time to worry about that.


The golden staircase was surprisingly easy for me, as I decided to pass Gordi who I’d been running with to that point as we’d both had similar time goals. Clearly the volume of trail and hill training I had done was paying off. Out on the trail at the top of the stairs and I was running well again. 


Burning up Narrow Neck (why are the cameras always on an uphill bit?)
At CP1 I refilled one endura bottle, took a gel and a handful of lollies and was on my way. I’d had a sandwich in the previous leg, and probably drunk about 1.2l of the water in my back pack as well as a bottle of endura. I have been guilty of not getting enough fuel and fluid in early previously, so was determined to get it right. My stomach hadn’t been as settled as normal, which I put down to race day adrenalin, and had for the first time taken to eating crystallised ginger every hour or so, along with a berocca one a day sports tab every 2-3 hours.  This seemed to be working well.


Across Narrow Neck is one of my favourite stretches of the course. Great views and the chance to let fly down the hills, to the limits of control (and beyond on occasion). So a nice clear climb down Tarros Ladders and more fun on the technical trails towards CP2. I was running very smoothly and almost without thought along this section. It was as if my mind had disengaged and was just trusting my body to do what we had trained to do. My km splits along here for about 6kms were between 4:45 and 5:20 which is way faster than I’d train, but I felt pretty comfortable and was just enjoying the moment. In the back of my mind I was wondering when the psychological and physical down was going to come, but maintained a focus on the positives while I had them!


CP2, Dunphy’s Camp was another quick turnaround. I was there as Devon Crosby-Helms of the Salomon Team pulled out, which was sad to see, but also a massive boost for me as I didn’t expect to be anywhere near the professionals.  Again I grabbed a handful of lollies, a gel, and then refilled an endura bottle, as well as putting a litre of water into the bladder - just enough to get me to CP3. This is something I learnt from previous years when I would completely refill the bladder, which not only took longer, but was heavier to carry. So I had a plan of approximate volumes to take on at each CP, which turns out was a good one.


On Iron Pot ridge
Typically I don’t normally take gels, but for this race the plan was to use them sparingly, and at points when I knew there was a significant physical effort ahead. I still had my cheese spread sandwich every hour or so, and had alternate options if anything wasn’t agreeing with my stomach. Again a really good learning from previous years.


The third leg was a good one for me. I caught up with Jen Segger of the Salomon team and ran with her up Iron pot and we stayed together for a good 10kms. It was a great opportunity to chat and learn from someone who does this full time. Thanks Jen.


I took another tumble on the out and back section of Iron pot, which I blame on the video guy filming Jen! I lost my balance and got a mouthful of Blue Mountains dirt again – I don’t know what is going on with me using my face as a break, as my running partner Tylana will attest, I never fall and rarely even trip (that’s her department!)


Chatting with Jen I was telling her what to expect in the coming km’s and had clean forgotten about the climb at 48kms on Megalong Valley road (oops!). We were joined by a Kiwi, who was struggling a bit having run out of water, so I shared some with him and we plodded on. Again the hill training was paying off, as I walked briskly up the hills and then cruised easily along the flats and downs. I caught up with Chris Turnbull in his memorable outfit (!) and we trotted into CP3.
Hunting down the Pokemon - Chris!
My crewman John was here and doing a great job, but because I knew I was way ahead of my expectations, my patience was not great. I have apologised, but it goes to show how your mental state is affected after running 50+kms.  The issue was that I was putting on a head camera to get some nice video of the climb up Nellies Glen, and it was taking longer than I wanted (about 10 seconds was my tolerance limit!).  So another quick splash of Endura and about 1l of water, just enough to get me the 11kms to CP4. I also took a gel here and ate it straight away as I knew I’d need it for the climb ahead. I did this last year and it made a massive difference on the stairs.


Along this section of the Six Foot Track I must have passed 40 walkers all of whom said hi and were generally encouraging, even calling out my name as it was on the number bib. Such a great feeling, when you’ve been running for 6 hours.  I did get a twinge of cramp in my quads at this point, so stopped at a convenient tree to lean on and stretched them out. It took all of 15 seconds, but the difference was fantastic.


I have had a bit of a battle with Nellie’s Glen as it nearly beat me in 2009, so much so that I now look forward to it, eager to prove that I have it beaten. Don’t get me wrong it’s never easy, and when you feel you should be getting to the top and you look up to see you’ve still not got any daylight above you, it’s not a happy place to be. I simply focused on the next step, and maintaining momentum. This was just eating up the climb and although I had the occasional urge to stop, I kept plodding on. It is amazing how quickly a climb like that can pass if you can occupy your mind with simple repetitive tasks. 


At the top I let out a shout in a sort of caveman like fashion to signify that I have beaten the stairs again, and enjoy the gentle cruise through the tracks to the next CP. I recall having a pee along this stretch, which was one of about 6 throughout the day. I’m sure you don’t want to know that, but for me it showed that I was keeping up on my hydration and that has been a challenge in previous races. Another mini victory for the day, and one which boosted morale on the way round!


Arrival at CP4 was great, great to be indoors. I head straight for the hot noodles which have been a godsend to me in previous years, great energy, fluids and electrolytes, and they taste great. Halfway through my second I am wondering where John is, as he has the mandatory gear I need before I can leave.  Buzz Lightyear reminded me that I have a phone, so I called John who was just arriving in the car park. He had a good excuse as he was helping Andre’s crew as they didn’t have a vehicle. 


So whilst waiting I sat at the desk and had a couple of warm vege burgers, while the CP volunteers topped up my bladder, etc. I saw Wayne “Blue Dog” Gregory, who I’d met at GNW last year and took the opportunity to chat with him, and what a good thing to do it was. I really respect his ability and opinion and he said that I was looking really strong and that I’d smash 12 hours. This I couldn’t really comprehend as I hadn’t considered anything better than 12hrs 59mins! He basically put it into perspective – “You’ve got 35kms to go and nearly 5 hours to do it. Get up that Kedumba hill in daylight, and look back at all the torches of the others coming up behind you”.


Photo by Rachael of  www.australianrunner.com.au
This really resonated with me. There were all sorts of calculations going through my head as I realised that not only was sub 12 hours possible, it was very achievable.  So I grabbed the compulsory kit, or ballast as I shall call it, and legged it! Running with some of the pairs teams really helped as their fresher legs pulled me along.  I was flying along the tracks to Echo Point, with a dedicated focus on getting up “that hill” in daylight. It was like a magnet pulling me along. I was caught by a couple of other guys coming down the Giant’s Staircase, but as soon as we were running again I didn’t see them. Shortly after I passed Julie Quin, the winning lady, and we exchanged some mutual motivation.


I was loving the downhills, clocking up 3 sub 5min/kms to the bottom of “that hill”. I couldn’t avoid a soggy foot at the last ford, but figured it was only for a 20kms or so, and I could put up with it. This is where the gear came into its own. The Hokas kept me high so that I didn’t get too wet, and the Drymax socks had my feet dry again within 30 minutes, demonstrating the value of decent kit.


My favourite pic from the race
At the base of the climb I met up with Jen Segger again, who had passed me at the checkpoints because of my extended stops. She was suffering with an ankle injury, but kept on going. I was feeling really good at this point, happy in the knowledge that there was only a few kms to the CP, and there was plenty of daylight. I’d never noticed it before because it had always been dark, but the views on this section were spectacular, especially with the moon poking his head over the horizon. I ran where I could and walked the rest of the hill, passing one guy in the process. Again it was just strong walking and a focus on putting that one foot out in front that ate up the kms.


Super food!
As soon as the trail flattened out at the top I was up and running again, and needed to be as it was getting pretty cold. It was warm down in the valley by comparison. The checkpoint was a welcome sight, but one thing was missing, my crew!! This is where I saw Linda and Catherine who’d I’d met the night before, and they ran over to take on John’s role, and they did a great job, thanks girls.  John was getting some stuff from the car and turned up in time to take some photos as I finished off another pot noodle before heading off. It was my fault as I was going far faster than I had planned for!


I was keen to get moving, and made a minor error just getting the head torch (Petzel Tikka XPS) on and forgetting the hand torch. Trotting up the road I was passed by former race runner up Tim Cochrane, and I think my chat motivated him to run faster to get away from me! I clung onto his heels for a bit, but on the single track I suffered from the torch error. With just the head torch I could not get any definition of the trail and took the biggest fall yet, made worse by the fact the my mental and physical faculties at this stage were not as sharp as they might be. I saved my face this time, but gouged a chunk out of my hand, and took out a bush with my shoulder as I hit the deck solidly. 



This didn’t affect my physical ability to run, but it was a major hit to my confidence as it did hurt pretty bad and I had blood pouring down my hand and arm – I needed that blood to keep me going!


Apparently they're worth more as a pair!
So I kept Tim in sight, and was caught by Julie. We all caught up with another guy and ran in a little convoy of four up to about the 98km mark. I was using their light as a means of getting a better view of the rocks and roots along the way.  By this point I knew I was home and dry for a sub 12 run, all bar me taking another fall, so eased off a little and enjoyed counting off every metre as I went. Thinking back to that convoy, we were moving a quite a clip given that we’d been running all day. It’s a real mind over matter moment, when the motivation it there, and the pull from the finish line magnet was getting stronger.


Running up the golf course to the finish line is a great feeling, you can hear the supported and smell the sausages, what more motivation could you want to get running.  As I crossed the line I mustered the energy for a celebratory heel click, something I fear may become a trademark for me now having done it last year too, but it is just a final venting of excitement and satisfaction at a job well done.
Yee haaaa!
So posing for photos after I’m given the formal time of 11:40:55 with a placing of 22nd and I’m very happy with that, and it takes a good few hours for it to sink in. Especially when I was sitting in the bar after a shower, with a beer and we commented that last year at this point I still hadn’t finished. A 1 hour 45min pb!


It was great to hang around and see everyone finishing, especially friends, but also just the raw emotion you only really see at the end of an ultra, when 100kms of trails and many hours of battling with yourself have stripped back the fa├žades we often hide behind.


I was lucky enough to get a mention in the presentation, but sadly for the wrong reasons...I was awarded a first aid kit to repair the damage from my falls :)


So what I learnt this year can be summarised quite easily. You need to prepare well, and train hard for the conditions you’re going to be facing. The extra kms and volume of intense hill training I did paid massive dividends.


Have a nutritional plan and stick to it where you can, but also have flexibility should things not feel the way you would expect them to.




Crewing is exhausting - unsung heroes of the day
Get decent gear. I cannot thank the guys at 2ndSkin, Linebreak, Drymax and Hoka enough for their support. For the first time ever I did not need to change any gear throughout the race. I wore a Linebreak t-shirt under my 2ndSkin t-shirt, with the Linebreak shorts and calf guards. The benefit of their gear has been huge for me, not only in my longer term recovery, bur most importantly for performance improvement assisting my recovery during the race. My muscles felt fresh at the bottom of the hills giving me that extra vigour to attack the uphills. Also I had no chaffing whatsoever which makes the shower after enjoyable rather than torturous. 


The Drymax socks worked their magic again with no blisters, and almost completely dry feet at the finish. And the Hoka Mafates exceeded my expectations given that I’d only run about 30kms in the pair I raced in. 


The one final thing I would say is enjoy it! A number of people have commented on my photos, specifically that I am smiling in them, and that is because I was having a ball out there. Not just from a performance perspective, but the scenery and most importantly the people you meet. I’m sorry if I forget your names (you know who you are!), there were lots of new friends made this weekend, and I look forward to seeing you out there at the next event. 


Run Happy,
Andy
“There is no duty we so underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the World” – Robert Louis Stevenson