Monday, January 24, 2011

Hill Repeats 10 : Shoes 0

I posted last year about the longevity of a pair of my running shoes, and another giving tips for running hill repeats. This weekend I brought both together, with an intense hill session wearing the said shoes.

The hill session is a 5km warm up run to the base of the hill, and then 10 repeats up a steep trail covered in loose rocks, tree roots, and fallen branches which runs for 1km with 100m vertical gain. The slope is quite consistent, with a levelling off for about 50m in the mid section.  Then I finish off with a 5-6km run home, so a total of about 31kms.
Really happy with how quickly the HR drops on the flatter section

I adopt the ideas I mentioned in the previous blog, although I do vary the mind distracting techniques. I’ve found it quite amusing the way your body and brain are constantly playing tricks on you in a tug of war between continuing and stopping. I’ve done this session a few times recently, but on those occasions had only planned on doing 3 or 5 reps, and have really struggled to even complete the session after 2 reps. This I put down to the stifling humidity we’ve had recently.

So why is it that on a day when you go out with the intention of doing twice as much as you have previously struggled with, and get through it?

I believe it all comes down to what you mentally are prepared for at a sub-conscious level. You actually manage yourself better to complete the task.

The lesson then in an ultra is to learn to handle the unexpected. When running ultra marathon distances it is normal to get a few surprises, and how you deal with these will determine you results.

So what of the shoes? Well they had clocked 1500km in the previous post, now they have completed 2330kms (about 1450miles), but sadly they will do no more. They haven’t fallen apart, but are literally hanging by a thread, and I don’t want to be 20kms from home in the bush, having to finish with only one shoe. It is amazing what they have put up with, and what is more impressive is that I have experienced no injuries as a result of running in them in a well loved state. It just goes to show that if they are comfortable and you are running well in them, then keep running in them. The number of kilometres (or miles) they have done is just a number.

The sole has become delaminated from the shoe giving nice slapping sounds when running!

These scientifically designed holes let sand and grit in, but not out.

You can see the upper is barely attached along it's full length
These shoes aren't made anymore, and although I have 3 other identical pairs, I will soon need to look for a replacement. Perhaps if I contact North Face they’d give me a free pair to help me get over the sad loss of a loyal friend!

Run Happy!

***Please check out and support my 33 Marathons Challenge***

“Enjoy when you can and endure when you must” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A 12 hour Ultramarathon Training Session on a Treadmill

Some of you will be aware of an ultramarathon running challenge I have set myself for August of this year, and I have got to the position now where I have to promote this to the wider community. I have a goal to raise $50,000 for my two chosen charities both of which have a personal meaning to me (I won’t go into those now, as they are covered on the 33 Marathons Challenge page).

The first of my public promotions is a 12 hour session on a treadmill at the local MyFitness Club, which will simulate one day of challenge, but in a spectator friendly manner. I’ll be doing this on Tuesday 1st February from 8am-8pm in Noosa. Now whilst this is good for raising the profile of the charity event, I have not been convinced as to its training benefit for me.

Treadmills can be great for those of us who are unable to get out doors to run, but I am sure that any runner given the choice would rather get out and get some fresh air into their lungs. So I have been thinking how I can get the most out of this opportunity.

Firstly I have set aside 12 hours to run, and as it is in one place it makes the logistics very easy. All I need is just a load of fluids and other nutritional snack, and a towel or two. I wouldn’t normally have a 12 hour training session planned, so it will be good to get those hours on my feet logged.

It provides me with a great opportunity to test myself and my performance at set speeds related to my heart rate.  I plan to run at an easy 10kmh, as this is my comfortable plodding pace. So it will be interesting to see how my HR changes throughout the day, as I will be recording this with my Garmin. I can then use the results to give me an indication of how my body performs under different conditions.

It also gives me the chance to add a great deal of structure to my session with regards to nutrition, such that I will eat my sandwiches every hour (as I do on the trails), and to consume a measured amount of fluids. This will give me a baseline of how my body performs under fixed conditions. I can then adapt my rate of food and fluid intake based upon the different conditions I experience (such as terrain, temperature, incline, etc).  The art of Ultrarunning for me is discovering how to keep your body performing at optimum levels under changing stresses, and what you put into your body is a major factor.

Another area where I hope to learn more, which is an area of primary concern doing this, is the impact on my running gait and injury risk. Trail running uses all of you leg muscles in an unpredictable manner, driven by the inconsistency of the running surface, and I believe this helps reduce the occurrence of repetitive use injuries. On a treadmill, everything is consistent, so some muscles will be working much harder and some much easier, and the friction points in the joints will be the same with every stride. So I will need to consciously vary my stride length, vary the foot strike and degree of pronation and hopefully simulate the trail running experience. The secondary benefit of this is that, it will not only recruit more muscles and improve proprioreception, but it will also occupy my mind. 12 hours in a 
gym in front of daytime TV could drive anyone crazy! Again though this will be a good taste of what is ahead on the long, straight, featureless roads, including the” 90mile straight”, of the Nullarbor Plain.

So hopefully I will find the whole thing an enlightening experience, and it will provide me with more incite as to how my body works under these sort of endurance stresses. I will of course report back with what I learn. I have a feeling that it will include a lot of psychology as much as physiology!

In the meantime if you do want to contribute you can donate to either charity via the links on the right hand side of this page. Also if anyone out there has links with the running gear industry we are looking for sponsorship and would greatly appreciate any help you can offer.

Thanks and Happy Running
***Please check out and support my 33 Marathons Challenge***

“The only real mistake is the one form which we learn nothing” – John Powell

Friday, January 14, 2011

Be prepared and knowing the signs to keep you running

My planned training run was a set of hill repeats on the trails about 5kms from my house.  My legs felt good from the start, but half way up the first hill set I started to feel quite lethargic and had a more elevated than usual heart rate. 

It was humid, which I do struggle with, but I wouldn’t normally feel this until later. I felt generally below par, and groggy. It then struck me that I had skipped lunch (which I would not normally do as I enjoy my food to much). 

The next couple of hills sets were very different, feeling pretty light headed, and as if I had no fuel in the tank, even though the legs felt fine. 

It was obvious to me now that I was Hypoglycemic, and my blood sugar was dipping fast. The effects were being felt in my head more than anywhere else, which was frustrating as I felt quite strong otherwise.

I did the sensible thing and took the short route home to get some food into me.  Within about 45 mins of eating a sweet snack and some pasta I started feeling much better and within 2 hours was back to normal. 

It goes to show how easily you could be taken out of a race by not watching your nutrition properly. In an ultramarathon neglecting your carbohydrate intake could stop you from completing the event, because of the negative physical feeling coupled with the impact on your mental well being. 

The frustration is that it can easily be avoided and even if you do suffer from it, provided you have the mental acuity to deal with it appropriately – that is eat some simple carbs and wait a short while.

The thing was for me if I had a gel or snack bar in my pack, I could have continued on to finish the session properly. 

This experience for me is the essence of ultramarathon running, in that you are always learning about your body and how it reacts to certain conditions, and then how to deal with it to keep running.  In addition, it teaches you to be prepared, to ensure you can make the most of your training sessions.  

So as a minimum I’d recommend taking with you each time you head out a phone, some emergency cash, a basic first aid kit, a food portion (such as a gel) and some fluids. The reasons for stopping you running can be more subtle than a trauma such as a sprain, but they can be easily overcome.

This is another lesson I take with me towards my 33 Marathons Challenge later this year.

Have fun out there!


“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”

Monday, January 10, 2011

Training for an Ultramarathon, whatever the Weather!

This image didn't change all day!

The weather conditions in Queensland have been making the headlines around the world, and even though I’m not in the area that badly affected, it has had an impact on my running. The thing with training for an ultramarathon, is that you cannot allow the weather conditions stop you from training. They won’t change the event date if you are ill prepared, and ultra courses are not known for being all the forgiving either!

So today, after 3 days of over 50mm of rain each, and another 180mm today (so over a foot of rain in 3 days) I had scheduled a run.  I waited until a lively thunderstorm passed and headed out in the rain.

Running in the rain can be an opportunity to be miserable and complain about the cold and wet, but as I was on my own with no one to listen to any complaints, I chose to embrace the conditions and release my inner child!

My shoes were wet before I started as they hadn’t dried out from my last outing, and this was a good thing, because  I didn’t waste any effort on avoiding puddles. The roads to the trails were flowing nicely, but not as well as on the un-drained trails themselves.

This got a lot worse, so I decided to take the road
In the course of 33kms I had to wade through waist deep water on 4 occasions, I’d say that for at least 10kms I was running on tracks which actually had water flowing along them (I always seemed to be running upstream!) and for the final few kms I had to put on the reflective vest (see my previous post) as I had to run along the road itself as the foot path was impassable. That last section was pretty scary in parts as there was a raging torrent either side of the road, as well as flowing across it, and I had to go through this at the same time as avoiding being run down by passing traffic that were ignoring the warning signs and the temporary 40kmh speed limit.

All in all it was a fun run and although I wasn’t always outwardly smiling, the kid inside was having a ball!

But I did learn a few things that are worth keeping in mind when running in the wet.

1) Wear a hat – Running in the rain without one is just plain uncomfortable. The rain can be stinging in your eyes, and you’ll be running with your eyes scrunched up without one.

2) Wear as little as possible – Whatever you wear will become soaked, and that means a load more weight you have to carry around. This is especially important with regards to shoes as the effective weight is amplified because it is carried on the ends of your legs (unless you wear your shoes somewhere else of course!). I’d say that my shoes were carrying an extra third of a kilo (about half a pound) each, and that’s a lot of extra effort when you’re out for 4 hours. I also had my hydration backpack which was just like a sponge, and no matter how much I drank it didn’t seem to get any lighter.

3) Tape and grease those chaffing zones – I tape my nipples to avoid blood stains on my shirt (!) and today the tape washed off (I’ve run for 33 hours in the dry without the tape even coming loose before).  Also because of the wet clothing, I suffered some nasty chaffing on my lower back and armpits, from my pack. I’d normally get mild redness, but with the wet clothing clinging to my skin and rubbing I now have patches of raw skin. These create the most painful experience in ultrarunning when you shower off after a run and wash salt from sweat and then soap into open wounds. Ouch!

4) Keep your kit dry – I have a couple of waterproof liner bags which I use inside my pack to keep all my kit dry. This is essential for your phone, but also very nice to have a change of clothing or medical kit which would be useless when soaked. I actually keep all my race gear in my pack all the time, as it is good preparation, and it really paid off today as I would not have been happy or even safe without my reflective vest (I hadn’t planned on being out in the dark before I set off).

5) Embrace the conditions and have FUN – Just accept that you are going to get wet, and to make the most of it. There were many times today when running was more like canyoning, having to cope with water half way up my shins flowing along the tracks, and it was great fun.

6) Concentrate – With the water on the tracks they are a lot more slippery (especially tree roots) or worse still you can’t see where you foot will be landing as the water is too deep. You need to be prepared for the unexpected, as regularly today I thought I was stepping in water a few inches deep, to actually be up to my knees. This I found a really good exercise in testing proprioreception, and my sense of humour!! On the downstream(!) sections it was incredibly difficult to control speed, and I was running with eyes the size of plates, such was the need to appreciate where I was putting my feet and what the surface beneath them would be like.

7) Run Straight – It may sound crazy, but if your feet are soaked anyway, why dart from side to side to avoid a little more water? This not only uses more energy, but with slippery ground any lateral moment can end up in a fall (and potential injury). What I have also discovered is that with a forefoot/midfoot strike beneath your hips you slip far less and have more control, as there is less lateral or forward momentum in your foot as it makes contact with the ground.

I’ve included a few pictures to give you a feel for what it was like today, but unfortunately it was too wet to get the camera out for the “best” bits.  I have included a photo from earlier in the week which Tylana took with me in it. I didn’t dare go down that track today though as I fear it would have been more like Scuba diving than running!

Have fun out there,
ps Just in case you are interested, it's still raining!

***Please check out and support my 33 Marathons Challenge***

“Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else!” – Will Rogers

The Photos:
This was before the flood! (Photo thanks Tylana)

I found one, a dry trail!

Just another fun stream crossing

One of the river like trails in a light shower!
This is usually dry, but thigh deep today

2 minutes later the rain started and you could hardly see the sign


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ultra marathon running safety considerations while training near roads

The holiday season is all but over and now it’s time to get back into proper Ultramarathon training as I look forward to my running goals for 2011.  Although it’s the middle of summer here in Australia, our recent visitors from the UK reminded me of the dark evenings and mornings in the Northern Hemisphere and the considerations for running in these conditions too. One important thing to keep in mind where ever you are in the world is keeping safe when out running.

My sister told me of a sad and thought provoking story about a runner who was out training on one of the trails we used to train on. It was late afternoon and the sun was low in the sky.  The guy was running with an iPod. He stopped to cross a road with runs though the middle of the park. He briefly looked down the road, and then continued to cross the road. He was hit by a car and killed instantly. A tragic event that should make us all think. The runner was very experienced, in fact he was a well known personal trainer, and it was a route he would cover regularly.

What can we learn such that we can keep ourselves safe while running?  Obviously with the sun low in the sky the driver of the car may have been dazzled and his vision affected.  The runner could have been wearing a reflective vest, which may have helped the car driver see him, but under these conditions I doubt it would have made much difference. 

Either way, it is your responsibility to be extra vigilant before you step out onto a road, after all you are the one who will most likely come off second best.

The real lesson we can take is that of running with an iPod. Had he not been wearing one he would most likely have heard the car approaching. Basically he was denying himself one of his key senses when it comes to alerting yourself of danger.

I think this is particularly important for lone runners who train on roads. With so many traffic dangers around you need all the environmental information you can take in. I have never run with an MP3 player for this reason, but also I find that it affects my balance just walking and I have to concentrate to even walk in a straight line. I’ve walked behind others listening to music and noticed this effect as they snake along the pavement!

I know that for many of you running with music is hugely important, and that’s a good thing as we all have our own ways of doing things and making them enjoyable.  So for you guys, simply pause the music when you have to cross or run along roads and keep safe.

It is all common sense, and whilst we all think we’re invincible and it won’t happen to me, keep in mind the conditions in which you are running.

Happy Running, and all the best for your 2011 running goals,


“It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you think you can only do a little – do what you can”