Blazing a trail

Is trail running for you? Yes. It is!

I’ve spent a long time trying to get better at running, hampered by a poor diet and other lifestyle choices that don’t correspond with fitness excellence. My previous strategy has been to indulge in one long run a week, say twenty to forty kilometers depending on my next event, and then some cross-training like HIIT classes, spinning or pool swimming. While I made slow improvements and completed all the events I set my mind to, I wasn’t making the vast jumps in ability that others seemed to make. I was also spending lots of time recovering after the long runs! But that’s fine; we can’t always prioritise these things and managing life can divert you for very good reasons.

This is why I’m writing this post. Earlier in the year, in the nacense of the pandemic, we’d completed a 50k ultra race in addition to a couple of exploratory long runs around London. That put my total distance at around 140km for both January and March, which is the furthest I’d run on a monthly basis for a long time. The omens for the rest of the year were good! But….2020….amiright!?! As lockdown hit, all our plans for races were cancelled (understandably) and we were at a loss. The races and the social part afterwards were always the draw for me. Would I have to start looking at…training more (eww)?

Joking aside, many people have taken the opportunity to reset their training. Why not me? I did a bit of reading, listened to some experts and seized on an idea. To get better at running, I needed to up my mileage. Not a surprising concept! At the same time virtual races started popping up as race organisers pivoted in reaction to the new environment. One of particular interest was created by Ultra Challenge (Boost it for June) and featured a number of different distances to run from 50 to 500km, with the reward of a colorful buff. I went for 100km, but with a target to hit 150km. Rather than going for a few huge runs, I thought I’d spread out the pain over the week and incorporate some speed runs as well; definitely not something I’d done for a few years with my focus on long and slow!

It started well and I hit 24km in the first week and 34km in the second week. Come the third week however I started to feel my bones creaking with another 37km down. I limped through one more run to get over the 100km target (I wanted that buff!) and marked myself as too injured to continue. I found this a bit disheartening: I had done less distance with more frequent running, but couldn’t get near the 140km I ran in January and March.

Time for a re-think

I know the guilty party. Myself obviously. I don’t have the greatest running form and I’m not exactly light and dainty. All my longer runs usually occur on trail with a few kms on concrete to get out into the countryside. I tend to run shorter distances on concrete paths through local parks. Upping the distance on this surface had horribly backfired. This also wasn’t the first time I had learned this lesson! Road marathon training a few years back had given the same result: a sore knee and a dodgy hip before I then graduated to trail marathons and ultra-marathons.

I did some research on Garmin Connect and checked out the local heat maps, working out how I could fit in as little road running as possible. Once I’d recovered a bit, I started again with a renewed focus. All my runs would be at a relaxed pace on trails and I would cut out the speed work until I could sustain a higher mileage. July saw 84km as I eased myself back into running, 100km in August and 117km in September. Quite slow increases, but sustainability was my focus.

Success!

Thankfully it seems to have worked. I recently hit my first 40km week since I last ran an ultra-marathon. I also feel fine with no aches or pains, as opposed to how I feel normally after that much running! I put most of that down to running on trails at a relaxed pace. Now I can focus on adding longer/ quicker runs and upping my mileage more. Definitely worth a go if you keep picking up injuries.

Extrinsic Motivation

Reaching month 3 of lockdown meant that it was 4 months since our last event. The volume of training therefore went down quite steeply as the call to be prepared to run any distance at all for what seemed like a longer and longer time seemed to be near silent. Running events we were psyching ourselves up to for months were postponed indefinitely or cancelled.

It’s at times like these when external (extrinsic) motivations can really help. Groups of friends keeping everyone up with their latest 3-figure distance accomplishments – whether that be over weeks or months.

For June we both signed up to cover distances as part of the Ultra Challenge ‘Boost it for June’ virtual event.

For me this meant having to push a decent distance 5x a week – basically a jolly enhancement to my work-week that necessitated waking up earlier. Still not particularly early mind you – just earlier than rolling out of bed a 5-to-9 to log in.

Having this extra bit of motivation helped me actually get up and get some decent miles in over the month – especially as the event allowed you to log your activity through a Strava group, so knowing the results were being published up there meant there was a step that one felt obliged to log the committed distance.

As it starts to look more likely that we won’t be seeing any in-person events this side of autumn in the UK – perhaps a few more more virtual community events could be the answer to keeping us all logging the higher mileages throughout the summer!

(PS – remember to stay hydrated!)

Getting into Running

As I write this, we in the UK have been ‘social distancing’ under lockdown for about 2 months. Right at the start there were plenty of people using their once-a-day outside allowance to attempt to start running, good on them.

Obviously, being the keen ultra-distance machine that I am, I did not lose pace. I kept doing the high level cardio and long weekend runs and staying in tip-top shape. OK, so I didn’t. For the first month or so, I did pretty much nothing.

Regular listeners may have heard us say on one occasion or other ‘running is terrible’. Honestly, I’m not lying – there are times when it is really dreadfully dull and painful.

Why bother?

This is a question I’ve asked myself often – worrying if it’s simply ego trying to make out I’m better that others. But, honestly it is the sense of exploration, achievement with some camaraderie thrown in for good measure.

But you cannot do that without actually practicing some running.

Get going!

First, decide what you are doing this for. Just exercise? Some form of meditative practice? From experience it helps massively to have a reason to get out there – and make sure it’s specific.

What do you need?

Well, there are plenty of articles out there around shoe choice, etc. But first off… just go out in some vaguely appropriate clothing and, you know, run. Head out, walk around a bit and start to bring up your pace into a jog and then a run but – and this is key – run only about HALF as far as you think you could and HALF as hard you think you can. If you really aren’t in…optimal…shape, let’s say, you’ll notice this immediately – 10 meters too much? Well done, walk it out a bit more and plan to go out again in a couple of day’s time.

Super excited and want more? Great, have a look at training and aspirational event videos on youtube – perhaps even listen to a few of our episodes where we talk about training and recovery. Don’t go crazy and run 2x a day, don’t just buy a whole load of running gear which you may not even use.

After you’ve got into the swing of things, say a couple of runs a week for a month or two, maybe you’ll notice more where you have some discomfort. Great news, now you get to go shopping!

Guide me, oh master!

Head to a running shop and use the knowledge you have gained from your own running practice to help pick out your shoes, with the help of the shoe guru in the shop (perhaps try a couple of places). Skip all the expensive socks and that – just go to Sports Direct/Decathlon/TK Maxx or whatever for anything that isn’t shoes. At this stage, your shoes should be far and away the most expensive kit, by maybe 5-10x the next expensive piece of kit you have. If you have a £8 pair of shorts, maybe you’re spending up-to £80 on some fancy shoes. (I wouldn’t, because I’m too tight).

Note – you may have heard I run in barefoot shoes, because I’m freaking amazing. Honestly, I prefer barefoot running but think it may not be the best place to start – but if you want to try it out, see if you can find a barefoot coach/mentor around you.

Running Friends

You’ll probably want to do this before you complete the shopping phase – but we all know you won’t because we are living in a material world and I am… certain you’ll want to indulge in some consumer therapy.

Anyway, yes find some friends who like to run, or groups online or at the pub… you don’t have to do anything as crass as actually run with them, but it helps you get a bit more immersed in the hobby and move you more towards your goal. Enthusiasm breeds progress, and podcasts.

Final thoughts

As we move out of lockdown, there are going to be people who started out with good intentions – taking the once-a-day exercise rules who perhaps gave up once it became hard. There are going to be those who stayed in for most of the lockdown and are perhaps now lower in the fitness spectrum than they were going in. Finally, those who want to use the post-lockdown experience as a time to enjoy the freedom.

Whatever the case, find your adventure and work towards it. Sometimes that means you’ll have to run, so lets get going!

Training for the Isle of Wight Ultra Challenge

Well. It’s happened. We’re finally following a ‘proper’ training programme. Not sure what’s come over us…

Or perhaps I am sure and this is actually a sensible reaction. We’ve decided to run the Isle of Wight Ultra Challenge, which features a tough 106km route round the coast of the Isle of Wight with 2,000 metres of climbing (paraphrasing the website). In an effort to not completely fail, we thought it might be sensible to actually do some more regimented training.

Interestingly the race does frame expectations of finishing on the website:

  • Runners – 9 to 16 hours
  • Joggers – 16 to 20 hours
  • Walkers – 20 to 36 hours

I hope we fall into the first category, but we’ll see! So how does one find a training programme to follow? There are many books, advice from peers and the Internets, but we’ve gone for the easy route: a 16-week plan from the organisers that they kindly sent to all entrants.

The format of the plan is structured around three-to-five runs a week of varying intensity with two core strength sessions. The runs are split between hill reps, tempo runs, mid-range runs at a comfortable pace, longer runs at an ultra-pace on trails and an easy recovery run the day after. The recovery run then gradually builds as the plan continues until it peaks at week 14 on 30kms. It all seems a bit perverse at this point, but let’s see how it goes.

Just to mix it up at week 2, we’re looking to run a local 50 km trail run. Specifically the Cold Christmas 50k which is a self-navigating race.

WeekWeekly KMs
145
248
353
456
562
620
769
878
983
1020
1187
1290
1397
14100
1520
16RACE WEEK! (108kms)

I personally won’t be able to stick to the specific days and training sessions, but as long as i do the weekly distance, it will probably work. The other interesting thing to point out are the two points where the distance falls to 20km, likely to allow the old legs to recover.

I fully expect to injure myself at some point either way. Oh well.

Upping the Daft Ante

Looking back to last year, various points this year, and now, even, I recall stating quite clearly that I would no longer be attempting anything longer than a marathon. Yet I have just finished trying to work out when I need to pack up my bag with the essential kit listed in the pre-race e-mail for the 50-kilometre Ultra Tour of Edinburgh. If this was the be-all and end all then one may conclude that I was just trying to make the best use of the Rat Race Events Season ticket we purchased for 2019 – after all, wasn’t that why we did the 60-mile Ultra Tour of Arran? Actually, I think that was Jamie’s daft idea… But, no, the 50k event coming up this weekend is in-fact not the daftest thing about this week.

The daftest thing I’ve done this week was enter the doubly-long Isle of Wight Challenge. Again.

Having somehow concluded that my withdrawal from the event in 2017 somewhere around the 80-kilometer mark meant there was ‘unfinished business’ I have gone all Rocky 2 on the situation and re-entered the 2019 bout.

Having now read the synopsis of Rocky 2 (as I’ve not seen it in a very long time) I realise that I am actually being Apollo Creed. Creed is the one that feels like the ‘business is unfinished’ and begging for the rematch that – spoiler alert – doesn’t end well for him. Aww nuts.

Anyway – so whilst this race is only 10km more than the event completed earlier this year on Arran it is a 1-day event rather than 2. Perhaps this time I should pay more attention to those 100km training guides I found before… or just stick to spin classes and pull-ups.

Onward to Arran!

Let’s assess what I said I would do:

1. Assuming I can manage 20miles/week on my first week back comfortably I should be fine. If I’m really struggling then there will need to be some re-consideration on my part. 

2. I will probably need to up my distance more rapidly than the guides stipulates three weeks in to ‘catch-up’; but this I’ll have to keep an eye on.  

3. Get some actual yoga sessions in.

4. Get a flu shot.

Me, 13th January 2019

OK – so I didn’t do 20miles/week on my first week back. Perusing the training forum I don’t think I clocked a 20mile week until w/c 4th February – almost a month later.

The following statement probably sums up my training: 

Was supposed to run 20mi on the weekend (like 10mi/day) – but spent Saturday hung over then Sunday I…just didn’t. 

Me, 4th February 2019

Or this one:

My plan for this morning to do a 20miler went out the window as I was supremely hungover and did not get out of bed until 1400… 

Me, 23rd February 2019 

That said, the day after saying this I did do 28miles (although 10 of that was walking…). That made my first 20mile+ week! (I think, I was a bit too lazy to actually check all the numbers).

Now, I did say some re-consideration may be needed on my part. Sensibly, yes – daftly, no. Last week I did manage 20mi/13mi back-to-back. Although none of the races we’ve done so far have been over a marathon distance… actually…I don’t think I’ve done a marathon yet this year…oh dear… 

Erm. 

OK, anyway – looking at the cut-off times for the Ultra Tour of Arran, they are 12hrs/day and right now I feel that I am able to comfortably meet that timing. Although I will not be running the whole thing. Sorry – but I think a heavy amount of walking will be on the menu.  

But, surely on the other 3 points I’ve done better? Based on the above I think we can skip over point #2 and get straight onto yoga! 

Well, whilst I didn’t go to a tonne of yoga classes I did spend lots of time stretching – until early March. At this point I started having some knee problems and calf issues. So, I’ve cut back on stretching, focusing instead on cross training on the bike (lots of spinning) in the last weeks leading up to the event.

Also, I didn’t get a flu shot. 

Ok, so I’m batting 0/4 going into the first ultra-marathon of the year. But, based on my running to date I am confident I will be able to complete it through adequate pacing. Two weeks to go, yay…

Don’t try this at home… 

Daft Training – The Road to Arran

Disclaimer: This is not a guide on how you should train. Rather some thoughts on how I might train.

In previous years I have mostly relied on my normal fitness levels to get me through races. Sure, I’ve added in training runs, but I’ve never actually followed a guide to get to an ‘optimal’ training level. This has served me pretty well – whilst I’ve not really been hitting quick times, I’ve still been able to complete the majority of the events I’ve entered. Those I haven’t attended have mostly been down to logistics – I.e. getting time and money to get there in time for the start. Exceptions to this have been pulling out at ~80km of the 100+km Isle of Wight Challenge as my feet were so ruined I wasn’t able to manage much more than a shuffle and… it being cold and wet for an obstacle run we were in wave 13 for and electing to go to a pub instead of queuing in the rain to climb over a wall or whatever. 

Coming to this year of Daft Running, this was going to be my approach again – work out more, work out longer and make sure to get a training run in that is close to the distance(s) covered at some point before the race. Alas we are two weeks into 2019 and I have been out with the flu for most of it. It is still lingering and going to impact my daft over-training regimen I had planned – and Jamie has completed 2 more events than I have this year. 

As the first big challenge this year is the Ultra Tour of Arran (UTA) – one that was on the borderline between ‘daft’ and ‘stupid’ to start with, I thought it would make sense to find out how one is ‘supposed’ to train for such an event. 

Utilising all my skills of googling I have discovered… I probably don’t have enough time to training properly. 

Shocker. 

Let me stress here, before someone reads this as ‘well, this guy is doing it without training, I’m gonna go from my couch-to-5k app and sign up for the same event!’: 

  1. If that’s something you want to do, then sure. But I’m not accountable for how that works out for you. There’s plenty to be said for mental toughness, but remember even David Goggins struggled through his first 100k and he was a Navy Seal at the time (or recently retired). If you’re reading something about training expectations from me, I doubt you’ve been part of some elite military unit.  
  2. I have been doing marathon+ distances every year since 2014; including events where I have been particularly ill prepared. Granted others have been doing this for decades, all I’m saying is that at this point I have some idea of what I can do and how my body feels in certain states of distress whilst running! 

What I’ve learned: 

  • Searching for ‘back-to-back marathon training’ seems to identify training for marathons a few weeks after the first, which is swell but doesn’t help when it’s the next day. Unfortunately, being camped in the middle of an island off the coast of Scotland does not seem to be the most likely place to be taking “an epsom salt bath”. 
  • Training plans are often focused on getting the best outcome on the day, and expectation that this is the ‘one big event’. Whilst that may be fine for someone aiming to do and run a good race, this isn’t really the style ‘Daft Running’ focuses on. We are more focused on experiencing the various races and locations – and beer. 
  • Training plans for 100k-ish races assume around 20wks of preparation. 

Ok, so the UTA is in 13-weeks. I am still ill recovering from the flu… Ok, let’s assume I can get 12weeks of good training in. 

I have narrowed down the ones I can stomach reading (I.e. the ones that don’t throw in lots of science-y sounding words in an attempt to appear smart), and focusing in on the training plan for the wall and one on the Marathon Handbook blog which actually both reads and seems sensible (the plan itself is an xlsx link within the blog post). 

Whilst I haven’t run much since my last marathon in September, I am confident that I could run around 20-30miles/week if I broke it down to 6mi (10k) segments 4-5x a week. The Wall training plan has this distance around week 8 of 20 and the Marathon Handbook (I’ll refer to this as simply MH from here in) seems to have it at around week 14 of 26. So, on these plans I think I may just scrape by.  

Both plans focus around including both cross-training (swimming, cycling) and core training (stability, yoga). One thing missing from the plans, but strangely enough highlighted as important in the MH blog, is strength training – it may come under the ‘gym work’ heading it the MH plan. In my opinion (stress on the word – opinion) a key thing is learning to run with tired legs. In the last third of any race your legs will be getting tired – if you are running it as a race – and in an endurance event having tired legs in the first third-to-half of the race is not unusual. Getting used to running on tired legs is pretty key so you don’t freak out when your legs are starting to moan yet there is still another 20miles to go. I think the MH plan undersells the importance of core and strength training – alternating between yoga and ‘gym work’ each week for an hour, the wall’s numbers for these sessions are more like it – but to be honest I’d rather say I’d be doing yoga-style stretching or core-strengthening every day (15mins-1hr). 

Now, I don’t plan on following either plan to the letter – but key things I am taking from this will be: 

  1. Assuming I can manage 20miles/week on my first week back comfortably I should be fine. If I’m really struggling then there will need to be some re-consideration on my part. 
  2. I will probably need to up my distance more rapidly than the guides stipulates three weeks in to ‘catch-up’; but this I’ll have to keep an eye on. 
  3. Get some actual yoga sessions in. 
  4. Get a flu shot.

Now getting past the first point above will be my main indicator for how I will proceed, but needless to say I’d be more comfortable with 15+ weeks that I thought I had when I agreed to do this event in the first place – which I thought then was a pretty daft thing to do over a period that included Christmas.

To re-iterate, this is what I think I will be aiming to do. I will likely not do this as I am lazy and daft – but will keep you up to date. I would also not recommend people take this as ‘advice’, I’d actually expect that a decent trainer would be saying something more along the lines of “cancel the races, work on postural alignment and functional movements” – but “YOLO” right? (do people say YOLO still?)

For more updates on this please listen into the podcast or visit back in a month or so!