North Downs Way Marathon

Last Sunday I went back to the North Downs Way to run the NDW Marathon. The first edition of this race organised by Hermes Running, the same people that organised the Thames Meander I ran in March. I loved the NDW when I first ran on it during the NDW50 and I was keen to get back there.

The day started with pouring rain but by the time I was at the Reigate Golf Club (where the race HQ was) the sun was out and it looked like it had no intention of raining again.
I had to park quite far away from the starting line, but that gave me the chance to get to know a couple of other guys including one I ran the first kms with, which is one of the reasons I like going to races.

After a bit of pre-race briefing by race director David Ross with his cool Western States buckle we were off. Some people in front just disappeared straight away. I had no intention of letting the excitement make me run too fast and I decided to stick to a 5 min/k on flat, run fast downhill and do whatever possible uphill.

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I was feeling quite good. The sun was shining, the woods were thick and the paths were perfectly dry. I did not even feel the first uphill bit. After around 5k we were at the first big downhill, Reigate Hill. I remember doing it uphill during the NDW50 and it was as steep as I remembered it. I decided to go down fast. A lot of small steps and boom I was at the bottom pretty fast feeling like a hero.
I started overtaking some people. I remember hat part as being the bit I liked the most during the NDW50 but doing it the other way round I did not remember it much. I was going to do it again on the way back so I was curious to see if I was going to get some flash back from May.

At the 10th km there was another climb and on top of that I should have gone right and kept at the top of the hill until the famous Box Hill steps. Instead I took the wrong turn and went straight down. I thought I was going fast and instead I was overtaken by two guys (not taking part in the race) that were going at least twice as fast. Amazing speed. My eyes were watering, I could not go faster than that, I was scared of tripping and these two guys went down like missiles. I later discovered they were @TheGingerKenyan and @kendall_danny. At the bottom I found myself with the first lady and we both realised we were in the wrong place. The two guys told us how to get back to the Box Hill steps and off we went. I don’t think we lost much time, but we had to do an extra climb to find ourselves back on Box Hill.

150719213406_HThe downhill on the steps was fun, but my legs were starting to complain a bit. I was happy when I got to the stepping stones.

After crossing the A24 we ran up the asphalt road that I hated doing downhill at the NDW50, the bit through the vineyards. Doing it uphill was not too bad and after 2 more flat kms on top of the hill and through some woods we arrived at the halfway point where we turned around and started running back. I felt quite good. I was 10th (I counted the runners coming back). Stupidly I forgot that the worst part is after the 30th km and the good feelings I have at 21k do not count. Like an idiot I tried to keep my 10th place and ran a couple of kms at 4:30 but then the downhill via the vineyard really killed my legs and I started losing positions. I was happy when I arrived at the stepping stones again and I stopped for the first time at an aid station. I took some extra water and started going up the box hill steps, walking for the first time in the race.
When I arrived at the top I had lost 2 more positions and my legs were broken and still had 15km to go.

The rest of the race was just pure suffering. When I was running I was doing 6 min/km, but when the trail was uphill I had to walk and ended up doing some very slow kms. Cramps were always around the corner and I started eating salt sticks every 20 minutes, I even chewed one and almost puked, disgusting.

At the 37th km I walked up Reigate Hill. It felt like vertical, a lot harder than when I did it at the NDW50 even if I only had 37k in the legs and not 50+. At the top I could not get the legs moving and spent too much time walking and chatting with a guy on a horse. I then shuffled for a bit until I got to the last aid station, 1.6 miles before the end. I probably stopped to drink there for too long and two more runners caught up with me. As it was the end I tried to fight not to lose more positions. One guy stayed behind but the other one, a 60+ veteran, was just too strong. We did some bits at around 4:15 min/k and still as soon as there was a uphill part he was too strong for me.

I finished 22nd in 4 hours and 8 minutes.

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As always I think I should have paced myself better and saved my legs a bit more on the downhill bits. It’s quite a difficult trail, but I really enjoyed the day. I had a couple of kms where I hated myself for being there, but the rest was fantastic. The belly, for the first time in a marathon, have not given me any problem. I stuck to my gels and just water and did not get anything strange form aid station this time.

The medal at the end was also the biggest one I have ever received. Beautiful day on the trails, met some nice people, seen some nice scenery, wasted my legs a bit, all in all: a happy day.

If you are interested here is the Strava upload you can check it out here.

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North Downs Way Marathon training (part 2)

This is the tapering week before the marathon on Sunday. So I rested a bit, ran less and no speed training.

On Tuesday I did 11 km taking it very easy. I tried to never get my heart to go over 135bmp. I feel like my slow days are not slow enough, so this time I really put an effort in trying to go slow.

On Wednesday I ran 14.5k on the river and Richmond Park, again exploring new paths. It was fun, a bit of rain, lots of young deer running away from the bushes, a good way to start the day.

I rested on Thursday and then on Friday went for a 10k run in Bushy Park. I think I have been a good boy this week and managed to avoid going too fast and getting tired. I cannot wait for race day.

An interesting event of the week was taking part in a Brooks twitter competition and winning! I never win anything, but thanks to this tweet I won a place at the Cardiff Half Marathon and some kit from Brooks. I am looking forward to seeing what they send me. I was not planning to do that race as it is not close to home and it is quite a busy one, but I am now quite excited to try a road half marathon and visit a new city. Shame it happens very close to an 50k race I plan on doing the week before. More info on my races schedule coming soon!

So in total this week I have only run 36km which should have left me full of energy for the North Downs Way Marathon. Check out my report of the race in my next post.

North Downs Way Marathon training (part 1)

Only 2 weeks before the next marathon so I kept on training but slightly lowered the intensity.

On Tuesday I went out for an easy 12k run. My legs felt really tired but after 7k I felt better and ran through Bushy Park and the young deer with a bit more speed.

Wednesday was the speed training day and I did a warm up and then 5×1000 at around 3:50 m/km with 2 minutes rest, for a total of 12k in the wind and rain (where is the summer gone?). I suffered quite a lot. Probably the long week ends, the wind, don’t know, but it felt like I was giving it all.

On Thursday I went for an easy run (15k at 4:38 m/km) via Richmond Park. The new part I have never explored before is really cool, that wild hill (see last post) is really fun to run both up and down.

Friday I ran 5km of warm up and then 5k sort of fast (at 3:54 m/km). It was very cold in Bushy Park, almost like May, and we are in July! At the end of the warm up I had a bit of fun with the GPS.

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On Saturday I did a long run. 30k at 4:45 on the path from Hampton Court to Weybridge. I felt pretty tired at the end and happy to be back home. It was a very hot day. I also decided not the eat any gels to learn to burn fat better. I don’t know about burning, but I definitely sweated. I lost 3kg in 2 hour 22 minutes!

Sunday I did the usual 20k around Richmond Park, again looking for the outer smaller paths. Took it easy, but had fun. Nice way to finish the week.

Overall nothing special this week. 101km in total and now it’s time to taper.

Have fun!

100k+ week again!

After the weeks dedicated to getting a bit faster and running a half marathon it was time to prepare for the next race, the North Downs Way Marathon. Yes, I am going to back to the trails of the NDW, I cannot wait. So I had to think less about speed and go back to running for longer.

On Tuesday I did a recovery run of 12.5km at 4:45 m/km. I bought a new pair of shoes. As I fell in love with the Saucony Zealot and their 4mm drop I bought the Saucony Peregrine. To test them I went criss crossing Bushy Park, looking for the most “wild” trails there. It was a wonderful morning and the shoes are awesome too.

On Wednesday I did the same again. Trail shoes and search for interesting new trails, but this time in Richmond Park. I found a hill I never explored. It has a lot of single tracks going up at various angles. I will go there more often. It was also a very hot day, probably the hottest of the year. It was above 24 degrees at 5am! I did 15k at 4:35.

On Thursday I went out for a tempo run. I fist did a 5k warm up and then 5k at 3:55. I finished the session with a 1.7k cool down.

Friday I took it easy as I wanted to have enough energy for long runs during the week end. I did 10k at 4:36.

On Saturday I went for a long run. I probably left too late and it was very hot. I wanted to run 40k but the heat had the best of me. I ran out of water at the 20th km and had to stop in Richmond Park to refill and then fell running down a hill and slid on my back head first. I got home with rocks in my pants. In total I ran 36km at 4:59. Not too bad, but less than planned.

On Sunday the weather was completely different. It rained a bit and it was fresh. I looked for new trails in the Wimbledon Common, via Richmond Park. Always an adventure. I got lost and ended up running a bit more than planned which was good as it was compensating for the day before. I ran
23.5km at 4:54/km.

Overall it was a good week. I managed to run longer distances, test new shoes, see new paths I will explore more in the future, had a lot of fun. Week total: 109km.

One of the highlight of the week was going to see an evening of trail running short movies organised by Like the Wind magazine. They brought Trails in motion to London and shown the movies in the basement of a pub near Liverpool Street to a bunch of like minded people. I did not get the chance to chat with many people as I arrived late and left early, but the vibe was good.

Here is (without saying too much) what I think about the various movies:

From the Trails
Nice images of wild woods and hills in Japan, boring video, I did not get the message.
Score: 4/10

Just keep running
A short movie about personal life and problems faced by Ruby Muir. She knows how to run! Nice to see someone go so fast on spiky rocks wearing Five Fingers.
Score: 6/10

La Triple Corona
The movie is about three sky running races taking place in Mexico. I like the way it showed how wild and hard those races are and the guts the runners have to run them. It looked very “real” and did not try to be poetic or philosophical like too many running movies do.
Score: 7/10

Around Patagonia
I really liked the locations and the idea of two friends going for a nice adventure together. I did not like the bit where, in the moment of difficulty during the run, the movie showed the family of one of the runners as if he went to war and was looking for strength thinking of home. You are on holiday in one of the most beautiful part of the world doing what you like!
Score: 7/10

An idea
Too short, I would have loved to have seen more of the adventures and achievements of the runner. Nice images and montages, but not much more.
Score: 5/10

Why we run
This was one of the best movies. I had already seen the shorter version on YouTube. You should definitely check it out.
Score: 8/10

For the Love
I don’t remember much about this movie apart from seeing some famous faces in there.
Score: 4/10

Before he wakes
This is basically what I do every day, run while everybody in the house sleeps and then come back before they wake up. I did go back to bed once like the runner in this movie, but I had a shower first.
Score: 5/10

Finding Traction
This was the main piece of the event, the longest movie too. I really liked it. I think movies need a story and this one had a strong one. It narrates Nikki Kimball attempt to beat the male FKT on the 273 mile Long Trail. I will not tell you how it ends, but it does not matter actually. Seeing the struggle of the runner, the support of the crew is all that matters. Worth watching twice.
Score: 9/10

If you can, try and see these movies. I am not much of a reviewer so don’t listen to me, see them for yourself. I also suggest you subscribe to Like the Wind, because it is a special magazine, crafted with love.

See you around!

Richmond Park Half Marathon

It was time to put my speed training to the test. After the NDW50 I stopped doing 100k+ weeks and concentrated on speed work. To check if it all worked out I was going to run the Richmond Park Half Marathon organised by RunThrough. They are the same cool guys that organised the Wimbledon Common Half I’ve ran last summer and really enjoyed. So I was sure it was going to be a small event like I prefer, but well organised. By the way, I will run the Wimbledon one again next month.

In the week leading to the race I took it easy:

Tuesday I ran 12km at 4:48/km on very tired legs.
Thursday I felt a lot better after a day rest and ran 15km at 4:28/km and on Friday I did an easy 10km at 4:44/km. On Saturday I rested and ate a lot of pasta.

So race day arrived. I was quite thrilled, I had not run an half marathon since last November and I was really looking forward to it especially as it was taking place basically in my backyard. I have run in Richmond Park so much that I was quite curious to see how it would feel to actually race in it.

The day started very sunny and hot and I cycled to the race start. When I got there there were already quite a lot of runners basking in the sun lying in the grass waiting for the start.

The race was made up of 4 laps. I do not usually like races with laps, but I found out it has its advantages.

The sun was shining and the day was hot when we started. The first part of each lap was uphill, gently, but still uphill, on a large gravel path for a couple of km, then at the top of the hill near Richmond Gate it turned left on pavement going mostly downhill and then the final bit was on a grassy, very uneven path.

The plan was to run around 4:00/4:10 m/km for the first 3 laps and then accelerate in the last one. As usual the plan was forgotten straight away.

The first lap I kept a pace just below 4:00 except for the final grassy/sandy last km that I found super hard on the legs. In the second lap I really found it hard going uphill again. It was also very hot. Every lap I would take a small bottle of water and by the end of the lap I would have drunk half of it and splashed the other half on my head. I have become too used to British weather, when I’ll run in Italy this summer I will melt.

The cool thing about it being a laps race was that I could adapt my pace to what was coming and my strategy became: do what you can uphill and then bomb it downhill. So I alternated slower kms at 4:21 going up with well below 4:00 m/km in the downhill bits.

I really enjoyed it as it became a real race between me and a couple of other people. I ran a lot of km with a guy and we were pushing each other quite a bit. I had to run faster than 3:40 for a couple of km to be sure he would not catch up with me. I am sure he could feel we were fighting too, and I enjoy that, especially as I finished faster then him. After the first lap I also learnt where it was better to run on the grassy final bit (avoid the central sandy part!) and it became much easier.

After the second lap we started lapping a lot of people so I could not really guess in which position I was. I started the race hoping I would finish in the top 15 so I was pretty happy when I crossed the finish line and heard the speaker say I was 10th. Even happier when the official results showed I was 9th! It is always good to finish in the top 10, I love it. richmondhalf

I was not expecting to do a PB as it was not a flat race so I was not too surprised by not even finishing with an average below 4:00 m/km, but I am very happy with the final result and the “racing” feeling I felt. You know when the legs go faster than you expect and they feel like they know what they are doing, you feel good. I could have pushed a bit more uphill in the second and third lap. Easy to say now!

Overall a very good fun race, very well organised and as always Richmond Park was amazing.

If you are interested you can see my Strava of the race here.

I cycled back home and had a massive barbecue with friends. Unfortunately all the sun that made me sweat the first 2 laps was gone and it was actually raining. Not ideal for cooking sausages, but I really enjoyed the company and the cold beer.

See you on the trails!

The speed is back

Here is a quick report of the last two weeks. Again I concentrated on speed works.

The first week I ran a total of 90km.

I did 10 easy km on Monday and 15k on Tuesday at 4:34 min/km (which is good considering all the beer I drank the day before).

Wednesday way interval training day: 3k WU + 5x(1000@3:50 + 2’r) + 1.5k CD. Painful but good.15 more km on Thursday (at 4:29, notice how I am trying to keep a decent pace every day now).

Friday was the painful day. After 3.5km of warm up I ran 10k at a pace faster than 4:00 min/km. I managed to do it. I ran the second half faster too.Good training for my next half marathon. I also purchased a second pair of Saucony Zealot. I love those shoes, but the first pair had given it all after 900+ km.

For the week-end we went to the Isle of Wight and ran on the country roads on Saturday (11k) and on the coast trails on Sunday (12k). Beautiful place. It is worth going back to explore the trails and maybe see some sunshine!

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After a day of rest I went out for a quick run on Tuesday (11k at 4:18). Legs felt good. On Wednesday I ran my usual 15k, finishing with some sprints. I added to that another 15k run on Thursday and took it easy with 10k on Friday.

On Saturday I ran the Bushy Park Parkrun to test whether the latest sessions of speed training had helped.

You can see a video here.I am the one with the black t-shirt and dark blue hat at around the 12th position. And in 12th position is where finished. In 18:10 which is exactly my PB from last year. Which only means one thing: my speed is back, I am as fast as last year even after all those long long runs. I am very happy.

On Sunday I ran 22k at 4:24 to feel cool and complete another 90km week.

Next week I will take it easy as I taper for the Richmond Park Half Marathon on Sunday.

But the most important and thrilling piece of news is that I found my next big challenge. I was looking for something as big as the NDW50 for the second part of the year and decided to enter The Druids Challenge. It will be the first time I take part in a multistage event. Running 3 ultras in 3 days (84 miles in total) will need some serious training. I cannot wait!

Have fun!

In search of speed

As promised I have not been very active on this blog for a while after the NDW50 climax. It is in a way a reflection of my state. After months of trepidation and preparation, after finishing the 50 miles I did not have anything “big” to look forward. I felt a bit empty. I am running 2 half and a full marathon in the next 2 months, but they are not the same as preparing for an ultra. I missed a bit having that event to look forward to.

That did not stop me from enjoying running and I kept training at least 6 times a week. I ran less, but faster. I have worked on trying to get some speed back in my legs. I slowed down quite a lot in the final months before the NDW50. I have been looking at my Strava from last year and I was at least 15 sec/km faster in all my training sessions. So I made sure to have at least one interval session a week and if possible a tempo run.

The first week I did an easy 10k run on Tuesday, a speed session on Wednesday (3k WU + 5x(500m at<3:40 + 1:30r) + 4k CD. Then on Thursday I did 15k but I was really tired. I did a sort of progressive run.

On Friday I did a 5k warm up and then 5k going at 3:50 min/km. I was quite tired by the end of the week but I decided to test my speed by taking part in the Bushy Park Parkrun that I had not done in ages. They had to change the course so I was curious to try it. It is still a very nice run except for a bit at the start where if you do not run at 3:30 min/km you might find yourself stuck with a lot of people going through a small grassy area.
I enjoyed it a lot. I did not do my PB but I was close. I finished 14th overall in 18:20. I was first in my age category which is a nice thing. I ran most of the race with a 13 year old kid that was very impressive. I overtook him the first km and thought I would never see him again and instead he steadily caught up with me and finished 2 positions ahead. Nice one!

The day after I had a little accident. I wanted to go for a long run but I was really tired. So much so that I was not careful enough and kicked a rock and tumbled on the ground, in the mud. I got up and washed my bloody hands and knees in the river Thames and started running again as if nothing had happened, but I was not feeling too good. I only run 15 more km and went home. My left toe was not in a good shape and when I removed my socks I was scared of what I would find. It was not too bad but it affected the next week.

Overall it was an 85k week, shame for the Sunday fall.

The second week of my speed training started badly. On Tuesday  I did 10k in the rain and wind to see if my toe was ok. It was not too bad but I ran with a different form and ended up making my ankle hurt a lot. I could not walk by the end of the day. So I rested for one day and ran again on Thursday and did 15k to get rid of all the thai food and beer I had the day before with my wife.
On Friday I did 12 more km, at a relatively quick pace. Saturday I went for a longer run. I had not run more than 15k for quite a bit, so it was good to go out for longer. I did 31k at 4:44 . Wonderful sunny day on the river. Loved it. I completed the week with 15k at 4:27. I was definitely feeling better and getting over the toe issue.

And so I completed another 85k week. I was quite happy with the average weekly pace increase.

Next week I will keep on working on speed and see if I can get some nice results.

Have fun!