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New training regime

It took me days and days of planning but I finally came up with a nice and challenging plan for 2017.
I am a big fan of excel tables and making plans and stick to them, but this year I went one step further. I am now using Training Peaks for all my planning and the amount of data that comes out of it is amazing and lovely.
Towards the end of 2016 I read the new book by Jason Koop and I liked everything he says so I decided to base my training on his ideas. I have always been a big fan of repeats and speed training but I tended to do it once, maybe twice a week and mix it with other sessions. The concept of periodisation was new to me and I am trying it now.img_8983
I am now almost at the end of the first block completely dedicated to quick speed interval sessions at above threshold and I have been doing sessions like those for 3 times a week!
Sometimes it’s been really hard, especially when done early in the morning like I do. Basically for 3 times a week for the past month or I have been doing 5k of warm up and then 5 times 3:00 at killer speed and 3:00 of rest. Then a cool down between 3 and 4k to get back home. Once you finish a session like this you are happy to be alive. I have also tried to do them uphill if I can. To add to the fun and get the heart rate go up faster.
It seems to be working well.

Races

I have also planned most of the races I will do this year. The main ones are going to be the four 50 milers organised by Centurion. Last year I wanted to do all of them and complete the Grand Slam but due to the injury, I have only done the last two. This time I will try to stay fit and do them all. Since I now have a bit more experience on that distance I want to try to push myself a bit more, hence this new training regime. I would love to do one under 9 hours (8:30 is actually my target, I say it here now so I have to do it!). Nine hours I think are feasible as I would need to “just” shave 22 minutes from last year CW50.
In July I will also try to do my first 100k. I entered the Race to the Stones as I love the Ridgeway.
In between those “A races” I entered other shorter ones, trying to match them to the training block I will be doing at the time. The first one was a 10-mile race on the North Downs Way I did last week, the Denbies 10 miler.

The Denbies 10

What attracted me to this race was the location and the length. Ten fast miles were perfect for the type of training I would be doing in that period and the race takes place in bits of the North Downs way which I love.

The morning was super cold. When I got into the car it was -4 degrees, but the sky was clear and the sun came out by the time we started running which made the temperature better the views stunning.

I started strong as I wanted to be towards the front by the time we hit the single track trail. The first couple of km were uphill on the tarmac. I managed to run at a decent pace and kept my eyes on the people in front. I wanted to try and stick to the top ten group. The first 3 guys disappeared pretty quickly and the fourth person was gaining terrain and it was clear it was going to be hard to catch up with.

By the time we reached the top of the hill I was in 8th position but really struggled to accelerate, partly due to the legs refusing to do so after the uphill start and also because we mostly ran on frozen mud, which was really a killer for my ankles. Luckily that was my favourite part of the trail as it goes through some very nice wooded land in the Ranmore Common.

At around the 5th km, I started accelerating and catching up with the group in front and when we go to the White Downs Descent, which is a 1km long steep descent I let myself go. I felt like one of those young Salomon runners, no braking, no fear. I overtook everyone in that descent and by the time we reached the bottom I was in 5th position and the others were back by a bit. I tried to keep running at a good pace for the next three km that were up and down, muddy and tiring. I almost tripped on a stile and was very close to disaster but I did not want to slow down. I was running strong, almost always under 4 min/km and I felt that all those repeats really made a difference.

Unfortunately, we then reached the bit of the race I was most afraid of. What goes down must come up at some point and the two km climb up back to Ranmore were really tough. By then the mud was not frozen anymore and my feet weighed a tonne each. I was overtaken at the top of the climb and could not stay with the guy.Events to Live Denbies 10, Jan 2017 by SussexSportPhotography.com  11:54:50We then reached the final tarmac descent and again I was overtaken there too even if I really bombed down that road, 2kms at around 3:20 min/km. It felt fast, but not enough to catch up with the guy that just overtook me.

I finished in 7th position. Dead, but very happy. I was so tired I even said “grazie” to the lady giving out drinks.

I only found out later in the evening that I was the first in my category (MV40), which is nice. I hope I have not missed anything by not staying there for the prize giving. I am very happy with the result, I was a couple of minutes faster than I expected and that gives me great confidence in the first part of my training.

Here is the Strava of the day.

2016 summary

Here is the usual end of year post, but late. 🙂

It’s been a year of two halves. The first half consisted of the most painful months in my running “career”. It took me ages to recover from a combo of shin splint and ankle impingement caused by pushing a bit too much at the end of 2015. The second half has been a much more enjoyable combination of experiences, from being able to run again, trying new races and doing some pacing for friends.

Here is a quick summary.

January

Still convinced injuries go away if you ignore them I tried to run, but every time I did I had to stop for a day or two.
I only clocked a total of 60k in a month and the pain was still there.

February

I started going to see a physio and he slowly managed to get me better and better. I spent every evening doing at least 45 minutes of strength training for my feet, shins and core. I even got to run almost 18k in one go. I thought the future was going to be bright.

March

I gave up with running. For every step forward I was doing two backwards. The pain was still too unbearable. I decided to do something else and started cycling or swimming every day. I even went to the gym on Friday mornings for classes of Boxercise (killer but fun).

April

More cross training and hiking. More cancelled races. Gave up on doing the Centurion 50 milers Grand Slam. Very sad.
The last weeks of April I was starting to feel like I could run again and started cycling to Richmond Park, run a bit and then cycle back. At the end I was doing more than 50k a week. I was back!

May

I was a runner again! Weeks of: 56k, 66k, 77k and 91k! I dedicated my time mostly on improving my form to avoid getting injured again.

June

I was finally running more than 100k a week. I paced Manu on his first 100 miler, the SDW100. I ran 62k that day and it was probably the best running experience of the year. Going through the night on those beautiful hills, seeing the sun come up and with it Manu’s morale and speed. Being there when he crossed the finish line, I still get goose bumps now thinking about the last 5k of ecstatic running.

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July

I was finally ready to do some racing myself. So I did the North Downs Way Marathon one weekend and the Chiltern Challenge 50k the week after. I suffered a lot in both but really loved being back wearing a bib and those hours spent on the Chiltern Hills were worth all the pain.

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I spent the last week in Puglia where on a normal day it was 40 degrees. I ran almost every day but not more than 10/15k. Even at 6 am the heat was too much.

August

August was a busy month. I paced Davide on the NDW100 but unlike my previous pacing experience, I felt I was not that useful. I also ended up not running the full 50 miles I promised him but only 41k in the middle of the race and the last 12k. It was still fun and a good lesson for me.

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Then at the end of the month I went to the Peak District to run the Dig Deep 50k. I ended up running 55k as I got lost. To date, this is the race I suffered the most, mentally and physically. Beautiful places, though.

September

I ran the Centurion Chiltern Wonderland 50 mile which was probably the best race experience I ever had. I paced it to perfection and basically ran it all (apart from the craziest hills). Beautiful.

October

I ran the Wimbledon Common Half Marathon finishing 7th overall but with my slowest time on this race I have now done three times. A lot of fun, but too muddy to try and do a PB.

November

Another trail half marathon: the Dirt Running Half. A lot of fun, first part fast, second part hilly. I finished 15th overall but 1st in my age group. Nice.

At the end of the month, I ran the Centurion Wendover Woods 50 mile. Very interesting experience, five laps of killer hills. It’s been a mental journey from start to finish. I cannot wait to go back next year.

December

I took this as a “month off”. I did not run too much the first three weeks. Mostly 40/50k a week. I did a Parkrun that killed my legs and was more than 20 seconds slower than my PB from last year. In the last week I ran again almost 100k, to get back into action and start with the real training in January.

Overall the second half of the year has been very good. Being able to run again after so much time injured has made me appreciate the sport even more. I feel very lucky every day I can go out the door and enjoy running, whether on the road or the trails, I love it all.

Summary of the year racing:

  • 1 Park Run (5k)
  • 2 Half Marathons
  • 1 Marathon
  • 2 50k
  • 2 50 mile

 

medals

I only noticed today I was given the wrong medal at the Chiltern Challenge, it says 25k!

 

Stay tuned for a future post with my plan for 2017, it will be a super running year!

Five laps in the woods

When I woke up for the final race of the year (Wendover Woods 50) I was pretty scared. The week before I was pretty confident and excited (as can be read from my previous post), but when at 4:15am I opened my eyes I started being worried. Darkness and coldness does not help to get pumped for a 50 mile race.

I was scared of everything this time, not just the distance. I was afraid of the cold, the mud, the fact it was a five lap race, my stomach being funny for the last couple of weeks, my old injury coming back, the hills etc. While still in bed I had time to think about a million things that could go wrong. Luckily 30 minutes later, after having had breakfast, all the positive excitement came back and I felt ready, got into the car (after defrosting it) and left very early.

By the time I arrived at the start it was still dark and all my fears came back. The start of the race was in a field with a couple of tents, pitch black. I left the car for kit check and registration and stepped on a cow poo straight away. By the time I had my bib, left my drop bag and got back to the car I was frozen and my feet wet (and smelly). I set the phone alarm clock to wake me up in 15 minutes and closed my eyes and tried to relax and get ready. When I opened my eyes (I did not actually sleep) daylight was coming but visibility was still bad due to the thick fog.

Quick visit to the portable toilets and off we went. The start was not where the race ended, to avoid a bottleneck at the start due to a small stile. I managed to warm up a bit on the way to the start. The race briefing was the shortest ever and we were off. It was time to relax and put the training to the test.

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The Wendover Woods are quite nice. Small but nice. I had been there for one of the Rail To Trail marathons and I remembered steep hills and a lot of mud. Luckily this time the mud was not terrible, the trails were a lot better than I expected, soft, leafy, slippery in places, but never too muddy.

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The woods are quite small but the guys at Centurion managed to create a nice 10 mile loop that is very varied and fun. I only realised after the first lap that we were always running quite close to the centre of the woods, which made it fun as we kept on encountering the same people going for a stroll or walking the dogs. Most of them were nice and supportive of the race, asking us how we were doing and stuff.

So one of my fears, the mud, was unfounded. My apprehension of steep hills, on the other hand, was not. This is the race with the most climbs I have ever done. I am sure it’s nothing compared to real mountain races, but for me it was quite a lot. I think more than twice as much as any other 50 mile race I have done.

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Usually the uphill bits are good to walk, eat some food and in a sort of way almost rest. Not this time. The hills were so steep that my heart rate while walking up hand on knees was a lot higher than while running on flat.

After the first lap I realised my objective to finish in 10 hours was a bit too optimistic. I did the first lap in 1 hour and forty something minutes and I knew I was going to have to slow down if I wanted to finish.

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During the second lap, knowing the terrain, I started planning how I was going to survive running the same spots 4 more times. The first part was the easiest, almost flat, but I found it the least fun to run and I could not wait to get to the first big downhill, down what seemed like a dry river bed. Very steep and slippery with some hidden traps under the fallen leaves. Then after a small climb where I usually had a gel, there was an even steeper descent (called Powerline) that ended in a field, the only bit not in the woods. Then a steady but easy climb and a bit of up and down took us close to the fist aid station, but we could not stop, we could only see it 10 meters away. There were some more kms around the woods before we got there again.

One of the climbs soon after was not even on a visible trail and even after 5 laps I did not know what the best way to tackle it was. The first time I went zig zag, the other times I just went straight towards the next tree with a course sign. No idea what was best. More downhill and then a nice very runnable dirt road finally took us to the aid station. There was only one in the whole race, apart from the one at the start line. So getting at the aid station was quite a morale boost as it meant more than half of the lap had been done.

I only ate fruit and got hot tea (in the last two laps) from the aid stations, the rest was all about trying to eat my own gels and drink my Tailwind powered water.

The long easy climb after the aid station that I ran the first time around became my favourite place where to eat and relax walking for the other 4 laps.

The rest of the lap was first made of a larger bit of dirt road that was very runnable (Boulevard of Broken Dreams), most of it downhill, then a long climb that took us to a nice single track trail (Hill Fort Loop). The craziest climb was at the end of the lap. It was so steep I had to stop and catch my breath just to walk it, grabbing trees and branches to help me stop from sliding down.

More up and down and then a final climb to the finish line. After the first lap I was already dead. The second lap I barely survived. The third lap I was struggling to eat. I looked forward to finish the third lap as I had decided to grab my drop bag and change my top, get the headlamp (a must have after 1pm) and get my MP3 player.

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I felt like a new person, but only for 5 minutes, then I felt s**t. I suffered from not having eaten enough the lap before and the 4th lap became very painful. I was seeing blurred trees and I struggled a lot. I was in the top 30 by the end of lap 3 but I was losing places in the first half of lap 4. When I got to the open field I felt like I was not going to be able to run anymore. I made myself eat more. I had one gel, one salt stick, one Cliff Shot and 3 almonds all in one go. Drank half a bottle of water and Tailwind and walked for 3 minutes to let it all go down. I slowly got better and got into gear again. By the time I was approaching the crazy final climb I was running super excited.

I knew the trail by heart then. Seeing certain rocks or trees that I knew were going to be there gave me strength. I also got to a point where running downhill was so painful I managed not to think about it. I went in a sort of trance where I was thinking of myself as only being made of two arms, with no legs. I let my feet go by themselves and did not think about them, floated. It worked quite well and I finished lap 4 on a high. One more lap to go!

One final cup of tea (I never stop at aid stations, I eat and drink walking away from them even if it means carrying a paper tea cup folded in my pockets) and I was ready for the final push.

After twenty minutes in the final lap I had to turn on the head torch as it was very dark and everything changed. The woods became even more magical. My MP3 player was playing the right music (instead of the boring podcast I had on lap 4, big mistake) and I tried to enter that special “made only of 2 arms and no legs” trance. And it worked. I felt like I was going fast (later I discovered it was the slowest lap I ran, but it felt much faster than the 4th) and started overtaking people again that I knew where on my same lap. Running down the river bed I was almost in tears of happiness, I could not believe I could still run and I was so happy of being in the woods in the dark. When I got to the descent before the field I slipped and fell for the first time and I thought it was about time! I was too excited to be at the end to care.

The fourth lap was painful in places, especially the downhills, but otherwise it was the most fun, magical and emotional of the day. I loved it. Almost at the end, in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, in the dark, a family with kids were there with cow bells encouraging me, I was so dead that it felt surreal and I could not stop thanking them while I running away.

I got to the end so excited I even sprinted the last one hundred meters. I could not believe it, the day was over. It felt eternal but at the same time short. I finished in 10 hours and 27 minutes. 30th place (which I am very happy with).

I collapsed in the car and sent messages to everyone to let them know I was alive. I changed as quickly as I could into warm and dry clothes and went back to the starting tent aid station for a very well deserved minestrone which tasted like the best thing I had ever eaten.

I cannot thank the Centurion people and volunteers enough. It had been a fantastic day and I cannot wait to finally try and do all four of the 50 milers next year.

I have plans. Stay tuned!

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In between 50 milers

What have I done in the past two months? My two readers will be asking.

After the Chiltern Wonderland 50 it was time to rest and prepare for the next 50 miler, the Wendover Woods 50, which I will run this Saturday.

I was quite happy with my performance at the CW50. I did not do an incredibly fast race, but as my second 50 miler I think it was a good exercise in patience and careful pacing, which is not what I am usually good at. So I decided I did not need to do anything special to prepare for the WW50 except run consistently in the two months in between. Obviously I could not let 2 months go by without doing a race, so I decided to do two trail half marathons.

After the CW50 I was pretty tired and due to a nasty cold I ended up running only twice the week after. One run was particularly fun as I found myself in Richmond Park so early in the morning it was still pitch black and I had to run blind. I was not ready for winter darkness yet!

The following week I felt better and ran my usual six times including some nice tempo workout, a wet 21k on Saturday and a 17k on Sunday for a total of 74k.

The week of the 3rd of October I killed myself: easy Tuesday, repeats on Wednesday, recovery Thursday, tempo run on Friday and finally 30k on Saturday and 20k on Sunday with very tired legs (103k in total). The real enemy of the week had been the stomach. Every single day I had cramps after 10k. Not good.

Then came the week of the first half marathon. I took it easy running only 2 days and then on Saturday I ran the Wimbledon Common Half Marathon for the third time. I really enjoy that race. I love the woods in the Wimbledon Common and the organisation is always spot on. Nice little race. I ran it last year in the summer too (it is held twice a year) and finished 9th. I wanted to do better this time. It was raining and muddy so it was going to be tough to finish in a better time, but I was aiming for a top 10 finish nonetheless. I stuck with the lead pack as much as I could and settled for 5th place for the first 5k. I was then overtaken by two guys and tried to stick to them. The race is made of two laps with a climb at the start of each so halfway through you have to run up a muddy hill again. This is where I managed to get to 6th position again, unfortunately I lost it to another person a bit later.

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For most of the second half I was alone. The guys in front where too far to be seen and I could not see anyone behind me. In my mind I settled for 7th place and in a way stopped pushing. I could have probably done a better time if I had had someone to race with but I was happy crossing the line in 7th place in 1:29, almost 6 minutes slower than last year. It had been a lot of fun, but I was spent. Half marathons kill me more than longer races and I spent the rest of the day going from my bed to the sofa like a zombie with an upset stomach.

With another half marathon to do a month later and 6 weeks to go before the next 50 miler it was time to ramp up the kms.

The next week I ran 88k, the highlight was a nice Autumn 20k run on North Downs Way early on Sunday morning. I really like those trails, but I had to cut it short as there were a lot of cows and I am scared of cows when I am alone, so I turned around a bit earlier than planned.

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Then it was time for another serious week. I ran 102km including a nice uphill repeat session, a tempo run and a 42k run to celebrate my 42nd birthday. It had been a nice solid week which I followed with another even better one of 120k with nice back to back long runs during the weekend (28 on Saturday and 39 on Sunday). That was it, enough long runs for the WW50.

On the 12th of November I ran the Dirt Running Half Marathon. I really enjoyed it two years ago, it was actually my first race on trails. I had fun again this time, even if the weather was not very good. The first half of the race is along a canal so it’s really flat and you can run it fast. Then there is a hill that takes you to the woods. I killed me and I lost a couple of places. The second half is in beautiful woodland. I loved it, especially the breakneck downhills in slippery mud. The race ends with a couple more kms on the canal where I managed to get some speed back in and dropped the guy I had run the woods with. I finished roughly 5 minutes slower than the previous time. In part because the course was slightly different, in part because it was more muddy, but most of all because I am not as fast. Strava showed that I had been faster on the canal bit last time and there are no excuses there, no mud.

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I was pleasantly surprised I finished 15th overall and first in my category, SM40. It’s the first time I win anything and I was happy to step on the podium for once!

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Last week I took it very easy, trying to taper well. I ran 6 times but never pushed too much. I did a total of 85k while this week I will run very little before the race, just the 11k today. I will try to sleep as much as possible, stretch and foam roll every evening and just hope I can perform on Saturday as well as I did on my last 50 miler.

I will surely do a post about the WW50 and then it will be time to talk about 2017!

See you!

Chiltern Wonderland 50

After pulling out of the first two Centurion 50 milers I finally felt fit enough to tackle my second ever 50 mile race, the CW50 (Chiltern Wonderland 50). Training this year has been pretty poor due to the never ending injury and only in May things started looking normal or at least bearable for my shin and ankle. Since then I tried to get back into running seriously. I paced Manu for the last 55k in his epic SDW100 in June, I then ran the NDW Marathon and Chiltern Challenge 50k Ultra in July. In August I had my ass handed to me while pacing Davide on the NDW100 and again racing the Intro to Ultra Peak District 50k. Coming into September I was feeling pretty good. I did some long weeks, culminating with a 40k Saturday followed by a 30k Sunday two weeks before the CW50 that gave me confidence. Especially the run I did on Saturday where I tried to keep my heart rate very low and see how I felt. It felt good and after 30k I was fresh and accelerated happily.

I therefore decided to base my effort on the CW50 on my heart rate. I was going to try and keep it under 140bpm for at least the first 50k and then see if I could accelerate a bit towards the end. Instead of starting too fast and then crawl at the end like I usually do.

Last year I did my first 50 miler in exactly 10 hours (NDW50). At the time I was a lot fitter than this year, but a lot less experienced, so the plan was to try to finish at least under 10 hours.

I love the Chiltern Hills and as this race does not follow any particular national trail we were promised an especially beautiful route and we were not disappointed. Those hills are fantastic and the whole race went up and down beautiful hills, many woodlands and very few boring road or open fields. The views when popping out of the woods were some of the best you can get in the British countryside and definitely kept your mind away from the effort at hand.

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As planned I started slow, keeping an eye on my heart rate. The first 5k were mostly flat on the river side so I needed to stop myself from going faster.

The first real hill came and to keep the heart low I started walking bits of it, eating the first gel of the day. That was basically what I did the whole race, as soon as I felt it was too much effort going uphill I was walking. Walking with intent, but not killing myself. At the same time if the trail was flat or downhill I ran it. No excuses this time. In previous races I always misjudged the pace and ended up having to walk some bits on the flats too towards the end. Not this time. I am very pleased with my performance. I never felt like I wanted to kick myself for starting the race and loved every second of it.

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At the first aid station I basically did not stop, just grabbed a cookie and kept going. I was feeling a bit cold and I did not want to slow down too much.

I ran a big chunk of the race between the first aid station and the second with a very nice guy and we chatted away. Before we knew it we were at Bix’s aid station, 18 miles done, eating watermelon and feeling great.

The real hills started there and I was glad I saved some energy. The steepest one was the one going up to a windmill. It was so steep you could not even walk it up in a straight line.

 

I stuck to my tactic of keeping the effort level, eat every 40 minutes or so and just enjoy the day. I even started overtaking people and at the halfway aid station at Ibstone I had one of the best cake/cookie/whatever it was. I was not cold anymore and I was actually running out of water before arriving to the next aid station which was a bit of a problem. Especially as I was using Tailwind this time so my liquids were even more important towards the end of the race, when I have trouble eating gels.

I had promised myself as a reward/incentive that I would have started listening to music after 50k. I waited a bit longer and only put some music on after the Swyncombe aid station. It was probably the best moment of the race. I realised my legs where still almost as new. I was not tired at all, I was enjoying the day out and I was just moving forward, almost without thinking about it. The music made it even more amazing and I found myself singing.

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I realised I had paced it right when I started overtaking a lot of people. I think I passed almost 10 runners at the golf club in Nuffield. I was pretty excited there as I had run there twice already and I knew how much fun was running down to Grims Ditch.

I got there pretty broken up by the downhill, but I was 41 miles in, only 9 left to go! A couple more watermelon slices at the aid station and I was off.

It was hard to keep running at that point but the excitement kept me going. The last 3 kms I just let myself go, no point in saving energy anymore. When I entered Goring village I felt supersonic, I even high fived some kids. I had done it and I did not suffer too much. 9 hours and 22 minutes. Not amazingly fast but much better than I expected. Now I know that on a good day, when I have no stomach issue, no injuries etc I can run at that pace without too much pain. Now all I have to find out is how much faster I should go and still not crawl too much at the end. That’s what I will find out in November at the WW50. I cannot wait.

As all of Centurion’s events it was perfectly organised, the aid station volunteers were amazing, the route was perfect and the Chiltern hills are my new favourite place.

Here is the Strava log if anyone is interested.

 

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Digdeep Peak District 30 miles

I finally managed to spend a weekend in the Peak District. I am a big fan of the English mountains, even if I come from places where we would call them hills. I meant to visit the district for a long time, finally taking part in a race gave me the opportunity to go there.

I was looking for a longer run to do in August between Davide‘s NDW100 (post coming soon about that) and my September’s CW50. The Digdeep Intro Ultra 30 miles was perfect. It is part of a whole weekend of races so I was also tempted by the social aspect.

I left on Friday after lunch thinking I had plenty of time to get there, set up camp and see the talks that were in the program. Unfortunately the M1 was a continuous single traffic jam and took me over six hours to drive there (instead of three). The weather got worse and worse and when I finally arrived it was raining, I missed the talks and it was getting dark already.


I built the tent in the field near the Whirlow Hall Farm (the race headquarter). The first impact with camping life was not the best. The tent my good friend (and vegan apparel designer) Petr lent me was smaller then I expected. The field was muddy and full of cow poo but most of all it was not flat. I built the tent, had some food at the farm and then since it looked like nothing social was going to happen I went to try and sleep. It took me ages to fall asleep. Once I had to get up and take a walk as I felt too cramped inside the tent but that gave me the chance to see the sky at night with an almost full moon. There was quite a lot of wind so the day ahead was going to be interesting.

At 5am I was woken up by the noise of people getting ready to race the longer 60 mile race that was starting 2 hours before mine. It did not look like it was worth trying to fall asleep again so I got ready for my race too. The air was freezing cold and when we finally started running I was glad.

The course is a 30 mile loop around some of the best looking hills on the side of the Peak District near Sheffield and from the get go it was clear it was going to be a very good looking scenery.
After the painful final I had on the last two races I decided to take it relatively easy at the start. After a bit of fields and woods we arrived at the top of a beautiful hilly area full of Houndkirk Moor.

 

I felt a lot better and started accelerating a bit and at the first check point at Fiddler’s Elbow I was probably going too fast and that made me forget to check were I was going. I had the gpx file on my watch but I kept ignoring it and looking at markers and following people. We took the road and then realised we should have been on the path above. We went back and got on the right track. Good thing we did as that trail was the one following the top of Stanage Edge where it would have been impossible to get to if we had stayed on the road unless we were in for some rock climbing.

At the end of the ridge there was the unmanned checkpoint 2. We dibbed in and kept going. Less than 800 meters later we saw another dibber. I thought it was a checkpoint for the 60 mile race and kept going. That was a mistake. It was our checkpoint 3 too. Time penalty number one.

We ran down up and down a road for some more kms and then reached the checkpoint at the base of Win Hill. Going up the hill was a tough climb. The gnarliest of the race. Not a chance to run that one (the photo below does not do it justice).

Once at the top the view was amazing. The wind was crazy too and I did not envy the marshal waiting for the runners all day long at the top. This was just a bit after 20k and I was feeling relatively well. The climbs were harder than I am used to, but I was doing ok. Eating one gel every thirty minutes (even if I hated them, I will go back to my usual make) and drinking regularly. I made the mistake of not filling up the water bottle at any station yet but I thought I had enough to get to the next.

This is were disaster struck. Coming down from the other side of Win Hill the wind was so strong my eyes were watering and I had to use my hands not to fall on the steep rocks. At that point I might have missed an important sign and kept following the markers and a couple of guys ahead. After a while I saw that everyone stopped and looked at the map. I instantly looked at my watch gpx and realised what an idiot I had been not to look at it earlier. We had been following the 60 mile race markers for at least 3km.

We run back trying to cut down the hill and avoid going back up. We were going to miss checkpoint 6 at Aston but the time penalty (second one for me) was nothing compared to the time it would have taken us to go back. For fear of being lost alone I ran with those guys and not at my pace. By the time we joined the correct route at Hope village I had run 30k, 25k were still to be ran and I was feeling dead already. Mentally I was also a bit down as I hated myself for having run 5k more than needed. I was also out of water! I felt the gels stuck in my throat as if they had clogged my insides and basically felt a bit crap.

I put some music on (as always I waited until I was halfway through the race) which helped and continued running (I also managed to smile for this selfie).

The trail around a massive cement factory felt like lasting for ages but I finally reached the big aid station at Bradwell. I was so depressed to think I lost so much time. I had some real food, filled the water bottle and went out.

A long bit uphill was quite welcome as I had a chance to walk it and talk with other competitors. I ran down the other side feeling like I could not stop even if I had wanted to.

From then on it was an alternating of walk the hill, run a bit, walk again.

Then an endless bit along the river Derwent felt like it lasted an eternity. It was a very nice part of the trail, with the river down on the side, but it was flat and at that stage I would have preferred a bit of walking uphill and running downhill.

My wishes were soon granted and the final 10k of the race arrived, with a very long climb. I never felt so low in energy. I could not eat anything and my head felt light and my legs like made of wood. It lasted forever.

I finally recognised where I was as we got back from the same trail the race started on and when I realised it was actually skipping some parts we did in the morning I finally got out of the low point I was in. I even managed to run the full last 2kms and crossed the finish line completely knackered. Here is the Strava file if you are interested.

It was a beautiful place. The weather had been variable, sun, rain, mostly windy, but it was beautiful being out there. I am not too happy for having taken the wrong path and even less happy for having crawled the last bits. It was definitely a good lesson. I need to do a lot more long runs. The injury from last November really affected my fitness. Last year at this time I was so much stronger. Next month I will do my second 50 miler ever but I don’t think I will have much time to improve my fitness so I will have to be very rigorous in taking it easy and eating regularly. I cannot wait.

After the race I had a sort of shower with a water bottle in the middle of the field under the rain and in the wind. It was even more painful than the race.

Then I waited to see the first people finishing the 60 miler and then went in my tent. Spent the time from 7pm to 7am sleeping. I only woke up at 1:30am to watch Mo Farah win gold at Rio’s 5k race. Amazing stuff.

The day after the weather was slightly better and I went for a hike. I saw from far away places I had been the day before and I was amazed in realising how much terrain we covered.

I then drove back home to finally have a real shower.

I enjoyed the weekend in the Peak District a lot. Shame there was not much social interaction happening at the farm. I guess the weather did not help much. I will definitely go back and do it right next time!

Druid Challenge 2015

After the last 10 mile race it was time to prepare for my first multi day event, the Druid Challenge, three days of running on the Ridgeway for a total of 84 miles.

I have been looking forward to this race for more than 6 months and I wanted to prepare well. The four weeks leading to the race went really well. I ran 6 times a week with a weekly average of more than 100k and did back to back long runs during the weekends. I started the first week with 30k on Saturday and 20k on Sunday. Then the week after 35k and 30k and the third week I did 40k and 20k. During those week I also did speed training twice a week, a couple of hill repeats and tempo runs.

Basically I prepared very well and I felt super confident. So I packed my bag and I was ready to go! Actually packing the bag has been quite a challenge as having to run 3 days in a row with no idea of what the weather was going to be like I brought a million things, plus an inflatable bed and sleeping bag.

Day 1

The train trip to the start at Tring took ages. I met another guy at Clapham who was going to the race too and we could not even get on the first train. It was so packed.

When we finally got to Tring we were just in time to get ready to start with the Elite group, which was fine for me as I registered as “elite”. Anyone that thought they could do the first day in less than 5 hours was elite. The idea is that the fastest runners start later so that everyone sort of finishes together and the checkpoints are ready etc. So walkers always started first, an hour later the runners and another hour later the elite. Depending on how you finished each day you were put in the elite or not. It was my aim to always be in the elite and it was not that hard to achieve.

From the Tring station we were taken by mini-bus to a farm where we could change (inside a silo) and listen to the race briefing. We were then driven to the start of the race, on the Ridgeway. It was pretty evident from the start that it was going to be a wet and windy day, but everybody was excited. We started with a bit of downhill that was probably the most dangerous of the whole race as it was on that white slippery chalk terrain that is characteristic of the Ridgeway. After that the rest was mud for the best part of the three days.

The first day was the longest, almost 30 miles and as I did not know how I was going to feel running for 3 days I took it relatively easy. The race leaders disappeared pretty quickly. Even if the whole race is on the Ridgway and I had the GPX file on my watch I managed to get lost many times. The first time after not even 3 kms and the second time 1km later.

The first half of the day went pretty well. After 20km we entered Wendover. It felt a bit strange as it was a Friday, kids were in school, people were in offices and we were running in the rain. After Wendover I think I took the wrong path again (I got lost there on my second marathon in February too), but after a while on the top of the hill I managed to get back on track. At that point we started overtaking quite a lot of walkers and slower runners which in a way gave me quite a boost.

I saved the mp3 player until halfway through the race which was exactly crossing the fields in front of Chequers. While trying to put my headphones on I lost one of the yurbuds. Sad, but I did not stop.

The rest of the race was a mix of emotions. The wind sometimes was very strong and the terrain slippery. I stopped to put my jacket on and felt terrible for a couple of kms. Then on a downhill bit I felt fantastic, then terrible again.

The last checkpoint was 10k from the end and I was really dead. The 8 or so km after that were the worst one, on endless flat fields with muddy bumpy terrain, hard to run on. Then it started getting dark and I did not want to stop and get my headlamp on so I started accelerating and felt I had more energy than expected and decided to race the darkness. The last 1.5k were on tarmac and I was happy to finally have some grip on the terrain.

I arrived at the school in Watlington were we were staying for the night pretty spent. 48km in 5:01 in pretty atrocious conditions.

After a hot shower and setting up my bed in the gym I started socialising a bit and it was a nice evening. I met a lot of nice people, the food was not too bad either and the evening went by pretty fast. A lot of people do this race to prepare for the Marathon de Sable so a lot of discussions were about that.

While eating dinner I also discovered I finished the day in 15th position which was a lot better than I expected.

shoes  mud

At 10pm the light were switched off and everybody tried to sleep the best they could. Not easy with all the snoring and people moving about. Even with ear plugs it took me ages to fall asleep. The excitement and the novelty of my inflatable bed did not help.

Day 2

The second day was the shortest (just a bit over a marathon) and that was positive as I was already afraid of being out of steam. I knew the rest I had during the night had not been enough. I even tried to sleep more in the morning as I was leaving with the 9am elite group. It did not help. I only managed to miss breakfast and I had to eat just two croissants with some water. Luckily half of my luggage was food. I had enough snacks to survive for a month.

The route on the second day started from the school where we slept so no need for a bus drive. It was raining very heavily and it was very windy. It was not going to get better any time soon.

I started easy as I did not know how fit I was after the day before but I pretty soon got into a good rhythm. The first half of the route was actually the best of the whole three days. Up and down hills in the woods. Even if the weather was terrible the woods were lovely. Autumn is the best time to run. We kept on going between forested bits and open fields where the wind was moving you sideways.

We then arrived at the golf course in Nuffield where I got lost this summer when exploring the Ridgeway and it was a morale boost. I knew that there was going to be a nice long descent for a while and I really enjoyed it and picked up the pace. Then there was a long bit on the river which I had found very boring and I was afraid I was going to suffer. Instead I just concentrated on following the people in front (mostly Laura, the girl who placed second at the end) and when we got to South Stoke I was glad that part was over. I barely stopped at the checkpoint and kept going. Faster and faster. I felt good. I put my MP3 on and started overtaking some of the people that started with me. I was so into it I took the wrong turn at Goring but luckily recovered quickly. Beautiful town on the river by the way.

After that, at the 27th km there was a long climb. I ran most of it. Fuelled by some wafers and the thoughts I was well over halfway through. When I got at the top a Metallica song boomed in my ears and coupled with the descent made me do a fist pump and grin like an idiot. That high point did not last long. I had to walk a bit and lost some time before the final check point but then I knew it was almost over.

After that it felt like it took ages to get to the finish line. The final kms where on open fields beaten by such a strong wind I had to remove my hat and I kept on losing my footing in the mud. I was glad when it was over. It had been shorter and I did not finish spent, but I was so happy to be handed a hot cup of tea at the end!

Finished the day in 14th position: 43km in 4:32.

We were then driven to the leisure center in Wantage where we were staying for the night. Luckily I arrived early and managed to get a nice hot shower. Others were not so lucky. I have maximum respect for those people walking most of the route. They spend 9 or so hours in the mud, rain and wind and when they get in they risk of not having a hot shower! Even crazier were the two guys pulling a tire for 3 days, training for the Yukon Arctic Ultra.

The rest of the afternoon was spent resting, chatting with fellow runners and mending the various painful bits. I had a sport massage that I found fantastic. It was my first one but it will not be my last.

I had a little pain in the right shin but there was nothing I could do.

After a nice dinner (hat off to the organisers, everything was like clockwork) we attended two talks. The first one was from course record holder Nathan Montague who talked to us about his latest victory at the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Desert Marathon. Very interesting and inspirational stuff. The second talk was from Rory Coleman. I have to say, I did not enjoy this last one much.

Then we were off to bed. This time I managed to fall asleep pretty quickly and never woke up during the night.

friends  sleepday2

Day 3

The third day I woke up with a bit more pain on the right shin, but not to terrible. The weather was still quite abysmal but everybody was pretty excited to finish the challenge. Again I started in the 9am elite group. We were driven to where we finished the day before and the first part of the run was basically in the same boring terrain as the end of the day before. I really tried to take it easy (sticking to around 5:30/5:40 min/km) and save enough energy to get to the end, but after a while I felt pretty good (same thing as day 2 basically). The pain on the shin went away. I kept on eating my salt sticks and gels and avoided the check points food. I had been very diligent all the other days and avoided eating strange stuff and that meant no issues at all with my belly this time.

After the first 16k in the undulating fields we started going up and down nicer looking hills and I accelerated a bit and left the group I was with behind. For a second the sun came out but then the rain came back. It was colder than the days before but that was actually better. At around 27km we arrived a Liddington where we had to run on a big busy road which was not fun, but I had a banana from the check point and kept on going.
Then a very steep hill had to be climbed, very muddy and windy, rain was heavy and everything was clouded in fog. It was a pretty tough part of the race. I was surprised to see people having a Sunday walk in those conditions. A bit surreal, you could not see that much ahead and then people walking their dog popped out of the fog, or people on horse back, all this in a killer wind.

Then when the fog cleared a bit I realised I was 15k from the end and I just felt like I could not run slow anymore. I had to go fast and I just went for it. I overtook a couple of people that had started with me and never looked back. At the last check point I did not even stop, I just showed my bib and kept running. I only noticed later I was going at under 4 min/km pace.
Then I saw a guy that I know was close to me in the race timing and decided I had to overtake him. I think he saw me and started accelerating too, but then he stopped to open a gate and keep it open for Niandi and I went pass them. We talked for a bit and I tried not to look tired and accelerated in the fog.
After a bit more of up and down on grassy hills there was the much awaited tarmac road leading to the end. The first half km was a very steep descent. People were walking down it but I could not stop, I just bombed down it.
I think that is where I injured my shin even more and now after almost 4 weeks I am still not running. But whatever happened to my leg that day it was worth it. Those last 15km were probably the best in my running “career”. I was dead and at the same time full of energy. I just ran as fast as I could, uphill, downhill, everything. I never felt so alive. Overtaking people, saying hi to the ones I had met in the evenings. It felt so good. I also felt it was the end of the week end. 15k and then it was it, I had to make the most of it.

The last couple of kms on the road were quite flat and I just went as fast as I could. It felt fast but it was actually just around 4:40 min/km but after almost 135k it felt fast. When I got to the finish line I was very happy: 46 more km done, in 4 hours 29.

The last part of the third day was really an amazing experience and finishing the whole 3 day race felt like an achievement to be proud of. I got my medal, went for a shower. Noticed my shin was a bit swollen, but ignored it. I watched the prizes presentations to the winners and then took the mini-bus to Swindon. The train trip back home was endless.

I only found out a bit later I had finished 13th in the whole race which is fantastic. I dreamt of being in the top 20 and I could not ask for more.

end

Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to be captured in any of the nice photos taken on the hills and wood, but if you want to see how beautiful and wet it had been, check these albums out: day 1, day 2, day 3.

For people interested in kit and nutrition I do not have much to say. I had to change every piece of clothing each day as nothing dried during the night. I only had one pair of shoes, the fantastic Saucony Peregrine. They worked really well, but sometimes I wished I had bigger slugs. Even with 3 days of wet feet I had no problems, the injinji worked as well as always. In three days (during the race) I ate 10 High Five energy gels, 12 Cliff Shots, 1 packet of Powerbar wafers and 12 saltsticks. I took very little from the aid stations apart from water and the occasional salty snack or half banana.

Now I have not been able to run for almost a month and it looks like it will take bit longer to recover fully. X-rays have not found anything so I guess it’s just a question of taking a rest. It’s hard not to run but I am seeing it as a forced off season before I start preparing for next year Centurion Running 50 mile Grand Slam.

See you on the trails!