Even the best of plans can fail

Here is the story of how a good solid couple of months of training went wasted on race day.
After the Denbies 10 mile race I had just over two months to prepare for the South Downs Way 50 miler. Things were all planned.

I did two more weeks of interval training with some longer runs in the weekends (for a total of 88k and 104k) and then started the tempo runs block. I loved them. I did one solid week of 108k with a nice long run in the snow with Craig in Wimbledon common, then took it easier by skipping two days to do a very tiny tapering before the February race, the Hampton Court Half Marathon.
I wanted to do well and see if I could beat my PB. I had not done any flat half marathons in years, so this was a good occasion.
Things went fine for the first 13k. I kept an average pace around 3:50/3:55 min/km and felt ok, but I could not hold the pace long enough and did the rest of the race just above 4:00 min/km. I finished in 1:24. My target was 1:23, so I was not too far off, but still, I was a bit disappointed. Here is the Strava of the race.

Hampton Court Half Marathon February 2017 by #SussexSportPhotography.com 10:30:19 AM #racephoto

The week after I did a couple of easy days and then resumed the tempo runs sessions. Here is an example if interested. In the weekend I did a longer tempo run session up and down Richmond Park and then went for 30k on the NDW (saying that it was muddy is an understatement), completing a 96k week.

The last week of February I was feeling a strange pain on the soleus and Achilles tendon in the left leg, so I took it a bit easier but still managed to run 33k with Craig which is always fun. And that was the end of the tempo runs block, time to start the Steady State Runs part. Here is an example.

On the 11th of March I ran the Thames Meander Marathon with almost no tapering and with the left leg still a bit sore. I was not sure whether to do it or not as I was afraid to get even more injured but I went anyway. Good thing I did as I enjoyed it a lot. I started slow to see if the left leg would behave, but when I saw all was fine I just kept running at a steady pace actually accelerating quite a bit in the second half.

I suffered in the last 5k and slowed down a bit too much, but overall I am happy with the result: 3:17, which is also my marathon PB. I think I can do better than that, but probably not break 3 hours like I had planned at the beginning of the year.

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At this point there was only one month left before the South Downs Way 50. I really enjoyed the Steady State Runs even if it meant waking up at 4:30 in the morning to be able to run 20k before going to work.

The week after the marathon I ran 127km. On Saturday I killed myself by running 1:30 easy and then do the usual SSR training, for a total of 35k with a massive negative split and then, not tired enough, on Sunday I went on the North Downs way for 26k of pure joy.

The week after I did even more, 138k. Concluded with 40k on the river on Saturday and a killer SSR session on Sunday. You know when Rocky runs up the stairs and knows he is ready? I felt the same. I reached the top of Richmond Hill with many km in the legs and still sprinted up like crazy. I felt invincible, ready for the SDW.
And invincible I was not, sadly.

I started 2 weeks of tapering. First I did an easy 67k week and then disaster struck. I got ill!
The Tuesday of the SDW race week I was in bed with a fever. Months and months of training, rigorous every week, I probably just skipped 2 days, woke up at silly hours, killed myself in the weekends. Did everything right, foam rolled every evening, fixed minor injuries, kept a relatively good diet, I did EVERYTHING right for four months and I end up in bad 3 days before the race?
I was sad, very sad. I hoped it was going to go away quickly and I actually thought it might have been good to sleep for days before the race, but on the Friday I was still feeling like my head was going to explode and my legs were made of rubber. I went to the office to convince myself I was fine, but I was not.

On Friday evening I packed all the race kit with the plan to see how I felt the day after.
I really did not want to miss the SDW50 again. Last year due to the shin splints injury I missed it and lost the chance to do the Centurion 50 mile Grand Slam. So even if I woke up a bit energy-less I went to the race anyway.

The weather was amazing, not a single cloud in the sky. The South Downs are some of the most beautiful hills and when I got to the starting line and sucked all the excitement from the other runners I forgot about being ill and I really looked forward to racing.

After a couple of miles my head cleared and the legs seemed ok, so I decided to race it as I had originally planned, which was quite fast. I reached the first aid station at Botolphs (11 miles in) in just over one hour and a half. Almost 17 minutes faster than planned. Was this worrying me? No, because I am not smart enough.
I reached the second aid station at mile 17 in 30th position. Now only 8 minutes ahead of the race plan. Maybe it was time to get worried as it was clear I could not keep the pace.

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Then things started going horribly wrong. My legs decided it was time to go in flu mode and everything started aching. Even my knees were painful in the downhills. As if that was not enough my stomach felt upside down.
I painfully reached Housedean Farm (26 miles) hoping to find a toilet. When I was told there was none I felt lost.
The South Downs are not like the North Downs. There are no trees or bushes big enough to allow people to hide and do what they do when there are no toilets around! I had 7 more miles to run before I could find a toilet at the next aid station and this is where the worst part of the race started. I could hardly run uphill and I was super slow.

Even after the long toilet break I still felt bad and the long climb after Southease was a long death march. At the top I felt better and actually ran 5k under 5 min/km but when I left Alfriston (mile 41) my stomach was not having it.
Luckily I was joined by Tim, who kindly decided to wait for me and finish the race together. I am sorry I made him do the last 8 miles so slowly, but every time I tried to move faster the stomach made sure I knew I was not in charge of the day.

We finished in 9 hours and 18 minutes. 48 minutes slower than I was aiming for. I was actually convinced I could do it in 8 hours. I have the excuse of the flu but I was really disappointed with my performance. Less than 4 hours to run the first half, more than 5 hours to run the second? Not good!


It was an amazing day, beautiful vistas, plenty of nice people to meet, but not the race I wanted to do. I will have to go back next year and do it right.

Now I need to concentrate in keeping the form and not getting ill for the NDW50 next month. I will not have any excuses there and I will try to race smarter. I always say that!

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1..2..3…GO!

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.

sdw100_2016

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!

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!

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.

gps

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!

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!

What next?

A week after completing my first ultra it is time to think about the future.

I am looking forward to running another 50 miler soon, but in the mean time I will run some local half marathons and marathons.

I’ll start in June with the June Richmond Half, then I will go back to the North Downs way to run the North Downs Way Marathon and then a week later (end of July) I will do another half, the Wimbledon Common Half, which I really enjoyed last year.

After the summer holidays I would like to run another ultra, maybe just a 50k. Nothing planned yet.

To prepare for the next half marathon I need to get some speed back. Lately, preparing for the NDW50, I slowed down quite a bit and in the last weeks I have not done any speed training as I was afraid I would get injured.

I recovered well from the ultra, so I started running almost straight away.

On Wednesday I did 10k at 4:50. I really felt a lot better than expected.

On Thursday I did 15.5k. I accelerated a bit at the end, but in general I kept it easy, average of 4:47 min/km.

On Friday I decided to rest as I did not want to overdo it after the NDW50 effort, bmu1Zt5woi5ZnxXh9wBfa9pUDwISNNJxhBNuwUv8A7x4-576x768ut on Saturday I felt so good I went out for a relatively fast run. I was wearing the NDW50 finisher t-shirt, the sun was shining and I felt pretty cool. At the end I alternated fast and less fast kms and went back to running faster than 4 min/km which I had not done in ages.

Sunday I felt the legs a bit tired so I took it easier. I ran 18.5k at 4:44 min/km and then got home and finished the day with 2 extra kms with my daughters. It’s always a pleasure to run with them. I wish we could do it more often.

Next week is going to be all about speed, interval training, tempo runs and maybe a Parkrun on Saturday.

I am not sure I will update this blog on a weekly basis as I did before as the journey from half to ultra has been completed. I am pretty sure I will find more challenges to talk about.

Have fun!