Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lakeland 100 – Did Not Succeed

Health warning: Contains details of the inner workings of my head that some younger viewers may find disturbing.

On Friday at 6pm I started the Lakeland 100. I was feeling really fit and strong on the back of some good results and great training. I was full of optimism and positivity, and hoping to go well under 30 hours, if not sub-28 hours.

90 minutes later my race was over, stopped by an extremely sore Achilles tendon. Lakeland 8.5 complete.

I failed.

First of all, I’d just like to say that I’m not looking for expressions of sympathy, or “Rich, it was the right thing to do, you’re not a failure, you’ve had a great season so far” etc etc.

I know that logically the above statements are true, but how I feel is totally different.

The fact is that I did fail. I do feel like a failure and a dark cloud is hanging over my head. I feel failure badly.

I’m disappointed that my good results, my fitness, my strength in the hills, all came to nothing. It feels like an opportunity wasted.

But the failure is far more. I worry that others will be doubting me, thinking I’m weak, may even be secretly having a wry smile. That my family, friends, peers will value me less. That I will appear less capable, less worthy.

Paralysis by analysis, it’s said!

Why do I worry so much what others think of me? Self-esteem? Lack of self-value? Seeking praise? Seeking acceptance? Possibly. Probably. Definitely.

I know that logically none of the above are true, but that’s how I feel. I don’t really understand why. My intelligent, professional mind doesn’t understand why, but it’s how I am.

Of course I did the right thing. My Achilles is still sore. You may run off a sore muscle but not a bad Achilles. I would have only made it significantly worse.

Of course I’m not a failure. I’m sat here looking at all my medals hanging on the corners of pictures of my loving family. I am very fortunate, and I have succeeded in nearly everything I’ve ever done.

Of course I’ve had a great year running. The Spine. The MdS. Hardmoors 110. The Lakes 10 Peaks. All really long, tough, epic events. All races I’m extremely proud to have run in and finished.

Perhaps I’m just a little boy, just looking for acceptance, for praise, looking for his place in the world.

Others will be saying, and quite rightly, that I’ve done a huge amount this year, probably too much, and that I need to rest. Jenny tells me this, others hint at it, and I know it’s true.

So why have I pushed it so much this year? Firstly, with being off work for a while, I’ve had more time. More importantly though it’s about pushing the envelope. How far can I go? How long? How often? Again, this is not only for myself but seeking a pat on the back.

I also have to admit that there’s a little ‘How much can I do before I really break myself?’ Jenny laughingly (I think) says I’m a self-harmer. If I’m honest, perhaps there’s something in that as far as running goes.

I’ve just been having an email conversation with a friend:

Friend: I think you did the right thing, really! You have to listen to your body and have the guts to say enough is enough when you know you are going to do some damage, so I still say well done to you! You will come back stronger!!

Rich: I know it was the right thing to do unless I wanted to really destroy my running for months………but I'm still majorly pee'd off! Don't deal with not succeeding very well!

Friend: I think that's what makes you stronger, though! You definitely did the right thing!!

So perhaps what I see (and think others see) as a weakness may actually be a strength.

So there it is. A DNF and nothing is ever simple with me. My body will mend (I hope) and my mind will play its little games. And I’ll be happily running somewhere near you soon!

So when do the entries for next years Lakeland 100 open?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thoughts on a low carb diet

I started my experiment of a low carb diet mid-April following the MdS

During the MdS, on almost a pure carb diet, I bonked severely on nearly every day. After chatting with a few people, and reading a little, I thought I’d give the old low carb a go, primarily to see if it helped my endurance, particularly over the longer stuff/events that I’ve been doing. I didn’t do it to lose weight as I'm already skinny!

Prior to this, I considered myself to be eating a diet which wasn't as totally based on carbs as some, and was, I was sure, fairly low GI.

Here is what my standard diet looked like:

  • Brekkie - muesli/porridge, or wholemeal toast with any combination of jam, honey and peanut butter
  • Lunch - big salad with chicken/prawns etc and couscous as carbs, a low fat yoghurt and fruit.
  • Dinner - meat/fish, vegetables, baked potato or something with brown rice. Only occasional pasta. Fruit & low fat yoghurt for pudding
  • Snacks – fruit, muesli bar, peanut & jam on rice crackers.

So, more low fat rather than high carb.

So I ditched a lot of that and went low carb.

My first long run was after 4 days and I totally smashed into the wall, in fact I head-butted it! It was shocking. However, I stuck with it and by the end of the 2nd week I was running better than previously; longer before feeling hungry. I was also generally more sated after meals and not feeling the need to have sugary snacks.

My first big test was the Hardmoors 110. I did this with low carb build-up, and it went very well, thank you very much. At Saltburn, 58 miles I felt great. I was told I looked ‘sickeningly well’. I pretty much kept running until about 80 miles and then had a long walk. I was really pleased. I did have carbs during the event but, personally, I think it would be pretty hard to do a long ultra on no carbs.

Then I did Lakes 10 Peaks and I felt great; really strong. No real tiredness until about 11 hours in when I had a bit of a walk. However, I powered up the last peak (Skiddaw) and ran strongly to the finish. I have never finished an ultra so well, so strongly.

What I've found is that I need carbs on all-dayers - events or training. I’ll tend to stick to my favourite peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I’ve always liked 9Bars, and I’ve now discovered Bounce Bars. I’ll have some Pepperami, and Baby Belles with me.

And also splurge after a race. Haagen-Daas come on down! It would be rude not to.

I feel that my endurance is definitely improved, and I intend to continue. Plus, I really like my diet. I get to eat all the higher fat foods that I wasn’t allowing myself; Cheese, salami, chorizo, nuts, full-fat yoghurts and such like.

This is now an example of my diet:

  • Brekkie - nuts & full fat Greek yoghurt, or omelette/eggs & bacon
  • Lunch - salad as before but with cheese/salami/chorizo instead of couscous. Fruit
  • Dinner - meat/fish etc with a pile of veg. Occasional sweet potato. Fruit & full fat natural yoghurt
  • Snacks - peanut butter on celery (love it), biltong, salami etc

So still plenty of fruit, which I consider to be part of a healthy diet, but otherwise low carb.

I don't really miss the carbs at all. Bread, cereal, rice, pasta, potato – no problem and I have my treats after races and adventures.

Of course, all improvement is multi-factorial; I'm sure I am better conditioned, stronger and fitter, but I really feel that the diet has been beneficial to me.

So that's pretty much my experience. Hope that helps others a little.

Oh, I forgot, I always have my 2 squares of dark chocolate at bedtime!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lakeland 100 recce

Spotting the weather forecast showing a change from dismal and cold to hot and sunny, I took myself up to the Lake District for 2 days last week to recce the second half of the Lakeland 100.

As you may remember, I DNF’ed last year. I really wasn’t in a good place at the time and was have trouble motivating myself to do anything at all, let alone run. Hardly the best preparation for a 100 miler. I almost didn’t bother to even start but Jenny convinced me that it would do me some good, and that a failure would be not even starting. I had a torrid time but stuck it out to Dalemain, then called it a day.

However, I was in awe of the course and the tremendous support and vowed to return……..

Day 1
I stayed overnight at Keswick YH in order to get an early start. I drove to Pooley Bridge, parked the car and was off by 06:00 in glorious clear, blue skies. It was forecast hot, damn hot, and it already felt warm.

My provisional plan was to get to Ambleside, stay overnight there, then have a shorter day to Coniston before making my way back to Pooley Bridge, and hopefully no parking ticket!

I made my way along the easy path around Ullswater to Howtown and then began the long ascent up Fusedale. I fumbled around at the top before finding my way over Bampton Common and down to Haweswater.

At Mardale Head, it was the long drag up Gatescarth Pass and onwards to Kentmere. It was swelteringly hot by now. I later heard that the temperature had been 28C in the valleys.

The section on to Ambleside was much easier and I arrived in the town centre at 13:00. It was far too nice a day to stop so I quickly assessed my options. After a very pleasant refreshment break at the Apple Pie, and having booked a bed at Coniston Coppermine YH, I set off for Elterwater and Great Langdale.

Then it was up and over to Tilberthwaite. Then it was up some horrible steps which will be hilarious at the end of a 100 mile race.

I arrived at the youth hostel just after 18:00 having covered 43 miles averaging just under 13 min/mile (whilst moving). Not bad in blistering heat. After a shower and a hearty meal it was off to bed, ready for another early start.

 Day 2
Up and out at 05:10, it was quickly onto Walna Scar Road. It was already warm and I was treated to a lovely sunrise.

Reaching Seathwaite without any difficulty, I set off towards Boot. After some fiddling about on forestry tracks, I crossed the River Esk on a bridge I couldn’t find marked on the route. Turning my map over, I realised it was the River Duddon. Whoops, wrong valley. I decided to cut my losses and walked all the way up and down Hardknott Pass. Lovely. 

At Boot, I replenished my low spirit with and ice cream and diet coke. Just the job!

Boot to Wasdale to Buttermere to Keswick was no problem as I’d only done this section a few weeks ago. I stopped briefly at Black Sail YH and had a chat with a group of people doing the Coast to Coast in piecemeal style. This was their last section. They thought I was mad – first impressions and all that!

I safely navigated public transport back to Pooley Bridge where my car sat undisturbed by parking attendants. 39 miles, averaging 15 min/mile. Happy days!

A tremendous 2 days in the Lake District. On a bright, sunny summer’s day, the Lake District is simply stunning. As far as running goes, that was pretty much as good as it gets.

Lakeland 100 in 10 days. Yes please!

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Lakes 10 Peaks - race report

“So how far was it, Rich?”
Around 43 miles…..
“How long did it take you?”
14 hours and 42 minutes……
“That’s very slow for you. Where did you finish?”
“Out of 6?”
Very funny. Out of 150 starters.
“Wow! It must have been tough”
It was.

04:00 start from Thirlspot. 03:15 buses leave from race HQ in Keswick. Alarm set for 02:00. Woke up at 01:00!

Around 150 runners were taken by bus to the race start at Thirlspot, under Helvellyn. It was good to catch up with some of the usual suspects including Annie and Andrew. Several said hello to me, but I couldn’t quite remember who they were; the ravages of the aging process. After the race briefing, and with dawn’s first light just breaking through, we were off, straight up Helvellyn.

Sticking to my now standard plan of taking it steady at the start, going at my own pace, rather than getting excited and following the lead pack, I reached the summit (Peak 1) in 49 minutes. Straight back down, via a bit of cross-country, through CP1, and it was the long haul up Wyth Burn and it’s famous bogs, which were particularly boggy.

With suitably wet feet, I reached Greenup Edge, on to High Raise, and down to Stake Pass. Views across to the Scafell Plateau framed the challenge ahead. I elected to stay above Angle Tran and take what is essentially the Bob Graham Round (BGR) route up Bow Fell via Hanging Knotts, meeting the first of several BGR groups. This is a fairly direct route and was probably the hardest part of the day for me. The other route via Ore Gap is probably less hard work and seemed to make minimal difference on time.

After summiting Bow Fell (Peak 2) it was down and up to Esk Pike, and down to CP2 at Esk Hause. The briefest of stops and it was a quick bag of the next 3 Peaks; Great End, Ill Crag and Broad Crag before summiting Scafell Pike (peak 6), all in the good company of a runner I now know to be ‘irish’ from the FRA forum! The forecast of a lowering cloud base was not evident as good panoramic views were had across the Lake District. Beautiful. Time elapsed 4 hours 52 minutes.

It was windy and a bit chilly on top so I tried to quickly put on my Omm Cypher jacket. This acted more as a sail and I couldn’t locate the sleeves as they flapped around. I gave up!

I steeled myself for the descent to Mickledore and then the ascent of Sca Fell. The logical route, to my mind, was to ascend via Foxes Tarn and descend via Lords Rake. The former seemed like the easier ascent, whilst the late avoided the re-ascent to Mickledore.

After the recent rain, the ascent was fairly wet but the summit of Sca Fell was soon reached. Peak 7. I had been playing leapfrog with a couple of Danes; they had elected to ascend via Lords Rake and were only about 50m ahead of me at the top. Scafell Pike to Sca Fell in 39 minutes. Whilst irish elected to descend Foxes Tarn, I dropping down Lords Rake. I was pleased that I had climbed up the other side.

The visibility was still excellent. I was having a great time. I was going peak to peak, checkpoint to checkpoint. Physically I felt really good and mentally I had an unerring belief in my ability to finish.

Picking up the corridor route to Sty Head the brooding mass of Great Gable awaited. The 2 Danes were still in the vicinity but it was evident that they didn’t know the route (not surprising) and couldn’t map read (surprisingly).

Great Gable was a long but steady climb. I maintained a steady pace and reached Peak 8 in 7:07. Without pause, it was straight down to CP3 at Beck Head. Pausing a little longer to fill water bottles, and have a quick natter, I looked up to see that the Danes had shot off and were already starting their ascent of Kirk Fell! I had a wry smile and followed the path under Boat How Crags to Black Sail Pass, meeting a few runners who had elected to drop down to Wasdale Head and climb Pillar first via Wind Gap.

Despite light drizzle (the only of the day), visibility remained good up to Pillar (Peak 9). 8:23 elapsed. Pausing quickly to locate my much-needed peanut butter and jam sandwich, I was soon on my way back to Beck Head. I discovered I was in 6-8th place. I now barely saw another runner for the rest of the race. Although only a single peak to go (Skiddaw), there was still a lot of ground to cover, firstly to Keswick and then the circuit up and down Skiddaw. I was still feeling good and really enjoying the day out aka the race! I felt totally immersed in the journey.

Onward to the next checkpoint at Honister, where a fell race was starting. This caused a degree of confusion as to where the respective CPs were located, but I knew ours was at the youth hostel. The clock showed just over 10 hours. Here I was told that only 4 long course runners had been through, although they weren’t entirely sure and I certainly hadn’t overtaken anyone. I changed into much appreciated dry socks, deposited my base layer in my bag, and off I went, munching on a Mars Bar.

Taking the road down towards Seatoller, I then followed the obvious path to Grange. I then took as straight a line as possible to Portinscale via the Cumbria Way and various paths. I was beginning to feel a little tired and probably walked a little more than I might do otherwise. However I was still moving forwards and at a decent speed. Skirting Keswick, I reached the final CP at Crosthwaite in 12:06, in a confirmed 7th place.

The final CP was also race HQ and the race finish. Afterwards, I read that several runners had found this mentally tough; to reach ‘the finish’ and then have to leave again. I had already considered this issue; on the way through it was a purely a checkpoint and it only became the finish on the way back. So good mental preparation really does help!

I was feeling really positive and really strong as I made my way to the start of the climb up to Skiddaw at Millbeck.  The views back to Keswick was great and  clearly showed much of the ground that had been covered. 

I was briefly in the company of another runner, who I now know to be Splatcher from the FRA forum. If you are reading this Splatcher, you look nothing like your profile picture!

Never having climbed Skiddaw before, I had heard that it was a long, steady drudge; and so it proved. I simply put my head down and maintained a really good pace all the way up. I dibbed at the summit of Skiddaw, Peak 10 of 10, my one new peak of the day, in 13:42 and quickly picked up the descent to the SE carpark.
Skiddaw summit (honest)
I made great time down and was running strongly as I joined the Cumbria Way towards Keswick and to what was now the finish. I can honestly say that I have never finished an ultra so strongly.

I crossed the line in 14 hours and 42 minutes, in 7th place. After a quick natter, a few obligatory photos with my medal, a change into my Likeys t-shirt for an equally obligatory photo, I said my thanks to all and started on the way home.

A few comments:
  1. This is a tough race. A very tough race. Out of the150 who started, 67 finished in under 24 hours, 6 over 24 hours, 31 retired, and nearly 50 competitors switched to the short course. A week on, and my knees and ankles still feel a little battered.
  2. If the Spine is Britain’s most brutal race, then this has to be Britain’s most brutal single day event.
  3. Superbly organised. The pre-race information was spot on. Everything seemed to run really well. The CPs were well stocked and manned by the friendliest people. Top marks. 
  4. This is absolutely my kind of race. Hilly, ever changing terrain, tremendous views and scenery, and a big, big challenge. Love it. 
  5. I am very tempted by the Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks! 
  6. This race definitely warrants a recce. Having done many of the Peaks as well as parts of the route such as the corridor route, enabled me to navigate quickly. I also knew what was coming up! 
  7. I seem to have discovered the secret to mental strength in ‘long’ races. Not sure how or what’s the secret but in my last 2 events, I have found that once I am into a race, I have a absolute unerring confidence that I will finish, even when the going gets physically tough. I am moving checkpoint to checkpoint and not allowing myself to consider the actual finish. More importantly, I think, is that I am trying to live in the moment. If I make a mistake, well, I can’t undo it, and the future is yet to come. I will probably go through some bad stages but there’s no point worrying about that until I’m there. Whatever, it seems to be working for me. 
Happy days!