Likeys Brecon Beacons Ultra 2014

Update 27th May 2015: This post is now hosted on Ordinary Superhuman.

Two and a half years ago I ruptured my Achilles Tendon. My rehabilitation included nearly four months on crutches and nine months before I was allowed to run for just a few minutes on a treadmill. To help get me through recovery, I started trying to find something big to set myself as a challenge. I'd flirted with running over the years. I love being outdoors. So, I started to settle on the idea of an ultra marathon. The results of much pleasurable googling and internet surfing (it's not called trail porn for nothing), was the Likeys Brecon Beacons Ultra. It had great reviews. It sounded really friendly. It was in a beautiful place and relatively accessible to me. So that was it. It was my goal. A reason to not give up on being properly fit again. The Likeys Brecon Beacons Ultra 2014 would be my first ultra marathon.

Roll forward a few months and by Christmas 2012 I was tentatively trotting on a treadmill for 10 minutes at a time. By February 2013 I'd built up to running for 30 minutes a few times a week and I did my first outdoors run of about 4 miles. And, in many ways, then the training began for this race. My training progressed and I built up to running six days a week and the mileage crept up. February 2014 arrived and I was up at midnight to make sure I registered nice and early for the race when the entries opened.

Being the unremittingly competitive and obsessive type of person that I am, the goals for the ultra gradually morphed from "running an ultra" to "running an ultra and raising a load of money for charity" to "running an ultra, raising a load of money for charity, and finishing in a more-or-less competitive time". This eventually settled down to a goal of finishing in less than 8 hours and raising money for a fabulous charity called Azafady.

Along the way, I've learnt a lot about training, achieved some other personal bests and had a huge amount of fun. But those are all stories for another time. Let's get to the weekend and the race itself.


The power of a mid afternoon cup of coffee

As you might have noticed, I spend a lot of time experimenting with different aspects of my diet and lifestyle. I like to look at the impact of things like the number of calories I consume, the balance of macro-nutrients, the amount of sleep I get, the differences between getting up early versus later, and so on.

Obviously, these aren't rigorous scientific studies. I can't double-blind test the results. My sample size of one is not statistically significant. But I enjoy playing with them and, ultimately, personal performance is just that: personal. So, finding what works well for me is valuable.


260 hours to cover 46 miles. Please will you sponsor me?

If you've read just a few pages on this blog, it can't have escaped your attention that I'm running a 46 mile ultra marathon on 15th November for a charity called Azafady.

Please would you consider sponsoring me? I have a charity donation page here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/DavidBlamire-Brown

Azafady's mission is to alleviate poverty and conserve unique and biologically rich, but greatly endangered, forest environments in south east Madagascar by empowering some of the poorest people to establish sustainable livelihoods for themselves and improve their well-being. They work on a range of projects including building schools, improving maternal health, conservation and providing training to enable rural communities to develop sustainable enterprises.

Madagascar has an incredible environment and yet the Malagasy are amongst some of the poorest people on Earth. In 2008 seven in ten Malagasy lived on less than $2 per day. Now more than nine in ten do.

Any donations I receive will make a real and lasting difference to the lives of the Malagasy with whom Azafady works. Even a small amount of money can make an astonishing difference.

An example of the work that Azafady does is the building of schools:
  • £8 will provide one bag of cement to render the walls 
  • £17 will provide one blackboard and a year's supply of chalk 
  • £30 will provide a desk and bench for 4 students 
  • £63 will paint the interior walls of one classroom 
  • £132 will provide 10 aluminium roofing sheets to shelter the students 
I am hopeful that I can get enough support to get close to £2000 in sponsorship.

The event that I'm running in is the Brecon Beacons ultra marathon. It's a mere 46ish mile mixed trail/mountain/canal/road run around the magnificent Brecon Beacons.

46 miles is a heck of a long way! Since I signed up for the race in February this year, I've spent over 260 hours in training and logged over 1700 miles. Along the way, I've lost four toenails and climbed almost the equivalent in height as Mount Everest.

It's been a lot of time away from the family, so collecting sponsorship is also a form of "selfishness offsetting".

I would be hugely grateful if you would consider sponsoring me.


Going out with a bonk - my last long training run for the Beacons Ultra

Well, I've logged my last proper long run before the Beacons Ultra and it wasn't for the faint hearted. I figured I might as well try to re-create some of the likely experience of the final stages of the ultra. So, Friday evening's run was a carb-depletion run.


Why I called my Facebook Page "Pointing at the Moon"

“It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon.

So, in six weeks I'm running 46 miles around the Brecon Beacons in my first ultra marathon.
That's the finger pointing away to the moon.
The heavenly glory is the luxury of choice and lifestyle that allows me to participate in this event relatively comfortably.


Training Diary: 15th to 21st September

Achievement unlocked: My first 70+ mile week.

Can I tell you a little secret? I'm finding my training quite hard at the moment. I'm not really getting the same thrill and excitement out of my running. At times, it's beginning to feel almost like a chore.

The irony is that I should be really excited about my running this week. I was, once again, travelling for work. I had a long drive to Birmingham on Monday and an overnight stay in London around a two day conference on Wednesday and Thursday. In spite of this travel, I still managed to cover 72.6 miles of total running.


Training Diary: 8th to 14th September

This week marked the start of probably my toughest three week cycle. I'm increasing my weekly mileage significantly. This week I covered a total of 67 miles. As the time running increases, it becomes harder and harder to fit in the strength and conditioning sessions that I know would really help me. It's a fine balance to strike, but I think that the overall strategy of focusing on longer miles is probably right.

Increasingly, I'm finding my life dominated by running, or thoughts and plans about running. I'm entering a busier phase with my job at work, because people are back from their summer holidays, so there are more meetings and conferences to attend. This week I was in Aberystwyth for a day and in Bristol for a day. This means a lot of time travelling in the car or on the train and so I find I'm really focusing on working out how to balance getting the right level of training without totally neglecting my family. It's tough.


Training Diary: 1st to 7th September

Ah, rest weeks, what an emotional roller coaster you are. Relief, guilt, withdrawal, anticipation. But, you are necessary. If I didn't have you, I'd get totally fatigued, probably injured and certainly wouldn't achieve my potential.

So, not much running to report this week. But an awful lot of other stuff kept me busy, so it probably worked out well that I had a rest week scheduled.


Training Diary: 25th to 31st August

Over the last year, I've been training to a plan based around a few key principles:
1) Run frequently - I aim to run six days a week.
2) Limit hard, also referred to as "quality", training to two sessions per week - these are typically a long run and some form of interval training.
3) Keep the pace easy between hard sessions - I typically aim to run around 1:15 - 1:30 min/mi slower than my Marathon Pace in easy running.

This programme has worked really well for me. This year I've achieved personal bests at 10k and Half Marathon. I've also completed my first Full Marathon and it was in a good time of 3:00:19.

As I build up my training for my first ultra marathon, I'm sticking to essentially the same training plan. One major difference is that I'm going to try to run some back-to-back long runs to get used to running with fatigue. Otherwise, I'm broadly sticking to the same strategy. My feeling is that interval training is still valuable even for an ultra marathon. I believe the interval training increases my physical fitness and that this helps with the greater overall endurance requirements. I'm also sure that it improves my mental toughness, running form and running economy. Of these, I think the mental toughness aspect is interesting. I'm hoping that being able to push myself to run a hard interval in a tough training session will help to give me the mental strength to push up a hill later in the ultra distance.

I am trying to keep my intervals relatively specific for the ultra distance, so my interval sessions are based around two patterns:
1) Long, steady-pace intervals - e.g. 2 miles warm up, 8 miles at marathon pace, 2 miles warm down.
2) Shorter, harder intervals - e.g. 2 miles warm up, 8 reps of 3 mins at 6:10 min/mi pace + 3 mins rest, 2 miles warm down.
The key for the second type of interval training is to really keep the rest phases easy. I often walk for the first minute to get my heart rate back down. The critical point is that you are doing the training work in the interval, so you really do need to use the rest periods to recover for a full effort.

The reason for talking about intervals is because last week I had to tweak my training plan to fit around work and social commitments. I couldn't find an appropriate time for a long (i.e. at least 3 hours) run. I wanted to still reach around 60 miles total for the week. So, I did several medium length runs of between 10 and 13 miles. To keep the quality up, I did two interval sessions.
Frustratingly, I didn't manage to include any strength or conditioning training. This is still the aspect of my training that I'm finding it most difficult to include. It's disappointing, because I feel that my running has definitely improved when I have managed to incorporate consistent strength training, especially heavy squats and deadlifts.

Last week included a bank holiday Monday, with typically wet English bank holiday weather. We had friends round and did an indoor "barbecue". Helena had to work an early shift on the Monday and then a late shift on the Tuesday. My parents visited Tuesday and Wednesday. I had a client meeting in Birmingham on Thursday. And we had a family weekend in Ellesmere, Shropshire, so we travelled up during the day on Friday to return Sunday evening.

Around all of this I managed to fit in a really pleasing long steady tempo run on the Tuesday evening, while my parents kindly looked after the boys. I did 8 miles at around 6:40 min/mi. With a warm up and warm down it was a bit under 13 miles of running. Although I was aware that I was pushing, it felt like a comfortable enough run.
My other interval session was the shorter interval session described above. I ran along the canal tow path in Ellesmere. This is a regular route for me when we have the family weekends in Ellesmere. I love running along the canal because it is generally really well surfaced and it passes through quite a variety of scenery. There are some wooded parts with my favourite type of gnarly, rooty woodland trail and then there are bits through more open fields. There are very few, if any, built-up areas, so it is very peaceful and scenic. It also has the advantage of being flat, so tempo runs are easier to judge.

The family weekend is a "working weekend" featuring various manual labour tasks in the grounds of a large manor house. There's usually plenty of digging, chopping, wheel-barrowing, bonfire tending, and lifting to do. If my rounds of golf last week counted as extra exercise, the working weekend definitely counted. I've certainly earned my forthcoming rest week with 60 miles of running and two hard days of physical work.

That was the week that was: 25th to 31st August

Monday - Rest
Tuesday - Afternoon: Tempo Run 12.6 mi with 8 mi at roughly 6:40 min/mi pace
Wednesday - Afternoon: Easy run home from work + extra 9.6 mi
Thursday - Morning: Easy run to work 4.4 mi
Friday - Morning: Easy 10 mi
Saturday - Evening: Easy trail run 11.8 mi
Sunday - Morning: Short Intervals 12 mi with 8 x 3 min at 6:10 min/mi pace + 3 min rest

Totals: 60.3 mi, 7:55 min/mi average pace, 475 m elevation gain, 7:55:27 total training time


Training Diary: 18th to 24th August

Strength training is one of the most important, and regularly overlooked, aspects of training for long distance running. When you start training for distances of marathon length and beyond, strength training really helps in terms of muscular endurance and in prevention of injury. For my ultra marathon training, I've also found that it really improves how I feel running uphill. The trouble is that I just find it really difficult to fit the additional training sessions into my week.

If you've been following my training diary, you'll know that a typical training week involves running on 6 days. I typically aim for two quality sessions a week: one tempo / short interval and one long run. I aim to have a day of complete rest each week. My "ideal" training plan would involve adding in three more conditioning sessions. These extra three would be a mix of heavy weight lifting (focused on legs), core strength training, and a stability & stretching session. Note that this is only ideal from a performance perspective. It's certainly not ideal from a balanced life perspective. It's hard to add this extra training time without detracting from family time, work and other things I'd like to do.

My recent attempts to add in extra training have been to make use of our gym space at work. I can use this to do core strength work with a medicine ball. I can also use floor space and mats for stability and stretching sessions. We don't have any free weights or a multi-gym, so I can't do any heavy weight lifting. I need to try to fit this in at home. In my garage, I've got about 90 kg of weights, a barbell, a set of dumbbells and a squatting rack. This is just right for a decent set of squats, deadlifts, lunges and other leg strength exercises. I then add a couple of other compound upper body lifts, for example bench press or shoulder press.

But the problem is that I can't find a good spot in the day to easily fit in weight training. I don't like doing strength training first thing in the morning. I just feel that my body isn't ready and I risk injury. I'm usually at work during the day, so I can only do weights in the evening. As I ramp up my training, I'm already regularly using one evening a week to do a longer tempo run. On a normal day, where I'm not travelling with work or training in the evening, my evening routine looks something like this:
1745 - 1830 home from work, change, spend time with the boys.
1830 - 1930 Boys' bedtimes or cook dinner
1930 - 2000 Dinner with H
2000 - 2100 Free time
2100 - 2130 Prepare lunch, tidy the house, etc
2130 - 2200 Get ready for bed, read in bed
2200 Sleep [it's worth noting that even with this schedule I don't really get enough sleep, considering I normally wake up at about 0530]

It's hard to fit weights in this schedule. I don't feel comfortable eating immediately after exercise. With H being pregnant, it's not fair to ask her to wait for dinner any later. It's nice to eat together, but that's the thing that usually has to get sacrificed if I want to fit in weights. It's just difficult to get all the important bits of my life to fit together.

So, last week was another good example of trying to compromise between a normal life and fitting in an abnormal volume of training. It went OK, even though I didn't really hit "ideal performance" levels of training. You can kind of tell that I've been busy given that I'm only just getting around to posting this now.

At the weekend, I went on a friend's stag do. This involved three rounds of golf and some drinking. I was hoping I might sneak in two long runs around Dartmoor. In the end, I managed a 6.25 mi run and a 21 mi run. Obviously, the stag came first. I carry my clubs for golf and the courses were fairly hilly, so I think that the four hours of walking on Friday and Saturday (we had a buggy on the Sunday morning) counted for something in terms of background fatigue before my long run on Sunday afternoon.

That was the week that was: 18th to 24th August

Monday - Lunchtime: 5 mi easy
Tuesday - Lunchtime: Core Strength Training - medicine ball circuit 30 mins; Evening: Tempo Run 12 mi with 8 mi at 6:45 min/mi
Wednesday - Morning: 4.5 mi easy to work; Lunchtime: Core Stability & Stretching 30 mins; Evening: 6.5 mi easy run home
Thursday - Rest
Friday - Morning: 5 mi easy trail
Saturday - Afternoon: 6.25 mi easy trail
Sunday - Afternoon: 21 mi long hilly run on Dartmoor

Totals: 60.6 mi, 8:44 min/mi average pace, 1,370 m elevation gain, 9:49:32 total training time (including strength sessions)

Looking ahead

Next week (well, this week) is the final week of this three week training cycle and I have a lot on. I have more weekend plans and travel with work. Fitting everything in will, again, be a challenge. I'm going to need the rest week after this.


You can tell that it's nearly the end of a training cycle

The last week or so has been busy. I've been away for a friend's stag do. Helena has been working. I've got a lot on at work. We have another busy weekend ahead and then I'm flying out to Germany on Monday with work.

Fitting in running has been even more difficult than usual. I did manage to get a good long run on the stag do. If I can, I'll do a write up on that at some point. I'll also try to do the training diary update for the week.

Today, I thought I'd do a quick post noting how I can always tell when I'm coming to the end of a hard training cycle. My motivation does start to dip slightly, my body begins to feel more fatigued and everything about my training just feels harder. Combine this with my busy work and home life and it's a recipe for not enjoying my running.

Today was one of those days. I had a really busy day at work. I didn't have time to go to the gym at lunchtime and I've been trying to work out how to fit in the necessary miles in my schedule. Eventually I arrived at a strategy of running home from work (plus some detours) tonight and then running in tomorrow. This plan is OK, but definitely far from perfect. Not least because I need to be ready at my office to leave with some colleagues by 7am. So it's going to be an early start.

Today was the first time in a long time that I have felt that my running was something I had to do, rather than something I really wanted to do. Hopefully, that just reflects how busy I've been and the phase in my training cycle. I have a rest week ahead and I will make sure I take it easy. I hope that an easier week, some good sleep (if I'm lucky) and a reasonable diet will get me back to loving the freedom that I get when I run.

Today just felt like a slog and not something I was looking forward to. I still managed to complete a run of just over 9 miles. My legs feel fine and it doesn't feel like a particularly long distance any more. That's kind of good, because I've got to run 5 times that distance in a couple of months.


The confessions of a wannabe ultra runner

I've been awake since about 2am this morning. There was no particular reason I could find for my insomnia. I was just awake. I just couldn't get back to sleep. It gave me plenty of time to think.

Amongst the many things I pondered, I began to think around the question "Why do I want to run an ultra marathon?"

I have always imagined and told myself that the answer was something noble. I love being outdoors. I love running on trails more than roads. I enjoy feeling fit and healthy. I want to prove that I can meet the challenge of running 46 miles. I want to find out what I'm capable of achieving.

I know that some of the reasons are less noble. I aspire to a healthy physique. I want to look good with my shirt off. I prefer a lean body to a fat one or a bulky muscle physique. So, part of my running is for vanity.

But, given the thinking time afforded by the night, I realised that one of the major reasons for wanting to run an ultra marathon is that fewer people run them. That means I have a better chance of finishing in a higher position.

The truth is that I'm not interested in "just finishing" an ultra marathon. That holds limited appeal to me. There are lots of runners' race reports from 100 mile races that involve descriptions of desperation and suffering through the last stretches of the race. When I read them, I admire the person and I find their courage and determination inspiring. But I don't want to do one in that way. I don't feel any need to be the person that struggles through to the end of a painful experience. I don't think I'm scared of the pain or the suffering. I just don't think that it would be enough for me. It wouldn't satisfy me. I've always been driven to do more than "just get by". Even though completing a 100 mile run is a huge achievement, it's clear that there are plenty of runners in each event that do more than "just survive". So, relatively, just surviving wouldn't be good enough for me. And, I know that in terms of physical fitness, I'm probably above average fitness and so I should be capable of doing more than that.

Whenever I talk to people about my running, I am usually left with the sense that most people can't really empathise with these feelings. Obviously, the reverse is also true, I don't really understand what they think about my running. I just get the impression that people can't understand why I wouldn't be satisfied just to finish an ultra marathon.

In a way, I think that the example that helps me explain this best is when you discuss diets and training with non-runners / non-athletes. In the last year I've lost around 10 kg. A lot of people initially commented that they thought I looked too thin and other such comments (incidentally, these comments seem to have stopped because I think people have just got used to the new normal). When I explain that I still want to lose a couple of kilos to reach my ideal racing weight and that I pay close attention to my diet and calorie intake, I commonly get a response along the lines of "but you don't need to lose any more weight."

I think it's this last thought that maybe helps to explain how my thoughts work. No-one I've ever met limits their life to only doing what the "need" to do. Because what would our lives be if we only did what we truly need to do? We only really need limited food, warmth and shelter. Almost everything else is really optional. Maslow expressed this concept as a "hierarchy of needs" (see picture below).

Life is about doing things that you want to do. I want to be fit and healthy. I want a healthy physique. And I'm really competitive, so I want to have an objectively measurable performance and I want that objective measure to be better than average.

So, I am driven to train hard and long to meet these goals. I could be fit and healthy and happy with less training. But I couldn't be competitive and that's the difference between my 60+ mile training weeks and a "normal" 40 mile week.

I guess I'm running an ultra marathon for less noble reasons that I like to imagine. But I'm still doing it. And training hard for it. And it is still selfish. So please think about sponsoring me to help offset that selfishness!


Training Diary: 11th to 17th August

In just under three months I will be starting my first ultra marathon at the 46 mile Brecon Beacons Ultra. At the risk of tempting fate, my training seems to continue to progress fairly solidly. Occasionally I worry that I'm basically just doing an extended marathon training plan. However, the reality is that I don't have that much choice. There really isn't enough time in my life to regularly schedule 30 mile runs or long back-to-backs. Fortunately, I think that the fact that my first ultra is going to be over 46 miles rather than something in the 62+ mile (100+ km) distance bracket will help. I've already explored the course. It was a tough run, but I definitely felt I had more in the tank at the end.

This week's training was my first in my next four week cycle. I did two key workouts. The first was a race pace run around a regular 4.25 mile lunchtime running route. It's a route that a lot of runners at work have used as a pacing route. I set out aiming for a personal best and to complete it in under 26 minutes. I did it in 26:08 at an average pace of 6:07 min/mi. When I finished I was a bit frustrated to not break the 26 min mark. But then I realised that I'd beaten my previous best by over 30 seconds and it didn't seem so bad. The main thing that I use this run for is to get a better understanding of my training paces for tempo running. There are two good training pace calculators that I use: Runners World and a chart at The RunZone (you have to log in to download it though).

My second key workout was a long, hilly trail run. As I've done a couple of times in the past, I did the local Slaughterford 9 route a couple of times. It's a great run with a variety of scenery, some really steep hills and it's quiet and peaceful. The run went reasonably well. I pushed the pace a little harder than usual and towards the end I was definitely feeling sore. In fact, I started to feel some early warning signs of cramp on my legs. It would be interesting to see if this was because I was using a different electrolyte drink (Science in Sport Go Hydro) rather than my usual High5 Zero tablets. It could also be that I was experimenting with eating more real food rather than just sticking to energy gels. I'll be trying different combinations of food and hydration in longer runs in future training. I'm keen to try to make sure I find out what works for me. Fuel and hydration are critical for any successful ultra.

That was the week that was: 11th to 17th August

Monday - Morning: 4.5 mi easy to work; Lunchtime: Core strength training; Evening: 5.3 mi easy run home
Tuesday - Lunchtime: 5.8 mi run including 4.25 mi at race pace (6:07 min/mi)
Wednesday - Lunchtime: Core Stability & Stretching
Thursday - Morning: 5.1 mi easy trail run
Friday - Afternoon: 19.6 mi Long hilly trail run
Saturday - Evening: 5.0 mi easy trail run
Sunday - Evening: 5.2 mi easy road run

Totals: 50.6 mi, 8:22 min/mi average pace, 1,108 m elevation gain, 8:18:44 total training time (including strength sessions)

Looking ahead

Next week I have a bit of travel with work and a friend's stag do at the weekend. The logistics of fitting in enough long running could be interesting. It's going to be more restrained than some stags. It features three rounds of golf. So, my legs will get some form of exercise no matter what. Hopefully I'll be able to fit a couple of long runs in around the stag weekend activities. Especially because we'll be on the northern edge of Dartmoor and I'd love to go out and explore some of that.


Brooks Cascadia 9 Trail Shoe - a first impressions review

Update 27th May 2015: This post is now hosted on Ordinary Superhuman.

My Inov-8 Roclite 295s have been starting to develop tears in the fabric around the front of the toe box. They've had a couple of holes in the fabric around the heel for a couple of months now. These mean that I have to tape a plaster over my heals to avoid developing nasty blisters running. I've run nearly 400 miles in the Roclites. They will be good for a few more, but I'll keep to shorter runs, just in case they fail catastrophically at some point.

I originally bought the 295s because I wanted a lightweight trail shoe with good grip on grassy and muddy surfaces. In that respect, they have been outstanding. I figure it's always worth looking around for alternatives. If nothing else, it keeps things fresh.

Before choosing the Brooks Cascadia 9, I did a lot of looking and reading. Not living in a major city, and with my work, family and training schedule, it's hard for me to get to see shoes in stores. Stuck with searching on the Internet, I found it difficult to see a shoe that had the right mix of grip and lightness to deal with the trails that I run on. I don't just run on woodland or rocky trails / semi-pathways. I regularly run trails with grassy and muddy sections. Typically, those grassy sections have steep slopes too. It's definitely important to me to have a shoe that I don't spend half my time worrying about my foot slipping when it touches the ground. Especially when climbing up a steep hill.

The Cascadia 9 seemed to have the right mix. I was also able to find them at a relatively good price of £64. Many trail running shoes are in the £80+ price range. So, I placed my order on www.directrunning.co.uk and started waiting for the Postman. This was the first time I'd used the DirectRunning website, so I was a little nervous. There were no problems. I got the usual automated emails. My shoes were dispatched within a couple of days of ordering and arrived two days after notification of dispatch. They were reasonably packaged. I got free delivery and a good price for the shoes, so overall I was happy.

Straight out of the box, I felt encouraged that I had probably made a good decision. On a first inspection, the shoes do look bulkier than my Roclites. Lifting them out of the box and handling them didn't leave me immediately feeling that they were significantly heavier.

I had a good look at the tread pattern and the size of the grip. The tread definitely appears to be less aggressive than the Roclites. On the Cascadia 9, there are more lugs and they are shallower than the Roclites. But there is an interesting pattern and it looks like a tread that should provide sound grip on a range of surfaces.

Next up was confirming the weight of the shoe. I broke out the kitchen scales for this. The Brooks Cascadia 9 weighed in at 330 g for a single shoe, UK size 9. This compares to 295 g (the clue's in the name!) for the Inov-8 Roclite 295s. For a bit of a further comparison, my Saucony Kinvara 4s are 220 g.

Trying the shoes on to wear around the house first. The fit felt very nice. The shoes felt snug and secure. There were no obvious pressure points or tight areas. My foot didn't move around, nor did it feel pinched.

One odd thing I noticed was that you can't tie the laces with an ankle-lock lacing pattern. They eyelets are there on the shoe, but the laces provided are too short.

Having checked out all the obvious aspects of the shoe to make sure I didn't need to return them, it was time to take them out for a trial run.

If you've read a lot of my blog, you'll probably know that I'm really lucky to have an excellent 5 mile trail that I can run from my front door. It covers pretty much all the main trail surface types and even includes a 50-100 m stretch of hill with a 25% gradient. It's a great little test run for any trail shoe. There are grassy fields, gnarly woodland trails with plenty of roots, rocky slopes where rain run-off has cleared the topsoil, firm bridleways, some very limited road / pavement running, and a couple of shaded dips where it's muddy almost all year round.

My immediate impressions of the Cascadia 9, after my first few steps, were that they definitely absorbed more impact than Roclites and felt bouncier. I was struck by the the thought, or maybe feeling, that that I'd probably feel more comfortable in these on a very long run like Beacons Ultra. Now, this isn't necessarily the most fair comparison, because the first quarter of a mile of my run involves pavements or lanes to get to my trail. Even so, the feeling did persist, especially when running along the rockier parts of the trail.

Probably most importantly for me, the grip felt fine on all of the surfaces. The trail was in reasonable condition. We've had a few dry days recently and a very dry July. So even though we've had some recent heavy rain, it tends to translate into mostly dry firm surfaces, with the occasional boggy patch in shaded dips. It may not have been toughest test of a shoe's grip, but it still provides a good indication.

The fit of the shoe felt absolutely fine throughout the run. There were no noticeable hotspots to cause rubbing or irritation. My foot always felt secure and stable.

The shoes felt light and fairly agile. I didn't notice anything that made me feel that I had to change my running action to accommodate the shoes. I could run with the same cadence and foot strike pattern that I usually do.

Overall, my first impressions are really positive for the Brooks Cascadia 9. They are comfortable, light and grippy. I could definitely see myself running the Brecon Beacons Ultra in these in November. I'm a little surprised by this first impression, because I really thought that the only shoes I would contemplate for the race were the Inov-8 Roclite 295s.

I'll now be taking the Cascadia 9 out on increasingly longer runs over the next few weeks and I'll try to post another review after about 50 miles.


An example core stability and stretching route

So, today is supposed to be a rest day. Which it is. I'm not running or doing any form of cardio work today. However, I have been thinking that I need to include more stretching and core stability / strength work in my training routine.

So, today I did a gentle 40 minute training session at lunchtime in my work gym.

I came up with following routine. The routine was designed to focus on light core strengthening work and general stretching of back and legs.
  1. Warm up - 5 mins rowing machine (Level 8, approx 2:10 min/500m avg pace)
  2. Inchworm x 5
  3. Medicine ball hand walk x 12
  4. Plank - hold 60 seconds
  5. Swiss ball press-up to jack knife x 12
  6. Dirty Dog x 12 each leg
  7. Lying side hip abduction x 12 each leg
  8. Lying side hip adduction x 12 each leg
  9. Donkey Kick x 12 each leg
  10. Stretches - hold for 30 seconds
    • Head to knee
    • Camel pose
    • Spine Twister
    • Half Tortoise
    • Bow Pose
    • Modified hurdler hamstring stretch
    • Lying groin stretch
    • Knelling hip flexor stretch
    • Standing thighs stretch
It felt like a nice routine and I was comfortably done inside of an hour including changing and showering. The one change I'd make would be to mix up my abs exercises with my hip exercises. The combination of medicine ball hand walk, followed by plank, followed by Swiss ball jack knife was pretty hardcore (pun intended).

For an ideal training plan, each week I'd incorporate a core strength session, a session like this and a heavy weight lifting session on top of my running training. However, that's not hugely practical given all my other life responsibilities and commitments. Usually running wins over strength. Until I get injured.


Training Diary 4th to 10th August

Hmmmm …. rest weeks. In a troubling sign that I'm getting addicted to my running, I find rest weeks frustrating and unfulfilling. I know they are good for me. In fact this last one was definitely beneficial. And, yet, even knowing that I needed to rest, I found it hard. And I only rested for four days really, because I'd slightly extended my previous training cycle to fit around holidays and family.

After completing my back-to-back long runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, I took a break of four days complete rest from any form of cardio exercise. The only training I did in this time was a long overdue weight lifting session on Saturday night.

For the last few training weeks, I've begun to suspect early signs of overtraining. I've felt stiff and my body has felt lethargic. I've felt tired, I've been slightly less focused in daily life, and my mood has been lower. After the break of four days, I'm beginning to feel a lot better. 

As well as resting, I've been looking at other wellbeing areas to help avoid overtraining. 
I've been trying to improve the amount and quality of my sleep. I'm now aiming to switch out my bedside light at 2215 each night. I'm still waking at around 0530-0545 most days, but I give myself the option to go back to sleep. I've definitely noticed that making sure I'm not in front of a computer screen or TV screen for at least an hour before lights-out is beneficial. I've also found that reading a book for at least 15 minutes helps to ensure that I get to sleep straight away. I'm also limiting the amount I drink after 2000 to try to avoid waking in the night to use the toilet.
Another thing I'm experimenting with is that I've started a daily meditation routine. The first thing I do each morning is a simple meditation following my breath. This only lasts for five or six minutes and I'll slowly build up to 10 minutes. I can't always fit this in if I'm on an early run or travelling. I just aim to do this as often as I can.

In other news, my Inov-8 Roclite 295s are beginning to show signs of tearing around the toe box. They've already developed a fairly nasty hole in the inner lining at the heel. I have to tape my heels to avoid developing serious blisters on anything longer than a 5 mile trail run. So, it's time to look into buying yet another new pair of running shoes. I have really enjoyed running in the Roclites. I might even find time to write a 300 mile review of them. But I'm not convinced by their durability, so I might look for another training shoe (and consider buying another pair of the 295s as a race and trail speedwork shoe). Current contenders are the Brooks Cascadia 9 and the Adidas Kanadia 6 (mainly because of its price). I've been looking at the Salomon range. The Fellraiser is a possibility, but I think the tread may be a little too aggressive for the Beacons Ultra. I want to buy a shoe that I could race in if my budget doesn't allow another pair of shoes or if I get on really well with the shoe. 

That was the week that was: 4th to 10th August 

Monday - Rest
Tuesday - Evening: 24 mi carb-depletion long trail run
Wednesday - Morning: 15 mile easy road run
Thursday - Rest
Friday - Rest
Saturday - Evening: Weight Lifting
Sunday - Rest

Totals: 39.4 mi, 8:56 min/mi average pace, 1011 m elevation gain, 6:46:41 training time

OK - so from the stats this doesn't really look like a rest week, but I still feel that the four days complete break counts!

Looking ahead

It's back to full training next week. I'm planning a race pace run around my lunchtime short route from work. This is a 4.25 mile run and it's useful as a pacing run to help me work out my training paces. 
I'm going to try to fit in at least one weight lifting session. I realised that it was nearly a month since my last session and I really noticed the difference lifting on Saturday.
My long run this week is going to be a 20 mile trail run based on the local Slaughterford 9 race route.


Back-to-Back Long Runs

I did the second leg of my first set of back-to-back long runs. These seem to be one of the main recommended way of conditioning your body for the extra stresses of running beyond marathon distance.

I don't think I made it easy on myself by doing my first run as a carb-depletion run. I've also noticed that most people make the first run slightly shorter, so that you're starting the longer run slightly fatigued. I can see the sense in this.

Today's run was 15 miles on the local country lanes. I actually felt pretty good while running. I was aware that I was fatigued, but not excessively. I thought it might be more of a struggle, because last night was far from the greatest sleep I've had. I suspect I was still feeling the after effects of the long carb-depletion session. I slept fitfully and woke a few times drenched in sweat.
I just about managed to beat my alarm this morning and immediately tucked into a breakfast protein shake (MyProtein Total Breakfast has been my weapon of choice here). I popped my contact lenses in, filled a couple of 500 ml bottles with electrolyte drink and grabbed a few energy gels. I tucked them all into my lightweight waist pack, grabbed my shoes and Garmin and headed out.

It had been raining through the night, but this morning's weather was clear, nicely warm and I settled into a fairly comfortable rhythm. Once I'd warmed up through the first couple of miles, most of my running was just a little over 8 min/mi pace. I took on gels at 45 min, 65 min and 95 min. I could clearly feel the difference compared to yesterday's run. I felt pretty strong towards the end, so I pushed the pace a bit for the last few miles and picked up to around 7:50 min/mile.

All-in-all, a good run and a nice excuse to grab a big breakfast of Shredded Wheat + a bagel with Marmite. Happy Days!
Now for four days of rest before I start my next four week cycle (three weeks of training + one rest week). I'm probably going to try to do one weight training session at the weekend and maybe some light cycling.


Chasing The Wall

Just done a 24 mile trail run in 3hr 46 min. It was a "fat burning adjusting" run. The idea is to teach your body to burn fat more efficiently when it needs to conserve carbs. I ate a low carb diet today and then didn't take on any extra fuel during the run. It hurt.
I'm not sure the pleasure of Ham & Spinach omelette for breakfast, and sweet chilli mackerel salad for lunch really offset. Nor the prospect of shoving my face full of chilli con carne shortly.
Bonus tip: moving your legs in an ice bath is a masochist's dream.


Training Diary 21st July to 3rd August

We've been on a family holiday with a group of good friends. There were 22 in the party. 12 adults and 10 children. 9 of the children were aged 6 or under. We're lucky that everyone in the group gets along well and helps each other out. Parents regularly look after other children, or help pick up a buggy, or deal with a minor problem. This meant that that it was surprisingly relaxing given the party composition.

We stayed in East Brent on the Somerset levels. I was lucky that I managed to keep up my running. Helena was good enough to help me to fit in a long run. I went out for about 2:45 and covered 17.5 ish miles. Running stats here are more "about" and "ish" than usual, because I made the mistake of pausing my watch at the top of one of my hill climbs while I took some photos. And then I forgot to restart it. I'm not sure how much running distance / time I lost as a result. It was a beautiful run. The weather was perfectly clear and warm. I managed to get up on to the Mendip hills. I had to stop to take photos, because the view out over the levels was fantastic. You could easily pick out Brent Knoll, because it stuck out from the flat countryside like a misplaced camel's hump.

The house we were staying in was at the foot of Brent Knoll. So one of my sessions was a set of hill repeats. It was a tough session. I ran up and down the Knoll 6 times in just under an hour. This came to 535 m of climbing (and the same descent) in 5.3 miles. About a third of the climb was too steep to run. In many ways, this is a much harder intensity than I'll actually need for the Brecon Beacons Ultra. My recce run of the route came up with 838 m of elevation gain in 23 miles.

Back home after the holiday, my weekend running was an easy trail run in the rain and another easy road run. The trail run was notable for being the first really wet run I've done in ages. It's hard to remember when I last got a soaking when I was running. It was nice to remember how much I enjoy running in the rain.

Although it has been good to mix up my training in the last couple of weeks, it has meant that my weekly mileage is a bit reduced. I've managed to 48 miles and 38 miles in the last two weeks. Ideally, I'd be building up to 55+ miles per week now. This last week's mileage is slightly anomalous, because I've tweaked my schedule a bit. This Tuesday, Helena is taking the boys to see her brother and his family. So, I'm planning to do my first back-to-back set of longer runs. I'm going to try to do a 25 mile / 4 hour run, followed by a 15 mile run the next day. If I'd been keeping my schedule to a weekly pattern, this week would be a rest week. I'll leave the rest of the week as total rest with no training at all. Then I'll pick it up again from next week. I think that this should be a good balance. The reduced mileage of the last couple of weeks should also help to minimise any overtraining risks.

That was the week that was: 21st July to 27th July

Monday - Evening: 5.2 mi easy with 3 x striders
Tuesday - Lunchtime: 5 mi easy with 2 x striders
Wednesday - Afternoon: 10.6 mi tempo with 2mi easy warm up, 8 x 0.5 mi @ 6 min/mi + 3 minutes rest, 2 mi easy warm down.
Thursday - Lunchtime: 5 mi easy
Friday - Morning: 5 mi easy trail
Saturday - Rest
Sunday - 17.3 mi hilly long

Totals: 48.3 mi, 8:24 min/mi average pace, 777 m elevation gain, 6:45:22 training time

That was the week that was: 28th July to 3rd August

Monday - Afternoon: 5.2 mi easy with 4 x striders
Tuesday - Evening: 5.2 mi easy
Wednesday - Evening: 8.1 mi hill repeats session with 1.4 mi easy warm up, 6 x 0.9 mi hill climb + descent, 1.4 mi easy warm down
Thursday - Rest
Friday - Morning: 5 mi easy trail
Saturday - Morning: 9.2 mi easy trail
Sunday - Morning: 5.2 mi easy

Totals: 38 mi, 8:34 min/mi average pace, 1012 m elevation gain, 5:24:48 training time


Feeling hot, hot, hot!

Yesterday's run was a 10 mile (ish) intervals session. The plan was for 2 miles warm up, followed by 8 x 3 min intervals at 6:10 min/mi pace with 3 min rest, then a warm down for whatever miles were left to get home.

The additional bonus for yesterday's training was the heat. It was roughly 28°C. Toasty.

I actually found the conditions not too difficult for running. I just made sure to take the rest intervals slightly easier than usual. I usually walked for the first minute then jogged very gently for the next couple of minutes. The key thing to remember with interval training is that you are doing the work in the intervals. Rest phases are just that. They are for resting.

I had 500 ml of electrolyte drink and had a couple of swigs at the start of each rest period. At the end of the run I was drenched in sweat, but didn't feel particularly dehydrated or under any kind of heat stress.

I wouldn't want to run a race longer than 10 km in these conditions. But I think I could do a training run of up to 15 miles, as long as I carried enough drink and did it an easy pace.

I will predict one thing with a high degree of confidence. I do not expect to have to deal with temperatures of 28°C for my ultra marathon in the middle of November!

You can see the profile of my run (and all my other training runs) here: http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/548251513


Training Diary 14th to 20th July

For what seems like the first time in ages, I didn't have to travel with work last week. It made organising my training much easier. I was able to fit in a couple of evening runs and do some core strength training in the gym at lunchtime.  This felt like a good pattern of training, although it does involve some compromises around Seb and Isaac's bedtime. I might look into whether it's possible to train early in the morning, before everyone gets up. Right now, I'm looking out of my window at a perfectly clear blue sky. I know it would be perfect running conditions right now. The problem is that I also know it's really helpful to be around for the boys in the mornings.

Mentioning the weather segues neatly to something that really has affected my training in the last week. Sleep. We had some pretty serious thunderstorms at the end of last week. They rumbled around for hours. For two consecutive nights, I probably only managed three hours of quality sleep. The rest of the time was spent dozing at best. Not surprisingly, everything has felt sluggish as a result. I think the lack of quality sleep has hit my recovery from training and at times I've felt like I'm flirting with overtraining. My mood has been lower, my enthusiasm for training a bit less and I've been much less disciplined with my diet. I keep telling myself that I'm eating more to compensate for the lack of sleep, but I'm eating chocolate and biscuits, which looks a lot more like comfort eating.

Nutrition for running is something that does interest me a lot. It makes intuitive sense to me that what you eat has a big impact on your physical condition. So, if you are training for something that involves a high level of physical performance, diet and nutrition must be even more important. I think my day-to-day diet is actually pretty healthy. Breakfast is usually something like a wholegrain cereal, or eggs, or wholemeal toast (usually with Marmite). Lunch is usually based around a green salad with tuna, mackerel or chicken. I've started experimenting with salads based on quinoa, cous cous or brown rice for added carbohydrate. I'm also eating more beans. Dinners are a variety, although we try to cook as much from scratch as possible. Snacking is generally healthy. I have a few regular staples: cottage cheese + ryvita, peanut butter + oatcakes, apples, bananas, dried apricots & raisins, mixed nuts. I've recently started experimenting with making my own snack bars, usually based around flapjack type recipes, but where I'm trying to limit the amount of fat and sugar and still come up with something edible and tasty. I tried a recipe for a crispy snack bar last week and used it as a snack during my Brecons Recce, which seemed to work very successfully, so I'll be revisiting that.

Ah, the Brecons Recce. I've left the most important part of my week until last I guess. On Saturday I got up at 0530 and left the house just after 0600 to drive to Talybont on Usk for a recce of the Brecons route. I got there at about 0800 and nearly suffered from failing to follow one of my golden rules of packing for running long distances … always pack toilet paper. The public toilets in the car park were out of paper and I didn't notice until it was too late. Fortunately, I had packed some cotton gauze in my first aid kit. Too much detail?
The run itself was great. It started off drizzling. I'd been threatened with heavy rain for the whole day, anything less than torrential downpours felt like a bonus. Throughout the run, the clouds hung heavy in the sky obscuring the peaks of the hills. In a way this lent a pretty dramatic edge to the scenery.
The route starts off easy, following along a canal tow path for the first three miles. No navigation required! However, I did regret not having my map in my hand, because as soon as I had to leave the tow path, I was unsure of the route. I had downloaded a track to my Garmin watch, but this was mainly helpful in telling me I wasn't going the right way. I had packed my OS maps and I lost a few minutes of time while I got those out of my backpack.
As soon as I was back on route the the climb of Tor y Foel kicked in. The climb is about 400 metres in 2 miles. Some of it is runnable, but even on race day I'll probably be hiking for most of it. After Tor y Foel, the route descends to Taf Fechan Forest on a combination of classic hill / mountain footpaths and a bit of forest fire track, until you hit the rocky trail up to the Gap.
My only significant issue along this stretch was picking the wrong one out of two almost parallel paths. Eventually to get myself back on track I decided to follow a stream down the steep hillside to join up with the proper route. This was a proper scramble through the river. Quite good fun, but I was quite aware it could have gone very wrong. I was at a fairly isolated point on the route. I hadn't seen any other walkers or much activity. I was scrambling through slippy, rocky water. I figured I could easily do some damage if I slipped and fell. But it was also kind of fun to do something literally off the beaten track. Even if it did mean I lost at least 5 minutes of time as I scrabbled along the stream.
Once I was back on the trail, it was fairly smooth going. Although most of the route up to the Gap is uphill, I found it fairly comfortable. The hardest aspect was the terrain. The rocky ground is hard on the legs. It's also hard on the mind, because you are constantly concentrating trying to make sure that you pick a good route.
The descent from the Gap was good fun. You lose about 400 metres in about 3 miles. It's all rocky stuff, so you're bouncing around trying to keep a good pace without twisting an ankle.
The least enjoyable bit of the run came next. There was a bit of running along country lanes, which was fine, but oddly and frustratingly difficult to navigate well. Then I turned along a byway which was thoroughly overcrowded with bracken, brambles and nettles. I'm not sure how long this route was, but it was a huge amount of fun constantly being smacked in the face by something scratchy, all the time picking my way along a slippy, rocky path.
Once I'd got past this point, the route picked up a canal tow path again for a final two or three miles of nice flat running.
I finished the 23.5 miles in a total time of 3:56:18. You can see the route on Garmin Connect here: http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/544751118
I can't quite tell what this will equate to for a single lap on race day. I reckon I lost at least 15 minutes due to navigation errors and general faffing. So, I'm still hopeful that a finishing time of around 8 hours is still possible. Looking at last year's results, if I can post a first lap of around 3:30 without breaking myself completely, I should be close. I've got four months of training and I'll have a taper into the race rather than doing it at the end of a relatively tough week of training.

That was the week that was: 14th to 20th July

Monday - Lunchtime: core strength training; Evening: 9 mi tempo run with 6 mi at 6:45 min/mi
Tuesday - Morning: 5 mi easy trail run
Wednesday - Morning: 5 mi easy run to work; Lunchtime: core strength training; Evening: 5 mi easy run home
Thursday - Lunchtime: 5 mi easy run
Friday - Rest
Saturday - Brecon Beacons Recce - 23.5 mi trail
Sunday - Morning: 4.5 mi easy recovery run

Totals: 57.4 mi, 8:44 min/mi average pace, 1201 m total elevation gain, 9:35:58 training time (including strength sessions)

The week ahead

I have some travel with work and we are going on a family holiday at the end of the week. My parents are visiting mid-week. I'll aim to do another 55-60 miles and include a normal long run + an interval training session.


Training Diary 6th - 13th July

One of the benefits of the training that I've been doing recently is that has forced me to simplify my life. I'm regularly training for at least nine hours a week now. If you include time spent changing and showering too, it's probably nearer 11 or 12 hours. Taking that time out of your day means you can't do quite so many different things. You have to focus and choose.

For me, simplification is helpful. I have a history of attempting to do too many things. I spread myself too thin and don't achieve my best results in any one area. In some respects, doing reasonably well at lots of things has been a good thing for me historically. It's always left me with the nagging sense that I've never found out what I could achieve if I'd seriously devoted myself to one thing. I'm not devoting myself completely to running training; I still have work, family and social commitments. I am more focused on it than any other hobby or 'extra-curricular' activity I've taken on recently. I'm really keen to see what I can achieve by putting more emphasis on one thing.

Increasingly my life is simplifying to running, cooking, eating, family time, work, household chores, sleep. I still find time to read, although I've reduced the number of magazines to which I subscribe. I also spend less time reading the multiplicity of blogs that I would otherwise be interested in / distracted by (depending on your point of view). I also want to get better at writing. In particular, I am going to put more emphasis on raising money for Azafady over the next few months.

That was the week that was 6th - 13th July

Monday - Lunchtime: core training - medicine ball core workout
Tuesday - Lunchtime: 5 mi easy
Wednesday - rest
Thursday - rest
Friday - Lunchtime: core training - medicine ball core workout; Evening: 5.6 mi easy trail run
Saturday - Morning: 11.9 mi easy paced hilly trail run (Slaughterford 9 route)
Sunday - rest

Totals: 22.5 mi, 8:44 min/mi average pace, 564m total elevation gain, 4:26:42 training time (including strength sessions)

Looking ahead

At the moment I don't have much travel planned for work, although this may change. I'm starting another four week cycle: three weeks of increasing intensity followed by a rest week for consolidation. This week I'm aiming for around 58 miles. I'll fit in a temp run of around 6 miles + warm-up and warm down. I'm also planning to go to Brecon next Saturday to do a recce of the actual race route.

I want to keep up my strength and conditioning work. I didn't do any heavy weight lifting last week. This week I'd like to fit in at least one heavy weights session and one core strength session. My ideal goal, from a training perspective, would be to have one extra conditioning session. I'd like to do something circuit training style with a high level of intensity. My logic is that this kind of training will help mentally with the exertion of hard hill sections in the ultra.

Another aspect of training that I'll be working on this week is experimenting with one or two homemade energy / snack bars to carry with me on long runs. I've used gels and energy drinks very successfully in all my running so far. I feel that I've been very successful with my nutrition and fuelling tactics in long runs, especially with the Edinburgh Marathon. My intuition is that the longer distance and, especially, time of Beacons Ultra will mean that gels just won't be enough. Although I could buy specially made sports products (High5, Science in Sport, etc), it doesn't feel that those bars over any nutritionally in comparison to something I can make for myself. Their main benefit seems to be an extended shelf life. I'll try to report back on this blog on the success, or otherwise, of my baking attempts.


Training Diary 30th June - 6th July

This last week felt like an important building block for future training. I probably had my most important long run in a while. And I successfully experimented with a longer mid-week tempo run. The weekly mileage of 58 miles is around my highest level and I managed to fit in two strength training sessions. It was the last week in a four week cycle, so next week is a rest week. I can feel in my legs that I need to take the rest. It should help my body to recover and fully adapt as I begin to push my training further over the summer.

On Tuesday I changed my training routine slightly. During the week, I normally run at lunchtimes. I changed to do a core strength session with a 5kg medicine ball at lunchtime. I've been doing this routine roughly once a week for a while now. It has made a noticeable difference to the strength of my abdominal muscles.
I made the change to allow me to do a longer 10 mile tempo run on Tuesday evening. This was a run of 2 miles warm up, 1 mile at 6:40 min/mi pace + 0.5 mile rest x 5, follwed by a mile or so of warm down. The route and pacing felt good and I'll definitely be building this session into future training plans.

On Saturday morning I completed probably my most important long run training session in a while. We have a semi-regular, kind of monthly, Friday Night Dinner with our neighbours. We were hosting this week, so I got to indulge my enjoyment of cooking. On the menu was minted courgette soup, followed by enchiladas with two fillings: spicy mixed beans, and chilli con carne with chocolate and chorizo; dessert was a key lime pie. So, basically, I ate far too much and had a couple of glasses of gin and tonic as well. Not normally the ideal preparation for a morning long run. Not only that, I was planning a long route with a long hill climb. And it was raining. I was on a bit of a deadline, because Helena and I were due to the hospital for a 12 week check-up and scan (Helena is pregnant with our third child, my running looks even more selfish now, doesn't it?). I could have easily decided not to bother running. But I got out there and actually found that it was a really solid run. The first few miles felt a bit sluggish. Once I got into the run at about mile 5 or 6, it began to feel like a really good one. The hill climb from Bathford to Colerne was about 160 m of elevation gain in about 2 miles. This is a good hill, although I'm going to need to climb something even steeper in the Beacons Ultra. The main climb there is about 450 metres of elevation gain in 2 miles. This is followed shortly after by about 6.5 miles of almost continual climb for another 350 metres of gain. And, because it's a two lap race, I get to do this all over again.
Still, that's what my training is all about, so the fact that I could finish Saturday's long run feeling strong and against less than ideal preparation, is a good sign.

That Was The Week That Was - training breakdown 30th June - 6th July

Monday - Morning: 5 mi easy with 3 x stride outs; Evening: Weight Training
Tuesday - Lunchtime: Core Strength Training; Evening: 10 mi tempo run with 5 x 1 mile at 6:45 min/mi + 0.5 mi rest.
Wednesday - Morning: 4.7mi easy to work; Evening: 5.4 mi easy to home
Thursday - Lunchtime: 5 mi easy
Friday - Lunchtime: 5 mi easy with 4 x stride outs
Saturday - 22.9 mi long hilly run
Sunday - Rest day

Totals: 58.0 mi, 8:05 min/mi average pace, 700m total elevation gain, 9:08:30 training time (including strength sessions)

Looking ahead

Next week (starting Monday 7th July) is a rest week. I'll probably aim to run two or three easy runs of 5 miles and a longer run of around 12 miles. I'll try to put in a bit of strength training and maybe a little cross-training if I get bored. I have a couple of days of travelling with work. This probably helps force me to rest!


Restlessness and rest weeks

Having clocked up four solid weeks of training (I'll get around to doing last week's training diary later. I hope.) it's time to take a rest / recovery week. I know these are important in terms of my training. And I still find them really hard. It's a combination of paranoia about losing fitness and simply missing the pleasure from running. Even though I'm aware that my legs still feel a bit tired and heavy after Saturday morning's 23 mile hilly run, I'm still itching to get outside for a gentle run.

It doesn't help when the view from the office window is of perfect running conditions: sunny, not oppressively hot and a light breeze. I've got the windows open and it doesn't feel that humid either.

Ah well. It means I did even better to go and get in the gym and do 10 minutes on the rowing machine and two sets of a core strength medicine ball circuit. Well done me. Time for random fridge salad and a protein shake.

Random Fridge Salad

Training for long distance running appears to have a tendency to lead to a bit of an obsession with food.
I think a big reason is that you intuitively know that just sticking energy gels and sports drinks down your neck during a run is a) not good for you as a long term diet; and b) not really enough anyway.
Then you discover that expensive recovery drinks don't have any conclusive scientific evidence demonstrating superior performance compared to chocolate milkshake. And that this isn't really surprising, since nutritionally they have an almost identical macronutrient profile.
And then you start wondering about your overall diet and realise that just eating the same food as usual, but more of everything, is going to get expensive. And it tickles at the back of your mind that eating more of everything, especially more meat, may not be a good thing.
Then you read Born To Run, and get looking into blogs and articles about ultrarunners like Scott Jurek.
And you start coming to the conclusion that you really need to tweak your diet a bit.
In my case, this means looking for ways to boost my carbohydrate intake without massively increasing my consumption of fat and protein. I'm aiming for a net calorie balance (i.e. calories consumed minus estimated calories from exercise) of around 2000 calories. I'd like to consume no more than 90g fat and 120g protein each day. This leaves around 800 calories to get from carbs - about 400g per day.

I'm very lucky because I really do like all food. And I enjoy experimenting with food. I also hate wasting things. This can lead to some interesting diversions, such as this lunchbox, which is probably best described as a Random Fridge Salad.


50g (dry weight) Cous Cous
50g left over tomato salsa
1 salad tomato roughly chopped
25g Red skinned peanuts
25g Pumpkin seeds
30g Red onion finely diced
50g Cucumber diced
50g Carrot diced
½ Red pepper diced
¼ Red chilli finely chopped
1 stick of celery sliced
1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Black Pepper


Stare into the fridge. Notice that you have loads of veg left over and no meal plans to use it all up. Get everything out on the work surface. Cook the cous cous. Chop / slice everything up, pour over the olive oil. Season with black pepper to taste. Cross your fingers.

Nutritional Information

Calories: 629
Carbohydrate: 49g
Fat: 37g
Protein: 23 g

The inclusion of seeds and olive oil mean that this meal doesn't have the greatest carbohydrate to fat ratio that I've come up with.


Training Diary 16th - 29th June

One of the keys to training endurance is to balance building up a useful level of cumulative fatigue with the risk of overtraining. The purpose of training is to put your body under a level of stress, so that during rest and recovery it adapts and develops. It's not easy to spot the difference with over-training, although there a number of symptoms you can watch out for: appetite, sleep patterns, mood, energy, concentration, soreness / pain, susceptibility to colds.

In trying to increase my training and avoid overtraining, my biggest problem is getting enough sleep. I am only really managing to get around 6.5 hours sleep. I very rarely manage a completely uninterrupted night of sleep. I'm working on changing my evening routine and habits to make sure I get into bed earlier. I have no problem falling asleep, I just have a problem getting in to bed early enough to get enough sleep. I'm regularly wide awake by 0530, so I've concluded that I need to sleep earlier, rather than trying to get back to sleep again for an hour in the mornings.

Overtraining and cumulative fatigue have been on my mind as I've built up another couple of solid weeks of training. Again, my training patterns have been necessarily varied due to social and work commitments. I've managed to fit in my long (3+ hours) runs, including a long, hilly trail run (the Slaughterford 9 route done back-to-back) and a 25 mile run along canals while visiting my parents. The summer weather is a boon to my training. Even though I do enjoy, in a slightly masochistic way, running in the rain, it feels great to get out in the sunshine.

That Was The Week That Was - training breakdown 16th - 23rd June

Monday - 5 mi easy run with 3 x stride outs
Tuesday - 5 mi easy trail run
Wednesday - rest day due to travelling to London
Thursday - missed workout - was planned for a 5 mile easy run, but I was too tired after another day travelling to London with an early start and a rubbish night of sleep
Friday - Core strength training at lunchtime + 5 mi easy trail run in the evening
Saturday - 8.3 mi tempo run inc 3 mi at 7:00 min/mi pace
Sunday - 20 mi hilly trail run (Slaughterford 9 route back-to-back) early morning + weight training in the evening

Totals: 43.4 mi, 7:37 min/mi average pace, 951m total elevation gain, 7:37:52 training time (including strength sessions)

That Was The Week That Was - training breakdown 24th - 29th June

Monday - Lunchtime: 5 mi easy run
Tuesday - Luncthime: 5 mi temp run inc 2 mi at 6:30 min/mi pace; Evening: weight training
Wednesday - Morning: 5 mi easy run to work; Evening: 5 mi easy run home
Thursday - rest
Friday - Evening: 5mi easy run
Saturday - Morning: 25.8 mi semi-trail run along canals
Sunday - Evening: 5 mi easy run

Totals: 56.2 mi, 8:19 min/mi average pace, 360m total elevation gain, 8:18:56 training time (including strength sessions)

Looking ahead:

Next week (starting Monday 30th June) is the last week of a four week cycle of training. I'll be aiming to hit around 60 miles, including another long run of c. 25 miles. I'm also going to experiment with a longer midweek run of around 10 miles including 4 or 5 miles of tempo pace running. I don't have much travel planned, so hopefully it should be an easier week to fit in the training.
The following week will be a rest week. I'll reduce my training to four days in the week and my mileage to around 25-30 miles. I won't be doing any faster paced running, but I will try to keep up my strength training. I tend to only do 2 sessions a week of strength training, so I feel that I probably already get a fair amount of rest on the strength side.


Training Diary - week ending 15th June 2014

It's amazing how the passage of time can feel totally different depending on your context. Last week was my first full week of training after the marathon. I had a two week rest period. The second week was partially enforced by a stomach bug that the whole family came down with in the space of about 12 hours and knocked us out for three days.

It felt brilliant to get back to consistent training again. In fact, there are signs that I might be getting almost addicted to running. On Friday I woke up at about 4 am with the dawn chorus. The windows were open because of the warm weather. Although it was relaxing listening to the bird song, I wasn't able to get back to sleep. From about 5 am I found I couldn't wait to get up and get out for a run. I knew the weather was going to be good. It would be sunny and there would be the fresh feeling of early morning. I got up at about 0545 and I was out of the house by 0555. The conditions were just as perfect as I had been expecting and I had a beautiful easy trail run on my regular five mile loop.

The training in the week may prove to be a sort of template for my summer's training. That is, there isn't going to be much of a template. I will probably end up with a very mixed set of training sessions each week. I think this will turn out to be good for me. For example, last week I totalled 48.5 miles. I didn't manage to fit in any double run days, but I did manage to fit one strength training session in and I managed to run on six days.

We were visiting friends in Hove on Saturday and Sunday. In another pattern that's going to be repeated, I went for early(ish) runs after helping Helena with the boys' breakfast. Saturday morning I went for a 16 mile run along the Hove and Brighton seafronts. It was nice to go on a long run that was basically flat. On Sunday I did an easy 6.5 mile semi-trail run with Alex. We went up onto the South Downs. The scenery is brilliant. The downs are so open you get that amazing sensation of running along a ridgeway looking down on the scenery on all sides. I could see the attraction of the South Downs Way 100, which was run the day before.

That Was The Week That Was - training breakdown

Monday - 5 mi easy run at 7:45 min/mi at lunchtime + Strength Training session in the evening
Tuesday - rest day
Wednesday - 10 mi hilly trail run
Thursday - 6.2 mi easy road run
Friday - 4.75 mi easy trail run
Saturday - 15.9 mi easy long run
Sunday - 6.4 mi hilly semi-trail run

Totals: 48.4 mi; average 8:17 min/mi; 732 m total elevation gain; 7:20:46 training time (include strength session)

The Week Ahead

Next week will be an interesting training week. I have three days of meetings in London. These meetings mean catching trains early enough that I may not have time for early morning running. I'll probably look to get an evening run in to compensate on a couple of days. We are at home at the weekend, so I'm hoping to experiment with a long hilly trail run that involves doing the Slaughterford 9 route back-to-back for a total of 20 miles and about 750 m of total elevation gain. I reckon this will take about three hours. This is not far off the ratio of elevation gain to distance that the Beacons Ultra has, so it should be good preparation. However, the Beacons Ultra route does rather condense the climbing with about 400 m gain in about 2 miles (twice, because it's a two lap course).
I'd like to fit a couple of strength training sessions in next week, but I think that may be unrealistic given my work schedule.


Just lift your head

So, I'm back into my regular training routine. I try to run six days a week and to find at least one day a week where I can double up with a run in the morning and at night. Usually I double up by running to and from work.

Today was a double day. I woke up at my usual time of 0530. Because I'm getting up so early, it means I have chance to get a proper breakfast. I had a couple of slices of marmite toast (of course) and got myself ready to go. There was even time to say "Good morning." to the boys before I left the house at 0715.

It was a grey, damp, morning. It was a little colder than it has been for the last few days. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was my third run in three days after a week off. Maybe it was the fact that I'm back on calorie control (aiming for net 1500 calories after subtracting estimated calories from exercise from the amount I've consumed). Whatever it was, I felt pretty lethargic. My legs felt a bit stiff and tight. I didn't feel like I was running hard. It just felt like a slog.

After about three miles I realised I'd run most of the distance staring down towards my feet or the ground one or two metres in front of me. I realised that I was kind of missing the point. One of the points of running is to get outside and enjoy the countryside that I'm so lucky to live near. So I realised that I just needed to lift my head and enjoy the scenery.

Guess what? I immediately felt better. I felt lighter on my feet, me legs felt bouncier. I started to enjoy the run.

Running is about freedom and enjoying being outside. I am training hard and consistently, but it's still fun. So, any time it feels hard, the key is to just lift your head.


Edinburgh Marathon Weekend #2: Race Day

Carb-loading at Laila's Bistro
I spent a relaxing Saturday pottering around Edinburgh. I made sure I wasn't rushing and generally took it easy. I found a great place to have lunch: Laila's Meditteranean Bistro. I treated myself to a delicious Chicken Shawarma wrap, with a side of hummus and bread. Hey, I was carb-loading!

Race morning arrived and I felt good. I was a little nervous, although this was mostly displacement nerves as I was keen to make sure I got to the start in good time.

My now traditional pre-race
Race day breakfast was my tried and trusted staple of marmite toast + a banana. Considering I was about to run hard for three hours, I decided to add a Total Breakfast shake from MyProtein. I've been drinking this on mornings when I run into work or if I have to leave at stupid o'clock to travel for conferences or meetings. I figured the extra protein would be a bonus.

Having packed my bag, I walked up to the start line. It was grey and drizzly, but much warmer than I had thought.

I actually found the start area quite confusing. There was a half marathon even earlier in the morning. There were also two starts for the marathon. So it was very hard to work out where I needed to be. I asked a marshall for directions to the bag drop and they sent me to wrong set. Where I needed to be was about 5-10 minutes walk away at the other start point. Queue some extra fretting about not missing the bag drop cut-off time. Still, at least it gave me a bit of a warm-up! I drank 500 ml of caffeinated electrolyte drink (Science in Sport Hydro+) and had another banana about 25 minutes before the start.

Standing at the start line, I was glad of the poncho that my host Catriona had given me. There wasn't really any rain, but it was overcast and grey. I stayed warm and calmed my heart rate down and reminded myself of my race tactics. My race plan was to run the first half at 7:00 min/mi. If I felt good at half way I could accelerate slightly to something like 6:50 min/mi. Then I'd check at 16 and 20 miles and judge how I was feeling. I didn't want to push too hard too early and having nothing left in the last few miles.

Once the race started I was glad that I'd positioned myself near the front of the bay. I wasn't obstructed and could get off at my natural pace straight away. Over 26 miles, there's plenty of time to recover from a slow start if you're baulked by people. But it's much nicer to get into your rhythm and zone straight away.

The first 2-3 miles are basically downhill, so I found that I was running slightly ahead of schedule. It was only a few seconds, so I just kept trying to focus on running at a comfortable pace. I didn't really get much chance to look around me during the run. I certainly don't remember too many features of the route. The route quickly gets to the coast and then it's a fairly long out-and-back along the coast. As promised, the route was flat with very few noticeable climbs or descents. That obviously helped me to maintain a steady pace.

At halfway I had been running consistently a few seconds under 7:00 min/mi, so I just tried to maintain that pace. At 16 miles I still felt good and decided to push a little bit harder. I increased to around 6:50 min/mi. At 20 I pushed on again and dropped to around 6:40-6:45 min/mi. My legs felt strong and I was breathing fairly comfortably.

During the race I made sure to get a drink at each water station. I carried 3 High5 energy gels with me and also picked up 3 more at water stations at 16, 22 and 24 miles. My plan was to take an energy gel roughly every 3 miles from about 10 miles. This worked really well. I felt like I had good energy levels all the way around.

The last two or three miles were hard work, but not agonising. I was pushing on again. I wasn't overtaken by many people on the from the turn point at the far end of the route (about 17.5 miles). In fact I definitely overtook a lot more people coming back. This was obviously hugely motivating. Much better to be in that position than feeling heavy legged and shattered. For the last 8 miles or so, I kept trying to focus on running lightly; keeping my cadence high and my steps light on the ground. It felt like any of the runners I did pass were hitting the ground hard with each step and sapping their energy further.

Recovery shake, banana, medal.
My last full mile was the fastest of the race at 6:37 min/mi. Did I wimp out? Could I have run harder for longer and taken another 20 seconds off my time? I don't know. It didn't feel like it. I think if I'd been running at 6:45 min/mi pace from halfway I'd have really struggled in the final few miles. Overall, I'm sure I got my pacing spot on and my overall race went exactly as I had planned it. In fact probably slightly better. I don't think I can ask for anything more than that.

If you're interested (crikey, you've read this far, so you must be), you can examine my race here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/506663553

At the finish line, I got my goody bag and headed straight to the baggage pick-up to grab my post race recovery shake + another banana. I also scoffed a small sample pack of oatcakes from my goody bag. I had a quick shower and change and then had to walk 20 minutes in the rain to the shuttle buses. Not the greatest way to end the race, but probably a good thing for stretching out my legs.

After I'd got back to my flat, I showered properly, packed, said thank you to my host and headed in to town for a thoroughly well-deserved burger and chips and a pint of beer. I ate at Hollyrood 9a and I can highly recommend both the food and the quality selection of beers.

Burger and Chips at Hollyrood 9a

To round off an excellent day I caught up with a school friend, Matt Garner. We had another beer in the Halfway House tucked away near Waverly Station. I then headed to the airport to get my flight home (and grabbed a huge caramel latte from Cafe Nero).

So, I will need to do another marathon again in the future to break the 3 hour barrier. I feel that with another 6-9 months of training, I should be able to aim for something at least in the 2h:55m region.