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.