Training for the UTMB OCC

As I write this it’s ten days until the UTMB OCC and I can’t quite believe it’s actually happening! It’s been a long journey to get here. After three attempts in the ballot I finally got a place for 2020; then all the UTMB races were cancelled due to Covid. I could have done it last year, but as foreign travel was still tricky and the event was much reduced, I decided to defer my place to 2022 so I could have the full-on big race experience.

After the Highland Fling I took a bit of recovery time, then at the beginning of May I had a catch-up with coach Kim Cavill, who came up with a 16 week OCC training plan for me. The first half concentrated on building aerobic fitness, including interval sessions and hill sprints, and also incorporating some of our local 10K summer league races.

The second half focussed more on preparing for the actual event, so there were specific strength sessions twice a week, and the introduction of weekends where I would do a long run on Saturday and a hilly hike on Sunday. I really enjoyed these, but it didn’t leave much time for anything else other than training for a few weeks! Luckily Steve has also had to put in some long training hours for a cycle sportive he’s doing in the Alps a few days after the OCC – the GFNY Vaujany – so at least it was the same for both of us.

For two weeks in the middle of my training plan we were on holiday in France, and I had permission from Kim to freestyle a bit. I got in a few hilly runs, but also did quite a bit of cycling and walking. After having croissants for breakfast and baguette for lunch pretty much every day for a fortnight I was amazed when I got home to find I’d lost a couple of kilos! I don’t really get hung up about my weight, but I had put on a few pounds during lockdown that I was more than happy to shake off – a bit less to drag up those mountains!

I haven’t done many races in the last couple of months as I didn’t want to risk upsetting my dodgy hip in the run-up to the OCC. Just two half marathons that I love: the Ravenscar Half and the Hardmoors White Horse Half. Both good, hilly training exercises! And fortunately the hip has behaved quite well.

I’ve really enjoyed the strength work I’ve done over the last couple of months. On Wednesday I’ve been doing a session I call Mountain Legs, which is basically various different types of squats and lunges. Then on Friday I’ve had a kettlebell session; this was something completely new to me, but I’ve loved it. I think it’s really made a difference, even after just a few weeks – I definitely feel stronger and am a bit more toned all over. I’m aiming to keep this up going forward. After kettlebell Fridays, long run Saturdays and hilly hike Sundays, I’ve always been ready for my Monday rest day! I find Yoga with Adriene’s Yoga for Tired Legs session really helps me to recover on a day off.

So now I’m tapering, feeling tired but stronger, and with just a few easy sessions to do over the next ten days. Plenty of time to fuss about what to wear and pack on the day! If I’m honest, the thing that’s bothering me most now is the prospect of a very long, hot day in Chamonix, which is more than likely. I’ve tried to acclimatise a bit by forcing myself to go out and train sometimes when it’s been hot. Then again, it could rain! Ah well, what will be will be. At 55K, the OCC isn’t long (the baby race of the UTMB festival) but it does have 3,500 metres of ascent, so it’s no pushover, and will be a long day out. I’ve completed a race with that much climbing before – the Hardmoors 60 – but that was over almost twice the distance. The time limit for the OCC is 14.5 hours; although apparently the winner will take around 5.5 hours – wow! I’m a long way out of my comfort zone with this one. I just hope there will be some nice people to chat to at the back of the pack.

If you’d like to watch any of the UTMB races live you can do so on their website here. Although I doubt very much I’ll be on camera! And if you happen to be in Chamonix next week and see me, please say hi and wish me luck. I’ll certainly need it!!

Race Review – Hardmoors Goathland Marathon 2021

Hardmoors Goathland was an event I’d really been looking forward to, mostly because it was the only Hardmoors marathon I hadn’t yet run. I was supposed to do it last year, but like many events it was postponed due to Covid. At that time I ran a virtual Goathlands half marathon with my friend Jason, which was a great taster for the real thing.

Goathland is a beautiful village near Whitby on the North York Moors, and will be familiar to those of a certain age as the setting for the TV series Heartbeat. It seems very remote, and I was surprised it only took me an hour to get there from home near York. The race starts and finishes at the village hall, and it was fab to have indoor registration/kit check and toilets – just like old times! As usual at Hardmoors events, half marathon and 10K options are also available. The marathon route is only 27 miles, probably the closest marathon to 26.2 miles Hardmoors do; but the route had to be changed slightly this year to take account of a car rally going on nearby. Unsurprisingly this added a couple of miles to the distance!

We set off at 9 am. The weather was dry to start, but forecast to turn showery and very windy later on. After a nice downhill start the route started to climb through some woods, before a descent and slippery, rocky scramble past the Mallyan Spout waterfall.

This looked great, but I was too busy concentrating on not falling over to appreciate it very much!

A climb up out of the woods was followed by a short road section, then a long stretch of moorland track, including the first of two visits to the standing stones at Simon Howe. The sections on top of the moors were definitely the hardest part of this route; the combination of really soft mud, water and hard tussocks of grass made it difficult (sometimes impossible) to run in places.

There was another woodland section after this, including a lovely descent, followed by another muddy stretch alongside the North York Moors railway line. Whilst eating a snack along here, and not paying full attention to where I was putting my feet, I managed to fall over sideways into a big muddy puddle. I was unhurt, just pleased nobody had seen me!

A short, steep climb then took us up to the edge of the spectacular Hole of Horcum, where we maintained our height for a while. A steady climb on good, grassy ground led to the romantic ruins of Skelton Tower. The views over the moors in every direction from this high point are quite spectacular, and I stopped for a moment to take them in. I was feeling pretty good at this point and optimistic of finishing in just over six hours.

The route then undulated through the woods around the village of Levisham before climbing up to Levisham Moor, partly following the route of the Tabular Hills Walk. We passed by the Hole of Horcum once more, on a different path this time, before heading back in the direction of Goathland.

Much of the last few miles followed the same paths over the moors as on the way out, but even tougher this time as the ground was now more churned up! It started to rain, so I stopped and put my jacket on – obviously it then stopped about two minutes later! But the wind was getting up and making it feel quite chilly, so I was glad of it anyway.

We climbed back up through the woods we’d descended through on the way out, then retraced our steps across the boggy moor. This included a long, hard drag uphill into a strong head wind for about a mile and a half that seemed to take ages, finishing with our second visit to Simon Howe. I was feeling really tired by now and realised my finishing time would be closer to seven hours than six! At least from here the route to the finish was mostly downhill, albeit on very rough narrow tracks.

I couldn’t see anyone in front of me or behind, just miles and miles of moorland. I’m quite happy with this on a route that’s well marked. Remote but beautiful! However, at one point I accidentally kicked a rock with my toe and tripped over – into soft heather, so again unhurt – but immediately got really bad cramp in my left calf. I sat at the side of the trail for a couple of minutes, swearing loudly as my calf spasmed painfully. Luckily there was nobody around to hear me! After giving it a rub for a bit I managed to walk it off and carry on running.

Trail turned into road as I arrived back in Goathland and trotted through the village to the finish. It was around 4 pm by now and daylight was starting to fade. My eventual finishing time was 7:12:21 (damn cramp!), a bit disappointing, but it was quite a tough day. I did a fair bit of walking in this race and felt I’d been really slow, so was surprised not to be nearer the back. I was 52nd out of 79 finishers, 11th out of 21 women and 3rd FV50 out of seven. Despite this being a tough race I was really glad I’d done it. The scenery was amazing, the weather better than forecasted and all the Hardmoors marshals as brilliant as ever. This isn’t an easy event to get into, as capacity is quite small, but well worth the effort if you love big, rugged landscapes. Or mud!

This was my last event of the year apart from the Tadcaster 10 next weekend, which I don’t know if I’ll do yet due to the niggle I’ve had in my right hip for the last few months. I’m not sure a ten mile pounding on the road would do it any good. I’m following a strategy of running a lot less miles and doing more strength work until the end of the year in the hope that will help it. I have some big plans for next year, so want to be right for starting training in the new year!

Lockdown 3: Carry On Running!

Well, here we are again – back in lockdown with all events cancelled and no idea when they can start up again. Obviously in the grand scheme of things there’s far more important stuff to deal with just now (like an ongoing global pandemic!) but for those of us who love running and racing it’s a sad time in some ways. Thankfully we can still have our daily outdoor exercise though, and I get the impression that’s keeping many people sane at the moment. Since my training plan for the (postponed) Hardmoors 30 finished I’ve been trying to carry on running four days a week and do two strength sessions a week to keep me ticking over, but not doing any really long distances.

I was supposed to be doing the Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra again at the end of February, but that has now understandably been postponed until the end of May. So I now have nothing in my diary until the Hardmoors 55 at the end of March. In my heart I know this probably won’t go ahead either, but I want to train for it anyway; there’s an outside chance it will happen, and a good block of training is never wasted. I ran the 55 last year (it was postponed from March to October) but the weather was so wet the course turned into a mudslide for about the last 20 miles and I’d love to have another go in better conditions. So I recently had a catch-up with Kim Cavill of Cavill Coaching and she’s created me another training plan for the next eight weeks to take me up to the event. The basic structure is the same as my previous Hardmoors 30 plan, but as the 55 is a much longer, harder event so there’s more mileage.

The major challenge I face during this cycle of training is that the 55 is a very hilly event and here in York we don’t really have any hills. Normally when training for an event like this I’d be heading out to the Cleveland Way or the Wolds Way for long, hilly Sunday runs, but with current restrictions in place I don’t feel that driving somewhere to run is the right thing to do. I know others think otherwise, but each to their own – I’ll be running from home until lockdown has ended. However, Kim has adapted my new plan to take account of this, with specific strength work and, from next week, a weekly session called tempo hills; this is to be done on pretty much the only decent hill I can run to from home and sounds a bit tough! But hopefully it will do the job.

View over the Three Sisters on the Hardmoors 55 route.

I’m optimistic that trail races will be able to run again soon in the socially distanced way they did for a while last year, although I can’t see mass participation road races happening for a good while yet. Our Yorkshire summer 10K road race league has just been cancelled for the second year running, which is a shame as they are such fun inter-club events. I have a solo place in Endure 24 in July, deferred from last year, but will have to wait and see whether that will go ahead. As I write this I’m waiting to find out whether I have a place in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc OCC race in France in August. I’ve entered the ballot for this twice unsuccessfully, so there’s a good chance, and if I get in that will determine my training schedule between now and then. In the meantime I’m just trying to stay positive and hoping to come out of all this madness a stronger runner.

Hope everyone is still managing to enjoy running despite these crazy times. At least there is now light at the end of the tunnel. Keep on keeping on folks!

Working With a Running Coach

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work with a running coach? I certainly have from time to time. I’ve thought it might be good for me to get a training plan tailored to my own requirements – especially as I’ve got older, as most plans don’t take account of age – but then I realised I’d actually have to be accountable to someone who might judge my cake and alcohol intake, so I didn’t take things any further. When I used to train for road marathons I’d follow my trusty Asics Sub 4 plan. Now that I’ve moved on to longer, off-road events I generally use the plan I took from the Race to the Stones website when I ran that in 2017. Both seem to work pretty well. But lately, at times such as when I’ve started to fade towards the end of an ultra, I’ve wondered “Is there a way I could do this better and finish stronger? And if so, what would I need to do?”.

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Race Review – Hardmoors 55 Ultramarathon 2020

The Hardmoors 55 is billed on its website as ‘one hell of a race’, and that’s no exaggeration! Following the Cleveland Way for 55 miles from Guisborough to Helmsley, it has over 2,000 metres of ascent (including some pretty brutal hills) and takes in the highest, most exposed section of the North York Moors. Because of this, and because it’s usually in March, the weather always plays its part in the proceedings. In 2018 the race took place as the Beast from the East swept the country and was officially stopped halfway through during a blizzard. Last year featured torrential rain, freezing gale force winds and horizontal hail, and many runners dropped out – including me! The wind was so strong we couldn’t even run on some flat sections. Soaked to the skin and dithering with cold, I’d had enough after a horrible 20 miles that took me six hours. It was the first time I’d ever DNF’d in a race, and afterwards I felt really annoyed about it, even though I know it was the right decision at the time.

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Getting Back To ‘Normal’

Hello folks, it’s been a while! How are we all doing? I feel like we’ve all been in running limbo for the past few months. In my last blog post, at the end of April, I wondered if things would be back to some kind of normality by the summer, but as it turned out that was a tad optimistic! So many events have been cancelled or postponed until next year that my 2021 schedule is already looking pretty busy.

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Running in Lockdown

I last posted here in mid-March, and in the relatively short time since then the world has changed beyond recognition. At that time I’d just run the Golden Fleece Circuit as part of my preparation for the Highland Fling race, my main target for spring. Not long afterwards we were in lockdown and everything was cancelled. One by one the events I was planning to take part in over the spring and summer fell like dominos: the Daffodil Dash, the Helmsley 10K, the Vale of York 10, the York & District clubs summer 10K league, the Fling, the Windermere Marathon, Race to the Castle, Endure 24… right up until July. I don’t have anything in the diary until the Hardmoors Farndale Marathon in August now. But who knows whether life will be back to anything approaching normal even by then? It was all totally understandable, but so disappointing.

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Race Review – Golden Fleece Circuit 2020

I love running ultras, but preparing for them properly does involve doing quite a few long training runs, which can sometimes be a bit boring. So I love it when I can find an event to enter that’s about the same length as the long run I need to do on that weekend. It’s far more interesting to run a new route with other people than to just go out and plug away by myself. Last weekend’s Golden Fleece Circuit was a great opportunity to combine some Highland Fling training with a good day out.

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Running Review of the Year 2019

I’m not the sort of person who obsessively logs all the miles I run – I’m not on Strava and I hardly ever download stuff onto Garmin Connect – and that’s partly why I like to have a bit of a running review at the end of each year, thinking about how things went and how they might have been better. I’ve entered more running events this year than ever before, but a lot of them were just as training exercises.

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