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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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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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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Back on the Blog!

I’ve been a bit slack on the blogging front this year because life has been really busy. Between work, training, doing up a house and studying sports massage therapy at college, there hasn’t been much time for writing. But I’m still here and still running! So here’s a bit of a catch-up post. I haven’t had time to blog about most of the races I’ve done this year (although some I have reviewed in the past), but if you have any questions about any of them, please feel free to shoot them over.

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Running Update and Hardmoors 50 Training

Hello! I know, it’s ages since I’ve written a blog post. Life’s been pretty hectic since Christmas: the combination of work, house renovation, college studies and ultra training have left me with very little free time. But I have still been running, so thought I’d just post a very brief update on what I’ve been up to. I’m currently training for the Hardmoors 50 in March, but have done a few hilly events along the way as I think it makes long runs a bit more fun.

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Race Review – Hardmoors Wainstones Half Marathon

I first heard about the Hardmoors events a couple of years ago when I started trail running, and to be honest I thought they sounded pretty scary. Just look at the name! Hard. Moors. Scary! I imagined wiry fell runners in vests and tiny shorts bounding up and down vicious hills like mountain goats. Not for the likes of me! But then a couple of friends assured me that they weren’t scary events at all; in fact they were very inclusive and varied in distance from 10K to ultra, so there was something for everyone. So when I started preparing for Race to the Stones I thought I’d give one a go for hill training purposes and entered the Hardmoors Wainstones Marathon. I thought it would be a good dress rehearsal for the big day. However, when my dodgy hamstring started playing up after the London Marathon I decided to play it cautiously and downsized to the half marathon.

The Wainstones events (10K, half and full marathon) all start and finish at Chop Gate near Helmsley. The drive over there from York on a sunny Sunday morning was beautiful and I was really looking forward to it. There was plenty of parking and I wandered over to the village hall to sign on. The marathon runners had just set off at 9 am. Participants had to carry mandatory kit of a waterproof jacket, hat or buff, a route map and the means to carry 500ml of fluid. Everyone’s kit was duly checked before they were allowed to pick up their number. This was all very quick, so I had plenty of time to get ready and went to the loo about three times, just because I could! The weather was perfect – dry but not too warm. We set off on time at 10 am.

We’d run no more than about 100m when we came to a stile that everyone had to climb over, so that held things up quite a bit! “Never mind”, I thought, “It’s not a road race – time and pace don’t really matter”. After the stile we started to climb up a massive hill straight away and everyone slowed to a walk. The track was quite narrow and lots of people seemed happy to stroll up, chatting and taking photos as they went. This was a bit frustrating, as one of the things I’ve been practising is walking uphill as fast as I can, so I wished I’d placed myself a bit further up the field at the start! But I tried to chill and take it all in. We gained a lot of height in a short distance, and some people seemed to be struggling a bit even at this early stage. We eventually got to the top and the track widened out so we could start running. I clocked the first mile at around 25 minutes! The descent from the first hill was great, a gentle gritty trail that gave me some time to take in the amazing view.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing up another hill. In fact there were five hills in all, so not much flat on the course. It was tough going at times, with a couple of rocky, technical descents as well as testing uphill gradients, and it was really windy on the tops! One of the hills had the Wainstones themselves perched at the summit, through which we scrambled with a gale force wind blowing us along – great fun!

The route went along some of the Cleveland Way, which skirts the edge of the North York Moors and is paved in parts. The views were quite spectacular, but there wasn’t much time to take them in going downhill, as you had to be really careful where you placed your feet. The last thing I wanted was to sprain my ankle – or worse – so I was super cautious. I wished I was better at descending as I stood aside to let various people fly past me. I guess it takes practice! But I did notice that I passed quite a few people walking uphill, so I must be getting better at that.

I went through halfway in 1:37 and couldn’t help thinking that if this was a road half I’d be nearly finished – but I know I have to lose that kind of mentality on the trails. There were two checkpoints en route offering water, Pepsi, jelly babies, peanuts and Jaffa Cakes. I took a couple of Jaffa Cakes at each point and they went down really well. I’d brought a piece of homemade flapjack with me, but the Jaffa Cakes actually sat better on my stomach. We had to check in at each point, and I kind of liked the old-schoolness of a marshal shouting out people’s numbers as they approached. For the last few miles we were on moorland trails, which were quite boggy. I tried to keep my feet as dry as possible, but at about ten miles we had to go through a stream, so that was that! The last mile or so was a really nice descent back down to Cop Gate, finishing actually inside the village hall to give our numbers to the time keepers.

We received a really nice t-shirt and medal, and there were savoury snacks, cakes and drinks on offer. Cracking! I haven’t seen any official results yet, but I timed myself at about 3:12 (I think – I forgot to stop my Garmin when I finished – possibly because I was distracted by the sight of cake!).

Just after I’d arrived back the first lady marathoner finished in what must have been about four and a half hours. This really impressed me, not least because the marathon course was actually 28 miles long! Apparently long courses are a Thing with Hardmoors events. That day’s 10K was actually ten miles(!), although the half was pretty close to normal at 13.2 miles. All in all it was fab event. People I’ve spoken to have all said they think Wainstones is the toughest of the Hardmoors courses – one described it as ‘brutal’! It was certainly very testing terrain, and my legs are still feeling it two days later; but it was great training for Race to the Stones. Hardmoors events do fill up quickly, so don’t delay entry if you fancy doing one. I’d really recommend it, and I’d definitely like to do more in future. Recovery fish and chips in Helmsley were a must on the way home!

 

This weekend I’m off on holiday to France for a fortnight, spending a week of that in the Pyrenees. Hopefully I’ll find some more great hilly trails to train on!

I’m running Race to the Stones in aid of Cancer Research UK. You can read why here. If you’d like to make a donation my Just Giving page is here.

 

 

Race to the Stones Training

Last time I wrote about training for Race to the Stones I was worried because I was a bit behind schedule. I’d had a hamstring niggle after the London Marathon that didn’t seem to be going away. I was also having a bit of pain from time to time in my right calf and felt like my high hamstring tendon problem might be coming back. But instead of panicking I decided to try a new physio and booked in to see Dave Baxter at Tadcaster Physiotherapy. I noticed on his website that Dave was an ultra runner himself, so felt he’d understand where I was coming from! I’ve seen Dave’s colleague Millie for sports massage before and always felt it’s done me good.

I had an initial assessment with Dave where we went through some range of motion exercises. He also popped me on his treadmill for a bit and had me doing lots of one-legged bridges on his couch! For some reason it appears my right hand side is weaker than the left, so Dave gave me some exercises to do at home to try and help with this. He used an app to film me doing them and emailed this to me, which was really useful. He also advised me to use hiking poles for the hills on my long run to give my legs a bit of support, which I did on my next Sunday outing along the Yorkshire Wolds Way.

I went back to see Dave two weeks later and felt that things had definitely improved in the meantime. I’ve done some long, hilly runs and felt OK afterwards, and also did some speed intervals for the first time in ages last week. On the last two weekends I’ve done back to back long runs and feel pretty much normal now – although getting hungrier than usual! I’m really glad I went to see Dave; apart from his physiotherapy he’s also a great source of ultra running advice, and suggested I get some shoes with more cushioning than my Inov-8 Trail Talons for covering 100K on hard trails. I’ve ordered some Altra Lone Peaks to see how they compare. Seeing Dave has really brought home to me the importance of doing strength work to support my running; something I’ve not been very good with in the past, but will definitely do more in the future.

I’ve been experimenting with different sorts of food in training recently. I find it quite hard to eat and run, but I know I’m going to have to eat some real food to get round Race to the Stones, so have tried various things over the past few weeks, including homemade flapjack, salty crackers and baby food pouches! Flapjack seems OK if I chew it really well; I thought salty snacks might be good if it’s a hot day; the fruity baby food was nice, but I’d have to eat (and so carry) quite a lot to get enough carbs. The best thing I tried was a Tribe Infinity bar, which I got in a sample box I ordered a while ago. When I opened it I thought it looked like MDF and was a bit dubious, but it tasted fine and (most importantly) was really easy to eat and sat well in the belly. I think I’ll have to order some more of those!

Training on the Cleveland Way

It’s now less than six weeks until Race to the Stones (eek!). I’ve just started a three week period of what’s called ‘Peak’ training on the plan, followed by a three week taper. This weekend I’m taking part in my first ever Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Half. I’ve fancied trying one of these events, held on the North York Moors, for ages, and thought this would be a good training exercise. Then we’re off on holiday to the Pyrenees at the end of next week, where the OH is taking part in the Ariégeoise cyclosportive and I’m hoping to be able to take to the mountainous trails to get some good training done. I’m already finding hills a lot easier than I used to, so hopefully those French mountains will make my legs even stronger. Also: I’ll need to work off all the fabulous French pastries, cheese and wine!

I’m running Race to the Stones for Cancer Research UK. You can read why here and if you’d like to make a donation my Just Giving page is here.

Ultra Training Begins!

The London Marathon was a fantastic event, but Race to the Stones is now looming on the horizon, so I need to start preparing for that. I’ve already been including hills in some of my long marathon training runs, and also completed a couple of hilly events, like the Temple Newsam Trails half marathon. Hopefully that will have set me off to a good start, but I know that I now need to do as many hills as possible and work on building strength rather than focusing on pace and speed. My post-London plan was to have an easy week immediately afterwards, then start to follow the training plan on the Race to the Stones website, which looks like this:

 

So after just a short recovery run mid-week I headed to my new favourite training ground, Temple Newsam, for a few easy trail miles a week later. And midway through the run I felt a little niggle in my right hamstring – the same side as I had my hamstring tendon injury nearly two years ago. I gave it a little massage and a stretch and hoped it would settle down. But during a short run on Monday it felt no better, so I took myself off to see Jeroen at Jorvik Physiotherapy. After a bit of poking around Jeroen told me it was the muscle on the outside edge of the hamstring group that was the culprit (the one on the right in this picture) and that it was good news as it didn’t seem to be the tendon this time; it was just a bit tired and sore post-marathon.

 

Jeroen gave me some ultrasound treatment and told me to take it easy for a couple of weeks, which basically means no speed work, no hills and no racing. Thankfully I can still run, but if the muscle starts to play up I’ll have to back off and rest it. I can cycle if I want to, but I’d rather not if I can run. This isn’t great news training-wise, but it could have been worse, and I have to do everything I can to ensure I reach the start of Race to the Stones injury-free – especially as many people have now kindly donated to my Just Giving page for Cancer Research UK.

I was really disappointed to have to miss the North Lincolnshire Half on Sunday. I did this race for the first time and it’s fab – you can read my review of it here. I managed to achieve sub 1:50 for the first time thanks to their brilliant pacers, and was looking forward to having another go (and getting cake at the end again!) but it would have been stupid of me to dose up on ibuprofen and do that – I might have put myself out of action completely. But I still have the Vale of York Half in September to look forward to. Instead I went out for a very slow, flat two hour trot. I’m going to practise eating various foods on the hoof over the next few weeks, especially savoury ones, as I think I’ll get sick of sweet stuff over the course of 100K. Yesterday it was salty crackers, which went down really well – easy to digest and I think the salt would be useful on a warm day in July. Isn’t ultra running all about the eating?! Anyway, here I am chomping one down – my selfie skills don’t get any better!

 

So that’s where I am for now. This week I’m planning to do just a couple of very short, gentle runs to keep my legs turning, but also go to flow yoga twice to try and build some extra strength and flexibility. Then I’ll see how I feel next weekend. It’s frustrating and a bit worrying not to be training completely how I should be for now, but I’m hoping my cycle of marathon training will stand me in good stead fitness-wise. I don’t need to get any faster, just stronger!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to make a donation to my fund for Cancer Research UK you can do so here and read about my personal reasons for raising money for them here.