Monthly Archives: February 2019

Marathon training 14/20: run, turbo, run, turbo, run. Second 20 miler, 3 days after the first … another bad idea.

I ran the whole 20 miles on Tuesday – but you could have been excused for not knowing that if you’d seen the speed with which I tackled this in the 18th mile.

After the 20 miler on Saturday, and Sunday’s excellent trip to the Velodrome, I broke a good habit and took a rest day on Monday (apart from walking our neighbour’s dogs).

I wasn’t sure what to do on Tuesday but the scheduled long run for the week was 20 miles so I decided to go for it again using the same route as I did on Saturday. That felt a bit ambitious beforehand – and even more ambitious once I started.

I was pleased to be able to do it and it felt good to have got the long run out of the way so early in the week, but it was very hard and 9 seconds a km slower than on Saturday – which itself was slow. Perhaps the biggest win was on the mental toughness side as I often felt like bailing out – but didn’t.

I could feel lots of aches and niggles on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning but I managed to get on the turbo Wednesday evening (20.75km – 12.9miles – in 45 minutes). That was another questionable idea, based only on not wanting to take two rest days in the first three days of the week.

On Thursday I ran the now standard 8.4 miler (13.5km). I ran it about 10 sec/km faster than I’ve done before – but don’t have any proof as the Garmin failed. There have been plenty of bad runs I’d have been happy not to record – why does it have to fail on a good one?

No doubt, to anyone unlucky enough to have seen me, it was just an old bloke lumbering around in a sweat – but to me it was (almost) proper running.

On Friday I resisted the temptation to run as the Achilles tendons were a little sore (but not half as bad as they were every day before skiing). I guess the tendons were complaining about running faster on Thursday and I think that justifies my approach of not doing the speed sessions in the training plan – but how much that has held the training back I’ll never know.

As cross-training, I did an hour on the turbo for 27.43km (17miles) and I ran another 8.4 miles (13.5km) on Saturday morning. With friends coming for lunch, the rugby to watch later and a trip out with other friends on Sunday – that was that for the week.

I totted up the training programme milage over the 14 weeks so far (counting just the 3 weekly runs I’ve been trying to match). The programme has required 250 miles and I’ve actually done 288 (in spite of the Achilles’, Christmas and skiing) so my approach of trying to go over-distance much of the time seems to have worked.

I’m pleased, but I’m putting a huge amount of faith in the remaining training (and the benefit of the taper) if I think I can run the whole thing in less than 4 hours. Based on my longest runs so far a prediction nearer 5 hours would be more realistic.

Next week the target long run is a half marathon in 1:50 (I don’t think I can do it that fast and, anyway, I don’t have a suitable event to enter). The following week is 21 miles and I am then into the taper (15, 12 and 8 for the long runs). On one level I’m really pleased – on another level that means it’s all getting a bit close to the real thing.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16m  (26km) 10m  (16 km) 2:00
2 19m  (30km) 13m  (22km) 2:00
3 21m  (33.km) 66m (106km) 1:00
4 22m  (36km) 14m (22km) 1:00
5 24m (39km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13m (21km)    
7 26m (41km) 63m (101km) 3:00
8 14m (24km) 13m (21km) 7:00
9 (Skiing) 16m (25km)   12:00
10 (Skiing)     12:00
11 (Skiing) 7m (11km)   6:00
12 34m  (55km) 35m (56km) 1:00
13 38m (60km) 14m (22km) 1:00
14 38m (60km) 30m (48km) 1:00
 ‘Running’ totals    288m  (462km)     271m (435km)   49:00

Now rounded to nearest whole mile/km

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Training and challenges: why bother?

Me on my favourite mountain – Ventoux. On my way to joining the The Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015

Last Saturday got me thinking about training for big challenges. More accurately, I was thinking about not training.

It was a bit cold, the bed was warm and comfortable and going out for a long run was just about the last thing I wanted to do. Despite that, I did go out and I did run 20.7 miles.

Did I enjoy it? Hmmm … I probably enjoyed having done it more than I enjoyed actually doing it.

Will I carry on doing it? Yes, of course I will.

So, why do I do it is the key question. No one is paying me to run so what makes me? I’ve narrowed it down to just a few things, I don’t know if I’m in line with others in this but for me, it’s:

1 I quite like exercising. I value being reasonably fit and am vain enough to enjoy being fairly slim. However, this is only a small part of the motivation. It doesn’t justify the level of training needed for a proper challenge. Without the challenge I’d still cycle, run and go to the gym, but there’s no way I’d do as much.

2 I like the feeling of having done some hard exercise. There’s a good deal of satisfaction at the end of the run/cycle/gym session but that’s gratification some time in the future – the feeling that it would be easier not to go out is often much stronger and certainly more immediate.

3 It feels to me that the great bulk of the real reason why it’s possible to get out to train for a big challenge is all about the commitment to the challenge itself.

Either it’s the positive aspect of feeling that the training will make success in the challenge more likely – or it’s down to fear: fear that without the training I’ll fail in the challenge or it will turn out to be a very unpleasant experience.

So, it looks like the question to ask is not so much ‘why train?’ but ‘why take up the challenge in the first place?’. No challenge, no training, more time in the nice warm bed.

My first challenges were the London Marathons in 1998 and 1999 (in my early/mid 40s) and they really were a leap into the unknown as I’d done nothing like it before and was probably caught up in the testosterone-fuelled excitement of five of us at work getting carried away with the idea.

My big cycling challenges have been rather random. The Etape du Tour in 2013 was a complete shot in the dark – I’d only been cycling for 3 years but a couple of friends had completed the Etape the year before so why couldn’t I?

L’Eroica in 2015 was an appealing prospect (and a trip to Tuscany is never to be sniffed at) and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux was an enticing challenge that could be picked up on the way back from Italy – and to a cyclist there is something very special about Ventoux. Equally it was a challenge that relatively few had taken up – my number is well under 9000 while there are now nearer 14000 successful challengers.

‘Everesting’ on the bike in 2017 was again a great (and ridiculous) challenge – something that relatively few had achieved (I think I was in the first 1800 – it’s now nearly 3000).

Riding out to the alps, solo and unsupported, last summer was something I’d wondered about for some years of driving out there. I’d not done a multi-day ride and hadn’t ever really ridden to anywhere before, as opposed to doing out and back rides.

My current challenge of running the Rotterdam Marathon in April is rather out of left field – but it will be great to run it with my younger son (even if I only see him at the start and finish as he shows me a clean pair of heels).

So, why do I take on the challenges? I wish I knew the answer.

Is it simply that I like the vanity of being known as the chap who has done some slightly extreme things? Am I shallow enough that I like it that Philip, who was once my mad cycling friend, now regards me as his mad cycling friend?

Do I like the framed pictures/momentos/’brevet’ cards so much?

Am I addicted to the masochism of the effort?

Possibly guilty as charged on all counts.

Perhaps it’s simply that, as you get older and no longer have to test and prove yourself at work, you need to test and prove yourself some other way – and that setting myself challenges is my way of doing that.

Whatever the answer, what I do know is that I will be looking for a new challenge after the Rotterdam Marathon. Whether it’s the bicinglette, John O’Groats to Land’s End, another marathon or an ultra marathon is not particularly important – the key, surely, is having the challenge.

Marathon training week 13/20: turbo, run, run, gym, (very long) run, velodrome.

After Sunday’s 17.6 miles, Monday should have been a rest day – but starting a week with a rest feels like a waste, so I treated my tired legs to 45 minutes on the turbo (15 minutes off for good behaviour).

They didn’t seem particularly grateful but managed 22.1km (13.7m).

On Tuesday I went out for the 8.4 miler (13.58km) I ran twice last week. In the spirit of trying new things, I used different shoes and kit – I’ll try various things over the coming weeks so I have a range of tried and tested options to cope with whatever the day itself might throw at me.

Planning and thinking ahead – whatever next.

Although not necessary for 8 miles, I tried some porridge for breakfast – which reminded me how important it is to practice in a way that reflects the likely experience of the event. I don’t normally eat breakfast and it left me feeling unpleasantly full – at least the marathon itself starts at 10 so I’ve time to digest on the day.

The run itself was pretty good – a little faster than the quicker of the two runs last week. Of course, I put that down, entirely, to the fact that these trainers are red.

I checked that running on Valentine’s Day would not prejudice the chances of getting to our 32nd wedding anniversary in June, and took a rest on Wednesday but Thursday was back to the now standard 8.4 miler.

I took off another 10 seconds per km. I’m now within 2 s/km of 4 hour marathon pace – but I’m having to push hard to get even this close for just 8 miles. I’m sure it was easier 20 years ago.

A week ago I was preparing to accept that I couldn’t get beneath 4 hours – now there seems to be the smallest glimmer of hope. It’s the hope that kills you!

An hour in the gym on Friday (all legs and core as the shoulder isn’t quite right yet) and all was set for the long slow run on Saturday ….

I had breakfast and took a little water (not enough) and some jelly babies with me. I had a run mapped out with a few escape routes if needed. In the end I didn’t use them but found it a real hard slog for the last few kms. I ran through the (psychologically important?) 20 mile barrier – 20.7miles (33.33km) but it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty.

Sunday I spent a few hours being trained as a trainer for the cycle club’s initiative to get children and adults on bikes – then it was the Newport Velodrome in the evening (the Geraint Thomas Velodrome, no less).

I love riding on the track – the single speed has a great simplicity and the lack of any brakes is less of a concern when nobody has them. As always, I had a great time but there was little in my legs at the start and just about nothing two hours later – Geraint would have despaired at me.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km) 2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.3km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.1km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.6m (41.1km) 62.7m (100.9km) 3:00
8 14.6m (23.6km)13.2m (21.2km) 7:00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (25km)   12:00
10 (Skiing)     12:00
11 (Skiing) 7.1m (11.4km)   6:00
12 34.1m  (55km) 35m (56.4km) 1:00
13 37.5m (60.4km) 13.7m (22.1km) 2:00
‘Running’ totals 249.1m  (401.2km) 240.2m (386.9km)  49:00

Marathon training: taking liberties with fuelling … bad idea

Yesterday’s long slow run was very hard. It was the longest I’ve done in this training programme so that’s not too surprising – but it felt harder than could be explained by just the extra two miles.

I was wondering if it was simply a bad run or whether nutrition was at the root of it. I never understand it very well, but I had a look at the science …

The internet says (so it must be true!) that someone my size burns somewhere between 100-115 calories per mile on a steady paced run. Taking the larger figure (as I doubt that I am an efficient runner) that suggests I might have burned around 2000 calories over the 17.6 miles.

I ran on an empty stomach and without taking water with me (as usual, I know, very foolish). I had one cheap cereal bar on the way round (a mighty 87 calories, so it claims) so that left me with 1910 calories to find to fuel the run.

Again, the internet suggests I can probably store about 1400-2000 calories of energy in glycogen. As I’d had nothing other than a cup of coffee (no sugar) before the run, I doubt that I was completely topped up with glycogen stores since eating on Saturday night (indeed, I’ve read that the glycogen can be 50% depleted overnight). All that suggests that I ran out of readily available energy during the run and had to start burning fat – and that’s not very efficient. I guess I got pretty dehydrated too (even though it was fairly cold) – a bad combination but I wonder which was the biggest factor?

I didn’t hit any sort of wall, but Jackson Browne’s ‘Running on empty’ comes to mind.

According to the scales this morning, I lost 0.6kg (1.3lbs) yesterday, despite eating and rehydrating after the run. That feels a bit high – but if I had a deficit from the run, and had to fuel my body for the whole day quite apart from the run, it makes at least some sense.

In addition to the run being fairly slow and laboured, I also had more quad aches after it than usual and my knees were sore for the first time. I wonder if that’s anything to do with nutrition or hydration?

Interestingly, the figures suggest that I’d burn between 2600 and 3000 calories for the marathon – that’s less than I might have guessed and indicates that if I start with a full tank of glycogen, the number of extra calories needed to fuel the run is relatively modest.

Anyway, the aches and pains have almost gone and even the Achilles’ are behaving themselves fairly well. The shoulder I hurt skiing is still improving and the weather is getting better.

Could be a lot worse, as long as I learn my nutrition and hydration lessons for the long runs.

Marathon training week 12/20: turbo, turbo, run, run, run. Heading back on track for Rotterdam?

One problem I have with running (among many) is how long it takes to get to the end of a long straight road

After walking in the Lake District and skiing, last Sunday’s run was my first for three weeks – textbook marathon training!

It went pretty well but the key issue was how the Achilles tendons were going to react. They’ve been problem children after every run since September so it could have gone either way – the rest could have done them good, or the sudden exercise could have aggravated the underlying issues.

Well, Monday morning revealed – confusion. The tendons certainly didn’t hurt where they had before (right down at the back of the heel) but there was some soreness on both legs about 6 inches (15 cm) higher up. I’m not sure if the pain is at the bottom of the calf muscle or the top of the tendon. I assume it’s the calf muscle as the tendons only ever hurt when stretched and the new injury hurts (slightly) when the heel is raised or lowered.

That’s probably a bit encouraging – as long as it’s not just the start of another injury problem. Right at the start of the marathon process I said it was probably going to be more about injury management than training itself – I’m sorry to have been proved quite so right.

It was an hour on the turbo trainer on Monday for 27.95km (17.37 miles) and another hour on Tuesday for 28.4km (17.6miles). One of these two sessions can replace the running intervals (I’m still protecting the Achilles’) and one can be the week’s cross-training (the shoulder I hurt skiing wouldn’t let me do a gym session yet).

Although I appreciate the need to focus on running if I’m going to avoid an unpleasant experience at the Rotterdam Marathon in April, I’m starting to look forward to getting back on the bike properly soon afterwards.

I ran on Wednesday – 13.25km (8.2miles). I must run a different distance as I can’t get “8 miles and running, got my 7th album droppin” out of my mind.

It was rather too far outside 4 hour marathon pace for comfort. I misjudged the weather and overdressed badly so I dripped the whole way round. The shoulder and new calf/tendon pains are still there, but no worse, so I’ll settle for that.

I did the same run on Friday to see if I could up the pace a little. Strangely, Strava recorded it as 0.14km further at 13.39km (8.3m) and with 35% more elevation. Garmin Connect recorded the second run as 0.2 miles further – very confusing as I’d assumed these things were pretty reliable and accurate.

It was hard but despite the rain and a wind gusting over 40mph, I managed to run 11 seconds a km faster. It’s not going to shake the world of running – and it’s still outside 4 hour marathon pace – but it’s some sort of progress.

Sunday, today, was long slow run day. It was the first time I really didn’t want to run – there was a little drizzle, it was cool and it was a long run. I was just thinking about some breakfast and a wrestle with myself to get out later when my wife decided to run. She always wants to run early – so I abandoned breakfast and left after just a cup of coffee. I’d forgotten that she was going to do hill reps and as we parted ways after just a few hundred metres. I realised that I didn’t really have a course in mind as the original plan was to drive a couple of miles and run from there.

I made up a route on the hoof – roads I know well from cycling but not from running, and not being very sure of the distance involved. At least it was a proper route without all the doubling back and multiple loops that are usually involved.

It rained and was a bit hillier than I’d like for running but it went OK, if not very fast. The main problem was that it did go on a bit. I had no water with me and just two cheap cereal bars (I ate one of them) and in the end I ran for 17.6 miles (28.3km). Curiously, just a few hundred metres beyond two thirds marathon distance.

It wasn’t at all fast – about 4.5 hour marathon pace – but it was certainly hard.

I don’t know if the lack of food and water was a factor or whether it was just that I’d run nearly 17 miles in the previous 4 days but it was certainly hard. Perhaps it’s simply being 63.

So, over 34 miles running in the week, by far the furthest in the training programme – but very hard.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.3km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.1km)62.7m (100.9km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.6km)13.2m (21.2km) 7:00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (25km)   12:00
10 (Skiing)     12:00
11 (Skiing) 7.1m (11.4km)   6:00
12 34.1m  (55km) 35m (56.4km) 1:00
‘Running’ totals 171.4m (276.1km) 213.2m (342.7km) 47:00

Marathon training week 11/20: Ski, ski, run. Snow and Snow Patrol – but not enough running.

As the cars in the car park behind the apartment slowly sink beneath the snow …

We were back out on the slopes Monday and Tuesday – then it was packing up on Wednesday to drive back to the UK on Thursday.

It snowed solidly and, clearly, it was snow chains for the trip down the mountain. That wasn’t too bad as I could put them on in the underground garage – taking them off in the snow in the valley was another matter entirely.

We had about 550 miles to drive through France – and nearly all of it with a good covering of snow either side of the road. Despite that, the roads were excellent and clear. It began to snow as we got west of London and driving along the M4 at about 9pm it started to settle.

We saw one gritting lorry near Ashford (Kent) and not another for the whole 166 mile journey, despite constant claims that gritting was in process. At one point it seemed that we might be using the snow chains again but the snow eased and only started more heavily again as we got home.

A great holiday – 16 days, 1780 miles, a lot of skiing and the advantage of having both sons join us.

Three falls: one while standing still and tripping over my own ski pole (very cool); one on a black mogul field (very expected); and one entirely by surprise (but my wife says someone skied over the back of my skis which might explain it). I went over onto my left shoulder – after 5 days I don’t yet have full movement back.

Three falls is probably OK – too many falls would be depressing: no falls would suggest I’m not pushing hard enough.

In normal life I tend to shy away from potatoes, bread and cheese but those are the main staples of the Haute Savoie diet. Indeed, the wonderful dish ‘Tartiflette’ was actually created to promote sales of the local reblochon cheese. We ate and drank well but I came back still under 70kg which I will treat as a victory.

Some very enjoyable reading too – I managed to finish

  • ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (good but a bit weird in places, almost cartoonish). The cover quoted Salman Rushdie calling it ‘The greatest novel in any language of the last 50 years’ (I certainly couldn’t agree with that)
  • ‘Red Azalea’ by Anchee Min (very interesting, set in the time of the cultural revolution and well worth a read)
  • ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles (generally excellent but, to a pedantic Brit, having a Russian Count in the 1930s use the word ‘gotten’ sticks out like a sore thumb).

We were supposed to be up to London for a Snow Patrol concert at the Wembley Arena on Saturday and that looked a bit unlikely to be happening as the snow fell for much of Friday – something like 8 inches of the stuff.

If we’d had to head to London then, I doubt we’d have gone, as the UK was again proving incapable of dealing with fairly modest snowfalls. Luckily, by Saturday things had settled a bit and we were just on the edge of the worst of the snow, which was mainly south and west of us.

We decided to give London a go so took the front wheel drive car. The biggest issue was (as ever) getting out of the village but we made it – just – and the rest of the trip was OK, taken cautiously. The rear wheel drive car would not have got out of the village.

Snow Patrol were excellent, but they had set the bar supremely high at the more ‘intimate’ concert we went to last November.

Luckily, in snow terms, London was much clearer than Oxfordshire so I took my running kit but only just managed to force myself out on Sunday morning – my first run for three weeks because of the skiing.

It was hovering just above freezing but was bright and clear I ran from West Kensington around the Serpentine (the lake in Hyde Park) and back. Altogether 11.4 km in under 1 hour 3 minutes at 5.30 min/km (7.1 miles @ about 8:52 per mile), despite the road junctions and the sore left shoulder. To my surprise, inside 4 hour marathon pace and it felt pretty good. Clearly, I should be doing more skiing and less running in my training ….

It will be interesting to see how the Achilles tendons react – they had better behave as there is a lot of running to be done between now and the Rotterdam marathon on 7th April (once the snow clears).

So, the training week ended with some skiing but only one run – a fairly dismal effort over the last 4 weeks as life has got in the way of the training. If someone were paying me to do the running perhaps I’d adjust the priorities but I can’t help but think that life first and running second is the right way round for a – very – amateur runner like me.

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km) 62.68m (100.86km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.55km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (24.97km)   12.00
10 (Skiing)     12.00
11 (Skiing) 7.1m (11.4km)   6.00
‘Running’ totals 137.3m  (221.1km) 178.2m (286.3km)    47:00

Marathon training week 10/20: Ski, ski, long walk, ski, ski. Am I supposed to do some running?

Lots of snow but not as much in some parts of the world – stay safe people

I took our older son and his girlfriend back to Geneva airport on Monday 21st January (after skiing in the day) and collected our younger son, Alex, who arrived a couple of hours later. The three of us skied on Tuesday (still terrific conditions) but I had to drop out on Wednesday and Thursday feeling very rough with a cold/flu bug. On Thursday Alex and I went for a long walk around the village in the snow – he missed skiing last year so was pleased to catch up with developments in a place he’s known for most of his life.

Friday and Saturday were spent skiing again, before taking Alex back to the airport for a Saturday afternoon flight back to the UK.

Both our sons ski extremely well. We started them at 4 and they cannot remember not being able to ski. I started just before I was 30 and I think that the later you start caps how good you can get (or, at least that’s my excuse).

I get by reasonably well but tend to do ‘proper’ English skiing: stylish on blue runs, competent on red runs, significant collapse of technique on black runs. I put that to good effect skiing with Alex on the Friday.

There is a black run in the resort which used to be beneath a chairlift so it was possible to see how difficult it looked before deciding whether to tackle it. In recent years that chairlift has been replaced with another starting from a different place so now only the top part of the run is visible.

Foolishly I agreed to ski it with him – the top bit was tough, as expected, but the bulk of it that had been out of sight was just a large and steep mogul field – very much at the extreme edge of my abilities. I only fell once which I regard as a minor victory but it was tough and I was happy to escape intact.

Sadly, we could not fit in a run during the week because the pavements were not clear enough of snow to provide a safe footing. That was a particular shame as Alex is the son with whom I’ll be running the marathon in April.

After a great time with our sons (and a girlfriend), and having dispatched them back to the UK, we took Sunday off skiing – not a bad decision as it snowed heavily. That is one of the great things about going skiing for a couple of weeks – you don’t feel guilty at taking a day off like you would if you were just out there for a week.

So, half way through the training for Rotterdam and three compromised weeks because of the trips to the Lakes and the Alps. On the plus side, I’ve still been physically active and have got in the long runs in all except the one for this week.

People say that if you cannot train for three weeks because of illness or injury, you should consider postponing the marathon. As my weeks have not been complete failures, I don’t intend to take that route but I’d better get back to the programme soon.

But (Sunday 27 January) I’m still in the Alps as I write this …

Week Run Cycle X-train
1 16.1m  (25.9km) 9.8m  (15.8 km)  2:00
2 18.5m  (29.8km) 13.3m  (21.5km) 2:00
3 20.7m  (33.25km) 65.8m (105.9km) 1:00
4 22.2m  (35.8km) 13.7m (22.07km) 1:00
5 24m (38.6km) 13m  (21km) 1:00
6 (Christmas) 13.2m (21.3km)    
7 25.56m (41.14km) 62.68m (100.86km) 3:00
8 14.63m (23.55km) 13.2m (21.2km) 7.00
9 (Skiing) 15.51m (24.97km)   12.00
10 (skiing)     14.00
‘Running’ totals 130.2m  (209.7km) 178.2m (286.3km)  43:00