Category Archives: Race to the Stones

Gym, turbo, run – it's OK, but is it enough?

By last Thursday evening, I’d had 7 exercise sessions in 7 days (and a 7 hour drive on the one rest day), so on Friday morning I did the sensible stupid thing and went to the gym.

I know about the benefits (indeed, the necessity) of rest but it is easy to feel that you need to make up for lost time – and I’m feeling that after Christmas, the knee ligament sprain and skiing. The best thing about the early morning gym visit was that the absence of any other exercise on Friday made it almost feel like a day off.

Of course, knowing that I should be taking rest days is not the same as actually taking them. Instead, I followed normal procedure and did an hour on the turbo, in a pool of sweat, for 28.44km (17.7miles) on Saturday afternoon watching more of the 6 Nations rugby. Good to see Rome bathed in sunshine as Oxfordshire was grey and battered by high winds.

Sunday continued with the wet and high winds theme of the last three weeks but I wanted to get in a third run in the (Monday to Sunday) week. I waited for the wind to drop below 40 mph and for the rain to stop and headed out for the same run as Wednesday, 13.4km (a little over 8.3 miles). Still running slowly – but faster than Wednesday.

I sometimes wonder if the first mile of a run will ever get any easier. It takes that long for my breathing and pulse to settle into a more comfortable rhythm. I’m sure it would be easier if all runs from the house didn’t immediately go up a small hill. Equally, it would help if I warmed up properly but I always have the foolish feeling that, with only a finite amount of energy to play with, I don’t want to use any of it before the run.

That leaves the week with 4 turbo sessions (90km – 56 miles), 3 runs (nearly 33km – over 20 miles) and 50 minutes in the gym lifting heavy bits of metal.

Despite all the recent activity, I’m not sure I’m in great shape for the forthcoming challenges:

  • The sportive towards the back end of April is about 150km with quite a bit of climbing – but I’ve not been out on the bike since the Lake District in October
  • The 16 week training plan for July’s 50km ultra starts in a couple of weeks but I doubt I’ll be up to the first week’s 31 miles by then.

Hmm. Realistically, the short term aim will have to be 3 runs a week, aiming for over 20 miles in total – and getting on the bike twice a week for a couple of hours in total (if indoors) or 4 hours (if the wind and rain are kind and let me outdoors). In addition, I’ll try a visit to the gym – and get back to running to it.

Importantly, I’ll try to remember that nobody is paying me to do any of this – it’s my choice and I’m supposed to be enjoying it.

More good news on Friday was that I’d recommended that two of the children we’d been working with on the balance bikes on Wednesday, should be tried on bikes with pedals on Thursday. Both cycled unassisted – bravo to them.

Could an ultra marathon ever be easier than a normal marathon?

OK, stay with me here and I might be able to explain what I mean, despite the apparent (and possibly actual) nonsense of the title.

Please note that I’m not saying that marathons are easy – they’re not. If you’ll forgive me getting scientific here, marathons are officially ‘a very long way to run’ and so are ‘extremely difficult’. Although ultras are ‘even further’ my point is that, while still being extremely difficult, they might not be quite as difficult.

Big talk for someone who has not run beyond the marathon distance. I may yet live to eat my words – but here’s the reasoning …

I like running but I’m not particularly good at it. Now in my mid 60’s I’ve run three marathons (two just under, and one just over, 4 hours) and have decided to try an ultra (a 50km trail race).

The third of my key aims in all my marathon attempts has been to run all the way (the first two are to get around safely and to try to enjoy the experience). I’ve also had a time target for each of the marathons – sub 4 hours for the first two and sub 4.15 for the third.

I’ve hit the targets each time but there is no doubting that they put extra pressure on the event.

For most entrants, ultra marathon running is a bit different. All credit to the super-fit who run them all the way, and are actually racing, but they seem to be the minority – the majority of entrants are going to be very happy finishing and will almost certainly do some walking. Indeed, walking is often expected and even encouraged. In addition, stopping at feed stations is also actually encouraged – adding yet more time to the race.

That leads to one interesting difference between marathons and longer distance races: the time taken to complete an ultra seems to be much less important to the extent that, other than for the elite racers, it is pretty much irrelevant. Why?

Could it be that, 30 or 40 years ago, no one but elite athletes did marathons so when mere mortals started doing them it was awe-inspiring simply to see ‘an ordinary person’ complete one. Now so many folks have run one, they seem more within reach to the majority. As a result, perhaps doing one seems to be less impressive in itself (though to me they are always impressive) so we look to ‘how well (ie fast)’ we do it.

Put ‘ultra’ in front of ‘marathon’, and perhaps some of the sense of awe comes back. Ultras have not made it into the mainstream like marathons have so, to the majority, it is impressive just to complete an ultra. Accordingly, the ‘how well did you do’ it aspect disappears again.

If you talk to a non elite athlete who has run a marathon, you probably ask what time they did it in. If you talk to that same person who has completed an ultra, is time a factor at all?

If time is a factor, is the longer the time all the more impressive as a measure of endurance and suffering, rather than a sign of less speed?

Given that an ultra (including the one I’m aiming for) can be as little as another 5 miles beyond the marathon distance, the awe for such an ultra is probably not 100% merited but its existence does seem to take the time pressure off.

I’m very happy to say that I have completed a marathon in under 4 hours – but I’ll be delighted if I am able to say I’ve completed an ultra marathon, irrespective of the time, or the amount of running/walking involved.

So, freed from the time pressure, and with walking entirely allowable, could the 50km ultra (potentially) be a bit easier for someone like me who feels obliged to run the whole way and aim for a target time if doing a marathon?

Perhaps it could be, mentally at least – but if that leads to complacency in the training, the extra distance and more difficult terrain of a trail race may well constitute a real sting in the tail that will come back and make me look a complete fool …

Or, of course, I could mess it all up by deciding that I want to run the whole thing …

Training to get fit enough to start the training programme (which feels like a bit of a con!)

The Ridgeway – looks like a good running track?

The 16 week training programme for the ultra marathon in July starts mid March. Week 1 is 31 miles with a long run of 11 miles. Interestingly, the maximum week’s running is ‘only’ 47 miles.

It is usually said that mileage should not increase by more than 10% a week. If I stick to that, an application of the ‘rule of 72’* tells me that I should be running over 15 miles a week before the end of January – and I ought to be running 28 miles the week before the programme starts.

Fine, I wasn’t expecting the first week to be a just few short walks … but 31 miles?

It doesn’t really feel like a 16 week programme at all, given how much training is needed before it can be started safely. On that basis I could write a marathon training plan lasting just 4 weeks – but it would require the victim participant to be running 45 miles a week before starting it.

Initially I was pleased that the ultra was in July as I would avoid running through the winter – with the pre-training needed, I’ve been thwarted!

It feels a long way until July – but I know by the time I get there I’ll be wishing I had more time because I still won’t be ready. In some ways I wish I could get on with the training now but I remember how long the 16 weeks of training for the Rotterdam Marathon felt.

What I won’t do is think of the current stage as being ‘ultra marathon training‘.

The thought that I was going to be ‘in training’ for 8 months (to the day!) would be soul destroying. The marathon training is just 16 weeks, starting in March – and that will feel like more than enough.

* Divide the number of years into 72 and the answer gives you the rate of compound interest needed for money to double over that period. Conversely, divide the rate of compound interest into 72 and the result is the number of years it will take for the original sum to double at that growth rate. So, at 7.2% compound interest, the value of money would double in 10 years – at 10% it would take 7.2 years.

Internet was a failure, run was so-so … but then the Rugby World Cup final … and it all got so much worse.

I’ve checked and this is, officially, a lot of tree cutting

Down to Bournemouth on Thursday to sort out a new broadband package. It was more physical than I’d thought and involved cutting the tops off many conifers to take them below the new phone wire.

I was sure that I’d done well – but it was all futile, as the engineer told me that they need a hoist to attach a phone line over the trees (even though they would not foul the line) ‘it might get tangled when we put it up’. Could I help? ‘No, we might be responsible if you had a fall’.

Could we at least do the internal stuff? ‘No, I can’t go into a loft unless it’s boarded’.

What about the wire down into the upstairs landing? ‘No, we can’t drill holes in ceilings.’

All that meant I drove back in the afternoon and missed my planned run along the seafront on Friday morning. That was replaced by a run at home – 10.25km, a fraction slower than last week. Legs and feet definitely feeling a bit cranky and (with a bit of dehydration, no doubt), weighing well under 67kg (about 148 pounds – 10 stone 8 pounds). A few pounds less than usual.

On Saturday we planned to sneak in a run early on before settling down to watch the final of the Rugby World Cup – England v South Africa – but it was pouring and blowing a gale so that didn’t happen.

Sadly, the Rugby World Cup Final did happen.

England played badly and were a shadow of the team that beat New Zealand in the semi-final – but I appreciate the adage ‘you only play as well as the opposition let you’. We were well beaten.

Well played South Africa.

One wedding and no funerals, plus a World Cup semi-final (and gym, turbo, run)

Back to the mean streets of Little Coxwell

On Saturday we were at a delightful (very wet but who cares?) wedding – a lovely god-daughter of my wife. The venue was excellent but a bit of a way away in Somerset, so we stayed overnight.

It was a great weekend, the only downside being that I missed watching the second half of England’s magnificent win over the mighty New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-final. It seems that life is conspiring against me as I missed the second half of the quarter-final win last week too.

Next Saturday is a travel-free zone as nothing is going to get in the way of watching the final against South Africa.

Back to the gym for a tough hour on Monday morning. A lighter morning as the clocks went back an hour on Saturday night, but the first frost of the autumn (happily I had already brought in the olive trees, the geraniums and the lemon trees).

I’d shaken off last week’s aches and pains but was carrying the burden of the wedding reception meal (and drink) and the best thing about staying in a hotel … the cooked breakfast. Normally I’d not eat breakfast but if someone is prepared to cook it for me it seems rude to refuse.

Another 3 hours on a second bonfire Monday afternoon – probably one more to go before I break the back of the disposal of the beech tree cuttings. True to form, I have some mild burns and the beech trees managed to trip me over twice while I was working. Happily, nothing damaged this time, other than my dignity.

I decided to let myself off the planned turbo session Monday evening – I was so tired it would have been embarrassing.

The bonfire was still going on Tuesday so I burnt some more stuff and chopped some wood – but I did get to the turbo in the evening for 30 minutes – 14.74km @ 29.48kph (9.16 miles at 18.32 mph). Breathing hard and dripping with sweat, despite the unheated conservatory. I am now sharing the conservatory with over 50 plants of one description or another, I hope they appreciate my carbon dioxide production.

A 6.1km run (3.8 miles) on Wednesday morning with my wife, complete with a bit of pain in both calf areas. It’s well above the heel on both legs but I’m now wondering if it’s (yet again) the Achilles tendons – this time just at the top of the tendon instead of being down by the heel like before. The information online seems to focus on Achilles pain being down by the heel so I’m not sure what this might be.

One to keep an eye on (and to keep stretching) but an annoyance rather than a big issue at present.

Run, gym, digging thistles and the revenge of the beech trees

Next at the cycle park is wild flower and tree planting

We were expecting a parcel Wednesday so we took turns to run and wait in. As a result, I ran a bit further and faster than usual – just over 10km (6.3 miles) at 4 hour marathon pace.

I can’t help but continually think about runs as fractions of next year’s ultra – that’s just a fifth. It wasn’t too cold, but cold enough to be the first run with hat and gloves for many months – winter is approaching.

I went into the run with a sore left buttock. I came out of the run with an additional twinge in my left knee and two painful calf muscles. At least the calf pain seems to be too high to be the troublesome Achilles tendons so it could be worse.

The sore buttock is testimony to the willpower of beech trees. After Monday’s bonfire made decent inroads into the beech tree cuttings, it was still smouldering on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the wind had turned and was blowing towards the village so I decided to put the fire out. Walking backwards pulling the long hose I tripped over a cut log and landed sitting heavily on another. The trees might be cut back but they are still fighting.

Back to the gym Thursday morning with my usual gym companion. He is still suffering with plantar fasciitis (since early April) and not sure if he will be able to attempt the ultra with me next year. It would be good to have his company – but what if we wanted to pace it differently? I’m wondering whether long distance running is essentially a selfish pursuit.

The afternoon was wet so there was little to be done beyond sloe picking. An earlier recce had suggested it was going to be a good year for sloes but although they were plentiful, they had not grown very big – it remains to be seen if they will produce good sloe gin. Happily I had some left over sloes in the freezer from last year so I have started with them.

I was up at the cycle park on Friday, digging an area to be used for a small wild flower meadow. It was extremely hard work – thank goodness I did not have a manual working career, it might have killed me. Because of that effort I gave myself an evening off the turbo, for which the still-aching calf muscles and left buttock were suitably grateful.

I tend to struggle to get beyond the simple “running is the best training for running’ and ‘cycling is the best training for cycling’ but I’m hoping all the work at the gym is going to help (besides which, I like it).

If it tunes up (or builds up) the legs I guess I will then need to build the cardio vascular system further to support them properly (better muscles need more oxygen?). Is that how it works?

The aim is to have an easier couple of weeks now and then start ramping up the cardio and the running to be in good shape to start my programme for the White Horse Challenge sportive in early February and begin the training programme for the Race to the Stones (the first week calls for 31 miles) in early March.

One thing I have promised myself is to get the mountain bike up on the Ridgeway – good cycling, a necessary recce of the ultra marathon course and excellent cardio training all rolled in together.

Ultra marathon? – all sorted (oh, apart from starting training and actually running it)

Rotterdam – site of this year’s marathon, and blessedly flat

For my 3 marathons so far, ‘run all the way’ has been target No3, just behind ‘get round safely’ and ‘try to enjoy it’. Having now signed up for an off-road ultra, early research suggests I need a rethink.

Although I’m sure there are many great athletes who run ultra marathons from start to finish, it seems that, for a mere mortal like me, a run/walk approach is recommended. I’ve seen claims that incorporating, say, a minute of walking for every 10 minutes of running can perhaps double an individual’s effective range.

Instinctively, i’m the sort of person who would prefer to run until I could run no more, and then walk the rest. Apparently, that doesn’t work well for an ultra as the walking miles are likely to be something of a death march – the benefit of recovery while walking needs to be taken regularly and before it is too late.

I’ll need to practice the run/walk to see how it works for me but perhaps the walk bit could be used for the steeper uphill sections?

I don’t mean to underestimate the challenge but I can’t help but think that as my ultra is ‘only’ another 8km (5 miles) more than a marathon, I could keep with ‘run all the way’ and just do normal marathon training (plus a bit). However, my occasional lucid moments tell me that those who have completed ultras know much better than me, and I’ll find that ‘just’ those 5 miles, the hills and the absence of a good road surface will make a huge difference.

So, being too far away to start any specific training i’ve been doing the next best thing – researching on the internet. Recognising that internet research is a dangerous thing if I have not been able to separate the wheat from the chaff, more key learning from my reading so far:

  • losing weight is a good idea (well, how did they think that one up)
  • hydration and nutrition are vital (ditto)
  • don’t get injured – who, me?
  • there are 4 feed stations on the route – only 10 km between them so it looks like carrying one bottle will be enough, unless it is very hot
  • that might mean just a running belt to hold the bottle and some snacks?
  • I need to run on the Ridgeway in training – partly for familiarisation, partly for the training benefit and partly it will help decide on appropriate footwear (will running shoes be enough?)
  • I can keep cycling (good cardio exercise and easier on the body than running)
  • I can keep up with the gym (especially good for the core)
  • the 16 week training schedule I found that started with a 31 mile week is not by any means out of the ordinary! Damn
  • back to back long runs seem to be a vital part of the training. Double damn.

It’s just possible that next year could be a bit tough. The training now won’t help with the cardio aspects but I can carry on because I enjoy it – and any strengthening of my core and legs will be a bonus if taken through into the early spring.

How hard can it be …