Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Pumlumon Challenge Recce Run

Hi, welcome back,

Well it has been over two weeks since my last post.  Apart from being busy enjoying my summer holidays, I have found that I haven't really got an ultra running topic I wish to share at the moment.  In my previous 25 posts I have described many of my thoughts on ultra trail running, so I think maybe it is time for a few Millsy Memory posts.  However, before them, time for tonight's post on my mini adventure last weekend as I recced the Pumlumon Challenge course.  The recce wasn't as demanding or as exciting as my Lakeland 100 recce back in May, however, hopefully tonight's post will be interesting, especially to those of you doing the race in a little over two weeks time.

The Pumlumon Challenge is a 27 mile race that takes place in Mid-Wales not far from Aberwystwyth.  My overall aim this year is to run the UK ultra-running championships, also known as the Runfurther series of ultra trail races.  The series consists of 12 races, however, only the points scored on your best four races are counted.  One other requirement is that you must race a 'short', 'medium' and 'long' race, plus one other.  I have already raced two long races, and one medium race, so the Pumlumon Challenge, classified as a 'short' race will be my fourth, and possibly my final ultra race of the year.  Having learnt from the Highland Fling race last year, where I got lost within the first two miles, I am now a bit paranoid about knowing the race route.  With my "Run as fast as you can, while you can" strategy, I am often leading many of the ultra races at the start, so with no one to follow I need to know which way to go.  Hence the need for a recce run.

The alarm goes off at around 3:50am !!!  A quick breakfast and I am off on my mini adventure, starting with a 5 hour plus drive to the Nant Yr Arian Forestry Centre.  The drive goes smoothly, it is amazingly quicker driving at four o'clock in the morning, no traffic jams at that time!  I had been checking the weather forecast over the last few days and each day it seemed to change from heavy rain to sunshine and showers.  I was hoping for the later, but came prepared with plenty of wet weather kit and emergency clothing.

At 9:34am I start my Garmin 305 GPS watch and although not really sure of the actual start line and which side of the lake to run along, I choose the east side and start off slowly in bright sunshine.  You can access the GPS trace on the Garmin Connect website by clicking the following link: Garmin Connect - Pumlumon Recce Run   My Inov8 backpack is full with 2 litres of water, 5 Cliff Bars, 2 High5 gels, emergency/extra clothing, mobile phone, compass, head torch (just in case I get severely lost!), and the race route printed out in large scale over eight pages, with annotations about the race route I obtained from reading Nick Ham's 2009 race report.  (Thanks Nick for the detailed description of the course, it was a great help.)

Straight away upon reaching the end of the lake I am unsure which way to go, whether to go up the hill along a zig-zag track or along the bottom next to the smaller lake to the east.  I work out that I should have gone up the zig-zag track a couple of zigs before crossing a stile and starting the first short climb.  After this 'dodgy' start, all goes well as I am able to follow the course quite easily, first along a quick fast downhill section through a small forest, and then up another shortish climb to the summit of Dinas.  Coming down from the first summit, (which will have the first checkpoint on race day), the track gets a bit wet and boggy, before another short climb and a skirt around the side of Bryn-llwyd hill before the first major climb up to Pumlumon Fawr.  At about half way up the steep climb, it all of a sudden gets dark.  I look behind and see loads of massive rain clouds coming towards me from the south.  Well I had 30 minutes of sunshine!  As the wind picks up I put on two extra layers and continue climbing bracing myself for a torrential downpour.  I didn't have to wait log before I was absolutely soaked and my visibility was down to around 50 metres, immediately reminding me of my Lakeland 100 recce on leg 10 where I had to abandon my recce due to only 20 metre visibility!

Looking at the map I am well aware that I have to turn right shortly after reaching the summit at 752 metres.  I think, (not really sure due to the heavy thick mist!), I am at the summit so turn right and head off in a direction slightly north of east.  I have been racing trail marathons for the last 9 years, but these are usually marshaled and have direction arrows.  So it is only since racing ultras since 2008 where I have had to learn to navigate my way around the course.  I usually seem to have a good instinct in knowing which way north is, (the direction of the sun at mid-day in New Zealand), so I never use a compass, although I carry one just in case!  Well I learnt a good lesson just after the summit of Pumlumon Fawr where my natural instinct of direction just wasn't good enough.  Take a look at the photo below which clearly shows me heading due south, NOT the correct direction!

It was at this point on the course, (well actually off the course!), the rain was the heaviest.  I was beginning to get cold, so for only my third time ever (Hardmoors 55, and Lakeland 100 recce leg 10, being the previous two occasions), I have to put a balaclava on to keep warm, as I am stationary for quite a while as I finally get my compass out and work out the correct direction to head in.  I finally manage to get back on course with a little bit of help from two walkers, also enjoying the rain, heading up to the summit, who confirmed what I had just realised, yes I was heading in the wrong direction!

The next key feature I begin to look out for is the side of a forest, my map labels it Pen Pumlumon Arwystl.  As I am starting to get a bit confused as I should be right next to where the forest should be, I notice that in the field over the fence there are loads of tree stumps, aha, the trees have all been cut down!  I am beginning to lose my navigational confidence, and start thinking that it could be a long day in Wales!

Luckily the next section goes well, with help from Nick's race report I spot the small meteorological station over in the distance and follow a faint four wheel drive track towards and then looping past the station, through a gate and enter some forest, that hasn't been cut down!  There is then a smooth and fast gravel track that twists and drops gently towards a stream which has a Severn Way finger post clearly indicating to turn off left and follow the obvious path up the gentle hill.

This part of the course is a nice relief from worrying about where to go.  The climb alongside the stream is a nice runnable gradient, with there being large flagstones to run over.  It doesn't take long to reach a small wooden platform and a small pole that symbolises the source of the River Severn.  As I reach the top of the climb, the rain has stopped and the mist has lifted which aids immensely in working out the best direction to head down off the tops to the Hengwm valley.  It doesn't take long to reach the stream in the valley, following no clear path just aiming straight down towards a small valley/stream descending down to the valley on the directly opposite hill. 

Although Nick's race report prepares me for "2 miles of tussock-bashing, bog-dodging slog with no consistent trod to follow", immediately after crossing the stream I continue heading upwards towards the bottom of the hills and manage to find a semi-visible trod to follow, which makes running massively easier than trying to run across the tussock and bog!  The next section along the valley then goes surprising well until I reach the point on the race website map labelled Radio Point 4.  My semi-visible trod which has been a real 'life saver' disappears!  Being well aware that finding a runnable trod could make a massive distance to my race time, I spend ages trying to find one as indicated by my GPS red scribble on the photo below.

I finally give up and cross the stream coming in from the right, but stay on the right of the main stream/river, as indicated on the race website map.  The next section is extremely slow, every stride is a struggle as my foot sinks into more uneven bog.  Out of desperation I head further upwards towards the bottom of the hill, further away from the river and it becomes less boggy.  Still difficult running, but at least I am not falling over every fifth step!  It is a relief to reach the bridge over Afon Llechwedd-mawr.  Unfortunately the relief doesn't last very long as immediately after crossing the wooden footbridge there is a very steep climb up to the summit of Drosgoi.  Unfortunately, the thick mist has come in again so I can barely spot the hill so have no idea how high up the top is, although my map states 543 metres.

I slowly get to the top, (I think, again there is really thick mist), but having learnt from my earlier mistake I have my compass out, and take a bearing down towards the reservoir inlet, wherever the reservoir is as I am yet to see it!  After a few tumbles as my foot sinks into bog, I make it to the reservoir.  The race website map clearly shows the path heading north before crossing the stream, so I similarly do this thinking there must be an obvious dry track to run along.  No, definitely no track, so more foot sinking bog as I head south and cross the stream.

After the stream/reservoir inlet I start running along a trod skirting around a hill with the reservoir on the left, when I notice about 20 metres above me an obvious track.  I head up to this track and find that it is actually a four wheel drive track.  I shout out with joy, so happy with myself for finding some solid, smooth ground to run on.  I think to myself how lucky I am that I have found this track as without finding it my running pace would be heaps slower.

All is then easy to navigate, with solid ground underfoot as I run easily along the track that meets and follows a sealed road for 100 metres, before heading up a gravel track (checkpoint 6).  My next key feature to find is a stream after which I need to veer off to the left.  I find the stream no problem, but where is the track veering off to the left.  There isn't one!!!  By this time I have been running / walking / stumbling for just over 6 hours and I am beginning to feel a little bit less positive towards this Welsh tussock!!!  The course is meant to skirt around the left side of a hill called Disgwylfa Fawr, well with the mist, and now more heavy rain, I can't even see a hill!  Anyway using my compass I head off in the direction the map indicates, stumbling constantly.  I finally find a semi-runnable trod which seems to be going in the right direction and stick to this.  I occasionally lose the trod but manage to re-find it, or find another, and make semi-good progress.

After what seems quite a while I begin to think that by now I should have run over a stream, (or is it a track?), where checkpoint 7 will be on race day.  So I look at my compass that I have been carrying in my hand, but not using!  Instead of heading south I am actually heading in a north-east direction.  I swear at myself for my stupidity, ignoring my compass!  The photo below shows where I went astray, with a blue dashed line showing where I should have gone!

Realising that I am lost, I decide then to pretty well just head south and see where I end up.  I know I am only at most 3 miles from the visitors centre so things can't go to far wrong.  I spot a farm house and then a gravel road, so I am able to work out where I am.  I run along the gravel road and rejoin the race route to climb the last gentle hill up a rough gravel track, through a gate, into some more forest, finally onto a proper gravel road and then descend gently down to my car at the visitor centre.  (Later looking at the race website finishing photos I see that I should have finished by running along the lakeside track.  Oh well, just another occasion of going off-course.)

So finally seeing my car again I am one happy runner.  It has been a solid downpour for pretty well the last hour, and my total time of 7 hours, 3 minutes and 53 seconds for the 29.77 miles I have covered is way way slower than the time I had anticipated that it would take.  I think to myself, how do runners manage to win this race in 4 hours 6 minutes?  I think that it is time to ignore the physical preparation during the next three weeks, my mental preparation requires maximum effort.  Time to focus on positivity and self belief.  But at this particular moment in time, absolutely soaked and rather tired, my confidence and usual total self belief, lets say was just a wee bit lacking!!!  Luckily I notice that the cafe is still open for a few more minutes before the 5:00pm closing, so my positivity begins to immediately return as I enjoy a lovely hot coffee and a few cakes!

Well, looking back at my recce run now, after a few days of dry underfoot running, (although it is actually pouring down with rain now in the dry South East), I am now happy and positive about my recce run.  Having run the course, I am now able to mentally prepare for the race, with clear mental images of the key sections of the course.  If you have read some of my previous posts you will be well aware of the emphasis I place on mental preparation for ultra trail running.  With now only a little over two weeks to race day, my excitement is really building as race day gets closer.  Although the Pumlumon Challenge is specified as a 'short' race, it may be short in terms of miles, but not short in terms of the challenge!  I can't wait until race day.  To run fast over the course, to puff and blow up all the climbs, to hopefully see the amazing views that are visible in last year's race photos.

If you are reading this and are doing the Pumlumon Challenge for the first time, hopefully my recce write-up has given you an insight into the demands of the course.  Hopefully I haven't made the course sound too demanding!

Time to sign off with some 'words of wisdom'.  "Remember race preparation should focus predominantly on the mental preparation leading up to race day.  Develop the confidence and self belief, to match your carefully planned goals for the race. Ensure the positivity is in abundance, and the success, however YOU define success, will eventuate."  Stuart Mills, 2010.

All the best with your final race preparations.  And to those of you running the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc and associated races in Chamonix this weekend, a very special 'All the best'.  I really envy you this year being out there, ready to enjoy the most absolutely amazing ultra trail experience you could ever imagine.  Enjoy every moment in the amazing mountains, amongst amazingly minded people.


PS  To follow on from the previous nutrition post I forgot to mention what I consumed during my recce run.  Although I carried 5 Cliff Bars and 2 gels, I only actually consumed 2 Cliff Bars and drank about half of my water so around 1 litre.  As I mentioned in the nutrition post, because the intensity of the running was so low, there was no need to consume much carbohydrate, I simply relied on my body fat stores to get me around.

PPS  Yesterday late afternoon with it raining outside, Robert my older son was searching for some images on our computer and for fun searched for images of me!  Three quarters of the way down the page was a photo I had not seen before.  I got a real shock when it took me to the a website, where there was an article on my nutritional approach to running the 56 mile London to Brighton Trail race back in 2008.  I very vaguely remember being interviewed while receiving a post race massage.  Anyway here is the link to the article that is titled "Cola and cake: a winning combination".  Just thought you might find the article interesting. Finally with regards to the  London to Brighton Trail race.  Another great event, there still maybe time to enter for this year, which takes place on Sunday 5th September.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Race Nutrition - Is More Always Better?

Hi Again,

Thanks to those of you who have left a comment.  It is always nice to get some feedback on what I write.  Following the Lakeland 100 race I spoke to a number of runners about my race nutrition, in addition, two comments left on my previous post made reference to my race nutrition, so hence the title of tonight's blog; "Race Nutrition - Is More Always Better?"

Since the Lakeland 100 race I have spent a few days in the Lakes District with my family, and now I am again on holiday with my family down in the Channel Islands, on Herm Island, the smallest of the Channel islands.  There is a track around the entire island, and on Saturday was the Herm Run consisting of one undulating lap of the island, a grand total of 2.82 miles.  I ran with my youngest son Chris, and finished in 46th equal place in a time of 27:49.  Robert my other son and Frances my wife both finished ahead of us in times of 25:24 (30th) and 27:01 (42nd) respectively.  If you are looking for a great place to relax and take it easy after running 103 miles, or to do a low key friendly race, then Herm Island is a great place! 

In between my two holidays I was back at work at the University of Brighton and a number of colleagues were commenting about my UltraStu blog.  They were rather critical at the lack of evidence to support the statements I make.  The need to provide evidence is something that we really drive home with the students, and they were rather disappointed at the lack of references I provide.  I am well aware that some people will consider the lack of references within my posts as poor writing, however, my blog is not supposed to me an academic piece of writing.  So when it is easy for me to provide a reference to support my comments I will, e.g. in my posts on running economy.  However, on most occasions my posts are based on my own personal experiences, or material I have read in academic journals in the past, but I just can't remember the author and source!  So if you are like my colleagues and wish to see references, then tonight's post you are going to be overly disappointed.  Being on holiday I don't have any access to the academic journals, and actually I can't really be bothered.  So tonight is straight from my own 'gut feelings'!

In last week's post I made the comment that "Ultra trail running is so TOTALLY DIFFERENT to trail marathons".  The massive difference is due to the much lower intensity one races at in an Ultra, especially an Ultra lasting 24 hours, in comparison to marathon race intensity.  Looking at my heart rate data for leg 8 of the Lakeland 100, the middle leg.  The leg lasted 2 hours 6 minutes, and my average heart rate was only 124 bpm, with a maximum during the leg of only 138 bpm.  Massively different to say my heart rate for the South Downs Marathon back in June, 2 hours 55 minutes of  running, and an average heart rate of 171 bpm and a maximum of 182 bpm!  So this much lower race intensity not only affects the type of training that is most appropriate for ultras, but also affects the most appropriate race nutrition for ultras, as I will later explain, this is also different from marathon racing!

Before I expand upon this, with details of what I consume during the Lakeland 100, it is time for some more Millsy Memories!  Marathon Number 3 - Christchurch Marathon - June 1984.

Those of you who have read my post titled " Marathon Number 1 - April 1980 " will know that I achieved my goal of running a sub 3 hour marathon on my first attempt.  Well, come four years later I set myself a new goal, a sub 2 hour 30 minute marathon.  I decided upon the Christchurch Marathon, which used the same course as that used for the 1974 Commonwealth Games marathon, which was won by the English runner Ian Thompson in a very quick time of 2:09:12, the second fastest marathon time ever, in 1974 (see race history), so it was a quick course.

In preparation for my sub 2:30 marathon I ran a training marathon, the Mangaroa Marathon, just a few miles from where I lived in the Hutt Valley, eight weeks prior to Christchurch Marathon, finishing in 6th place in a time of 2:45:32.  At the time I thought that running a training marathon was the ideal thing to do.  At the age of 21, I didn't know any better.  Now with a wee bit more experience I would now state that you probably don't need to run a training marathon in preparation for a marathon, but that is another topic.  Lets get back to marathon number 3 and race nutrition!

Come race day, a rather cold morning on a June winters day, I am well prepared, totally focused to achieve my goal.  My plan is to run at a consistent even pace (yes a different strategy to ultra racing as the event is so different), 3:30 per km, which gives a 2:27:41 marathon time.  So I have a wee bit over 2 minutes 'up my sleeve' to slow down during the latter stages, in preparation for the so called "marathon wall", which I had read about in New Zealand running magazines.  I had also read in running magazines (at that time in 1984 my only source of running information) the need to carbo load, so I adopted this approach in the last few days as best I could, basically eating loads of carbohydrate food.  I didn't adopt the depletion stage at the start of the week which was the traditional approach proposed by Bergstrom (1967) and frequently used by the great runner Ron Hill in the early 70s.  Now if you want to read two good books, I recommend you read Ron Hills' autobiographies. I found them absolutely superb, although some people I know found them a bit excessive.  If you love running and racing, then you will love his books.  He had so much too write, he published them himself, around 450 pages each book, as every publisher said he had to massively shorten it.  Ron Hill's attitude of 'doing it his way', not following the norm, is what I liked so much about his approach to running described within his books.  Sorry, I just got distracted again, lets get back to Christchurch 1984!

So the marathon is going well, I'm 15 seconds up on schedule at 5km, and pretty well stay bang on target 3:30 per km, and at 35 km I am only 5 seconds down.  And then, 'the wheels fall off'!!!  As if instantly I go really 'woozey' in the head, I feel really tired, can barely keep my eyes open, and during the next 7.2 kilometres I lose all of the time I had gained on my 2:27:41 schedule and cross the finish line extremely, extremely disappointed in a time of 2 hours 30 minutes and 40 seconds.  I am so disappointed it is over eight years before I run my next marathon!

So what went wrong???  It was simple, I simply ran out of carbohydrate, I suffered from hypoglycemia, i.e. low blood sugar.  Back in 1984 in New Zealand there weren't such things as carbohydrate gels, and water was the only drink available at water stations.  The running magazines didn't mention the need to take on carbohydrate DURING the actual marathon race.  They only highlighted the need for carbohydrate in the days before the race! 

But it wasn't until three years later, when I was down at Otago University studying for my Sports Science degree that I got really really angry!  I still have anger now when I think back to it.  There I was in the University library reading some academic journal articles on carbohydrates and endurance performance where I read that way back in 1982, two years before my Christchurch Marathon, the South African Athletic Association made it compulsory for marathon organisers to provide carbohydrate drinks at drink stations during a marathon.  Why didn't the New Zealand Athletic Association have the same requirement?  Why weren't the running magazines providing this essential bit of information that you had to consume carbohydrate DURING a marathon?  I was more than capable of running sub 2:30, but without consuming carbohydrate DURING the marathon, it makes it rather difficult, as the body has only limited stores of carbohydrate, and running at marathon pace, at around ones lactate threshold a runner typically will deplete their carbohydrate stores before reaching the 26 mile mark!  I guess from that day in the library onwards, I took the approach that just because it's the norm, e.g. running a marathon on water only,  it doesn't mean it is the correct thing to do.  I took the approach that I will always question things and try to find the answer, and if need be, differ from the norm and do it my way! 

So how does race nutrition differ between marathons and ultras?  As mentioned above it is all down to the intensity you race at.  Although I lecture in Sports Science, I haven't taught any physiology or nutrition modules for a number of years, so I don't have the references at hand.  However, I have read alot in the past and hopefully my interpretation isn't too far 'off track'.  If any sports scientists or physiologists out there wish to confirm or contradict what I state with evidence/references, please feel welcome to do so by leaving a comment.

So time for some simple physiology.  The body needs fuel to run, typically either fat or carbohydrate (ignoring protein).  How much of fat or carbohydrate is determined by the intensity you run at.  I could expand on this with some biochemistry, Krebs cycle, ATP etc, however I wont.  If you are interested in more detail, have a look at an exercise physiology book such as McArdle, Katch and Katch.  So the higher the intensity the more carbohydrate is used.  The only problem with running at a high intesity and using more carbohydrate is as mentioned above there are limited carbohydrate stores within the body, whereas we have pretty well unlimited fat stores.  It is possible to estimate the ratio of fat and carbohydrate consumed while running, referred to as one's respiratory exchange ratio (RER), by simply measuring the amount of oxygen and carbohydrate contained within one's expired air, usually collect in a large bag called a Douglas bag during a lab test.  As there are limited carbohydrate stores, there are various strategies used during marathon running to help you to not run out of carbohydrate, such as carbo loading prior to the race, and consuming carbohydrate during the race.  One other strategy to help preserve the limited carbohydrate stores is to try to train your body to consume more fat.  Although I haven't found any research to confirm the best training to achieve this, it is speculated that by training at an easy pace, below lactate threshold/turnpoint, it enhances one's ability to burn fat.  Hence another reason why I stated in the What Training is Appropriate post that "To run faster in ultra trail races, train slower!"

I received an e-mail a month or two back asking me whether I consume carbohydrates during my training runs.  Apart from when I do excessively long runs (more than 22 miles), which isn't very often, usually only on a unique occasion, I never consume carbohydrate in training.  I hadn't got around to replying to the e-mail as I was hoping to find some research confirming my 'gut feeling' that consuming carbohydrate during training isn't wise.  About the year or two ago I was chatting on the phone to one of my ex-students who was completing a PhD at Birmingham University under the guidance of Asker Jeukendrup, who is a bit of a sports nutrition guru.  My ex-student Carl Hulston was investigating this very issue.  His hypothesis, which was in agreement with mine is that one of the aims of long endurance rides or runs is to improve the body's ability to utilise fat, and to feed on carbohydrate during training simply negates this 'learning process'.  Carl has been working overseas recently, but is coming back to the UK in September, so I'll give him a call upon his return and keep you updated on what his PhD research found.  Until then, I will continue to rely on what feels right and seems to work for me, i.e. no carbohydrate feeding during training.

But what about whilst racing?  As mentioned above, for marathon running, you definitely need to take on board during the race carbohydrate.  Extensive research has shown that what is really important is the concentration of this carbohydrate, which should be around 6 - 7%  Therefore it is ESSENTIAL that if you consume a carbohydrate gel typically around 25 grams, you MUST also consume around 400 millilitres of water, i.e. two full cups of water, not one or two mouthfuls splashed over your face!  The problem with not consuming water is that the high carbohydrate concentration within your stomach will cause water to be drawn out of your body into your stomach, to dilute this high concentration.  One major concern during racing is getting dehydrated, consuming high percentage concentrations of carbohydrate, such as jellie babies significantly increases the risk of dehydration, as the water is drawn into your stomach!  And with dehydration performance rapidly decreases!

One other problem that may arise when consuming high concentrations of carbohydrate (sugar) is that you may get a large release of insulin.  One of the functions of insulin is to lower one's blood sugar level, return it back to normal.  As long as your intensity is sufficiently high during racing, this insulin release is inhibited, so you will not get an insulin 'overshoot', resulting in excessively low blood sugar levels.  However, I have a real concern that during ultra running, because the intensity is so low, that this insulin overshoot may occur.  Where the blood sugar fluctuates from a massive high after consuming the high concentration of sugar, which is then followed by a large drop in blood sugar levels, due to this overshoot!  Hence my main focus during ultras when consuming carbohydrate is to ensure that the percentage concentration is never more that 6%, so I am always consuming water whenever I take on board carbohydrate.

Now getting back to how the ratio of carbohydrate:fat utilised is determined by one's race intensity.  At a heart rate for me of anything less than say 145bpm, I find that my body only uses minimal carbohydrate and burns loads of fat.  During my three day recce run of the Lakeland 100 course back in May, whilst actually running, disregarding breakfast and the evening meal, during the entire three days running I only consumed 5 Cliff bars in total, (two on days 1 and 2, and one on day 3) and towards the end of day two I also a handful of chocolate covered coffee beans as I started to get a bit tired, and that was it!  I didn't need any more carbohydrate, as the intensity was so low, so a good opportunity to burn some of my excess body fat!

Now come race day, yes I start at a really fast pace, average heart rate of 163 bpm during leg 1, so burning loads of carbohydrate, so I consume a carbohydrate gel, then on leg 2 I eat a Cliff bar as the average heart rate drops to 155 bpm.  As the race progresses, my intensity decreases, so I consume less carbohydrate as my body is not burning it. As it so happened during the Lakeland 100 during the second half of the race, I was running at an even lower intensity than during my recce run.  So while racing I simply thought, if I only need a few Cliff bars back in May, I don't need any more carbohydrate now.  However, what I do need during the Lakeland 100 race is caffeine.  I find that during long ultra races, I begin to get mentally tired, which corresponds with overall tiredness, as the body and mind are one.  Caffeine is excellent at masking this tiredness, so I frequently consume cocacola during ultra races.  Listed below is as far as I can remember what I consumed during the race. 

As mentioned above, one thing which I have found that works for me during ultra races is consuming coca cola.  Coke typically has a 12% carbohydrate percentage, so I ensure that I dilute the coke 50:50, reducing the concentration to the ideal 6%.  During the Lakeland 100 at those checkpoints that had coke I therefore consumed two cups of coke and two cups of water.  One can do calculations to work out how many calories (kilojoules) one burns while running at different running paces.  I haven't bothered to do the calculations, but all I know that to run 103 miles, it isn't actually as many calories as one would expect!  So is there really a need then to eat excessively during a 100 mile ultra?  I think not.  Why eat more than you need?  What benefit does it give you? 

The main benefit is the self belief that it will make you run better, give you the energy to go faster, to keep on going.  As I mention in other posts performance is largely determined by ones self belief, so continue consuming large amounts of carbohydrate/food during races if the self belief improves performance.  However, is it possible that consuming loads of carbohydrate/food may actually hinder your performance physiologically.  Does having this food in your stomach draw blood away from the muscles to start digesting the food?  Does the high concentration of carbohydrate in your stomach draw water away from your body into the stomach, making you dehydrated.  Yes positive self belief may be useful, but if there are actual physiological negative consequences, then the overall effect may be a decrease in performance.  What is the answer?  I don't know, but for me, I know what works from many races of trial and error.

Well, another ultra endurance post.  I didn't quite finish it last night.  But as it is currently raining outside at the moment, the beach has been delayed until the sun comes out!  I hope you find my details on my race nutrition interesting.

Time to sign off with some 'words of wisdom'.  "Always question what you have been told, what appears to be the norm.  Try to find the answer from whatever sources are available.  If you can't find THE answer, go with what feels and works best for you!" Stuart Mills (2010)

All the best with your fuelling,


Sunday, 1 August 2010

Lakeland 100 - The Importance of Preparation - Developing Positivity and Self Belief


If you have come to my blog for the first time to read my Lakeland 100 report, welcome.  I hope you will find my blog interesting.  Take a look around.
The Lakeland 100 was my target race for the year.  Within previous posts I have commented upon What Determines Performance in Ultra Running - Part Two , and concluded "The true secret of ultra running is ensuring that positivity remains throughout the race, and is not overcome by a negative 'state of feeling/being'."  I then listed the Sources of Negative States Being Initiated from the Mind and/or Body in Ultra Trail Running, or in other words - Limitations to Ultra Trail Running Performance.  It is these sources that I addressed within my preparation for the Lakeland 100, i.e. 1) Fuel, 2) Hydration, 3) Enjoyment / confidence / self belief, 4) Muscle damage / muscle soreness.

Over my previous ten ultras I find I have pretty well sorted out what fuel and hydration works for me.  This therefore only leaves two things to focus on in terms of race preparation, and my previous post titled What Training is Appropriate? highlights reasonably well my training leading up to the race, with the key aspect to my training being the development of positivity and self belief, "absolute TOTAL belief in what I am doing is right for me."

One big advantage I have in terms of developing self belief are my previous performances, specifically my performance in Ultra Trail Mont Blanc last year, where I finished 22nd overall.  A large part of my Lakeland 100 race preparation was not to get overawed by the severity/difficulty of the course, as I find this tends to create a negative response. And whenever you experience a negative response, you slow down, you run slower.  Having ran well at UTMB, which is the toughest course I have ever experienced,  during my preparation I tried to convince myself that the Lakeland 100 'would be a breeze' compared to UTMB.

Back in May over the Bank Holiday weekend I recced the entire course, apart from the second half of Leg 10. (see Lakeland 100 Course Recce ).  During my recce, the course was bone dry, not a puddle to be seen.  Assuming that the conditions would be the same come the end of July, and that I would be able to run 'heaps' faster during the actual race in comparison to my gentle recce training pace, I put together a planned race schedule that was very quick.  This fast planned finishing time I found also seemed to help in reducing the perceived severity of the course.

In the past, when training previously for trail marathons, the focus of my race preparation was mainly physiological in terms of how many miles, how many reps etc.  However, because ultra trail running is so TOTALLY DIFFERENT, a large focus of the race preparation is on maintaining a positive state of mind which will hopefully last the entire race, and in developing absolute TOTAL self belief in one's ability! 
So lets finally get onto RACE DAY.  After a relaxing time registering, getting my pack ready, and listening to the race briefing and some interesting words from Joss Naylor, (I particularly liked his positive response when asked if he felt he could break 20 hours for the course), shortly before 5:30pm I head towards the front of the field beneath the start banner.  I am not nervous, just ready for the race to unfold.  I have a clear plan.  My preparation has gone well.  The plan is to run hard and fast, straight from the gun.  If you have read my blog before, you will know my race philosophy: "Run as fast as you can, while you can!"  Everyone slows down during ultra running, this is not a negative aspect, it just occurs, but before this occurs, I focus on enjoying running fast, running really hard over awesome terrain, within fantastic scenery.  The plan is to lead immediately from the start and to build up a significant lead.  I don't expect anybody to be as 'stupid' as me, and to start at such a quick pace, so I am confident that I will be running on my own at the start, and hopefully for the entire 103.9 miles!!!!

During the race I wear a Garmin 305 GPS watch which I set to record the split time for every mile.  Although I no longer look at the split times, or heart rate display during the race, I find the information extremely useful to help me evaluate my performance following the race.  If you click on the link below it will take you to the Garmin Connect website and will display the data for leg 1.  If you then click 'franstu' you will be able to view all of the other legs up until halfway through leg 9 when the battery ran out.  Unfortunately it took a while for the watch to track the satellites so the first 12 minutes are not recorded for leg 1.

The race starts and straight away I am running on my own.  I am running hard, heart rate trace later shows a heart rate of 175bpm, which isn't too far away from my max of 187bpm.  Not as hard as I usually go at the start, but then it is a 104 mile race!  The course quickly begins the first climb up a gravel road and then onto a single track.  I don't look behind as I run, so I do not know how far back the others runners are, but I assume that they should be a wee way back, as I reach the top of the first climb turn a sharp left turn to start a brief descent down to a car park.  I then get a real shock as I notice that two - three runners are only probably 30 - 40 seconds behind me.  Are they stupid? Nobody but me starts 100 mile ultras that quick, or maybe they have been reading my blog!

I quicken the pace on a gentle smooth track down to the car park where there is a small crowd gathered, including my wife Frances, our two boys Robert and Chris, and my brother Graham, currently over from New Zealand to cheer me on through the night.  I give them the thumbs up to indicate all is going to plan, even though I am a bit concerned about the closeness of the following runners.  I therefore maintain a high intensity up Walna Scar Road, running the entire way, apart from briefly walking the very steep section near the top.  The descent down the other side is quite difficult underfoot with different sized boulders. Determined to get a significant lead, I run as fast as I can over the rocks.  I always wear lightweight road shoes during trail races, and the lightness of the shoes aid me as I head down toward check point 1 at Seathwaite pretty quickly, with the GPS showing a 6:47 mile, which isn't too slow considering the rough terrain!  At one point as I was descending quickly over the rocks I momentarily thought am I going too quick, will this damage my legs?  I immediately put these negative thoughts out of my mind and get back to the absolute enjoyment of running fast, leading the race.

At checkpoint 1, as it was the case for all of the checkpoints throughout the race, the checkpoint staff are fantastic.  They have been waiting for the first runner to arrive, all prepared ready to go, so when I appear, there is always loads of excitement, loads of positive energy, which I gratefully accept from them.  There is something quite unique about leading a race, it is as if the positive energy you receive from volunteers, spectators,  gives you a real boost, to assist you in getting ready to head back out at the same quick pace.

I am only inside checkpoint 1 for a matter of seconds, simply to dib my dibber and consume two cups of water to wash down the High5 gel I consume immediately prior to the checkpoint.  I then slightly ease of the intensity during leg 2 as my average heart rate for the leg drops to 157bpm compared to the average of 163bpm during leg 1. Leg 2 is extremely wet and boggy underfoot, so the pace drops significantly.  It is a real struggle to run fast, nothing like back in May during my recce run.  I arrive at checkpoint2 in Boot knowing that there is no way I am going to run as fast as my planned schedule in these wet, soggy conditions. 

Although I spend loads of time planning a race schedule, with the planned time for each leg calculated with some precision, this is all completed weeks in advance of the race.  This is part of the developing positivity, self belief preparation.  I don't actually look at the individual leg planned times in the last few days leading up to the race.  My brother Graham has the time splits, and the plan is to ask him for a time check at Keswick, shortly after checkpoint 5 if I feel I need confirmation on how fast or slow I am running.  This reduced emphasis on actual split times during the race is a new development for me.  It is based on the realisation that it is better to rely on internal feedback during the race rather that any external feedback such as split times.  I know within myself if I am running well or not.  I no longer need a watch to tell me.

The stop at checkpoint 2 at Boot is even more brief.  As I don't particularly enjoy gels, I decide to slowly munch my way through a Cliff Bar during leg 2 instead.  I therefore continually sip water from my Inov8 water pack so no need for a water stop, only need to dib.  As I leave Boot I have been running for 2 hours 16 minutes.  I have no idea how far ahead I am, but I am confident that I can ease of the intensity and start running at a more realistic pace for a 100 mile race.  Leg 3 therefore goes all to plan, with the average heart rate for the leg dropping to 151bpm, but the pace still okay as the terrain underfoot seems not as wet as leg 2.   With the changed course near the end of the leg sending us onto the road rather than running along the stream I am running comfortable and it feels quite quickish.  The GPS later shows a 7:42 mile.

After the initial climbs during leg 1, leg 4 contains two significant passes to cross.  I am looking forward to these passes.  During ultra races I really look forward to the climbs, for a number of reasons.  Firstly the climbs usually result in some tremendous views, and during leg 4 the scenery was fantastic.  The sun was just beginning to / had just set so there was some amazingly light.  Secondly I like hills because you can really work hard up the hill knowing that there is usually a downhill on the other side to regain your breathe.  I also find I can get into a really good rhythms going up hills, without the worry of thinking should I be running harder, that sometimes occurs along flat sections of the course.  Although I am working quite hard up the hills (average HR for one mile uphill being 155bpm), the intention was to again reduce the intensity a bit more during leg 4.

Leaving checkpoint 4 it is now dark.  My plan was to run the first 4 legs at a higher intensity whilst in the light, and then take it easy through the night, before picking it up again Saturday morning.  Leg 5 had another tough climb.  There were also some potentially 'tricky' navigational bits.  Due to my May recce I knew the course, and so far I hadn't needed to look at the map or road book at all.  I didn't need the map again on this leg, but I did focus more to the surroundings, frequently shining my hand torch, in addition to my head torch around me to ensure I don't miss the two key turnoffs.  As I near the the small cairn and sheep scoop I have been running for close to 6 hours.  I glance behind and get my second shock of the day.  There is a torch light coming up the hill which looks no more than 10 minutes away.  Although I hadn't been getting any feedback on how close the runners were behind, I had assumed, that like in many of my other ultra races, they had dropped miles behind, never to be seen again!  Alas, not tonight.  I stay calm, I don't panic.  I decide to maintain my eased off pace for leg 5 to the top of the hill, and then pick it up a bit on the smoothish gentle downhill to Braithwaite.  I arrive at checkpoint 5 without seeing the following torchlight again.  I have a brief chat with the support crew and drink two cups of coke and two cups of water.  I hadn't really been eating much over the last two legs, I recall probably only around 3 - 4 jaffa cakes, so I think now is a good time to drink some coke.  Mixing it 1:1 with water gives it the ideal carbohydrate percentage of around 6%.

As for this race report, the approach I took during the race was to take each leg, one at a time.  I simply looked forward to the next coming leg, not thinking about any other legs that followed.  As I left checkpoint 5, I decided that the following torchlight was too close.  I had eased off to much, so this leg was going to be a higher intensity leg.  The first mile along the road near Keswick feels quite quickish (GPS shows 8:09).   I run hard up the steep climb out of Keswick and then maintain the high intensity on the gentle climb further north.  Although I try to maintain a high intensity on the descent down to checkpoint 6, the heart rate drops.  However, as this leg loops back around, it provides a great opportunity to assess just how far ahead I now am.  I see the torch lights across the valley, although only an estimate, I am pleased that the closest torch light is now definitely over 20 minutes behind.  Alot more reassuring than the close 10 minutes,  halfway though leg 5.  The split time results later confirm that during leg 6 I extended my lead from 12 minutes up to 24 minutes!

Although there is still an urgency to the race, with the other runners not that far behind, over the last few checkpoints my stays have been getting a little bit longer.  Not that I am eating their food, in fact they are a bit upset that all I seem to want is water or coke.  I eat a bit of malt cake at one of the checkpoint, although I recall I didn't like the butter, as I never have butter on anything, (my strive to be skinny!)  I tend to stay longer, more for the company.  Although I am loving every minute of the race so far, it still does get a bit lonely running entirely on my own, with only the reflective eyes from cows and sheep to keep me company.  At around check point 5 or 6 I also realise that the same chap, Martin, has been at all of the check points. He is setting up all of the dibbers.  We chat some more at each checkpoint. After the race he commented to me that he felt that I wasted quite a bit of time at the checkpoints, considering I wasn't needing to stay there as I wasn't eating their food.  I haven't calculated my checkpoint times yet, but I would presume they were probably around 3 - 4 minutes, which when you multiply by 14 checkpoints does contribute significantly to the overall race time.  Whether I think it is worthwhile to shorten the stay, I don't think so as although it costs time being stationary, I think the energy boost I get from the checkpoints, the positivity I receive from the staff as they are focused to assist the lead runner, I think is worth more than the time lost at the checkpoints.
The next two legs, legs 7 and 8 are reasonably long legs, and the aim is to run them comfortably after my hard leg 6.  I reach the top of the Old Coach Road all okay and am cruising along nicely.  Then within it seems only a few minutes, I get really tired in the head.  I begin to feel slow/weakish, a lack of drive!  It is around half past two in the morning.  It feels very similar to how I felt at around the same time in the morning during UTMB, so maybe it is something that occurs at that particular time of night!  I immediately stop running and rest for around 3 - 4 minutes during which time I eat around half a packet of chocolate covered coffee beans.  These are my emergency 'blanket'.  I then continue running very slowly, waiting for the sugar and caffeine to take effect.  Amazingly within 5 - 10 minutes, I am back to normal, and my race is back on track.  Checkpoint 7 quickly arrives and I continue my conversation with Martin, as this time I enjoy eating some of the flapjack that is available at the checkpoint.

Leg 8 starts with a gentle downhill first on the road, and then on single track.  The next section, as the course climbs up to overlook Ullswater is the most spectacular of the entire race.  The sun is beginning to rise over in the East, there are some amazingly colours, and I can see the stillness and quietness of the lake below.  I forget I am in a race and just enjoy the occasion.  Towards the end of leg 8 there are lengthy sections of gentle downhill.  It is during these gentle downhills I notice that my quads are beginning to feel a little bit sore.  I therefore ease of a bit on the downhills and therefore don't make the most of the opportunity to run some quick miles.  Upon arriving at Dalemain I am now over halfway.  I briefly consider this information, but pay it little attention as at this point of the race I am still totally positive.  I am enjoying the race, enjoying having run through the night.  It is daylight again so I am looking forward to more awesome scenery.  By thinking of passing halfway, it can start leading you to start thinking of finishing, of starting to count down the miles.  The moment this starts, everything states going downhill as negativity begins to take over.  No, the key to performance is simple, remain positive, do not let any negative thoughts develop.

Leg 9 commences and again I decide that this leg I need to up the intensity, due to being daylight again, and due to losing time on the gentle descents that I didn't capitalise on.  The results split times confirm that indeed I lost some time on legs 7 and 8, losing to 2nd place runner Andy Mouncey 2 minutes on leg7 and 4 minutes on leg8, although I am still leading by 29 minutes at Dalemain.  During the race I have absolutely no idea of how close the runners behind were, but I don't really need to know.  It is best to simply run my own race, trying to ignore what the other runners are doing.
Leg 9 goes really well, following the gentle climb there is a fast smooth descent to check point 9 at Howtown.  As I start the downhill my quads are really sore.  I decide to run faster to see if this makes it any worse.  In fact running faster makes the quads less painful.  It feels as though I am really flying the two and half miles gentle downhill to the checkpoint.  Unfortunately, the battery on my GPS watch runs at just as the downhill begins so I don't know what actual speed it was.  However, it doesn't matter as I am really buzzing again.  I joke with Martin at the checkpoint that he better not hang around otherwise I will beat him to checkpoint 10 as he has quite a long drive around!  Little did I know what lay ahead, as leg 10 was the only leg that I hadn't recced!

Upon leaving the checkpoint I realise that I am actually quite tired, my fast downhill ,(although the time splits show that I pulled away 16 minutes on Andy during the 6.8 mile leg), it has taken quite a bit out of me.  I walk sections at the bottom of the hill, skirting around the farm and up the gentle valley that I should be running.  I am pleased when the steep hill starts as then there is no choice but walking.  As I reach the top of the climb, I remember back to my recce run, where there was only 20 metres visibility and I was unable to find the track.  I therefore had to abandon the course and get to my car at Mardale Head using a more obvious track.  Again at the top of the hill, at the wall corner, I am unable to find the "obvious track L (NE)"!!!  At least today I can see the direction I need to head off in.  The next section of the course I lose loads of time as I keep on having to check the map and the roadbook, and bush bash through the bracken down to the bridge near Haweswater.  For the first time during the race the positivity is beginning to disappear.  I have a poor section along the edge of the lake to checkpoint 10, losing 17 minutes to Andy. He is now only 28 minutes behind, with 29 miles to go! Along the lake edge I am walking sections that are definitely runnable.  As I treat each leg as a separate identity during the race, upon reaching the checkpoint, I am pleased to see the end of that leg.

Leg 11 begins with some regained positivity.  A new leg, a new mindset.  I enjoy the hill as I know that everyone has to walk the hill, so I will no longer be losing time as I did during the negative mindset of leg 10.  The descent down the other side of Gatescarth Pass starts of steep, which is really painful as my quads are the worse I have ever experienced, heaps more trashed than UTMB!  As the hill flattens out, I try to keep the positive thought in my head that running faster on the descent lessens the soreness.  It doesn't seem to work I make slow progress to the next checkpoint at Kentmere.

I top up on some more energy from the volunteers at the checkpoint, I think a fig roll, plus loads of positivity, as I leave with music from the Proclaimers "Walk 500 miles" being played.  I then enjoy the climb up Garburn Pass, but I am not really moving with any great speed.  I slow even more on the next climb, but before I know it I'm at the Lakeside Store at Ambleside.  A quieter checkpoint after the real buzz of Kentmere, but a quickish top up of water in my bladder, the first time I've needed to top it up, before heading out into the light drizzle which had just commenced during leg 12.

As I start the steep climb out of Ambleside I continue to find it hard to motivate myself to run harder than a casual jog.  At the last two checkpoints I received confirmation that I was around 30 - 45 minutes ahead of 2nd place.  I know that I will not lose that amount of time before the finish at Coniston, so the mind is telling me "Go slow, there is no point in running faster, you have the race won, that was your aim!"  Although, one of the aims was to win the race, I try not to have this as a real focus as this is beyond my control.  It really depends on who turns up.  I rather focus on what I can do, so my aim for the Lakeland 100 was to run as fast and hard as I could.  This would then result in a quick time, which may then end up with me winning the race.  Probably since the start of leg 10 I haven't really been pushing it.  My mind is too much focused on the win, rather than running as hard as I can the entire way!  With lots of determined focus I start to run hard in patches, as a form of compromise with my mind, wanting me to slow.  The one mile flat, smooth section before Elterwater is a good section, as is the descent and bit of flat before checkpoint 14 at Tilberthwaite.  But apart form that, the pace is pretty slow.  Not really due to physical tiredness, although the quads are pretty sore, but more due to a lack of drive, I guess due to mental tiredness, (if we try to split the body and mind apart, although they are really all as one)!

The last leg starts even slower as overall tiredness finally takes over.  I think a lot of this is due to knowing that I am on the last leg.  The race is in the bag, no matter what pace I do for the last three and a half miles, I will win.  With this information, I find it impossible to push myself.  I usually set myself a time target to beat as a method of pushing myself to the end.  But today I aren't even aware of what my likely finish time will be.  I haven't really looked at my watch since leg 9.  This is a real pity, as if I had checked my watch, breaking 24 hours would have been an ideal target.  Instead I pretty well walk the entire way from the steps all the way to the very top, i.e. immediately before the descent down into Coniston.  I finally get moving on the downhill and then pick up a bit of pace along the gravel road, and then through the town to the finish at the school.  My family and a small gathering of people are there to welcome me in.  I cross the finish line with mixed feeling, pleased that I have won, but with disappointment at my lack of drive over the final few stages, especially the 'wimping out' approach on leg 15!

Now, over a week has passed since I finished, and there is still some disappointment, although the sense of satisfaction at winning, far far outweighs the disappointment due to not running hard the whole way.  I subtitled this post "Developing Positivity and Self Belief", so how effective was my preparation?  In terms of developing self belief, very effective.  Apart from the two brief shocks on legs 1 and 5, I never doubted my ability to remain in the front.  My "Run as fast as you can, while you can" approach, really reinforces one's self belief.  Looking at the results, the time splits confirms my view that everyone will slow down the same, no matter what pace they start at.  I gain approximately 4 minutes on each of the first 3 legs over the following group of runners in second place.  Then on legs 4 and 5, a total time of 3 hours and 10 minutes, we ran at an identical pace, so my 12 minutes gained was exactly maintained!

In terms of developing positivity to last the entire race, not so successful.  The last six legs I didn't really push it.  Although I wasn't counting down the miles to the finish, I wasn't getting the usual enjoyment from running hard, as I wasn't running hard!  My sore quads didn't really help, and maybe my over zealous descent on leg 1 may have contributed to the mega-damage that occurred to my quads.  Maybe I had developed too much self belief, as if I was in-destructible!

To summarise, the Lakeland 100 was an absolutely fantastic event.  The organisation was faultless, the atmosphere amongst the volunteers and the other runners and families was tremendous over the entire weekend.  To everyone involved, thanks for contributing to such a great occasion. 

I will sign off with a quote of mine I have referred to on a number of occasion in reference to performing well during ultra trail racing:

"Stay 'within the now' whilst racing. Focus on enjoying every moment, staying confident in that your preparation has been sufficient for the realistic goal you have set yourself, and feel assured that the fast, but comfortable pace you have started at, is correct. Listen to your own 'deep and inner beliefs', and ignore the comments, views and actions of others if they are in conflict with your well thought out and planned strategies." Stuart Mills (2010)
All the best with your preparations for your next race,


Running into Checkpoint 14 Tilberthwaite