Sunday, 3 March 2013

Review of 2012 and Plans for 2013 - "Nothing special – time for a re-think!”

Tonight’s post was meant to be the next instalment of my 35 year review, with years 1993 - 1997. However, with my first race for 2013 taking place tomorrow, Sunday 3rd March, I thought I better do my 2012 review and plans for 2013 blogpost.

My 2011 review was titled “A year of many highs and the occasional low”. As you can see above, my 2012 review is titled “Nothing special – time for a re-think!” Yes, since getting back into racing in 2007, last year was probably the first year where I felt that I didn’t improve. During 2012, I raced less than previous years, with only five races, including two DNFs and only achieved one win!

The year began with sad news regarding my father in law’s health, so we headed to New Zealand at the end of February for three months to spend some time with John before he passed away. Whilst in New Zealand, the Tarawera 100km Trail Ultra Marathon was taking place near to where we were staying, so prior to flying to New Zealand I decided to race the London 50km Ultra as a bit of preparation for the Tarawera Ultra. Unfortunately, at the 7 mile mark of the London Ultra whilst running in the lead bunch, I had to pull out, my first DNF of the year, due to quite severe discomfort from my foot, which was shown on the x-ray as a fracture of my second metatarsal. It was therefore eight weeks without any running, which was actually perfect timing, so family could take priority while in New Zealand.

We returned to the UK at the start of June, and having completed a few weeks of training whilst in New Zealand, I felt that my training was back on track in order to perform well in the Montane Lakeland 100 at the end of July. The Endurancelife Classic Quarter over 44 miles at the end of June was the ideal race to test out where I was at, and a bit of a sharpener for the 100 miler. Out of my five races during 2012, the Classic Quarter, which runs from the most southern point of Britain to the most western point of Britain at Lands End, was easily my best performance of the year. Although my build-up was a bit brief, I ran quite strongly for most of the way, but I did tire a bit over the last ten or so miles. Then with the increasing fatigue, I mistakenly ran off course with around four miles to go so missed the course record by around two minutes. Overall though I was pretty pleased with my run.

I then probably made a mistake with my training. Rather than giving myself time to recover from a pretty demanding six and a half hour race, looking back now, I got back into solid training too soon. I guess it was a feeling of trying to catch up on the eight weeks of training I had lost. Since getting into ultra trail running in 2008, I have typically been a low mileage trainer, around 40 miles per week. However, after an easy week of 38 miles following the Classic Quarter, I then put in a huge (for me!) 82 mile week, which really knocked me! I therefore arrived at the Montane Lakeland 100 three weeks later feeling pretty tired!

With the Lakeland 100 starting on the Friday night, I would typically do my last training run on the Wednesday. My training diary for Wednesday 25th July states “Run 5 miles BM (= by myself) Wealde Way, hot 28. Felt very tired, slow, dead!” I therefore did an additional run on Thursday morning in the hope that I would feel heaps better. “Run 4 miles easy BM Wealde Way. Felt better, but still not great!” So as I stand on the start line at Coniston the next day, I have decided to start at a slower pace, which I did, running 3 minutes slower than my very quick first leg from 2010. So at the end of leg one, I am running okayish in 3rd place. My full race report describes what happens during the next 14 legs, but to summarise in two sentences; I run reasonably well until half way through leg eight, so get to the Dalemain checkpoint at 59 miles in sixth place only 33 minutes behind eventual winner Terry Conway. I then struggle a bit through leg 9, and then ‘the wheels really fall off!’ and during the last six legs to the finish I slow dramatically, and end up finishing 3 hours 55 minutes behind Terry, having lost over 3 hours 20 minutes during the last 45 miles of the race!

So the 2012 Lakeland 100 ended with a 25 minute personal best improvement on my 2010 winning time, so semi-pleasing there. However, since 2010 I had felt that I had come on quite a bit as an ultra trail runner, so I was looking for an improvement measured in hours not minutes! To be honest, to be beaten by so much took a bit to get used to. Ever since I did my first recce run over the course in three consecutive days, back in May 2010, I knew that the Lakeland 100 was a sub 20 hour course. Unfortunately it was Terry, not me that proved this time was possible.

Following the race, for week after week I was pretty shattered! I finally began to feel right luckily a few days before the 3-day Ring O Fire race in Anglesey that totalled 131 miles. I have a great battle with 2:17 marathoner Tom Payn, on the 31 mile day one leg, for over twenty miles before he slowly pulls away from me. However, I finish the day eleven minutes ahead of him, due to him going off-course. Day two starts well, as again I have a good battle with Tom, and then at around the 20 mile mark, I begin to feel really rough and am repeatedly sick and unable to even hold down water. Now I know many ultra runners experience being sick frequently, but for me it was the first time I had ever been sick in a race. So I didn’t respond to it very well and pulled out! My third and only three ever ultra trail DNFs, all within a year!

My last race of the year was at the end of October, my local Beachy Head Marathon. 2012 was my eleventh consecutive running of the marathon, having achieved seven wins and three times finishing second previously.  Leading up to the marathon, my training was going okay, and I even tried out a bit of training in the altitude chamber that we have at the University of Brighton, where I work. Unfortunately, on the day, I just didn’t ‘fire’ until towards the end of the race, so ended up running eight minutes slower than my 2011 time, although I did manage to finish in second place, after pulling myself up from being in sixth place at the 18 mile mark!

So there we have it. Only five race starts during 2012, resulting in only three race finishes. Classic Quarter was pleasing. Lakeland 100 was respectable, but overall a disappointing performance, and Beachy Head, also respectable, but again a disappointing performance.

So at the beginning of December I start planning for 2013. Having made the decision back in September to race the Montane Lakeland 100 in July 2013, rather than return to UTMB, my number one focus race for the yea was therefore decided. What else then? The eight-day Trans Alpine race, that take place the first week of September and travels from Germany to Italy had always been on my to do list. The race is run as a two person team, so during November I approach a few runners of equal running ability as me to see if any of them are keen to team up. For a variety of reasons none of the runners I ask are available for 2013. Rather than ‘widening’ my search for a team mate, I decide that for 2013 the TransAlpine run just isn’t meant to be, and leave it for another year.

One of my favourite ultra races that I have run is the 53 mile Highland Fling, and with this year coinciding with it being the UK Ultra Trail Championships and the Great Britain selection race for the IAU World Ultra Trail Championships, the field should be guaranteed to be really strong.  So I decide to return to Scotland for the third time, having raced it in 2009 and 2011. I therefore need to include one or two races as build-up for the Fling, so adding in my local Beachy Head marathon at the end of October my race calendar for 2013 is near complete. My seven races for the year are:

3rd March – Steyning Stinger Marathon – 26 mile
23rd March – Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon – 26 mile
27th April – Highland Fling – 53 mile
8th June - Endurancelife Classic Quarter - 44 mile
26th July - Montane Lakeland 100 - 104 mile
September – Still to be decided
26th October - Beachy Head Marathon - 26 mile

Next it was thinking time! Having not improved during 2012, combined with being beaten by over three and three quarter hours at Lakeland 100, I really needed to give my planned training for 2013 some serious thought. Since getting into ultra trail racing in 2008, I have spent quite significant amounts of time trying to identify what factors contribute to ultra trail running performance. If you have followed my blog since I started it in March 2010 you will see that my ideas are sometimes in conflict with the commonly accepted beliefs, such as “Run as fast as you can, while you can.” Also, the idea that the majority of your training should be at an easy, relaxed pace, so one is able to run with rhythm and joy rather than it being strenuous and possibly a ‘battle’. But I now find myself with a bit of a dilemma. If I stick to what I have done for the last 5 years, yes I feel I can get back on my upward improvement curve, as I still believe that what I have discovered over the last few years still stands. However, I have realised that in one area, that perhaps I have got it wrong, that area being racing 100 miles!

As I highlighted above, for the last five years I have typically been a low mileage runner, generally around 40 – 50 miles per week, with the weekly mileage gradually increasing over the five years. During these years I have performed reasonably well, especially in ultra trail races up to 50 - 60 miles. However, when it comes to races longer than nine hours, reflecting back in depth, I haven’t really performed to the same level as I have achieved in the shorter ultra trail races. Even though I won the Lakeland 100 in 2010 and finished in 22nd place in UTMB in 2009, my finishing times were significantly slower, two hours plus slower, than my planned finish times. Looking back at what I wrote in my 2011 review post last year I wrote:

“Since I got back into racing in 2007 my mileage has averaged 1935 miles per year, with the last two years being significantly more than they previous three years as illustrated in the figure below. The reason for the increase I guess was the acceptance from 2009 that to perform at the next level up in 100 mile trail races I felt I needed more than 35 miles per week. How much more I don't really know. But I don't think that that much more is needed, as the most important physiological attribute for ultra trail racing is running economy, and this is mainly influenced by the total miles ever run, not specifically in the previous 16 weeks prior to the race.”
I still am convinced that the total miles ever run has a strong influence on ultra trail running performance, but I now feel that to perform at the highest level in 100 mile races, i.e. to achieve sub 20 hours at the Lakeland 100, then a weekly mileage of 40 – 50 miles per week just isn’t enough.

Before, everyone out there deletes UltraStu from their favourites list for my ‘backtracking’ on one of my key philosophies, firstly let me explain. I am talking here of performing at the very highest level. I still strongly believe that 40 – 50 miles per week is plenty enough training, in fact 30 – 40 miles a week is sufficient to perform at a pretty high level, i.e. the top ten percent of the field. And I would also state that probably the main reason why ultra trail runners don’t run as fast as they potentially could is that they do too many miles, without having the sufficient ‘miles in the legs’ and so are often in a state of over training. The run training perhaps becomes a bit of a struggle, and the rhythm, relaxation, and most importantly the joy experienced is at a lower level, and hence a lesser race performance results.

Looking back at all of my long ultra trail races, I have significantly, no more than this! I have massively to a huge degree, slowed during the last third of the race. And why??? I have simply run out of Race Focus Energy! (RFE) And looking at what has caused bme to be RFE depleted, it hasn’t been due to being aerobically unfit, i.e. to do with my VO2 max or lactate threshold, but simply due to the muscle damage that has occurred during the first two thirds of the race. Yes, the consequences of the muscle damage are that I experience quite high levels of muscular discomfort from my legs, which takes a huge amount of RFE to deal with. Therefore even though I am running at an amazingly slow speed and so my heart rate is really low, and hence the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is also really low, the race focus energy to simply maintain this slow pace is still high. It is as if all of my RFE is being used to simply process the discomfort, I therefore have very minimal RFE left to ‘drive’ myself to run fast, or not even to run fast, but to just run faster than a crawl. In terms of my RFE model, the muscle damage within my legs has caused a massive swing of the RPE-RFE arrow upwards!

So what is the solution? Well, as much as the total miles in the legs ever is really important, I now feel that the total miles in the legs over the previous 6 months may have a large affect on the level of muscle damage. But not only the total mileage during the previous six months, but also the total number of long 40 mile plus runs, maybe even the number of ten hour plus runs. How long does a run have to be to help ‘protect’ the legs I don’t know. This year it will just have to be a bit of trial and error.

So back at the start of December as I started planning for 2013, I decide now is a good time to try something different. Yes, I could continue like I have done for the last five years, likely to improve my Lakeland 100 time by a further 30 minutes in 2013, but a time of 23 hours is no longer competitive. And one of the reasons I love ultra trail running so much is the competitive element. So my new strategy for 2013, simple, try to achieve a weekly mileage of around 100 miles a week!

Yes, a big gamble, being a huge jump from 40 – 50 miles per week, up to 90 – 100 miles, but back in December I decided that it was worthwhile taking this gamble. Fortunately I have the Sportwise Sports Injury Clinic directly beneath me at work, and so I have been seeing my physio Luke, (who just happens to be taking on a massive challenge at the moment, running seven of the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Marathons in seven consecutive months), for preventative treatment. So he helps reduce any tension that is starting to develop with a million and one acupuncture needles. Three months into the new regime, and all is going well. In fact I am quite surprised just how well I have responded. The passion and enjoyment I am getting from my running at the moment is at a real high. It is great that after 35 years of endurance sport, I am still discovering new challenges and still learning and growing!

At the same time as increasing my mileage, I have also been experimenting with my diet. I know the basics regarding nutrition, I have a reasonable diet, but that’s about it. So I have been reading and listening a bit regarding nutrition, and when sports nutritionalist Barry Murray beats you my nearly two hours in a race, one begins to pay a lot more attention to his ideas. His website is worth looking at, as is listening to his excellent interview on TalkUltra last October. Like I mention above, my understanding of nutrition has been a bit lacking, however, I have been working on this as well as my physical training, also hoping that it will help lead to a significant improvement in my 100 mile racing performance during 2013.

Well, there you go, my review of 2012, and my plans for 2013. Better late than never! Just to finish off with some statistics:

First statistic: Total Mileage = 2115 miles. This consisted of 229 runs so an average of 9.2 miles per run, and with a weekly average of 40.7 miles. Comparing to 2011, the weekly mileage average is less, however, bearing in mind that following my fractured foot I didn’t run for eight weeks, the actual average miles per run at 9.2 miles is the highest it has been during the last five years.

2012 - 229 runs, 137 rest days, total 2115 miles, average of 9.2 miles per run
2011 - 259 runs, 106 rest days, total 2217 miles, average of 8.6 miles per run
2010 - 260 runs, 105 rest days, total 2276 miles, average of 8.8 miles per run
2009 - 195 runs, 170 rest days, total 1783 miles, average of 9.1 miles per run
2008 - 199 runs, 167 rest days, total 1806 miles, average of 9.1 miles per run.

This mileage of 2115 miles was only 102 miles less than 2011, basically on ten months training, and was my 7th highest running mileage year since I started training in 1978, with the previous highest years being: 6th 2167 (1980), 5th 2217 (2011), 4th 2276 (2010), 3rd 2300 (1983), 2nd 2520 (1981) and 1st 2588 (1984).

Looking at last year’s review I broke the year down into each month to give a better overall picture of my training. Well those of you who keep up to date with my blog will realise that I didn’t actually post this blog on Saturday night. No I started it last night, got quite some way through it, but with having a race this morning I didn’t really want a late night. Hence, this post is already a day late! Hopefully I will add the monthly schedule in my next post.

Time to sign off: “One of the great joys of endurance running, specifically ultra trail running, is that one never stops learning. There is always the opportunity to experiment with different approaches to training, racing or nutrition, in order to continually challenge oneself.” Stuart Mills, 2013.

All the best as you challenge yourself during 2013.


PS Quick update on this morning’s Steyning Stinger Marathon. The Steyning Stinger marathon, is an undulating trail marathon held in Sussex within the South Downs National Park, and involves sections of the South Downs Way. Being within a National Park, the course is very scenic, and overall a great event. I have raced it three times before, with my most recent time being 2 hours 59 minutes, way back in 2006. Today’s race was all about extending myself, pushing myself hard for 26 miles. So this morning, there was plenty of puffing and blowing, as I had a real battle on my hands, racing against a youngish guy I didn’t recognise. I’ll go into more details in my race report later in the week, but I had a pleasing run, managing to win by probably around 40 seconds in a time of 3:03:37.


  1. A good write up, well done this weekend. How have you found your changes in diet so far?

    See you at Sussex CTS.


  2. Great write up Stuart; some really interesting observations there. I love it that "fun" is still at the cornerstone of your training. Good luck in 2013.

  3. I was the 'youngish guy' at Steyning. Thanks for a competitive race. My race report:
    Jonny Muir

  4. Good to see your new approach taking shape mate. Just read Jonnys blog of the stinger race cant wait to hear yours now. Well done for win no1 of 2013

    Hannah Burnham and i got in a 7 and a 14.6m over the weekend (yep our best estimates for the loop were a little out too)

    See you Saturday

  5. Hi, Thanks for the above comments.

    Paul my changes to my diet are going well. My main change is now doing my long runs without breakfast and with no fuel during. My body and mind seem to adapted to this really well. I will maybe expand on this is a future post.

    Yes, Steve, the enjoyment aspect as to at the cornerstone of training and racing, as enjoyment influences so much.

    Jonny, thanks for the great race on Sunday, and your well written race report. I wish my race reports could be as concise as yours. With regards to resolving the 'what if' from last weeks race, how about racing the Endurancelife Sussex coastal Trail Marathon at the end of the month and we can battle again over 26 miles. Although Endurancelife events are famous for being over distance, plus the Sussex course has loads of turns so potentially more possibilities to go off route.

    I look forward to racing you again in the future.

    And Kev, yes see you Saturday for a long run.