Wednesday, 17 April 2013

TORQ Trail Running Team - The Enjoyment of the Trail Running Community

It should be a short post tonight, looking back at my enjoyable time at the TORQ Trail Running Team day in Shropshire last weekend.  And don't worry, there are no academic journal articles tonight, so hopefully it won't feel like 'school work'!
Yes, last weekend was the second TORQ Trail Running Team day following on from the successful first TORQ Trail Team day at London two weeks earlier, which I commented on in an earlier post.  The venue was the Ratlinghope Youth Hostel over the hill from Church Stretton.  I arrived late Friday afternoon, having travelled up with Simon and Julie from freestak, the two people that created the concept of the TORQ Trail Running Team.  Upon arriving I recognise a familiar face, Simon, who I had met at a trail running camp out in France back in 2011.  There were a few other runners that had arrived early, so a small group of us headed into the very undulating, no, rather hilly, surrounding countryside to stretch the legs.
 Fridays Run in the Snow
During the run I got talking to Mike Evans from Wales, who as part of his 'taper' for the London Marathon had won a 32 mile trail race the weekend before.  Mike told me about how he had been running marathons for years, had  a PB of 2:32, had run in the 2:30s about eight times, but had never broken the magical 2:30 barrier.  So I started questioning him regarding why?  Why no sub 2:30?  Could it be his pacing?  Could it be that he always tried to achieve the negative split, which is 95% guaranteed to fail!  No, there were other reasons, not pacing, that had resulted in a lack of a sub 2:30 time.  As it transpired, or perhaps Mike was just agreeing with me to 'keep me happy', but we came to the same conclusion on what would be an ideal half marathon time which would result in a sub 2:30 time.  So, Mike is just one of many runners I met during the weekend who I will be following this Sunday.  No pressure now Mike, with the whole world, well maybe not that many, perhaps only in the thousands / hundreds(?) of blog followers who will now be tracking your progress on Sunday.
Following an enjoyable hostel meal, it was off to the local pub, a walk of 100 metres, to sample some of the local beers, and to talk, yes you guessed it, talk trail running all night.  Over the weekend I spoke to loads of runners, most with some amazing achievements, not just running, including getting to the top of Everest.  So as you can imagine, with there being fifty high level achievers, the energy the entire weekend was pretty unreal!
Saturday morning, some of the 15 or so runners that had stayed the night at the hostel had gone out quite early to get a few miles in.  Since the day wasn't starting until after 10am I headed out a little later, just for a gentle hour or so with two other runners, Simon, a local from the area, and Matty, a kiwi from Hokitika.  The surrounding area was fantastic, loads of trails, loads of climbing, and still plenty of snow on the ground.    It was then back to the hostel ready for a presentation by Ben from TORQ, and then my presentation.
Ben's talk went really well and created some discussion regarding the trade-off between consuming carbohydrate food during ultra trail races, which is the best fuel, compared to consuming less ideal food for fuelling, but which is heaps more enjoyable, so results in psychological benefits. As with most things related to trail running, one really needs to experiment and try things with an open mind.
It was then my turn, Julie introduced me, explaining how she had first met be on the 4:00am bus ride from Lands End to the start line of the Endurancelife Classic Quarter last June.  She experienced my talking for close to an hour on the bus, so when her and Simon were thinking of a trail runner to do a talk for the TORQ days, I immediately came to mind.  Back in London, I was allocated 1 hour 15 minutes and went slightly over time.  So for Shropshire I was allocated 1 hour 30 minutes.  I therefore started my talk at a relaxed, comfortable pace, knowing with the extra fifteen minutes I would have plenty of time.  Well what a mistake!  I should have stuck to my philosophy for ultra trail racing "Go as fast as you can, while you can!"  As before I knew it, one and a half hours were up, and I was only two thirds through my slides!  Apart from my timing, the talk went pretty well, and it achieved what I had set out for it to achieve, i.e. to get the audience to question their approach to training, to racing.  To highlight that there are alternative approaches.
 Confusion! Someone Isn't Totally Convinced!
I think I got one or two of my key messages across, in that ones performance is massively influenced by ones self-expectations, and the importance of focusing on positivity and not letting negativity have an impact.  However, due to my poor pacing, I didn't really have time to explain strategies to develop heightened self-expectations and strategies to maximise positivity.  So below are a few slides that I didn't have time to explain.
So developing Race Focus Endurance is the key to trail running performance.  And as the slide directly above states there are two aspects, preparation prior to race day, and then strategies during the actual race.  In terms of preparation, obviously improving physiological fitness is important, but it isn't the only thing to focus on whilst preparing.  I didn't have time to explain my concepts on physical preparation during the weekend's presentation, and so I summarised very concisely with the statement "In terms of physical training, it doesn't really matter what you do, you just have to do it!"  In essence this short statement is reasonably true, in that often people make physical training a lot more complicated than it actually needs to be.  They will scrutinise other peoples training plans, ideas, and often want to include every type of physical training possible, and then still think they need to do more, or haven't done it right.  In terms of physical training there are some important principles, so the phase "it doesn't really matter what you do" I guess is a bit misleading.  But as long as one uses their commonsense and doesn't attempt to do too much, or too little, then they shouldn't go too far wrong.  
I seem to getting myself in a mess here "too much or too little" how do you know???  I guess the best solution is to come along to the South Downs Ultra Trail Running Camp, that I am leading that takes place within the National Trust Slindon Estate, near Arundel, Sussex, on the 21st - 23rd June 2013.  The intention is to live, talk, eat, experience, and sleep trail running for the entire weekend.  So there will be more than enough time to have all of your questions answered, hopefully!  Click the following link to get to the Trail Running Sussex website  to obtain more information on what the Running Camp involves.
In terms of preparation, it is important that you carry out research on the demands of the race, so you are totally aware of what you may encounter.  Encountering the unexpected whilst racing tends to reduce performance.  Carrying out TOTAL preparation will hopefully result in increased confidence, which is an extremely important commodity that is needed in order to maximise ones performance.
In terms of strategies to respond to the challenges you will encounter whilst racing.  Remember the idea of a race is to challenge yourself.  So it should get challenging, which is a much more positive expression than "finding it hard or tough", or the very negative expressions "hurting or painful"!  Terminology is important, so use positive terminology all of the time.  So strategies that will enhance performance, are heavily focused on visualisations.  Visualising what could happen during the race, the many possibilities, the many challenges one could face, and then visualise the positive response to them all.  A simple concept, but often quite difficult to carry out.  Somehow the negative response seems to try to dominate.  As with most training, it takes time for the benefits to eventuate.  Hopefully the above slides and brief comments help fill some gaps, especially to those runners that were present during the weekend.
After the trail runners had displayed true ultra qualities through enduring me going on and on and on, we all headed off for a, yes, hilly run.  But by now the glorious blue sky and sunshine from the morning had been replaced with wind and rain.  Although it didn't seem to 'dampen' any ones spirits.
 Saturday Afternoons Run - Still All Smiles in the Rain
Following another great night in the pub chatting non stop, come Sunday morning there were I guess around 30 runners that had stayed for a choice of three runs, of different distances and speeds.  Not sure whether it was the planned duration of four hours, or that the group I was in was being led by Jon Hedger, the winner of the 2012 Osmotherley Phoenix 33 mile Ultra Trail race, but our group consisted of only five runners, with the majority of the runners going in the 2 - 3 hour groups.
 Sunday Mornings Awesome Run
Anyway, Jon a local, was a fantastic guide.  He took us on an amazingly scenic route around Church Stretton, where we summited many steep hills.  The first hour was pretty solid, as everyone wasn't really sure at what pace to run at, and off course none of us wanted to acknowledge that the pace was pretty quickish.  Luckily, the pace then settled down, as we continued our great tour of the undulating countryside.  The weather was variable in terms of sunshine and showers, but not in terms of the wind.  I would have to say that the wind was pretty well the strongest I have run in whilst living in Britain.  It reminded me of good old windy Wellington, back home in New Zealand.
 Struggling to Stay Upright in the Wind! With James Harris (red top), Jon Hedger, and Dwane Dixon (black)
After over three hours of running, we started climbing the last big hill of the day.  With it being two weeks out from my first key race of the year, the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling, and with this run going to be my last bit of strenuous training, I felt I needed a bit of a blast out, to finish off my 18 weeks of consistent quality physical training.  So being well aware that I could be setting myself up for a tough battle, as there had been a little bit of 'smack talk' during the run, as the gradient of the hill steepened, I simply maintained my pace.  Expecting the other guys, especially Australian Dwane , to take up a Kiwi - Aussie battle, I was prepared for a good ten minutes or so of focus.  Unfortunately, or actually more probably fortunately, none of the other four runners took my increase in intensity as a challenge, and they maintained their sensible pace to the top, and were most likely thinking "Bloody Kiwi, he should know better, to keep the racing to race day!"
So another tremendous weekend as I experienced the great friendship of the Trail Running Community.  Yes, one may focus on the performance aspect of the racing, or on the scenery, adventure aspect of the outdoor environment, but often the most rewarding aspect of ultra trail running is simply feeling part of a supportive friendly community.
I hope what has been initiated over these two TORQ Trail Running Team days, is just the start.  I am looking forward to many more great weekends full of positivity, either associated with the TORQ Trail Running Team, or otherwise.
Hopefully see you out on the trails somewhere, sometime.
PS  I nearly forgot to sign off without a quote.  So here is one I have used before, probably twice before, but I think worth repeating again.  Taken from one of my presentation slides last weekend.

“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.”
(What Determines Performance in Ultra Running? - Part Two – UltraStu, May 2010)
PPS I received an e-mail the other day from ultra trail runner Andy Mouncey and he asked if I could spread the word regarding his latest project.  His new project involves writing another ultra trail running book, following on from his Magic, Madness and UltraMarathon Running book.  This time the book will include short case studies from ultrarunners of all abilities.  So Andy is looking for ultra runners to contribute to the book.  Below are the details he sent me.

Wanted: Ultrarunning Life Through Your Lens

Andy has been commissioned by Crowood Publishing to write a new ‘How To’ book about ultrarunning. The book will include short case studies from ultrarunners of all abilities on a specific topic e.g.
  • Work-Life-Running Balance
  • Why I Do It/How I’m Different Now
  • 3 Things I Know Now That I Wish I Had When I Started
  • Lessons From My Success
  • Lessons From My DNFs
  • Building Confidence
  • Eating & Drinking On The Move
  • Living With An Ultrarunner: The Significant Other Speaks
Submissions should be 250-500 words long on a WORD document to a template Andy will specify.
You will receive a free 45 minute coaching call with Andy worth £49.00 by way of thank you.
If you would like to contribute part of your experience please email Andy.  His e-mail address is 

1 comment:

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