Thursday, 28 March 2013

A Continuation of Changes and Progress - Thoughts on Nutritional Strategies and the Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon Race Report

Hi, some of my thoughts on nutrition tonight, and then race report number two for 2013,
Three weeks ago my Steyning Stinger Marathon race report included some details regarding my changed approach to physical training for 2013.  Well tonight’s Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon race report will also include some details regarding changes I have made to my nutrition for 2013.  Well it was meant to be some details on nutrition, but I got carried away a bit, so the actual Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon race report doesn't start for ages!  If you aren't really interested in my thoughts regarding nutrition, skip the first bit, and look for the heading titled Race Report Finally!
It was on one of the Lakleand 100 recce runs back in June 2011 when I first met ultra trail runner Barry Murray from Optimum Nutrition 4 Sport.  We were running from Pooley Bridge to Ambleside, and whilst going up the first gentle climb the two of us slowly moved ahead of the small group we has started with.  We got talking, and around five or so hours later I was a bit more knowledgeable when it came to sports nutrition for endurance running.  Yes, it was a fortunate meeting, as Barry not only comes across as pretty 'switched on', but he is able to explain it well, supported with some evidence/science, combined with his own personal experiences.  So since then I have been giving more thought to my nutrition, not that I hadn't previously, but now I was a bit more open minded as there appeared to be quite a bit more new stuff taking place, since I had last read the sports nutrition literature back in the late nineties whilst I was doing my sports science masters degree.
Looking back at a blog post I wrote shortly after the 2010 Lakeland 100 I discussed what I had consumed during the race.  Not much really, especially for the last 40 - 50 miles, as I was running so slowly that there wasn't really the demand, the need to consume loads.  I have also identified in a previous post that nutrition/fuelling is one of the key factors that you need to get right in order to perform at ultra trail running.  So paying it a little more attention this year, fitted in with my new approach for 2013 of making big changes if appropriate.
So combined with listening to a few podcasts, discussing it with training partner Kev on Saturday morning runs, and searching through some of the latest scientific articles, the idea of doing long training runs whilst in a fasted state seemed to appeal.  My wife Frances, who is really into her nutrition, had already got me off the cardboard cereals for breakfast, and I was now consuming porridge, soaked overnight in a bit of yogurt, with ground linseed's mixed in after cooking.  The rationale for the porridge rather than cardboard cereal was something about a slower energy release, so not getting the spike in blood glucose and insulin,  Anyway, I then thought it was time to start doing the morning runs without any breakfast.  I remember that back in around May/June 2011, that I had experimented with doing a long training run without feeding, although I did have cereal for breakfast prior to starting.  On the long 40 mile run, I got to around the 25 mile mark on the run, and I was 'woossey' in the head.  I had to take on board an energy bar I was carrying, and then I got some chocolate and Lucozade was the Golf Pro shop I shortly ran past.  So back then, I clearly needed to consume carbohydrate for a long run.  It appeared that my body and mind was not capable of completing a long run without carbohydrate.  It didn't need much, as demonstrated by my three day Lakeland 100 recce run and the actual 2010 race, but it needed some carbohydrate.  Back then I barely trained for longer than 18 - 20 miles, so never taking on board carbohydrate during a long run never seemed to be a problem, but thinking back now, I do remember beginning to struggle at the end of some of my 18 - 20 milers.
Back to the present day, come the end of 2012, I am keen to give this fasted running a go.  I start with my long Saturday morning runs, all goes well.  I then decide to try it out whilst up in the Lake District for the January Lakeland 100 recce.  Saturday morning, I skip breakfast and run on my own for around 14 miles, over leg 5 and then back to Buttermere YHA via the road.  Again all is fine.  Then the big test, on the Sunday the recce run of 27 miles, legs 1 - 4 from Coniston to Buttermere, whilst fasted and without fuelling.  There is a long bus journey to take us from Buttermere to the start.  So we don't start running until 9:45am.  I have a great run with John and Tom, including running through the snow, for five and a half hours, and only consume water during the undulating 27 miles.  So it is 3:15pm when we finish, so those that know the route will see that we weren't really 'hanging around', but everything was absolutely fine, no lack of energy, no tiredness, all good.  So from the end of November / start of December when I consistently introduced fasted runs on Saturdays and Sundays, and typically on one morning run during the week.  The rest of the time I would run during the day, so would be running not in a fasted state.  Within quite a short space of time, based on my Jnauary Lakeland 100 recce experience, it appeared that my body and mind had already adapted, so completing a long run fasted and no fuelling ,was now totally manageable.

So what is the purpose, the gain in doing long runs, after an overnight fast?  Well the key is, supported by the latest research, that the body adapts and then becomes more efficient at utilising fat as a fuel, rather than using the limited bodies carbohydrate stores.  There are quite a few recent papers that confirm this, with one titled "Training with Low Muscle Glycogen Enhances Fat Metabolism in Well-Trained Cyclists" being written (first author) by one of my ex-students from Worcester, Carl Hulston.  He has done really well for himself, having gained a PhD at Birmingham working with Asker Jeukendup, (a bit of a sports nutrition guru), and Carl is now back at Birmingham after spending some time researching in Denmark.  One interesting point from Carl's article is that they created a low muscle glycogen state in the cyclists by getting them to do a hard training session in the morning, and then prevented them from consuming carbohydrate during the intervening time, before their afternoon training session.  So this method, and the overnight fasting method, are typically the two approaches used to encourage fat metabolism.  Looking at the scientific literature, all of the biochemical markers indicate that it works.  Here is the abstract (summary) of the study:
HULSTON, C. J., M. C. VENABLES, C. H. MANN, C. MARTIN, A. PHILP, K. BAAR, and A. E. JEUKENDRUP. Training with Low Muscle Glycogen Enhances Fat Metabolism in Well-Trained Cyclists. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 42, No. 11, pp. 2046–2055, 2010. Purpose: To determine the effects of training with low muscle glycogen on exercise performance, substrate metabolism, and skeletal muscle adaptation. Methods: Fourteen well-trained cyclists were pair-matched and randomly assigned to HIGH- or LOW glycogen training groups. Subjects performed nine aerobic training (AT; 90 min at 70% V˙ O2max) and nine high-intensity interval training sessions (HIT; 8 5-min efforts, 1-min recovery) during a 3-wk period. HIGH trained once daily, alternating between AT on day 1 and HIT the following day, whereas LOW trained twice every second day, first performing AT and then, 1 h later, performing HIT. Pretraining and posttraining measures were a resting muscle biopsy, metabolic measures during steady-state cycling, and a time trial. Results: Power output during HIT was 297 + 8 W in LOW compared with 323 + 9 W in HIGH (P < 0.05); however, time trial performance improved by 10% in both groups (P < 0.05). Fat oxidation during steady-state cycling increased after training in LOW (from 26 + 2 to 34 + 2 KmolIkgj1Iminj1, P G< 0.01). Plasma free fatty acid oxidation was similar before and after training in both groups, but muscle-derived triacylglycerol oxidation increased after training in LOW (from 16 + 1 to 23 + 1 KmolIkgj1Iminj1, P < 0.05). Training with low muscle glycogen also increased A-hydroxyacyl-CoA-dehydrogenase protein content (P < 0.01). Conclusions: Training with low muscle glycogen reduced training intensity and, in performance, was no more effective than training with high muscle glycogen. However, fat oxidation was increased after training with low muscle glycogen, which may have been due to the enhanced metabolic adaptations in skeletal muscle.
So Carl's study shows that the low muscle glycogen training enhanced fat oxidation, although there was actually no greater improvement in performance, as a result of the limited carbohydrate availability training.  One needs to look at the duration of the performance test, it was  "a 60-min steady-state cycle test at the same absolute workload as baseline measures (i.e., approximately 70% of pretraining V˙ O2max). This was immediately followed by a time trial designed to last approximately 60 min."  So therefore the true benefits of improved fat oxidaton may not have had the opportunity to improve performance as the intensity of the performance test was too high, with the duration being too short.  But when it comes to ultra trail racing, where the intensity is substantially lower, one would expect that improved performance would result, although to date, not demonstrated within the literature, mainly due to the difficulty in setting up a controlled study.  One intersting aside is that the performance improvements were the same for both training interventions, even though the intensity of training in the low muscle glycogen state was significantly lower.  A nice reminder that performance is influenced by more than simply the amount or the intensity of the physical training.

Here is the abstract/summary, from another study from 2010:
Van Proeyen K, Szlufcik K, Nielens H, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state. J Appl Physiol 110: 236–245, 2011. First published November 4, 2010; doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00907.2010.—Training with limited carbohydrate availability can stimulate adaptations in muscle cells to facilitate energy production via fat oxidation. Here we investigated the effect of consistent training in the fasted state, vs. training in the fed state, on muscle metabolism and substrate selection during fasted exercise. Twenty young male volunteers participated in a 6-wk endurance training program (1–1.5 h cycling at 70%V ˙ O2max, 4 days/wk) while receiving isocaloric carbohydrate-rich diets. Half of the subjects trained in the fasted state (F; n = 10), while the others ingested ample carbohydrates (CHO) before (160 g) and during (1 g•kg body wt_1•h_1) the training sessions (CHO; n = 10). The training similarly increased V ˙ O2max (+9%) and performance in a 60-min simulated time trial (+8%) in both groups (P < 0.01). Metabolic measurements were made during a 2-h constant-load exercise bout in the fasted state at 65% pretraining V ˙ O2max. In FASTED, exercise-induced intramyocellular lipid (IMCL) breakdown was enhanced in type I fibers (P < 0.05) and tended to be increased in type IIa fibers (P = 0.07). Training did not affect IMCL breakdown in CHO. In addition, FASTED (+ 21%) increased the exercise intensity corresponding to the maximal rate of fat oxidation more than did CHO (+6%) (P < 0.05). Furthermore, maximal citrate synthase (+47%) and -hydroxyacyl coenzyme A dehydrogenase (+34%) activity was significantly upregulated in F (P < 0.05) but not in CHO. Also, only FASTED prevented the development exercise-induced drop in blood glucose concentration (P < 0.05). In conclusion, FASTED is more effective than CHO to increase muscular oxidative capacity and at the same time enhances exercise induced net IMCL degradation. In addition, FASTED but not CHO prevented drop of blood glucose concentration during fasting exercise.  
Anyway, enough of the scientific writing, does it actually improve endurance running performance?  Well, firstly one needs to do some more reading, and some thinking!  The duration, and the intensity the race is run at largely influences the bodies ability to metabolise fuel, and it's demand for the different types of fuel, i.e. carbohydrate or fat.  Now when racing 100 mile trail races, in all of my experiences I have slowed down massively, and I mean mega massively slowed down during the last 40 or so miles.  to such an extent, that I am going so slow that I don't really need to take on much food, as the intensity is so low, that the body can function on fat with no problems.  Although I do remember reading in my Astrand  and Astrand exercise physiology text book from the eighties, that "fat burns within a carbohydrate flame", so there is still the need to burn some carbohydrate.  But I am now beginning to think that due to my "run as fast as you can, while you can" approach to pacing an ultra, my intensity for the first few hours is pretty high, so I will be metabolising quite a bit of carbohydrate, so perhaps the benefits described within the scientific journals from fasted / low glycogen training could be beneficial even in 100 mile ultras, if working at a reasonably high intensity.  For marathon racing, where the duration is significant less in time, typically around 3 hours for a trail marathon for me, then likely benefits from enhanced fat metabolism would be expected.   What do the elite endurance runners do?  I don't really know in terms of ultra trail runners, but this increased focus on fat burning does appear to be the 'buzz' approach within ultra trail running circles at the moment.  In terms of marathon runners, well it also seems to be quite common.  A nice review paper written by L.M. Burke in 2010 stated:
In real life, most elite athletes practice an intricate periodization of both diet and exercise loads within their training program, which may change within a macrocycle or microcycle. Either by intent or for practicality, some training sessions are undertaken with low carbohydrate status (overnight fasting, several sessions in the day, little carbohydrate intake during the workout), while others are undertaken using strategies that promote carbohydrate status (more recovery time, post-meal, carbohydrate intake during the session). It makes sense that sessions undertaken at lower intensity or at the beginning of a training cycle are most suited, or perhaps, least disadvantaged by ‘‘train low’’ strategies. Conversely, ‘‘quality’’ sessions done at higher intensities or in the transition to peaking for competition are likely to the best undertaken with  better fuel support.
But the best indication that this nutritional strategy improves performance is an excellent article from 2012 titled "Case Study: Nutrition and Training Periodization in Three Elite Marathon Runners" written byTrent Stellingwerff.  The article is fantastic, well worthy of having a read.  Here are some key bits regarding the nutrition:

Well I was going to paste a few sentences from the article, but there was just too much good stuff to paste.  I am very fortunate that I can get access to the scientific articles through my day job as a University lecturer in sports science.  It is tempting to simply provide the PDF document to you, but this would be breaking copyright laws and abusing the privileged position I have.  But I have just searched the web, and someone else has broken the copyright laws by posting the PDF document onto a web page.  So to read this great article click this following link,  Well written applied articles like this don't come much better!

So to summarise, this nutritional strategy to encourage fat metabolism, (emphasised more during the early and middle stages of a 16 week marathon build-up), but then to modify the nutrition to focus on carbohydrate feeding whilst training leading immediately up to the marathon race, appears to be adopted by elite marathons, well at least the three elite Canadian marathon runners referred to within the article: Reid Coolsaet, Dylan White and Rob Watson.  The times they ran for the marathon at the end of  the 16 weeks training which was covered in the article were 2:11:23, 2:12;:39, and 2:16:17, but all three runners have since improved their PBs to 2:10:55, 2:10:47, and 2:13:37.  The quickest Canadian marathon runners for some time!  By the way Reid Coolsaet ran at the London Olympic Marathon finishing in 27th place.  As an aside, click this link to access an excellent magazine/news article I recently discovered when researching these guys which describes Reid Coolsaet obtaining the qualifying tome for London.  Again, another great article!

Within the case study article, it describes how for the three runners during the 16 weeks, there were in total 606 training sessions.  Of these there were 107 low carbohydrate availability training sessions, of which 11 of these were reduced glycogen training, and 96 were morning fasted training. The runners completed most of the low carbohydrate availability training sessions during the first 12 weeks of the 16 week training programme. Within the literature there is also some interesting articles that indicate that there appears to be a relationship between the amount of carbohydrate consumed DURING a marathon/ironman with the finishing time,  Those runners that consume the most carbohydrate during the marathon/ironman, have a quicker finishing time, as illustrated in the image below.

Initially I was a bit sceptical regarding this relationship, as just because there is a relationship it doesn't mean that it is causal, i.e. it could be that just by chance it is the more seriously training athletes that have read the literature so are aware of the perceived benefits of taking on board carbohydrate, so it is not in fact the carbohydrate consumption that has caused the quicker time, but the influence of the more seriously trained athletes have in fact read more and therefore consume more carbohydrate.  Anyway, that was my initial thoughts, but more searching of the literature indicates that there have been multiple studies that have shown that there is a direct relationship in terms of grams of carbohydrate consumed per hour and performance.  With one very recent article by Smith et al (February, 2013) concluding:

We estimate incremental performance improvements of 1.0%, 2.0%, 3.0%, 4.0%, and 4.7% at 9, 19, 31, 48, and 78 grams per hour, respectively, with diminishing performance enhancement seen at carbohydrate levels >78 grams per hour. Carbohydrate beverage ingestion and endurance (160 min) performance appear to be related in a curvilinear dose–response manner, with the best performance occurring with a Carbohydrate (1:1:1 glucose–fructose–maltodextrin) ingestion rate of 78 grams per hour.
The three Canadian marathon runners in the case study article are also aware of the need to consume a large amount of carbohydrate DURING the marathon race.  Previously it was thought that the maximum amount of carbohydrate able to be oxidized was 60 grams per hour, being limited by the intestinal absorption of the carbohydrate. However, it has recently been shown that when fructose is ingested along with glucose, then the oxidation rate can increase up to 90 grams per hour, due to the fructose using different transporters.  Hence you will now see that many of the carbohydrate gels now use a combination of typically 2:1 ratio of glucose polymer: fructose.  Just one last bit of research to finish off with, it appears the the gut is trainable in terms of its ability to absorb carbohydrate.  Therefore, training within a fasted low carbohydrate availability state seems to be in conflict with the principle of specificity.  The dilemma goes like something like this; in order to improve fat utilisation, beneficial for endurance performance, one needs to train without taking on board carbohydrate.  However, then come race day, when evidence clearly shows that carbohydrate feeding will enhance performance, with the more carbohydrate the better the performance, combined with the fact that the rate of carbohydrate absorption is trainable, i.e. will improve if carried out during training, then surely one must train consuming carbohydrates!  This is where looking at the nitty gritty of the research is important.  Apparently, the improved carbohydrate transportability/oxidisation only requires four weeks of training, therefore, just as athletes will use periodisation in terms of their physical training, then periodisation is also required in terms of their nutritional strategies.  The Canadian case study clearly demonstrates this nutritional periodisation, where the majority of the low carbohydrate availability training sessions took place in weeks 1 - 12, and then for the last four weeks, the frequency of the carbohydrate fuelling sessions substantially increased, and the runners were encouraged to consume carbohydrate in every training session longer than 75 minutes.

Well, a bit of a side track there leading into my Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon race report.  So lets finally get this race report started, where hopefully I will integrate some of my nutritional experiences for 2013 into the report.

Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Marathon Race Report FINALLY!!!

The Sussex coastal trail races were venue number eight from a total of eleven venues for the 2012/13 coastal trail series. At each venue there is a choice of from 10km, half marathon, marathon, and 33 mile ultra distance races to opt for. I decided that the marathon distance would be ideal preparation for my first key race of the year, the 53 mile Highland Fling, five weeks later. I had completed the inaugural Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Marathon back in 2011, but missed last year's event due to being in New Zealand. For 2012, the course had been slightly shortened from the over-long 28 miles in 2011, and therefore my winning time from 2011 was no longer the course record. This year's course was the same as 2012, so during my preparation, I set myself a target to try to 'keep me honest' and not to 'slacken off' like I usually tend to, to help me work hard the entire way. The target set was to ensure that I ran faster than the 2012 winning time.

As opposed to the Steyning Stinger marathon three weeks earlier, when I trained hard/long right up to race day, for the Sussex Coastal Marathon I adopted a mini taper. The reason for this was to help ensure that I performed well on the day. With it only being five weeks until the Highland Fling, I felt that it would be more beneficial to feel positive from a strong run, and that this positivity would be far more helpful towards improving my Fling performance. More than any gains I may get from doing a bit more physical training. Remember training needs to be TOTAL training, not just physical!

As I am sitting in my car, keeping away from the freezing strong chilly wind, I am 'well up' for a solid run.  The fact that it is going to be arctic conditions doesn't distract me,  I am focused for a continuation of my forward and upward progress of 2013.  Again as similar to the Steyning Marathon, with it being quite, no extremely chilly, I have a dilemma over what to wear.  Endurancelife races require you to carry/wear specified clothing, and a pack with mobile phone, foil blanket, whistle etc.  Originally I was going to carry the awesomely tiny and lightweight Montane Slipstream GL Jacket within my recently purchased UltrAspire Synapse Bottle Waist Pack,  However, having been out in the wind walking back from registration, the conditions reminded me of the 2010 Hardmoors 55 mile race, where similar to today, it was only about one degree, but I had to resort to racing with all of my emergency clothing on, and with a balaclava on, and I was still cold.  So for the first time ever, I started a race wearing tights.  Luckily, I had just received Montane's newest style Trail Tights, which, yes I know I am sponsored by Montane, but these tights are absolutely 'the business'.  They hug your legs, but yet don't feel tight or restrictive in any way.  I also decided to ditch the lightweight jacket, and start with the more substantial Mimimus Jacket.  The thinking was, if I got too hot wearing this jacket, I could simply remove it and store it within the bungee cords designed for this purpose on the side of the UltrAspire Synapse Bottle Waist Pack.

The race starts and I am straight into the lead. One great feature of the race is that within the first three miles you race over the iconic Seven Sisters. These are seven short but sharp hills, which are great fun, as it is like doing rep work, attack the climb, then recover on the descent, then attack again, etc. The real bonus is that you are racing over these whilst fresh, whereas in the Beachy Head Marathon, which I have raced eleven times, you don't encounter the Seven Sisters until around mile 18, so the 'attacking' of the climbs is usually rather subdued!

I am really enjoying myself as I race across the Seven Sisters, with a very supportive tail wind, then as I turn inland at Cuckmere Haven after around three miles I get a shock. There is a runner only around ten seconds behind me! It was a shock as right from the go, I was on my own, and I hadn't sensed anyone behind, (I now never look behind, as I focus on what I am doing, not to be influenced by others). So I had just assumed I was quite clear and so I was prepared for the day being simply about me being disciplined and running hard the entire way. All of a sudden I had a race on my hands, especially as I hadn't been dawdling! I concluded that this guy behind must be a pretty competent and confident runner to start at such a quick pace, so yes, battle on! With this realisation that I was in a race, I 'banged out' a slightly downhill mile in 6:14, but more significant was that the average heart rate for the mile at 169 bpm, was the highest of the race. (GPS data on GarminConnect).  During the first six miles of the race, my heart rate strap seemed to have lost its elasticity so it was continually sliding down.  Fortunately my training partner Kevin, was marshaling at the first checkpoint at Litlington, so I was able to take it off and pass it to him.  Great that I no longer had the frustration of it slipping down, but I therefore no longer have any heart rate data after mile six, so unable to have any objective data on whether I did 'slacken off' during the race.

Shortly Before Checkpoint 1 - Working Hard to Get Away!  Notice that I am appropriately dressed for the arctic conditions: tights, gloves and four layers on my upper body!

I pass through checkpoint one, with the guy behind still pretty close, actually the official results show only 24 seconds behind. I also later see on the results sheet that his name is Matthew Yarlett. The course then travels along the first of many really muddy boggy sections, as it is next to the Cuckmere River as we approach Alfriston. As I mentioned earlier, on the day there are four different race distances taking place. The 33 mile ultra race started 30 minutes before the marathon, and marathon runners if they choose, usually the slower runners, could start 30 minutes earlier with the ultra runners. I presume due to the very demanding and rather unpleasant weather conditions, probably around half or even more of the marathon runners decided to start early. It was shortly after the Litlington checkpoint that I started to overtake quite a few of these runners, including my phsyio Luke, who was completing his fifth of the seven marathon he is completing this year from the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series, It was enjoyable 'flying past’ these early start runners. I would typically say hi, unless I was puffing and blowing too much climbing a hill. And they would usually reply with a friendly hi. Although I always wonder just how much they appreciate me overtaking them, as the difference in our running pace is quite substantial, especially at this point of the race, as I was pretty determined to maintain the fast start to increase the gap on Matthew behind, before he got the idea into his head that he could keep up with me the whole way!

I continue to overtake the early starters as I continue running past the bottom of the Long Man of Wilmington. There is then a tough steep climb to get up above the Long Man, before a nice gentle grassy decent before entering the mud of Friston Forest. The GPS data shows 5:46 for this mile, which although appears fast, for a descent of 56 metres, it is rather disappointing. I already knew that this aspect needed addressing prior to the HIghland Fling, so to go along with the changes in terms of mega miles, and nutritional strategies for 2013, I am also reintroducing repetition sessions into my training during the next five weeks before the Fling. Something that I haven't done for many a year!

Talking about my changes e.g. nutrition, now is probably a good time to summarise what I consumed during the marathon. Having adapted my body and mind to run within a fasted state, I have found that I no longer get any urge to 'having to' take on food whilst running. However, being aware of the research I still take on board carbohydrate whilst racing and consume a breakfast of a bowl of porridge around two and a quarter hours before the start, together with a cup of coffee. Interestingly, Barry Murray, who I mentioned at the start of this blog post, doesn't consume breakfast prior to a morning start ultra race.  Take a look at his summary of his nutrition for his 2011 Lakeland 100 race.  The one key thing that is apparent within all of the material I have read, is that individuals vary immensely in terms of what works for them, what levels of carbohydrate they can handle, whether they suffer from gastrointestinal problems.  So one of the key messages is to work out what works for you! 

With regards to my race day nutrition, I have a bowl of soaked porridge and a cup of coffee 2:15 before race start.  Then 15 minutes before race start I consume one CNP Pro Energy Gel Max- Cola flavour (the only flavour) which contains 25 grams of carbohydrate, and 100 mg of caffeine, and 50 mg of guarana.  I then consume three of these gels during the race.  I used to consume typically four for a marathon, but since I have been working on fat utilisation I don't actually feel that I need four.  In fact in both the Steyning Stinger and last Saturday's marathon, I didn't get any sense of 'needing' to take on board carbohydrate.  I never got that feeling of 'woosiness' in the head!  I actually only consume the carbohydrate gels, as I know that I am working at a pretty high intensity, and the literature clearly states that performance will be improved. 

Having to carry water during Enduranceife races means that I can consume the gels whenever I want, and aren't restricted to the water stations (as it is important to consume the gels along with water), so I aren't exactly sure when I took my first gel, but I had my second gel at checkpoint 2 after 1:37 and the third and final gel at checkpoint three after 2:40 of running.  So for 1 hour 3 minutes, I consumed only 25 grams of carbohydrate, well below the recommended 60 - 90 grams per hour, or the 'ideal' 78 grams per hour.  Interestingly, even though I don't have any signals indicating that I need carbohydrate, would my performance improve if I took three times the number of gels, so around 75 grams per hour rather than the 25 grams per hour I consumed?  Within the Canadian case study, the three marathoners consumed 49, 56, and 77 grams per hour respectively, so also less than the apparent recommended and ideal, (remember the importance of individual variations though)!

At around the 16 mile mark, shortly before the village of East Dean the marathon course is joined by the half marathon runners. I probably join into the half marathon race at around the two-thirds, three-quarters mark of the field. At first I am running substantially quicker than the half marathon runners, but then the further up the field I move, the difference in our running pace is reduced, which I recall from the first time I experienced this back in 2011 created a negative mindset. It was as if I was receiving negative feedback. The judgement of my performance was being made on the quickness at which I overtook the half marathon runners. So due to this speed of overtaking being reduced, as I moved closer to the front of the field, I was interpreting this as my performance was declining, I was tiring, I was running slower. This year though I was prepared for this situation, so I didn't have any negative feelings affect me. In fact this year I really enjoyed working my way through the half marathon field.

After East Dean, we reach the coast line again, at Birling Gap. During the Beachy Head Marathon, this usually indicates less than four miles to the finish. For the Sussex Coastal Marathon, there were still nine miles to go. Not that I was counting down the miles! No, I am fully aware that counting down the miles is the start of negativity taking over! I try to continue to maintain a good running pace as we are now totally exposed as we run into the massively strong and chilly head wind. As I make my way up to the climb of Beachy Head, the GPS data shows a mile split of 10:15. Looking at a pretty identical mile split from the Beachy Head Marathon last October, my mile split was 8:44, so 90 seconds slower. Clearly illustrating the strength of the wind last Saturday!

I continue to maintain a high intensity, which I feel I did, although no heart rate data to confirm. Climbing out from Eastbourne, I do recall that I was really puffing and blowing, making a really noise, continually passing runners. There was then a nice gentle downhill mile with the wind now behind. After some very slow miles of 10:15, 8:16 (steep downhill into Whitbread Hollow) and 9:39, the pace quickens to 7:34 and then for the nice gentle downhill mile with 47 metres descent, I bang out a 6:04 mile. I recall at the time that it felt reasonably quick, but on reflection, this should really be 30 seconds quicker. Yes, I think one thing I have let slip over the last few years is my leg speed. Exactly what form of 'speed work' is appropriate for ultra trail running, I am not entirely sure. For trail marathons it has increased importance. But I am now beginning to reconsider some of my earlier ideas, and perhaps some form of 'speed work' is relevant for ultra trail racing. Yes, 2013 is definitely turning out to be the year of reflection and change!

After viewing the finish flags not too far away, we have to turn away from them and battle again back into the headwind, before another small climb and then finally a tailwind three=quarters of a mile to the finish. At the last checkpoint on the edge of Eastbourne, with around 5 miles to go, I take a look at my watch an calculate that I will finish pretty close to 3 hours 20 minutes. Knowing that the course record is 3:20 and something, is a great motivator, to keep me working hard, so I don't slacken off. With probably around 500 - 600 metres to go, my watch has passed 3:18. The course record could be touch and go. As I pass a half marathon runner, he recognises me and starts to initiate a conversation. Ninety nine percent of the time, I am welcoming of a friendly hi, how's it going, but at this exact moment in time, was the one percent when I wasn't. I grunt something aggressively back, like "I'm trying to concentrate!" So if you are the half marathoner reading this who I grunted at in reply to your friendly comment, many apologies, I assure you I'm not usually that rude!

I cross the finish line in a time of 3:19:48, so beating the course record by 42 seconds. Just before crossing the line, I unzip my jacket for the first time, to ensure my number is visible to help easily identify my race photos which are available for purchase from the Endurancelife website. It then occurs to me that not once during the entire 25.82 miles (my GPS watch reading) did I feel too warm. In fact my zip remained up and my gloves on the entire race. Yes, it wasn't your typical spring day in Sussex! I immediately jog back to my car, get some dry clothes on and then spend the next hour or so distributing under car windscreens leaflets for my newly launched running venture I highlighted in my previous post. Please visit the website and if you have any questions please zap me an e-mail or give me a call.

Second place finisher actually does turn out to be Matthew Yarlett, the chap that was giving me the 'hurry up' for the first few miles, in a time of 3:34:01.  Matthew narrowly beats Scott Forbes by eight seconds, who I mentioned in my quick update on Saturday, accidentally started 30 minutes earlier with the ultra runners and the less quick marathon runners.  The winning women was Sarah Dudgeon, in 11th place overall in a time of 4:13:25.  Full results are available on the Endurancelife website.

Well, although 2013 may be a year of change, one thing that hasn't changed is the length of my posts.  Yet another ultra effort!  Well done to you all, if you have manged to get yourself through to the finish of this blog post.  You demonstrate true endurance qualities.  Time to sign off with a quote.  "One must always remain open to continued learning, even if it may mean that you have to accept that perhaps your ideas and beliefs require changing.  The process of learning is an enjoyable and never ending pathway, which simply requires thoughtful navigation."  Stuart Mills, 2013.

Happy questioning, investigating, and learning,


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Official Launch of Trail Running Sussex


Some of you may have actually already visitied the new Trail Running Sussex website, at if you are one of my Facebook friends.  Yes, last night I invited all of my Facebook friends to check out the new Trail Running Sussex running business which I am involved with.

Since last night I have been busy.  This morning I distributed around 250 Trail Running Sussex leaflets at the Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Races that were taking place nearby to me at Birling Gap in East Sussex.  Also tonight, I have added a new web page that contains quite a bit of information on the trail races that Trail Running Sussex are planning to organise in May 2014.

Please take a look at the website.  I hope you will find it contains the information you require, if you are wanting to join me on my South Downs Ultra Trail Running Camp that takes place at the end of June this year, i.e. in exactly three months time, or join me for a Guided Trail Running Weekend Break.  As you would expect from the name of the business, both events take place within Sussex.  If you wish to discuss anything regarding what we provide, please give me a shout.

I have been teaching myself how to set up the website, so it has taken a lot longer to get to this stage than I thought it would.  Having the Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Races on today, provided an ideal target date to get the website to an acceptable state that I could officially launch it.  So far the feedback I have received has been positive, so thanks heaps for your comments.

Hopefully see you sometime, on the Trails of Sussex!


PS  Apart from distributing leaflets this morning, I also raced the Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Marathon.  It was very cold, with a really strong wind, and together with the muddiest I have ever experienced on the South Downs between Alfriston and Eastbourne, it made the conditions really tough!  I had another good run, following on from my run at the Stenying Stinger Trail Marathon three weeks ago, and managed to win in a new course record time, (just, by only 42 seconds!), of 3:19:48.  Second place time was recorded by Scott Forbes, a bit of a newcomer to the ultra / trail running scene, having finished in third place at the recent Thames Trot Ultra. 

Unfortunately due to some confusion, Scott started with the early marathon starters, for those marathon runners who tend to take that little bit longer, who are allowed to start with the Ultra runners, thirty minutes earlier.  Scott therefore ran the entire marathon on his own, as all of the quicker marathon runners, including myself, started at the official start time.  A real disappointment as it looks like I could have had a bit of a battle on my hands, as Scott 'cruising' along on his own, thinking he was in the lead winning the race the whole way round, only ran 13 minutes slower than my time.  I actually also lead my start the whole way as well, but I had a runner closely behind 'keeping me honest' for the first ten miles or so.  Anyway a 'brief' race report should be posted on UltraStu later in the week.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Steyning Stinger Marathon Race Report - A Positive Beginning to my Changed Approach


Tonight's post starts with a bit of detail regarding my new increased mileage training programme, then a bit of background, before what should be a reasonably brief race report on last Sunday's Steyning Stinger Marathon.  But knowing me I'm bound to get side tracked and go on about something!

As mentioned in my recent review of 2012, back at the start of December I decided it was time for a drastic change to my training, with it being a mega increase in my weekly mileage.  During November, I took things really easy training wise, as I was feeling a bit run down.  Not all as a result of running, but also related to other aspects in my life, such as my work at the University.  I won't go into detail here as it's not worth boring you with, but what this period of time did confirm to me was that how one feels and how one performs is affected by all things happening within ones life.  One is affected by the overall surrounding joy / happiness, which improves feeling/performance.  But as I discovered during September - November, the overall stresses, in my situation resulting from the displeasure, discomfort, frustration, etc. resulting from a less than ideal School merger at the University, massively increased my usually peaceful and calm stress levels to a higher 'harmful' level.  Reflecting back now, during November I was actually beginning to lose my passion for running.  My weekly mileages for the five weeks following my 'lack of fire' Beachy Head Marathon performance were, 0, 0, 10, 28, and 31 miles.  As you can see, not the mileage you would expect from a passionate runner, coming up to completing his 35th year of endurance running training!

So at the start of December, a change was needed to get me 'back on track'.  The time spent reflecting on what was needed regarding my new approach to run training, also included reflecting on what was needed regarding a new approach to the merged School I now work in at the University.  Since then, the changes I have put in place have been really positive.  I am excited by, and enjoying my running again, plus I am more 'peaceful' within my University work.

Although the number one focus for 2013 is the Montane Lakeland 100 in July, and the increase in my mileage was initiated in response to last year's Lakeland 100 experience.  For the first time in years, I spent a significant amount of time, devising and then actually writing down a 20 week training plan, rather than simply keeping my thoughts and plans within my head.  So the 20 week training plan would take me up to the 53 mile Highland Fling at the end of April.  The week prior to the start of the 20 week plan, I slightly increased my mileage up to 45 miles from the extremely low levels of training achieved during November.  For the next eight weeks, my training went exactly as planned, and I completed weekly mileages of; 72, 70, 85, 104, 96, 98, 96 and 95 miles.  So eight weeks of good training.  Although there is more to training than simply the mileage run.  For me this year, my training focus is simply about 'conditioning' the legs, so time on my feet is important.  In line with my philosophy on intensity, the majority of my training is at a relaxed, cruisey pace.  However, I am tending to adjust this intensity during runs whenever I encounter hills.  Tending to raise the intensity, so gently 'attacking' the hills, in response to a weakness in my racing that seems to have developed.  I'll come back to this during my race report below.

As you can imagine, the three weeks of building up, then running five weeks at close to 100 miles per week was quite a massive change for me.  But to my surprise, I pretty well felt great every day.  Yes, how one feels is influenced by much more than just physical demands.  I was in a happier place, and hence my training felt more comfortable, making me happier, etc.  Yes, I was on an upward spiral!  Following the eight weeks of training I was fortunate to be able to take a group of students to Austria for a week's skiing and snowboarding.  So I had scheduled this as a week off in order to recover, and so only completed the scheduled three small jogs while away.  The intended plan was to return back to a mileage of 75 - 85 miles the following week, however, I underestimated how tiring a week's skiing (and associated activities) can be, so the first week back I was comfortable in accepting that a reduced mileage was the best option, so only ran 54 miles.  The following week, I increased this to 80 miles, the exact mid-point of the planned previous week's mileage.  So I was back on track with my 20 week training plan.

In preparation for the Highland Fling, I had scheduled two local trail marathons.  The first of these was the Steyning Stinger Marathon.  Firstly, a bit of background to the Stinger.  The Stinger, organised by Steyning Athletic Club, was first held in 2002, whilst I still lived up in Worcestershire.  I first ran it in 2003, winning in a time of 3:07:30, and then again in 2004 in the time of 2:57:00.  I recall when I finished that day that I was pretty pleased with how I had run.  Combined with the very dry underfoot conditions on the day, I had a feeling that it would be many years before this time would be beaten.  Well, my time from 2004 is still the course record, and prior to this year's race I believe that no other runner has got with ten minutes of the time.  So indeed a pretty good course record!  I missed the 2005 event due to a niggling injury, but returned in 2006, managing another win in the time of 2:59:13.  I was getting over another niggling injury in 2007, so missed it again.  Note, these niggling injuries were prior to seeing Luke at Sportswise, so prior to being treated like a pin cushion!  Since then I don't recall missing any races due to niggling injuries.  I then got into ultra trail running in 2008, so the Stinger no longer seemed to fit into my racing calendar.  So last weekend was my first return to the race in seven years.

My family are aware of my increased training, which is also apparent with my slightly skinnier appearance, having lost nearly one stone (6 kg) since the start of December.  Chris, my younger son, leading up to the race therefore asked me if due to my increased training I was going to set a personal best time for the race.  His prompting was really well timed, as I hadn't really given it much attention in terms of what I was expecting to achieve come race day.  The race was written down on my 20 week training plan, and I was simply sticking to the plan.

So, Chris, got me thinking, what should I expect, what do I want, come race day?  Are the two different?  Are they related?  Is there a causal relationship between the two?  Remembering back to 2004, and how I ran, I didn't think that a sub 2hr 57min was possible, especially since I hadn't eased off training during the week, completing a four hour run on the Wednesday, followed by a two hour run of the Thursday.  Then there was that doubt, that negativity that always tries to 'put oneself down'.  "Remember your last race, the Beachy Head Marathon, where you could only manage a 3:10, a whole thirteen minutes slower that your personal best for the Beachy Head of the same time, i.e. 2:57."  I can't remember if I have previously mentioned an excellent book I read last year whilst in New Zealand.  It is titled "I'm Here to Win" written by Ironman Triathlete Chris Macca McCormack.  I was mentioning it to one of my ex-students the other day, British Ironwoman Yvette Grice, who I bumped into as she was visiting our labs for a physiological assessment.  Considering it is by far the best triathlon book I have ever read, I was surprised Yvette hadn't read it.  Within the triathlon world, there is often talk about how you can "buy speed", through buying the latest wetsuit or the lightest, super fast wheels.  Well in terms of "buying improved performance", not just in triathlon, but also very relevant in ultra trail running, you won't find better value for your pounds than this book.  It rates right up there with the other gems I have referred to, Charlie Speeding's book, Ryan Hall's book, and even without my New Zealand bias, Lorraine Moller's book,which unfortunately is probably quite hard to get hold of.

So back to what led me to get side tracked to Macca's book.  It was this discussion that often takes place within, where part of you is trying to tell you that you shouldn't expect to perform well, that you haven't done the necessary training, or that simply you are just not good enough to expect a good performance.  Chris McCormack also discusses this in his book.  "The mind games that take place before the starting gun ever fires is really the critical point of a race.  It's when all your insecurities bubble to the surface.  It's when you have that good angel on one shoulder and a bad angel on the other.  One is saying, "You can do it mate!"  The other is whispering, "Why are you here? You can't win!" The angel you decide to listen to will determine whether you are competitive or an also-ran. ...  Each race is a new war against the evil angel.  Mastering your own self doubts is the battle."  Please excuse me if I have previously highlighted this quote before.  Typing it out, made me feel like I had.  But since it has such an important message, it is probably worthwhile repeating it again!

So back to my pre-race thoughts. Yes, the negative thoughts I were experiencing were trying to convince me that my 'fast days' were over.  Expect at best a 3:10 time for the Stinger and be happy with this, and hope that nobody quicker that this turns up!  In order to avoid the "bad angel", rather than focusing on the result, I decided to focus on what I wanted to achieve DURING the race, not at the finish of the race.  The motive for doing the Stinger was to extend myself, to run hard, to run fast, to test myself, to see if the eleven weeks of extensive training has made any impact to my running.  So with this as the focus, I replied to my son Chris a few days later, that I expected to finish with a time in between my quickest and slowest times, i.e. somewhere in between 2:57 and 3:07.  However, the time to me, or the actually finishing place wasn't important.  What was more important was how I actually ran, how I felt, during the marathon.

I am on the start line on a rather chilly morning, but most important it was dry and no sign of rain.  As it eventuated the ground conditions were hard and fast, apart from one very small 30 metre stretch of bog, so my road shoes would have been fine, but being not sure of how much mud there could be I had opted to wear my Inov-8 Roclite295s. Prior to heading out to the start there was also the indecision over how many layers to wear.  You will see form the start photo below (courtesy of Sussex Sport Photography) that some runners were wearing hats, gloves, tights and multiple layers on the top.  I was fortunate that I had a good selection of quality Montane kit to choose from.  In the end I decide upon two layers, the long sleeve Bionic shirt, that contains Merino wool so performs really well, and the short sleeve Sonic T-shirt.

Race start - I am race number 107, Jonny Muir is in blue, race number 162

Although there is a massed start at 8:30am, runners are allowed to start earlier at timed intervals, so there is probably only around half of the 220 runners gathered.  With the intention to work myself hard I start at a solid pace, and the Garmin GPS data (visible on this link to GarminConnect) shows that I completed the first mile in 6:06.  Shortly after the first mile, a runner joins me from behind and we run together for a short period of time, before we reach a small incline.  As what would be come indicative of the day, the other runner, who I later discover is Jonny Muir, gradually pulls away from me.  As I am working at an intensity I feel is sufficiently demanding , not too tough or too easy, I don't try too hard at trying to stay with him, focusing on my goal for the day, extending myself, running strong. 

Running strong at around the three mile mark

Still running strong during the first five miles of the race

The route elevation showing the four big climbs - "Stings"!

For the next five miles Jonny gradually extends his lead, to probably around 30 - 40 seconds at the top of the first tough climb, referred to as one of the four 'Stings' which gives the race it's name.  At this point, six miles into the race, I am happy with how I am running, pleased with my intensity and focus.  However, there is a little bit of discontent being in second place, so I was keeping an eye on Jonny, making sure he doesn't get too far ahead.  The next two miles are mainly downhill, and without too much effort, I significantly close the gap, after running 5:53, 5:55 miles.  The next two miles from 8 - 10 miles, again Jonny's lead increases, for his lead to subsequently decrease again over the next three miles of gentle downhill, which I cover in 6:12, 6:12 and 5:56.  I pass the 13 mile mark, (each mile is clearly marked, which is quite unique for a trail marathon) in 1 hour 28 minutes, although I have noticed that the mile split on my GPS watch is gradually getting out of synch with the mile markers, so by the time I pass the 13 mile mark, my GPS is showing a little over 13.1 miles.  Regardless of whether I have completed 13 or 13.1 miles, the time confirms that I am running well, and a time close to 3 hours, possibly under 3 hours could be possible.  This feedback, combined with the fact that Jonny is now only around 10 - 15 seconds ahead of me, reinforces the positive buzz, and enjoyment I am experiencing.  Which feels so different to my most recent marathon, the Beachy Head Marathon back in October, where it felt for the majority of the race that I was just 'going through the motions' without the passion or excitement!

Overtaking some early starters at around 11 miles

I briefly stop at the drink station to take on board my second gel of the day.  Based on some advice I received from Barry Murray, from Optimum Nutrition 4 Sport, who I mentioned in my previous post.  I have now changed gels to the CNP Pro Energy Max Gel Cola gel.  This gel apparently is the 'business', with one of it's advantages in that it contains Guarana, which has similar properties to caffeine, but without the potential high and low 'spikes'.  I quickly get back into my stride, keeping an eye on Jonny ahead.  Unfortunately, I am focussing too much on Jonny, and not realise that I have run off course, even though I have raced the Stinger three times before.  Yes, a good lesson.  Focus on what you are doing, and your immediate surrounds, not on someone 75 metres ahead!

Going off course near Cissbury Ring

As I pass through a gate and enter a field,(see above, my trace in red, Jonny's in blue, correct route in yellow) I have a feeling that I am off course, as the path is heading further downhill, where it should stay up higher as we skirt around the ancient fort of Cissbury Ring.  I see Jonny running back towards me and we meet up again for the first time since the second mile.  He asks me, "Are we on the course?"  I reply that I'm pretty sure that we should be on the other side of the hedge to our left.  Luckily, a gap in the hedge appears, so we are able to enter the higher field and after regaining the height we had lost, we rejoin the well marked route.  I must state here that the route overall was extremely well marked, so I am rather disappointed with myself for going off course, as I was obviously not paying close enough attention to the markers near me!

We run reasonably close together for the next mile or so, with me again gradually pulling ahead on the gentle downhill.  As we start the climb of the third 'Sting' after passing the golf course, Jonny pulls away, and this time a bit quicker than before.  This time I begin to get a little worried at the rate in which he pulls ahead.  Although it isn't too far until we reach the top, and with the next mile being downhill, which I cover in my quickest mile of the day in 5:49, as I pass the 18 mile marker the gap has been reduced to again probably only around 15 - 20 seconds.  At this point in the race I recall that I am trying to evaluate my progress to date, and start to anticipate what the possible scenarios for the final eight miles could be.  Overall I am happy with how I am running, although after my pretty slow mile climbing up from the golf course, which took me 8 minutes 30 seconds, I realise that a sub 3 hour time is no longer possible.  Although I had realised this pretty well immediately after we had gone off course, as I estimated that the detour I took probably cost me around 1:00 - 1:30 minutes.

What is more concerning is my poor performance in relation to Jonny when it comes to any inclines.  What I have noticed in races since I have got into Ultra Trail racing is that it isn't my overall running pace that has slowed, but only my uphill pace.  Having raced events such as UTMB and Lakeland 100 which contain really long climbs, I now seem to go onto auto-pilot when I come to a hill, and settle into a controlled pace that I am comfortably able to maintain for a long duration.  This works okay when the climb is of a long duration, but it is not much use, when the hill is only five minutes long.  Hence why I now seem to always lose time on the hills during racing.  I have started to address this in my training recently, with my semi-attacking of any climbs on my training runs. To date, it doesn't seem to have had an impact.  I am sure my poor pacing is really a mental focus issue, not a physical issue such as a lack of leg strength etc. which many runners may attribute it to.  I'll keep you updated on my progress in dealing with this 'weakness' in future races.

Back to the Stinger.  So with seven miles to go, I am 15 - 20 seconds behind, with there being one 'Sting' left involving a climb of around a mile and a half, and then the last two miles is all down hill.  I do some calculations and predict that as long as I am within 30 - 40 seconds of Jonny at the start of the two mile descent to the finish, I should be able to pull back the time and run past him just as we approach the finish line.  I immediately find myself getting excited at the prospect of a sprint finish.  Right then, having processed this all within my head, whilst descending at sub six minute mile pace, I realise that the next few miles are key, to ensure that I don't let him get any further ahead between now and the start of the last climb.  I am therefore preparing myself for an increased effort.  Then to my surprise, as I round a sharp corner, Jonny has disappeared.  He is no longer 75 metres in front of me.  I conclude that he must have turned the sharp left corner, and is following the route markings latter on in the course at around the 22 mile mark after we have completed the loop of Steep Down.  As the route he is on turns and drops out of sight immediately behind a small hill, it is not possible to see him so I am unable to shout out to him. I therefore assume that since he will be seeing direction arrows indicating the race route, that he will continue running in the wrong direction, and it will be a wee while before he sees the 22 mile marker and realise he has gone astray.   I experience a real mixture of feelings, all at the same time. There is the sense of pleasure in knowing that I am now guaranteed of winning the Steyning Stinger Marathon for the fourth time, but also disappointment in that the anticipated sprint battle, and really having to earn the victory is now gone!  I immediately slacken off the pace, take a longer stop at the next drink station as I consume my third and final gel for the day, and simply cruise along the route, trying to deal with these mixed emotions, and trying to get myself back on task, i.e. to really test myself, push myself for the entire 26 miles.

One thing that always amazes me whilst I am racing is how the sub-conscious formulates an argument to try to get you to slow down.  My main goal for the race was about me, testing myself, extending myself, but then when I have the win in the bag, the arguments that are being presented within my head are that the win is what it is all about.  "You have now achieved this, simply cruise to the finish."  So as I am trying to fight against these arguments, I hear a gate shut not too many metres behind me.  To my shock it is Jonny, and what a shock.  For the last five minutes I had already accepted the win, and now it was 'battle on' again!  In a reasonably short period of time he is on my tail, and then there is a slight incline.  As I prepare for him to overtake me, as he has done previously throughout the race on all inclines, whether it was the narrowness of the path, being single track at that particular point, or whether due to him having to recover from his recent increased effort to re-catch me I don't know.  But the fact that he didn't go past me, provides me with sufficient evidence to convince myself that I have got the race under control.  No need to panic, just run with him for the next mile or so.  Then allow him to slowly pull away, if he is still capable of doing so up the fourth sting, but simply keep him with the 30 - 40 seconds that I have previously calculated I can regain on the decent.
At the top of the fourth 'Sting' moments after I take the lead

As expected he slowly pulls away at the start of the last climb, quickly gains probably ten seconds, but then that is it, the gap stays the same until the top.  As the climb flattens out, I slowly pull him in, so I am directly behind him, even before we reach the top of the climb.  Then just before we turn a sharp right and start the final two miles of mainly down hill.  I up the pace, run pace him strongly, and the race is pretty well done.  I am able to really up the pace on the gentle descent at first and then as the hill gets quite steep, I am able to drop down the hill pretty quickly.  The legs feel good, the mind feels good.  Overall, I am pleased with how everything is going to plan.  I continue to work reasonably hard to the finish, and cross it in an official time of 3:03:36.  My Garmin Forerunner 310 watch shows a total distance of 26.48 miles.  Slightly more than the expected 26.2 miles, made up from the progressively slightly over measuring of each mile in relation to the mile markers out on the course, and the slight detour off route that both Jonny and I took, which at most would have been 0.15 - 0.20 of a mile.  Jonny officially finishes 42 seconds behind, which I would think is the second fastest finisher on the course, in the twelve times the event has taken place.

Shortly after finishing

It is then back to the race headquarters at the school for a cooked breakfast, all part of the entry fee.  Yes, the Steyning Stinger is one of those events, that definitely has everything;, great course, well marked, complete with supportive marshals and frequent drink stations, the cooked breakfast, and then to top it off, the race organisers arrange with the photographers for the privilege of having the excellent photos that Sussex Sport Photography take during the race, to be free to download for all competitors.  A really excellent feature to the race, and hence why I have included a number of photos within this race report.

I have a relaxing and enjoyable time chatting to the other competitors as we eat our well earned cooked breakfast.  I get a chance to chat to Jonny.  I can see he is a wee bit disappointed in going off course twice, which possibly could have altered the finish places.  However, he makes no excuses, and accepts that navigation is part of trail running.  (Click this link to read his Steyning Stinger race report.)  Trying to estimate how much time Jonny lost to me by going off course twice, it is hard to be precise, but at a rough guess I would say around 15 seconds the first error, and then around 30 seconds for the second error, so totalling around 45 seconds.  So with my winning margin being 42 seconds, as I had anticipated back at the 18 mile mark, it would have been a very tight sprint finish!  Following the race, I have since discovered that Jonny Muir is a bit of a celebrity, having written three books, with his first book titled Heights of Madness looking really interesting, so much so that I have just ordered it off Amazon for the massive price of £4.39.  I don't know how much of this amount Jonny will receive, maybe one pound.  I guess that's the least I can do as a gesture of thanks to Jonny for helping me run a pleasing race, having to really extend myself, run strong the entire way.  One worrying aspect that I need to address is the feeling that if Jonny wasn't running on Sunday, I may have got into 'lazy' mode and simply settled for the win albeit in a much slower time.  Hopefully I will be better prepared for my next local trail marathon in less than three weeks time, being the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Marathon starting and finishing at Birling Gap, pretty well right on my doorstep.

I was going to provide some more details regarding my monthly break down of training during 2012, but maybe next post, as this post has somehow ended up longer than anticipated.

So as I sign off from my first race report for 2013, I am pleased to conclude that it has been a positive beginning to my changed approach.  Finally some more words from Chris Macca McCormick; "If there's a problem, there's a solution, and positive thinking is the only way to find it.  The trick is to think outside of the narrow, traditional wisdom of the sport and look for answers anywhere without prejudice." Page 212, I'm Here to Win, Chris McCormack, 2011.

Is it time you changed your approach?


PS  Back in January one of my posts titled "Wanting it and Winning" I spent some time remembering my performance in the 1985 National Multisport Championships that took place in Otaki, New Zealand.  Well I managed to find the old video of the race, and have uploaded it to Youtube.  If you want to see what the beginnings of multisport triathlon were like in the mid-eighties in New Zealand, click this link.  I am visible quite a few times during the video.  I am the long haired 22 year old kid!

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.