Monday, 27 February 2012

Charitable disposition

Still plodding on with back issues and lots of time on my feet as the weeks tick by. A solid, and very wet and blustery 54km or 33.5miles in about 8 hours 15 mins a week ago Saturday was followed up with a swift 15miles the following day in glorious sunshine. Sadly that level of effort wasn't possible the following week due to work commitments during the week, as well as our first foray into the heat chamber at Sheffield Hallam University. It was a very cautious first session with 5 minutes on the treadmill followed by 5 minutes of rest, repeated 4 times - and all done at just over 38 degrees celcius. It was hot, but bearable though I was surprised how much I drank in what was a very light session.

We also held our charity fund raising dinner last weekend. Hosted by our main sponsor, Otto's Moroccan Restaurant in Sheffield on Friday night, a group of 50 kind an charitable souls enjoyed an evening of fine Moroccan cuisine, belly dancing, a charity raffle and the talents of a brilliant magician. The evening was a great success, and we added a further £725 to our fund raising total, which now stands at over £3,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support and the Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice.
Moroccan evening at Otto's
Sadly, it seems I enjoyed the evening a little too much and was very much the worse for wear on Saturday which, combined with the fact I had friends from Kent up visiting made for a training-free weekend. Apart from the obvious groggy and hungover sensation it was surprisingly nice to have an entire weekend of not putting on trainers and heading out for long hours.

Such thoughts need to be banished for now however, as with only 6 weeks to go I'm about to head into my two longest weeks training of the whole preparation. I'm aiming for over 100 miles per week in the next two weeks, plus some turbo sessions. That's a lot of time on my feet, with some critical sessions in there including what we're calling our Peaking in the Peak weekend. This will represent our final long back to back training sessions before heading off for the race. After that, my baby should be born, and I'll be focussing on heat acclimatisation, maintaining fitness and preventing further injury.

To that end, I'm also off to see a pilates specialist this week to see whether they can offer any better or more effective remedy for my back which, although seems manageable for now isn't really getting any better.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Two steps forward, one step back

Multi-stage Ultra Marathon completed – Tick!

I’m very pleased to report that the Pilgrim’s Challenge was completed in some fairly challenging conditions over 4-5 February with very little ill-effects. Having set off from Sheffield at 4am the race for those of us deemed “walkers” (for me due to back issues) at 8am in temperatures hovering around -7 degrees C. Day 1 was relatively straightforward and in fact the cold weather helped keep the going underfoot nice and firm, as it looked like it could get really really muddy. With almost 11kg on my back, slipping around in mud would have become very tiresome very quickly.
-7 degrees stops the mud being too slippy

Once I got into a metronomic rhythm with my poles click-clacking along, there was no stopping me and I managed to cover the 33 miles, with 1,200m of ascent in 7 hours 51 mins. Not bad for a walker. The overnight stop was in a school hall, with about 150 other competitors, and to try to replicate race conditions as much as possible, I stuck to race rations (with the exception of a cup of tea and piece of cake). Dehydrated fish and potato, Bombay mix and peanuts for dinner. Yum. I was surprised how little I’d eaten during the day (a mini peperami and a pack of dextrose sweets – about 250 calories in total) and yet didn’t feel especially hungry.

Still smiling at the night stop
After a fitful sleep, we awoke to a 4-6 inch blanket of snow. Near disaster for the race organisers who had been up half the night trying to sort out whether or not the race would/could/should continue and where to place checkpoints and possible re-routing of the course. Sensibly they realised that most people would go out and give it a go even if they did cancel the event and so they announced the race was still on, albeit with a mass start at 8am rather than the staggered starts anticipated in the original plan.

The North Downs Way
Walking in a winter wonderland
Luckily Rich and I had packed our Yaktrax snow grippers and they served us well for the whole 33 mile return journey as we were able to take many places on the slippery descents. The route looked great with a covering of fresh snow and although clearly tired from the day before, the additional challenging conditions only slowed me up by about 37 minutes over the whole course, finishing day 2 in 8 hours 28 mins. I was pretty pleased with that result and even more pleased with a back that stood up to a pretty rigorous two days.

The last week since the Pilgrim’s Challenge wasn’t supposed to be as quiet as it turned out, but my legs did feel quite lifeless and with the snow and ice and a trip to London with work thrown in the middle of the week, it was fairly tame. Some sessions on the turbo were squeezed into a the week but the walking suffered a little.

At the weekend, I had decided to convert the week into a “rest” week and so planned less than the normal outings. Given the now melted and re-frozen conditions on the trails I think this was a sensible move. I also experimented with a little more trotting on both Saturday and Sunday and all was going well. The Yaktrax proved their worth again fighting to keep me upright although both mine and Richard’s paid the price and started to fall apart towards the end – new ones now on order from Amazon so guarantee no more snow now until next winter!

Almost back running, near Redmires
However disaster struck towards the end of Sunday’s training as I did a proper comedy slip on ice and my legs went one way, my body the other. I remained upright but I could feel my back twist and stretch, followed by a massive familiar pain in my glute and the whole area stiffened up. I spent the rest of the day trying to stretch it and calm it down, and although it’s not as bad as I feared today, it’s certainly a backwards step. I have a physio appointment this afternoon so I shall see what she says. Quite annoying.

I’ve also been busy adding the (hopefully) final touches to my kit list including food, and testing the fuel tablets we’ll be given on the race to work out how many I’ll need to take. I’m aiming to have a full race kit ready to go by next weekend, then to start taking bits out as I realise how heavy it really is.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Ready for back to back ultras?

Well, it's the night before the Pilgrim's Challenge - a 66 mile race over 2 days along the North Downs Way. I'm aiming to be carrying as close to full kit weight as possible, if only to see how heavy that feels so I can get a bit more harsh with the trimming of kit choices for the desert. It feels like I've been sorting and packing kit all week, and this is just for a 2 day preparation event. I dread to think how much time I'll be spending faffing in the build up to the MdS.

Things have been fairly quiet in the last couple of weeks - still only walking due to the back issues, and I've been fighting off a winter cold, luckily I think I'm winning that battle. I've been tormenting myself with hours on the turbo trainer in the garage to prevent too much cold air getting into my lungs and making things worse. Also been increasing my swimming of late which is positive news on the shoulder front - and would be ideal if I was about to do a triathlon in Morocco. But I'd still rather be running.
Rich and I met up with Darryl, another MdS runner from Sheffield for a brisk, in more ways than one, walk. Beautiful snowy conditions up on Stanage and the Peak and knocking off 16 miles in 4 hours over that terrain was good going. On days like these I really appreciate where I live.

So to this weekend, I'll be carrying best part of 11kg including water. As you can see from the picture, my daughter Jess found it easy enough, so I'm expecting it to be a breeze!
Jess not struggling with 11kg
The added twist however is that the weather forecast is brutally cold with a high chance of significant snowfall. Luckily, with only 33 miles to cover each day at a walking pace, I'm only likely to be out in it for 9 or 10 hours each day. What could possibly go wrong? I'm curious to see how I cope, nervous about the length of the event and excited to get going all at once. I'll need reminding of that at 4am tomorrow when I have to get up to travel down to the start. Wish me luck.