Thursday, January 31, 2013

ULTRA RUNNERS ARE CRAZY!!!!!!! - to non ultra runners.........

When I first began running, it was a few km's here and there and was looked upon as general fitness to improve my health status.  The social opinions here when discussing my activities were consistently positive with a clear message of "that's great, well done."

As I moved up the distance brackets to 15km-20km+ per run, the general consensus was that this was quite difficult but well done for taking on the challenge.  "Geez, 20km's, well done.  You must be really fit!"

Then came my decision to train for and run ultra's............ Well, how did the opinions and questions change!!!!!!!!!!!!!  "Are you nuts?"  or the most common response I get is "WHY?"

Why do ultra runners run ultras?  Personally, it's hard to define.  To be honest, it's almost impossible to describe in a manner that would make sense to another.  Some key points that spring to mind are; the challenge, the freedom of the trail, leaving issues on the trail beyond the 20km point, aid station food!!!!!!!, achieving more than I or others think possible, the runners high I get at the finish line of an event, the example of self discipline I set for my kids........................ There's so many more I could ramble on about here.

The point is, no matter how much I try to describe it to non ultra runners, the blank face continues to stare back at me...... "Yeah I get wanting to be fit, but that's just stupid!" Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  Maybe I don't care.  I love it, so I'll do it.

I've had the chance to study the field of running and fitness in general through tertiary education as well as personal enquiry directly with the running crowd and have found it clear, distinct character trait consistent with ultra runners compared to non ultra runners.  Those who compete in ultra's are VERY goal orientated.  Some more than others, but in general, they are very clear about what they want to achieve.  And I don't just mean with running, but life in general.  I think this comes as a natural progression as since committing to running ultras myself, I know the type of commitment that it takes.  Someone with limited direction or focus would struggle to adhere to the regime of what ultra marathon training puts you through.

The other point I've noticed, is that the majority of these don't neccessarilly see most of this training as "training", but as a "lifestyle".  They run 150,200, some 300km+ per month, not because the programme says they have to, but because they love to...........  Coming event or no coming event, you'll often see these people smashing a trail for 4-5 hours on a weekend because it's their form of joy.

And my favourite character trait I find most common amongst true ultra runners, is their ability to put competitiveness aside for companionship.  Don't get me wrong, ultra runners love to win and punch out PB's just like anyone else; but I've never seen a field of sportsmen/women who are so open, helpful, and genuinely intersted in how you are going than that of the ultra running crowd.  Only an ultra runner truely knows what it's like out there after 12+ hours on your feet and still have 20km's to go, or a tough mountain to climb while on an empty tank.  I think this is what makes them so empathetic to each other.  To have someone stop during an event just to talk to you, see how you are, or just share some time with you before heading off again is almost unheard of during an official race or event in other forms of competitive sport.

Ultra Runners are clearly a different breed.

A local ultra runner here in South Australia who I've been blessed to share some time on the trails with, Sputnik, is an avid videographer of his time on the trails and shares some his experiences here:  It's worth a watch to get a glimpse of what distance trail running can be like out there and how he responds to the challenges along the way.  Ultra running has seen Sputnik travel to many parts of the world.  I'd highly recommend a few minutes flicking through his many journeys.........  Thanks for sharing Sputnik.

As an example of the frame of mind I've been in during a recent ultra, I hit the 60km aid station/check point of a 105km ultra, and mentally my perception of breaking this day down was "ok, only a marathon to go"  At the time, this helped me put aside the fact that this was a 105km run.  Looking back on this now, how was I able to comfort myself by saying it was ONLY a marathon to go?  A marathon is a long way by anyones standards and yet I somehow used this as a means of easing myself.  Let's not forget the fact that this checkpoint also marked the furthest distance I'd ever run in a single session; so to have this frame of mind whilst going into unknown territory is kind of intriguing in hindsight.
Approaching the 60km aid station

There's something about the sheer size of an ultra marathon that takes the emotional preparation to another level.  To a place that no 12km or half marathon has taken me before.  With complete and utter exhaustion, nearing minight with over 100km's and 2950m of accent behind me I hobbled accross the finish line to meet my wife and kids who's volunteered their time on aid stations for the day.  The magnitude of emotions in that moment will stick with me for life.

I guess the question is: Are Ultra Marathons good for you?  There's plenty of opinions (especially by the negative 'drag-me-downs' out there) that long distance running is bad for you and ruins your body.  There may be some validity in these views; and there may not be..........  There's no denying that the level of training that an ultra runner goes through, and the limits they take their body to during an event is quite excessive.  However, I'd like to argue that this can not be far different to the negative impact of most other high levels of competition sports.  AFL, Rugby, Tennis, Basketball, Soccer/Football, Grid Iron, Cricket, Hockey, you name it, the elite players are always training and competing at a level that takes their physical self to the limits.  In fact, I'd like to make my own observation (non research supported) that from my own experiences, ultra runners are in better overall 'health' and injury free than the majority of these fields.  How often are top perfromers of these sports out of action due to injury?  On the flipside to this, it's funny how it's generally the 'couch potato' that voices this opinion to me.  "You run too much.  Running that far is bad for your body.  You're going to do yourself damage"  Any runners ever heard this or similar?  I'd like to state that I'd rather be stressing the body's health with fitness functions and recovery than with high blood pressure and cholesterol watching the idiot box for 6 hours a day.  I'd rather have a knee reconstruction in my 40's than a triple bypass...............  Maybe it's just me!

I guess my point here is, yes it takes a lot out of the body to train for and compete in ultra distance running; but is it worth it?  You bet it is!

Monday, January 28, 2013

HOW TO: A guide to DOWNHILL Running Technique

For every uphill stretch, there's almost certain to be a downhill equivalent.....  Especially on out and back or loop runs.

There's so much focus put on to uphill running and the hype of strength training and hillsprints to prepare you not to fatigue on your way up a solid accent, but rarely do people think about downhills until they hit a decent of 400m+ late in a big run/race.  Why is that?  It''s only downhill so it's gotta be easy right?  Wrong!  In fact, I meet more people who prefer to run up than down...........  Moreso during Ultras.

I'm certainly no uphill runner!  I'm still building strength and attempting to drop a couple of unwanted pounds for that, but an area of skill I seem to hold on the trails is on the downhills. I often lose placings on the steep inclines, but often make these up and sometimes more on the way back down.

Downhill running brings about a whole new form of stress on the legs than what flat or uphill running does.  Typically, the muscle tissue is conditioned to working or contract whilst shortening; however this is the opposite when running downhill.  During the gait cycle of downhill running the muscles perform an eccentric muscle contraction which essentially means it is under load while lengthening, not shortening.  Without good conditioning, this will fatigue the muscles very quickly.

Fatigued muscles and poor form down steep declines can quickly cause damage to not only the muscle tissue, but moreso the joints such as knees and hips with constant harsh pounding upon each step.

Downhill running is essentially about keeping your stride under control whilst gravity is pulling you down.  On gentle slopes, this is not too much trouble.  As you begin to hit steeper slopes and/or rough terrain underfoot, this becomes a little more strenuous on the quadriceps.

A good downhill runner can use the decents as a 'rest break' from heavy inclines or long flat stretches in a race and increase per/km pacing IF they know how to run a downhill.  Poor form running downhill will result in greater fatigue whilst having a negative impact on their per/km pacing.

A common mistake in running downhill is people tend to lengthen their stride resulting in their foot striking infront of their waist.  Biggest mistake in downhill running!!!!!  Why?:
  1. A forward foot-strike means an elongated leg position, which results in minimal shock absorbtion through the knee joint.  The outcome of this means undue pressure is put on the ankle, knee and hip.  Only a couple of km's of this and you'll find significant discomfort and or pain forming throughout the legs.  Especially the next day.
  2. Striking forward of the centre of gravity means you are effectively 'braking' upon landing.  Put in other terms, you are expelling energy to slow down!  The concept of distance running is supposed to be trying to run as fast as you can whilst using MINIMAL amounts of energy as possible.  Therefore this error in form is costing you unneccessarilly.
  3. The further forward your strike, the more the eccentric contraction the muscles have to perform, which in turn causes greater and greater miniscule damage to the muscle fibres.  Even on a short or small slope, this makes a difference to your performance in the later stages of a race.
  4. A forward strike will also result in the foot 'slapping' the ground upon contact quite hard.  This will no doubt cause damage to the foot bones, ankle and achilies tendon in the mid to long term.

Another common mistake I see a lot of people make in downhills is straightening their back and standing more vertical.  Firstly, a straight back (with a slight tilt forward) is great, and carries with it loads of benefit for breathing and aligning your posture for the rest of your running action to work from, however, this is often exaggerated by standing too vertical.  This is an automatic reaction to the forward forces gravity is placing on the body so we pull up vertical to compensate.  This action again costs us........... As we pull further and further back (up), we strike BEHIND the centre of gravity resulting in us 'braking' on each step.  You'll also find that your more likely to 'heel-strike' which will place undue stress on the joints again, as well as make traction and control extremely difficult on loose or slippery terrain.

Gravity: Friend or Foe, all depending on how you use it!

Correct downhill form will result in you being able to increase your pace whilst reducing your energy expenditure. Why not use gravity to your advantage rather than disadvantage?

It will take a little practice with the following to get comfortable with, but once you do, you'll find downhill running an advantage in your events, gaining places whilst others stuggle.  The difficulty here is not in the physical technique, as these changes are actually quite easy to introduce.  The challenge I find with most people is actually in trusting themselves and the slope.  Many people fear the downhill as they feel they may lose control and slip or fall.  However, their actions in changing form to compensate actually increases their risk.  Heel landing provides little grip, and forward landing places excessive ground force in a forward motion which increases the chance of sliding forward on loose or slippery surfaces.

The correct foot strike is similar to that of the flat surface, meaing it should land directly underneath the waistline, with mid-foot stike, especially on loose gravel as it provides more surface area of the shoe resulting in more control. Even fore-foot strikers should be aiming to land mid-foot when running down hill.

To correct the change in the centre of gravity when heading down, aim to lean slightly more forward than usual; by straightening your back but tilt forward from the waist.  Ideally if conditions allow you to, make the upper body at 90 degrees to the slope.  Obviously if you're on a very steep slope this impractical so make it comfortable.  Your leg turnover rate should increase according to the steepness and technicality of the surface.  The steeper, looser or slipperier the slope, the fast the turnover.  This will mean a shorter stride.  Don't be afraid to have a slight backward-strike if need be; meaning making contact with the ground slightly behind the waist line or centre of gravity if it helps with control of a faster turnover rate.

A good form will feel as though you are 'falling' down the hill with your legs merely keeping you gliding across the surface.  Poor form will make a jolting or rigid feel underfoot.

Be sure to try a few of these out on a few medium grade down slopes with reasonable grippy surfaces to try it out.  Be sure to consciously switch between old habits and the new form to feel the obvious difference.  Practice this often and make a deliberate inclusion to your training programme and watch the ave pacing improve.....................

Happy trails.............

Sunday, January 20, 2013

ULTRA MARATHON TRAINING : The long run - one big single Vs back to back runs

Like many others when I first decided that I'd start increasing the distance and go for Ultra Marathon events I began researching as much as I could: training techniques, race and pacing strategies, nutrition, and of course how to prepare yourself to run 50km's, 100km's+.

As expected there was a mass of info out there from millions of sources.  Sadly, the majority was contraticting each other everytime I read something new.  What one blogger would swear by, was wrong according to this study or that trial by who knows who.  So what to go by?  How can I decipher what's right and what's wrong?  All I can suggest here is firstly; keep reading as much as you can and look for any consistencies amongst the material; and secondly get out and try it.  Ultimately you need to find out what works for you.

It goes without saying that running an ultra is all about endurance.  The longevity built up in the legs to withstand running 50kms, 80kms or even 100kms+.  This is what you're working towards.  The stamina to be on the legs for between 6 to 24 hours depending on your chosen distance.  This is something that a typical runners training programme does not prepare you for.

Mixed up in the piles of data out there; one of the most consistent points that most agreed on is that your training is mainly focussed around your LONG RUN.  What is NOT consistent on this is HOW the run is conducted and how often.  Some say weekly, some say twice weekly, while others say 1-2 per month total.  Then others suggest back to back long runs.  So we know now to put attention towards our long run, but how are we going to perform this vital component?

I personally believe this depends on your base mileage you have currently, Vs the length of the event you're aiming for.  Let's say you're running 60km's per week currently and have an 80km Ultra (50miler) coming up in the next couple of months.  There is no point trying to push yourself to run a 40-50km single long run if the longest you've run is around 30km's.  Not this close to the event.  You won't recover in time!  You're better off to be slightly undertrained when standing at the starting line than overtrained!!!!!

Keeping in mind, if you're lining up your first Ultra, your ultimate goal shouldn't be to place in the event, but to finish.  Learn, experience and take mental note how you fared throughout the day.  Take away as much as you can from the experience and use it towards your next ultra.  There is so much uncharted territory for you learn from once you get past 50km's.  How the body responds to running while fatigued.  How to fuel for an event that uses more energy than your body can store and process.  In some events, what gear you need to carry either as mandatory for the event and/or personal preferences.

When I decided to enter my first 56km Ultra, my longest run was 21km's which I'd only done once, 4 weeks before.  Common sense was telling me this was a stupid move (and realistically it probably was) but I decided to enter anyway.  I like to consider myself a strategist of sorts so I figured that while I may not be physically ready for such an event, I might be able to work my way into this through clever last minute prep and race/pacing planning.  I had 4 weeks before the event to get ready.  Which meant if I tried to throw in any long runs of 30km's plus (never done before) there's a good chance I would not've recovered in time for the event.  After some deep thought, there were 3 things I wanted to ensure I had covered by the time I hit the starting line:
  1. How do I respond to running while feeling fatigued?
  2. What is trail running like and how does it differ to bitumen running?
  3. Be as fresh as possible by the morning of the race.
That's a fair bit for an amatuer to work out in 4 weeks.  So what did I do?
  1. Running while fatigued:  Like I said earlier, I wasn't in a position to push myself so far into distances that I hadn't run before due to short lead up time to the event.  So instead of pushing out 30km+ runs I decided that back to back runs would suit me better.  Long runs for 3 days straight, rest 2 and then long runs 3 days straight again.  Keeping this pattern for 2 weeks, leaving 2 weeks after this for recovery.  This gave me the opportunity to build up a few last minute km's into the legs, without overdoing any single session.  By the 3rd day in a row, my legs were definitely tired and 'jelly-like'.  I didn't care about pace, just that I got out and did the 10-12km's (which was my long run distance at the time).  I was also conscious to allow full recovery opportunity by refuelling and replenishing carbs and proteins immediately after each session.  It was afterall only a 7-9 hour targeted race so I did not need to train to run on complete empty like 100km+ Ultra's force you to do.
  2. Trail Running - What am I in for? (Event specific training) Having only run on relatively flat terrain bitumen and pavement courses, I knew it would be a good move to get out on the trails to experience was I was in for.  I'd heard in the lead up to this Ultra that the infamous Blackhill was one to look out for with a long, very steep incline that just keeps climbing; and given that it is positioned at the 50km mark of the course, I didn't want to see what this was like for the first time on the day.  So this must be experienced ASAP.  15km's is my limit for a long run so I charted out 15km's back from the finish line of the course and started there.  This I believe was the smartest move I made in my preparation.  Having known what the final 15km's was like made it so much easier for me on the day of the race.  In fact, that final section was one of the fastest sections I had throughout the day.  (weird since I'd never run that far)
  3. Be fresh at the starting line: Knowing I'd decided to enter an event that I really wasn't ready for, there was little point trying to properly prepare for it so I made the decision that I'd rather be undertrained than overtrained.  As such, there was very little running at all in the final 2 weeks.  Certainly none at any great deal of effort.  With 2 weeks to go I had 3 gentle slow runs, and the final week I had 1 run of about 6-8 km's but walked 4-5 km's almost evey day to stay loose.  Come race morning I was as fresh and clean in the legs as I'd felt for some time.
The mix of these plans, along with a plan to keep the first 30km's as easy as possible, seen me not only finish this ultra, but finish stronger than my only half marathon.  In a time well under the plan and positioned around top 3rd overall.

Again, I'll state that I was not physically prepared for such an event and all common sense should've prevented me from entering, but since I'd committed myself to it, pure strategic planning got me through it on this occasion.

What are the long run options?  In general, there are 2 common types of long run plans: 
  1. A single long run performed on a given frequency.  This run is generally aimed at approximately 1/2 the weekly mileage or as close to.  Carried out at a slow, conversational pace, ideally on similar terrian and conditions to that of the upcoming event.
  2. 2 or maybe even 3 consecutive days at a portion of your long run distance but longer than your normal weekly runs.  For example, if your long run aim id 40km's, you might do either 20km and then 20km, or others prefer to split it and do 25km then 15km.  Whatever you prefer as I don't find much difference with the splits in the outcome.

In short, I've since found in the lead up to other Ultra's that back to back long run training seems to work better for me.  That second session, going out when already tired provides me with a tough session without needing to be out there for 4-6 hours.  It also allows the neurological system and muscle tissue to become accustomed to working beyond their typical fatigue limits.

I can not stress enough the importance however of good solid rest and recovery following your long run session(s).  The concept behind the long run is for CONDITIONING. Conditioning means to stress the body beyond it's normal comfortable operating perameters of which the body then will respond and rebuild stronger to compensate.  If this process of being able to respond is ignored by not resting, the entire session is practically wasted!!!!!  Your body will not become stronger and therefore not be able to build better resistance to distance running.  Make sure you rest...............

Another important and useful tip to throw into your long run sessions is your pre, during and post fuelling and hydration plans.  Test it all out.  Drink what you intend to drink in the race.  Eat what you intend to eat for the race.  DO NOT try anything new here on race day, or you may come to the fate that I did in my first 100km ultra.  Major tummy problems which left me unable to consume anything from 75kms onwards.  No fuel means an empty tank!  Not a fun experience to push out a final 30km while completely empty...........  Try different things.  Write it all down.  Comment on how you felt and whether it was energising, easy to consume, easy to carry and complimented your run rather than complicated it.  You're going to need fuel during your ultra so best to work this out now, not then.

Should you have enough prep time leading up to your next event, aim to have your long run up to approximately 1/2 or preferrably 2/3 of that of the event; without increasing this distance by >10-15% per week.  For example; if your event is a 50km, you would ideally want to be up to running your long runs at 30km to 35km by 1 month out of the event before you begin to taper down.  Trusting in your rest and tapering, you will be well prepared to tackle the 50km.  If however, you are planning a 100km or greater, the opportunity to run a 50km to 75km long run each week as your building up might be difficult and possibly too much stress on the body.  This is a good scenario to try out back to back runs.  Why not in this case do saturday 40km, then Sunday 25km or 30km.  This will give you the mileage you need, but without overstressing the body, and/or making it difficult to fit into your other living/family/work/study commitments.

The LONG RUN........... The make or break component of whether you will complete your first Ultra, or make that step from 50km to 100km+.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

FOOT STRIKE for distance runners - Transition from heel strike

In the beginning, like many others, I was a prominant heel striker.  By prominant I mean I'd wear my shoes down considerably on the outside edge of the heel before any other signs of use came visible on the shoe. 

What is the foot strike?  Essentially, the foot strike is point where the foot meets the ground at the completion of a stride.  The positioning of this strike plays a vital role to your overall technique and with proper practice, can make massive improvements to your overall run speed and race times.

It wasn't until I built a base level of fitness and began looking into technique tips for distance running where I came across the concept of forefoot and midfoot striking.  To be honest, I didn't even know there was a particular technique for the angle and position of your foot upon grounding each stride.  I thought most of your technique was based around body alignment and breathing.

Following all the craze, I decided to start this 'forefoot' running straight away.  WOW, I don't think I made it 1/4 of my normal distance before my calves were screaming at me!!!!  "I'd better get used to this..............."

After several attempts over several weeks, nothing seemed to be letting up when trying to strike on the front of my foot.  It just didn't feel natural.  It wasn't until I become really fatigued on a long run one weekend and tried to continue the forefoot landing but couldn't that I found myself compromising to a mid-foot strike.  Almost immediately I found this relieving. In fact, everything pretty much fell into place with stride, effort vs output, and general comfort with the remainder of the session.

Why is it that some people swear by forefoot, while others can't go near it?  It's a near certainty that no one of any worthy experience in distance running agrees with a heel strike so we can automatically put that in the rubbish bin.  If you're in that category, do what you can to rid yourself of the bad habit ASAP.

6 months of habit forming, I'm happy to say I'm a comfortable mid foot striker.  I feel fresher for longer, the joints seem to feel better after long sessions (especially on hard pavement or bitumen) and I've massively reduced my vertical movement.

Breaking Ultra running down into it's core is that it is ultimately about running as efficiently as possible.  Or in other terms, the ability to move forward as fast as possible with as little energy usage as possible.

2 of the biggest energy zapping errors many runners make in the early days are:
  1. heel strike
  2. too much vertical movement
There's many more but that's for another day.  The reason a heel strike is poor for your form in terms of efficiency is that you are landing with your foot in front of the body.  A foot landing in front of the body means you are effectively breaking upon striking the ground.  Why would you want to use energy to slow down?  Too much vertical movement means you are using energy to move up, not forward.  Again, a waste of much needed energy.  You will no doubt need some vertical movement, but keep this as little as possible.  You have feet, not wheels so to cut this completely is near impossible.  A good guide to your vertical movement is to look at the horizon as you run.  You should see only a slight movement in your view up and down.  Should this look like an amateur video with the view jumping about, you need to drop your stride down.

The good news is, I found by changing my strike to mid-foot, this automatically cut out a substantial amount of my vertical movement.  Pacing sped up by around 15-20 seconds per KM in training within a month purely from a change in form.
How do you change the strike position?  Put simply; shorten your stride! If ever I find myself heelstriking I can always put the issue towards striding out too far.  I pull my stride back, and straight away I mid-foot strike again.  The most common time I find myself falling back into the bad habit is if I'm majorly fatigued, or running downhill and not thinking about it.  Running downhill in poor form can rapidly cause damage to your knees and other joints so be sure to work on this here.

You may also find that by shortening the stride, your cadence (leg turnover speed) will increase to keep up the pace.  This will take a short amount of getting used to but bare with it.  It comes about pretty quickly.  Throw in a couple of extra speed sessions in the coming few weeks and you'll find this issue resolved.

What's the aim?  The concept of mid-foot or fore-foot striking is to improve your efficiency whilst reducing risk to injury.  There's nothing wrong with your foot going slightly in front of the body during stride, but it needs to be on it's way back by the time it hits the ground. (think of the Road Runner cartoon where his legs go around in a circular motion).  I personally haven't been able to master this however I've seen some other quality distance runners use this quite well.

Try turning off your Ipod for the next month, and set yourself the target of improving your strike and stride over the next 4 weeks.  Initially use the first 1/4 of your run to deliberately focus on the changes you want, followed by the remainder of the run as normal. By the 2nd week, increase this to half of the run, and 3rd week to 3/4.  You get the idea. 

Why not 100% change straight up?  Depending on the amount of change you need to make, this could create quite a shock on the surrounding muscles, causing strain, excessive fatigue or even inury whilst you're getting used to it.  The other issue is that if you have an event in the near future, you don't want to put undue stress on the body in your lead up.  Changes in technique and form are vital to your continual improvement (And I personally have a long way to go) but they need to be managed and undertaken properly and inteligently.

Who knows, maybe one day after a long period of running mid-foot, I might move towards fore-foot, but for now I can't see that working for me.  I suggest to try both out to see what's comfortable and gives the best result.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

RECOVERY: Complete Rest Vs Active Recovery

Timing is everything in training........  Which probably also explains why I'm writing about this now that I've decided I better pull back a little in training since the latest 93km Ultra 1.5 weeks ago.  Maybe, just maybe I'll take some of my own advice.

There's always a lot of questions and answers about how to train, how to run, techniques, pacing etc, but rarely do people talk technically "How to Rest".  Isn't rest the easy bit?  Not neccessarilly.....  In fact, getting your rest strategy right is just as, if not more important than the running training.  Without proper rest and recovery, the muscles can not repair/rebuild and therefore your training efforts are diminished.  What's the point of working hard and stressing the body if it becomes weaker due to not being able rebuild?

There's 2 main/common types of recovery often argued over to which is better: Total rest & recovery, OR Active recovery.  So which is better?  This depends on who you ask.  Some swear by a certain one and won't budge on it as though they are defending their favourite sports team.  Personally, I think there's a time and place for both depending on where you're sitting in terms of your training & event schedule.

Total Rest/Recovery:  As the name suggests, this means a 100% stop on physical activity.  Rest...... No running, no swimming, cycling etc..... Rest!  This is especially useful in my opinion in 2 common scenarios;
  1. You've become injured
  2. You've just completed a large event which pushed you to the limit, and had extensive lead up training prior to the event; AND have no major events coming up in the next 3 months.
Should you injure yourself, the worst thing you can do is to continue pushing yourself through your training and ignoring the problem.  This will massively delay your recovery, and/or make the problem worse.  Consult professionals and drop the training!

In the case of finishing a major event that took a lot out of you and you have no major events coming, use this time to your body's advantage and rest!  Soft tissue needs a break, even if your mind can handle more.  The human body is a complex and mysterious biological machine; but just like a mechanical machine, they need their breaks and servicing.  Better that you choose when your outage time is when it suits you, than have it forced upon you by breaking down in an inconvenient time; such as 3 weeks before a race..............

Active Recovery:  Fairly obvious here. Often referred to as cross training, this entails recovering from an event or intense training by keeping active but either dropping the intesity and workloads, AND/OR changing up the activity type.  eg, cycling, swimming, walking etc.  Active recovery is a good way to assist in the breakup and removal of lactic acid build up in the days following a tough session/event.  By removing the lactic acid, this in turn reduces muscle soreness and tightness.  A good amount of active stretching is vital before and after any sessions through this period.  Static stretches are not as effective in the breakup of lactic acid and therefore not as effective here.  Leave static stretches for flexibility training and exercises.

The active recovery option is good for:
  1. Recovering from a major event where you've pulled up sore but not injured
  2. Recovering from a major event and you have another event/race coming up in the next 3 months.
  3. Recovering from an event, have no major events coming up soon but wish to use the near future to begin increasing your base mileage.
  4. Adding in to your training programme.  I tend to use a 1 in 4 week strategy.  For example, I'll build up my mileage and intesity for 3 weeks, then on the 4th drop back but keep active.  This helps the body build on what you've worked on, then be in a better position to keep building on your next 3 weeks.  Minimal recovery = minimal gains.
In the lead up to the Heysen 105km Ultra in October last year, I had a 56km Ultra 4 weeks earlier.  Whilst this acted as a final training run as such for the 105km, some may have thought to completely rest up following such an event.  Coming out of the 56km injury free, had I decided to completely 100% rest, this would've affected my final taper training coming into the 105km.  In this case I decided 'Active Recovery' was required here.  On the flip side, had I noticed any injury or strain following the 56km event, I'd have considered Total Rest a more viable option for a given period relative to the injury.

On the flipside, an example of where I personally got it wrong was shortly after all of this, following the Heysen 105km Ultra.  Either being over confident, naive, or a little cocky; pulling up injury free and in sorts quite good the following day, I decided I was OK to keep going with my training.  So much so that I decided to make a late entry into a tough 15km event called the Blackhill Challenge.  "What's 15km?"  Silly boy.............  Yes, I did feel good through that week following the Heysen105.  Yes I was completely injury free.  Yes, I felt good on training runs the week following (keeping in mind I only did short to mid length runs on the flat; no hills).  So that Friday I signed up for the 15km hills event.  There's some fairly decent climbs in that 15km's let me tell you.  I started out OK running across a grassy oval, 500m later we hit the first incline. WHOA!!!!, nothing in the legs.......  What's happened here?  I couldn't climb a hill for the life of me.  Whilst not sore, my legs were still dead.  They clearly had not recovered to where I thought they had.  Second to that, my downhills were smashing my knees as I couldn't hold proper form.  I normally take pride in being a strong downhill runner, and while I still ran these at a good pace, it cost me big time on my knees.  Long story short, I shouldn't have ran that race.  My body was not ready for it.  It was not a vital event and was not on my calendar until a couple of days prior.  Therefore in this instance I should've opted for the Total Rest plan for at least 2 weeks and then slowly build back into a base.  When you consider that the Heysen105 was the final event for the 2012 calendar, it was a silly decision to enter the 15km.  Why? What did it cost me?  My recovery time was delayed by almost a month due to the stress I put on the legs and joints during the 15km.  I actually felt worse in the 2 weeks following the 15km than I did the week following the 105km.

Looking at my training results and general 'how do I feel' feedback, it took me at least 4-6 weeks to recover from what would've taken 2 weeks had I chosen the correct option for recovery.  Not to mention the risk I put myself in towards injury.  Again I came out injury free, but I think that was pure luck, not ability.

The message here is that it's important to know where and when to engage these options, so as to get the best results moving forward.  Getting this part wrong could mean you waste a lot of training effort either already completed or to catch up what should've been kept.

Learn to listen to the body and respond to it's requests............. or pay the penalty..........

Thursday, January 10, 2013

TRAINING: staying committed on those hard days

The original source slips me at the moment but I once read a quote that said "Champion boxers aren't made in the ring; they're just recognised there"

I believe this holds true to all disciplines of sport, and in fact life.  If you're not prepared to put in the hard yards when no ones watching, the results will speak for themselves when it's time to put rubber to the road.

What's my point?  Anyone can lace up and go out for a training session when we feel good, when the weather is perfect, when we've got spare time, and when all the moons seem to just line up for us.  But what makes the difference between the average and the successful?  Put quite simply, it's the ability to work hard in the dark times!!!!  The emotional depth to pick yourself up and get out there on those days where you just don't want to or feel you can't due to some reason.

The reality is, everyone is busy in some form or another.  Everyone has obstacles and commitments in their lives.  You'd be a fool to think you are unique in this area.  I too have had times where I just can't find a reason to do something I know I should be doing.  "It's too hot. Too cold. It's dark. I feel down. I had a bad day at work.  The kids are too much today."  Blah blah blah blah. 

The key to your continual growth is not follow along the easy road.  That's where everyone else is.  If you want to chart new ground, go where no-one else is going!  By this I mean, be prepared to do something that is different to your average folk.

I see it all the time in multiple contexts throughout my life, and I'm sure many of you do too, that someone with great capacity, skills, and ability continues to go along with the flow simply because they are following the crowd.  This may be in sport, business, personal life, or many other areas of their existence.

I'm probably not revealling much that isn't common knowledge already; but the point stands that knowledge is useless when not actioned.

So, how do you get from the point of "can't or won't" to out the door????  This is the real message here isn't it?  Well for me it's fairly simple.  GOALS!!!!  And by goals I mean SPECIFIC, TANGIBLE and ACCOUTABLE GOALS!!!!!!! Any time in my life that I've looked back to realise I've been 'floating through' life with not much direction, I've pin pointed where I've either dropped focus on my goals, or life circumstances have meant needing to change them and I haven't countered for it.

The same holds true for running.  Here's an example:  Let's say you decided to start running because you wanted to lose weight.  Pretty common reason.  Here's the problem: If you're only goal is to lose weight, where does it end?  Is there an end?  How much?  By when?  What happens once you do it?  Sadly, the majority of people who take up running don't follow through with it; either at all, or very sporadically.  No clear goals!

WHAT do you want to achieve? 
WHY do you want to achive it? 
By WHEN do you want to achieve it? 
HOW are you going to do this?
What are you prepared to SACRIFICE for this?

These are all vital questions that must have specific, detailed answers.  Any cracks here and you can be sure you will not achieve what you desire in the given topic.

Again, this may be common knowledge to most.  There's unlimited resources on this type approach.  Why is it that many fail to apply it?

For me personally, since I can't speak for everyone else, in regards to running; I not only have very clear answers to the above points, but I also award a VALUE to each training session.  By this I mean, I visualise and strategically plan towards my next event and map out my training to achieve it.  No training session is included for no reason.  There's a purpose for each and every one.  Far beyond 'I like running'...........  If this is your only motivation to go out there, it won't work.  Therefore, I know that each training I skip out on or cheat myself in, will DIRECTLY COST MY BOTTOM LINE in the race, and following events shortly after.  This jeapordises my results, which is in direct conflict to my STUBBORN GOALS!!!!  Goals that I am not prepared to negotiate unless it's to improve them!

Is it difficult to get up and out the door when it's cold and raining?  When your feeling a little flat from a bad day at the office.  Yes it is.  Will this stop it from being difficult?  No it won't.  What this approach will do, is give you reasoning.  Reasoning beyond whether you feel like it or not.

Give yourself a winning chance of achieving greatness this year.  Take 10-15 minutes RIGHT NOW; go find a quiet place on your own away from the daily grind, and write down some detailed answers to the earlier noted points.  The more specific, and more detailed the better.  As mentioned in other posts I've written, my favourite most relevant quote is "Today I'll do what others won't, so tomorrow I can do what other can't"

Personally, I have my training programme printed on a spreadsheet mapping out each day and what activity I have on there.  This is kept in front of my face daily and makes me accountable for hitting each session.  Should I miss any, it will mean I will not reach the month end target.

Be prepared to face the hard truth that should you skip todays session, IT WILL COST YOU!

Lace up and get out there.  If an emergency comes up, deal with it as required and then get back to your training commitments.  Who cares if it's later on that night, or 4am the next day.  Make it happen!  You'll be thanking yourself come next race when you smash out a PB.

The unrelenting commitment to your clear goals is your key to a successful 2013.  Go out and get it!!!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Flinders 240km Ultra Marathon - multi day

On April 24th 2013 at around 7am, a group of extraordinary runners will be setting off on a 4 day sight seeing extravaganza through some of the Australia's most popular trails, all the while soaking up each others company and sharing the triumphs and challenges along the way.

With a newly found love for trails and my sights set on bigger and better challenges for the future, I've been searching the net for what's out there in terms of Ultra's.  WOW, there's soooo much variety in the Ultra field.  50km, 100km, 100mile, 12hr, 24hr, and even 48hr; but what stood out to me the most was MULTI DAY!  There are events that are staged across multiple days...............  Interesting..........

The thought of running an ultra marathon one day, then meeting up with the group that night knowing you're going out to do it all again the next day; and the next.  Now this has my attention.

After extensive searches it became clear that there were plenty of these across the USA and Europe, but very little in Australia.  Not in a position to travel a great deal right now but too impatient to wait a few years; what was I going to do?

A few days of brainstorming the seed for the Flinders 240km Ultra was planted.  I love the Flinders Ranges.  Located a few hours north of Adelaide, South Australia it is one of my favourite camping regions with the family.  When you add that it also hosts the the top portion of South Australia's most famous trails, the Heysen Trail it was clear this is the place I have to run.

After weeks of research and mapping, along with long chats with volunteers who manage and maintain the trails up there, the basic layout of what will be a big new adventure was on paper.  A 240km, 4 day run from Pichi Richi Park to the Parachilna Gorge Trail head.  Staged in such a way that only one night is spent at a main campsite, while the other nights happen to land right on main towns making facilities easily accessible.  My wife on board to help along the way by car, I'm set!!!!  IT"S ON!!!!

Now to find some others to share my journey.  With only a simple promo to the local trail community, I have a comfortable handful wanting to join me, and another also offering help in coordinating the details.  AWESOME!!!!  This not so long ago pipe dream is quickly becoming a reality.

I had to make it clear to the community and those interested that this is by no means a formal event (yet!) and as such it is to be treated no different to that of a casual weekend run among friends.  It will be limited in it's support and is a trial run to what will hopefully become South Australia's first multi day 240km Ultra.  All who showed interest remained keen.  What an amazing group of runners we have here!

It astounds me how eager and committed the trail running community is.  So selfless and supportive.  At just a hint of help needed, people flock to your aid as if it's nothing.  I love that about this group of people.  They may be crazy, but they're awesome!

What excites me the most about this formation is getting to the end of each stage; sitting around a camp fire as a group discussing the days travels, how everyone's feeling, what they experienced, and all being conscious of the fact that we're about to do it all again the following morning.  No single day run can ever give you this moment.  This coming together and group bond.

Whoever decides to come with me that week, will by no doubt become life long friends.  There's no way you could endure such a task without forming some level of connection with the participants. I'm sure everyone's high's and low's will be exposed many times during these 4 days; some giggles, some tears; and we'll all be there to support each other.  What an experience this will be.

I still have some planning to do and a few short trips up there prior to meet with a few land owners where the trail cuts through private property, but it is all coming together better than expected.

Now for training.  I'm beginning to work out how to prepare for large single day Ultra's such as 100km, but I've never had to back it up the following day, let alone 4 in a row.! How do you do that?  Do you learn by doing back-to-back training runs?  Do you learn by doing longer, harder single days so that a shorter softer session has a lighter impact?  Is it both?  Who knows.  But now that the date is set and people are committed, I'd better get on to working out what'll work for me.

240km's...................... 4 days..................... who's in?

Monday, January 7, 2013

First 100km ultra marathon (Heysen 105)

With 4 months of running under my belt, I thought shortly after signing up that maybe it was a 'knee-jerk' reaction based on a runners high from just recently completing my first ever ultra marathon (56km Yurribilla) a few weeks earlier.

From all the reading I'd done, and people I'd spoken to, the general concensus is to have at least 1-2 years of long distance running under you belt before taking on such a task of a 100km trail ultra.

Oh well, the fees were paid and the local running community were aware of my commitment to the event.  No turning back now.  Maybe I'd just see how far I'd get.

A good friend of mine (and far more experienced long distance runner), Barry, had mentioned that we should run the first 70km together at a slow steady pace to share the journey and keep each other company on what will no doubt be both of our biggest challenge to date.  This idea settled my nerves substantially but it was still such an unknown for me given I'd never run beyond 56km, and even that was only the 1 run I'd done above 21km.

So how do I even begin the mental preparation for a 105km ultra with a substantial amount of incline?  It was too late to physically train for it as by the time I'd decided to do it, the event was 3 weeks away.  Use what little I have and make the rest up with strong mental will and smart pacing.

After gathering all the gear, including a new Garmin watch and Salomon hydrapack, it dawned on me; there's going to be a few hours running in the dark during the final stages of the race.  I'd never run at night, let alone doing it at a distance beyond my experience.  Not wanting to leave things to chance I decided to do a little 20km hills session at around midnight just to get the experience of it the one time.  I'm so I glad I did!!!!  Firstly, to highlight the 1st headlamp I'd just bought was crap and was not suitable, and secondly it taught me how different it is to run in the dark.  Depth perception on technical single track is quite unusual for the first few times making your footwork a little different.  Worthy of getting used to if you've not done it before.

A week out from the race the true measure of the upcoming haul was becoming more and more apparent.  What am I doing?  I have no place in a 105km Ultra......  I began wondering if this was a silly, half cocked idea and whether I should put it off a year.  Instead, I played with some numbers from the only experience I had; the 56km Ultra.  Although it's far different, it's all I had.  We were given a competitors list and I found some names that had competed in both events.  OK, so there's a few here that I can compare results to give me a guide to whether this is achievable.  It looks like I'm on.  With a 24hour cut off for the event, there's a few names I was faster than in the 56km who beat cut off on this event last year.  Let's do it.  Even if it's just to see how far I get.

In even better news, my wife has decided to help out on the aid stations with my daughter and neice.  Awesome!  This will help with motivation on the day.

2 days out:  Sleep time!  I doubt I'll sleep very well the night before and I'll have to get up at 3am to get ready and make the 1.5 hour drive to the start line.  Also I'd read many times that the sleep 2 nights before is more useful than the night before.

Race Day:  Up at 3am.  Breakfast, grab my meticulously and probably overprepared drop bags, and then head off.  Arriving at the start, it's around 6 degrees celcius, with low lying cloud in the valleys we were about to head into.  A group of 37 runners form and make small talk as we prepare for a big day.  Some with giggles, some others with blank stares (either getting in the zone, or possibly shitting their pants..... lol)

And off we go.  OK, first check point is a half marathon away through gentle rolling hills.  A lot of long grass mixed with overnight dew resulted in completely soaked feet within 4kms.  Oh crap!!!! Not what I wanted so soon into an ultra.  Some anxiety about how the feet will hold up for so long after being so wet set in really quickly.  About 5-6km's in I realised that Barry and myself were out way too hard (for me anyway) but for some reason we didn't seem to drop the pace even though we kept saying we would.  I must admit it did feel gentle and manageable but I was also super cautious not to burn up energy too soon.

Shortly after, we get out on to some bitumen.  Time to let the feet dry out a bit.  Whoops, We've taken a wrong turn and now have the choice of running back around 2km or taking a cut back across to the course through a cow paddock.  We decide the feet are already wet so why not just go across.  Well, 2 electric fences and 500m of 1 foot deep wet grass later we were back on course, and by comparing GPS data with other runners we realise it only cost us about 700m and 8 minutes due to stopping.

A faster than planned pace continued until around 19-20km's where another runner slowly came up behind us that Barry knew well (David).  I decided to pull back here and told Barry to push on without me.  I knew if I kept that pace up, there was no way I could possibly entertain finishing the day.

Hitting check point 1 was great; having my wife and crew there as well as having something to 'tick off' from the journey.  "OK thats 1 of 5".  A quick food grab and hydrapack top up and I'm off.

I last seen Barry heading up the hill about 500m in front of me after check point 1.  From here on, if it's going to happen, I'll have to work to my own strategy.

The next 30km's was the hardest climbing and slowest stage of my day.  So many tough, relentless climbs were beginning to take their toll.  At approximately 40km's on the way up a steep climb, Terry Cleary, an experienced veteran caught up to me and we shared each others company for a while. As our watches ticked over to 42km he piped up and said "that was the hardest marathon I've done".  Whilst it sounds harsh it kind of relieved me a little because I knew he had the ability to finish this thing and if he felt trashed already then it was OK for me to feel this way too.  We find our way to the top of the hills for a while.  Finally.  A few runners seem to regroup along this section for a little while, and at approximately 45km Terry lets out an almighty yelp from a few meters behind me.  Given we were in long grass again in a wide paddock, my first thought was snake bite, but he soon tells us he'd rolled his ankle in a deep hole.  The way he looked at that point, I thought he was out but after convincing me he was OK we slowly trudged on to let it loosen up. (I find out after the race that he'd amde it to 93km's before pulling out due to massive blisters)

We push on at a steady pace and walking some of the uphills until around 50-52km's where we regroup with some different runners.  Graham Tottey and Emma Vaughan (possibly a couple of others but I can't recall).  Graham is having some belly troubles so he tends to stay back with Terry as Emma and I slowly push on forward.  The next 8km's were the best I'd felt since around the 20km point.  I think it was due to a combination of a reduced pace as I stayed with Terry, mixed with knowing I'd be seeing my wife and crew again at the 60km check point, which will simultaniously mean my longest run to date.

Hitting the 60km checkpoint, was a fantastic feeling.  Felt really fresh, refuelled, topped up the hydrapack, kissed my wife and off I go.  Clean, clear solid run again for about 3-4km's and I see another runner stopped to fix a blister problem.  Assured he was OK I keep pushing on, only to have him catch up as we play infront/behind tag for about 8-10km until we seem to settle in next to each other for a while.  I eventually push on and later find he'd pulled out not too long after.

At about the 70km point, whilst the legs and body in general continued to feel relatively good, I noticed my belly beginning to feel a little queezy.  Oh no!  I think I ate something that didn't agree with me at the 60km point.  Stupid me; eating something untested on a training run, even after so much readings of 'don't try anything new on race day'

As I'm nearing the 75km checkpoint it begins to worsen.  Not good!  I have some energy left but not a lot.  I need to eat soon!  I find myself coming into the check point where my night buddy runner (Blake) is waiting for me.  I change tops, put on the headlamp and hi-viz vest.  Try some spaghetti in a cup but can only stomach a couple of forks.  This is not a good sign.  Oh well, can't stay here too long.  Let's go.

The last of the major climbs was just ahead.  Signage was a little poor through this section and Blake was fantastic in running ahead a couple of times to confirm directions (thanks Blake).  We took one small wrong turn but it only cost a couple of hundred meters.

By the time we hit 85km's I was flat.  Not able to take in anything but water, energy was flying out real quick.  By now I was walking all inclines, and slow on the flats.  OK still on the downs.  Coming into the final check point, blisters on my right foot needed to be fixed or they'd be the end of me.  Fixed and redressed, I tried a couple of pieces of watermelon but no go.  Got 2 down but that's it.  Tried a gel but as I put it to my mouth I almost heaved.  20km to go, and no fuel!!!!!!  Well, I'm not stopping here put it that way.  Let's go!

Due to the stop I had a little recharge so I was able to gently run the flats again. Still nothing on the inclines but still OK on the downs.  By 95km's the flats were out again.  I'd work up to a shuffle for 50% of the flats but that was it.  Blake offered me an apple as the belly had slightly subsided a little and I tell you what, I don't know where he got that apple but I would've paid $500 for another.  That was awesome and soon gave me a little shove.  Not a lot, but something.  I still couldn't stomach a gel though.  Damn!!!!

To help the time go past, Blake would keep talking and we'd share stories and general chit-chat which really helped break up the slow nature of this final leg.  Some entertainment of watching a couple of cars trying to get through a 4x4 only muddy path gave us something to think about for a while until we passed and moved on out of sight.

OK, 5km, to go.  "I really am going to make it.  WOW"  I tried to build up some energy through excitement and adrenalin but this only came in small waves until we seen a torch coming back our direction.  It was obviously a volunteer or similar from the group so I ask Blake to ask him how far he was from the finish.  "750-800m" he responds.  AWESOME!!!!! I don't care, I'm running.  Even though it was a gentle uphill from there on, I pushed on.  I felt like it was a fast striding pace but Garmin data later proved it was only at 5:15/km pace.  Oh well, it felt fast at the time.

I'm there!  Somehow, this nutter has completed a 105km ultra marathon in 16th place of a field of 37 from 4 months of running and no real ultra preparation.

A lot of the day is blurry in the mind and some even completely missing, but that finish line will stay with me forever.

Clearly, physically I was not really ready for the adventure, but mentally I'd worked myself into a state of MUST DO!  Especially after the 60km point.

I can't wait for next time where I'll have a real base of training and hopefully discover what fuelling works for me.

Ultra's are amazing, and you learn so much about yourself whilst out there faced with such challenges.  The pain, the solitude, the strategies, the views.  It all adds up to a mass of soul building.

What got you started? - What's your motive?

I remember as a young kid, and right through my mid to late teens I was always slim.  And by that I mean really slim.  Fit, active and agitated if sitting still for too long.  Then comes work, then kids and family commitments.  Month by month, year by year the physical activity goes out the door.  I slowly but surely lost the toned core and general fitness.  It took some time before I really noticed it in any form of consciousness.  I was not overweight nor carrying any real 'baggage' for the first few years but merely not what I used to be.

Sound familiar?  To many I'm sure it does.

It wasn't until my mid 20's where I began to notice that "hey I'm beginning to gain weight".  Not being all that happy about it I'd make weekly decisions to eat better.  Sadly this was generally a few day commitment and I'd go straight back to old habits and stayed with my pathetic excuses that I had no time to exercise due to long work hours and a family with 3 kids.  And so the continual pattern of weight gain slowly kept creeping on.  Nearing 30, and now well into the 'overweight' category I was emotionally upset with how I'd let this state sneek up on me.  "What an idiot" Again on a regular basis I'd decide to try and eat better but to no avail.

What was I doing wrong?  Why was I letting this happen even though I was not happy about it?  I knew the science. I knew what to do and how to do it due to studies in biomechanics and nutrition in my late teens.

So, I'm now fat, double chinned and ashamed of the picture in the mirror.  What have I done? I used to love being fit and active.  Now I can't even bare to remove my shirt in public and rarely even at home.  I swore to myself when I hit 95kg's that I'll in no way whatsoever let myself hit the ton.

Well............ October 2011 I braved a rare hop on the scales expecting mid to high 90kg's as per typical.  Having a reading of 106kg's and checking again.  My heart stopped.  WTF?????  104kg's for 186cm's tall was the line between overweight and obese on the 'height/weight' guide. (I know there's more to it than that but still, it's a poor reflection of oneself)

In a way I'm now glad I had that result.  The feeling I got that morning and how it cut me up inside I have deliberately held on to almost every day since.  Some may think it wise to forget the past and move on.  Not in this case for me.  That exact moment has been my driving force to do something about it!  Being upset by it for years was one thing, but what those 3 digits did to me was gut wrenching.  At that very moment; not tomorrow, or next week, or starting January 1......... but right there I made myself a promise to do something about it. I was to lose that weight and get back to my ideal weight ASAP.  I knew it was predominantly my poor eating habits with far too much convenience foods and carbohydrate reliance.  Exercise was poor but this was relating more towards physical fitness rather than the waistline itself.

I estimated by retrospect guestimation that I was consuming around 3000 calories per day, and these were predominatly empty calories.  With a relatively sedentry lifestyle this is not a good mix.  That day I agreed that NO MATTER WHAT I would not consume more than 1000 calories per day until I was under 90kg's, and then nothing over 1500 until at goal weight which was 82kg's.  Can I point out that this an extreme change and I do not recommend it.  It is not healthy on the body and can cause more harm than good; but this was the state I was in at the time.  I'm very much an ALL OR NOTHING kind of guy.  I knew that if I did not do it fast and get quick results I would lose faith in it and probably revert back like I had so many other times in past years.

So how am I going to drop to under 1000 calories per day and still keep some level of nutrition?  Personally I decided to use a VLCD (Very Low Calorie Diet) shake as my staple for breakfast and lunch, and then have a normal but clean dinner.  I stayed away from the fad brands plastered all over TV by the celebs and went with a proper nutrition controlled product (or as best as this chemical feast can be anyway). The shakes were 150 cals per serve and contained all the vital nutrients the body needs to function, so by lunch I'm only up to 300 cals, leaving me a 700 cal budget for dinner with the family.

Like I said, this was to start TODAY!!!!  No excuses.  I went down to the chemist and got them.  By lunchtime my stomach was going crazy.  I don't care.  I still had the emotions and those 3 digits 106 burned into my eyes.  By dinner it was almost unbareable.  Still don't care.

By day 3 I was going nuts!  The only thing that kept me going was that feeling I'd learned to hold on to.  The feeling I was not prepared to ever face as  reality again.  Whenever it became too much, I'd guzzle a large glass of water and find myslef something to do to stay occupied.  It helped but only temporarily.

At the end of week 1 I'd lost 5.6kg's!!!!! WooHoo!!!!! What a relief. It's working.  Tough, but working.  The next week another 5.2kg's.  WHOA, 10.8kg's in 2 weeks.  I'm back under 100kg's!!!  I knew in the back of my mind that this was too sudden and I should really back off a little as there is no way that was all fat loss.  However, I was still so hyped up about where I was 2 weeks earlier I thought I'd deal with that later.  I had a fair bulk on muscle to begin with so I'm OK for now.

By week 3 the stomach was beginning to chill out a bit.  Yay, the body is becoming accustomed to the lower intake.  Still a challenge, but manageable.  Anytime I had the urge to break the plan I thought about how difficult the last few weeks had been and that one cheat day meant 2 more days of this to make up for it.  Soooooo not worth it.  What idiot would want to put themselves this any longer than neccessary.

By week 5 I hit 89kg's!!!! Woot-friggin-woo...........  I can now drop down to 1 shake per day and have 2 actual meals.  I decided to have a the shake at lunch, and replace the breakfast one with actual food.  Still clean and low calorie, but FOOD!!!!

Progress from here as you can imagine dropped as excess body fat was lower and calories were closer to 1500 per day now, but still achieving consistent results.

On the 11th week I'd done it.  81.8kg's.  That picture is another one burned in the mind.  24kg's gone in under 3 months!!!!  Time to celebrate.  Even though I'd had to change the majority of my wardrobe considerably during the last couple of months, I still had most of my old clothes there.  I literally went in to the wardrobe, grabbed everyting I owned and threw it in the car.  Off to the donation bins I go.  I decided to keep one pair of pants which sits on the top shelp in my wardrobe.  Not to ever wear, but as a reminder.

OK, now I have another small problem.  I've lost a lot of weight but I'm not too happy with how I feel and look.  I'm slim, but feel tired, can't walk 15 minutes without feeling stuffed.  I just realised that I'm not healthy. I'm just slim.  Massive difference.

I'd better stop making poor excuses about no time and start getting off my arse!!!!  So out the door I go for a run.  I hopped on to google maps first to see how far it was to the local high school down the road as it was a reasonable tree lined walking path to get there.  1.5km's.  "OK, I'll run there and back" (no big deal since I was running 12 and 15km's in late teens).  Well............ 500 meters in, face glowing as red as a blacksmiths tongs and breathing like I'm trying to blow up 15 balloons in 30 seconds I realise that I'm not as fit as I once was.  Holy crap this is tough!  Fianlly making it to the target I check my time.  OK, not good.  I should almost be able to walk that time.  Not only that but I had no chancve in running back.  So 1.5km is it for me right now.

On my slow and jelly-legged walk home I note my time in the Ipod and ate it; deciding right there that I will run it 3-4 times per week and take 25% of that time off in 1 month from that day.

2 days later, still sore I lace up for another session.  WHOA, this is even harder.  Now the legs won't work either.  Get to the end and time is even slower.  I don't care; I know the muscles will get used to it.

I decided some strength training was vital as I'd lost some muscle bulk in the rapid weight loss, so off to the gym stores to by a powercgae and freeweight set.  3 days a week on core and major muscle groups will be a reasonable base.

One month later; with the legs freeing up session by session, I'm not only running it in almost HALF the time, but returning back to make a 3km quite comfortably.  YES!!!! I'm there.  I have a base level of fitness back.  No superstar but at least I can chase the dog without feeling like I'd just laid down underneath a cement truck!

Where to from here?  I remembered my longest run was 15km when I was 17, taking out first place for the 16-19 year old category in the "River Run".  After some googling I found this had changed course and was now called the "Hills to Henley", and that it was on in July.  OK, it's a couple of months away.  The goal: run the entire distance without stopping.  I don't care about my old time, but just to finish.  If I can do it at 6min/km pace bonus.

3 times a week slowly increasing the distance, I'm up to 15-18km per week by the time the race hits, with one run at 12km.

Completing in 1:21:55, with no walking I was on top of the world.  I know it's not a great time, but it was a massive achievement for me at the time.

What was it that made me hold back for so many years?  How did I let myself go for so long even though I was unhappy with myself?  Why did it take such a kick in the pants to do something about it?  What I do know is that there is no way I'm EVER going to let myself down like that again.  The change that my kids seen me go through to improve my life is something I hold most proud, as I'm sure somewhere deep in their makeup this will benefit them in the future.

I'm not a very patient man.  When I want something done, it has to be done straight away.  I think this is why it took so long and so many half-arsed attempts to get going.  It took a QUALITY DECISION to make the change.  A clear distinct line between lifestyles.  No "I'm going on a diet" or "I'm gonna start running next week" but more of a "this is friggin ridiculous, and it STOPS NOW"

I'm now proud to float in the high 70kg's, and low 80kg's, running around 200km's per month with a single race distance PB of 105km's.  Loads more things to achieve and never looking back!!!!!!!

So what keeps me motivated?  That morning in October 2011.  The feeling I got when I'd topped 100.....  I hold that like a precious gem and use it at will against myself if ever I need it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

"12hr closed loop"- Mental challenge or Physical challenge?

Do I really know what I'm getting myself into?  I doubt it...... 

A couple of weeks ago I decided to enter the "Caboolture Historical Dusk till Dawn" 12hr Ultra Marathon.  A few points made this event appealling to me;  Firstly because it is 5 minutes from family making it a chance to see them again; secondly because it is in the middle of summer here in Australia so it's the unofficial 'off-season' for Ultra's and this gives me an opportunity to run one during February; and thirdly I intend on entering the Adelaide 24hr in July this year so I see this as a chance to test a few thnigs out in preparation.  Best try out my fuelling and pacing strategy on a 12hr before a 24............

I've run point to point Ultra's through picturesque trails, and these have been testing to say the least; but I found these both difficult but enjoyable simultaniously.  The constant variables along the trails, the twists and turns, the thought of "don't miss the next marker", the climbing over of fences, the dodging of cows all adds up to a rewarding adventure.  Such an adventure that it helps keep the aches and pains at bay from what consciousness you have left in the later stages of the race.

My current thoughts that plague my mind are "how will a 500m closed loop, flat crushed gravel circuit be different?";  "How will I stay mentally stimulated for 12hours on my feet?"

Thankfully I've been able to coerce both my younger sister (for the 6hr making it her largest running challenge to date), and a long term friend and colleague to join me on the gruelling task.  Although said friend will leave me for dead on laps; but at least he can only be a couple of hundred meters away at any time.  In addition to this, my Mother, older Brother and possibly my Father have offered to provide support trackside the whole way through.  Maybe this will be enough to break up the onerous task into 'bite sized' pieces.

Whatever happens, I know I'm in for a challenge.  100km is the goal.  My naively created pacing strategy has been set to 116km allowing for what I believe will be a managable pattern of running, walking and resting.  I know I'll be facing a few lessons along the way that will no doubt put this so called strategy to the test.  What I don't know is what these lessons will be and when they will show up.  Will it be a sensitive tummy like after 10hours of the last 100 I did?  Will it be leg and glute fatigue due to a slightly faster and constant run pace than I'm used to?  Will it be that I've never run through a whole night before so the body clock will shut me down.  Or will it be the tropical humidity?

Fuelling?  What to eat. What not to eat.  What to drink. How much. When.  So many variables to consider.  I've got a few staples that get me by on my long runs.  I now know to avoid high sugars after 6-7 hours as the tummy becomes a little sensitive.  So where will my energy come from?  My weekly long runs don't get me to the point of 6-7 hours to test this out.  What works for 2-3 hours doesn't mean it works after 6.  I learned this the hard way in the Heysen 105.  With no other option but trial and error (which is what this event is ultimately for I guess), I've decided on an 80/20 split then swap half way.  By this I mean I will aim to consume 80% simple carbohydrates & 20% complex carbohydrates for the first 4-6 hours, and then swap the %'s from there.  I know I'll need the fuel early as to not empty out too soon, but I also know I can't keep that pattern up for the whole 12 hours.

31st Jan 2013:
Well there's just over a week to go.  Nothing I can do in regards to training that will benefit me for the event except for REST and stay LOOSE.  In fact, any attempt to throw in any extra training now will have an adverse effect, rather than a positive.  Must rest.

There's been quite a substantial amount of heavy flooding in the local region to where the race is; mixed with the location being tropical, means to expect humidity figures of 85-90% plus for the race. Yuck!  When you consider I come from a very dry region, humidity is rarely heard of here, so that's going to be a challenge to reckon with.

Unfortunately my wife has been ill with the flu this past week, and while I seem to have fended it off, I can feel it's affect on me regarding energy and general wellbeing.  No actual 'sick' symptoms luckily but the body is clearly fighting it off.  I suspect this to be OK come race day........... hopefully!

Time to do a final check on race plan, fuelling, hydration, clothing, race bib, plane ticket, and especially focus on this coming week of diet/nutrition/hydration levels.  Must ensure good level of essential vitamins minerals & electrolytes.  That's this weeks focus.

Referring back to my original post on whether this event will be a physical challenge or a mental challenge.  I'd like to make an early call, and say BOTH.  However, each at different stages.  I personally believe an event doesn't begin when the 'gun' goes off at the starting line, but on the day you decide to enter!  That's when it all begins.  All the training you go through in preparation is what makes or breaks how you perform on the day.  So in respect to the given topic, I'd say the physical challenge is in the training leading up, with the mental challenge being the event and staying focused and on track through 12 gruelling hours.  Yes, it will be physically draining; I'm not denying that, but the training has prepared you for that so just keep pushing.  Now it's up to your emotional strength to trudge on through..........  Let's see if I'm right.  I guess I'll know soon.

100km, 12 hours................ one lap at a time.

24th Jan 2013:
OK, so just over 2 weeks left.  I've recently started my taper programme which has begun to show signs of recovery immediately.  Awesome!  I really needed it............  Mentally though, it frustrates me.  It makes me feel almost useless and that I should be doing something.  But at least it gives me a chance to focus more towards core strength training which is an area I sometimes neglect during peak distance times.
To throw a spanner in the works here though, I've had to make a late call on buying some new shoes....  I'm not convinced this is completely a good thing with only 2 weeks to go, but my old ones were just not suitable to push through another 100km.  With approxiamte 800km on them, the support was just trashed and I'm sure this would've radiated through to my legs at aroiund the 6hr mark of the race.
I trialled my original pacing plan last weekend to be faced with the fact it was not suitable.  So glad I tested it.  I've decided to reduce each leg of running and subsequently also the rest/walk breaks.  Overall target will still be circa 110km with ultimate target of 100km.
At this stage I'm more than confident of the first half, hitting circa 58-60km at the 6hr mark, but the following 40km will come down to the night, how my tapering went, and my mental fitness at the end of an allnighter.
200 laps............... 200 laps............. one at a time........... I've got this!

14th Jan 2013:
Just under 4 weeks to go. Recovering well from last weeks 93km Ultra, with a gentle 16km hills session. Could still feel fatigue on the inclines but no tightness or soreness at all. Looks as though the immediate protein/carbs consumption mixed with spending 2-3 hours in a cold pool really helped that day. Time to get back to specific race day training. This weekend will be spent doing final long run before taper starts. Here comes 6hrs on the Uni Loop (2.2km crushed gravel flat circuit) which best matched race circuit conditions. I'll be taking my race pacing and fuelling strategy with me to put it to the test. I'm not yet convinced I'll be 100% ready by race day to hit the target but we shall see.

5 weeks to go............. let's get this weeks 100km point to point done (which will be my first all-nighter), recover for a week, build back up gently for 2 weeks; then it's taper time..........

Should I not provide any update to this post within a few days after the 9th Feb, please tell my wife and kids I love them.........

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 - let's reflect on the beginning of the journey

2012 brought about a massive change in my life.  Not as big as having children or marrying the love of my life in years gone by; but massive non-the-least.

January was a time for me to be proud of the weight loss I'd achieved in the previous couple of months starting out at 106kg's and being around mid 80kg's at the time.  Finally being confident enough to take my shirt off at the beach.  The following couple of months however I found I had to be extremely disciplined with my eating or I'd gain really quickly so while the novalty of fitting medium sized clothing still hadn't worn off; it wasn't much fun having to almost 'count calories' to stay in them.

So what do I do about it?  Start running!  In April 2012 I went for my first proper run session.  Not just take the kids to the park, or chase the dog; but a specific, timed and measured run.  Let's just say it didn't go too well, or feel all that great either.  I'm sure most people have been there before!  Chest killing, legs like jelly, sweating donuts. 

This was a massive wake up call for me.  Just because I fit into a 'healthy weight range' for my height, it doesn't mean I'm healthy!

At this point I decided this was pathetic and was no longer acceptable!  I memorised the location and time, and decided that within 1 month I would make it to that exact point in 75% of the time, and to do this I'd run it 4 times a week.  Well the next scheduled run came around and my legs were still so sore I could hardly run, but I went anyway.  This run was even slower due to the legs problem but I knew this would go away soon.  Long story short, I not only made my target but doubled my distance and smashed time expectation there too.

From here I decided GOALS are going to be my key.  So I did some 'googling' and found an event to enter.  Something to aim for.  The 'Hills to Henley' 15km in July.  And that I would complete it with no walking!  Did I get there?  Yes, I did; with no walking, completing it under my target time in 1:21:55.  No flying pace by any means but an achievement to me at the time.

A short chat with an old friend (Thanks Baz) at the finish line here steered me towards trail running and I've never looked back.

Formal events for 2012:
- July: 15km Hills to Henley
- August: 21.1km Adelaide Half Marathon
- September: 10km Para River Classic
- September: 12km City to Bay
- September: 56km Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon
- October: 105km Heysen Ultra Marathon (H105)
- October: 15km Blackhill Challenge

Quite a jump occurred a couple of times through September / October and if it wasn't for the 'runners high' I got after each event, common sense probably wouldn't have let me enter the Yurrebilla 56km and the Heysen 105km events.  Much to my surprise and never ending joy, I completed these 2 events quite competently.  No podium chance but still around the top 3rd of the pack on both occasions which to me was a massive surprise.

My monthly KM's started in July at 62km, finishing in December at 202km's.  Probably a sharper incline than recommended but I did so without injury so I kept going.

What did I learn?:
What didn't I learn? Ultimately I learned that I will never stop learning here.  I learned how naive I was and probably still am towards distance running.  I learned that the body and mind can endure so much more than expected with the right preparation, commitment and especially THE WILL to achieve.

I learned a lot about good technique through a stack of reading, watching, and most importantly trial and error.  I learned that physical fitness is only as effective as mental fitness in Ultra distance running.  I learned that I know very little about proper hydration and fuelling for Ultra distance running and that I need to learn more here ASAP.

But overall, I learned that TRUE running is not a sport, nor an exercise or fitness tool, but a lifestyle.  A lifestyle that I've realised I've missed out on for years.  A lifestyle that has in such a short time not only changed my life, but already spread to friends and family for the better too.

I love what decisions I made in 2012 and where they've lead me to.

I can't wait to reflect back on 2013 in 12 months....................................

Training Schedule. A new year, a new approach?

OK, so the calendar has ticked over, but does that mean I should too?  I mean, while many people are talking about the changes they're looking to make this year because of 'New Year Resolutions' and similar catchy motives, should I be reviewing my training programme?

To be honest, I'm enjoying myself way too much to justify making any major changes to my programme.  Isn't that what trail running is about?  It is for me.  Don't get me wrong; I love the competitive side to an event.  So much so that I probably do way too much mental preparation in the lead up; but during the training phase, why not just soak up the sights and freedom that trail running provides??????

I kind of 'fell' into distance running after just a few measly short runs to help keep the weight off after losing over 22kg's back in late 2011 and early 2012, and slowly increased the distance as I became stronger and more comfortable.  It wasn't until I met an old friend and work colleague at the finish line of my first event (a 15km race that I thought was a big challenge for me at the time).  I was talking to Barry about my recent introduction to running but that I wasn't finding it all that enjoyable, and that I was beginning to have some minor niggles in my knees. (keeping in mind I was only doing about 20km's a week at this point).  Barry put it to me bluntly; "Get off the road and get on the trails"

2 weeks later I had my first real trail run in the Adelaide Hills with my also newbie runner niece.  OMG, I fell in love with the trails right there.............  Since that weekend, which was just a simple weekend, no plan run, I have become obsessed.

This to me, is why I run.  Should I one day land on a podium, great!  If not, guess what; you'll still see me out there 4-5 times a week pounding a fire trail or weaving through a technical single track.

So in essence, NO, I don't see any reason to be making any changes to my training programme for 2013 except for the continual increase in monthly mileage and some strategic rest periods circulating major events.

It's this 'home made' programme that got me from the 'couch to trails' in such a short time frame with no injuries beyond a few blisters and a black toenail.

2013 - run by your heart, not your watch.............

2013 is here. Let's start it with a 100km Ultra.....

2nd Jan, 2013:

Well, 2013 has fallen upon us. What a year this is going to be after setting a reasonable base of training in late 2012.

What better way to kick off a year of running than a 100km Ultra Marathon. It's the middle of a hot summer here in South Australia so long distance events are almost unheard of. However, a few distance runner enthusiasts (otherwise known as nutters in most circles) have decided that we will turn a 34km trail event on 6th January into a 100km run by loading the front of it with an additional 65ish Km's.

To make this close to bareable, we are starting the night before the actual event, and timing our run so as to meet the starting line of the 34km trail event at the starting time. Unusual I know, but creative too.

This means around 10 hours of pitch black night running through a variety of terrians. What an adventure this will be.

I'm feeling comfortable with the challenge given I had my biggest month of training in December of just over 200km's, and have tapered well in preparation.

7th Jan 2013:
How quickly things can change when out on the trail..........  Firstly, what a night!  After setting off in comfortable yet slightly warm conditions for the first hour or so, a solid starting group of 18 were heading north along the foreshore for 10km's before turning east towards the hills.  Loads of talking, giggles and jokes and a generally positive outlook on what was no doubt going to be a long and tough night ahead.

After only an hour on the feet we all agreed that our pacing was way ahead and even after dropping back a little our arrival at the first aid station was going to be 1.5 hours early; so the call was made to the volunteers, who arrived simultaniously with ourselves.  I'll never forget the spread that was put on by all the volunteers that night; when you also consider that this was not a formal event but merely an organised social run for a group of nutters.  Thank you to all that came out.  It must've been a big night for you too.  This was a lenthy stop of around 25-30 minutes making the legs just a little tight when setting off again.

Continuing up the pavement until we hit the trailhead into Blackhill Conservation Park.  Another lengthy stop making the legs whinge and whine for a kilometer or two.  Refreshing change to get off the unforgiving pavement for a while.  Some nice twisting, rocky, single track incline was a welcomed sight.

A mix of single track and fire track continued for approx 7km until we hit Montecute Rd between the 2 Conservation Parks.  Another short stop as we regroup and people fill up water stocks with a reliable water tank. 

A gentle stroll along some bitumen for 10 minutes before we hit the daunting incline that we all knew was coming...... Chapmans.......... 250m incline in just under 1km.  Certainly a testing climb in typical conditions, but after 48km's it's where you hear multiple murmurs of profanity around the group on the way up.......... (not that I did any of that....... lol)

OK, the worst was now behind us.  Now we just have to deal with the unprepared for cold conditions.  30-45km/h cool winds mixed with a cooler night than expected meant many were getting chilled to the bone.  Stopping at the Norton Summit aid station was a tough ask for me personally standing there in 'skins' half tights and a sweaty singlet made me lose body temp real quick.  I was only saved by the off chance that one of the volunteers thought to bring a blanket.  Not a common tool needed on a January summer night between day temps of 31 and 36 degrees.

After loosening the legs up again and getting body temp back up I began to feel the best I'd been for hours.  This next stretch seemed to go reasonably well, even though we had one more nasty climb that most hadn't mentally prepared for.  But knowing there was a stop at the top of it as well as the start line of the official race that we were meeting up for made it bareable.

We were there....... Top of My Lofty.  Ready to start the Summit to Sea 35km race.  That was a long 11 hours and time probably took more toll on our legs than the 66km distance did at this point.  I wanted to set off right away as we were allowed to since it was self timed; but I decided not to and waited for the official start.  A decision that may have cost me big time!  Feeling 80-90% at this point physically and still 100% mentally, I was still confident of a solid finish.

Off we go and shortly after the Garmin buzzed over to 70km and I felt great.  Possibly the strongest and most positive since about the 15-20km point.  What a great position to be in.  Loads of people around, some familiar faces, and many new ones.  The warm sun behind my back giving a chance to stop freezing for a change.  A 100km PB was in sight even though I'd accululated almost 2 hours in stop time.  Some encouraging words from some of the 35km runners when they asked if I was one of the crazy 100km runners and how they congratulated me for such an effort.  This really helped a lot.

Unfortunately, such a buzz and a strong position can change quicker than I'd ever thought possible.  Hitting a change in direction near a train station, I took a wrong turn missing a thin chalk line arrow, taking me a couple of km's the wrong way before a realised.  This cost me!!!!!  Emotionally it smashed me.  It may have only meant around 20 minutes in total but I just wasn't ready for such an issue.  I was on my own, not sure where the error was until I seen one of the 100km runners (Nick) across the other side of the train line.  OMG, what have I done.  I like to think I'm a very positive guy with a strong will, but somehow this stripped me.  I tried multiple times to get on top of this but nothing worked.  Trudging on for another 5-6 km's and somehow I took another wrong turn but this one cost me less as I was more aware to turn back if unsure.  By now the hot sun that a 36 degree day brings was out in full force.  Zero cloud and minimal shade in wide open streets was beginning to get to me.  Yes the legs were sore but lookng back at it a day after, I've run harder in sorer conditions.  It was my head.  Emotionally I was empty.  A mix of the previous errors, no sleep for the night and now a scorching sun was wearing me down km by km.

I was not sure exactly how far I had left to go due to the errors, but at approx 7-8 km's to go I noticed one of the other 100km runners (Ryan) hopping into a car; as they must've been pulling out.  I had 30 meters to make a snap decision, and as such I pressed STOP on the Garmin and asked for a lift back to the finish.  That was me done too.  Nearing 93km was enough for me that day.  Could I have finished? I think so.  Was it worth it for me at the time?  I don't think it was.  For 30 minutes prior I was struggling to stay hydrated no matter how much I guzzled down and the hottest part of the day was still to come.  Given it was only a social event, not a formal race, I seen no point in taking myself to the limit.  I was also cautious of overdoing it given the 12hour event I have in a few weeks.

It astounded me last night how quickly my condition changed.  Within just 10-12km's I'd gone from 90-95% to almost ZERO!  It may be a DNF in real terms, but to me it is another 93km run under my belt.  93km's of experience.  Exposure to my first overnighter of which I handled exceptionally well.  An adventure spent with extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.  I have no regret in making the snap decision when the opportunity came as I think it was right for me at the time.  Sometimes it's a tougher decision to pull out than it is to push on.

The underlying value here is 'learn to become more emotionally fit'.  This run may have taken a bit out of me physically up to the 80km point but it obviously took more out me emotionally.  More than I'd thought it had.  Those little mistakes in hindsight are not that big of a deal; and generally it would'nt phase me.  So why did I let them get to me so?  Was it the heat? Was it no sleep all night?  Was it some other factor?  Was it a mix of them all?  Whatever it was, I MUST learn to overcome these challenges out on the trail.  I MUST learn to pick myself up when I have nothing left.

I gained a lot from this session.  Not just the running or the beautiful sights and time with great people; but in the latter sections when out on my own I faced some terrible demons that no weekend long run or midweek hillsprint has ever slapped me with.  I was challenged in a way that I'd hoped I would be.  Next time I face such a heinous chapter in a run, I'll know what I'm up against.  BRING IT ON!!!!!!