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North Down’s Way Half 2017

Over the weekend I did my first race since the NDW50 in May and ironically I was returning back to the North Down’s Way. To be honest after the race I didn’t think I would want to see the NDW for a long time, but when I saw this race, I couldn’t resist signing up.

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The race started in Reigate, which involved an early start for me (I left at 6.10am for a 9.30 race) with a 10 min walk, bus, tube, 3 trains and a 27 minute walk up Reigate hill to get to race HQ! Next time I am joining zipcar and driving. The registration was quick and pain-free in a hotel alongside the very busy main road. After a short walk, we got to the start and after the race briefing headed off at 9.30am.

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The race was an out and back along the worst section of the NDW50 from Reigate to Boxhill- I think the 7 mile section including the Boxhill steps took me about 2 hours during NDW50. There was also a marathon race on the day, and they set off 30 minutes before us half runners and had to do two laps of the out and back. The race started from the top of Reigate hill so as we were already up the first few miles were mostly flat, with a few gentle inclines and that savage downhill down Colley Hill, I’ve never run down it only walked up it, and I didn’t realise quite how steep it was until I tried to run down it. I’m a pretty terrible descender, and as I had gone for road shoes, I didn’t have much grip so tip toed or walked down the steeper bits, being passed by those who were braver on the descent. I was already dreading having to come back up it later on.

The first few miles featured a lot of single track, and as it was busy-ish towards the start, we just sort of fell into line, and just went at the pace of the person in front. The route was incredibly overgrown, I couldn’t believe how much everything had grown since May- a machete would have been useful- and sections of the course involved running through nettles and other foliage that was across the route, or ducking into it when another runner was coming the opposite way.

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After about 4ish miles, the quicker marathon runners started coming back towards us, this was a little tricky on some of the single track, but I just stopped and moved off to the side if anyone was coming back towards me. Miles 4-6 involved a little climbing as we headed to the turn around point and the Box Hill lookout point. I wasn’t sure if we had to go down the steps at the other side of Box Hill and come back up but thankfully we didn’t.

There were aid stations around mile 3.5 and mile 6.6 at the turnaround point, I just stopped to refill my flasks on the way back which was probably around 9ish miles. I was very thirsty, it was much hotter than I expected it to be (26c) and even with the cover of the forest in places it was still hot, and on the short road section it was hotter than hell.

It was a little less congested once we started heading back, the first few miles were spent saying hi to the other half marathon runners heading to the turnaround point, there was a really nice atmosphere throughout the whole race, very chilled and friendly. As people were more spread out on the way back, it was a little easier to get into a rhythm. I enjoyed the few flatter miles before we got to Colley Hill, which was an absolute slog to get up, I was really struggling and walking incredibly slowly up the never ending hill. I knew it wasn’t too far once we got to the top, and I couldn’t wait to finish then, as I was hot, and my legs were knackered after the climbs.

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The final mile and a bit were flat and runnable, and as we headed across the lookout point in Reigate I knew we were nearly back to the finish. My plan had not been to race this, just to get miles and elevation in the legs, and I was happy with how the race went, and how my body coped as I have only run two eight milers and a 10 miler since early May.

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It was a really enjoyable race, and was nice to take in the scenery and views. I was glad I was only doing the half- the elevation across 13 miles was nearly half of what it was over the 50 so it was pretty tough going, the full marathon was over 5000ft elevation. I’ve done a few of the Hermes race events in the past, and they are always well organised, in nice surroundings and have a great atmosphere too. I really enjoyed my shorter jaunt on the NDW, and I’m going to try and get back out there frequently as it’s such a beautiful place to run, and for me in South East London pretty accessible too. The Hanson’s marathon plan doesn’t include races or recommend racing that often, but sometimes you’ve just got to go off plan and go with your heart.

Hanson’s Marathon Method Month 1

I’m already into week 8 of the Hanson’s Marathon Method beginner plan, time seems to be flying by this summer. This is the first Autumn race I’ve trained for in years, and with all this hot weather I now remember why! I started the beginner plan on week 3, as the first two weeks were easy base mileage, and I was recovering from NDW50 and still had decent miles in my legs.

I spent the first 3 weeks of the plan, getting back into running, with some light mileage weeks (20-25miles), just to shake off the cobwebs from a few weeks of rest and ease back into running. I know I won’t have lost my endurance completely in those 2 weeks, but it always feels hard to get back into it after a break.

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For week 1 of my training I was in Wales staying with my parents, they helped to look after my dog for the best part of 3 weeks while we were having our bathroom renovated, and I stayed with them for over a week to escape the chaos at home too. This meant I could get lots of nice easy runs in, in a different location, and some Cardiff parkrun’s too. On the weekend of the Champions League final we had to run an alternate, alternate course, as the regular and alternate courses were unavailable due to the football, it was a really nice route, more like a cross country and a bit hillier than the usual course, but nice for a change. This was my fastest parkrun in a while at 24.56, slightly surprising given the terrain and elevation. I am creeping closer to that PB (24.12) again, though I probably won’t be attempting it for a while as the weekend runs on Hanson’s are at long run (9.38mm) or easy pace (10-10.40mm).

Week 2 was another week of decent mileage. I did a really hilly run up to Castell Coch on the Taff Trail while in Wales, and put in a decent parkrun at Southwark of 25.27, despite feeling pretty crummy after just getting my period.

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Week 3 I did my first speed session in ages. I looked at Hanson’s plan and saw 12 x 400m on next week’s plan for the first speed session, and had a sight panic. I just did 5 x 400m, with 400m recovery’s to ease back in as my body is not used to any speedwork at all. This was the start of the June heatwave, with temps reaching 30+ in London, so I felt pretty tired and sluggish out there all week. I have felt much better running this week (early July) in the heat and sun, so I think my body has started to get used to it now, but back in June I was really struggling. Unfortunately, I got a couple of really bad bites while volunteering all night on the SDW100, and they just got worse over the course of 10 days so I had to go on antibiotics for a week, and fingers crossed it has sorted it out. Not ideal though.

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Week 4 was the first proper week of training. My mileage jumped from early 20’s to almost 40 miles this week, and I also increased from 5 runs a week, to 6. This will be the first time I’ve run 6 times a week during a training plan so I am interested to see how my body copes with this. On the Hanson’s plan, Mon/Fri/Sat are easy days, Tues Intervals, Thurs tempo and Sunday long run, I like how it’s all set out and knowing exactly what I have to do that day. I did my first speedwork session of 8 miles in boiling conditions, I took a while to get used to using my watch and didn’t hit my target pace once during the reps although I was using my Garmin in miles rather than meters and I think that would explain it. I really enjoyed the new challenge of speedwork and trying to hit the required pace. I swapped my tempo run to Friday this week as Thursday was extremely hot and humid, and it turned out to be the right decision. My tempo pace is 8.58, and I had no problem hitting this for 5 miles with a one mile warm up and cool down. This was another really enjoyable run, I’m having to use my watch a lot at the moment, but hopefully I can start to trust in my own pacing soon. This week had two weekend runs of 8 miles to ease back into longer runs, these were my longest runs since the NDW50 in May, so it was good to put in some higher mileage.

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I’ve been sticking to my three gyms sessions a week (push, pull, legs with a bit of core each time) and so far it’s working out fine, I feel good during my sessions, it’s just a case of training in the gym at the right times so I can recover for the really big run sessions. The mileage stays kind of steady for the next few weeks, and I’m looking forward to more of these speed sessions.

Week 1: 23 miles
Week 2: 21.6 miles
Week 3: 25 miles
Week 4: 39 miles

Mint Choc Chip Shake feat. Pulsin

Smoothies are back for me in a big way. I went through the whole winter really avoiding them along with salads, which makes a lot of sense really, our bodies should be craving warming, comforting foods during winter and light refreshing ones during summertime. The recent heatwave in London has been pretty brutal, early 20’s are fine, but 30+ and it just feels miserable in and outside, and I just want to eat really cooling, hydrating foods/drinks.

I’ve been trying to cool off post run with a refreshing breakfast smoothie and one of my favourites right now is this mint chocolate chip shake. Best enjoyed in the sunshine of course!

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Mint Choc Chip Shake | (Serves 1)
1-2 frozen Bananas (You can replace 1 of the bananas with 1/2 avocado to make this thicker and creamier- I highly recommend doing this)
Handful of Fresh Mint
Handful of Spinach
2 Tbsp of Pulsin Pea Protein
1 Tbsp Cacao/Cocoa Powder
1-2 Cups of Almond Milk or alternative
1 Tbsp Cacao Nibs/Chocolate Chips

Blend Ingredients together, if you are drinking this I would recommend blending the cacao nibs in. If like me you like to eat your smoothies in a bowl, then use the cacao nibs as a crunchy topping.

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As I’ve mentioned before I don’t really feel that protein powders are all that necessary, but they can be useful at times, if you are in a rush, or don’t really fancy eating a big meal after a workout. The pea protein boosted up the protein content of this smoothie, for muscle recovery post workout, higher satiation, and less chance of blood sugar spikes causing energy crashes afterwards. It’s 80% protein, so higher than some of the other plant based proteins out there, and has a really neutral flavour so works well in sweet or savoury dishes. There are a huge range of protein powders available on the market, I would really recommend looking at the ingredients list and trying to get one that has as little ingredients as possible, many are packed with artificial flavourings and sweeteners which I wouldn’t want to be consuming too regularly.

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Pulsin make a range of whey protein and Vegan proteins, and it’s best to really try them out to see what you like. I like rice, pea and hemp proteins, and find they work well with different flavours. I like the Pulsin range because they don’t have loads of flavourings or any other weird stuff, just 100% pea or rice or whey protein in the bag.

I’ve been a fan of Pulsin for a while, and am really pleased to see them doing so well, and their range expanding too. The brand recently had a bit of a makeover for it’s 10th anniversary, and they have some ace looking new packaging so look out for that in stores. As well as protein powders, they also make a range of snack bars– useful if you are on the go, and they taste great too. The protein bars have a decent whack of protein and unlike many out there they aren’t super high in sugar either, they also avoid artificial sweeteners, flavourings, preservatives and colourings, which make them a win in my eyes- I love the mint choc chip one. They also make a range of delicious raw choc brownies, which are great for a treat-the newest one the peanut choc chip which I recently tried, is delicious.

We are spoilt for choice these days in terms of protein powders and snack bars, but I would really recommend checking Pulsin out if you haven’t come across them before. You can order directly from them online, they also do mixed cases of bars, and subscription boxes too if you can’t decide what flavour to try. They also have heaps of amazing recipes on their website, if you are struggling for ideas to use your protein powder.

 

Disclaimer: I was sent the Pulsin products for review, all opinions are my own.

 

Autumn Plans

During the last few weeks of my training for the North Downs Way 50, I had started to think that I wanted to train for a marathon in the Autumn. The last few years after doing a spring/early summer ultra, I have taken long extended breaks from running, focusing more on strength training. I haven’t completed a marathon since May 2015, though have done many marathon, or further length training runs during ultra training.

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When I look back at the marathons I have completed, a lot of them involved very little training compared to what I have been doing of late, and several of them featured pretty bad injuries- I ran Manchester marathon having missed most of my training, and Berlin having only been able to run for 2-3 weeks before the race due to ITB issues. So while I’ve done several marathons, I never felt like I’ve had a really great training period or race.

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My PB currently stands at 4.15, which was set at the Thames Meander marathon in March 2015, that was probably the best training I have had leading into a race, but still it wasn’t that high mileage, and I actually didn’t feel great for the first half of the race either.

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My long term goal is to run a London good for age time, which is under 3.45 for me currently, but to get that, means I need to actually train for and run a marathon! I want to start with little steps, so my first goal is to get under 4 hours. I think I am capable of this, I’ve run several half’s under 2.00 hours, with my PB standing around 1.54- I nearly broke this earlier in the year at Richmond half, having run a 22 mile training run the day before- so again I think this could be improved on, with some focused training, but I haven’t trained for a half in years either.

I’ve decided this autumn, I am going to have a crack at the sub-4. I am going to be following the Hanson’s marathon method plan as an experiment- this involves reasonably high mileage, but spread throughout the week across 6 runs, with shorter long runs on the weekend (maxing out at 16 miles), and more emphasis on quality sessions like speed and tempo throughout the week, along with some easy runs to keep the mileage high and simulate running on fatigued legs. The plan has a beginner and an advanced plan, and though I wouldn’t consider myself a beginner marathoner, I didn’t want to jump straight back into 40-50 mile weeks after the ultra, and I preferred the gradual building of mileage in the early weeks in the beginner plan. The marathon I have signed up for in Richmond only gave me 16 weeks to train for from the start of my training, so I would have missed the first two weeks of the advanced Hanson plan, and I thought the beginner plan looked more doable with this time frame, considering I am coming off ultra training. I have had a few weeks off running completely, but I am not necessarily starting from nothing, so I have eased back in with the beginner plan for a couple of weeks to get some mileage into the legs, and this week I started week 6 of the beginner plan which is where the real sessions start- the first speed workout was bloody hard.

So I have another 12ish weeks from now to get marathon ready, I am actually looking forward to following a structured plan, and doing some sessions as it’s not something I’ve ever really done in training before. My only issue is that I’m not sure where strength training fits in with Hanson’s, I would like to continue my three weekly sessions alongside the plan, but if this is affecting my running and ability to hit target paces and sessions then I will have to reassess.

I know setting a time goal can be quite arbitrary, like what difference does it matter if I run sub-4, but for me it’s more of a stepping stone on the way to a bigger goal, and actually setting a goal, and seeing how close to that I can get. I’m interested to try a different approach and see how that works out for me too.

 

10 things that happen during an Ultra

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1.Your brain will not work: This started early on for me on my recent 50 miler on the North Downs Way, as I queued up in the wrong alphabet queue to pick up my bib. I then forgot to go to the toilet at aid station 2 as I had been planning to, and forgot to fill up my water bottle at aid station 3. Basically your brains will turn to mush, it will become difficult to make the most basic decisions, and you will find it difficult to form coherent sentences.

2. The Toilet Situation: At the race earlier in the month there were only toilets at mile 14/31 and then the finish at mile 50. I only peed once in 11 hours so was clearly very dehydrated, but I did manage to use an actual toilet at mile 31. I did need a comfort break of the other kind later in the race though, obviously once I had gone past the aid stations that had toilets. For miles I was dealing with needing to go, but struggling to find somewhere sheltered off trail as it turned into miles of open fields. Basically if you are going to run an ultra, you better get used to going in nature! Pack toilet paper/wet wipes in your pack- absolute essentials on the trail.

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3. Weird Appetite: I wasn’t overly hungry at all during the race, dealing with a lot of nausea. You need to try to keep eating and drinking though against how your body is feeling, otherwise you will inevitably just run out of fuel. I am never hungry immediately after ultras, which is proper disappointing. My appetite post race has fluctuated from non-existent at times, to eating the entire contents of my kitchen, and craving and eating weird combinations of stuff, or not wanting to eat anything except cereal or pizza.

4. The Aftermath: You will not be able to walk for days, getting up and down from the floor requires some sort of furniture to pull yourself up and lower yourself down, and don’t even mention stairs. I would say it’s probably pretty rare to go through an event of this kind without suffering from blisters or chafe too, no matter how much you slather yourself in vaseline/sudocreme or body glide. My feet were not too bad at all, other than a sore little toe and a heel blister, but after SDW50 last year, my heels were a mess, I had to wear flip flops for a week, and every time I moved my foot the blister would crack open and weep- gross. Compeed are your best friend in this situation.

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5. New Friends: You might spend all of your time training alone, in fact you may run for this reason, but you can turn up at any ultra event alone and leave with a load of new running mates. The atmosphere on the trails is great, and it’s nice to chat to people along the way, and meet some new running buddies, who just get it.

6. Low Moments: I felt pretty low for most of the second half on NDW50, it’s about riding those low moments and coming out the other side. Everything will pass, so it’s important to make the most of it while you are feeling good, and just suck it up and ride it out when you are feeling bad.

7. Slow Down: If you think you are going slow, you aren’t going slow enough. It’s cliche, but it rings true. I ran quite a lot of 9:something miles in the first half of the race, and I honestly think this was why I felt so shoddy in the second half. It’s hard not to get carried away at the beginning, particularly if the course is quite runnable, but you will pay so badly for it later on, so slow down.

8. Silence your Mind: Your mind will want to quit long before your body has had enough. It’s hard to silence the brain, especially when it’s trying to convince you that everything is an incline and should be walked, and is calculating at what point you would be safe to just walk it in and still make it under cut off. It’s good to have a mantra to think of during hard times.

9. Time Wasting: Aid stations though amazing places, filled with incredibly lovely people and all manner of delicious snacks are an easy place to lose time to on the day. I spent about 40 minutes total either in aid stations, or stopping to sort out my feet, which is quite a chunk of time. When there are 6 aid stations on course, you could easily lose an hour just spending 10 mins at each. I try to be efficient, going in knowing what I want (though difficult considering points 1 and 3), refilling flasks, grabbing food and heading straight off. I only stopped briefly at the first few, but later on had several lengthy stops, mostly down to gear malfunctioning, which could have saved me some time on the day.

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10. Post Race Blues: You’ve spent 5-6 months training for an event, every spare moment going over training plans, gear, nutrition, and then it’s gone, that focus, drive and motivation all geared towards the big day, is over. I find I ride an endorphin wave for about 24 hours, completely wired on adrenaline and unable to sleep, and then crash really really hard. This is the time to just rest, enjoy your achievements, make some plans for races later in the year and do all the things you didn’t get to do while you were out running for 10+ hours a week. Though you may be in pain, and swearing to never run another ultra at the finish line, only a few days later you will be googling for your next challenge.

I hope this has given you an insight into the weird and wonderful world of ultra marathoning, and not put you off either. Honestly, it’s an amazing community, filled with incredible people, and I would highly recommend doing an ultra if you are considering one.