Wednesday 30 October 2013

Ultima Frontera 166km Spain

I fancied another 100 miler this year and after a brilliant experience at Ultima Frontera 2 years ago I decided to go back! The organisation was spot on and really smooth. A flight to Malaga on Friday morning, hand luggage only so no dramas there, €3 bus from the airport to Malaga bus terminal, bumped into Fredlina - a fellow competitor who I'd not yet met, we had a stroll around the city for a couple of hours before taking the bus to Loja (€6 and it's about 1 hour away?) and meeting a couple more of runners on the same bus.

A mile or two from the bus stop to the race HQ, a large sports hall facility where we got registered and collected race packs and set up 'camp' there were a number of rooms to stay in so 3 of us shared. Showers, bathrooms, a restaurant and the start/ finish line all within 30 seconds of your bed! Now that's ideal!

Quite a chilled out evening with some food and sorting out kit bags (I'd not really taken anything that I wouldn't need so didn't have much to sort) and we were ready for the 9.15 start the Saturday morning.

It was quite a dull start but still felt warm (at least to us UK folk) the field spread out quite quickly as we weaved our way along the trails into the hills. The course marking was perfect, you'd struggle to miss a turning or go off course here. Although I'd done the event two years ago it was substantially different and involved more climbing, some added distance and it felt quite a lot warmer. I'd have chosen to wear road shoes on the course for definite although I only had some which were new that week and didn't fancy risking breaking them in over 100 miles, so I used my trusty Mizuno trail shoes. The ground was incredibly hard and my feet knew about it by the end, road shoes would have been spot on, poor organisation not having a pair a bit sooner.

As the day progressed around 2pm I felt myself getting hotter and hotter and felt like my stomach was holding the water I was putting down, I slowed the pace a little in an attempt to rectify this and had to repeat the process later, perhaps the body wasn't used to processing as much water since recently I've not really been running in any hot weather? The guys from Abu Dhabi and Spanish seemed to enjoy the weather a little more.

 Day time vs Night time, Montefiro 48km and 128km

As darkness fell I moved on at a steady pace and found myself in 'just get to the end as comfortably as possible' mode. It was great to share the adventure with so many enthusiastic people, including all the support team who were absolutely brilliant. Thanks Paul and the team for putting on another great event!

Rolled up in 3rd eventually for a nice trophy.

 The course map and info, I actually never even got this out of my pack as the markers were spot on and very frequent!

Arriving at the finish line at some obscure time of night, substituting one night sleep for a night of running has become quite a regular occurrence recently it seems! The next big race looks to be a bit colder than this, longer too!

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Winter Running Basics

Hi guys, Charlie Sharpe here, resident expert at RunGeek.

Today, I’m going to talk to you about winter running – things you’ll need to consider, the things you might need, the conditions you might experience, and also the training options you’ve got available.

I am aiming this at everyday training runs mostly on the roads and perhaps a little bit of off-road too rather than big trips off into the mountains. So, if you’re expecting to head off for multi day runs in the mountains you’re going to need more kit than I am going to talk about today.

The first thing to consider is that it’s going to get colder, we might get some snow and ice, and it’s going to get dark in the evenings.
One of the first things I’d recommend is a good head torch. You might not need one if you’re running on the roads in well-lit areas. But if, like me, you like running off the roads on canal paths, trails, tracks and even heading off into the hills, you’re going to need something to help you see – simple as that.

Generally, the brighter your torch, the easier it’s going to be running in the dark. If you’re going to be running on uneven, rocky ground you’re going to benefit from  a brighter torch.  A small torch on its own isn’t going to be much use on rough terrain.

I run with two torches, a smaller one that I wear on my head so I can see around me and look at signs  for example. I’ve also got a larger one that I wear round my waist; it’s nearer the ground so it throws more light on where I am putting my feet. My waist torch is also a little bit heavier but it gives out substantially more light which means I can move quicker and more confidently and see exactly where I’m going.

If you’re running near roads wear something reflective, people see you easier and you’re less likely to get run over! Obviously, keeping safe is incredibly important so look out for jackets and anything else that has reflective striping, some night races this is also compulsory.

Let’s take a look at kit now and consider what you’ll need, starting with shoes. If you’re going to do most of your running on the pavement, road shoes are your best option but if you’re going to be venturing off road, you’ll need something grippy with an aggressive outsole. You can also get Goretex shoes that have a membrane inside which makes them fairly waterproof in wet grass, deep mud and puddles or snow.

Now, just because it’s cold, or it’s snowing, it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed out. If the snow’s soft, you’ll get good grip with trail shoes and you may find it’s not even that bad. If it’s icy, it might be best to avoid the ice as much as possible. If you do end up on an icy patch, it’s best that you do no crazy intervals and no sprinting and be delicate on your feet. It’s similar to driving a car - be gentle on turns, acceleration and braking.

You can also get snow chains that wrap around your shoes, forming a metal grip on the bottom, that are made for running on the ice. Yaktrax are the brand I’ve seen if you want some of those and you should find them with a quick search online.
What else do you need to consider? You’ll need to keep warm but not too hot. Once you start running, you’ll heat up and if you sweat you’ll get wet and then start to cool down, which can leave you really cold.

Consider a waterproof jacket, such as Goretex, it keeps the rain out, the wind off and keeps you drier inside because it allows your body to breathe as well. A good jacket’s not like wearing one of those mac in a pack things that feels like you’re wearing a plastic bag and where you end up sweaty inside. Because Goretex allows your skin to breathe more naturally, you stay drier and more comfortable.

Another thing to think about when it’s cold is layers. With thinner layers, you can manage your temperature better. A lot of people look out the door and it’s cold so they put on a big jacket and a thick jumper and as soon as they start running they’re boiling hot. Remember, you are going to warm up as soon as you start running so I’d recommend a thinner jacket with some sort of base layer and another one in between if it’s really  cold. You can also take another thin layer with you it depends on the type of run you’re going to do. If you’re just going round the block for 30 minutes, it’s unlikely you’re going to die in that time but consider taking a spare layer perhaps! If you are going to do a day run, or multi day runs in hills, you’ll need to take your kit more seriously and you’ll need additional kit from what I’m recommending today.

Next, gloves to keep your hands warm. I like to have a thin layer over everything rather than big thick gloves and a big thick jacket and jumper. Even when it’s very cold and icy, or even if it’s actually snowing, I like to keep to thinner layers. You can manage them better than if you have thick layers

You could also think about a buff. It’s a kind of scarf in thin material that you can actually breathe through. You can put it over your head to cover your neck and face and up to your eyes for protection in very cold conditions. Again, if you are only going out for a short run you might not need one but if you’re going to go for longer you might want to consider it then.

Finally tights – some people have full length tights and if it gets really cold you might need them. Personally, I like to stick to shorts as much as I possibly can unless it gets really cold. If it gets really wet then wearing tights can soak water up and you get cold whereas with shorts your legs dry off quicker and you don’t get as cold, at least that’s my theory.

That’s all the gear I’d consider for usual training runs during the winter near home.

Conditions -wise, generally in this country it’s mainly about the cold and wet rather than lots of snow. But if we do get snow and its soft snow, as I say, grippy trail shoes will be good for those conditions. If you are going to be doing a lot of running on ice, then you’ll need the snow chains I mentioned. As I said, Yaktrax are the brand I’ve seen, they’re quite popular and grip well on ice.

Take care, if you’ve planned intervals or a speed session and it’s icy. You might want to reconsider and do something a bit steadier so you’re not putting yourself at risk – it doesn’t matter how fit you are when you are injured!

Next some options for winter running. If you’re not too keen running on the roads through winter, alot of people like to do cross country running. Basically, it gets pretty muddy and you are going to need some grippy shoes. It involves hurtling round a muddy park, or field or area as fast as you can, for a short period. It’s lots of fun, very demanding and very good for building strength in the legs and  helps develop endurance and fitness. It also requires skills such as good balance and agility.

Perhaps more tame than cross country are trail races. They come in  varying distances and involve running off road, where you’re not going to get as much black ice but you could find yourself running in snow which can be fun - just be aware of what’s in the snow. In off road areas and uneven land there could be holes, dips and roots. If you are going into hills watch out for the drifts. If you’re definitely not up for being outside in the crisp winter air a treadmill might keep you out of mischief over the winter, provided your session has a specific purpose then you should be able to focus and keep on track rather than simply moan that treadmills are ‘boring’. Think about your goals and why you are doing it, each session should be improving your running ability in one form or another.
Personally I love winter running and a bit of snow to me feels no different to running on muddy terrain, it’s all relative to what you are used to.

Make the most of what you have, when you can, whether that means running a little longer on a nice day as you couldn’t dig yourself out of the house - the snow was so deep the previous day.
If you need to get to a gym for a treadmill because you know you simply wont go out during the dark evenings fair enough, do what you need to do and enjoy it.

We’ll have time for questions and answers at the end, if you have a great question but can’t attend simply email with the subject WINTER RUNNING QUESTION and I’ll be sure to answer it.
Thanks for reading, it seems slightly odd writing this while I’m looking forwards to flying off to Spain this weekend for a 100 mile race where temperatures are in the twenties. I also post an article each week similar to this one, on my eNewsletter which you can access by going to the home page and using the box on the right hand side.

See you Thursday 17th at 7pm at the RunGeek store.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Winter Running; How to...

Hi Guys

Charlie Sharpe here, I've put together a little video about some of the considerations for winter when it starts to get colder and darker, running out on the streets or trails near you!

If you're off into the mountains or on a multiday adventure you're going to want to revise this rough guide considerably.

I'll be presenting at RunGeek store on the Thursday 17th October at 7pm. Drop me a message if you want to come along.

Friday 4 October 2013

Beskidy Ultra Trail 220km Poland

Beskidy Ultra Trail 220km (BUT 220) 11 000m ascent.
A first time in Poland for me. I saw the race pop up on an advert and the elevation grabbed my attention. Anyway, within 5 minutes of being on the site I entered and booked some flights seeing as I'd not been abroad on holiday yet this year.

This was a much more hilly race than what I've done before although not quite as long as the Viking Way it was far harder due to the terrain, navigation, gradients and generally unfamiliar territory. 
It took me 41 hours 7 minutes and some seconds which is the most time I've run for.
I really enjoyed the event aside from a bit of frustration regarding the markings, just waiting for the medals to be posted out too as they weren't ready for us unfortunately. I'd recommend the race if you're after a big challenge although I'd like to experience more countries and different races before I go back. It's going to make Ultima Frontera 160km in 2 weeks feel easy ;) 

The course profile below does obviously look hill highest point 1725m in the middle there. I usually look at race profiles and think wow that looks hilly, then turns out that the hills weren't as bad. This is the only race i've looked at a profile and thought hmm tough, and then it's actually even tougher than I imagined.

In terms of training for it I didn't do anything specific but have been running on the most mountainous terrain I can most of the year which has meant travelling to the Lakes or Snowdonia and the odd weekend in the Peak District. Despite this even the biggest climbs we have in the UK didn't seem to add up to what Poland had.

The race started 8am Friday morning and so I ran from then all day, through the night, then through Saturday and finished just after 1am on the Sunday morning. It is the first time I have actually fallen asleep and fallen onto the ground whilst running, literally as if someone just switched me off. A quick dust off and then continue.

So the race started with a climb up over 1000m within the first 10k. It was pretty cool on the start line, I opted for a long sleeve top and gloves which I added a jacket and hat to at various points in the race. It was a nice temperature to run in although you'd soon get cold if you were stood around.

After a couple of climbs and a few hours of running the field was very spread and I didn't see anyone around for much of the first day. I was running somewhere around 10th I guessed although my main focus was to stay on track and just keep going at a steady pace. Some stunning views off the peaks. Much of the areas we ran through turn into ski areas through the winter. The only bit of ice or snow was on the highest peak which I hit in the early hours of the Saturday morning.

Much of the trail was forest tracks with some technical root and rocky sections too. Some areas where seemingly being deforested and had branches lying around to stumble on. The weather stayed dry despite some heavy rain the day before the race. With some rain the course would have been incredibly technical and much more strenuous!

The average trail conditions for the race. Nice!

Generally each section was a big climb up from a town, a long descent into another town, a couple of km across the town and then to a CP then repeat!

 Sunset on the Friday night. Was really great to have the views. By this point I was around 80-90km in after 12 hours. Quite slow going for me although considering the terrain I was happy and moving well.

Sunrise here I think. Somewhere around 80 miles approximately?

The highest point of the course, there was someone up here in a sleeping bag (nothing to do with the race) I imagine the sunrise up here would have been a sight to see especially on such a clear night. It was a couple of hours after this where my falling asleep running episodes occurred.

 Here on the Saturday evening. Approaching some sort of reservoir at Zar which seemed to take forever to run along. After this was a loooong sustained descent. I could feel the heat from my quads going down this! There is a GPS assisted Hungarian chap who I had the chance to run with for many hours during the Saturday, eventually we parted ways and I moved ahead as the course became more well marked towards the end.

The average view during the night, the odd adrenaline boost when you shine your torch around and see dozens of eyes reflecting back in the woods (presumably deer) and then the rustling and trampling and pounding of footsteps as they run into the darkness.

And the view from the hotel the Sunday morning. Beautiful weather again, The last finisher was some 59 hours! The race had a cut off of 64 hours. To put that in perspective I'd finished, had a night in the hotel, travelled to the airport had a few hours there, flown to the UK, driven home and had dinner and there they were finishing. That is an epic performance in my view! Good on them for being so determined and keeping going for 2 and a half days!!

Some top tips for racing abroad...
1. If you have GPS use it and get the route in! If not get a good map of the area. We were not meant to need maps as we had a well marked route and instructions but for a few spots these weren't enough and I had to wait for competitors to catch me who knew the way. I would have saved literally 3-5 hours with a map. 

2. Find out as much as you can about the area and trails and weather etc. You can plan your kit better and shoe choice etc, I had my kit spot on although carried some extra layers and spare jacket 'just incase' and didn't need them although If I'd had to stop anywhere high up I would've needed them.

3. If you know a few basic words of the language it'll help. Things like thank you, hello, water, etc although there was always someone that spoke English everywhere I went.

4. Train appropriately, hopefully this is obvious but having done some pretty big weeks of elevation (for someone who lives in a flat area at least) my legs didn't struggle with the course and fitness wasn't an issue which meant I could focus on keeping on track. 

5. Try and minimize the stresses between door to door. I booked a transfer from the airport to my hotel which cost a bit more than a train or bus but saved me hours of waiting and changing over etc and meant I had a friendly face at the airport (possibly a body builder or security person when he's not driving tourists around?)  

6. Keep hydrated and keep your nutrition in check whilst travelling to the event. I took a couple of 'Performance Meals' and 9 bars to munch on and then topped up with a meal in the restaurant the night before, save having to trawl through the airport food.

Friday 20 September 2013

Bullock Smithy 56 mile

2013 Bullock Smithy. 56 miles of Peak District fun. some nice weather too. I've done the run twice before and each time have ended up tagging on with someone and running with them from around the half way point. This year I decided to run it at my own pace and had selected it as a good long run before Poland and the Beskidy Ultra Trail 220km. 

The race has 14 checkpoints each with various food and drink although I didn't make much use of any of the edible goodies. There is a cooked breakfast upon finishing (which due to the 12noon start time was at about 10pm for me) very nice though! 

Basically you choose your own route between the 14 points provided it's a footpath or road you can use it. From the start in an open park near Hazel Grove there is about 3 or 4 different exits people use so it's a little chaotic if you aren't expecting it. I chose to set off out along the main road and settled behind a group of 5 runners, one of which was the eventual winner and also course record holder who hung on to a lead of just under 10 minutes on me by the finish - Well done! 

We spent a couple of hours running together and within sight of each other. He seemed to know the route very very well and the couple of times I passed him he could pop up in front of me again. It would be well worth recceing this route if you're wanting to race on it although it's not such a serious 'race' as a challenge. There is a 24 hour time limit allowing hikers to complete too! 

With route choice I had done it twice before and each time on a different route so this time I decided on a route which took the best of both and was quite happy with it although it seems there are still a couple of spots I could improve for next time. Here is the selection of trophies available for various categories.

They have a starting gun resembling an anvil and a hammer!

The eventual finish line. 9 hours 20 something mins for 56 miles. About 2500m ascent off my head. No major hills depending on what you're used to... I was happy to test out kit and have a final dress rehearsal before Poland, although I actually got to do High Peak 40 mile too!

I'm not going to drag on about the route but there are some nice spots and some highlights include Jacobs Ladder down into Edale, up and over Hollins Cross, Cave Dale, Millers Dale, Earl Sterndale and up and over near Mac Forest finishing with a couple of kms flat and fast along a converted rail line and a country lane back to the finish at Hazel Grove near Stockport.

If you're looking for a friendly run with plenty of support and food, that is great value, yet has a little variety with plenty of opportunity for navigation practice, get in next year! First full weekend of September!

Thursday 12 September 2013

Creating a Training Plan

Hi Guys, Charlie Sharpe here and I’m your resident expert at Run Geek. I’ll be doing several blogs about running over the coming weeks and also some seminars in the coming months, so let’s get started.
The first thing I want to talk about is having a training plan, why it’s a good idea to have one and how to put one together.
A training plan is important as its going to give you a structure to your training and it will keep you on track to help you make progress. So, where do you start?
Pick a race or an outcome (a GOAL), it could be anything, a 5k or 10k race, a half marathon or even longer than a marathon. Let’s choose a half marathon as an example, and say your goal is to train for it for the next three months. (We’re going to cover goal setting in detail in a future post).
First you need to consider where you are right now and what elements are going to be needed. If it’s your first half marathon, you might be more concerned about building up to the target mileage, or if you’re more advanced it could be about improving your speed and getting a faster time.
Ideally, you need to be running at least three times a week and make each run a bit different. Say you keep doing the same four-mile loop, you’ll make progress initially but then you’ll need to change things to keep progressing.
Here’s what you’ll need to consider:
Endurance – being able to run longer distances without stopping. You should increase your distance by a rough maximum of 10 per cent per week over four weeks and then have an easier week on week five perhaps. This gives your body time to recover, which is a really important consideration.
Speed – this could be the target for a more experienced runner but even beginners should consider it too. Once you’re running regularly, introduce interval sessions, running at a faster pace for a certain length of time. It gets you used to turning your legs over faster and gets the heart and lungs ready to move more oxygen through your body. For a beginner, intervals could simply be ‘strides’, or controlled but fast bursts of speed for 30 seconds with a good rest – say 90 seconds- in between. More experienced runners could consider doing intervals of varying distances from 200m to 1 mile depending on the training phase. I’m also a big fan of hill running to build strength and this can be done in interval fashion too.
It’s not all about going farther and faster every single time. You need some easy runs as well. They will help your running efficiency by getting your muscles used to the motion of running. Whilst more mileage might be a good thing initially, it’s not always a case of the longer the better; you may just tire yourself out. Sometimes you can run smarter rather than longer.
Those are your three types of run for your basic training plan. You can use variations of each of them and they should be specific to your target.
What else should you include in your training plan?
You may include non-running training – also known as cross training. This could be swimming or cycling for example. Whilst the best run training is running you can still get a workout without stressing your body in the same way day in day out. I’ve found Cycling, particularly on hills, can strengthen your legs and has some cross over to running.
Your next training consideration should be gym type exercises. Although you don’t necessarily need a gym. These are conditioning exercises that are going to build your core strength and good exercises to do are exercises that mimic the same joint motions and forces of running. I use heavily modified versions of traditional exercises such as lunges and other single leg movements both in my own training and with clients.
Now we’ve got those components to our training plan, let’s think about how you put them together.
The plan needs to be progressive and training should be consistent. You’ll not progress if you do a long run tomorrow and then hang up the shoes for four weeks before doing another run. How you play this depends on you and your running level – a beginner might want to work on building mileage more gradually while a more advanced runner might already be packing the miles in and want to build speed.
Don’t forget that not every run is going to be longer and faster than the previous. It’s good to have relaxing run from time to time, perhaps with friends, where you can just enjoy it. Running’s not all about slogging through endless miles!
Let’s recap on our training plan:
You should have three different types of run – mileage builders, shorter interval runs for increasing speed and some easy run to enjoy relax;
Cross training – non running exercise such as cycling that builds strength and works your aerobic system without putting demands on your joints;
Conditioning exercises – gym type exercises to improve your core strength, improve your muscle co-ordination and improve your flexibility that will ultimately have a beneficial impact on your running.
Any questions, just jump on my website and use the contact form –
I’ll be back soon on the Run Geek website with more topics such as what running gear to choose, goal-setting and how to run faster.
I’ll also be at the Run Geek store on Thursday 19th September at 7pm for Run Geek first ‘School of Run’ when I’ll be talking about running and answering any questions you might have.
In the meantime happy running and enjoy yourselves!

You can check the run geek store out and a video blog here. 

Friday 6 September 2013

Run to the Castle 40 mile Aug 2013

As part of a 'more relaxed' August (not running ultra distances most weekends like the past 3 or 4 months) I was lucky enough to be able to take part in the first Run To The Castle 40 mile Ultra race. It also coincided with the 9bar team weekend so most of the team were there to do some running and get together to meet new team members and catch up with the others! Also great to see my client Julie completing her first 40 miler! Now a serial ultra runner ;)  

The route was following the Welsh Coastal Path from Aberdovey (Aberdyffi?) up past Barmouth to Harlech where a castle would await us. Varied terrain, some beach, some tracks and quite a bit of country lane. Generally the route is pretty flat with some small hills somewhere after the first CP. Also perhaps the only race in the UK to cross a nudist beach? 

A very casual start all around really, nobody raced off or made any attempt to disappear so I enjoyed some chatting with Caz and Kelvin and a few other guys out on course. There was a small pack of 6 runners followed by myself and Kelvin for the first few miles upto the first CP at about an hour or so into the race I guess (didn't have the watch going - first time it let me down with the route map although it seemed to be a problem with the tcx file I used and watch is all good now it appears...)

At the CP in a lay by the group of 6 all pulled in to eat and drink which I didn't really feel like so carried on moving into the lead. A quick hello to Richard Kell and then I didn't see anyone else after that all the way to the finish in 5.21 first place. The route is pretty well marked once you get used to the signs and there was additional paint on the course too in places. All the cp volunteers were really supportive and big thanks to them for looking after us all! 

Some small hills in the middle of the course although not very big or long. There was heaps of food on the CPs ( I had a good handful of JBs but didn't stop long enough for a picnic)

After a few hours I was over the 30 mile point but not sure on the exact distance I'd run and running along the coast again trying to see where the castle might be ahead... (it's up on a hill so thought I'd see it a long way off) anyway no sign of it but along the coast what looked like miles and miles away there was a hill close to the sea. (I think it was near Porthmadog a half hour drive up the coast from the end in hindsight) I couldn't believe how far away it looked as I dropped down some big steps to a nice wide beach. I was looking ahead and going through my head trying to figure out how many hours away the hill was...
Next I saw a familiar sight... some red and white posts near a track through the sand dunes. I had seen this on the newsletter that Denzil had sent us before the race and followed the track, suddenly out of nowhere the castle was infront of me about 800m away! I couldn't believe it. Over joyed I put a bit of speed in whilst texting ahead to the finish to say I would be 5 mins... Then about 60 seconds later the finish was actually just in a car park before the castle which I almost ran past.

If you want to check the race out for next year it's on again I believe the 24th August. for more information...

BIG thanks to Denzil and the crew for putting on a great race and 9bar for feeding us and looking after us all weekend =)

WHAT A MEDAL! Well worth the run when you get a medal like that hey!?

The following day a quick hour out running near Porthmadog meeting Robbie Britton before team 9 bar breakfast in the hotel then on to Snowdonia for an afternoon of running up some real hills! 

Bank holiday Monday was a trip to Llangolen and the famous viaduct and a trip to the Cilican Fell race near Mold and Moel Famau.