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.