Sunday, December 16, 2012

AFTER THE RAIN HAS FALLEN.....

The normally dry trails
My two favourite places in the world to live are Southern California and the South of France, both have up to 300 days of sunshine per year which is one of the main reasons for living there but they also share another similarity in that when it does rain, it rains with a vengence. Southern California's PCH has mudslides and floods whereas the Riviera has torrential rain with just about everything getting flooded, roads, rivers, houses, etc. The reaction in the US is to clean it up fast; I was once told that with 3 continous days of rain, the first day is, its good for the gardens......the second, it won't last much longer....and on the third day, everyone visits a therapist. In France, the first day they shrug and do nothing......and on the second and third day........they continue to shrug and do nothing.

      Today was the first sunny day in 3 days and after a brutal workout week with Paddy I thought it time to hit the trails for an easy 10k jog, just to chill out. It was a lovely day but within minutes I was met with trails that though normally dry, were now rivers! The hills were literally 'full' of water. It was a bit tricky running up and down streams and brooks but highly exhilerating.....and refreshing. These pictures are the actual trails which are normally bone dry! On the hilltops,the trails were much drier and the smell from the wet pine trees was intoxicating. What a great way to celebrate your birthday, yes folks I'm 58 today!
     Its been quite a year. Three big races including 2 ultra's as well as many 40k training runs. It was nice just to jog along like a normal person without caring how far or what time or speed. My body composition has changed dramatically ( now 9.9% body fat), as has my overall nutrition. My muscle mass has also increased to the point that my quads and general strength has enabled me to go further, faster. It still hurts but I can go longer before it starts to hurt and the improvement in my sodium/potassium pump gives a much faster recovery time between events.
    I'm still working on my Paddy/Crossfit regime's by incorporating more strength work with high intensity training and no doubt next year I will look at race distances to establish the most effective distance for me i.e. not neccessarily the most challenging but also the most fun....because if it's just a constant slog for 10-15 hours....what's the point? I love running through the mountains and forests and I don't mind suffering to reach my goal....but not for the whole *^/#"* day !
    On a more personal note I lost one of my best friends this year, Steve was 51 and an alchoholic.....but that's not how I remember him. He loved having fun and he loved to laugh.....and he was even happier if everyone around him was having a good time. I often wonder where all that positive energy went. Today I was running through the hills where I scattered his ashes and sometimes I find myself just laughing at his craziness.......he definitely is somehere, laughing at mine.  
      I would like to wish everyone a merry Christmas....thanks for all your support and encouragement......I hope you too can find some stimulating fitness goals for the New Year, it's amazing what you can do if you commit yourself to something. Find a goal, make a plan and do it.....and when it comes to a sports event I'll let you into a little secret of how to succeed, which was shared confidentially to me, many years ago.................are you ready?............'It's all in the training.'....and it is. 'Bonne Sante' :)
The birthday boy






 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A SUPRISE RESULT

 So a few days have gone by and my recovery has been excellent, 2 days after my run I went for a 10k easy jog in the hills and felt great. Crossfit Endurance do say that recovery times are much quicker as a result of their training......its all to do with an efficient sodium potassium pump. I could explain this further but suffice to say that an efficient pump regulates the balance of sodium and potassium in the cells thereby aiding recovery......and it works.
     Helen thinks that my calf injuries were more of an over elongated stretch in training rather than a pull or a tear, (a grade 1) and this would be the reason why they held up okay despite the dull pain. 'Obviously' she said, 'they didn't like running that far and definitely didn't like the beach.....but they just had to put up with it.....and you......just like we all do'. So there you go.
      I reckon on consuming 85 grams of carbs per hour from gels and other food, plus I have my natural glycogen stores (about 450 grams) and then fat stores after that, but on 5 hours + running I probably didn't burn that much fat and two days later, voila my weight was exactly the same as before the race. I have written many times that you don't lose weight by going on lots of runs, it keeps you fit and healthy but that's not how you lose weight, if that's your goal.
     I did get a bit of cramp later on so I popped two S-Caps and was fine in minutes. ( For those of you who have never used S-Caps salt tablets, I recommend them highly). In a normal ultra I'll take one every hour and they work brilliantly.
    My Brooks Cascadia 7's running shoes managed to dispel all the water from the sea, streams and rivers very well, they call it, 'In/Out technology', or something like that. However, I do have one criticism, the laces keep coming undone and I have heard other runners mention this before, it seems bizarre that they can make such a good running shoe but can't supply laces that tie up properly! Go figure.
      So what's the suprise?

      I have to be honest, I found this race quite tough even though it wasn't an ultra. It was a fab day and a stunning place and I was very fortunate to be able to do it but the beach running wore me down over time. The comments from other runners on the sand was 'C'est dur'........'Its hard' and it was. It really slows you down and then the climbs in the hills afterwards are just much more tiring due to fatigue, nevertheless it was a great new experience and one that I wanted to try. At the end of Pampelone beach a small river enters the ocean and at one point I was up to my waist wading through it and thinking, 'this is nuts!' I felt quite forlorn when I looked back down the beach and found that I was alone.......I couldn't see anybody, I thought, I must be last, this is terrible! I'd never been in this position before, even though I'm usually the oldest kid on the block. But, I had one thing going for me, as an ultra runner you have to pace yourself and run your race , not anybody else's, and you have to trust in your ability and knowledge and most importantly you have to keep going; its relentless forward progress.
    What happens is over time you start to real people in and the longer the race goes on the more people slow down, so if you can keep up an even pace, then you eventually, over many hours, catch them up. Exactly 88 runners started the race and at the 12k stage I was, if not at the back, then not far off it......but 5 hours-19 minutes later I managed to finish in 48th place! Its a good metaphor for life, over the course of the race I'd improved my position by about 40 places, just by staying constant.
      Its the highest position, pro-rata, that I have ever come in a race, which is great but why was this? As you no, firstly, I hardly did any long runs, it was mostly high intensity crossfit type training and secondly, I saw my coach Paddy today and I have just hit 9.9% body fat, the leanest I have ever been. This  race was partially an experiment to see if this type of training works, well you can't judge things on one race alone but the evidence, if not convincing, is certainly thought provoking.
      My conclusion is that I am definitely staying with this program. Paddy and I have been discussing a new 6 week schedule to further increase my fitness levels by using more weights, high intensity exercise and sprints. However, there is one thing I will always do 3/4 weeks before a big race, I will do at least one long training run.....I still say its important to attune you to the mental fatigue.....and how to deal with it. You have to keep going, no matter how painful or tired or fed up you feel and until you've experienced it and got through it then you can't possibly know what that feels like.
      Anyway those are my thoughts.....I'd be very interested to know how others feel. You can comment here or email me at phil@modelplan.co.uk

    
     


 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

RACE REPORT-TRAIL DES CAPS

Wow, what a weekend. Last night Sue and I went for a pre race dinner in St Tropez and then back to our fab hotel, the Villa Begude, for an early night. My view is if you're going do these tough challenges then you might as well make it as pleasant as possible........before the drama begins.



         It was a stunningly beautiful day with a chilly Alpine wind blowing on the exposed cliff tops. It was 100 of the usual fit French guys, thin, wiry, short cropped hair.....; its like a uniform, they all look the same but they are very good at this sport so they have my respect. I really thought that my calves were going to 'pull' in the first hour so I was pretty relaxed.....ooops! The pace was really fast over the first kilometre and the reason, I was to discover, was because it was the only flat, level, open piece of trail on the whole course. I would say 90% of this trail was 'technical' which means rocky, roots, slippy surfaces, mud, and constant up and down.....and thats before you hit the beach. The total elevation gain was just under 4000 feet which is okay but the surface was very tricky. Still it was a great temperature and clear blue sky so you have to be grateful, it could have been a full blown storm.
       Anyway 45 minutes in, I'm twisting this way and that, ducking under trees whilst trying to prevent myself from catapulting  over the cliff edge, when Bang!! No, not my calf, I just smacked straight into a low tree branch and keeled over. With blood pouring from my head I am instantly surrounded by a collection of concerned runners. 'Ma tete frappe le branche' I exclaimed. The only reason I knew how to say this was because luckily these are 4 of about 20 french words that I know and I only knew 'branche' was branch because of the comedian Eddie Izzard's French sketch.( You tube). Now trail runners are a hardy bunch and although they were concerned they just expect you just to get up and get on with it......and so that's what I did, although I was now the 'headless' trail runner and my vision a little hazy, to say the least......still it woke me up a bit and I forgot all about my calves.
      The 4 k's of Pampelone beach were basically terrible, I tried running in soft sand, hard sand, by the sea, even in the sea, it made no difference, its just hard. When we finally began a steep climb back up into the hills I was actually relieved. Somehow I got to the 20 k aid station in 3 hours which was okay considering I'd been half decapitated and was half legless.
       The aid station was out of the back of a van with a few bottles of coke and water...and that was it. This is trail running French style.....it ain't California, if you don't bring all your own stuff you could have a problem. Later two french guys passed me and attempted to have a chat, which was a complete waste of time but I did manage to say that running in such a beautiful place was a 'privelege'. This brought instant nods of approval and off they went.
        By now my calves were starting to ache quite a bit as if they were saying to me 'Come on, we got you this far but now your really 'pulling my leg'. (By the way for my foreign readers this might not translate but trust me, it was quite funny.)
         To be fair the endless rocks and beaches started to take their toll but I was going to finish no matter what.......and finally over 5 hours later I hit the last beach and arrived at the 'plage du Debarquement' and the finish. The beach is called this because this is where the American troops landed in 1944, which is pretty cool.......and now it was my turn. (Steve would have loved that).
      Sue had enjoyed a lovely day at the hotel whilst I'd been doing my thing so all was well and, lest I forget a big thanks to Helen, my physio, for her 'therapy by phone', it could be an all knew buisness venture and to Pam for the KT calf tape suggestion. I didn't use KT but I did my own DIY version when taping my calves this morning. The moral of this story is that, tape, physio, ice , massage, TENS machines, elevation and rest, actually work.......that and a bit of stubborn belief.

 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

PRE RACE PANIC

Well what a weird Taper week which began, as you know, with a calf strain last Friday. Super physio Helen came over on Sunday and got to grips with the problem. Not only did she find some very painful spots she even found some in my other leg.......which was a little strange as I hadn't injured that one! As Helen said "Don't worry I will always find some way of exacting torture."
      Now you may ask yourself why I put up with this hour of agony......well the  reason is; Helen is very good. The next day my legs  were so tired I felt like I'd been on a 3 hour run and this was due to her deep tissue massage....yeh it sounds nice......but it isn't.
        But, on the following day my legs felt fantastic, no pain, swelling nearly gone, etc, etc: so I did a couple of 20 minute high intensity workouts over the following two days with no pressure on the legs and all was well.....And then I did what all idiot athletes do........I went for a little jog.....and again felt fab.....and so I began some tabata sprints......and guess what?...I pulled the lower calf. When I told Helen this I think she wanted to throttle me, "I told you to rest and do nothing till the race!"
  "I know but I felt great and just wanted to stretch my legs".
    "Well that was stupid".
     "Guilty" I meekly replied. Unfortunately Helen was flying out to the UK that morning so it was 'therapy by phone' followed by ice, rest , elevation, compression, self massage, stretching and the ubiquitous TENS machine. This race was starting to look more impossible by the minute and I hadn't even started.
     The last few days I really have rested and done nothing and so feel quite sluggish but there's still a dull pain. 9 months with no injury's and now two strains in 4 days, the week before a race........is someone trying to tell me something?
      Needless to say I have no idea how tomorrow is going to go.......to be honest it doesn't look good as calf strains always seem to come one after another. If I get another 'pull', then c'est la vie, there's very little I can do about it. I hate the phrase "I'll do my best", as only losers say that, so all I'll say is, 'I'll give it everything'....Its bloody annoying though. I tried a 2k jog this morning and unfortunately the pain has not gone...and I had to walk the last 500 metres. My leg is now wrapped in ice and as Sue sagely pointed out, 'Aren't you supposed to 'ice' it after a race?.....that's not a good sign is it?'....Well quite. I've decided to split the race into bits, ie mini challenges. Its 8k to Pampelone beach, 4k across the beach, 8k to the aid station and 12k climbing up and down to the finish with more beach. It will all be dependant on the pain. You never no I might wake up tomorrow and feel great....gotta stay positive.
         The last bit of advice Helen gave before she left was, 'Whatever you do, don't run on the beach, its the worst thing for calves"......As 7k of this 32k race is run on beaches I guess I'll just have to walk on water!
        Wish me luck :)
 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

THE CROSSFIT ENDURANCE QUESTION.

As its only 2 weeks to my 32 k Trail des Caps, I thought it might be a good idea to give a flavour of what I've been doing. As you know I have incorporated a lot of Crossfit type workouts and a lot less running over the past few months. I felt this would be a good opportunity to experiment with Crossfit Endurance. My normal training would be 60+ plus kilometres per week with 10 minutes calisthenics 3 days per week and a hill repeat sprint session once per week (this would include a long run of 4-5 hours). My schedule for this race has been very different......The first 6 weeks were 4 days per week of HIIT (High intensity workouts for 20 mins max) with  3 runs including interval and sprints totalling only 25-30k per week.....and the last 6 weeks were as follows......(please note that all Crossfit workouts have names).


Monday     AM 10k Tempo or Interval Run (60 sec sprints/60 sec rest)
                  PM Crossfit- 3x8 Clean and jerk, 5x5 Weighted barbell squats & (GRACE- 30 reps Clean
                  and jerk).

Tuesday   AM Crossfit - 4x8 Snatch, 5x5 Bench press & (BARBARA - 4 rounds as fast as possible of
                   20 x Pull ups, 30 x Chest release push ups, 40 x Sit ups, 50 x Bodyweight squats).

Renegade Rows....one of my favourites.
                   PM 1500 metre timed sprint.

Wednesday REST

Thursday    AM Crossfit- (PATTY - 5 Rounds of HIIT 40 secs of each exercise, 20 secs rest,
                    Kettlebell swings, Let me inns, Barbell push press, Running mountain climbers)
                    PM 800 metre x 4 sprints with 90 second rest.

Friday        Long 20-24k trail run with 2/3000 feet of elevation gain (2-3 hours).
                  * (Paddy and Crossfit Endurance don't agree with this Long run, 90 mins would be the max that they would recommend....but I believe its neccessary from a psychological perspective)

Saturday    AM Rest
                  PM Crossfit. Either 4x10 Overhead squats, 3x AMRAP Toe bars and    
                  (LINDA 10.9.8.7.6.5.4.3, 2,1, reps of Deadlift, Bench press, Cleans)..............OR...........
                   Crossfit 3x 6 Handstand pushups, 3x5 Box jumps and (MARY - one round as many reps
                  as possible of 5 x Push press, 10x One-legged pistol squats, 15x Hang cleans.)

Sunday       REST

..........and thats it. Total time in gym per week.....  2 hours.
                              Total time running per week ....3-4 hours
                               Total exercise time...................5-6 hours

Sidenote  This includes 2 full rest days per week. Paddy, my coach, would have preferred it if I'd done even less running. In my first 6 weeks I only did 72 mins of High Intensity exercise per week, ie averaging 12 mins per day and in that time I  decreased my body fat to under 10%.....
  *Also, I realise that 3 hours is not a very long, 'Long run' as regards ultra training but as Crossfit advise against any runs of this length at all, then in this program it is.
       I have tried to be specific here to show more clearly that its what you do and how you do it, not how much. Nutrition of course is even more important. Sue and I have worked out that I eat probably twice as much as I used to but the balance of carbs to protein to fat has changed radically....in fact our diet now is probably about 75% Paleo.
       I'm sure Paddy and I could work out a more effective routine than the one above but everyone is different so this is a learning curve to see what will work best for me at this stage. A female friend of ours, married with 4 kids, does 20 hours training per week to run marathons, so you can see my type of training is nothing in comparison, but if this is effective which would you choose? My training is more varied, stimulating and carries less injury risk than only running up and down mountains for 20 hours per week but we all have a choice and if thats what you want to do.. ...and have the time....then good luck to you.
     After this week I will taper the mileage further with just Tabata's and intervals and ease back completely on any strength work. Apart from a brisk walk I'll do nothing the last 3 days before the race. I will increase my carbs in the last week but I won't go crazy because otherwise I'll feel too heavy as I'm just not used to it....and besides I don't believe in changing your natural diet too much the week before a race. I normally run and train on my existing diet so if I double my carb intake then that should be enough to build up my glycogen stores.( However, I reserve the right to screw up completely.........just in case any of this goes wrong.)
      I admit I am concerned about the lack of mileage and to be honest I should have done more sprint/interval work but this is partially an experiment to see what happens with this type of program. Also one can feel good or bad on any given day and the weather too can play a part plus the terrain is quite different to previous races so its bound to be 'interesting'.There are always suprises in trail running and that's part of the fun so you have to be prepared to adapt.... ..and speaking of suprises, today I was doing a 10 k interval run, feeling good and suddenly I pulled my calf muscle. I have had no injuries for 9 months and 10 days before my race, Bang!  So annoying, and worrying as I thought I was over the calf issue. So it was the normal R.I.C.E. protocol and then back to the TENS machine. I can still do most of the Crossfit stuff but I'll have to think long and hard about any running this week. This will of course be a worry during the race but what can you do? My physio Helen is coming over tommorrow and she will no doubt administer some horrendous torture in order to get me fit.This is going to be a very strange 'taper' week, hopefully my fitness will be okay and the rest period should help muscle recovery.......we shall see, I'll just have to roll with it.
    Funnily enough this summer I  was doing a quick 10 k with a friend of ours, Jules, who is no stranger to road marathons, and he was quite suprised at how much you had to concentrate on where you are putting your feet and how mentally tiring it must be in an ultra........which is very true because I can guarantee that in an ultra the moment you look up and admire the view you'll be flat on your back and looking up at the sky!
    On a completely unrelated note I was in chilly London last week and went training in a small park at dusk. I was doing sprint repeats for about an hour and suddenly a voice from the darkness, an American voice, shouts out;-
    'Hey man those negative splits are a bitch aren't they?'
     I had to laugh.... Yanks, you gotta love them......for a moment there I was back in sunny Southern California.

 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

WHICH ONE ARE YOU ?

On reflecting about the recent US election and the polarising effect of politics it made me ponder on that other great division, not only in the US, but throughout the world. It is of course between the have's and the have nots........those who have a lot of fat and those who don't.
      'Oh I can hear you saying, he's off again, having a go at us unfit fatties'....well yes, repent, repent the time is nigh......the day of reckoning is approaching......ha ha, I sound like Elmer Gantry. Who? don't worry about it, (there was a time when I would have to explain this reference but I guess anyone interested will Google him in 5 seconds). I digress. Why is it that 'obsession' is a word that is always applied to the fit and healthy whereas if someone eats crap, drinks too much and watches TV all night then they are considered 'normal'. I think its a con and a great many people have fallen for it, I meet them all the time.....'I eat very well'........'Nothing wrong with having a few drinks'.....'People who excersise are always dying of heart attacks'.........'I'm happy with my weight'........'My grandma lived to 98 and she smoked all her life'.......I could go on and on but you get the picture. So many people live a life of denial......and as my friend Crazy John used to  say.....'Yeh they think de nial is a river in Egypt'.
        We all succumb to easy ways and lazy thinking, its a natural human trait but when it comes to being healthy you have to fight the easy option......'Shall I go for a run or have a pizza and watch X factor?' The facts are that the majority will do the latter but the fit minority will not only choose to run, they prefer it and herein lies the problem. The 'fits' believe in the idea and the reality of being healthy and any action associated with it whereas the 'fat's' believe, or want to believe, that the pizza/X factor option will do them little or no harm.......and while that thought predominates they will always be fat.
       Belief is everything. I don't think the 'fats' neccessarily believe that over eating is healthy but neither do they believe that eating well and exercising leads to Nirvana. So what is going on in the old cerebal cortex and how do we flick the 'fit' switch and get everyone off their backsides ?


WHICH ONE ARE YOU?
   Its a big question as many people have good intentions and 'want' to do something but 'want' is no good, it has to be a 'must'.The other challenge is that a great many 'fat's' actually think they are a 'thin'........or atleast not as fat as they truly are. Before I get accused of being fattest we have to understand that everyone has and needs fat, if you didn't you'd be dead. Top male athletes are well under 10% but the average American male is between 18-24% and over 25% is considered to be obese. In Women its 22-25% with over 30% being obese. Female athletes are below 18%.

      Fat percentages don't lie which is probably why most people stay away from them. I see women, especially, buying more and more varied outfits designed to hide the obvious. A friend of ours owns a very successful ladies store in England and she told me that atleast 4 or 5 times a day a customer would say 'Does my bum look big in this?' The sad thing was that she would be polite in her reply and avoid the question but the reality was, 'Yes, it does!'......'Hello!'





   So, step one....Get real
         step two....Get disturbed
        step three...Decide to do something about it.
and step four.....DO IT.
   and I don't mean join a gym or pass on that extra slice of pie...I mean do something structured with a plan and a time horizon and a goal. To say I'm going to exercise more and/or cut down on cakes and biscuits is not a plan that's just a floaty thought.
       Educate yourself on what you are eating and on what exercise is the best for losing fat whilst improving your fitness and health. As you can tell I'm pretty passionate about all this. I think its great to see people improving their health in which ever way works for them....and I also think its terribly sad to see unfit, overweight people indulge in some kind of false happiness that they clearly don't feel. Just for the record if you are fat and happy then good luck to you.......
     As all health proffessionals I know will tell you, its not easy, it takes commitment and effort, sometimes its fun, sometimes its boring.....and sometimes you just don't want to do it and thats's why you must have a plan and a goal and stick to it.....no matter what, no excuses, period.
I like the quote 'Nothing tastes as good as fitness feels'........that biscuit is a 2 second thrill....fitness and health is a life time experience.
  Many people email me about my blogs but if you want advice on nutrition, fitness.....or God forbid, ultra running, then email me at phil@modelplan.co.uk  and just ask.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

TIME TRIAL

Following on from my stats in my last blog of my improved speed it occurred to me that the best way to check my race time over 18k was to do the exact same race, in the same conditions and at the same time of day....the only difference being it would just be me and there would be no aid stations. The fact that I would racing alone could make me slower so I would just have to push myself harder.....and the aid station thing is pretty irrelevant over such a short distance.
   It is 18 months since I'd run this route, so it was going to be interesting, now I know its not ultra distance but still, it would be a valuable experiment. Last time I did this I was full of gels, water, sports drinks, banana's etc.......and its only 18k!....my glycogen stores would hardly have been used up at all....what an idiot.
    This time I set off much better prepared, lighter, leaner, fitter and in better shape altogether, the only nagging concern was that I'd been doing  a lot of crossfit lately and I had read that in the first few weeks your times can drop before they get better. Not quite sure what the reason is but I suspect its due to fatigue in the muscles that have not yet rebuilt themselves.
       Undaunted I set my watch and off I went instantly feeling under pressure which was ridiculous because nobody knew or cared what I was doing.......but of course I did.....and I'm pretty good at beating myself up if I have too. In my mind this was a pretty serious time trial and, as in any competition, if you are racing against others you automatically go faster so I had to race against someone.......and today the someone was myself. The elevation gain is about 3000 feet and although the course is tough in places, with one long hard climb and three really steep rocky descents, its mostly okay with single track trails. The time to beat was 2 hours-23 minutes.
        The watch hit 9:00 am and we were off!.......well....I was off, what a strange experience this was. I took only 1.5 litres of water and a couple of gels (just in case). I decided early on not to check my watch, as I didn't do it in the race, the only bench mark I would have would be how I felt.
        Two things became apparent in the first 5 minutes. Firstly it was hot and secondly we'd had a lot of rain over the past two days and the normal flat soft single tracks were now either very muddy or mini rivers!
    Whatever, after 30 mins and in a dense forest I nearly crashed into a Chinese guy (who spoke a bit of French), who was lost. I suggested he follow me until I could show him the way to go. There then followed a rather bizarre conversation about Ultra running in French/Chinese/English.....very surreal. He seemed most impressed with my 55k run this year, he'd done the 32k and had stopped due to cramp......interesting stuff isn't it? Well I was hardly going to discuss the effects of Deng Xiaoping's reforms on modern day China, not with my dodgy French....Anyway he went east and I went west...... I found the next 6k really hard, its a big climb and the ground was heavily rutted, rocky and wet and once at the top then its a precipitous rocky descent down. In the race this was a lot easier but today I nearly twisted an ankle several times. One good thing about the wet was the smell of the pine trees, just intoxicating and the air was clear and the mountains stunningly beautiful. I pressed on trying to keep up a decent pace, I realised that in a race the other runners really do push you inadvertently.
     After a few hours I neared the ocean and the final few kilometres were along the beach. I arrived back at the start/finish and checked my watch..... 2 hours- 23 minutes. Bizarre! The exact same time as nearly 2 years ago, what's all that about ?
    Initially I was very disappointed, all that training, 1000's of miles and hundreds of hours and I do the same time. Last month I covered a similar distance a lot faster so why was this? Firstly  my leg muscles felt very heavy on the climbs, there were no quad aches, they just felt heavy. I had just done my first intense week of crossfit conditioning and so I guess that had to be it. According to the Crossfit Endurance guys after a few weeks I'd really see the difference. I certainly hope so.
Secondly although it was warm, the wet  surface conditions were much worse than than last years race. Thirdly I was running against myself and fourth, I'am older, 58 next month, maybe at this age there is a law of diminishing returns. To be honest I don't know but over the coming weeks I intend to find out.....and improve. My 33k race is in 4 weeks time so I better get myself sorted out and fast.
       My plan is crossfit conditioning 4 days per week, 800/1500 metre and tabata sprints, a couple of 10k interval runs and one long  20k plus run per week. I probably will have to do some of this on the beach for specificity. Paddy thinks I should run a little less than this and just do intervals....he's probably right but I find it hard not too, I suppose its a mental thing due to my lack of prep (because of injury) for the Way to Cool 50k earlier this year.....but I feel I just can't take the chance of not doing enough miles, still.....any advice will be gratefully received.





 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

LIFE'S A BEACH

Sue and I went off to St Tropez last weekend to have a look at the trail I'll be running next month. Actually thats not true, Sue wanted lunch on the beach and I wanted to check out the trail, and although St Tropez may be very glamorous, the trail I'm running on is rugged and wild. It is on the peninsular and most of the coast line is inaccessible unless you take the rocky path around the headland. The only area where the tourists go is Pampelone beach which covers only 4k of the 32k course, the rest is really quite tricky, this surprised me as I was imagining lovely soft trails besides the azure blue ocean. After lunch Sue and I drove to the lighthouse at Cap Cammarat and then hiked down to the rocky exposed coves below. Half way down the twisting steep cliffs the rocks, roots and slippery surfaces were quite a challenge.... 'you don't run on this do you?' said Sue.....'Well yeah, that's why its called trail running'.........'you must be mad'. Well, there's nothing like support and encouragement.......and Sue certainly wasn't giving me any of that! I went off on a little recce and thought to myself , 'I hope the weather's good next month or this will be a nightmare,' and just as I said this the clouds began to roll in.....it felt like Brigadoon. I must have been tempting fate because we'd had lunch in warm sunshine and yet by 4:30pm the weather had turned into a storm of  almost biblical proportions.....bizarre.
     By the time we got back home our house was flooded, roads were blocked and electricity cut....what a day. I do hope this wasn't an omen as I don't fancy running along the clifftops in that kind of weather....you could die of  exposure. I'd really like an easy 32k morning jaunt to get my legs working.... still, if there's one thing I  know about trail running in France it is that they're never easy; 32k should be a doddle but I suspect there'll be a few surprises.
           I've been doing a few beach and coastal runs to get the feel of the terrain but its difficult where I live because its not really the same trails as my normal hill and mountain running, which is a very different discipline. The danger is I may go off to fast and the problem then will be later on when I may just 'blow up'.........which basically means having unwittingly expended too much energy at the start you just run out of gas towards the end. Its all about pacing, when you're running up mountains the pacing kind of takes care of itself (well it does with me) but on flatter paths (even rocky ones) the tendency is to get caught up with all the excitement and get dragged along too quickly. I think this may have happened at the 'Way to Cool 50k' . I did the first 30 k in about 3 hours and then it all went a bit 'pear shaped' and I struggled for the rest of the race. Hopefully the rocky/beach surface will slow me down, (not that I'm quick).... and cool my ardour.
      Just a another point about high intesity interval training, HIIT's. Just to simplify how all these different protocols work in relation to myself. It can all get very confusing but this is what I have found to be true. With 20 minute HIIT sessions I burn my glycogen (carbs) and fat but not muscle because the HIIT is very short. If I do runs longer than 60 minutes I will burn a similar amount, it just takes longer. If I do long runs  of 4 hours or more, I will burn carbs, fat........and muscle (if I don't fuel properly)....and as I explained previously the stress will cause me to even retain fat in certain areas. Anybody who saw me this time last year will tell you how thin and gaunt I looked, this was because of muscle loss or catabolism, my body was literally eating away at itself. I retained a normal healthy diet but because of my ultra running I should have been eating a lot more. My muscles were weak and so my performance actually detiorated throughout last year. My first ultra/marathon in the mountains at 42 k and 8,200 feet of elevation gain was one of my best performances time wise because I was very fit and strong and I had not, at that early stage, began the process of eating muscle.
    This year I began the process of strengthening my muscles AND feeding them and then my body condition improved as well as my fitness. My last ultra was by far the hardest but my body felt good and performed well for the whole 10 hours, tired yes, but no quad or calf problems at all. I could still run the last 10 k reasonably well (just as I did in my first ultra) but my body condition and strength were totally different. Last Saturday I did a 23k training run in 2 hours and 30 mins that's about 9.2k per hour and 4,600 feet elevation gain. 18 months ago I did an 18k race with only 3,000 feet gain in 2 hours and 21 mins which is 7.6 k per hour. Basically I have improved a lot, I ran 1.6 k per hour quicker, 5k further and 1,600 feet higher and this was only a training run., if it had been a race I would have gone much faster.........(I can feel I'm losing some of you here).
    The point is that high intensity workouts, strength, speed training, pilates, yoga and long aerobic runs all have there place, and they work, they are interdependant............BUT sometimes they are not, for example, very long 4/6 hour runs are not generally recommended by many fitness trainers.....unless your training for a marathon or ultra. My conundrum at the moment is that ultra running in itself is not the healthiest thing you can do. It hurts, you can get injured, it takes up a lot of training time, it is not good for your cardiovascular system, its mentally demanding and is occasionally dangerous, it is after all an extreme sport. I do it because its a challenge and I love being in the wilds of nature but, 4 HIITS and a bit of speed/strength training plus a few 10k runs every week would be much healthier. Still I suppose I could argue that smoking, drinking and over eating aren't very healthy either.....so I guess we all have a choice. As you can tell this conundrum is something I am struggling with.....now its one thing to struggle with it at home and quite another to struggle with it whilst doing it!........Did that make sense?  It would be at this point that my old friend Steve would have probably said, 'I think you need a drink.....I know I do'. I can see the headlines.....

        'Ultra runner has a heart attack due to stress of considering whether to run ultra's or not'

Byeee.






 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

FITNESS IS A TAPESTRY

I received quite a few questions re my last blog on getting fat. Fitness coach Celine, highlighted some important points that need to be addressed. She quite rightly noted that I don't only do 72 minutes of HIIT.....I also run a lot. I assumed that everyone new this but perhaps not. The point I was making was that HIIT's will get you lean if that is your goal but one must not negate ones overall fitness and this is where aerobic training comes in. She had a beautiful metaphor for this; 'Fitness is a Tapestry', there are many different parts that make up a picture of total fitness, they all combine and if you only do one type then your overall fitness will be limited. Ultra runners never used to do strength or speed work whereas now they know that it is important for their continued health and performance.....just as if you only do HIIT's then you ain't going to be able to run very far because you have no specificity of training on trails, hills and mountains.....and over many hours.
        I am fully aware of the Tim Ferriss/Crossfit Endurance ideas and have done them myself. As a reminder the theory is that by combining various speed and strength workouts, HIITS and other such exercises then the need for very long runs is unnecessary......in fact Crossfit Endurance recommends running for no more than 90 minutes when training for an ultra. Although Tim, who I believe has a lot of excellent well researched techniques has not to date run an ultra, many others have. I too have incorporated some of his ideas but when the time comes to train for a long race you just feel that you have to put the hours in. The thought of starting a 10 hour plus race with just a few 90 minute training runs under your belt scares the hell out of me. This does not mean it can't be done, it just 'feels' odd.
      So combining different protocols is the key. Continuous aerobic exercise brings its own health benefits such as a strong heart, clear arteries and efficient respiratory system. And more especially it strengthens the immune system by preventing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis and so on. Aerobic exercise also burns fat (otherwise I couldn't run for 10 hours plus) its just that the sort of running I do is more stressful than the norm hence the increased cortisol production that I spoke of last time.
     I hope that has cleared up any inconsistencies. Fitness and health is a varied and detailed science but it is also basic common sense. Years ago before I knew all the stuff I know now I used to advise many of our clients about weight loss. It was:-

         'Run for a minimum of one hour 3 times a week, don't smoke, cut down on the alchohol and carbs and drink at least 2 litres of water a day. Read the fat content on food labels and stay below the recommended daily levels for a man or woman'.

And that was it, the success rate was close to 80% and once adopted, our clients would stay that way for years and in most cases a lifetime.....and I can back this up with facts and figures. These days we can be much more targeted and efficient in our advice but the basic advice I gave still holds true today. If you do it, it works. The food industry is always trying to find sneaky ways to trick us, such as saying 'low fat, low sugar'.....and not mentioning the lashings of the horrendous 'high fructrose corn syrup' which must be the No1 cause of obesity in the world today. One has to always be vigilant. My other moan ,whilst I'm at it, is the salad trick. If you make a salad or order one in a restaurant, watch the dressing, as some of these can have 20% of your total daily fat intake! There are many similar examples, fat is important in a diet but its the amount and the type that matter.
          I have recently been conducting a more detailed analysis of my training methods. Paddy my coach and I, have been doing some intense Crossfit and then I have gone out and done my usual runs. Its interesting because I have been running with an aching body, which is a very similar feeling to Back to Back ultra training, ie you run for say 3 plus hours on Saturday and then do the same on Sunday. I am guessing but it seems obvious to me that this is how Crossfit Endurance works for ultra runners, the body is stressed with intense workouts thereby simulating a long run and then the next day you feel just the same as if you had run but the difference is that you have lessened the risk of injury whilst maintaining the same intensity. I must stress this is my theory not Paddy's. Crossfit seems to divide the fitness community into two camps, the believers and non believers, it has quite a polarising effect. I believe that every training protocol has its place as long as it is taught sensibly by proffessional coaches. At the end of the day Crossfit is just another dynamic way of combining exercises, its not rocket science.
         My race in 6 weeks time is a hilly trail run but not mountains, so that's a relief (no pun intended) but as with all trail races it has  its own unique difficulties in that about a third of the race is run on sand......so I may need to put some practice in cos running on beaches though very beautiful is also very tiring. Studies have shown that it is 50% harder than running on a road plus there are other issues due to the heel strike sinking in lower than the foot as it lands, variable landing and inclines on the shore, these and other issues can lead to all sorts of strains in the joints and muscles which disturbs your natural biomechanics.
      Anyway I'm now off to do a 10k hilly recovery run.......which some ultra runners call 'junk' miles in that they think such a short distance is a complete waste of time......unfortunately they have made the mistake of confusing me with someone who gives a damn :-)
  




 

Monday, October 8, 2012

HOW TO GET FAT

Its been a few weeks since my last blog as I've all sorts of issues to deal with.....such is life. In that time I had my up to date fitness test and am pleased to report that my body fat is now 10.3%. This is pretty good but I am now on a mission to go sub 10% which I suspect I must be at, or close to, already. I also gained an extra 2 kilo's of lean muscle so all is good with my body conditioning. I have been asked how do you do this as it has not been achieved by ultra running, in fact my coach Paddy has stated that if I had done less running during the last 6 weeks I would have dropped even more fat ! So why is this?
   With apologies to the medics and fitness coaches amongst us I shall give the simplified version. There are many ultra runners who are thin but there also quite a few (mostly women) who carry some excess around their waist. It has been argued that they carry this extra fat for energy....this I find a little odd because even someone with 5 % body fat has plenty of stored energy. In one pound of body fat there are approximately 3,500 useable calories, so in a person with even 5% body fat thats 17,500 calories. If I run for 10 hours I will proabably burn 7,500 calories, so if I had no gels or food at all I would still have 10,000 calories of energy left, BUT I would eat at least 3000 calories in gels and food so I would 'need' only 3,500 from stored energy ie one pound of fat. The point is you don't need excess fat to run and you don't burn much anyway.
    Also with some people, (me included) running can stress the body thereby releasing cortisol, a hormone that inhibits muscle growth and increases the metabolic resistance to body fat loss. ie ultra running is stressful and can actually increase or at the very least prevent fat loss, which is the real reason for fat around the midriff of some runners.
  I have achieved my fat loss by high intensity interval training, or HIIT as we call it. Fat is burned during the exercise and for 24 hours after plus there is an anabolic effect whereby if you consume more protein this will help you build muscle and not fat. It also helps to increase your lactic acid threshold......and increases aerobic capacity, great for ultra runners.   The good news for anyone who wants to get fit and lose weight is that my average HIIT workout is 18 minutes.....thats the maximum time I spend in a gym and I only do this 4 times a week, thats a total of 72 minutes!

                                                Just over one hour of exercise per week.

10% Body Fat
  Fitness coaches know this but most people don't. HIIT's are basically short fast bursts of energy be it sprints or press ups, burpees, squats or a myriad of different execises interspersed with short 20/30 second rests. (Look it up). Obviously your nutrition is hugely important. If you drink, smoke and consume large amounts of carbs then no amount of HIIT ing is going to help.Clean nutrition is the key. I eat A LOT, three big meals and two smaller ones per day. I am never hungry and do not diet. For anyone reading this for the first time I know you don't believe me, I was skeptical too but the facts are I have gone from a fit runner with 15% body fat to a very fit runner with under 10% body fat....and its all been done with less running. Did you know that Usain Bolt has never run more than a mile in his life........ and he looks alright.
 So why run at all?
 There are many other health benefits to aerobic activities such as running and so combining the two types makes sense to me.....and besides I like running through the hills and valleys. I wouldn't normally post a half naked picture of myself but sometimes the best way to demonstrate something is to do it visually.
      In relation to my last post about challenges I am booked to do a 33k run around the St Tropez peninsular in 6 weeks time. Its not an ultra but its quite technical and I thought it might be good training to see if I can run faster over a shorter distance.  I might even be a little fatter after it!
    

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

THE NEXT CHALLENGE

As you know I promised Sue, and myself, that I would take a rest from running ultra races for a few months after running my 5 ultra's in 12 months. Well time goes quickly and its now been a suprising 4 months. I have of course continued running....and training intensively on body conditioning but I have not been pushing myself on big 6 hour plus runs......the most I've done is 3 hours. I also had to get all my heart, blood and fitness test results assessed. Many ultra guys run  most races in the summer and rest in the winter....but its just too hot here and so I've taken it easy. I suppose I could have run in the cooler mountains but  running in the Alps is quite brutal due to the elevation gain and with my MVP, I decided it best to take it easy.
     Next weekend there is a multiday ultra event nearby but unfortunately I only found out about it last week (they are not big on advertising these things) and I would have been unprepared. I realised this when I ran a shorter version of one of the races last Friday and I was so slow it was embarrasing. Clearly no matter how fit you are you still  have to prepare specifically for the challenge ahead. At 57 its not so easy just to wing it the way you could at 27. Its a shame as it was 3 races in 36 hours, a 15k, 25k and 23k and included a night run but nevermind there are many other possibilities. I notice the elite guys spend quite a bit of time in selecting which races thay are going to run and when.....obviously there are the nutty ones who do a full 50 or 100 mile race a month.......yep, thats what I said, a month. Anyways I am now trying to find the next challenge. Do I run an easy 20 k training race or a full ultra ? I think I'll ramp up slowly because I have to monitor my heart as well as my fitness levels. Its been recommended that I wear my heart monitor and keep the rate within a certain band as much as possible. The stress test heart specialist said if I train correctly then he would not advise against me running.........then again he doesn't advise me to do it either! Is that a non denial denial or just a sitting on the fence thing?
         After the Olympics I half expected to see lots of newly motivated people running on the trails with an excited sense of vigour and purpose to get fit and DO something healthy with their lives.......but sadly not a soul; I have not seen a single runner in the hills in 5 weeks, oh well, what can I say?
      Over the past few weeks I've done fast 20k tempo runs....and slow arduous painful 20k runs.....not sure why this is. I am fitter and stronger than last year but I don't know how this will play out in a full ultra due to the on/off nature of these runs.....que sera. My new Cascadia 7's trail shoes have just arrived so at least I'll have a bit more grip after wearing out my 6's. I have to say they are an impressive trail shoe for anyone interested (made by Brooks), very comfy and you can wear them 'in' very quickly.
    In the ultra world there have been some impressive performances over the summer, Tim Olsen's record breaking run at Western States, Hal Koerner at Hardrock, Mike Morton's 24 hour US record, Lizzy Hawkers back to back wins at UTMB (again) and RRR.....and speaking of the RRR (Run Rabbitt Run 100 miler), Karl Meltzers astonishing win at 44 years of age over a very young and talented field. Karl has won more 100's than anybody else (33 to be exact) and he just keeps chugging along. His best quote after his win 'To run a 100 mile race you don't have to run fast, you just have to run all day'......well quite.
     We had Anton Krupicka's return to ultra's after 18 months of injury, Dakota's new record crossing of the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim......and of course the Killian Jornet Speedgoat 50k switchback controversy.....which caused more heated debate in the ultra community than anything else.
    But what of my next challenge. I still haven't decided and the reason is simple. Running an ultra is tough but the long hard training is just as demanding and my age and MVP make the descision even harder. Its a bit like jumping out of a plane....the first time is hard but the second time is harder because you know what to expect. As I said earlier you can't 'wing' an ultra......so I will prepare and select the next one with a degree of intelligence as well as passion. To use the American expression I have to make sure that I have the course well 'dialled in ', (organised, prepared, planned and ready).
Stay healthy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

THE TRUTH

I attended  a rather elegant lunch party the other day, everyone was dressed in their coolest summer attire.....well everyone except me of course....I was in my usual shorts and singlet; luckily I have a reputation as this rather weird ultra runner who is obssessed with fitness and so I seem to get away with it....although the fact that I only drink water always seems to screw everyone up. Then they start asking me questions like 'How far do you run, how high and for how long?'...which is then always followed by a 'Why?'
       I do try to form an erudite and suitably intelligent answer but at a large social gathering when most people have drunk rather a lot of wine I have to admit that I must sound a bit weird. In fact I heard the one and only Anton Krupicka (He of the elite, no shirt group of runners) say that during the 100 mile Leadville race he felt this sport was a bit 'silly'....okay that was after 17 hours of non stop running but he has a point. Is what we do silly or weird or just plain nuts? I mean I know we all like running through the wilderness, forests and mountains but !! Actually its strange how you get out of practice because last week I did a two and a half hour, 20k run with 4000 feet of elevation gain and normally this would be no big deal but because I'd been taking it easy for the last few months I found it quite demanding. This could have been for several reasons; Fitness (unlikely), Heart worries (possibly) or worn out shoes on rugged terrain (bingo!) that had to be it. I've had my Cascadia 6's for a good 700 miles and so I got straight on to Brooks Running and ordered the highly rated Cascadia 7's in fiery volcanic red. No doubt by next week I'll be lighting up the trail like Anton himself and if I remove my shirt as well I'll be flying.
     But back to the lunch party, our host Nicholas is 65 years old going on 17. He has lived a very 'full' life to put it mildly and yet somehow, despite behaving like Keith Richards brother, he seems to retain a youthful exuberance that completely belies his existence. How does he do it ? He doesn't run up mountains or drink water (God forbid), he party's all the time and has boundless energy. It is one of life's unique conundrums that despite all my strict specialist nutrition and Spartan like fitness routine Nick has always got loads more energy than I have! Now that is weird.
     But I digress....so, why run ultra marathons? Its not very good for you, it can be boring, tiring and exhausting, it takes tons of time, training and discipline, its not exactly very sociable ( I don't no anyone who runs ultra's except my friend Jamie and he lives in China!), and so the question still remains, why? Well in the final analysis I've arrived at the only conclusion possible and the reason I do it is because........ I am completely certifiable! Sorry but thats the simplest explanation I've got; every ultra runner is in fact a nutcase or bonkers, mad, weird, totally loopy and should be commited to a government institution....oh and possibly masochistic too. Okay, so now you know, any other plausible explanations are utter fabrications of someone trying to justify what they do.
     Unlike most people who run regularly I shall tell the truth. It hurts and this idea of being addicted to a runners high is just plain bull***t. I don't know about anybody else but for me I think I just enjoy the quiet and the stillness, now I suppose I could get that by going for a hike but that feels to lightweight, ( sort of like why have a diet coke if you want a coke ?....its all crap so you might as well have the real thing).
    What I would say is that there are many moments of joy and wonder mixed in with the hardship and maybe its this antithesis that has an appeal......and when you complete it and finish, its such an emotional experience it sort of makes it worth all the pain. I should imagine my friend Nick has no idea what I'm talking about....but as I said, he's weird anyway.
 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

ANALYSIS PARALYSIS

I think I need to square the circle on all my stress tests, fitness, ultra running and AVP heart condition. I have now had two stress tests, one on a running machine and the other on a bike.....the reason for two is that the first one didn't work as I was 'moving around too much' and so the reading was faulty. Now correct me if I'm wrong but there are only two methods and surely I was not the first person to move around too much on a running machine ! Anyway the Doc insisted I do it again 3 days later. I can see why its called a stress test because they push you to exhaustion and I could hardly breathe at the end.........but what were the results?
       Well this being a French clinic I recieved a computer print out so large  I could have probably wallpapered my living room with it. My consultation (after nearly killing myself) lasted all of 30 seconds. 'You are very fit and your 'art' is very strong....it was a very good test'. - Okay but what of my AVP and all the other stuff ? - 'I see no problem..........if you choose to run up mountains that is up to you but there is nothing in this report that says you must not do it', and with that I was shown the door. Well at least it was quick.
   Next was my fitness/fat test with my coach, Paddy. 'You are the fittest, leanest guy over 50 that I have ever coached and you have the body of a fit 40 year old......and 11.2% body fat which is fantastic......why don't you try Ironman Triathlons ?'
       Confused....just a bit. This whole thing began with the Mayo clinic report and I have discovered much since then but my personal reports seem to show that yes, I have a minor heart defect (which could kill me) but in itself should not stop me from doing what I do as long as I train efficiently and maintain my level of fitness.............and Paddy thinks I should swim and cycle race as well... Crikey.
     Yesterday I bumped into my local doctor as I was about to arrange for a consultation to get a full overview of all this. There we were in the car park and after giving him a brief explanation of my MPV condition and the other tests he laughed, slapped me on the back and said 'no need Phil..... you're fine I suggest you go run up a mountain'......and then walked off !
     So there you have it:- at one end of the spectrum  my 'don't tempt the devil' doctor thinks I should stop running altogether and at the other end its 'go run an ultra and have a nice day'.
     To be honest its all down to the personal choices we make in life and after all this research I 'know' more and so can take a more informed decision about what I will and can do and I'm fine with that. I will take it all step by step and 'listen' to my body.....if I feel okay then I will carry on and if I feel a bit weird then I'll take it easy.......I guess its just common sense.
As the Delphic oracle said 'Know thyself' and 'Nothing to excess'.........or as Roy Rodgers said 'Happy trails'
  Last weekend Sue and I went up into the Alps and I did a early morning run on Sunday, it was breathtaking, quiet, fresh and still.......I was in an almost zen like state.....and despite stress tests, healthy nutrition and disciplined training it still all comes down to the simplicity of doing something life affirming in your own little corner of a beautiful Universe.

      
   
   

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

BUYING A HOUSE OFF KILLIAN

Now I know I have just got a lot of ultra runners attention but non ultra runners are probably confused. Why is this such a big deal? Firstly Killian Jornet is arguably the number 1 ultra runner in the world today so this is quite a coup...........kind of.
          Killian is at present involved in a rather unfortunate 'scandal' in that whilst winning the Speedgoat 50 k last week he 'cut the switchbacks'........shock, horror, why did he commit such a violent crime? The internet is rampant with indignation, opinion and judgement. How could an athlete of such super star status cut switchbacks???.........and what on earth does that mean???

     I shall explain; when running up or down a hill the trails often go in a zig zag pattern to control the route and preserve nature. This is a switchback. In the USA you have to stick to the trail and not cut across them because it gives a potential unfair advantage and also damages the ecosystem. These are the rules in the USA but this event was part of the Skyrunner World Series, an international mountain endurance running competition, and their rules say you can 'cut' switchbacks and take the quickest route from marker to marker.  So who was right, well Killian said he didn't know about the US rules....only problem with this is that he was warned during the race and he continued to do it. But who warned him, was it a credited official and did Killian, who is Spanish, truly understand.....  and furthermore others were seen doing it.
    The organiser, Karl Meltzer, a well respected ultra champion in his own right had a difficult decision to make. He decided to give Killian the win but not the prize money and Killian gracefully accepted this. The prize money was divided amongst  the others. Many people agree with Karl, many do not, the latter believing that he should have been DQ'd (disqualified). In Europe you can cut switchbacks and I have done it......but I have to say it always feels wrong....and though you may gain a small advantage you run the risk of falling down a rabbit hole or injuring yourself due to the speed of descent. When climbing it takes more energy to cut a switchback but you get to the top marginally quicker. Then of course there is the enviromental question of disturbing nature by not sticking to the marked trails.
     Its a fierce debate which might seem trivial to some but in the ultra world its serious stuff. No doubt this story will run and run (so to speak). When I ran the Way to Cool 50k in California this year I had no idea about these rules, luckily I didn't 'cut' anything but I would have been devastated to be DQ'd if I had. Still atleast we all now know so there are no excuses from now on.
      So what of Killians house. As I was walking down the garden path it zig zagged down the hill and I noticed Killian cutting across the garden....I thought mmm he's at it again cutting switchbacks even in his own garden.........the man's obsessed!
         Anyway we have just made an offer to Killian to buy this most beautiful house. We await his decision with eager anticipation...........
  PS..........Did I mention that Killian is the name of the local property agent :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

RACE WITH THE DEVIL

The heart of the problem
Well this Mayo clinic thing seems to be stirring things up in the ultra community but having just had my echocardiogram done it all starts getting even more complicated. Basically....after a 3 hour examination...... Dr Olive, (for tis his name), came to the conclusion that I have the heart of a young man, all the ventricles, cavities, muscles, valves, ejection fraction (take it easy) etc, are all perfect................................BUT....... Why is there always a but?....there is a slight problem.......I have a slight prolapse in the Mitral valve known as MVP, its very small  (20mm) and normally effects up to 10% of the population. This is one indicator that can lead to Atrial Fibrulation!!!
     In a 3 hour exam many aspects of my heart were examined and many other measurements were done such as muscle thickness 11.5 to 12 mm  (above the norm but expected in endurance athletes), ejection fraction 68% which is good, cardiac output, pulmonary activity.....the list goes on and on.
     I had previously mentioned to Doc Olive that sometimes when stopping for a drink on a long run I could here a fast clicking sound....this it turns out is the Mitral valve closing.......'so I guess as long as I can here it then I must be alive'.......he found this comment only vaguely amusing. So getting to the hub of the problem what does one do about MVP?
     It can be hereditary and is not in itself a problem but obviously when one strains the heart then there are risks. Essentially the valve doesn't close properly and some blood seeps back into the atrium; the more severe the condition then the effects are magnified leading to irregular heartbeat, fatigue...and even heart failure. There are quite a few documented cases where marathon runners have died who had MVP.....(Chad Schieber- Chicago marathon, 2007). A whole plethora of Cardiovascular societies including the ACC/AHA state that...'athletes with MVP- but without high risk features- can engage in all competitive sports'. I do not have any of the high risk features and it is believed that the athletes that died did. However heat and dehydration are also contributing factors and in fact Doc Olive specifically stated that I must not run in heat.....ever. As you all know I have run in extreme heat in the past so his advice is  well noted.
    As previously mentioned endurance athletes develop physiologic adaptations and structural remodelling of the heart. Increase in blood volume, dehydration and changes in electrolyte levels in abnormal conditions such as endurance sports can increase the risk of lethal arrhythmia but it is important to state that MVP does not cause sudden death but MR (mitrial regurgitation) can and does when associated with other risk factors and unless monitored MVP can lead to MR. So it is the degree of MVP which is important, mine is very slight but endurance training can introduce high risk factors. As Doc Olive said......'Ne tentez pas le diable'.......  'Don't temp the devil'.
  Recomendations
   An obvious one is to stop running.......this would be incorrect because one of the recomendations to people who have MVP and don't exercise....is too undertake aerobic exercise be it swimming, cycling or running. A healthy strong heart will save your life.
   There is now a large body of evidence that suggests that MVP is either hereditary AND/OR is as a result of  a magnesium defficiency. Magnesium is an electrolyte involved in nerve transmission, muscular contraction and especially our old friend adenosine triphosphate or ATP production, the fundamental energy currency of the body. Electrolytes are lost during sweat and low blood magnesium causes muscle fatigue and irregular heartbeat......and the latter is a risk factor in MVP! It is very easy to see how magnesium defficiency can occur when  training for and completing in endurance events. Magnesium if not replaced is therefore potentially harmful and a study in 1996 stated a significant decline in dietary magnesium intake in much of the Western World. A further study in France showed an average of  75%  of the population had a  magneseum deficiency. There are other problems such as type-2 diabetes, ADD, allergies, asthma as well as MVP. All  athletes know to take electrolyte replacement drinks for sodium, carbohydrates, potassium, chloride.....and magnesium and yet many of these drinks including Gatorade and Powerade products have no magnesium at all.....and the 'Isostar Long Energy Endurance' drink that I personally use also has no magnesium!
Magnesium??
   This is a crazy state of affairs as I and many others have been running around the mountains with vitually no magnesium in our bodies. The RDA is 420mg's for men and 320mg's per day for women and more for endurance athletes. Natural sources  are Halibut,mackerel, nuts ,seeds, green leafy vegetables and Swiss chard but extra supplementation is a must for endurance runners.
    Dr Olive has prescribed additional magnesium for this very reason as MVP is a symptom of chronic magnesium deficiency.
  I prefer NOT to temp the devil so I will be taking it. I am grateful to the Mayo clinic for raising my awareness of potential heart defects and I hope my comments here may encourage others to get themselves checked out.
      But what of my endurance escapades. Dr Olive has stated, in writing, to my GP that he 'strongly advises me against participating in any endurance or mountain running events or training'. His advice on a personal level was even more direct.......'I have been a Cardiologist for nearly 40 years and at your age and even with this slight risk I would not do this sport if I were you'.
     I  have much to ponder.


    


Thursday, July 12, 2012

HARDROCK

       I was involved in a discussion recently about what would comprise a major or grand slam event in the trail ultrarunning calendar and if so how many would there be and which ones. Firstly you would have to set up a criteria which would obviously be a minimum of 100 miles and in one day (for the elite). My initial approach was which ones were obvious. Western States is a given as is the UTMB......but what else? I think Badwater is out because its too desert specific and more than 100 miles on roads, as is Marathon des Sables which is over several days. Comrades is out because its a double marathon road race even though from a historical perspective it should be in. The Barkley marathons are out because its nuts! Then we could bring in Leadville, Wasatch, Angeles Crest and a host of other events but I personally feel they don't have that dominant theme that seperates them enough from all the others..... which leaves us with Hardrock. This I feel has to be in because its different , has cache, has the height gain of Everest and is just bloody hard. So thats it 3 'majors'.......WS, UTMB and Hardrock. Anybody disagree or have another opinion then please chip in.
HARDROCK 100 MILE ENDURANCE RUN
         So remaining topical, on Friday its Hardrock. Only 140 runners will qualify for the 'luxury' of taking part in what is arguably the toughest endurance run in the world. Nearly 34,000 feet in elevation gain and run in the high San Juan mountains of Colorado at an average height of 11000 feet. Last year out of 140 starters only 80 finished and these are tough ombre's who have already run and completed other 100 mile events just to qualify. How do they do this? The stories of hardship and suffering are legendary...grown men crying their eyes out whilst lying in the snow, at night, on top of a 14,000 foot mountain, in a lightning storm. I read the other day of one runner who watched an American Bald headed Eagle drop a baby deer from its clutches just near an aid station 12,000 feet up......this is 'wild' country. It sounds fantastic, my heighest elevation gain was close to 10,000 feet and 60 kilometres distance......this is 3 times higher and 3 times further!! This is serious stuff. Dakota Jones, one of this years favourites, said when he fell down a rocky slope last year that he decided to 'stay there for the rest of my life' he was so exhausted....... and he went on to finish second! They have a runners manual which is in its own endurance category being 60 pages long......and a very scary read it is.
     I'm sure most of my readers know this but big congrats to Tim Olsen and Ellie Greenwood who won Western States two weeks ago in new record times for male and female runners. Who will light up the Hardrock course this weekend ?....(as usual check out the www.iRunFar.com  coverage of the event), my money is on Dakota.......
       And finally........when is my next ultra? At present I am doing 100% body conditioning with the accent on lean muscle and low body fat. I am never going to be a small, skinny runner so to be in the best shape I can for my frame is now my goal. With running 3/4 times per week and workout sessions 5 times a week I've got my hands full exercise wise and so my next ultra will have to fit in with this schedule. I'm looking at various races as once I set the goal then it will be all out training for that so I need to plan sensibly............plus I'm still waiting for the cardiac results to see if its still beating ???.

   



Thursday, July 5, 2012

MAYO CLINIC.....PART 2

Following on from my Mayo clinic blog (which has been one of my most widely read blogs) I thought I would give an update on the tests that I personally have had done as a result of the Mayo report.

  1) Blood tests.
    Last week I undertook extensive blood tests and quite simply all were good with very low Triglycerides 0.77. Very high HDL 0.84 and standard low LDL (for my age) 1.0. The ratios were paricularly good; Total HDL ratio 2.5 and Total LDL/HDL ratio 1.32. All my other Biochemical and Haematology readings, PSA, Thyroid etc were all well within the right zones.....So having had these done and everything being fine I moved on to my overall  fitness analysis.
      This was going to be interesting because my regime has changed a lot since last seeing Paddy. My training for the Way to Cool 50k in March was intense so I suspect my fat ratio would have reduced further. After WTC I changed my regime to pure running and stretching........and it was mostly hills and mountains for 6 weeks, ie. No body conditioning. I suspect that this would have maintained the status quo fat wise, whilst increasing my fitness levels further. As you know I completed the 53k UTBA with no problems. After that I took it very easy for one month to let my endocrine system fully recover from all the training and the 2 consecutive ultra's and so my fat ratio will, I suspect, have risen. In the last month I've been doing easy hill runs (300-500 metre height gain) of 10-15k, three times per week and have slowly re-introduced Body conditioning work. During this whole period I have mantained my normal (healthy) diet whilst doing my Glut - 4 openers of 50 squats per day before breakfast......everyday.....Phew! So, I was intrigued to know how all this varied melange of different fitness protocols and rest period would play out in the fitness/fat tests and what conclusions could be drawn.

  2) Fitness tests.
    Well, fitness wise I am pretty much the same though not at my peak as I am not training all out. Paddy suspected that I had probably put on fat AND lean muscle......and thats exactly what has happened. In the past 4 months its 1 kilo of muscle and 1 kilo of fat. He explained that the muscle part is obvious due to my training and that I will have put the fat on in my 4/5 weeks rest period after the last ultra. With my new regime he reckons I 'll get that off in 2 weeks leaving me at 12% body fat. He feels thats low enough and does not recommended losing anymore. The goal is to get my fitness back up to peak levels and then maintain this until my next challenge.........Paddy's suggestion- 'Why not go for the Ironman Triathlon?'.....When I told Sue this her reaction was something like, 'Thats fine but he doesn't have to live with you!'.......We shall see.
  And so finally the all important Cardiac stress tests........ It was here that the Mayo clinics warnings would be revealed and show if I had any major problems.......or so I thought.

  3) Cardiac tests. -
     First, he wouldn't do a stress test until he'd done all the other tests???....I shall explain;- He did the usual blood pressure, heart and artery tests ....'perfect', came the reply, then an electrocardiogram test, 'perfect'... then something else which I can't spell (but it was perfect). He also analysed all the blood tests....'perfect of course' (his words). So feeling very pleased with myself I began to get dressed BUT he he needed to do two more......but not today. Confused, well so was I. Basically before he does a stress test he has to do a two hour echocardiography examination next week and then after that I have to go to a clinic for the stress test so that if something goes wrong they can deal with it..........Now I'm stressed!
     All the examinations he could do would not reveal Atrial fibulation but the final one will. He believes I am super fit etc,etc and I have no risks but the only risk I do have is the fact that I run up mountains for 10 hours at 57 years of age which, as he put it, is a 'self imposed risk'.
He went on that he had been doing this job as a specialist in Paris and New York for nearly 40 years and had never examined a 57 year old endurance athlete before. Not quite sure where all this leaves me. He has great respect for the Mayo clinic report and though he acknowledged that I was 'perfect' he still wants to do more. He was staggered that no one had ever recommended a stress test before.
       To summarise, it would appear that all is well but until he has done everything he would not finalise his thoughts. So there you have it. Over the next two weeks I'll hopefully get them all done and shall then report back..................and all I want to do is run through the woods, chat to the birds and waive to the wild animals....... its all getting very technical.



Thursday, June 14, 2012

THE MAYO CLINIC.....ALERT!

For the less well read amongst us I would like to point out that the Mayo Clinic is not a hospital that deals with patients who eat too much mayonaise !........(at least I don't think it is). However, I believe that for  the benefit of endurance athletes worldwide perhaps it is only correct to bring this alarming new study  by the Mayo Clinic to everyone's attention.

    http://cardionutrition.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/too-much-exercise-can-be-a-bad-thing.pdf

 I will try to  analyse the link above as best I can but for those who want the full information I suggest reading the whole study........its fascinating stuff.
                           Simply put, too much endurance running will kill you !
  Its quite technical but the main thrust of the findings are that there is an increased risk of Atrial Dysfunction due to Atrial Fibrillation (AF). Endurance athletes are aware that changes in the structure of the heart, arteries, general physyology and many other mechanical mechanisms ( muscles, joints, etc) do occur during consistent endurance training. Without these adaptations it would be virtually impossible to run long distances and for many hours. Many of these adaptations provide enourmous health benefits in ways too numerous to mention but the Mayo clinic's study has highlighted an area of specific concern to all endurance athletes.








Long-term excessive endurance exercise may induce

pathologic structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries. Emerging data suggest that chronic training for and

competing in extreme endurance events can cause transient acute volume overload of the atria and right ventricle, with transient

reductions in right ventricular ejection fraction and elevations of cardiac biomarkers, all of which return to normal

within 1 week. Over months to years of repetitive injury, this process, in some individuals, may lead to patchy

myocardial fibrosis, particularly in the atria, interventricular septum, and right ventricle, creating a substrate for atrial

and ventricular arrhythmias. Additionally, long-term excessive sustained exercise may be associated with coronary

artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction, and large-artery wall stiffening.


      The result being an irregular pulse which can lead to blood stagnation, embolism and risk of a stroke and this reduction of cardiac output (especially during exercise) can lead to heart failure......Crikey! its all serious stuff. There can be up  a 5 fold increase in AF in endurance athletes. Cardiac remodelling has been known for sometime and the effects were thought to be benign but this new study says not, even after endurance training is finished. It shows that up to an hour of exercise is very good for you but after this the benefits tail off . Oxidative stress has been known for many years in endurance runners but its the effects of this in relation to AF that raises the main concerns. It is noted that these issues will still only effect a small percentage of endurance athletes but the point is there is a risk.
       The funding for this study was apparently commissioned by Coca Cola but although I am not a fan I don't think there is any slant (as in the 'run less and drink more coke' idea ) besides Coke makes drinks used by endurance athletes and many use it whilst running. To do what you may ask? If athletes are tired the caffeine and sugar in coke gives them a lift and stimulates the heart.......Okay, now Iam really confused. Coke commissions a study that says endurance running is bad for you and then supplies endurance athletes with Coke and Gatorade so as to stimulate the heart and make them run faster !!!! Go figure. Capitalism is not dead.
      In conclusion I believe the study raises some very serious issues and perhaps blood and heart tests may be a good idea for all. I love running through the mountains and it would be sad to think that the healthy life affirming thing we all do could actually be to our detriment.