Post-Swimrun downtime.

I’ve been enjoying a bit of downtime since Breca Swimrun – Buttermere. I’ve dropped my mileage right off, I’ve only been in the water once, and I’ve been binge-watching Breaking Bad on Netflix.

Steyning Roundhill Romp 2016

This 6 mile trail race came just 4 days after Breca, but recovery was remarkably quick and I promised myself I’d ease my way into it, get a feel for how my body was going to cope and take it from there.
Its billed as having a bit of a hill in the middle, but after experiencing the fells around Buttermere, I knew that I had nothing to fear going into this one.
In fact it turned out I was quite familiar to the hill in question as I used to run it quite a lot a few years ago. Its long, and it keeps on kicking so I knew you just had to be patient with it, don’t try and gun it too soon, and leave enough left to kick on after the crest.
The downhill section after that was amazing, mostly along a winding single track, dancing over the tree roots. I pushed hard along this section, following the 2nd place lady who appeared to float over the tricky bits. Every time she flew round an overgrown blind bend, I would be hot on her heels praying that she hadn’t come to a stop or fallen! This section suddenly opened out into a field and a 26% descent.
This really sorted out those who could run hills, and those who couldn’t. Several people ahead of me put the brakes on and I nearly crashed heavily into the back of them.

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I finished in 42:44 (43rd place), a minute or 2 back from where I might have finished if I’d pushed from the start but I thoroughly enjoyed this race. The start is great, there’s a guy on a loudspeaker shouting into the abyss and no-one can hear him, then they stop the traffic for a couple of minutes whilst 500 odd runners line up and tear off down the high street. A proper country village race feel to it.
And then at the end, a medal, an electronic timer and a BBQ. All for the bargain price of £5! Thanks and well done to Steyning AC for putting on this brilliant race.

Tuff Fitty 25th Anniversary Aquathlon

This was a Saturday evening race in the shadows of Arundel castle, 400m swim followed by a 5k run along quiet lanes followed by a BBQ and good times!
I spent the day preparing for it by eating Burgers and Hot Dogs and drinking Corona at a BBQ, got to make the most of this British Summertime, its all too often over too soon!
This scuppered my ability to get up to a good race speed on the run but I think my splits were something like

  • Swim: 6:30
  • Transition: 57s
  • Run: 19:40
  • Total: 27:07

The swim was the first one I’ve done without shoes on for a while, and the first 4 lengths felt amazing, I thought “this must be how fast swimmers feel!”

finish

Once again, no elastic laces and I didn’t race in a tri suit either so had to waste time putting a T shirt on. I think I could do quite well in one of these races with better preparation and nutrition!

A fantastic evening all in all, brilliant turnout from the club, 80 people including those not racing. Well done Tuff Fitty Triathlon Club, and here’s to the next 25 years!

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Finally – The next challenge

Well, they promised it was going to come back in 2016 but it wasn’t looking likely until a couple of weeks ago, when suddenly out of nowhere I got an email about The Red Bull Steeplechase.

This event was so good in 2014 that I simply couldn’t resist entering as soon as registration went live. This time around its in Exmoor, exactly the same setup as before. 500 runners, reduced steeple by steeple until there’s only 40 left at the finish line.

The first steeple comes at about 8 miles, and the finsh line at 23. I made it to the 2nd steeple 2 years ago when it was in the Peak District so my aim is to go one better than that. The quality of the field will rule me out of the top 20 who get to finish in glory at Lynmouth but I’m going to try and reach the steeple at Lynton at mile 17.

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I’ve got about 11 weeks to go so last night I started my training plan with an easy 10 miles. I’m going to try and maintain consistent 50+ mile weeks building up to this one, gradually increasing the intensity week by week until the taper.

I’ll be including 2 quality sessions per week, track intervals and hills, and 3 Strength and Conditioning workouts to supplement my mileage. Hopefully this will make me more robust and better able to hold my form come the latter stages of the race.

 

Brooks Sussex XC League – Race 1: Goodwood

Back to Sussex and its time for the Brooks Sussex Cross Country League. The first fixture was on Sunday at Goodwood racecourse. This is my favourite of the four races as it takes in some nice woodland tracks rather than just skirting around fields.

As always, when the gun went, everyone flew off the line in the manner of Usain Bolt. Myself included. This meant that I had a cracking first mile and then faded badly. However, I did manage to achieve the honour of first Tuff home which was cool. And I also set a new PB, smashing almost 2 minutes off my time from 2 years ago, finishing in 32:58.

The quality of the field in these races is impressive; I averaged 7:13 per mile and only finished in 104th place. I’ve got work to do to keep up with some of these guys.

The X-Talons were brilliant for this race, definitely better than my New Balance would have been, and just as good as a spike.

Red Bull Steeplechase 2014

WOW!

Without a doubt – the best (and hardest) race I have ever been a part of.

It’s taken 2 weeks for my legs to forgive me, and I only managed 12 miles of it.

I arrived in Castleton just before 8am, there was frost in the fields and a thick fog in the Hope Valley. I was starting to think I’d brought the wrong kit with me as I only had shorts & a vest. I could see huge green/brown mounds obstructing the horizon ahead of me, and I burst out laughing, on my own. These were real hills. Not like the ones we have in the south. These were the kind of hills you climb, not walk. The realization of what today was going to involve hit me and I knew I was out of my depth here.

I went and signed in and took a walk up the first hill towards Mam Tor – a sign here told me the name Mam Tor means The Problem. (The Problem being its too bloody steep!)

I went through a few warm up drills to loosen my legs up a bit and went and joined the rest of the runners at the start line.

start

The lovely chap with the moustache and the pistol got us underway and off we went. After about 400m of a gradual incline we headed off road and up Mam Tor. This was the part I’d been dreading – half a mile of bear-crawling up a mountain. It didn’t disappoint either. Every time I looked up it looked like we were still to come to the steepest bit. My Inov-8 Xtalon 212’s were brilliant here, not a single slip, they bit into the ground which was a mix of wet grass, loose earth and deep bracken. Worth every penny.

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The air was filled with panting, swearing and heavy breathing and somewhere in the distance I heard the gun go off again which meant the womens race had started.

I arrived at the top and immediately got into a stride, choosing the grass over the wet stone path along the ridge. I was pleased with myself, I thought I’d conquered the hardest part of the course and that from here on in it was going to be easy…..how wrong could I have been.

It was up here somewhere that there was a Brass Band playing, I think they were at the top of another climb that it was impossible to run up, it had stone stairs carved into it that sapped the energy from your legs as you pushed yourself up each giant step.

Somewhere else on the course a lone bugler played the theme from Rocky to help get you across the difficult terrain.

After 4 miles, the first scoreboard appeared. I felt like I’d covered at least twice that distance already but I was happy  to see I was in 126th position. This meant that barring disaster I should make it through the 1st checkpoint in Bamford easily.

Shortly after this the course dropped into the woods and we ran along some of the most beautiful single track trails I’ve ever come across. Concentration was absolutely key, as some of the footing was pretty technical. Loose rocks and uneven ground on fast descents meant that I was pleased to get to the bottom in one piece sometimes.

Red Bull Steeplechase 2014.
That’s me on the left – the scenery was stunning

As we approached Bamford we came alongside Ladybower reservoir which was spectacular, and it made for some particularly interesting running as we crossed narrow bridges and hopped over huge stepping stones.

A mile or so later and I was sailing through the first checkpoint, my eyes tend to water a bit when running so I’m not sure what position I went through in. I saw a drinks station and grabbed a water and a 50/50 redbull/water. This may have been a mistake as I got quite a nasty stitch about 10 minutes after and had to ease right off for a few minutes.

I’d heard that the first stage was by far the hardest and was looking forward to some relief in stage 2. However, the first half was all uphill (and we’re talking between 10 & 30% here) and my lack of training in the last few weeks was beginning to show.

The scoreboard came up and I was in 136th position, with only 125 to get through at the next cutoff in Hope. As I rounded a corner I could see about 20 runners within catching distance going up the next hill and I started to count back thinking I could pick them off.

As we got to the top of the hill I could see the next 2 miles down into Hope, descending down a rocky single track pathway, along a field and a short road but all downhill.

I got through the technical bit just fine, even picked a couple of runners off here, but the downhill got steeper and steeper and my quads got more and more upset with me. At this point I knew I was going no further. My legs were screaming at me to stop and as we hit the road, a marshall told us to keep off the verges and stay on the road. All I wanted to do was run on soft grass, the studs on my shoes were hurting my feet, my quads were on fire and the verge was just sitting there looking all soft and inviting.

definitely not me! eventual race winner Andy Greenleaf here in 2nd place.
definitely not me! eventual race winner Andy Greenleaf here in 2nd place.

I walked a few steps and someone came past me with words of encouragement which was enough to pick me back up. A few minutes later there were spectators cheering us on so I knew we were closing in on the checkpoint. We ran down a couple of streets I nthe village of Hope before bounding up a couple of steps behind a café and under the Red Bull inflatable. The counter was stuck on 126 and there were a few people sat down looking exhausted. I was directed over to the goody bags where I threw on my Hoody and downed some Red Bull.

I was absolutely spent, I could not have run another step. No other race has ever left me feeling like this physically. But boy had I enjoyed it.

We boarded the coach that was waiting for us and made the short drive back to Castleton where a Hero’s lunch was waiting for us at The Castle pub. All the Hog Roast you could eat, all the burgers you could eat, and all the beer/lager/cider you could drink. (Unfortunately I was driving)

But before I made it there I was joined by the man I’d raised money to say thank you to. Ray and part of his family (Caroline, Lucy & Sean) had made the trip up from Birmingham with bottles of fizz, they’d just missed me at the start, but had seen us going up Mam Tor. Then they’d hung around the finish waiting for me to get back. We shared a drink and a chat until I felt human again.

So all in all, I made it through 12 hideously enjoyable miles and raised £1150.01 for cancer research. Not bad.

I hear its not coming back for 2015 but I’ll definitely be back for it in 2016, better trained and aiming for Edale.

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New Shoes Alert – INOV-8 X-TALON 212’s

I’ve bought some new shoes for the race, Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s. After a lot of searching and reading through reviews it was between these and the 190’s. I decided these would be a bit more robust and as they’re quite expensive I’d like them to last a while.

I’ve tried them out on The Downs and they make short work of steep hills. I’m impressed.

I’m hoping to use these for XC after the Steeplechase but unless it starts to get really muddy up on the downs I can’t see myself using these more than 5 or 6 times a year. There’s always the West Sussex Fun Run League to enter come January, I might get some more races out of them yet!

Anyway, its good to have a choice of trail shoes!

Red Bull Steeplechase Training update

I’ve found some amazing trails up behind Chanctonbury Ring. Single track Mountain Bike trails that you can fling yourself down with childlike abandon. Jumping over logs and skipping over tree roots whilst barely maintaining control on the steep descents.

This is what running feels like in my dreams.

There’s also some damn steep climbs, I’ve found a long hard graft that I’m aiming to run all the way up one day (I’ve only managed halfway so far before walking) and I’ve gone off-track and found a long 49% climb. I can’t even stand on this let alone run, moving upwards involves a bear-crawl.

Unfortunately, my training for the Steeplechase took a huge setback (6 weeks out of action) after I picked up a stress fracture on my 4th metatarsal. A combination of too many hills and too many miles too quickly. I got over-excited and wanted to run the mountain bike trails all the time, which unfortunately involved a long run to get there. I stupidly thought I’d be OK doing that when I should have built up more slowly.

I think that’s top 30 well out the window. I’ll be happy to get to the 2nd checkpoint now.

Red Bull Steeplechase – My Way of Saying Thanks

I’ve watched all the videos, and I’ve seen all the pictures and I’ve decided that this race looks hard enough to warrant asking people for money.

I’m using this opportunity to say Thanks to a family friend, Ray Golder. In 1988, he was out running with my Dad who collapsed & died having suffered a heart attack. Ray did everything he could and stayed with him until the end. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Ray last year and chat with him for the first time as an adult. He described that day as the worst day of his life.

So this is my chance to say Thank you Ray – for everything you did on that day. For making sure my Dad did not die alone. I’m running this race for you.

Unfortunately, Ray has cancer. So I’m raising money for his chosen charity – Cancer Research. My target is £1000 – and that’s ambitious for me.

Here’s the link to the justgiving page – the full story is on there.
If it pulls at your heartstrings, please make a donation. We can beat cancer.

Training Update – Red Bull Steeplechase

My mileage is starting to increase as I get ready to go into a 12 week training block for the Red Bull Steeplechase in October.

I’ve crept up to around the 30 miles a week mark over the last few weeks, and I’m trying to get plenty of off-road and hill work in.

Theres a great 13 mile route which is based on the Three Forts Half marathon and I’m taking advantage of the light evenings to get out and run it after work when I can. It takes in Cissbury Ring, Bostal and Chanctonbury Ring with a total climb of 445m. I’ve spotted a couple of slopes leading off the path which I might have a go at including in the run next time, see how close they are to the dreaded 49% incline in the Red Bull Steeplechase.

Cissbury & Chanctonbury by StickManDave at Garmin Connect – Details.

 

Cissbury // Bostal // Chanctonbury
Cissbury // Bostal // Chanctonbury

New Balance MT110AK : Review

A few years ago I fell in love with trail running. Within 15 minutes of stepping out my front door I could be slogging it up Cissbury Ring or chasing deer through Angmering Park Estate. I started getting out onto the South Downs, exploring the paths and hills…..I was hooked.

Unfortunately, I was also ill-equipped. You see, I was in my road shoes. A pair of Asics GT1000’s. These were my marathon training, cushioned, chunky, well-stacked concrete creepers. Designed to take the impact out of running, reducing the effect of poor technique on the knees. NOT designed for mud, stones, uneven surfaces, tree roots, or even grass.

So as I was triumphantly returning from the top of Cissbury Ring, I turned my ankle on the chalky downhill path. I wasn’t running slowly either and I ended up sprawled out on the floor another 5 or 10 meters further down. I managed to get myself home almost delirious with pain, and after a trip to the hospital it turned out I’d broken my ankle (I’d also been chased by a badger and got myself lost down streets I knew like the back of my hand)

So after a full recovery, I eventually turned to getting back out on the trails again, but this time, I knew I wanted a proper trail shoe, something responsive, low to the ground, tough yet still cheap.

And that’s when I struck gold with these bad boys! New Balance MT110AK‘s. For any fans of Christopher McDougalls Born To Run, I believe the MT stands for Micah True, and to add further pedigree, they were designed for Anton Krupicka, the legendary ultra trail runner. He don’t wear much but he wears these shoes!

New Balance MT110AK
New Balance MT110AK

I’ve put about 300 miles on these so far and they’re still going strong, so I thought it was about time I put a few words up about them in case it helps anyone.

If you’re reading this then there’s a fair chance you’re in the market for some new shoes so I’m going to give you an idea of what I’ve put these through, and a few reasons why you should buy them. As well as a few reasons that might put you off.

Where I Run

I run on the South Downs, which means a lot of slippery chalky paths, very uneven where the water cuts into it on its way downhill. The paths are often littered with loose stones, big ones, small ones, sharp ones, smooth ones. I also run a lot in the forest at Angmering, the ground here during wet months is VERY muddy. We’re talking shin deep puddles that you can’t go round, and mud in places where you didn’t know you had places. Its the kind of place mountain bikers love. When its dry here, the ground hardens up and becomes quite uneven.

I deal with steep uphill & downhill sections and the occasional tarmac path or road. Although I try and stay off these as much as I can, sometimes I have to run along roads to get to my desired trail.

What are they good at?

On the trail they feel like an extension of my own foot. I’m confident and surefooted when I wear them, the rockplate underneath keeps the sharp stones and roots at bay whilst the little nobbles grip the hard surfaces brilliantly. The minimalist design also ensures your proprioceptors are firing (which in English means: the muscles around your ankle and foot are getting messages from the floor quickly) and I’ve never felt unstable or unbalanced in these.

I’m a firm believer that minimal shoes on the trails are the key to being a more robust runner. The less support in the shoe, the stronger your leg becomes, the stronger a runner you become. Its as simple as that. These shoes have got a 4mm heel to toe drop which keep you in touch with the trail, when it tries to jump up and bite you the shoes are responsive enough to let you know in an instant so you can readjust your position.

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I run sockless in the MT110’s and I’ve never suffered for it. The synthetic mesh upper feels soft on the inside, and the water that gets in drains out through holes in the sole. The mesh is also easy to clean and pretty tough.

So what aren’t they good at?

Mud. Specifically wet mud. The lugs aren’t big enough to bite into it and I found my whole foot sliding along at times. Its the price you pay for having a lower profile shoe though, a trade off.
Personally I’m happy with this as they feel so responsive on harder ground and on soft mud that I’ll happily slide about a bit on the wet stuff.

They’re also uncomfortable on tarmac. They’re a minimal trail shoe so as soon as you hit the road your legs know about it. I’m a forefoot striker and I can get away with it for short distances but heel strikers wouldn’t last 10 meters. You’ll also find the lugs wear down extremely quickly running on roads so you’ll want to avoid this.

I’ve also seen it mentioned elsewhere about a slight curve in the last of the shoe, this pushes the outside toes up, causing your arch to fall in a bit. This is not a problem as soon as your on the trails and your foot feels like its in the perfect position. But when you first slip them on and wander about on a hard surface you can really feel it.

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I’ve gone up a full size in these and they feel perfect, there’s loads of room in the toebox for your feet to spread out whilst the upper hugs the midfoot and heel quite snugly .

So it comes down to the one question that makes or breaks the review:

Would I buy the New Balance MT110AK again?

Yes.

I’ll do most of my trail running over the summer in these but I’m not sure yet if these will be the shoe for the Red Bull Steeplechase, I’m not convinced they’ll have the grip for it.

 

 

RED BULL STEEPLECHASE: What have I done?

I don’t race very often. In fact, I haven’t raced once this year. I convince myself I’m too busy, whether that be with family life, work or studying for exams, I’m not sure. Maybe I am too busy, or maybe it’s something else. Maybe I’m scared of actually entering races, scared that everyone there is going to be better than me, scared that I’ll let myself down.

I don’t know, but I definitely should enter more events as I really enjoy them, I should make time so I can no longer use that as my excuse.

So, with that in mind, I’m not quite sure what lead me to enter what looks like one of the hardest races in England, the Red Bull Steeplechase. Aside from the fact I rarely race, this one is 226 miles away, and is essentially a fell race, and is potentially 21 miles long.

steeplechase 1

But for some reason, once I’d read that entries were open, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

500 runners start the race and a third of the field gets eliminated In a knockout format at various checkpoints  along the route. These are actual steeples in villages across the Peak District. This goes on until only 40 runners remain to battle out the final 3 miles.

Along the way, there’s 1400m (yep, that’s meters) of climbing to take care of and I’ve no idea how much descent. The first hill is apparently a 49% incline and goes for almost half a mile.

It all sounded fine until the hills didn’t it?

The scenery promises to be breathtaking (if the hills don’t get there first) and the hospitality is meant to be even better.

So the idea of this race buzzed around my mind all day. I floated the idea of actually doing it with my wife who jokingly (I think) replied with, “don’t get injured.” This sounded like an invitation I couldn’t turn down, I could worry about logistics of getting there at a later date.

5 minutes later and my screen was thanking me for entering and suddenly, the nerves and doubts started creeping in.

i started searching for reviews of the past 2 races. I came up with some superb, insightful write ups that clearly detailed the pain and exhaustion I could expect to go through on October 5th.

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As I read more and more about this race, the fear I was experiencing was gradually turning to abject terror. However, the one over-riding factor in all these reviews was the sheer joy felt by each and every athlete involved. Even if they only made it as far as the first checkpoint, they had taken away an unforgettable experience and promised to be back again.

So here I am, 105 days away from the start line, about to draft a training plan. Where the hell do I begin?

I’ve managed to talk a friend into it which helps, we always said we’d race together one day. I kind of envisaged it would be a parkrun. Unfortunately, he lives about a hundred miles away, so we can’t train together. He’s quicker than me over 5k too so I’ve got a lot to do to get the better of him.

He’s talking about being happy with reaching checkpoint 2 – that’s 12 miles.

My stupidity/blind optimism dictates I won’t be satisfied unless I make the top 30!

Without doubt, I have never been as excited for a race as I am about this one. Bring on the Steeplechase!