Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Experiences galore

You win some and you learn from some. I can't recall the precise moment that that thought came to me, however it was post race in Iznik, Turkey, after an 80km trail race, for sure.

It wasn't too long ago that I'd heard the phrase 'you learn more from the ones you don't win than you do the ones that you do'. Mr Corless' talk Ultra pod cast was, I think, responsible for cementing that notion. Talking of Mr Corless, he'd invited a number of runners to one of his favourite races, the Iznik Ultra 2014. There are four race distances of 10km, 42km, 80km and 130km. I'd hovered undecided over which distance to run, however settled for the 80km as it would be my first experience of running internationally, abroad, in a race that I could expect to fair well in. The group met up in Birmingham International Airport, Marcus Scotney, Jo Meek (and her husband Jon), Stu Air, Ian and Niandi. My Inov8 team mate Robbie Britton was to meet us in Turkey as he as travelling over from his little shed in Las Palmas.

We spent a night in Istanbul before heading over to Iznik in plenty of time before race day. I adored hanging out with the other folk, however, I was inexperienced with and therefore caught unawares of just how overbearing it can be to share great lengths of pre-race time with your competitors even when they are good and wonderful people.  I had innocently gone to Turkey believing that I'd do ok and that it was just going to be a good fun race to experience. However, I was starting to get a sense and feel of something else, that I'd not felt before, ever, and it was overbearing and unexplainable. I came to realise, like a light bulb moment, (again in my naivety or ignorance), that I was indeed there to put on a show and race, how could I have been so blind? How can a determined and focused runner not be so serious pre race, pre-trip! In spite of my perseverance once the prospect had dawned upon me and with hindsight, I was making decisions that were not good for me or conducive to a comfortable or familiar routine required for a stress free race.

One of those decisions was to eat hotel food at breakfast on the morning of the race that I would not usually eat. I am in the process of discovering that I've developed an intolerance of certain foods, and whilst I don't want to accept this, It has been obvious for some time. Needless to say, I stood on the start line, with bloating and stomach cramps. I chose to believe that this was nothing more than those massive nerves that had appeared and that It would all sort itself out during the race. Can you really sort these kinds of challenges out during a race?

Within an hour, I was looking for bushes and sporadically, throughout the race, this was the story. Certainly the bloating eased yet the cramps increased. How the race had panned out, Jo, was putting in a sterling performance and Mr Corless pre-race predictions for Jo, were certainly coming to fruition. Given her super fast speed and strength on the climbs, there was no room to be toilet stopping as I was, during the race. Jo would pull away and I'd have to work double hard to catch her after I'd flushed the chain (so to speak). Most of the catching up was done on the descending, however this just increased the cramps and caused a stitch, what a wreck I was, it also meant that I was running outside of myself for large chunks of the race causing me to fatigue much more quickly than was healthy. 

The final descent of approximately 750m dropping down into Soloz at the 60km point was where I should have covered a lot of fast ground in order to close any gap in distance that I'd lost. Rather, however, after the only a few minutes of descending on the hard path, I stopped, the cramp and stitch were simply being exacerbated by the hard pounding on the metalled path. I could not fly down this hill. In spite of desperately trying to stretch out my abdominals and taking it easy, the pain had become consuming. I still had a good 20km to go on flat road, this prospect now started to plague me.

Lets say for an explanation sake, psychologically and emotionally, that I usually start a race on a level of about an 8 (give or take) on a scale of 1-10. There were a number of factors impacting negatively on this number for this race. Both race related and otherwise, in reality, I was closer to a 3 or 4 on the start line. Ordinarily as a race progresses I ride the lulls and work my way through any difficulties as they arise. However, when the physical difficulties needed to be addressed I needed the mental prowess, I needed to have been on an 8 in the first instance to make the job easier, however, it just hadn't happened and everything went wonky.

Jo was motoring and I learnt that her target had been for faster races lately, therefore with this in mind, I knew I'd have to get some wind in my sail in order to make it interesting at the front end. Yet, where I should have been making ground on the descent, I was walking with cramps, this was madness! The decision was to be made about how to continue this race. Do I walk it, there was now no way I could run, or do I stop. Now, given the mental starting point, I described above, the decision came way way to easily to stop. That race was over.

This experience has filled my tool bag with so many riches that I can't begin to tell you all of them. They are lessons and experiences that no amount of being informed will suffice, you simply have to experience them in order to gain the strength and knowledge from them. I am so so lucky to have had the opportunity to have learn so much. All of the other Brits won their races and so a huge well done to Jo, Robbie and Marcus. (Unfortunately Stu, sensibly for his recovery, didn't race).

So how do you overcome the feelings of disappointment and would haves and could haves that pour into your mindset when this kind of decision has been made. Well in fairy land you enter your next race, when the cramps and bloating have gone and you're feeling relatively strong again. The next day maybe? A cheeky little 10km and then you win it. 

Thank you to Ian Corless for helping me to learn from experience. A huge huge thanks for the hospitality and opportunity given by Caner Odabasoglu the race director. Thanks to my super sponsors Inov8 who provided me with a kit that meets the demands of trail running. I wore trailroc 236 shoes and Inov8 Race Ultra Vest which is like the tardis and weighs less than my hairband. It housed all of my kit list requirement along with 14 TORQ gels (thanks TORQ) and four Hydration Flasks that had been provided by ENURE. These flasks were super easy to use packed down to a fraction of their size when empty and fast to refill again, thanks UltrAspire. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Relaxing on the Trails

In order to gain more experience and develop my running I wanted to mooch around some of the trails in Europe this year. I decided to take a trip over to Lake Annecy after recommendation from a couple of folk. Annecy is known as the 'Venice of the Alps' and when in the old town it's easy to see why. This place blew my mind. The lake itself is reported to be the cleanest in Europe, it is beautiful, however I was there for Mountains. I was not disappointed. Montagne Du Semnoz mostly following the Tour Du Lac Annecy trail up to Cret de Chatillon is basically a 20km climb up to 1699m so a total positive gain of about 1240m.
I'm pointing at athe first 10km or so of the climb of Montagne Du Semnoz

The route choice for the drop off that I followed largely stuck to the TDLA for half an hour of pure fun. The decent was challenging, fast, technical and any wrong footing will have you tumbling the rest of the way, so it required full attention on this tough terrain. I came off the TDLA route at Touviere and picked up other paths and a road in order to weave a way over to Montagne d'Entrevernes . A challenging climb much sharper than Montagne Du Semnoz, had my lungs bursting, and remained that way until I was able to put them back again at the summit.
Montagne Semnoz and Mountain Entrevernes in the background

The ridge of Montagne d'Entrevernes lends itself to fast running, the snow slowed the pace a bit, however added to the fun. It's all a little surreal running in the warm sunshine with snow under your feet, well, not under your feet, actually, I was thigh deep in snow at times, so mostly feet under the snow! It was roughly about 17ÂșC. I'm unsure if I've found an efficient snow hiking technique as yet, is it more efficient to find virgin ground, or plant your feet into already made footsteps?
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Finger tip points to Mont Veyrier peak up yonder.

The descent was largely through forestry and was sufficiently way marked and on defined paths. A speed session to finish the day on the run along the road to Duingt, where my running partner Ant Bethell and I caught a bus (cheap as chips) back to Seynod. I devoured and refuelled on Salade de carottes repees as I've had a carrot addiction for a few years now so this was heaven, I've since made it at home it was that tasty... my recipe needs work! 

Day two and I was over the east side of the lake saving the best til last. Starting in Bluffy, we picked up the TDLA and followed it (mostly) to the summit reaching 1254m. This mountain is should be on every ones bucket list. It is so inspiring. It has everything you want in a mountain, something that sharpens your senses, focuses you mind, challenges your soul and gives you the freedom to let it all go on the descent. The decent is fast and steep. There is no doubt Mount Veyrier is stunning. There is the choice of a few different paths and you need to make sure that your navigation is up to speed if you are looking for a fast one. You're feet will definitely be up to speed as they will be churning over ten to the dozen on the way down. Your eye balls will need to be as quick as your responses. It is exciting, I was using rocks, grass, jumps and trees to get me down, I was ready for Salade de carottes repees for supper.
 Venice of the Alps

On day three my legs were sufficiently chewed and torn, the decision was to stay low and do a run around parts of the lake itself. So we ran from Seynod, through the old town and up to the lake. One of the joys of running is that you can go to new places, don your pumps and learn more about a city, town or village by tootling around it for your early morning run than you can all day sight seeing. Through Venice with it's canals and boutiques brought us right to Pont Des Amours.

On a 8 min miling drum finding mission
 From here I heard drumming across the lac and was intrigued, the sound was carrying and I'm nosey and wanted to discover who these tireless musicians were.

Lac d'Annecy
An hour or so of gentle running around Lac d'Annecy and three drummers were found lakeside beating out the vibes on their bongo's and frames. I sat on the edge of the wooden walkway, chilling to their sounds and getting all pensive watching the gathering of kids open mouthed and nodding along.

I was safe in the knowledge that the run back home again would be just as adventurous. 

Inov8 Athlete retreat

I recently had the opportunity to join other team Inov8 runners at the retreat in the Lake district. It was a fun action packed long weekend of events and an experience that will stay with me for a very long time. It involved plenty of running including a blast up Ruston Scar, and for some, the Middlefell race on the Saturday. A storming race for the Inov8 team with seven of the male contingency in the top 10 and a storming win for young Tom Addison and Judit Franch coming in third for the ladies. Not bad for an ultra trail runner. Unfortunately I didn't have the chance to have a jolly around the Middlefell race as I had taken a trip over to Shrewsbury to spend time with the TORQ team as they were having their gathering during the same weekend.

So half a dozen trains journeys later and I was over in Church Stretton with Matty, John, Richard and Matt. We had a fun day on the hills there testing out some kit and having a great day taking some snaps.

In the evening we had our nutritional knowledge tested during the team quiz where the swimming tea, cycle team, Tri-team and us runners were pitched against each other in understanding the importance of nutrition during competition, and how best to perform in training and in competing. Finding a fuelling system that works for you I believe, is as not something that should to be taken lightly. I believe that you can't 'chance' it and that you can only benefit from having a full understanding of how your body responds to different fuel during a race. The quiz turned into socials before my return back to Eskdale the following morning.

Besides the running (and there were lots of social runs for the team too) we were introduced to some of the new apparel and were encouraged to input and give feedback on the shoes, clothing and accessories. I spent most of my running in the XTalon as it's a show that I've only started to wear more recently on the fell and I have to say that I am hooked. This input by the team is highly valued by Inov8 as they want to work closely with their athletes in order to develop a true understanding of the needs of a runner. They didn't want to hear all the good stuff, the team are innovative and they want to know what to improve, what can be tweaked and how the current footwear and kit is functioning out there. This transparent communication between Inov8 and the athlete's works exceptionally well for the runner as footwear and kit are the tools of the trade and it is so so important to have the right feel, the right technical capacity, the right functionality and something that you trust in. When you are up a mountain in the middle of clag or in the blistering heat, you need to know that your feet are being looked after and that you can trust your choice of shoe and further that your kit is working with you and protecting you from the ailments. Thanks Inov8 for this exciting opportunity.