Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series - Dorset

Half marathon start - © Gareth Hayfield

On a cold, crisp Saturday morning in December close to a thousand people gathered in the car park at Lulworth Cove for the Dorset leg of the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series.  With four races to choose from, ranging from 10k to ultra distance there is something for everyone, provided hills, mud and hard running are what you are looking for.

Endurance Life as usual had everything well organised; registration was quick and simple; complimentary CLIF bar and free t-shirt in hand we headed off to change.

We were signed up for the half marathon, which it turns out was the popular race of the day as over 400 participants lined up at the start.  Endurance Life can’t count too well and so our Half Marathon was in fact to be held on a 15 mile route. 

Late as always I was stood by the car getting ready as we heard the countdown, luckily the queue to cross the line was such that we had plenty of time.  No standard start possible with this many people, each runner dipped their timing chip as they crossed the start.

The course started as it meant to go on – with a hill.  Fast walking was the order of  the day, this hill was just about run-able but with so many people in front of us walking was easier and a good warm up for the fun to come.

There followed an undulating path along some of the most beautiful coastline this country has to offer, passing the famous landmark of Durdle Door along the way.  After three miles the course turned inland, passing the first checkpoint.  Here we were treated to rolling hills leading gradually back to the start.  Passing back through the village we headed east into the Lulworth firing range. 

As it turns out the first few hills were just a warm up; now the main challenges of the course began.  A five hundred foot slog up the first serious climb with a thigh-busting descent back down was compensated by incredible views to Lulworth Castle from the summit.  This pattern was repeated until we found ourselves at Tyneham village, evacuated during the war, the residents never allowed to return after the land was requisitioned by the MOD.  I tried to run the gradual hill out of the village to checkpoint two but by now fatigue was starting to kick in and soon I was walking again.  At the checkpoint I stopped to top up my water and helped myself to some jelly babies on offer.

My Garmin told me we had come twelve and a half miles, so just under three to go.  We had seen the leaders returning along the way they had come and I had assumed that we would reverse our tracks, and therefore all of the hills, on the way home. Thankfully the course remained on top of the ridge line after the first hill, which was a great relief.  As fifteen miles approached though, there was still no sign of the finish.  Telling myself not to worry, just keep running, I concentrated on closing the gap on the runner in front of me.  Eventually we dropped into Lulworth.  With only a few hundred yards to go I tried to sprint up the hill before my legs rebelled and I was forced to return to a slow shuffle across the line.  My Garmin read 16.2 miles. 

All in all a great day out was had on a wonderful course.  If you fancy a challenge, I’d recommend you give an Endurance Life event a try sometime, you might just surprise yourself. The next leg is in Angelsey which is a bit far for me but I’ll be back in February for the South Devon Half Marathon.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Handy tool to cut through workout jargon

Having recently started a marathon training plan and struggled to know the difference between a tempo run and a fartlek, much less why I would want to do one or the other I found yesterday's post by Jason at Strength running to be very useful.  He's created a free e-book called "52 workouts, 52 weeks".

This aims to provide the reader with some variation in a stagnated schedule by offering a variety of workouts from long runs to sprints.  As Jason says, doing one per week and working through the book is not the name of the game; rather we should pick routines that suit the goal in mind and use them appropriately.

To me though this book also serves to underline what a tempo run should represent (i.e. how hard compared to a normal run), how exactly to complete a run that my plan describes as "Start slow, finish fast" and just how many seconds I should consider sprinting up a hill before I can stop and jog back down again.

So its really a good tool for beginners, uninformed intermediates and jaded experts it seems.  

The e-book is here

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Pint of best recovery please barman

Most recovery drinks, frankly, range from insipid to bloody horrible .  Dairy haters probably best move on, but this seems to work for me.

1 banana
1 large spoon peanut butter
1 big splodge honey
1 tbs seeds (flax, chia, sunflower, whatever)
Top up to a pint with skimmed milk.

Blast in liquidiser, neck it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Trail Report - Portreath to Godrevy (and back)

We headed to Portreath today for our long run.  Parking is free and plentiful at this time of year and there are good runs in either direction.  We wanted to head west this week to Godrevy.  The round trip is just under 13 miles.

Godrevy Lighthouse (c) Andrew Benham

Working your way up behind the Lifeguard building and taking the path between some garages and you are soon, via a long slog up a grassy track, on top of  North Cliffs, some of the highest in West Cornwall.  They are probably the crumbliest too, not for climbing and as much mud as they are rock. In places the path is VERY close to the edge; today it was windy enough for this to feel a bit worrying in places.

This run is essentially flat, once the first couple of miles are dispensed with; a pair of steep sets of steps being the only exception.

From here it is usually easy going; though today the conditions underfoot were so wet and muddy and the wind so strong that it felt anything but.

When you reach Godrevy take a left, head down through a grassy field (car park in the summer) and then turn right to circumnavigate the headland before heading back.  The bay at the top of the cliff on the eastern side of the headland is home to seals from October to March so worth stopping for a quick look.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Trail report: Porthtowan to Trevaunance Cove

Today we ran one of my favourite bits of the coast path, from Porthtowan to Trevaunance Cove (and back).  All together 9 miles of varied trail along a historic rugged landscape shaped by the mining exploits of the past.

Starting out at Porthtowan car  park (free in the off season) you have a couple of options: head towards the beach and take a steep path past the the famous Blue Bar to the top of the cliff or, from the back of the car park take a longer but (slightly) less steep path to the same point.  Either way its a rude wake up call and an indication of things to come.

Crossing a rolling hillside the path enters a lunar landscape of of human creation; spoil piles topping decaying, scree topped cliffs and cairns marking the way which in foggy conditions might just save you from running off the edge and paying an unscheduled visit to the beach below.

As the path descends to Chapel Porth the trail becomes moderately technical with rocky steps and loose, fist sized stones demanding your concentration all the way to the base of the valley. Switch back along the stream, cross the car park passing the cafe on your way and gain the cliff path heading up the other side.

The cliffs climb steeply and you will be glad that the path turns through several hairpins which keep the angle of ascent relatively moderate.  A choice awaits: continue all the way up in one go or delay the final climb by turning left at the first opportunity.  The latter is preferable as it takes you past the most photographed engine house in Cornwall at Wheal Coates.

Immediately after passing Wheal Coates the path climbs again before levelling out at the Western end of St Agnes Head.  Before long you will see the Coastguard lookout to your right. From here the path is level and easy for a mile or so before the final descent to Trevaunance Cove.  This includes a laid stone path which, in wet conditions, can present the most treacherous part of the route.  Its also hard not to think of how this might feel in a few minutes time as you climb back up.

Our route ends with a trot though the houses, down the slip and onto the sand.  Turning back the climb out of Trevaunance is every bit as punishing as you knew it would be.  On the whole though the return trip is easier, the one final grunt up from Chapel Porth being shorter than the slog up past Wheal Coates on the way out.

This is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful areas of the North Cornwall coast.  Today we ran with the sun on our backs, though its not unusual for strong winds and poor visibility to transform this into a very different adventure.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Marathon training starts here!

Today is day one.  Well actually yesterday was day one but it was a rest day so can't really count that! 

First week should be easy enough, I started last week really by making sure I could handle running three days on the trot.  Went surprisingly well.  Usually I try to have a rest day between runs but that luxury will have to go over the next few months.

So the first goal is to get a marathon done - Duchy Marathon on 3rd March.  Between now and then I will also be running some races at around 10 - 15 miles, the first of which is the Endurance Life Dorset "half marathon".  Apparently they can't count because its 14.8 miles of very hilly coast path.

Its good to run races in the build up to a long term goal, more motivating and a lot easier than doing everything on your own.

Anyway I got the basics for a 16 week plan here.  Tailored it a bit, mainly to fit most of my mid week runs in during lunch breaks, and added in the dates of the races I have booked.

I also just got a copy of Relentless forward progress by Bryon Powell of Irunfar fame which will hopefully help get to the next stage - from Marathon to Ultra.  More on that later.  

Monday, 22 October 2012

Nailing my colours to the mast

In the interests of goal setting I'm going public.  That way it will be harder for me to back out down the line.  Next year, on the 8th June, I aim to complete the Classic Quarter - a 44 mile Ultra marathon along the Cornish coastal path from Lizard to Lands End.

I'll be posting updates about my training as I go.

This time last year I decided to run the same race as a 4 man team, each running 11 miles or so.  At the time I wasn't sure if I could complete that distance.  As it was I barely did, with cramps hitting me hard about 8 miles in.  That said we all were keen to improve on this achievement and Simon and I started to think about possibly running as a pair next year.

Since then I made a poorly prepared but ultimately much better executed completion of the 20 mile Red R.A.T, again on the coastal path; finishing in 5 hours 9 minutes and still able to laugh about it afterwards.  Having done this, 22 miles each seemed a cop out.  So it has to be the whole thing.  44 miles. Again, I'm REALLY not sure I can do this; but I have a fair bit of time on my hands so we shall see.

I have a few milestones planned, including at least one marathon between now and then.  I hope to write a bit about goal setting and training programs soon but need to get my head around it all first.

Lizard point 23rd June 2012

Mark setting off from Lizard point

Simon at Gunwalloe

Gareth heading off on the third leg

Me, in pain, approaching the finish at Lands End (c) G Hayfield

Friday, 12 October 2012

Socks make you run funny

In attempting to run more like a barefoot runner (currently up to 1.5 miles by the way - its going well) I have stopped wearing socks when I run in trainers.

Socks change the shape of your foot.  specifically they make your toes bunch up when ideally they should splay out as you touch down.  

I noticed this particularly when I bought a pack of very cheap socks from JJB sports a few weeks back - they say 9 -11 but, as a size 11, I found them very tight.  This made that feeling of not having enough room at the front of my shoe very pronounced.  So I took em off.  

Apart from a small blister the first time out I've had no problems. My shoes feel roomier and I feel like I am striking the ground (and springing off) more naturally.

I don't suppose this will do much for the wonderful bouquet my trainers give off but you can't have everything.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Cross training

I had three days of climbing this weekend.  It felt good to get back to it after so little this year.  From a runner's perspective it was also good to engage in something that worked my body in a different way.  By the end of the weekend I was bruised, battered and exhausted; we'd had a great time!

As the week wore on though I noticed that the niggly aches and pains from the last few months of running were gone.  Climbing is a great exercise - it works the whole body and makes you move in every possible plane of motion.  Weekly yoga also helps maintain a bit of balance.

Jason Fitzgerald's recent post on Strength Running (my current favourite running blog) suggests there are 5 main components of fitness:

3. Endurance
4. Flexibility
5. Coordination

It doesn't have to be climbing but some "other" exercise will prevent imbalances which can lead to injury and make you a better runner in the longer term.

Now need to work out how to fit in running, climbing, family life and work!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Barefoot baby steps

Half way round my run on Saturday morning I decided to bite the bullet and take off my shoes.  I ran a short distance - maybe a mile - completely barefoot on a tarmac road.

Funnily enough there was none of the pain and discomfort I was expecting and, in fact, all the cliches about barefoot running came to mind as I looked for a way to describe it...liberating, free, light...

I made myself stop early as all the evidence is that this is something to transition into slowly.  Plus it was 7am in September in England and the road felt pretty cold underfoot.  Given the winter is only a few months away I might have chosen the wrong end of the year to carry out this experiment.  Even so my shoes felt heavy as I started running again.

I was quite keen to share my experiences but decided to wait and see what the effects of this short trial were.  Sure enough this morning I felt some muscles, or rather parts of muscles, were feeling a little more worked than usual.  The lower part of my calfs and the outside of my left foot felt a bit tender - nothing more - this morning. Since I'd spent yesterday afternoon jumping off sand dunes with my daughter I was prepared to put this soreness down to that and forgot about it for the day.

Later on though I went for another, slightly longer, run.  Again I took my shoes off half way round.  Turns out the sand dunes had nothing to do with the soreness.  I could feel that lower half of my Soleus working again as soon as I started off.  

Its a good ache though; an awakening, rather than a sign of damage.  The main thing to come from this was a feeling of having a bit of fun, forgetting about the clock and just enjoying feeling the ground beneath my feet.  I'll be persevering, but slowly, gently.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Barefoot running technique #2

I  thought I ought to elaborate on my previous post.  In trying to get over my normal tendency to over do it and get hurt I have spent quite a while on trying to improve my running form.

As I said before you don't need to take your shoes off to take advantage of "barefoot" running form.  There are three main points to take on board to improve your form:

1. increase your cadence and shorten your stride (cadence = number of step per minute).

2. Mid foot rather than heel strike - basically the front/middle of your foot should hit the ground before your heel rather than after.

3. Stop over-striding.  If your foot is landing on the ground in front of your hips then you are over-striding.

The good news is that if you take care of point 1 then the other two sort of fall into place.

Cadence should be somewhere close to 180 steps per minute (or 90 per foot).  If you were into hardcore techno in the 90's then you are in luck since your average hardcore mixtape will give you exactly the tempo you need - otherwise download a metronome app and work on speeding up your cadence.

Let your feet land fairly flat so that your heel is the last part to hit the ground and the first part to lift off.  The whole foot starts to acts as a spring, rather than the heel bashing into the ground with every step.

Finally concentrate on ensuring your feet hit the round below your hips.  Don't stretch out.  If, looking ahead of you as you run, you can see your feet and lower legs in your periphery, you are over striding.

Again, if you can achieve point 1 the other two fall into place.  If you find this is all new and unusual then take it steady; try a few hundred yards of this in your next run and take it from there.  Don't over do it.  That's my job!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Barefoot running technique

You don't need to take your shoes off to take advantage of barefoot running techniques.  I've been working on a shorter stride, faster cadence (number of steps) and mid foot (rather than heel) strike for a little while now.

Apart from a few runs on the beach I've not taken the plunge and gone barefoot though.  I'm thinking about giving it a go though, just once a week maybe to see how I get on.

I'll post up my experiences as I go.

In the mean time , in case you are the only person not to have read Born to Run yet (you should, its a great read - even if you have NO interest in running - seriously) here is a link to Prof Daniel Lieberman talking about barefoot.  Its not new, but it is pretty cool so if you haven't seen it yet I reckon you should take a look:

Click here for the vid

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Plan your run, run your plan

When I used to dive, this was the mantra: Plan your dive, dive your plan.  The point is, don't get down to 35 metres and decide to spend another 5 minutes just because you saw a big fish and then run out of air on the way back up.

In running there isn't the same risk factor, since you can always just stop if the worse comes to the worse.

Still, its good to have plan and stick to it.  When a race starts and everyone crowds across the line it can be very easy to go off a bit quick.  There's a considerable temptation to try and keep up with those people that keep streaming past.

The sole good reason for owning a Garmin is the ability to keep an eye on your pace.  That guy just in front of you is as open to temptation as you are.  

Friday, 14 September 2012

I'm a crap runner with no credentials.  My blog will never be read by anyone.  In case you've stumbled across it though looking for information on running here are a few much better ones to help you progress along the road:





The uphill struggle

I'm 40.  I started running at 36.  It wasn't fun.  It wasn't rewarding.  I like to climb rocks and wanted to improve and running was a means to an end.  To get fitter.  To endure 20 -30 minutes of pain.  Because if I could do that while running along the pavement I could cope with that feeling halfway up a rock face.

In 2007 I broke my heel pretty badly in a climbing accident.  Running came after this and partly due to the extremely negative prognosis I was given by medical staff in hospital I wanted to do more than I had beforehand.  Become a better climber.  Run rather than walk with a limp as I had been told to expect.

In the beginning I could just about manage two very painful miles.  Four miles seemed impossible.  Slowly though something began to happen.  I improved.  I ran further.  It still hurt.  

At some point though I started to find I was enjoying myself.  I was somehow becoming "a runner".  Worse still, the more I ran the further I wanted to go.  Six miles, then ten, then thirteen.  

I'm still improving, getting faster, getting fitter, running further.  I no longer think "I can't", instead "I know I can - provided I make the effort".  That's what it comes down to.  there is no limit to how far anyone can run.  It's just down to whether you can be bothered to make the effort to do so.

There is a lot of information out there on how to get into running.  I'll be trying to bring some of that info together here over the next few weeks and months.  

Kind of middle aged, average runner shares his experiences with the world.  Of course probably no-one is reading this but it keeps me off the streets.