Friday, 9 May 2014

5 Lessons from the Trail Team weekend (and how to use them)

This weekend is my first race since I attended the Trail Team 2014 weekend in the Lake district. I've been thinking a lot about everything I learned there. I've also been getting very excited about running the Marlborough Downs Challenge this weekend. I want to try and push myself to set a half decent time, rather than just get around and will be taking some key lessons from the trail camp with me on Saturday. So in no particular order, here we go:

1. Navigation is a skill. If you need to navigate, ensure you can. Hearing Berghaus athlete Helene Whitaker talk about how she was crap at navigating so learnt the course in full before the Dragon's Back reminded me of something I'd read when I registered for the Marlborough Downs challenge. Oh yes, its a self navigation route, map and compass advisable to compliment the SEVEN PAGES of route notes. Oh dear. One hasty reminder on how to orient a map and take a bearing later, followed by an hour or so drawing the route onto the map and I'm ready to go. Hopefully I won't be posting on Runner's World how I got lost as many evidently have done on previous years (we'll see).

2. Manage negative thoughts. Steve Birkenshaw, also sponsored by Berghaus, gave us some good tips on how to get through those low points. Concentrating on the next check point, next mile, next hill, next step; counting to a hundred; talking to others were some of the options. It all sounds good, but the one that scares me the most is the one I aim to put into practice on Saturday: Shorten the pain. In the last few miles I'm going to try and run faster and cut short the suffering by getting home quicker. Big words, but its got to be worth a try.

3. Maximise nutrition. Torq energy gels are formulated to allow ingestion of 30% more carbs than taking glucose alone. I intend to make the most of this toward the end of the race. I can't stomach too many gels and will still be taking on flapjacks and other real food at the start of the race but I will slowly switch over to more gels at the end. If I can, the last two hours I'm going to try and get three gels an hour down my neck and have a couple of the Guarana ones ready for when I need a boost.

4. Stretch it out on the downhills. This was a bit of a personal epiphany really. A first time mountain runner and more used to the short sharp ups and downs of the coast path it was incredible to run downhill for up to two miles over technical terrain. I like downhill running and like to think I'm reasonably good at it (compared to my uphill "running"). But until this weekend I hadn't really got it. I found myself stretching my legs out for the first time and really flying downhill. I just seemed to get into a stride where I was moving efficiently and it felt great.

5. Thirty three miles is not that far (except, of course, it is). Spending the weekend in the company of some really very accomplished and talented runners left me motivated and brimming with confidence. Many people there had run fifty or a hundred miles many times (some further still). The confidence is still there but what I really want to take into this weekend is a reminder to myself that thirty three miles is, for me at least, still a very long way. Sure I know I can do the distance but I mustn't underestimate the challenge. Its not a doddle and it isn't in the bag, especially as I've set myself a goal to get round in a certain time.

And what time am I aiming for I hear you cry? Well if I had any sense I keep it a secret but where is the fun in that? I want to finish in under 6 hours. Not a winning time for by any means (last year's winner came in at 4:13!) but a step up, pace wise. If the navigation doesn't let me down I think I can do it.

So check back in a few days to see how it all went.


  1. All the best Andy, enjoy it! If you're not enjoying it I at least hope you can tolerate it.