Well the time for training is over and with less than two weeks to race day what is done is done. No training is going to now get me more ready or prepared for race day than I already am. The key is prepare, keep moving but take care of myself and don’t do anything that risks injury.
August was the start of the reduction in distance. I had a couple of races (half marathons) to do and training happened around that.
I thought the HMs would be a good way of measuring how my training had increased my strength. My first HM was a 1:32 trail half with some decent hills. My local race. The second was the Big Half in London which I got a PB of sub 1:24. So things look promising – the PB was more than a 5 minute improvement on last year in the same race!!
During the month I have thought a lot about race day. I’ve had the dream in which I win 🤣 and I’ve had the dream in which I DNF. Im targeting something in between !!!
I’ve spent a lot of time preparing fuel strategies. I trained with a 250Kcal an hour policy after the great Gary Robbins recommended it.
So I have then planned my fuelling strategy on the day to this.
I’ve gone all geek on it and put a spreadsheet together, using a planned pace and therefore duration, and then mapped calorie intake to it. I’ve broken the race into section between checkpoints, bagged food up and labelled it. I can access my drop bag at approximately 20, 50 and 80 miles so will have food in there to replenish, so I don’t have to carry the food for the whole race from the off.
I’ve pulled together the obligatory list. It’s mostly complete and its below:
I’ll be using my 8L Salomon vest and a waterproof bag for my drop bag. I’ve test packed, and repacked.
I have tried and tested food that I know I can stomach, that has served me well on my long training runs over the spring and summer.
I’ve cut the miles back and resisted the urge to just run when rest and preparation is the key.
Well maybe! As much as I ever will be!
Race day is less than 36 hours away right now.
I’m in those final few moments of a 10 month training program. The time has come.
I keep looking back at a quote that I found from John Kelly (@randomforestrunner) which I think is one worth bearing in mind:
‘Don’t be afraid of failure.And measure success not by the outcome, but by how far you’ve come.Set a long term goal and then pick smaller ones based on how much closer their attempt will bring you to the big one.If the attempt is a “failure” then so be it.’
John Kelly, Endurance Athlete. From jamesrunsfar.com
The next couple of days won’t define my running experience or my running future. it will help me understand quite where I am compared to where I would like to be. Completing this challenge is so far above what I ever expected when I started running that it’s almost beyond computation. I have trained 10 months to take part in a 100 mile race. I am sat here a few miles from the start line ready.
I have already succeeded. Completing the race will be a wonderful bonus.
Damian Hall is about to embark on his fifth UTMB® (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) – a 105-mile ultramarathon race that incorporates a mammoth 10,000m of ascent around Europe’s most famous mountain. So how does Damian
train for epic ultra running races and challenges in “lumpy” mountains? He reveals his secrets in this blog post.
Well let’s not beat around the bush, its now August, the race is 33 days away. It’s all just a little too real. I’ve done my miles, I’ve done the wet mornings, snowy ultra marathon distance runs, I’ve been up before many have gone to bed to run silly amounts miles. I’m prepared. But the task in hand is still a significant one, it’s still a really big deal.
Four years ago I thought, yeah I should take up running, might like it, might lose some weight. But in all honesty will probably lose interest as many other hobbies have dwindled away in the past. It won’t last, I’ll sell those cheap New Balance shoes I got in June 2017 and forget about it.
Fast forward 4 years and we are at some sort of bizarre point whereby I’m nearly at the point of lining up on the start line of a 100 mile trail running event. The mind boggles, it really boggles.
Anyway, July, what’s happened?
The main highlight of the month was the trip to Cornwall and pulling on my Inov8 TerraUltra G270 shoes and throwing some shapes on the St Michaels Way and South West Coastal Path. A real dream of a place to run.
The month started with the end of an endurance block with some big miles. The last really big ones of the training session.
I suffered though with some struggles to get time to put some of the longer runs in and also had some rare spell of feeling unwell, so the training plan had to bend a little. But that’s what a training plan has to do. You have to listen to the issues and flex the plan accordingly, continuing blindly with a plan when things are not right is a path to ruin. Down that route injury lies!!
The month then moved onto a speed session, which overlapped my break down in Cornwall.
I’ve been using the Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes recently and have been impressed with the results. In the end of July block of speed sessions I managed to claw a new 1Km PR of 3:33. Very pleased with that. The speed sessions continued in August, but I won’t spoil the surprise with what happened there :)!
I’ve pretty much determined my race plan, food, nutrition, hydration etc and know what I’m going to work towards on race day. I’ve planned out my food checkpoint by checkpoint and will now work on preparing those parcels for race day, so each checkpoint I have prepared a bag with food/electrolyte tabs etc that I need to consume. Doing it this way (especially with the food) means that if I am anywhere near my plan I will have just the right calories/carbs to consume to keep myself in good shape. I need to eat the contents of the bag before the next checkpoint! Simple as that.
I’ve settled on my race pack for the day and have practice packed my bag a couple of times. Does it all fit, do I have everything? …
I’ve also planned my drop bag and. just need to pack this a few times to be sure.
That just leaves selection of the actual clothing. I have most settled on, I just need to pick the shirt I’ll use, and maybe 1 or 2 changes (if I need it).
It’s getting there, I’m nearly ready.
Just about a month to go and all this effort will be put to the test.
Damn how time is flying. July is nearly half done and I’m only just writing the June update. As I write this there is less (yep less!) than 2 months to race day. In 60 days now the race happens. That’s a bit scary, but also exciting. So many weeks of training have been put in to get ready for it. They have to count towards something, and that’s a feeling of being in a pretty well formed place. I’m ready for 100 miles. I know I can achieve 100 miles as long as I keep my focus, prepare well and stick to what I have practiced.
June itself was an interesting period for training. I started with a couple of races – very poorly planned a 50Km followed the next day by a 10Km race. But it also included a recovery block where I had a 4 week low mileage block (low compared to other blocks that is. I also got to take my training out onto the South West Coastal Path for a stretch and really hammer some hill training.
One thing I have really noticed is my improvement on hill running. I regularly run the same hills locally and occasionally hit some bigger hills around the Ridgeway. And as mentioned, I got myself onto some Dorset coastal hills this month. I’ve found that the training program has really helped me build my ability to run hills.
I have developed a better technique – more considered stride length, better breathing and more controlled pacing. I have become stronger – more able to maintain an effort on a hill, and I have been better at facing the challenge and mentally carving the hill up. Previously I would start a hill run picturing the point I would be aiming to reach before dropping to a walk. The hill climbing equivalent of a glass half empty approach. I’ve turned this around now, looking for where I will find the hill harder, and preparing for digging deeper. I also break big hills into much smaller parts. When I start the climb I’m then focusing much closer on the job in hand. I’ve anticipated where the harder sections are before I start and then take the hill down slice by slice.
It’s not always foolproof. God knows some of the coastal hills are mad. But I have really built more confidence on hills and I genuinely now can complete hills that only a few short months ago I simply wouldn’t have managed without stopping.
The power of training and structure!
The final throw of the dice
The coming two months are the final pieces of the puzzle. The final long run happened by mid July then it’s fine tuning before a three week taper block. It’s now too late to make massive changes in the outcome of the event day – short of taking wrong decisions and bad choices. The big thing now is closely listening to what’s going on in myself. Keeping to the plan, no heroics or crazy off piste ideas now. Really focus on health and staying in good shape, eating and fuelling well, staying hydrated and healthy. All these little things can so easily derail even the safer train. I may be new to this distance and compared to others, new to running, but I really feel that there’s been a huge education over the last 9 months or so since this training lark started. I’m sure I could have done things better, and many would say ;I would have done it this way’ etc. But in trying to find my way through this journey I’ve gained experience, knowledge and an improved ability to succeed. And I’m not done just yet. In 2 months I aim to do something I had no right to even contemplate only 4 years ago. This really will be a big day.
This month I tried out a speed session in the new Nike Next% Vaporfly shoes. A little extravagance on my part, but with a special sale price I thought it’s now or never. They work! No surprise maybe but to me they were a joy. A big squidgy fast joy to run in. They clearly won’t be for everyone, but on my feet they felt good.
Races for training
In June I started with 2 races. June 5th – Run to the Sea Bright, and June 6th Tough Runner Oxford. My calendar skills are such that I landed up having those back to back. Not ideal!
The Run to the Sea is also not a leisurely easy 50Km stroll. It takes in a good chunk of South Downs Way meaning the second half of the event is a hilly bugger.
I then got back home same day and next morning was up running around Cornbury Park in my first Tough Runner. I expected a real challenge and legs of lead. Instead I got a very respectable 46 minute 10Km time whilst wearing the wrong shoes! So actually maybe a 50Km race is a good warmup the day before a trail 10Km ha ha.
May was an interesting month on paper. And it became even more interesting in reality.
There was always going to be times during the training planthat things went a bit off the rails. A busy working life, family with young humans and all that, just means that training is a juggling task and give and take.
You can also throw COVID into that mix as May was when i got my first vaccine jab, and that knocked the stuffing out of this usually cast iron immune system of a man!
The training this month had a mix of continuing building the endurance, and also to then start a period of recovery.
The highlight of the month should have been 2 40/40+ mile runs. Sadly onw bit the dust due to the jab. There was no way i was running 400m given how horrible I felt. That run just had to be chalked down to the ‘didn’t quite make it’ pile. A 40-mile run can’t just be slotted into the calendar over lunch, or before work (well at least not for me) so it just had to be chalked off. Never mind, one run doesn’t define a training plan.
The other long run happened as planned and boy it was a cracker. The decision was taken to go to my in-laws for lunch as restrictions for COVID were now starting to lift.
This was my months highlight and a glorious run involving the Ridgeway, The Brenda Parker Way, The Tess Way and The Wayfarers Walk. A group of stunning trails around Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire and ones that i need to spend a lot more time exploring (Well maybe the Ridgeway is a bit of an obvious one!).
I continued to invest some time in nutrition and have added mini pork pies to my carry load – brilliant little pick me ups those!
I also tried out Veloforte bars. These are not cheap so i thought i would by a trial pack and give them a whirl as they boast a high carb to calorie ratio, allowing me to increase my carb intake wihtout OD’ng on calories.
In review – OMG they are brilliant. They are soft, juicy and tasty, easy to eat and a real source of energy. They wont be my sole source of nutrition (i would have to sell a kidney to afford it) but they will definitely be in my long run reportoire.
The recovery phase
So following this recent focus on distance i was surprised to see there was a significant drop in mileage for a full 4 week cycle. This seemed odd and i thought that you just needed to continue building up to taper then ease off. But this plan has an additional section in, and it makes sense. Running 40/45 mile long runs week in week out is hard work and your body needs recovery time. The one week in four cycle gives this to some extent but not enough to fully recover, so during the training your body will get progressively more tired. This recovery block is designed to maintain fitness and strength but not to push it, not to continue driving the body hard. Give it time to refuel and rest, before some further cycles of distance, endurance and fine tuning, then taper. So that’s what I’m now at. I’m in a quiet phase, less load and less effort, but still 50 or so miles a week to keep fitness stable and the body in good form. Then we hit training again for July/August before a taper and race. Getting close now!
Yet another month done and the daunting prospect of running a 100 mile race is getting ever closer.
The training this month really had a focus on true distance. Apart from Race To The Stones in 2019 my longest runs had only been around the 50Km mark – nothing too shabby but still a good bit shy of 100miles, that’s for sure. This month that changed, and it changed repeatedly.
Prior to this month distances had been creeping up but I had remained in a zone I knew I could run. Breaking beyond 31 miles/50Km, and doing it in training where I have limited time, was something I was unsure about. Would breaking 31 miles break me? Would reaching 40 miles be some sort of indicator that taking that to a 100 mile run was still unbelievably impossible to perceive?
Guess the only way to work that out is to try it!!
So, whilst on one side I was concerned about how I would cope with the distance, and the subsequent recovery required, it gave me a real opportunity to try out the kit and nutrition.
What I found out when running 34/40 and 45 miles on 3 successive weekends
Before I cover how it went, running the longer distances gave me a great excuse to plot some new routes. I’ve got some routes I love running up to around 30 miles (ish) and for 34 I adapted that to get the extra distance. For 40/45 miles I thought an opportunity to try somewhere new. I used the OS Maps website and app to plot a great little route out of town, up through Abingdon and then along the Thames Path through Oxford and out to the west, before dropping back off the path and returning through Abingdon. For the 45 miler I added a loop through the woodland in Bagley Wood just south west of Oxford – that worked well.
I ran in the Inov8 TerraUltra G270 shoes I have. They are now up to about 500 miles in total (after this month) and are holding up fairly well. As my only zero drop shoe I was a little apprehensive. They have only recently returned to my rotation since the trails began drying out a little, so I was concerned about the switch back to them after only a few, shorter runs this season.
In summary though they were brilliant. The extra roomy shoe is usually pretty good for avoiding squashed feet, even when they spread/swell a little over the long distances. The tread/grip is just perfect for the mixed terrain around the Thames path as well, mixing in road/gravel/grass and everything in between they never complain and always perform well.
Finally, they are comfortable. The extra cushion of the insole (which was new to this model I think) worked really well and my feet ended the run tired but not exhausted. I really believe that one of the reasons for managing the 3 successive big weekends was due to shoe choice and how well these look after your feet on the long haul.
The other main gear of note was my running bag. I recently swapped to the Salomon Active Set 4 and 8 models. I used on these runs the larger of the two bags and found it was absolutely fantastic.
These bags hug your body, they simply become part of you when you run. Not in a constrictive fashion either. Other bags sometimes you feel their presence around your chest and it can be a little distracting, and take a lot of work to get the fit as good as you can. These Salomon bags are just so easy to prepare and get ready. The fastening is quick and easy and great to adjust on the run. The front and side pockets are great for things you need to access on the run. I managed to stash my 2 500mL flasks, phone, food and my GoPro, on one of the runs, with ease.
Finally the bungee on the back of the bag allows an extra bit of gear to be strapped in (rain coat for example) and that essentially extends the capacity without the need to carry a bigger bag.
I aim to do a review soon, but needless to say, these bags are seriously great bits of kit!
Having done more research and investigating into nutrition I was aiming to consume a minimum 250 calories every hour. I packed my bag with ChiaCharge Flapjacks, Stroopwaffels, Tailwind, Kendal Mint Energy Bars and Snickers bars. Having estimated my time, I packed the right calories and a couple of ‘emergency’ items.
With the calories I have a bit of a routine now. I begin eating with the solid food stuff after no more than 30 minutes. I eat little and often, trying to get the calorie rate right. I try to avoid the idea of piling all the calories in quickly and then not eating for a while. That doesn’t sound ideal to me, and a lot of advice online suggests this ‘even’ consumption idea works best.
I will tend to not go to gels until at least 2 hours in. I’m not entirely sure of that’s beneficial as such, but I do find the refreshing nature of the Kendal Mint gels really provides not just the calories but also a cleansing sensation that I find feels great after a couple of hours running around.
The Tailwind is also something I tend to leave to the second half of long runs where I use it. This sort of nutrition source acts quicker than the solid food, in general, and so as the run is moving towards the final period, then intake I need at that point needs to give me a quick return so I try to keep Tailwind for that.
On the subject of Tailwind, I tend to take no more than around 1/3 or even 1/4 of my fluid in the form of Tailwind. The rest I take as isotonic drink – at the moment Precision Hydration is by far my preferred solution. This is to enable me to control the carbohydrate intake a little. Ingestion of carbohydrate in the gut needs the body to be working properly. Water is necessary to keep you hydrated and is essential in healthy gut operation. If your only liquid you have is a heavy carb containing drink, you essentially keep pouring carbs into your gut when drinking and this adds to the challenge your gut is facing. By having non-carb containing fluids as well you can intake water, to help with hydration and digestion, without adding to the carb intake and making the job harder. A good idea if you start facing gut issues in a run as well.
How it went
To be honest it was wonderful. When you are venturing into the unknown a little the apprehension can be overwhelming. I was genuinely concerned over this training block. If it had gone badly I would have been worried about my chances of making the 100.
Each of the three runs when well and were done in really good times. I ran the majority, taking some sensible decisions to manage some inclines appropriately.
My route selection was spot on with some good inclines and descents around the south east of Oxford which mixed it up nicely. The scenery was also stunning in many cases and that really made for an enjoyable time out on my feet.
I kept to the nutrition plan, ate what I had prepared and felt fuelled throughout.
I suffered with a single blister on my right foot which didn’t cause a problem on the first of the three runs. But that gave me the reminder of foot prep and so a bit of protective taping in place for the other two runs really helped to avoid falling into any pitfalls subsequently.
I carried some replacement caps/tops and absolutely endorse the idea of a kit swap in the second half of a run this long. I changed my top and hat once on each run and the refreshing nature of this is like taking a rest, it really does help!
Overall I learnt a lot about what I can do. I didn’t feel I had nothing left after each of the three. I could have gone on. The training has really developed my endurance and this provide it. I have enjoyed the training but this was the reward for all that hard work. Yes there is still a long way to go to make it to 100, but these long runs (my longest distance in training will be 45 miles) have really given me the confidence I needed to feel that the 100 really is achievable.
Another month done Some more miles and a month closer to my first 100 miler. This has been the month when the distances got real. Consistent marathon distances and the view of April over the horizon where 20-30 mile runs become 35-45 mile runs. This is big mile territory and where I’ll really get to know if things are going in the right direction.
So this month apart from the miles I have been thinking about gear and recovery. It dawned on me this month that recovery after long runs is so much quicker and easier now. Casting my mind back to days gone by when a half marathon would render my legs less useful than a chocolate tea-pot for 3 days or so, I realised that my recovery is now so much better. Running 20-30 miles now doesn’t result in any post run days where I have to walk down the stairs sideways, or do my best John Wayne impression. The training has built tolerance in my body so it now manages these activities without trouble – they aren’t easy to run, but I’m not taking ages to get over them. This was something that clearly training has helped with, but getting the nutrition right, the fluids accurate and using post running stretches, movement etc into the package has really benefitted me.
Been thinking about a few things this month. Mainly bags. I have a Salomon Agile 2 – far too small for a 100 miler. I also have a Kalenji 10L. Much more like it, but whilst it’s been with me since my first decision to purchase a running backpack, the one thing that lets it. down is the front pockets and easy access to food and items, without taking the bag off. So I’ve been hunting for a while for something else and this month found the. Salomon Active Skin set. Comes in a 4L and 8L model and has the advantage of some better side and front pockets, a bungee fastening on the back to hold jackets etc, and a quick fasting.adjusting chest strap. I’ve bought these and have started trying them out. First impressions are good, but I’ll do a short review another day !!
The other thing I’ve done is invested in some new Runderwear anti-blister socks – to replace the old ones, and also started to think about the small bits in the kit bag – small tub of vaseline for the … well you know 😉 . Plasters, first aid bits as well. Just trying to get these things sorted now and ready so I have the small items sorted ahead of time.
I’ve continued to work on eating whilst running. I’ve followed the advice fro Gary Robbins’ video I go(see my homepage) to eat 250 calories an hour, and that’s working well. Drinking about 500mL isotonic drink or tailwind as well per 10 miles is also working for me. As the miles crank up next month this becomes a lot to carry. So thinking about the routes I run might be a bigger job. Stop off points, or water stations somehow – I don’t know, something to think about. I want to avoid loops as this is not fun, and extending my distances is also an opportunity to stretch my adventures further – we will see what happens in April 😁.
I got my week wrong this week and forgot I had a Monday run. Still I got out there, late but still out.
Excellent speed pyramid session Tuesday, really nice to stretch the legs and work the body at speed for a while. Love these sessions.
The weekend was spent running park loops with my 7 year old and then hitting 28-ish miles out to the Ridgeway. A real favourite hunting ground and excellent training base for my 100 miler.
Rubbish weather really testing the resolve. Got the treadmill out and working to make sure I made the plan work. Treadmill intervals are crap – from a Strava perspective as my Treadmill isn’t smart and it never gives a realistic view of the session. But I know I hit some good times on my 5 minute at full pace and 1 minute recoveries.
28 miles on Saturday as Sunday was Mothering Sunday and a long run was not maybe the best way to start the day – if you know what I mean!
Another strong week, miles are building…
More 5 minute intervals this week, but the big effort was a solid weekend, starting on Friday with three long runs, 13, 18 and 30 miles. That was brutal, but as I mentioned above, recovery is really working and those miles didn’t feel anywhere near as challenging as they might otherwise have been. The training is meant to challenge but it’s meant to build you up to achieve the goal. That’s what I feel this is really doing now. The efforts are paying off and the training structure is really the scaffolding that is helping to make it all hold together.
Feeling in a good place right now 😁
After last weeks biggest week for ages, this week was recovery. These miles normally feel more of a struggle than they should. Many of the miles though this week really flowed and really came easy. More progress !! Challenged with heavy winds though for a lot of the week, so had to battle some of the miles more than I would have liked, but still a comfortable week.
Week 25 will be in Aprils update.
So a strong month, the miles are really building now and I’m feeling positive about my progress. The coming month or two sees those long runs really take a turn and hit 45 miles at times. Really keen to see how I face up tot hat challenge, how my body behaves, the gear, the nutrition and importantly the recovery. These next few weeks will really tell me if I’m in a good position to face the 100 miles or if there’s work to be done.