Saturday, 26 January 2013

Custom Kit

As I previously said, post ultra I had a few minor changes to my pack set up that I thought could make life a little more comfortable.

I drove out to the workshop of custom kit manufacturer 1157 Tactical in Chelmsford Essex and took them through the changes I wanted.

Race Pack mods:

Remove unnecessary weight and sew front pouches to Inov-8 12 Race Pack and at the same time add a small pack to the front waist strap to contain anything from gels, hydration tablets, small food or even trash.


Above you can see the bottle pouch on the left and zipped pocket on right attached by a large number of buckles and Velcro straps and the small Nike bum bag which I'm going to use for front storage.

Here you can see the amount of material that you can remove also below you can see the finished article.

The last items I had modified were some leg warmers that were a little loose and my waterproof jacket that had no hood storage. The hood was modified with a simple elastic loop which will not completely store the hood when not in use but will mean I can actually run with it still attached.

I've always been impressed with this small company's work for military kit but here we see what can be achieved with endurance kit for a small amount compared to new kit. The picture below shows what 1157 normally produce. Thanks to the 1157 team.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Tailor made for the job!

I’ve always been the type of person that doesn’t like to compromise unless I have to and my recent Ultra exploits got me thinking about potential opportunities to improve my running kit (you get a lot of time to think during 9 hrs).

In my “other job” in the Army Reserves I’ve had the same thoughts as load carrying is critical and if you can make life slightly more comfortable then that’s always a good thing in my books.

The British Army used to have a reputation for issuing kit that was out of date especially compared to our American friends. Well I’m glad to say the days of the British squaddie having supply his own decent equipment has passed and the kit issued now is of a good standard but as I’ve said, there’s always opportunities to personalise.

Well you might be wondering where I’m going with this and what its got to do with running? Well hang in there! Post C2C I’d heard of people modifying their packs when on long distance events and I thought if I can’t find exactly what I needed maybe I could create it? 

I then read some reviews on the Ultimate Direction Signature vests and liked the way that the worlds best ultra runners combined their experience directly into products so I called my good friend who runs a small custom Army load carrying business 1157 Tactical making kit made to order for people on the front line in places like Afghanistan so it must be good!

What I had in mind eventually was to produce a bespoke running pack / vest that had all the features I liked but for now I decided to test the water by getting some existing kit modified. I decided on getting the front drinks holder and external pockets permanently sewn on the shoulder straps and add some more front storage but getting a small waist pack attached to the waist strap. At the same time I decided to try out a revised lacing system to my Xero sandals.

Review to follow......

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Snow "Shoes"

We got to Saturday and I'm due to run in the Box Hill Fell race, a 7.5 mile run up one of the steepest hills in the south. The knee was still troubling me and it wasn't the climb that worried me but the downhill as this is always harder on the legs. Because of this I decided to give it a miss and instead the next day went for a short run in the Luna's.

Well Sunday morning and outside was a white out! The snow that was forecast had now started and it was going to a little chilly. This was going to be a perfect opportunity to test the combination of Luna sandals with the Toe Grip Sox recently purchased from Tracey at Barefoot Britain (sorry I might have got your company name wrong in the video review).

Straight off the Toe Sox felt good. I'd worn them a few times around the house and I can see why these are so popular in the U.S. for indoor activities such as Yoga etc. as they offer warmth and comfort but with the added benefit of barefoot feel.

The Sox with the sandals sounds like an odd combination but they actually work well together. The Luna's don't really rub at any point if broke in correctly and over time but with these offered improved protection against possible blisters over distance.
But are these any different to other toe socks such as Injini's? Well the main difference is the sole. On the Toe Sox they have a rubber grip pattern similar to what you'd see on some types of gloves. These really do work on surfaces such as wood and vinyl flooring as they hold grip well even when at speed or changing direction fast.

In the the snow they offered a level of warmth and protection in extreme conditions. We started to warm up by jogging around the park on the grass that was now hard as concrete due the the previous week of hard frost. Even though it was still very cold on the feet these stopped them getting numb which is the key to minimal running in the low temperatures.

After a couple of laps I tested the grip of the Toe Sox with the Luna's on a steep incline to see how they would perform as previously movement was a slight issue. This time the movement is limited and I could easily climb and decend the steep slope even in the snow and ice.

Finally, I removed the sandals and ran the same section of path as normal barefoot which is some of the hardest I've experienced on the soles. This time the sox made the uneven ride feel ok and this time I actually increased the pace with the improved confidence.

All in all a great run out and can't wait to see what the sox are like on a longer run.

All sore a good cause

This week I took a break from regular training as part of my post race routine following C2C 45 miler.

The first few days the legs were a little sore but not from lactic acid build up but from the sheer punishment from time on feet. One of the common mistakes people make post race is getting back into route too soon and risking possible injury damaging something that hasn't had the time to calm down.

I got to Wednesday and finally decided to got out for a run, clocking up 4 miles late in the evening. Started off pretty swift by my standards these days but after I'd got warmed up and passed the first couple of miles I started to get into it.

I finished the run fine but my sore knee did flare up a little towards the end and I took that as my body telling me it was "too soon". Certain things can be ignored but the key is to know when to stop.

One of great parts of running the C2C was the fact I was running it for charity. The organisers Go Beyond have a great set-up where they support a couple of really good causes and offer places in their races to those that agree to raise funds. One of these was The Children's Charity.

I'd got a half decent record of raising funds and with the help of my friends we doubled the minimum donation and raised over £500 and still counting! To help the fund raising I held one of my endurance events at work this week. I've held these for sometime as we have a hardcore of running fans here that are always up for a challenge, Marathon, Ultra or Iron Man but this time it was simple hilly 5 miles Cross Country carrying 16kg in a backpack with everyone donating their entry fee.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Race Day

After weeks of build up the day was finally here and as I left the comfort of my good friend Andy Hind's car the darkness was broke by the heavens opening... great!

I felt my prep had been ok but I knew it was going to be hard as I'd not done loads of long runs beyond 20 miles but I has happy that if I could get to the halfway point of the Grand Union Canal in a half decent time I could at worst walk the second half and still get in with an hour to spare inside the cut off time of 11 hours.

I sat down in the corner of the large pub which was acting as the race HQ and registered with ease as I'd got there early. Soon another runner joined me and as we both got ready he said he'd run this many times and that it was a decent event, he even got me a coffee as it was my first time. He said that the hardest part was probably navigation and he was using a handheld Garmin with the route on a OS map. I'm not 100% sure this is the "done thing " on all these events but there was a large number of people doing the same thing so I didn't feel to bad that I had the route on my Suunto Ambit GPS watch as a back up.

Soon the pub was packed and it was standing room only. There were 250 people running and for some reason a large part of them had decided to arrive last minute to register. The race organisers had warned they would delay the start if the train was delayed so we didn't actually start until almost 08:45, 15 mins late but I wasn't in too much of a hurry.. 

Kit wise I'd opted to wear my Children's Trust wicking tshirt as that was the charity I was running for. Over this I chose a long sleeve thicker Keela shirt which is a great bit of kit especially as it has a zipped neck so you can adjust for temperature control, finally as the weather wasn't looking too clever I wore my basic Arktis Pertex wind proof.

On the bottom I wore a cheap pair of Decathlon running tights, Hilly socks, New Balance MT110 minimal shoes and decided to test to Inov-8 ankle gaiters I'd had for some time but never used. I decided to give these a try as I didn't want to get debris in the trainers on such a long run and they proved to be superb.

I'd brought a new bumbag to use on the event but at the last minute decided to go with my Inov-8 Race pack 12 as I'd used this many times without fail plus for my first real ultra unsupported I'd rather have too much spare kit than too little. I carried a full waterproof jacket, trousers, warm layer and some spare sock just in case.

One of the key decisions was fuelling. As the checkpoints provided gels, I didn't carry any but maybe in hindsight I should have just in case? I did though carry some spare food but didnt use it. Hydration strategy was carry a single bottle in a carrier on my shoulder strap, this way I could refil at every CP and use the Nuun tabs as required. Again this Inov-8 product was new and untested over distance but I liked the idea like so much, I just went with it and was proved right as it was perfect.

As we started, I hung back not wanting to push too fast at the start and we soon came to a halt at the first on many barriers along the way. As we left town and started cross country along the Chiltern Hills, the ground was pure wet sticky mud. I'd started exactly as I wanted well within myself but not too slow. At one point I ran with a Belgium chap who was experienced in ultras and I told him that this was my first long distance race, he asked what my marathon times were so I told him, he said I was mad to be running this pace :)

All was going to plan as we approached CP 1. Then the worst happened.... I was getting ready to walk a steep section which was really slippery when I lost my footing and next thing I was airborne. Lucky for me I fell back and landed on the fattest part of my body. I went down hard but no harm done so wiped myself down and carried on.

After the CP we then ran through a large town and then once again through the Chiltern Hills with more mud galore. It seemed like ages before I approached CP 2 at 17.5 miles. The legs were starting to feel a little heavy but I saw a familiar figure in the distance, it was Jerome, the chap who I'd met at the pub before the start, it was nice to see him again and after a few minutes I jogged off with the M25 just around the corner.

Like many people in long races, I'd set a few mental goals that I could tick off as I ran. The first major landmark was the London Orbital Motorway, this meant that 20 miles was too far. Soon I'd passed the 20 mark and I bumped into into a couple of young guys I'd been talking to earlier on route. They were in the Territorial Army in the HAC preparing for their Patrols course soon in Brecon. They seemed to be running ok but just to illustrate how hard it was to navigate the course at times, I overtook them slowly at one point then turned back and they were nowhere to be seen?

As I said I'd put the route on my GPS watch but was nervous to try it as I'd only tested once on a short route which I actually knew so not the best test. Well I started the nav option on the watch and have admit the bread crumb option was awesome. I'd used my online mapping software prior to the race to create a route then imported it onto the watch. The option I was using shows a simple route line for the next couple of km so you can see major route changes that need to be taken in advance or even if your starting to head off track and this was proving to be really useful.

Well soon we approached the biggest landmark on the whole course.... The Grand Union Canal. This marked 22 miles gone and according to my plan I aimed to get to this point in 4 hours and worst case walk the rest at 15/min miles if the legs had gone. The time was 4:08 so a little slower but the going so far was difficult so just happy to be close to that time.

With this morale booster I decided to keep running and pushed on to CP 3 of 5. This dragged on for what seemed like ages with the route proving quite boring and I actually missed the rolling hills and mud and all I could of think of was how my heavy legs felt. The next CP was at marathon distance and promised savoury food and as I approached it I was eager to see what they had on offer? Well after a pork pie and sausage roll I walked from the CP and began to decided now to run/walk like many of the people seemed to be doing now.

Eventually I got to CP 4 and was told that we should pair up as it was going to get dark soon. By now I'd got to 32 miles and I my legs were feeling like lead and I just couldn't move them fast enough, I got to about 35 miles when I met another competitor who was fast walking so I stopped for a chat. He had actually walked all the way along the canal as his knee had gone but was still moving pretty fast.

As we approached CP 5 at 38 miles I decided that I'd walk the rest as everytime I tried to run the knees were hurting now and especially as I was well ahead of schedule! I was having a really good chat with the other runner who was strangely was called Ian too and soon the head torch was on and eventually we approached a lady in the dark who shouted 200m to go! Well you can't finish walking can you and we started running again. This got me thinking I should have pushed it a little more?

Well we crossed the line and that was the end of my first full ultra adventure. I'd planned for a worst case time of under 10 hours and I finished in a time of 8:51:22.

A day later I'm thinking if I'd stopped a little longer at the later CPs and eaten some real food I'd been able to push further with more fuel as I hit the wall around 35 miles? also I think mentally I took it slightly easy later on the canal section probably because I knew I was well inside my target time I set at the start. Generally I'm really happy especially as I finished 180th out of 250, 57th in my category.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Tales of the unexpected!

Since the last post I was just about the embark on the Stansted Stagger.

This was a 25 mile trail route organised by the Long Distance Walkers Assoc. (LDWA). They are a group that focuses on walkers but also hold events open to runners such as the Stagger which is a 25 mile trail route starting and finishing in the small village of Stansted Mount fitchet in Essex.

I was asked by a fellow running club member if I would like to join him on a slow run of the course and I thought this would suit my ultra training. I decided to wear the New balance MT110’s even though I’d only worn them for a few miles and again combined them with the Sealskinz ankle waterproof socks.

Because I knew the pace would be slow I packed some extra kit in my OMM rucksack and at 8.30 we started the route with a slowish jog. The kit I was using felt good and I was looking forward to the day especially as the weather looked to be clear but soon our pace slowed again and we were soon run/walking. My partner was feeling ill and as a result we eventually came to a halt at around 10 miles. Up to this point we’d been ok but he was now being sick and I had visions of him pulling out at the single CP that was coming up as I was a little worried.

We had already been passed by many runners but now we were even being over taken by walkers. I wasn’t a race so wasn’t an issue for me really, I was just concerned for my mate. He’s a very experienced runner though so unless it got silly I was going to let him make his own mind up.

Kit wise, up till now we’d covered large patches of water and deep mud and with care the footwear had done its job and my feet were even dry!!!! We got to the CP and set about eating and drinking as much as possible J I love this bit! Looking back, the only kit points at this stage wear my back was wet from sweat due to the backpack and was cold as it couldn’t dry due to lack of ventilation. This wasn’t a huge issue but due to the slow pace would prove to niggle. Also the pack was causing my shirt to ruck up my back which meant I regularly had to pull it down but again nothing to bad.

My friend was starting to look a bit better so we started on the home leg but after a while I knew any chance of running was gone and we walked the rest of the way. I pulled on my windproof after a while as the air was a little chilled where I was sweating and that was fine.

Regarding sweating and fuelling. Unlike a run, I’d not drunk loads and I’d not even felt the need to have any of the gels which I’d brought. This was interesting and a showed that the slower pace equalled a different strategy required and this would probably be the same on the ultra coming up.

We eventually finished in 7.5 hours (including 20 mins lunch) and even though it was slow, the experience of time on feet really helped especially as the terrain was really difficult. I loved the event as it was so well run and will definitely sign up to the LDWA and more events.

In the days after the Stagger, I noticed also that the legs didn’t feel sore at all? Again not sure 100% why but can’t be a bad thing? As a result 2 days later I decided to fit in the last of my long runs.

I planned a route that I knew would be approx. 17-20 miles mixing road and trail. This time out I wore MT110’s with normal socks as it wasn’t as wet and ran with my Inov-8 bum bag.

The course was quite hilly taking in one of the highest “peaks” in Essex and despite not feeling up for it at the start, I was really enjoying the early morning sunrise in the country. I decided to test out the lack of gels in the Stagger event by running as far as I could before refuelling. I used my handheld bottle filled with hydration tabs and ate a few wine gums on the way, it wasn’t until 15 miles that I decided I’d take a gel where normally I’d start at 5 miles. I’m sure taking them early doesn’t hurt and I sent an email to the well-known ultra runner Catra Corbett in the States recently and in her reply she said that one of her biggest tips was fuel early! Oh and to “Kick Ass!”

I got to the end of my running actually thinking I could carry on but called it a day with 17.5 miles on the clock. Again the recovery was amazing and I even did another few miles the day after.

I’ll try and fit another couple of 10 milers before the 45 next week but really now rest J