Tuesday, 30 April 2013

I wanna be a hippy!

So I've already told you I've converted to Beetroot juice for the extra energy it can provide a runner with its secret hidden red powers! But know it was time to take my natural adventure that stage further!

Secret ingredient X!
 History - Born to Eat?

I'd been thinking about it for a while since Born to Run introduced me to the mystery of all things Chia! These little seeds are huge abroad especially in the U.S. where health fanatics have been raving about their qualities for some time but over here, they are still relatively known (so climb aboard the bandwagon now to say you were here first!)

Well what do they do?

Good question! To look at them you'd be tempted to say "not a lot!" They look like poppy seeds but actually taste of..... wait for it......... errrrr nothing! "But we don't care about that Ian" I hear you say, in fact the worst it tastes the better surely as that means everyone won't be using it? What it does pack inside its tiny capsule is loads and loads of nice things like Omega 3 and 6, Protein and Fibre.

No it doesn't contain fish!
 OK, but what does that actually mean?

Well we've all heard of Omega 3... The material that we normally associate with fish. Well this in comparison has more of that good stuff than Salmon! As for Protein, this means it will provide you with fuel to replace what you'll burn during play time! Finally Fibre.... this prevents general disease and helps weight control along with other benefits.

So what can I use it for?

Well a lot of people simply use it as a diet supplement and add a little to their food intake every day. This will act as an appetite suppressant and slow down the amount of actual food taken in and resulting in weight loss (errr ok!). I'd be happy with this but I'll be looking for how much energy it can provide during exercise and how it works with other things?

Do I have to snort it?

Thankfully, no! if you walk into Holland & Barrett they will tell you to bake a cake out of it but relax and step away from the mixing bowl as that isn't going to be happening here! I'll be starting things simple and doing things like adding it to water to create what they call a "gel like mixture" and we'll see how that goes first.

Day 1

I start the experiment by pouring a Chia shot (approx. 1 table spoon) into a small bottle of water and giving it a good shake. I left this in the fridge overnight and returned the next morning expecting to see something spectacular! Well actually I wasn't overly impressed. The chia seed had sunk to the bottom and after giving it another good shake discovered that it liked to stay put in one large "lump".

I took the bottle to work and gave it one last hammering to shake up the contents before consuming the bottle. So what did it taste like? Again, not a lot really. The seed isn't supposed to have any taste itself but I actually thought it did have more of a "texture or feel" if that makes sense?

To look at I can only describe it looking like frog spawn and actually when you drink it, it actually feels a little like that (not that I've drunk frog spawn before anyone thinks that). The seeds do actually expand slightly and end up with a light clear coating which is what people describe as the gel.

The liquid can be easily consumed and texture is ok, what I did find was that there was a slight after taste but nothing sinister. This was early in the morning and I decided to skip my usual breakfast and see how long I could last before giving in, this would kind of test the "meal replacement powers" of the seeds.

Well I lasted about 2 and a half hours before I gave in and ate something else but I was sitting at my desk so you could say I was sitting there waiting for my next meal. My honest opinion would be they do supress hunger slightly but I didn't feel full after drinking them. Maybe I could take them with a shake or something a little more bulky.

Day 2

I know decided to play my trump card today! I'd been told by a couple of people previously that Coconut water contains lots of natural electrolytes and can help you keep hydrated longer than plain water. Well at the London marathon expo there was a Coconut Water stand showcasing this and it was here I sampled it for the first time.

Well I had no adverse effects from expo so I ordered some Pineapple flavoured Coconut Water from my local supermarket and today filled by water bottle with this and the chia seeds for double power!

Coconut Water with Chia
 As you can see from the image above, the seeds still want to sink to the bottom of the bottle but I did find that they didn't stay like that so much if shaken hard. (thanks to London marathon for the water bottles).

Today instead of drinking in the morning, I saved it until just before lunch when I drunk it just before my lunch time 4 mile run. This time the flavoured water actually took away any after taste from the seeds and the whole drink tasted good and felt fine.

I did my run and felt good during it but to be honest I couldn't really tell anything from this apart from I enjoyed my run on a fairly warm day and that I shouldn't drink the whole bottle just before running unless you have somewhere decent to make a pit stop!

Day 3

Today I did the same as day 2 but this time the day was even warmer (mad I know remember this is April in the UK and should be snowing). Today though I saved the bottle until after my 4 mile run. I'm not sure if it was just because it was hot but the Coconut Water with seeds tasted really refreshing post-event but watch this space.

Day 4

By now I'd run out of Coconut Water so I replaced this with plain water again but also added some fresh orange juice.

This isn't a urine sample!
This wasn't actually that bad despite how it looks. Again taste fine and refreshing and I also felt decent on my run.

The Long Run

Today was Saturday and I planning to run down to my local Park Run in Central Park Chelmsford (big shout out to the Race Director Gerry!). I'd then run the course with my daughter and then run home covering approx. 15 miles in total.

I'd by now replenished my Pinnapple flavoured Coconut Water supplies and I filled a 750ml handheld bottle with this and one helping of chia seeds. This time is was using the black seeds which are no different apparently apart from look and I have to admit they don't look as "appealing" as the lighter seeds making the drink a lot darker.

So I started the run down to Park Run as after a little while thought I'd sample the mixture for the first time "on the run". Well this was where I'd noticed a school boy error. I tried to drink from the sports bottle but nothing! The seeds were too large to pass through the spout so I had to remove the lid every time I wanted to drink which meant walking. Not an issue when training or even on an ultra but a little frustrating. Mental note: look for a bottle with a wider opening!

I'd not had any breakfast on purpose and also had no drinks of any kind pre-run so I could see the full effects of the drink. I got to the park and felt fine, I than preceded to run the Park Run course with daughter Katie (nice PB BTW!) and said my goodbyes and run home via a nice route passing through a large country park so covered, paths, roads, and technical trails (anyone that hasn't run the small section of the Centenary Walk in Chelmsford that runs long the top of Hylands Park is seriously missing out). I then followed the Centenary Walk route up towards Gallywood Common up a reasonably steep hill and finally to home in around 16 miles.

So how did I feel?

Not bad actually. The runs overall pace was steady so not fast but I was still active for over 2.5 hours and some sections were run faster and I felt I could always give it some pace in the tech sections when I wanted. Even as it got warmer and I plodded up the long hill into the common, I realised that I climbed at a steady pace with no issues.

I'd carried a gel and a power bar just in case but actually forgot I had them and despite running on no breakfast and with no drink in the morning from overnight I was ok. I didn't have any headaches and even when I did the "pee test" I was all clear.

I know its hard to say it was the power of Chia that made this possible but the fuelling strategy was ideal and I was ok so it didn't hurt I guess?

What's next?

I'm going keep doing the above on long runs to see what happens and I even think I'll try it on the Halstead Marathon next week.

And relax…. Recovery, Expo, London and becoming a Hippy!

Last time out I’d just finished SDW50. Well that was nearly 2 weeks ago so what’s happened since?

Well the where do I start? I’ve been enjoying the various reports from the people I met on the event and I’m glad it wasn’t just me that found it reasonably testing. I finished the last mile with a guy who shared my opinion on the event and I later found out he’s ex-forces so that puts it into perspective. If you get the chance check out his video review of the day as it somewhat explains the “pain”. I was also glad the missing runner was eventually located be search and rescue!

Anyway, recovery? As I explained in the last post, I hurt a great deal during the event. This was to be expected as covering that kind of distance would be hard on the body but it was different to last event. This pain was due to stress on the body during the event, general wear and tear if you like. What I’d experienced before during events was pain in my legs from lack of training and/or experience, I could run through the pain I felt this time but not previously. After fully analysing the differences in events I’d decided the training this time had prepared my body better to the point I could actually run at 50 miles where before I could barely walk!

So what else did I learn apart from decent training such as more back-to-back runs etc. help. Catra Corbett aka Dirt Diva the well know female ultra guru from the U.S. was correct when so told me to fuel as early as possible! (it was nice to get a congrats message from her BTW.) They say in the army there’s only two times you need to drink! When you’re thirsty and when you’re not thirsty! and the same applies to food, eat as much as you can stomach and practice in training.

Talking of hydration I finished the event with slight kidney pain and despite drinking regularly with Nuun tablets I was still severely dehydrated. I carried a 750ml Camelbak bottle with a spare bottle in my pack. The Camelbak incorporates a drinking straw system which means I don’t have to remove the bottle from my front mounted holder but also means I didn't monitor levels and during one long stage I actually ran out of water, not serious on a cool day BUT could have been a serious issue, plus the internal drinking straw fell out. As it turned out, this was easily fixed as it just pushed back on but its just one of those things you dont need in a race. I think I’ll try something different next time, maybe Coconuts?

So what about kit? The OMM jacket was unbelievable and now I just want to wear everything they produce as Im convinced this “saved me”. The dual layer trail shorts from Ron Hill were equally epic! They kept me warm when I needed it but were the perfect balance between shorts and tights and I can see me owning a lot of these!

So how do I feel, post event? Well strangely ok. I had muscle soreness in my quads from the large amount of downhills but everything else as alright. After a couple of days I manage a few miles light running and then by mid-week I was back into normal training minus any long run for now. What I did notice though was a general reduction in energy. I felt on each run that I was operating below my best and that I felt drained. This is to be expected though as the body is still recovering so just needed to not push it too hard as I’ve heard it can take three weeks to get back to normal.

This last week was the build up to the London Marathon. By now you’d read all the news on the Boston marathon bombing so you can guess London was even more in the spot light. I wasn't running London this year but took the family for our regular visit to the Expo at the Excel Centre anyway as it showcases everything new in running, this time I was looking forward to reviewing products such as new running packs, quad compression sleeves as the calf sleeves were superb on SDW50, also information on Comrades Ultra in South Africa for next year and also a small stand by a company called the Chia Co.

I have to admit previously the London Expo has been a little “flat” with the same companies every year showing the same products, I even nearly didn’t bother going this year especially as I wasn’t taking part BUT I’m glad I did! Well full marks to the organisers as they’d done a great job this time around. The Adidas stand at the front of house had been completely redesigned and was like entering another world as you passed through the darkness (very clever) and the hall was packed with people showing lots of new gear.

The best news was that this was the first time there was a definite presence of all things barefoot and minimal. It seemed even the main manufactures now all had minimalist products on show and it was nice to see the huge Mizuno stand with a massive image of the Evos which I’d been lucky to be part of promoting.

If you’ve never been it’s free to enter and there’s lots to sample! My daughter and her best friend had a awesome time and could barely hold everything they'd acquired. As well as the many manufacturers, there were also a huge presence from running races all over the world from marathons in Spain to the legendary Comrades ultra in South Africa. It was the Comrades stand that I really wanted to see as this was one of the top ultra races in the world and definitely on my dream list of races. I'd been talking to a few people about it so decided to get more info.

The race is over 50 miles on road and is the same route every year point to point but switches direction every time. The guys on the stand took me through what the race was actually like with people from all over the world taking part in an event where over the whole course the communities it passes through go mad supporting everyone! I was given some info to register in September along with a nice authentic Comrades bead necklace which I had to fight to keep Katie.

The best stand for me though was the Chia Company

I first read about Chia seeds probably like everyone else in Born to Run, the barefoot bible about a hidden tribe of Indians in Mexico’s Copper Canyons. They were the “magic beans”, (ok seeds) that promised to power you to untold success. I’d quickly forgotten about them until I began to speak to other fellow long distance runners recently. They were increasingly being mentioned as an aid to fuelling especially for the energy they promised to deliver. As it happened I was also getting a little fed up with consuming gel after gel and this looked like it could be exactly what I was looking for?

I’d already brought into the whole Beetroot “thang” from Expo two years ago when I first sampled it and nearly chucked up right there at the show! I can’t say I’ve now grown to love it but I tolerate it and it does amuse me when it turns everything red. I actually do believe it does improve performance generally though and its now part of my daily routine but I draw the line at drinking a pint pre-race. It was now time for the next thing in my search for new found earthly goodness.

When I got to the stand I said hello to a very nice lady from New York who worked for the Chia Co. in the U.S. I tried to impress her with my prior knowledge of Chia and failed miserably so left the talking to her. She rattled off the facts like massive levels of Protein, Omega 3, Fibre etc. and how they had grown from baking ingredients suppliers to official supplement providers.

I'd nearly brought some seeds from a health food store previously but backed out when I was told I had to use them in baking so I decided this was too much preparation for me (and my cooking sucks).

I tried a fresh fruit smoothie with added chia on the stand and I have to admit it tasted pretty good and listened as she explained that the days of using the seeds for purely cooking were gone and there were now numerous ways people interested in sports could use them. She went on the explain that she couldn't get over the fact that chia in the UK was relatively unknown compared to over the pond where they sold themselves.

So could this be the natural alternative I was looking for? The Chia Co. produce a number of ways to buy the seeds. They do large and medium packs of the light or dark seeds (I was told there is no difference in the actual seed apart from colour) and also tiny sachets marketed as chia shots (clearly aimed at fitness people). I decided to go for a medium pack and the girl on the stand kindly threw in a handful of shot packs.

After hours of visiting every stand at expo we finally made our way home struggling with all the newly acquired goodies!

So more about Chia Seeds soon.....

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Take my breath away - South Downs Way 50

Yesterday was race time once again and this time it was the culmination of weeks of training as I stood at the start of the South Downs Way 50 miler organised by Centurion running.

At the start line - note the weather!

The race took place on the South Downs Way path from Worthing, ending in Eastbourne. My preparation had gone reasonably well and the only issue I had was a sore tendon in the base of my shin which meant I took the decision to take the last week off running but I didn't think it would be massive issue as I'd put up with the pain during the last long run.

One of the hardest parts of the whole build up to the event was where to stay? As most of you reading probably know races aren't cheap and at over £60 this was actually the most expensive race I'd ever entered. I looked as staying in a cheap hotel the night before and after but that was adding another £100, so in true army style I packed the tent!

Running kit wise, I'd joked on the Runners World forum that I'd broken that golden rule of running and changed most of my kit in the last week before the event. Well actually in reality that's pretty much what I did. 

Where do I start? Top down....?After my dog decided she liked my Ron Hill hat more than me, I was on the look out for a replacement. I visited the Asics factory shop in Freeport Shopping Village Briantree and picked up a lightweight beany that despite its lack of bulkiness felt pretty warm. Little did I know it would be tested to extremes later that day.

Next I'd been also looking for a short sleeve zipped top that I could wear on top of a baselayer but vent as needed as I'd heard if could be a warm one today. In Freeport again I picked up a Dare 2 Be mountain top which ticked all the above but also could be used on its own. I'd also actually brought a similar Ron Hill top from Runners world in the week but didn't like the fit so I was happy with this.

Moving down. Shorts. When in Runners World in Chelmsford I was actually looking for some decent tights to replace the cheap ones I'd been using so far but after hearing it could be hot decided to go for new shorts. These were a pair of Ron Hill Trails but with a compression lining so were two-in-one. I was told in shop that these should keep me warm if the decent weather didn't happen.

What next? Calf Compression Guards by CompressionSport. I'd used compression socks many times and liked them but didn't like the thin design in the foot area especially when on an ultra you need as much cushioning as possible but these looked like they offered the best of both worlds and could be flexible.

Finally for new kit, the last change was Gore socks. My old socks had taken a battering and I even though you can't see it always socks wear out! They loose their cushioning and shape and really should be replaced regularly. I brought these and the Calf Guards from Wiggle online.

New kit aside I'd also traded in my old waterproof jacket for a top of the range OMM Kamlieka. This was expensive at around £150 but I shopped around and found a new one on eBay for £100 so took the plunge. As I've hinted, this actually played a huge part in the event that I couldn't have imagined. I did cheat with this and took it out for a test run pre race though.

One of the biggest decisions was footwear. This was something I wasn't going to risk (I'd done that before on a long event and ended with no heels). I know I do the out of the box tests but even I wouldn't risk this over 50 miles (well maybe....?) I opted for minimal New Balance MT110's as I'd worn these on Country to Capital 45 with no issues.

 Finally on kit, I carried the usual Inov-8 race 12 but even here I'd got my friend to modify it further by adding some kit loops to the front to store gloves, hat of arm warmers during runs and a phone pocket. I'd been looking at a replacement pack all week and nearly got a new one designed and made but after thinking more I decided to stick with what I'd got.

Back to the start. The weather was mild and actually sunny but I'd driven through some heavy rain to get there so knew it wouldn't last. This fact was confirmed in the race briefing when they said 3 hours in and it would change (they weren't far off with their estimate).

I nervously spoke to a couple of people waiting to set off including one of the guys on the Runners World Ultra forum called Peronal, nice to put a face to the name. Before I could finish saying hello we were off though.

I knew what was in store at the start as this followed the same start route as the 3 Forts Ultra so it was slow going uphill for the first 5 or so miles until we reached the South Downs Way path. Within 5 minutes people were stopping already on the hill and stripping off as the weather got warmer and we started to generate heat. I removed gloves, arm warmers and hat on the run storing them in my new loops on the pack. I decided to rough it and sweat it out and keep my wind proof on as I knew as soon as we got to the high ground the wind would kick in.

Well I'd decided tactically I was going to take it slow and pace myself as last time out I'd set off too quick and had to walk the last part of the race to the finish. That plan lasted 5 miles when we got to the downs as I knew we had a long stretch of down hill and decided to take advantage while I could as I might need the time in the bank later. (A decent plan as it happened)!

I wasn't flying but I was really comfortable and I especially liked the fact I'd run this part of the route (the other way) previous as mentally this was a big plus. By now the weather was overcast but still dry and I could skip down the steep technical sections just like Killian Jornet in the Western states film Unbreakable (I'd watched this about twenty times for inspiration and anyone into long distance running MUST see it).

I felt really good and switched from side to side on the steep paths with my arms stretched out like a kid pretending he was a plane ( I must have looked like a right tit thinking about it, but hey I was in the zone). Eventually I got to the first aid station and I knew the location well, Botolphs at 11.2 miles. It was a small check point based out of a gazebo but had everything you needed including gels and hydration tablets. I refilled my bottle added a Nuun tab and set off not wanting to hang around. I must say the marshals were amazing on the whole course, including here where there was a major road crossing which was controlled professionally. 

I had a few minutes to compose myself as we were straight into a steep climb which I walked apart for a small section where a photographer was camped out (well you can't walk in photos can you). At the top I started to feel tired. Not too bad but the energy of earlier had gone and my legs now felt like I had concrete blocks attached to them. It took a real effect to get going again but I knew we'd have a nice long down hill section soon as we approached Devils Dyke so pushed on. 

The sky was now dark grey and but the weather was holding off and in the back of my mind I hoped we might be lucky? On the other side of Devils Dyke there was a short down hill before getting to the next aid station at Saddlecombe 16.6 miles. I was looking forward to getting here as a friend from my running club Bob Gear was manning the checkpoint and he'd kindly said he'd hold a drop bag in case I needed anything but to be honest I was just looking forward to seeing a familiar face.

On the approach to Saddlecombe I was starting to feel better and had a little down hill "battle" with another runner as we skipped towards the aid station. Again I didn't stay long and I was soon off once again. The distance between the last aid stations was quite short at just over 5 miles but this one was bigger and was one of the sections that I didn't know too well.

It was actually bang on 10 miles to the next stop but what was to happen next would make it seem like 20! Finally the heavens gave way and it started to hammer down. I quickly stopped and changed from the wind proof into my waterproof jacket as i knew it was here for the duration. I'd got to the last CP in reasonably time but now the driving rain started to slow me down. I was lucky that it wasn't actually that cold really but the wind started to build up speed and made cold rain feel like sleet and I had to deploy the hood as the rain was actually hurting my face.

I looked at my watch and I could see myself getting slower and slower. It was an effort to even move now and I started to get passed by follow runners for the first time. The route was now completely new to me and this added to my misery. I knew eventually looking at the Suunto I couldn't be far from the next aid station but like the gods were against me they'd placed in my way just one more "mountain" to climb. After what seemed like an eternity I could see the next stop at the bottom of the hill in a farm yard barn.

The change in weather looked like it was effecting everyone as the barn was full of chairs which were occupied by runners in various states of undress looking slightly worse for wear. The marshals were once again fantastic and it was here at Housdean after 26.6 miles and 5:18 hrs I did something I'd never done in a race before....wait for it! I tired coke (the drink!) during a run. I'd read lots of people raving about it and how the caffeine and calories work well so I gave it a go. Can't remember who (think it was in Born to run) but someone once once said a Ultra marathon is a eating competition with running in between. Well I started eating early in this race at 5 miles to avoid hitting the wall like my last run out and so far so good.

I left this CP feeling really cold as I'd started to warm up inside and was now I was feeling the full effect of the elements. I was told that it was approx. 8 miles to the next stop and the hills just kept on coming! It was pointless trying to run up the hills as over this type of distance you could walk as fast as you could actually run it. Finally, I approached a marshal who said the next CP was just down the road. 

This stop was a small gazebo again and the marshals were saying that even the front runners were slow today not that made me feel any better. What I didn't realise was that the weather had been mild so far and I was about to witness how decent kit can make the difference between a result and a drop. 

As I left this aid station at 33.3 miles I was starting to get pain in my ankle that I'd had pre race but also now in my hips, knee.... In fact it would be quicker to list the places that didn't hurt. I decided to again do something I'd not done during a race previously and took pain killers. I wouldn't normally dream of it and I can handle most discomfort but I'd still had hours left on course so decided to give it a go. I'd experienced during army training people taking lots of anti inflammatory tabs during events but I'd read recently that these can leave you kidneys vulnerable as your body is at a low point so I just stuck to paracetamol.

It was again another 8 plus miles cross country to probably the most important check point at 41.6 miles at Afriston. I started to feel pain in my feet now like my shoes were full of stones. I was starting to think I should have changed socks at the last aid station as it was getting quite bad but I then realised what it probably was. When I first used my shoes, I'd ran a really muddy trail race where I'd had to wade through a large amount of water. The shoes drained the water well but what had also happen was they'd acted like a filter leaving a large amount of silt inside which eventually formed hard lumps of dirt inside.

I decided it hold out to the next CP and see how the feet felt then. I was a couple of miles outside of Afriston and the driving wind and rain was actually unbelievable. I'd run on the downs plenty of times but I'd never seen anything like this especially in April, not only could you only see a few feet in front of you due to the mist but even on the down hill sections it was impossible at times to run when the wind was blowing straight at you and for every step forward you'd take three sideways!

As we approached the town I again recognised the route and knew it was a long down hill section all the way. It was then where I witnessed the most random point in the race. I was coming up to a large metal gate and I could see two runners standing next to it. I stopped to see what they were doing and it seemed the marked course just stopped? I looked at the gate and it looked like it had been tied shut. I turned around behind me to see about a dozen guys now standing by the gate wondering what to do next? I knew from Beachy Head Marathon that the path continued straight down and even my GPS was confirming this so I climbed the barbed wire fence and carried on followed by the rest of the field, eventually we started to see markers again and guessed a local must have been at work (a very nice lady at the finish later said the rope simply lifted off to open the gate, men hey!)

As I said previously the next CP was probably the most important as it meant there was under 10 miles to the finish and apart from any unseen issues a finish was well on the cards. I'd managed to at least stabilise the pace now and felt reasonable as I walked into the CP. After I clocked in I took the opportunity to have a warm drink and looked around. It was quite a sorry site, the sides of the large room were lined with runners wrapped in their space blankets being looked after by medics or marshals. Most of them were shaking uncontrollably and I recognised symptoms of the obvious, they were the lucky ones though as they'd made it to an aid station. God knows what would happen if it happened on course.

Again even though the hospitality was awesome, I bid my farewells and walked off brew in hand! I knew I had a serious section of up hill just around the corner that would go on for sometime and got ready to experience the best mother nature could throw at me. Once again I took comfort in the fact I was wearing the right kit for this type of situation as I felt like I was being blasted with a jet wash in a tornado.

I took a look at the watch and I looked set for the 11 hour finish I'd predicted despite the conditions. I got to the last CP leaving ok in 09:47 hrs and I had just under an hour and 10 minutes to cover the last 4 miles and I knew the last 2 were seriously down hill. The weather seemed to ease off a little as I approached Eastbourne and as I negotiated the last technical chalk down hill I was happy that I'd also got to the finish in day light so no need for the head torch (just).

I knew that the stadium was just around the corner but it still wasn't time for a sprint finish as its easy to burn out too soon so I paced it until I could see the lights of the athletics track and all that was left was to run the last 400m around the track itself and pass through the finish line 10:44:09.

Well done to Centurion Running and every marshal for putting on an exceptional event. It was also nice to meet more people from the ultra running community especially Peronel and Sh@zza off Runners World, see you soon!