9Bar9x9 Ultra – Ultra Cool Run !

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A few months back a friend of mine told me about a run he had entered – the 9Bar9x9 ultra, which was a running festival day out in Loseley House near Guildford. Runners have a choice of four runs ranging from half an ultra, to what they called the ‘super ultra’ which was 50 miles. The race was set as a 9km off-road run (hence the name 9×9 for the 50m run) and took place around Loseley House grounds and up and down the Hogs Back (for those that know the area?). I decided to enter the run too as it was four weeks after the New Forest marathon, and would be a great experience, and also a good run to keep me in shape for the Portsmouth ultra marathon in December.

 

Training for the run went smoothly because I’d just finished New Forest. Legs had time to recover and I even had one last near marathon training run the week before the race. The only bad thing that happened in those four weeks was pulling my hamstring after going out twice in a day. I’m an idiot at times, but it added a bit of edge to the final week or training. I spent a good few days hobbling around at lunch time trying to ignore it and a few runs I quit early. Still, it got a bit better and was no trouble leading up to or including the run. The day before 9Bar I was feeling a little tight in the legs so I even managed to get through a very quick paced 3 miles. I was ready! No wait !!! What’s that? I’ve left my Garmin charger at work in Winchester and it’s 10pm the night before. No matter – neighbours to the rescue with a spare charger (thanks Col & Lou!). Ok, now I was really ready! Bed.
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The Run

Email communication for the run was great. I was well aware of where the event was, the timings, the parking and all the facilities. The day started early. I punched in the post code on my phone and I was off. Unfortunately, my mate could not join me due to a nasty back injury but he was there in spirit egging me on in my head (Thanks Jason!). When I arrived, I drove up the long drive way and parked up near Loseley House itself. Easy and smooth and plenty of friendly staff to help out.

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I wondered up to the registration area and was immediately hit with that pre race feeling. The cold air, the freshness, the buzz of everyone getting ready. Registration took place in an old converted, heated barn which had a cafeteria selling breakfast and teas, coffees and the usual stuff. Lots of freebies being given away by 9Bar which was great. I managed to pick up a bag and a couple of edible bars for after the run. All the staff were friendly and helpful. I chatted to the lady who was dishing out wrist band timers that we needed to wear which were all spread out in numeric order. We had a chat about the Marathon De Sables which she had done. It’s great turning up to the run where you can talk freely about running and not feel like you’re boring everyone to tears 🙂 After that, I took a seat with a coffee and met a few other runners. Two of them were from Kent who had traveled over the night before, and another guy from Kent too who was starting his run early due to being roped into a rugby game by his club, so he needed to be back. After a few conversations about the World Cup and various football things, we went our separate ways to gear up.

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As I’d never run a race before that was made of laps, I took a last minute decision to try something new. I headed over to the bag drop tent near the finish line. The route took you past it every lap. The idea was, you could leave your stuff there, and just run in and grab what you need, and when you needed it. I took a last minute decision to leave everything there, and only come through there on each lap and grab what I needed for that particular lap. Best decision ever. Less weight to carry and no falling gels and bottles. Nothing to worry about. After a few last toilet breaks (quite a few actually), I took a waddle over to where the 50 mile runners were kicking off. They had a few minutes of briefing after which they set off in the fresh air with the sun just trying to peer through the clouds. Epic day for it.
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Once they had gone, it was time to get ready myself. I re-arranged the food in my bag and just left it open so I could do a quick grab and go. Oh, and just time for one or two more toilet trips. Half an hour later we were standing in that very spot getting our briefing. A few final warnings of the style and a few chalky bits. Before long, the horn went and we were off. As usual, I started too quickly. I regretted that later. Big time
The route was very well marked, right from the start. Plenty of small yellow markers with arrows and loads of red & white tape hanging from the trees to point out the route ahead of you. There were friendly and encouraging marshals at the major junctions of the run where runners would back around, and pass each other coming the other way. Paths were large enough to get through with no problems and in fact it was great because you ended up cheering people on, and them you! There is always such a good vibe at these events. The route itself was downhill from the start for a while until you had passed through the car parks. You then climbed a fair while over a couple of fields. Then a bit of downhill again until you hit an off road and rather thin path going up and heading towards the bottom of the Hogs Back. It was there were you heart sank. The hill wasn’t easy. I managed to run most of it two or three times but after that it was a walk. Very steep. At the top of the hill it was flat along the ridge and then back down to the bottom of the hill. That downhill bit was lovely twice, but the third time and every time after that, it hurt a lot. When you are 20 miles and up into a race, the steep downhill sections really hurt badly. In fact, I’d say they are worse than climbing because your body runs regardless.

 

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Just when you thought you’d got through the worst of the hills, about a km later, you hit what can only be described as ‘a wall’ of dirt. It was an enormous hill. Very short, but not one you’d really run, although I did twice at my expense later on. It was ludicrously steep and I could almost see the race organizers having picked it, laughing their socks off knowing what everyone would think going up it. The runners I spoke to there all had a laugh with me about it. Brilliantly sore.

 

Going through the lap marker (finish line area) where my bag was, was pretty seamless. I’d dash in through the tent after hearing my name mentioned over the tannoy, grab my next bottle of drink and a gel, and dash straight out. The stopping wasn’t great, but as there were people there, it made you carry on. Each lap was just perfect – no extra time needed for crowds etc. It was all well spaced out. On my final lap, after having gone through nearly three laps of cramp, and after wanting to stop after lap 4 and 5, I was the most relieved I’ve ever been to finish a run. I sat for a while and soaked up that feeling. I then got told I had come in 3rd place!! I couldn’t believe it at all. After that, and all the running – yep, all 5 hours of it, I came over in a wave of emotion. Never done that before ! I then drove home, with a coke and my medal and t-shirt (and Strava trace)

 

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Many thanks to the race organizers, the volunteers, Loseley House, the runners and spectators, mother nature for the ultra cool day and my family for putting up with my early morning runs and race days! xxx Much love.

 

 

 

Hayling Race Complete !

Final Post following my second blog. It’s been a week since race day and it all happened so quickly on the day. The week leading up to the race was the longest of my life I think, but the day itself went by fast. My time was 1:04:39 for the 10 miles which I was really pleased about. That put me 23rd in a field of about 450 – 500 people. I never thought I’d ever see that kind of placing on a run! Nine minutes off of my previous personal best over 10 miles. So how did it all go?

 

A few hours after the run - all smiles!
A few hours after the run – all smiles!

The Big Day

I was planning to wake up at about 06:00am latest. I failed at the first hurdle, waking up at gone seven o’clock and rushing out of bed to start getting some food in me. A standard breakfast was on a cards. Cereal and two coffee’s, which became one coffee as I just didn’t have the time. A small handful of cashew nuts were taken as well because I’d been in the pattern of my fast runs of having a handful of nuts about an hour or so before the run. I stuck exactly to the rest of the plan really.

I got a ride with my good friends Colin and Mark, and we were admiring the beautiful sky and sunshine on the short drive down into Hayling Island. There was little wind too and it was a good feeling knowing that we were not going to be battling into any really strong head winds. When we arrived, we found parking quickly in a nearby main road. Quite suprising for us because we’re used to the busy runs like the Great South where roads are closed all over the place. This was really easy driving in and parking (for free!). We entered the community centre and went straight over to the registration desk. We were asked immediately whether we had entered or not and Colin and Mark hadn’t yet. They were directed to another table, with no queue at all and quickly entered into the run. I got my number immediately and access to some safety pins. The whole process was just so quick and smooth. Well done and thanks to the organisers for getting it just right and keeping it simple. The race has just the right amount of runners I think, and just didn’t feel busy at all.

I then met up with a fellow runner at work, Dave W. We chatted for a while and ran through a few tips and my game plan. Dave has run with me quite a bit at work and he himself ran a PB just a few weeks prior. He is a long time runner and had some good tips to keep me calm before the run. After that I met back up with Colin and Mark plus a few other runners that we know. A short while before we went outside, some more good friends arrived, who had cycled down to be our kind of ‘moral support crew’. They had their bikes and were ready to go and meet us at several points through the run. It was great seeing so many people I knew there.

It was then time head outside and to the start after some quick warm up laps.

 

Plenty of space for everyone inside and outside at the community centre
Plenty of space for everyone inside and outside at the community centre

The Race

I got to the start line, which was just through a small alley. I was surprised that I managed to get right to the very front line! I’d never started so close to the front at all. I did a few more laps up and down infront of the crowd and I was really focused. Bumped into some other old friends from my younger partying days in Portsmouth, who were also now into their running and fitness. Then, the gun went.

The first bit was quite a blur, as the first mile passed quickly. I believe I was about 06:04 for the first mile. Too quick! I saw our support crew on bikes a few times during that first mile and they were cheering on asking about the pace etc. One of the support crew was a good friend Enwezor who ran a really quick 59 minutes last year in the same race. He knows all about pain during the runs and I think he was enjoying knowing what I was about to put myself through. They were great support though. Hugely inspiring.

The next few miles were strong. I kept looking at my watch and was clocking in at 06:24 ish per quarter mile. I have my watch set to beep in at quarter miles because it helps me touch base with my pace more accurately through a mile, rather than having to wait an entire mile to know that I’ve sped up too much or slowed down. It also motivates me when I know I’ve clocked in a faster quarter mile as I feel like I’ve got time ‘in the bank’ to use up later on. It’s all a mental game really, but helps!

The race was pretty quiet. I didn’t have people around me, but I knew I was in about 18th position by mile 6 and that’s when things got warm and felt pretty good, but I was slightly starting to tire too. At about mile 7 I saw my family and friends which was such a great feeling. I just wanted to run over the road and hug them all and stop by then, but it was a quick wave and something which resembled a smile, but they reckon looked more like a ‘fart face’ I reckon. They said I looked in pain. At mile 8 a guy ran up to me and got me confused with someone he’d met at Park Run in Southsea a week back. To be honest I was so focused on getting through to the end at that point that I wasn’t much use for talking too much. I mumbled something to him which I hope made sense and after that he ran off ahead a bit. The final two miles were a real mental battle. Having picked up a cold that Monday, which I was still fighting, I could feel the energy being drawn down to the limits. Mile 9 I had to dodge a car which pulled out of a side road in front of me which was a bit of effort. I must have looked a bit drunk. I was clocking in some 06:40’s by then, and the occasional 06:28 too, but I knew I was on target for a safe 64:xx ish minutes by then. It hurt a lot.

Going over the line was such a relief. I didn’t even manage to finish through the passage they had constructed afer the finish line. I felt nausea and pain rushing over me and my body ached quite a bit. It did soon wear off but not before Enwezor got a picture of what can only be described as not my finest moment. Colin came in next in a very respectable time and soon after came Mark, who managed to grab a very impressive PB knocking 6 minutes off his previous best! A great day all round. A know a few more friends I met up with ran personal best times too. Well done to them all.

 

So what did I get out of it all ?

 

1. A good level of fitness.
2. Confidence and sense of achievement! I can do it on race day (used to suffer from race day nerves).
3. Better eating habbits. Less crap that I don’t need.
4. Good training routine, and plenty of training experience.
5. Lots of discipline.

 

What next then? — back to the pipes I reckon, and keeping the fitness up if I can!

 

My finest moment. Strike a pose.
My finest moment. Strike a pose.

 

What I got out of it all ?

Fitness.

Training Complete – Two Weeks Remain

There is just over a week left before the Hayling 10 !!!! Today I completed my last ‘fast’ training run, which is a huge relief. I mentioned in my first pre-race blog post (which you can read here) that each week I had a long run, interval run and fast run to do. Today completed that training routine. I had to ‘fist pump’ as soon as I completed the 8 mile run today. No more will I have to endure that horrible morning anticipation, knowing that I have to go through it.

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In my first post I spoke a bit about my routine, diet and race itself. As I am now in the ‘calm before the storm’, I wanted to briefly mention some of the various people I have run with over the past year. We’ve all been really mutually motivational for each other and every person I’ve run with has helped me get fit for this race. I do most of my runs at work, squeezing them into a lunch period that fits with my working day. There are quite a few people at work who run so we usually all meet up together and generally do very similar type activities, with a few minor pace/route differences here and there. Firstly there’s @finnr who is the main instigator behind most of our crazy challenges and runs through the year. He’s created some very useful running route descriptions for our work area which you can see here. Secondly there is @petejcullen, who again thinks up some of the craziest challenges – and then sometimes doesn’t turn up for them! 😉 Both scored their own PB’s this year at the Lords Hill 10 Mile, and the Great South Run. Well done!

We usually run in groups of about two to thirteen runners, although there’s usually about five or six most of the time. I’ve realized writing this that there are too many to mention, but thanks to everyone who has come out for any runs in 2014. Each run has been great. A mention to @wilsos6 too, who has been motivational taking part in most of the interval sessions and fast paced runs over the past few months. Keep up the hard work dude!

A friend of mine @enwezorn has been very helpful as well. He ran this very race a year ago, expecting a sub 60 minute ten mile time which is achieved. What an incredible time that is. You can take a look at his trace here. I know he went through a lot to get that time. He has been very helpful with tips and advice during the past few months and I always look forward to the runs with him where I usually almost end up being sick. Thanks for the use of your scales too 🙂 My neighbour who is a good runner too has been great help, as have other neighbours and friends in the area who have joined me in many a nice evening run around Portsmouth. Each and every run has helped!

 

My Plan for the Day

 

I really want to mimic as best as I can what I normally have been doing for my Thursday fast run. I want to wake up a bit earlier, so I leave the same time between waking and running that I am used to (about 4 and a half hours). I have already started sleeping more so that I get a more well rested evening two weeks before the run. My eating habits need to be the same until the race has finished, so unfortunately I cannot relax on that until the finish line. My routine for the day for food will be a small bit of cereal, and two instant coffees (with two sugars in each – the best way a coffee is made!). The coffees I normally space out in the first three hours after I wake. I then normally each a handful of cashew nuts about 45 minutes before. Done!

I need to make sure all toilet trips are done an hour before (gross I know, but it’s a big, unavoidable part of any day when you know you need to push it). My running shoes be the Brooks T7 Racers. I bought these a few months back when I was peaking and wow did they make a huge different. Take a look at the different between my normal running shoes, and the new racers :

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Great ventilation!
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My T7 Racers. So light, they float!

I don’t believe in buying new shoes regularly, or according to a particular number of miles or months. I will use a pair of shoes until they literally fall to pieces so long as they are not hurting my body, or they not longer stick together. The body adapts to things quite well. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it does for me. The reason I bought racing trainers was to only use them for my long, fast runs. I have only worn these racers once a week and I will wear them on race day. They are amazing. They weigh very little and that equates to free speed! It’s incredible just how light on your feet I feel compared to when I am in my other shoes, which a lot of the time are wet and heavier than they need to be.

My clothing I want to be light too. I am using a vest I got from NSPCC a few years back. It’s an extremely thin and light technical vest. It weighs almost nothing. My socks will be minimal too. Hell, even the laces on the racers are ultra small and light. Every bit I make room for will help with a second here or there through the race. Even if some of it is purely placebo – that’s fine too. Everything helps mentally as well.

I plan to post up my results with a short write up about the race itself and how it went, but again, follow me on @Strava if you want to track my coming taper week, where I’ll be taking it easy and keeping the working but fresh for the 30th November —- Daniel

Pipes down – Trainers Up !

Hayling 10 Mile – Four Weeks to Go

About six months ago I made the decision to put the piping down my priority list for a bit, while I increased and improved my running with the aim to see if I could complete a ten mile road race in under 70 minutes (that is 6:59 minutes per mile average). The target was quite a lot faster than I was normally used to running, and I knew it would take a lot of focused training. Well, with one more month to go until the race, I wanted to jot down what I’ve been through and some of my methods I’ve used to get to this point. Some I thought were clever ideas, and others might not seem so clever. Either way, the methods worked for me. Some detail may be a little off as it’s been so long, but the plan in my head was simple :

1. Lose weight
2. Run Harder

A few friends and I post run. Technical t-shirts!
A few friends and I showing off our free technical t-shirts after completing a 20 mile race.

The Weight Change

Those who know me personally will know about my addictive personality. I am addicted to anything I get into. Sweets and chocolate and snacking are on that list. Anything sweet – I will eat. I also enjoy my sweet teas and coffees. Where I run, I also eat large portions of food whether it’s breakfast or dinner. I’ve never carried excess weight and have always hovered around 77 kilograms (169 pounds). The weight loss started when I trained for a 20 mile race earlier this year. With the longer runs and more miles, a small bit of weight came off and I noticed the effect it had on my pace. I got faster. The plan then became to carry on doing this until I was at my target pace. This is how I went about it :

The tempting of the chocolate.
The tempting of the chocolate

1. Reduced portion sizes on meals – I stopped being so greedy. No more seconds. No more over-sized portions. I ate less generally with my meals.
2. Reduced lunches at work – from two sandwiches to one only. More fruit each day, especially on work days and cut out crisps on most days, and chocolate on ALL work days.
3. No office cakes – office cakes are plentiful where I work, like a lot of us. This was really hard work but I did very occasionally have a biscuit or two. Most of it was cut out.
4. Significant coffee/tea reduction – I reduced myself to two small cups of coffee with sugar each morning. This was needed to give me energy for the faster and further running I’d be doing, and to also compensate for my adjustment in smaller breakfast portions. Hard to do when you work in an office where it is being offered all day. My trick was to have a lot of water with me at all times. Drink water instead.
5. No naughty snacking – it all adds up. I ate seeds, nuts and more fruit generally. The nuts helped a lot if I had a small handful before a hard run.
6. Weekend Diet – most people I know do not agree with this method, and thought it was a silly idea, but it works for me. Saturday I would not eat, apart from my two sweet coffees until later in the afternoon. Some days it was hard, and other days it was easy. Yes, it’s not a great idea for everyone, but I believe the human body can take a lot and to be honest, I’d drink water and I had my coffees and if all went pear shaped I could always eat something. Sunday I’d have a small handful of Special K and then do a slow or fast half marathon early in the morning – every week. Again, I would not eat until afternoon but I’d still have those two sweet coffees. I can go for a few hours and survive without food – simples. It’s quite humbling really. I find myself appreciating my afternoon lunches a lot more and enjoying them so much as well. Another tip : I set myself a treat day every two weeks. It comes every two weeks and I get to eat a large Cadburys Marvellous Creations chocolate bar. Styling.

Tips :

1. I kept water with me and drank more of it. It helped when I was craving stuff.
2. In the evenings, when I find it tough to keep out of the kitchen, I go and brush my teeth. This seriously helps. Everyone hates doing it so once you’ve done it, you can’t eat. There’s not a chance in hell I’m brushing my teeth twice in an evening.
3. Oh, and I now have to keep a cushion in the car. Sitting on my backside for a car journey longer than 30 minutes aches like hell. I’ve lost some cheeky meat.
Outcome : I now weigh about 65 kilos (143 pounds), which is a loss of 12 kilograms (26.4 pounds or 1.8 stone). It’s given me well over a minute per mile in speed on fast runs! The diet change has been one of the hardest things to do ever. Food is all around me, all day, every day. When you cut out the things you can smell, hear and see people eating all day, it makes you think about it more and more, and the harder it becomes to refrain. This is why I introduced the Treat Day I mentioned above. Bloody fantastic it is. It’s made me appreciate it so much more. My wife and I used to often agree that eating chocolate most nights makes you unappreciative of it and it becomes standard really. My dieting has really increased my enjoyment of treats.

One of our hilly runs, admiring the view
One of our hilly runs, admiring the view

The Running Change

It’s hard to sum this all up in a ‘reduced portion’ size but I’ll try. The running is obviously the hardest bit, but the weight loss helped a lot. It didn’t take away the horrible, hard and hot runs over the summer perioud, which is where I made most of my progress, but it did help. For races, I could say I’ve always been a kind of 08:00 minute per mile runner. Thanks to the fantastic friends at work and their never ending pursuit of the ‘ultimate lunch time pain session’, I went out most lunch times. Interval sessions, Strava segments, distance runs, Kenyan Interval sessions, short 5k time trials, cricket pitch intervals you name it. I’ve had a really mixed training routine this year and it’s all helped. At some stage a few months ago though, I put together my own random weekly routine. I didn’t read anything, I didn’t plan it too much but basically the idea was to do the following :

1. Monday Recovery Run (usually 10k @ about 08:30 – 09:30 minutes per mile) Sometimes this run would include the odd few Strava segments, and other type training.
2. Tuesday Intervals (usually 6 x 800m , or 5 x 1km , or 8 x 400m @ about 20 – 30 seconds faster than what the current race pace). These would vary slightly, but I always tried to feel sick for these. It wasn’t hard. Interval sessions are not easy.
3. Wednesday Recovery Run (usually 10k @ about 08:30 – 09:30 minutes per mile) Sometimes this run would include the odd few Strava segments, and other type training.
4. Thursday Pace Test (anywhere from 5k to 8m @ race pace but managed to get them down eventually to 06:50 pace over the summer). I’d really hammer these hard, and almost always felt sick. The summer was really tough as I hate running in the heat. We were always running in the midday sun too (lunch time). These runs sometimes included hilly routes.
5. Friday Recovery Run (usually 10 – 12k @ about 08:30 – 09:30 minutes per mile). Sometimes this run would include all sorts of different distances, and training. A lot of it depended on what others were doing too.

Tips :

1. Running with friends who also enjoy their running – because each of us had goals, we’d all keep each other going. Planning a run knowing others are going means there’s no backing out. It keeps you motivated and you keep each other pushing forward. I may have joined a club if I didn’t have the great bunch of runners in Hursley.
2. Track yourself – buying a Garmin watch recently was the best investment I made for my running.
3. Strava.com segments. I am sure running segments had a small benefit there somewhere. It’s great once the weight comes off and you get faster as you can really start to steal peoples segments like crazy!
So where am I at now ?

With four weeks to go, and all the training and dieting, I have now managed to run a pretty fast 8 mile test. I don’t want to jinx it so I’m not typing it 🙂 The training has paid off. All I need to happen now is for the next few weeks to go well, and for the race day to arrive. I want to really focus on keeping the training going as I did peak a little early. Improving even more over the coming weeks I don’t think will help my mojo much, so I need to just keep it going. Perhaps a few more seconds may come naturally with the miles. I have had a few good months of milage. Feel free to take a look at my training page. There will be all the training activity logs from over the last year, with comments in the descriptions. My next blog will be two weeks before the race, where I’ll look at some other things that have helped me along – like the blindingly bright racing shoes.

 

——— Read the next post here