SDW50: Weeks 1 to 4

Overall I am really happy with how my South Downs Way 50 training has started. I am also glad I started 4 weeks earlier than I had originally planned as these extra 4 weeks are going to prove invaluable in terms of building a base and consistency. Also valuable has been the continued commitment to weekly weight training, running at least once a week before work and the return of regular uphill treadmill hiking.

My treadmill totals for Weeks 1 to 4:

  • 12th – 5km, +355m (Week 1)
  • 17th – 3.2km, +371m (Week 2)
  • 20th – 1.1km, +167m (Week 2)
  • 21st – 6.2km, +660m (Week 3)
  • 30th – 2.1km, +248m (Week 4)
  • Total: 17.6km, +1801m

Week 1

Planned 65.9km / Completed: 65.1km (+962m)

The training block got off to a good start once I set my mind to it. However I soon realised that I was not going to be able to train in the pool as much or as easily as I thought if I was going to maintain any sort of balance with my home life and work life. This realisation, and some life changing events for a friend of mine led me to change my focus which I wrote about in Week 3.

Day 1, Week 1, Session 1: pre-dawn farm roads.

Week 1 saw a three double days and the commitment to running before work at least once a week started from day 1, Session 1. I ran doubles on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday.

Week 2

Planned: 68.6km / Completed: 41.8km (+865m)

I started the week off feeling positive and raring to go. I began the week again with a pre-dawn morning run. As the week went on temperatures began to drop and I looked forward to some real winter running. Alas, things at work took off and then my week became a case of just getting runs done for some thinking and breathing space as opposed to focusing on distances and targets for the week.

I managed doubles on Thursday and Sunday – both back to backs. I ran trail to the gym and then onto the treadmill for uphill hiking workouts.

Sunday’s uphill dreadmill session.

I drove to the gym on Thursday, ran around the local park trails and then got changed for my weights session. I finished the weight session feeling good and still with time before Sarah finished her class so I decided to put in a decent treadmill session.

Sunday’s double was particularly memorable – although only short I was in full SDW50 kit having run to the gym to meet Sarah after her gym class. I arrived early so made the most of it!

Week 3

Planned: 94.4km / Completed: 90.3km (+1490m)

I got back on track in during week 3. Temperatures kept on falling and along with that came snow, ice and wind. This week was meant to be my first of two ‘peak’ weeks in terms of distance with Week 4 following as a taper into the Dartmoor Trail Marathon – as you will see as you read on to Week 4 this was cancelled so my plan had to change.

Cold, dark, wet, windy and happy!

Anyway, back to Week 3.

Not the perfect week by any means. I struggled with the increase in distance given that Week 2 was not the best build up to it! I got in some decent runs but towards the end of the week I was finding it difficult to maintain pace and motivation. So much so, in fact, that I abandoned my long run on Saturday and cut it down to a 10km hike/run (mostly hiking with x3 1km run sections). I turned Saturday into a double though, and headed out after dark for 6km. I figured I owed it to myself and to my fiancé to get back out and cheer myself up! I kept the pace relaxed and stayed in the mud. I could have chosen an easier road based loop but I felt it wouldn’t satisfy me as much as getting out in the rain, wind and darkness. I made the right choice.

That is something of note during this 4 week block – I have absolutely loved being out in the dark, the wind and the rain/snow/sleet. My daylight runs haven’t seemed to have had much pep or positive feeling to them – pre-dawn or post-sundown I seem to be happiest at the moment!

This bodes well for my plans later in the year and into 2020!

(Come to think of it, it bodes well for now as it doesn’t seem to be getting any warmer anytime soon, although the daylight hours are growing longer)

Week 4

Planned 82.6km / Completed: 91.3km (+1336m)

Two double days for Week 4 and the commitment to run at least once a week before work is still intact! Twice this week, farms roads on Tuesday morning and icy/snowy trails on Wednesday morning. Week 4 also saw the commitment to weight training still going strong.

Tuesday’s second run was great as it was the perfect antidote to the long, drab and frustrating day I had at work. I absolutely loved running into icy rain that turned to snow, over wet and muddy field edges in new shoes and gloves with removable wind mitt (it feels like your fingers have their own duvet). Perfect! I felt great over rough ground and fast too – I always try to put in a strong effort in new shoes and I was glad to bag a Strava CR for the maiden voyage of my 6th pair of La Sportiva Helios SR. Yes, 6! I cannot get enough of these shoes and wax lyrical about them to anybody who asks about what I believe to be the best trail shoes (all down to personal choice in the end, but these are special). I should probably write a post about them one day…

La Sportiva Helios SR (6th pair, first run)

Anyway, I digress. Back to Week 4.

Wednesday, as I mentioned, I went out before work on the trails and then in the evening I warmed up for my weights session on the treadmill. As the week progressed I started to feel really strong physically and my mental game felt switched on for racing on Dartmoor over the weekend. I backed off on Thursday with no running and began to wind down and taper (aside from moving 900kg of firewood into the shed that evening). Little did I know that I would wake up on Friday, the day I had planned to drive down to Devon, to find disappointment and the need to rapidly reassess my weekend plans.

Long story short: it snowed a lot over Thursday night and the UK once again failed to properly prepare. Friday’s road situation was terrible and the RD of Dartmoor Marathon decided to move the race from Saturday to Sunday. This helped with my decision to withdraw from the race. I am glad I decided not to risk the travel for a Sunday race too as come Saturday afternoon the RD cancelled the race – the right decision I think judging by the fact that the rural roads of Devon were basically blocked by snow and ice and competitors from far and wide couldn’t even get to race HQ.

I was bitterly disappointed on Friday. I had the day off work and thought I would try and go out locally for a 42-45km effort in the snow. I’d like to say that I went out and made the most of a bad situation, and enjoyed myself. But I’d be lying if I said that! With the race postponement and impending cancellation I started with a really negative mindset.

Friday: Air Temp -1°C / Wind Chill -10 °C

Although I set off with full winter trail running kit, by the time I reached 8km I had already decided to cut it to 21km – I just wasn’t feeling mentally switched on to push it without anyone to compete against. I had gels and water bottles, and I had a 21km loop planned so I could use my car as an aid station after lap 1, but the desire wasn’t there. At the end of the run I went to the sauna and spa as my car was parked outside! I sat and adjusted my goals for the weekend and drank the water, sugary tea and fruit I had stashed in the aid/station car.

Friday: Leaden skies, searing winds

The plan turned from hard winter marathon racing to back to back trail half marathons and then a 25km on Sunday to see me surpass my original weekly target. It would also mean I set myself up nicely for an easy Week 5 before picking back up again! Friday night I found the GPX for the Dunstable Downs Challenge Half Marathon and vowed to give a good account on the course on Saturday afternoon.

I was in a much happier and positive state of mind than Friday. I went out and put in a decent effort that I really enjoyed and was really pleased with! I finished 4th on the Dunstable Downs Challenge Marathon route back in September and the day’s half marathon effort would have seen me finish 6th had I race that distance instead – not bad considering there was no snow or mud in September!

Saturday: sun and snowy trails

Saturday wasn’t as cold as Friday, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze as opposed to leaden skies and harsh wind. I took my gloves off at about 5km, and I didn’t need my jacket or hat. Although my legs felt quite heavy I found what rhythm I could given the conditions underfoot and tried to keep my pace up. I slowed for a bit after about an hour so I could change podcasts but that was it. Sunshine, snow, techno and quiet trails were exactly what I needed to forget about the Dartmoor Trail Marathon.

Saturday: views from Bedfordshire over to Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire

Saturday evening I plotted out a GPX course around a local Nature Reserve that I haven’t run before – 5km longer than Friday and Saturday’s efforts with more climbing too.

I slept really badly over Saturday night so I am surprised I pulled myself together to get out for Saturday’s long run before lunch time! I slept so badly, in fact, that I got out of bed at 2330 and wrote the majority of this blog post returning to sleep at 0200. I woke at 0815…

Once I’d had some porridge and coffee I started to feel more relaxed, less achy and motivated to bag another 90km week as a counter to the lack of racing.

I took it easy from the off with my main aim to just get around and to enjoy the movement, the scenery and running somewhere new. I felt tired almost from the start – a mixture of an awful night of sleep and two half marathons back to back in the days preceding. On the hiking climbs I felt it in my calf muscles, on the running sections I felt it in my hamstrings, but nothing could take the enjoyment away from being outside in the sunshine and fresh air.

The run had it all deep snow, ice crust, ploughed fields, mud and plenty of undulations along with a couple of big climbs. It was the perfect end to the week really and I can safely say I’ve earned a sub-90km week next week.

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