Author Archives: Al Flowers

About Al Flowers

Endurance addict. Love training. Love racing. Love wild places. Seeker of solitude.

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.

2019 – reconsidered

Throughout January I have been looking at my original list of 2019 Goals & Resolutions and weighing up whether or not I wanted the original list to dictate the direction I want 2019 to go.

Unsurprisingly, given this post, some things have changed from the original list.

The original list:

  1. Finish every race I start
  2. Improve my 50 Mile PR
  3. Run a sub-3 hour Marathon
  4. Improve my 10k PR
  5. Give my best at the ETU Aquathlon Championship
  6. Race a Cross Duathlon
  7. Keep up a regular weight training regimen

One of the biggest factors in my decision to refocus the year is that I am getting married in June and the other is that life is too short not to be doing the things you love the most. Therefore I have created a new list:

  1. Finish every race I start
  2. Improve my 50 Mile PR
  3. Run my first 100k
  4. Give my best at the Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra
  5. Keep up a regular weight training regimen
  6. Improve my 10k PR
  7. Run a sub-3 hour Marathon
  8. Give my best at the ETU Aquathlon Championship
  9. Race a Cross Duathlon

I have dropped a sub-3 hour marathon attempt as I have never, to this point, enjoyed marathon training! I was going to run the Abingdon Marathon in October which is a fast road course. Instead I have decided to change my autumn/winter focus to running my first 100k and then a month later to running the Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra. Why? Well, because as much as I enjoy running fast on the roads, I love running and hiking hard over rough ground! The 100k isn’t going to be easy – the White Rose Ultra in Yorkshire takes place the first weekend of November and covers two 31.7km loops with +2700m of ascent.

A month later it’s one of the toughest ultras in the UK, the Montane Cheviot Goat.

88km with +2840m of ascent, a loop of the largest hills in the England/Scotland border region. The race starts in December when most livestock are brought off the hills and only the hardy feral Cheviot goat is left to fend for itself, hence the name of the event. There are no course markings, it starts in the dark at 0400hrs and the vast majority of the route is inaccessible to vehicles. I’ll be facing peat covered hills, grassy banks and a run along the border ridge with Scotland on one side and England on the other. It’s going to be a real challenge on so many levels – navigation, mental toughness, freezing temperatures, a lot of running in the dark – I cannot wait.

Training in the cold and dark, January 2019

The other things to have dropped from the original list are travel to Romania for the European Triathlon Union Aquathlon Championships and my first cross duathlon. Firstly, the cross duathlon will not fit with the training block for White Rose 60 and Cheviot Goat so that was a simple decision to make.

The decision to drop from the ETU Championship wasn’t so easy but in the end I looked at the cost of the endeavour and the cost did not sit well with me for short distance race. I enjoy racing aquathlon, this is true, but I like it as a getaway from long distance running once in a while. I am good at it, good enough to qualify for the GB Age Group team, but I don’t love it enough to spend a fortune on it (GB Tri-suit: £130, Flights: £400 each, Car Hire: £100, Hotel: £200 each)!

Sarah (my fiance) and I have decided together to divert the money from the ETU to a relaxing holiday together in Ibiza instead – as I said above, you have to do what you love, life’s too short not to do otherwise.

So there we have it, 2019 reconsidered. I am really looking forward to the year ahead. I’m 3 weeks into training for a 50 mile personal best and it’s going well and I have done 6 weeks of weight training so far. All is well!

South Downs Way 50, 2019

The last time I ran the South Downs Way 50 (heretofore; SDW50) was in 2015. At that point I had completed 2 ultras of 40 miles and 45 miles. I ran a personal best of 9:02:55 and it has stood since then.

When I lined up for the race I had no plan in mind, I didn’t pay much attention to pacing and I didn’t have any real idea of how to fuel myself through an ultra. Now, four years later, I have 11 ultra finishes along with three ultra DNFs and 7 marathons (3 road, 4 trail). Alongside the long stuff, I’ve also ran plenty of shorter races too. Along the way I have learned a lot about running ultras, racing at lots of distances, and about myself. I feel in a good place to put in another attempt at my 50 mile personal best.

Tomorrow, January 8th 2019, I start Week 1 of my 13 week SDW50 training plan and I am raring to go and looking forward to putting the work in. My training plan isn’t high mileage because I’ve found that doesn’t really work for me. What does work is consistency and frequent racing. Below is my running plan, which will also be supplemented by mountain biking and three swims per week:

Another thing I have learned over the years, and particularly last year, is that I seem to do better (and feel happier) when I don’t hold myself rigidly to a weekly distance. The plan above is a guide and I won’t really mind if I run +/- 10km on any given week. Any more and I will probably burn out, and any less is too little for the goal.

The basics of my plan, as it sits on Training Peaks and in my head:

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Speed (I plan to train with my club)
  • Wednesday: Easy Run (AM) / Swim Workout (PM)
  • Thursday: Tempo Run (AM) / Weights Session (PM)
  • Friday: MTB to work, pool and then home (c.32km) / Swim Workout (PM)
  • Saturday: Race or Long Run
  • Sunday: Easy Run (AM) / Swim Workout (PM)

The AM sessions are a new thing and something I have struggled to commit to and maintain with consistency over the years. I have set my alarm 30 minutes earlier each morning, so I will now be getting up at 0530hrs with a view to being out on the run by 0600hrs. I find it much easier to get going with 30 minutes of open eye time as opposed to rolling straight out. The reality is that I have to make this work and I have to commit to it if I want to maintain my swimming and weight training. The weight training will benefit my running and I am off to the European Aquathlon Championship (Age Group) in July so the swimming is absolutely vital.

There we have it. Call it public accountability, or call it motivational self-talk (or both), but it’s out there now so I am going to do my best to achieve the goal of improving my 50 mile PR. Will that improvement be 30 minutes, 15 minutes, an hour (or more), or just mere minutes?! Only time will tell and I have decided to keep my target to myself for now.

I will be posting a training update at the end of Week 4, 8 and 12 with a race report at the end of the endeavour.

I hope you enjoy the read and take some inspiration where you can!

2019 Goals & Resolutions

I’m going to keep this short, sweet and simple! Below are the things I would like to achieve by the end of 2019 in life and in sport:

Endurance Sports

  1. Finish every race I start
  2. Improve my 50 Mile PR
  3. Run a sub-3 hour Marathon
  4. Improve my 10k PR
  5. Give my best at the ETU Aquathlon Championship
  6. Race a Cross Duathlon
  7. Keep up a regular weight training regimen

Life

  1. Marry Miss Sarah Kathryn Lock in June
  2. Progress in my career (be that promotion or service expansion, or both)

2018 in Review

Overview

It’s safe to say that this has to be one of the best years of my running life so far! Last year was tough but it set the foundation for success in 2018.

I have set personal bests at 5k, 5 Mile, 10 Mile, Half Marathon, Marathon and 50k. I have also qualified for the British Triathlon Age Group Team for Aquathlon and will be going to the European Championship in Romania next year!

I have finished 4th at a trail half and a trail full marathon. I finished 2nd at a trail 5k and I won a trail 20 miler. In addition I finished 12th at a trail 50k, 14th at a mixed terrain 10k and 15th at a road 10 mile.

The secret? I took the pressure off. Most of my running, be that training or racing, has been without hard and set goals attached – in races I’ve lined up at the start with a view to giving what I could on the day and nothing more, and in training if I felt the need for a break or a slower session I gave myself room for it.

Best Race

Tring 50k – paced really well, surpassed my expectations, set a 37 minute PB and finished 12th overall. Here’s my race report:

I focused on pacing, not racing and it worked out well! The first 12 or 13km are pretty flat so I aimed to average 4:40pkm there and once we headed onto the trails around Wendover I adjusted to between 5:00 and 5:15pkm. I had a loose plan to hike all the ups after 15km and I stuck to that, as well as running all the downs and all the flat. Overall I was aiming for 5 hours so to run 4:35 was amazing!

Around the 30km mark and looking strong!

I listened to music again for the whole race which I really find helpful at the moment. I ate 8 Shot Bloks and drank a lot of water and I knew about it by 35km – from there to the end I felt a bit sick and wasn’t able to eat anything else for the rest of the journey!

I thought I’d finished 7th overall, initially the timing system said 4th! Final result turned out to be 4th Age Group and 12th overall.

I felt really happy all the way through, even when I felt sick! I smiled a lot, hummed to myself a fair bit and spent portions of the race thinking about different things I’m grateful for in my life. Worked wonders!

Worst Race

Chiltern 50k – repeated same mistakes as the first time I ran it!

Around the 30km point. Shortly after this section I started to fade.

Although I finished 9 minutes quicker than in 2016 and 8 places higher up the field I failed to drink enough water given the high temperature and abandoned my plan to eat little and often along the way. Annoyingly I was on pace for what would have been a PB up to around the 32km mark and then BOOM – my energy levels sank, I began to dehydrate quite drastically and basically walked it in with 5km to go. I won’t be returning to this one in 2019 as it won’t fit with the ETU Aquathlon Championship. I will be tempted to come back and do better in 2020 though!

Best Moment(s)

Running in the foothills of the Himalaya in May.

Getting engaged in the jungle above Rishikesh.

Detaching myself from weekly mileage targets and finding that a more relaxed approach to training really works for me.

Worst Moment

Although I was still pleased at the end of the race, I was extremely disappointed to be dropped from 2nd into 4th with 2km to go at the Kings Forest Half Marathon in October – I had been in 2nd from about the 500m mark and was giving all I had. I could feel myself fading with about 3km to go but I hadn’t realised how close (and how fast) the guys in 3rd and 4th were running.

Favourite Run(s)

My first run in Mcleod Ganj, India was amazing! I ran through the streets of the town, and then up a winding mountain road to the village of Dharmkot before turning onto a mountain track leading up into the foothills of the Himalaya. The views were breathtaking and the run itself was challenging on the way up, and fast on the way down!

2018 also saw some UK based firsts – I ran from my Dad’s house to my house (20 miles), I ran from my Nan’s house to my Mum’s house (10 miles) and I went for a run with my brother a few times as he randomly decided to give running a go in the summer. I also ran a lot with Sarah through spring, summer and autumn which was great – it was amazing to see her race her first 5k and 10k too!

Running in deep snow, on local country roads in February was also a highlight – snow deep enough that I could comfortably run in trail shoes without ever breaking through to tarmac.

At the other end of the spectrum I ran on the treadmill in India a couple of times. The first time was in Bodhgaya where the outside temperature was 44°c and inside the air conditioning was appalling so the temperature was 37°c, I have no idea how but I managed to push on and run a 25:30 6km without throwing up or passing out!

The second time was the day before we were due to fly back. This time we were in Delhi and it was even hotter outside – 46°c! Thankfully we were in a 5 Star hotel so the air conditioning was much better and I ran a 33:00 8km in 30°c before heading out to the outdoor pool for a cool down.

In 2018 I also trained with friends more than I have ever done before, as well as committing to Gade Valley Harriers running and triathlon club. It has been a year full of enjoyable and varied running both solo and with friends and I am really looking forward to 2019!

Favourite Kit
I tried and tested a lot of low volume race vests and waist belts in 2018 for use in 50k and trail marathons, as well as long training runs. I can safely say that the Mountain Hardwear Singletrack vest is not only the cheapest out there but also the most comfortable and easily adjustable in a crowded market. Pair it with UltrAspire soft bottles and you’re good to go long!

2018 also saw the purchase of my second pair of Adidas Adizero Boston for road running and my 4th and 5th pairs of La Sportiva Helios SR for trail running.

Project RFP: Weeks 17 to 20

I think it is fair to say that this final block of training was more of a procession to the end of the project! Having unexpectedly taken 37 minutes of my 50k PR in Week 16 the wheels kind of came off the bus. I had expected to reach that goal in Week 20 and once I had it in the bag 4 weeks early the motivation took a tumble.

The Project itself has been a phenomenal success with 50k PB, a 20 mile win, a 5k 2nd, two 4th places (marathon and half marathon) and 14th at a 10k with almost 1500 runners!

If anybody is struggling to structure their training I would highly recommend ‘Relentless Forward Progress’ by Bryon Powell. It not only provides structure, but I found it also provided balance with enough time for recovery and life outside of running.

Having a consistent template to work with week on week was extremely helpful with staying focused and motivated and as I mentioned above, it really worked for me. The flexibility of the program was also refreshing – I cut the first 4 weeks from a 20 week training plan and some weeks the recommended mileage was increased or reduced (sometimes radically) based on feel.

Week 17 (September 24th – September 30th) (53.6km Planned – 37.2km Completed)

I ran only once during the week, a peaceful morning jaunt for a grand total of 4km before heading into London to see Harry Potter at the theatre with Sarah. I ran twice more this week, one of which was a 25km trail effort at what I hoped to be my King’s Forest 50k pace. I felt great after the run but with reflection over the next day or so I realised I was feeling quite tired out and faded after. My mind started to wander to other options and I started to consider taking a break.

Week 18 (October 1st – October 7th) (77.4km Planned – 36.4km Completed)

As Week 18 commenced I fell apart a bit as I felt under the weather, add into this mix a fair amount of stress at work and it was clear that the ‘relentless’ in forward progress was rapidly disappearing! Sarah entered a 5k which was to be her first ever race and so I decided to throw myself into the mix and unexpectedly finished 2nd. After the race I made the decision to drop down to Half Marathon at Kings Forest – my body and mind were clearly starting to rebel against the thought of another 50k and once I’d sent the e-mail to the Race Director I felt much better!

Week 19 (October 8th – October 14th) (43.6km Planned – 18.4km Completed)

I ran a grand total of twice before racing a local 10km during Week 18. The first run I did was with Sarah in the cold and rain to complete her first ever headtorch night run on the road. The second was a solo effort over 3.5km which was quite enough for me! On Sunday, I lined up to race again. This time 10km, and again Sarah was there on the start line too (I think she might actually be getting into this running thing)! My race report for an unexpected course PB and 14th place finish:
I thoroughly enjoyed this race, last year I hated it and ran a minute slower finishing in 39th! I started on the front row and from the get go my legs felt good and I felt laser focused. The only thoughts in my head throughout were form – head up, relax shoulders, increase pace as you pass. It seems to have worked a treat! I was in 10th up to 4k but lost 3 spots on the hill up to 5k (what can I say, I’m used to fast hiking hills!) and then once we crested I made a concerted effort to pick up my pace and stick to the heels of the lead lady. Approaching 8k I was starting to feel the suffering a bit and backed off a little on slippery ground, at this point I dropped into 14th which woke me up. Again, I focused on the back of the guy who overtook me and tried to stick with him. I was determined not to lose any more spots over the last kilometre and put what I had left into it. After crossing the line I grabbed my drop bag, changed into a dry top and put my coat and buff on. I headed back to the finishing straight to wait for Sarah and to cheer her in on her first ever 10k race. She did brilliantly.

Week 20 (October 15th – October 21st) (71.1km Planned – 40km Completed)

I was glad to see Week 20 arrive and early in the week I started to consider what I would focus on next. But that’s for another post on another day! ProjectRFP_complete Sarah and I headed to Suffolk and peaceful AirBnB for a weekend away and I put in yet another unexpected race performance over a distance I don’t normally race at! 4th at a trail half marathon is no small accomplishment in my eyes and I think this 20 week training block has shown how far I have come since taking up running in April 2011. I’ll wrap up the final post from Project Relentless Forward Progress with my race report from the King’s Forest Half Marathon:
I’m very happy with the culmination of Project Relentless Forward Progress. I went off hard from the gun and went into second after about 500m with a view to building a gap between me and everyone else – the winner had the same idea and absolutely smashed it, finishing 6 minutes in front of the field! Around 12km in I felt like I was struggling so I backed off a little until 15 or 16km. At this point I knew third and fourth were closing in as I saw behind at a convenient corner. A race was most certainly on and I did my best to summon a fast finish over the last 5km but it wasn’t to be! With about 2km to go I was overtaken by two guys and dropped into 4th. I had a last ditch attempt to stick with them but there was nothing left in my legs and I finished about 90 seconds outside the trophies. There you go though, not really my distance and only the second longest run I’ve done in a month! My PB on the road is 1:28 so I am proud of my trail effort here.
Week20_KingsForestfinish

Project RFP: Weeks 13 to 16

This was the penultimate block of training for Project Relentless Forward progress and a good one it was too! I think it really set the foundation for two great race performances at marathon and 50k distance in Week 13 and 16 respectively. For the most part, aside from racing, I took most of the block pretty easy and relaxed which is pretty much how it’s been from Week 1. It seems to be working well…

Week 13 (August 27th – September 2nd) (65.2km Planned – 69.5km Completed)

Week 13 saw me getting back into the mix after a week of illness. I think the extended break from running must have done me well as I ran the Dunstable Downs Marathon on Sunday 2nd September and managed a fine 4th place – not a fast marathon but a strong showing on a tough course. My race report as told in my training diary:

I had an odd morning today. I really struggled with anxiety and some negative thoughts pretty much from the moment I got out of bed. For a good while it looked like I wouldn’t head out to the Dunstable Downs Challenge Marathon. I decided to put my headphones in at 0700 and listened to techno podcasts from then, until I crossed the finish line at 1250hrs!

I’m glad I did choose to race now. Anxiety and self doubt was with me over the first 2km and I almost turned back on the first climb as I felt penned in and claustrophobic! I gave myself a good talking to, turned up my music and increased the pace. I didn’t know it but from around 5km up to the aid station at 26km I was second in the marathon – it was hard to tell where I was as there were 20 Mile runners with us up to 30km.

I lost the 2nd coming out of the aid station and never regained it! I stuck with the guy until 30km but was joined in the fight by the eventual 3rd place finisher at this point. I tried to keep with the surges but dropped back significantly there. Those guys then proceeded to put 15 minutes between me and them over the last 12km! Chapeau! I crossed the line happy as anything to finish 4th Overall – almost my second podium in 2 weeks.

I walked all the ups and raced with my headphones in for the first time ever. It really helped me to find rhythm in difficult sections and helped me to focus on what I was doing. I basically ignored everyone around me, did my own thing, admired the scenery and thoroughly enjoyed the race once I got going. I even power hiked the last incline on the course which stretches for just over a mile -very surprised I wasn’t caught for 5th! Another nice surprise was to see Sarah unexpectedly waiting at the finish line!

My anxiety was left out on the trail and I feel good now. My legs are tired and my glutes are a bit tight but I am pleased with the time as I was aiming for 3:45. I am also super happy to have gained 3rd place at a tough marathon! Not bad considering I’ve been ill for a week or so and not trained properly since Leila’s Run 2 weeks ago.

As well as a strong trail marathon Week 13 saw a first! My first ever run together my brother. It was his first ever trail run, first night run, his longest run and his fastest 5k to date! I absolutely loved running with my little bro and I’ll treasure the memory. I’ve been waiting for him to pull on a pair of running shoes for 7 years and every step was great fun. He’s only been running since the end of June and I’m looking forward to running with him again in the near future!

Week 14 (September 3rd – September 9th) (72.9km Planned – 68.5km Completed)

I ran two double days during Week 14 – before and after work each time. The second double came on the Friday and afterwards Sarah and I packed up the car and headed down to Devon to spend a long weekend visiting with her parents (my soon to be in-laws).

Sarah’s parents live right on the edge of Dartmoor and I can get up onto the moor within five minutes of stepping out of their front door! I took the opportunity to go for my first run on Dartmoor since December with my friend Jo. Instead of opting for the easy out of the door option, I created a route GPX and headed over to the eastern side of the moor as Jo travelled down to Exeter from her home in Bristol.

The run on the east moor was the first time I’ve ever used a GPX file on my watch, and on my GPX phone app when required. We got a bit lost here and there and so decided to try direct route finding to get back on the track. Therefore, we also bushwhacked here and there which is always great fun. Getting lost added about 200m elevation to the run, but I love the up so that was cool with me! Well, sort of cool, as both Jo and I felt like we had run a 50k by the time we completed our extended 22.9km loop with +863m thrown in for good measure!

We hiked a lot throughout the run and as the run went on we both started to feel very tired and hiking began to takeover from running! The climb certainly took its toll and we had both underestimated how tough this run might have turned out. The beauty of Dartmoor and good company never disappoints though and I laughed a lot, had fun, smiled a lot and kept on keeping on which really helped toward the end when it was a bit of a mental struggle. My legs feel strong and I know that one is great training in the bank.

The next day I headed out for a recovery hike with Sarah and her parents along the South West Coast Path over the border in Cornwall. It was a fantastic day weather wise and my legs, mind and body were pleased with the reduced effort. Taking it easier during this whole block – by running more regularly with Sarah, running with my brother and hiking – I believe has really contributed to my race successes and to my general happy demeanour. I don’t feel like I’m overdoing it and I really feel like I have become attuned to what my body wants and needs in terms of effort level for workouts, rest and food. It makes a change from times gone by when I might have just pushed on, and on, and on until being forced to a halt through over-tiredness and/or over-training.

Week 15 (September 10th – September 16th) (79km Planned – 80.3km Completed)

I started Week 15 in Devon and I knew it would be my last chance for a good while to get out on the moor for a run so I took the opportunity to start the week with a longer effort than usual.

Monday is usually a rest day but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass! The entry from my training diary:

Last day in Devon for a while and on my usual stomping ground on the West Moor.

It took my legs about 5k to wake up this morning but once I got started I felt really happy! I found the first climb tougher than I usually do so I slowed it down a bit which paid off in the end.

The first half of the run was mostly off trail on classic rough going Dartmoor ground, mostly uphill too. The second half began as I hit the Widgery track to find an Army observation post set up just off the track. I knew live fire ops were going on as the red flags were up and I could hear the firing, but I didn’t expect to come across anyone working!

I decided to sneak up on the OP and to greet the squaddies with a ‘Morning’ – surprised both of them, made them laugh and then asked if I’d be safe heading on down back to Lydford. They said I’d be fine, and they were glad their boss wasn’t with them as took them by surprise!

The second half of the run was mostly downhill on rutted, rocky jeep track and I ran most of it laughing to myself about my encounter with the Army. I came across two more OPs on the run down and passed by unnoticed and without a word. The last mile was downhill, on road so I picked it up a bit recorded a 3:30 kilometre and a 5:45 mile.

My legs felt great at the end of the run and I’m glad I held back at the start to enable a decent second half in terms of pace.

We left Devon with heavy heart (and heavy legs!) on Monday evening and I went on to run 6 days out of 7 over the rest of the week – I took Tuesday as a rest day and used it to map out some new routes on my local trails culminating in a wonderful long run on Sunday afternoon. Found a few new trails off my usual routes and ran an entirely new long run route on Sunday, with a bit of a twist:

An enjoyable long run on a new route. A bit more road than I might have liked towards the final third…which led me to a regrettable spot of trespassing around the edge of some fields before linking up with the final 400m to my house. Regrettable as a very angry group of gamekeepers decided to meet me at the gate to show off their intimidation skills. Kind of spoiled a really good run but I basically ignored their harsh words, climbed the fence and carried on running home.

Running peacefully along a field edge, to avoid running on a road into the setting sun with no pavement. Trespassing, yes. Criminal? Don’t think so. Being shouted at aggressively by 3 gamekeepers in pick-up trucks was a bit much. I was alone and doing no harm! Chill out folks. I could understand if I was disrupting crops or game. Or if I was disturbing cattle. But I was literally on a jeep track.

Anyway, I digress. I had planned to run this at a reasonable pace, imitating how I’d like to go at a Tring 50k next weekend. I was a little quicker than planned but power hiked most of the inclines on the second half of the route. My legs feel good, my lower back seems to be all good with the effort and I’m looking forward to an easy week of training before the race!

Week 16 (September 17th – September 23rd) (73.1km Planned – 70.1km Completed)

As Week 16 arrived it was clear that Autumn had arrived with it! I took a really easy approach and ran twice before Saturday’s Tring 50k race. I ran on Tuesday and Wednesday covering 6.5 and 5.2km respectively before putting my feet up and relaxing.

Having suffered with really bad anxiety before Dunstable Downs Marathon I was feeling a bit nervous the night before Tring and hoping I wouldn’t have to fight myself to get to the start line! I am glad to say that anxiety did not rear its head and I slept like a log. I will close this blog with my training log race report:

I focused on pacing, not racing and it worked out well! The first 12 or 13km are pretty flat so I aimed to average 4:40pkm there and once we headed onto the trails around Wendover I adjusted to between 5:00 and 5:15pkm. I had a loose plan to hike all the ups after 15km and I stuck to that, as well as running all the downs and all the flat. Overall I was aiming for 5 hours so to run 4:35 was amazing!

I listened to music again for the whole race which I really find helpful at the moment. I ate 8 Shot Bloks and drank a lot of water and I knew about it by 35km – from there to the end I felt a bit sick and wasn’t able to eat anything else for the rest of the journey!

I think I finished 7th overall, initially the timing system said 4th. Final result turned out to be 4th Age Group and 12th overall.

I felt really happy all the way through, even when I felt sick! I smiled a lot, hummed to myself a fair bit and spent portions of the race thinking about different things I’m grateful for in my life. Worked wonders!

Closing out the penultimate block of Project Relentless Forward Progress with a HUGE 37 minute PR for 50k was unexpected and I sitting here writing feeling extremely proud of how my race panned out and proud that I stuck to my game plan. Whilst putting together Project RFP I had intended to for my PR at King’s Forest 50k in October – I never thought I would take off so much time before then! The plan now is to line up at King’s Forest and see if I can take any more time off. It’s a flatter course, the temperature should be pretty mild and it’s on a 12.5km loop – all of these things lend themselves to consistent pacing, I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out on the day…