Author Archives: Al Flowers

About Al Flowers

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

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…

Project RFP: Weeks 9 to 12

Another mixed 4 weeks of training with a lot of good happening  before illness scuppered these four weeks from being great. Project Relentless Forward Progress is now over half way through and like any other training block I’ve ever done it has had its ups and downs. There are many things I have enjoyed about the using ‘Relentless Forward Progress’ as a guide though, there is something comforting about knowing what is coming up week by week, and further ahead if you care to look that far. But also something comforting about having a framework to work from and adjust or move around as necessary. I will write more about the book and the plan I have used at the end of the project.

Week 9 (July 30th – August 5th) (57km Planned – 57.6km Completed)

I started Week 9 with an extra rest day rolling on from a really tough Week 8. When I got moving on Wednesday my legs felt heavy but I was glad to be out and moving again. Thursday’s run saw we back to form and goes to show that fitness doesn’t just disappear overnight!

The weekend brought two awesome runs for two different reasons. It was a really hot weekend and I started out early on Saturday morning with my friend Sean who I had agreed to run long with earlier in the week. The plan was to head out and to hit some hills and move at a reasonable pace for a few hours:

A long run worthy of the name! I’m really glad I’d asked Sean earlier in the week if he wanted to head out for a run today (I wasn’t glad when he suggested an 0830 start).

It’s really turned me around after last weekend’s tiredness related meltdown. Sean is doing Barkley Fall Classic in September so he was looking for some climbs and a steady pace and I was happy to oblige using one of my favourite out and back routes from Dunstable Downs to Ivinghoe Beacon. We hit the downhill hard and fast hiked the uphills.

I felt good for the majority of the run but definitely didn’t drink enough water which meant I struggled a little over the last 8km or so. All in all a really enjoyable long run with good company and fantastic weather. Looking forward to racing on some of this route during Dunstable Downs Challenge Marathon on September 2nd!

Sunday was great because early in the week Sarah had said she would like to go for her longest run with me:

A hugely enjoyable run with Sarah. She said earlier this week she would like to run 10km at Ashridge so I offered the Monument to Ivinghoe Beacon out and back route and she accepted!

Really proud that Sarah ran all the runnable sections and fast hiked the ups. My quads were feeling the downs after yesterday’s long run which focused on hitting the downhills hard. I ran off the top of the Beacon and back up to Sarah as she made her way day. Same again for the big hill leading back into Ashridge about 1km from the top of the Beacon.

We finished the run and then had a picnic and cold alcohol free beer in the woods afterwards.

A pretty perfect Sunday afternoon in my book!

After the storm of Week 8, I could not have asked for a better Week 9 and I anticipated much more of the same from Week 10.

Week 10 (August 6th – August 12th) (81.3km Planned – 76.2km Completed)

I reached the half way point of the project feeling stronger and fitter than I have for quite some time. Although my weekly mileage has fluctuated throughout the project I don’t seem to be feeling any adverse effects from this.

The positives from Project Relentless Forward Progress so far are:

  • I have rediscovered consistency in my training
  • I am back to running predominantly on trails
  • I am less focused on goals and race outcomes, and more focused on enjoying the process leading to their potential attainment
  • I have taken to running in the morning on some days, something that until this project began was anathema to me
  • I have enjoyed training in the company of others, another thing that I pretty well avoided where possible until this project kicked off

The list above is pretty representative of Week 10 as I went out in the morning twice during the week and ran with some friends on Sunday. The standout run for me, however, was my solo trail effort on Sunday after Saturday’s 4 hour, +1000m time on feet effort. For some reason on Sunday afternoon I decided the time had come to turnover my legs and get moving. I went out to cover two 5k laps from my front door, laps that comprise largely of uneven ground with some road sections. I was really pleased to feel so comfortable moving quijcky over the rough ground on both laps and I found myself able to push on the short downhill tarmac section on each lap. Granted, I started to feel the hurt at about 7km but I knew the end was in sight so did my best to keep my head focused on my legs and my pace, and not the suffering! Considering I haven’t done any focused speed workouts since about April I was very happy with 19:51 for the first lap and 40:38 for the second.

As I was feeling so positive I decided to enter a local trail marathon which would take place at the end of Week 11.

Week 11 (August 13th – August 19th) (72.9km Planned – 68.3km Completed)

I took this week pretty easy with a couple of slower runs and a weight vest hike with the knowledge I would be running a marathon on the Sunday! In the end I opted to run 3 Laps instead of 4 at Leila’s Run and surprised myself by actually winning the 3 Lap race, thus registering my first ever race win. There was no fanfare, no trophy and I only found out I won after checking the results on Monday but as many people have a told me since, a win is a win (even if there were only 12 people in the race you won)!

I entered Leila’s Run on a whim last Sunday so I am really pleased with the result. I had originally intended to run the 4 Lap marathon but half way through Lap 3 I made the decision to save something for Dunstable Challenge Trail Marathon in 2 weeks time.

A major contribution to my decision to stop at 3 Laps was also my stomach! It doesn’t seem to be on top form today, that’s for sure. I needed to go about 4 or 5 times before the race, once during and immediately afterwards so I’m glad I fuelled with Shot Bloks and not gels today. I am currently sitting at home feeling a bit under the weather!

Lap 1:
The race started whilst I was in the toilet so I spent the first 3km running through the field and picking up my pace! Finished the first lap in 1st place of the 3 Lap race and second in the marathon. (x1 Shot Blok)

Lap 2:
I felt pretty good all things considered and settled into my own rhythm. The race is run not far from home so I enjoyed moving over familiar ground. I practiced a lot of positive self talk which turned out to be very helpful as with about 3km to go on the lap I started to really need the toilet again! Finished the lap still in the lead of 3 Laps and still in 2nd place of the marathon but I had to stop to take a toilet break. (x1 Shot Blok)

Lap 3:
I started what would be my final lap leading the 3 Laps, but unsure of my position in the marathon. About halfway through the lap I decided not to go out on Lap 4 and to take this as a decent long speed session before Dunstable Challenge Trail Marathon in 2 weeks. I dropped a place in the marathon with about 800m to go until my finish and crossed the line to be told I had finished 3rd in the 3 Lap race. (x2 Shot Bloks)

FINISH: 31.5km, 2h28m, Winner.

(I found out I won the 3 Lap race on Monday night having checked the results page!)

My legs felt pretty good at the finish but my lower back was hurting and as I mentioned above my stomach wasn’t (and still isn’t) 100%. I’ll take this one as a good indicator of fitness though because I did pretty well and felt particularly strong on the uphill sections.

A lovely race, very well organised and low key with a friendly atmosphere and competitive racing if you want it!

Week 12 (August 20th – August 26th) (80.2km Planned – 37.5km Completed)

Week 12 started really well but then it began to fade through Wednesday as I felt a cold coming on.

I started on Tuesday with a mid-week long run to meet Sarah at the gym as I have done every Tuesday of this Project (and will continue to after the Project). Along the way it was clear that Autumn is approaching. The trails that cross some of the farmer’s fields have been ploughed over and the fields themselves have been ploughed almost to the  edge. This got me to thinking about my next running and writing project during the run as I often find I need some extra motivation through the cold and dark months – more on that when it gets colder and darker though!

Wednesday morning saw me running and this will become a regular thing as I have changed my working hours so that I can study for an ILM Leadership Award. This should be the case up to the end of January and I’m looking forward to having that as part of my winter motivation! I started out easy and kept it that way for the most part. The feeling of strength in my legs and body was wonderful and I was running with a clear mind. The clear mind was a surprise considering the fact that I know the running becomes much slower and involves a lot more muscle groups from this point onward, given the condition of the fields and trails I run on! I thought I would give the fitness a little early morning test with about a kilometre to go and took 4 seconds off my own Strava CR that approaches my house on a steep gradient.

As Wednesday wore on I began to notice I wasn’t feeling 100%. I developed a headache late in the morning and my throat felt quite sore by mid-afternoon. There have been a few people at work carrying colds and I am usually quite resilient and don’t easily pick them up, but this time it seems I wasn’t so lucky. I worked until 1900hrs and then went to meet Sarah for a 10km run around the Herts 10k course, as we had planned earlier in the day. I had been looking forward to the run all day and, unsurprisingly, I enjoyed running the course with Sarah and talking about the pros and cons of potentially running the race together in August. As the run went on I did feel my throat starting to become drier and my muscles felt much more sore than they should have, but I figured it would be nothing a good night of sleep wouldn’t solve.

Alas, a good night of sleep did not solve my cold. Thursday was pretty crap and I spent half the day in the office, and the other working from home. Friday, I felt even worse but spent all day at the office as I wanted to go into the long weekend with a clear ‘To Do’ list! It was obvious to me on Thursday evening that I would likely have to either severely curtail my weekend mileage or cancel training altogether, and by Friday evening I made the decision to cancel my planned runs for the weekend.

I am writing this on Monday of Week 13. A rest day in the plan, but one I would have taken anyway to clear the remnants of this cold had it not been. It is unfortunate that this came along when it did as it has eaten into my consistency, but as I mentioned above, fitness doesn’t just disappear and I know as the week ahead progresses I’ll feeling back up to scratch. Sunday of Week 13 I have a pretty tough trail marathon and I will see how I feel before deciding whether to race it, or whether to treat it as a long training run!

Trail Marathon, 50k? What to wear?!

I don’t normally write reviews but I have been through the mill lately trying and testing various low volume race vests and waist belts.

Between July and October I have three 50k races and a trail marathon on the calendar and I feel that I need something less bulky than the trusty 2014 Salomon S-LAB 12 Set that I use for 50 milers.

The reviews below are short, sweet and to the point – much like 50k races! It is important to note that I purchased all of these items and have not been provided anything by any manufacturer.

All test runs had the vests and waistbelts loaded up with what I intend to race with (6x Gu, 1L water, mobile phone).

UltrAspire Speedgoat Waist Belt

I have had this belt since September 2016 and I took this for a run on June 14th 2018 for the first time since I ran the North Devon Trail Marathon with it in June 2017. I had forgotten how I just don’t get on with it!

I find I have to constantly tighten the belt otherwise it bounces uncomfortably on my glutes. There is very little storage space on the belt, and when I ran the North Devon Trail Marathon with it I just about managed to squeeze a Salomon Bonatti waterproof jacket into the tiny back pocket.

A saving grace is the soft bottles that are supplied with the belt. Really easy to drink from and comfortable to hold in the hand. They also fit will in the front carrier pouches of some race vests.

Salomon Agile 2 Set

For me this is the 100 metre wonder. Unfortunately about 100m into my first test run on May 30th 2018 I found it wasn’t going to be for me.

The vest bounced around wildly from the get go – fast or slow it did not seem to matter. I tightened it up as much as possible and it then became really uncomfortable, I could feel a number of areas of potential chafe so I turned around and jogged home to drop it off before continuing my run with a handheld bottle.

Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 2 Set

I ordered this vest in small and medium as I was not sure what size might work for me following the Agile 2 Set test. It did not matter anyway as the Small vest was too small and the Medium vest was too big.

I took the Medium vest out for a run July 4th 2018 and found that I did a lot more walking than I normally would have and only because I needed to adjust the pack often. The chest bungees needed to be on their tightest setting and they kept coming loose which was extremely annoying!

I really expected more from the most expensive vest in my test range. One positive was the weight of the vest – very light but that won’t do much good if it doesn’t stay in place over long distances.

Ultimate Direction Marathon Vest

On July 6th 2018 I made it 1km with this vest before taking it off and carrying it the 1km back to the start. The same issues as the Salomon Agile 2 Set but for twice the price. To add insult I used 2x CamelBak soft flasks and the did not fit correctly into the front pockets too.

Ultimate Direction Access 350 Waist Belt + Fastdraw 20 Handheld

The Waist Belt actually belongs to my fiance and I have owned the handheld since 2016.

I have always liked running with a small waist belt and handheld on long training runs and after the failure of the previous tests I decided to combine these two items to see how they might fare. I took them out on July 8th 2018 in very hot weather and found the belt to be comfortable with little to no movement whether the bottle is full, partially full or empty. The handheld is great for disposing of gel wrappers once finished as it has a handy (see what I did there!) pouch. The duo combined can carry 950ml of water which is adequate if aid stations are around 10k apart in the heat.

I ended up racing with this combination at the Chiltern 50k on July 14th 2018. I would recommend this duo for somebody who cannot find a race vest that meet their needs.

Mountain Hardwear Singletrack Vest

A low volume race vest that fits perfectly, doesn’t bounce around crazily and has enough room for gels and water on the front with storage for a jacket/gloves other provisions on the back.

Definitely good for long training runs, trail marathons and 50k races. Surprisingly this is the cheapest of all the vests I tested, and cheaper than one of the waist packs I tested!

I first tested this vest with Salomon Soft Flasks on July 12th 2018 and then with CamelBak Soft Flasks on July 19th 2018. I found both sets of soft flasks flopped around a lot which was really annoying, not uncomfortable but very distracting so I decided to use UltrAspire soft bottles instead of soft flasks on July 22nd 2018.

They fit perfectly and are very comfortable. The vest does not come supplied with bottles so my recommendation would be to go for bottles over flasks.

Project RFP: Weeks 5 to 8

This block of the Project continued to build from the first and I felt stronger and stronger. Well, until I really didn’t feel strong at all! By the middle of Week 8 I realised I had likely done too much, too soon after racing at the end of Week 6 and I suffered with a lack of motivation and bone deep tiredness. I didn’t despair and either push on through or completely capitulate  as I might have done in the past. Instead I opted to decrease my mileage and then took an extended break from Sunday of Week 8 through to Wednesday of Week 9.

Week 5 (July 2nd – July 8th) (72.6km Planned67.9km Completed)

It’s definitely summer in England. It’s hot, it hasn’t rained for weeks and unlike a lot of other people I am not moaning about it! I really enjoy training and racing in the heat and if I had my way I would happily pack up and move to Spain or somewhere similar!

Continuing from Weeks 1 to 4 I carried on testing packs for the Chiltern 50k and found I had much the same luck as those first 4 weeks – namely none! During Week 5 I tested:

Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra 2 (small too small, medium too big)

Ultimate Direction Marathon Vest (flimsy, bouncy)

Ultimate Direction Fastdraw 20 + Access 350 (really comfortable, enough storage for phone, 6 Gu gels and 950ml water – the winner for Chiltern 50k)

Prior to this I tested:

Salomon Agile 2 Set in Week 1 (very bouncy, uncomfortable)

UltrAspire Speedgoat Waist Belt in Week 2 (needs constant tightening/readjustment on the run)

Week 6 (July 9th – July 15th) (90.5km Planned93.1km Completed)

Week 6 was a great week! First of all I received a Mountain Hardwear Singletrack Vest and after testing I commented:

Finally! A low volume race vest that fits perfectly, doesn’t bounce around crazily and has enough room for gels and water on the front with storage for a jacket/gloves other provisions on the back. Definitely good for long training runs, trail marathons and 50k races. Surprisingly this is the cheapest of all the vests I tested, and cheaper than one of the waist packs I tested!

I opted against using the vest for the race though as I didn’t really have enough time to train with it and to get used to it. Which segues nicely into my race report for my second running of the Chiltern 50k:

I showed up today with no plan other than to enjoy myself and with an achievable goal in mind of running an hour between checkpoints.

0-10km – made a conscious effort to go out slower than the last time I ran this one in 2016 and felt really good. Ran with Craig McElroy, the eventual ladies winner (Jo) and eventual second place lady (Liz). Hiked the ups, ran the downs and the flat and ate a gel just before 10k which I was pleased with. Arrived 6 minutes earlier than planned at aid station and didn’t stop long – refilled handheld, ate an orange piece and took one with me along with some pretzels.

10-20k – Stuck with Liz on this section and had a chat about running. Might have been digging myself a hole in hindsight but felt good and ahead of plan. Arrived at aid station 13 minutes earlier than planned, refilled water bottles and dumped loads of cold water on my head and torso before heading off with 2 slices of water melon.

20-30k – Ran with Liz for a while again but she headed off around 25k and then I ran with Jo for a while. Again, in hindsight I thought they were both strong and both were aiming for sub-5hrs. I still felt strong myself so kept on. Jo eventually ran off into the distance and I didn’t see either again until very briefly at the aid station. I stopped a little bit longer at the aid station and soaked my hat and drowned myself in cold water. I was 19 minutes ahead of schedule at this point so I felt I had time to slow it down and regroup. No fruit was available and at that point I realised I might have an issue as I couldn’t eat anything else there as it wasn’t vegan. I certainly wasn’t up for a gel in the heat so I just downed a lot of juice.

30-42km – I walked out of the 30k aid station as I felt like I might be overheating a bit. I was also trying to psyche myself up to eat a gel. This section of the course is far more exposed than the rest so getting out of the sun meant I’d need to keep moving. I walked for about 800m then ran to a long country lane climb at 32km. I was keeping a positive mental attitude and a brisk hike so I decided it was gel time. At around 33.5km I started to feel nauseous, running in open fields and direct sunlight at this point I had no real option but to adopt a run/walk strategy lest I throw up or worse! This lasted until about 36km when I suddenly found a second wind and ran to 40km or so. I had forgotten the final aid station was at 42km so my mind was not happy when I passed right through 40km with only a sip of water left and rising nausea making an appearance again! I ran/walked to the aid station from here feeling pretty tired and nervous about the final stretch. I arrived at the final aid station 11 minutes behind schedule I spent quite a while at the station drinking juice as there wasn’t anything I could eat. I spent a lot of time pouring water over my head and torso and generally cooling down before setting off again.

42km-Finish – The final stretch was horrendous. My mental game fell apart and I fell into the trap of negative and dark thoughts. I didn’t run much of this section at all. I managed from 42km to 44km and then walked from there to about 47km. I couldn’t stomach a gel, I didn’t really want any water and I was swaying a bit but I held it together and the thoughts brightened up as we hit the last steep descent with about a mile to go. I threw myself down there towards the last road climb and overtook a few people which helped my mood. I hiked hard on the road and ran hard on the descent into the last two fields. I again dropped back to run/walk until there was about 600m or so to go when I ran towards the finish line. Sarah was there to surprise me ringing the cowbell I bought for her so I finished the race with a smile.

9 minutes quicker than the last time I did this in 2016 and 8 places higher up the field so I can’t really complain. Still 13 minutes slower than my 2015 PR of 5:12 but with 2 more 50k races to go this year I am looking forward to having a crack at it again!

Chiltern 50k – splits

Week 7 (July 16th – July 22nd) (57.1km Planned59.1km Completed)

Even though I exploded over the final part of the my race in Week 6 I went into Week 7 feeling happy and positive. I started the week with a really gentle, easy hike to break in my new pair of La Sportiva Helios SR (my 5th pair to date).

I also ran before work once this week as I have done for most weeks during the Project. It is something I never thought I would take to but I have quite enjoyed it so far! It can really help to set up a positive and energetic start to a busy working day.

As the week wore on my legs did start to feel quite heavy and I couldn’t get a decent turnover in my stride when I felt like I wanted to pick it up a little. This was a precursor to becoming extremely tired during Week 8 but I pushed on thinking it would pass. However, when Saturday’s long run came to pass I felt very anxious with a feeling of nervousness pervading my mind and tightness in my chest – I cut my long run short quite significantly and realised that I was going to need to back off a bit to recover properly after the Chiltern 50k.

My final run of the week was something different! I set out with the intention of meeting Sarah after an hour and then running with her, at her pace for 5km before heading back home. Here’s my entry from my training diary:

A run of unequal thirds. First third I ran solo taking it relatively easy, second third I met Sarah and ran with her for 5km and then the final third I was solo again and taking it easier than my first solo section.

0-12km – solo. It was noticeably humid out and it took a while to get going! First time I’ve taken Mountain Hardwear Singletrack Vest out past 10km and decided to use UltrAspire soft bottles instead of soft flasks – they work perfectly with the vest and fit perfectly too. I found soft flasks flopped around a lot which was quite annoying!

12-17.5km – with Sarah. 5km around Rothamstead Park just having a chat and enjoying some rare mid-run company. The 500m extra metres accounts for my trip in and out of the sports centre at the end of the loop to refill my bottles.

17.5-25km – solo. Felt much slower as I’d taken it really easy with Sarah. I wasn’t complaining and just enjoyed my surroundings whilst listening to my new audiobook ‘Kokoda’, by Paul Ham about the Australian defence of Papua New Guinea in World War II.

Week 8 (July 23rd – July 29th) (79km Planned – 39.9km Completed)

I started Week 8 pretty strongly! I ran a 15km on Tuesday and felt absolutely fine – no remnants of tiredness that had appeared towards the end of Week 7 and this filled me with confidence.

I woke up an hour earlier than I normally would on Wednesday and went out for a beautiful sunrise run. I didn’t feel at all tired and I got into a rhythm pretty quickly, pushed the pace where I could (namely downhill and on the short road sections) and ran all of the inclines at the best pace I could manage sustainably. This was probably a mistake as I would then go on to work from 0800 until 1800hrs and from there would visit a classic motorbike and car show with Sarah and our friends until 2200hrs – I didn’t get to bed until 0000hrs and when I woke up at 0600hrs on Thursday morning I felt shattered, obliterated, zonked.

Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer

My training plan would have seen me run 11.3km on Thursday but as I felt nothing but tired I opted instead for a 3km hike. Even with no weight vest I felt lethargic and slow and this did not bode well for what should have been a 32km run on Saturday and a 16km run on Sunday. Needless to say neither of these happened!

Friday is usually a rest day and at times I might try yoga but instead Sarah and I drove down to the New Forest after work to spend a weekend with her best friend and by the sea.

On a side note, the summer decided to take a break typically for us! The minute we decide to go camping the skies cloud over, the temperature drops and the rains falls!  The weekend was not exactly the hot and sunny one we had planned but we still had fun and made the most of it. At least it didn’t rain (much)!

By the time we arrived at 2200hrs on Friday night I was still feeling extremely tired but realised I had the chance to run somewhere new which is always exciting! I went to bed that evening thinking I might just be able to manage 25 to 30km.

My training diary entry from Saturday morning’s abortive attempt at a long run:

I don’t think this week has treated me very kindly in terms of sleep, namely, I’ve had far too little. I’m really disappointed with this effort – I just felt tired and sluggish from the start and really wanted to give up after about 3k.

We’re visiting Sarah’s best friend and usually I love running somewhere I’ve never been before. New scenery and new trails usually invigorates a run but this morning I just didn’t care. I walked a lot, bushwhacked a bit (which was probably the most fun part of the outing) and ran half heartedly. I was truly glad when I finished.

Might take tomorrow off, Monday is a rest day anyway and I might take Tuesday too. Try to catch up on sleep and press the reset button. (12.1km, 1h24m)

I did indeed take Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off and I am sitting here writing this Friday of Week 9 feeling much better for it. It really does go to show that listening to the body and paying attention to physical and mental cues sooner rather than later is much better than trying to tough it out or ignore it! Of course, I knew that before but this episode will hopefully stick over the next block of training.

Project RFP: Weeks 1 to 4

As you might expect, launching into a training plan after 2 quiet months of running started off as quite a struggle! The two months before starting Project RFP I ran 15 hours in April and 11 in May so June was always going to be about building a base.

Week 1 (June 4th – June 10th) (61.3km Planned – 50.8km Completed)

In the days leading up to the start of the project I began to think about how I might try to measure my effort during training and what metrics I might track. In the past I used to keep a very close eye on my heart rate, MAF pace and distance over the week but this time around I made a decision to basically run entirely on feel – the only metric I’ll be monitoring during runs during this project are time and distance. It’s liberating being able to run without worrying about hitting a certain pace or staying in a certain heart rate zone.

Stripping back to basics is exactly what Project Relentless Forward Progress is all about. Going back to where my love for the sport started from and seeing how it pans out. I can’t see myself getting into racing without a watch and without some kind of plan over the course of this but I’m not ruling anything out for future projects.

Week 1 went pretty well. I stuck to the plan I put together using Bryon Powell’s book and enjoyed the running! I had planned to run the Hertfordshire Mid-Week Road Race League as my speed session but on my way there I started to get really anxious about racing on the road and over short distance, so I instead diverted my journey to the woods and decided to hike instead to process my thoughts and feeling. I’m glad I did that because it really solidified the reasons behind this project – back to basics, doing what I love and getting away from the roads!

Week 2 (June 11th – June 17th) (64.7km Planned – 54.8km Completed)

Week 2 had it’s ups and downs. On the upside I brought my weight vest back into use for the first time since 2016 as I feel that using this once a week will really help with my hiking strength, as well as helping with core and leg strength. I also introduced yoga on Friday evenings which is something I have lapsed from over the past year. Previously this really helped with staying injury free and also with mental strength.

On the downside I cut 10km off my planned long run on the weekend and during the shortened version I ran through a big patch of nettles that crowded the trail – I had no other option it was either through them or turn around. My training log covered this with the following:

Ran through a big patch of nettles at 5km which really hurt and now both of my legs from just above the knee to the ankle are tingling/burning! Oh well, I’d rather that and some mileage than no pain and no gain.

It turns out this was an understatement as the tingling grew to burning over the rest of the day and led to a very uncomfortable couple of days!

Project RFP: Weeks 1 to 4

Week 3 (June 18th – June 24th) (64.5km Planned – 67.7km Completed)

Although Monday’s weight vest hike was difficult thanks to the aforementioned nettle sting, the rest of the week panned out fantastically. I enjoyed all of the running and I could feel my strenght starting to build as the week went on – hills felt that bit easier, the speed on the road when I hit those sections and I didn’t find it difficult to find a metronome consistency on the flatter sections.

On the Saturday I secured a place at next year’s South Downs Way 50 before heading over Wendover Woods to run a lap of the WW50 course with my buddy Trevor. This was a ‘proper’ ultra training run – 95% trail, a lot of steep hiking and a lot of steep and controlled downhill running! I was pleased that on the 3km road section to finish the run I managed to overhaul my tiredness and put in a really strong, fast finish.

Saturday also marked the foundation of next year’s main project, which will be the Centurion Grand Slam of 50s! The South Downs Way in April, North Downs Way in May, Chiltern Wonderland in September and Wendover Woods in November.

Week 4 (June 25th – July 1st) (57.1km Planned – 65.3km Completed)

I would say that at the end of Week 4 I felt (and still feel) very strong, my base build will continue to the end of Week 6 but if it continues in the this direction I should be very fit for the Tring 50k in September and hopefully the Kings Forest 50k in October.

I have found that my Tuesday and Thursday runs are great and Sarah and I have managed to find a consistency and synergy with our respective training plans. On Tuesday and Thursday Sarah attends Body Pump and sometimes Abs & Back classes at our local gym which gives me a few options when it comes to running sessions on those days – they always end at the front of the gym at the time Sarah finishes her classes and then I get a lift home! Over Weeks 2, 3 and 4 this really came together and I’ve managed to find a 10k direct route with a few trail loops that can bring me up to 12 to 16k when required.

The best run of Week 4 was definitely my Saturday long run effort. 26km, consisting of 5x5km trail loops in our local park. Gravel, dirt, grass and little bit of pavement. I will close this post with my training log entry from this run:

5 laps of Rothamsted Park with a goal of hitting 2hrs for 25km – no gels, 600ml handheld with water only. My plan for Chiltern 50k is to run the first 25km in about 2h15/20m. After this run it’s still the plan!

Laps 1-3 were solid – pretty much 22min and some seconds each. There was a gentle breeze which lulled me in to a false sense of security as the rising temperature wasn’t noticeable.

Stopped at end of Lap 3 to refill handheld with cold water from car and to douse my head as when I stopped I could feel it was getting very hot!

Lap 4 I took a bit easier as I started to feel the heat. I held back guzzling water as the aim of the run was to suffer a bit, in all honesty! I also had to fight the urge to eat the Gu I was carrying as I knew Lap 5 was going to be tough going without it.

Lap 5, predictably, was really difficult! I felt the heat a lot and could feel myself having to try really hard to keep a reasonable pace. Running in the heat with no calories and minimal water is hard work!

By the time I got back to my car I was extremely glad to finish and to be able to break out my cold water stash to wash down a hastily eaten banana! I’m really happy I stuck with the 5 laps as I contemplated bailing at the end of Lap 3 and Lap 4!

Week 3: Wendover Woods long run

Project RFP

A new project for 26.2 & Beyond…

What?

As of Tuesday 5th June I will be following a 20 week training plan adapted from Bryon Powell’s ‘Relentless Forward Progress‘ 50 mile per week 50k training plan.

Bryon’s plan is normally 24 weeks but for first 4 I was in India and I’d already signed up to a 50k in October so it fits quite well.

The adaption to the plan comes from slightly increased mileage during some weeks as I will be running a trail 50k in Week 5 and a trail marathon in Week 9 and if I get off the wait list a 50 miler in Week 14. Additionally some of the mid-week speed work will be done during the Mid-Week Road Race League that I am part of, running for Watford Joggers.

I will aim to post progress updates for Weeks 1-4, Weeks 5-8, Weeks 9-12, Weeks 13-16 and Weeks 17-20.

Why?

I have put together my own training plans before now and when I first started out I totally winged it by trial and error! During my last Project I decided to take on a coach and that worked out quite well – I nabbed a number of road PRs but I didn’t feel that being coached was for me.

Therefore, seeking a new challenge, I thought I’d try something I have never done before. Namely, following a fixed training plan from a book or web source. For me, there was only one plan to turn to once I’d committed to running the Kings Forest 50k and that was ‘Relentless Forward Progress’.

I’ve had Bryon Powell’s book since 2013 but only very recently did I begin to look at the plans within closely. I have admired iRunFar and Bryon’s writing and adventures for a long time so I figured I would give one of his training plans a whirl, albeit with some fairly major adjustments.

The main goal for this project is to improve my 50k PR at Kings Forest. My current PR stands at 5:13 which was set at Country to Capital 45 way back in 2015 – I know I can significantly improve that time at a standalone 50k race. Kings Forest is just such a race. The course is pretty flat, on a looped crushed gravel and dirt trail which is perfect for an attempt! In addition, I would also like to improve my time at Chiltern 50k in July and Thames Meander in August as I have raced both before, and not very intelligently!

When?

June 7th – Mid-Week Road Race League 10k (Royston)

June 20th – Mid-Week Road Race League 10k (Welwyn)

June 27th – Mid-Week Road Race League 10k (Harlow)

July 12th – Mid-Week Road Race League 10k (Welwyn)

July 14th – Chiltern 50k

August 11th – Thames Meander Marathon

September 15th – Chiltern Wonderland 50 (on wait list)

October 20th – King’s Forest 50k