Author Archives: Al Flowers

About Al Flowers

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

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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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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

Project Road Runner: conclusion

I set out to better my road racing PRs and aside from missing out on 5k,  5 miles and 10k I have set personal bests at 10 miles (1:04:56), Half Marathon (1:28:06) and Marathon (3:16:49). Project Road Runner is now officially complete!

I am extremely pleased with all of those results – significant improvements! I am sure that 5k, 5 miles and 10k will follow at some point in the future – I just couldn’t find space in my racing schedule for those distances without them impacting on my overall goal of a marathon PR.

What did I learn?

Well, I learned that unless I really love something I struggle to engage fully in the process. I found it very difficult to do the necessary longer and faster road runs required throughout the winter and longed for my usual winter trail and treadmill efforts. But with that being said I think I may have also learned I could be able to run faster at an Autumn or early Winter marathon. If I set a race goal in that period I could train through the Spring and Summer months which would be far more enjoyable because during this time I don’t mind running track, road or trail; I just love being outside.

I also learned that maybe being coached isn’t for me. I thank my coach for teaching me a lot about myself and some more about eating and drinking the right amounts during training and racing but I really missed being able to set my own schedule. A lot of people say that having a coach helps them to feel more accountable to something other than themselves but for me, honestly, I think it became another source of perceived authority to rebel against. I had wanted to try and train for a sub-3 hour marathon in April and then continue into some fast 70.3 triathlon training and my coach was aware of that. From October 2017 my training looked so much more different than I was used to – it knocked my confidence which in turn threw my consistency. The learning I took from this is that although I enjoyed the multi-sport races I did with my own cobbled together ‘training’ prior to being coached, I did not enjoy the routine and feel of actual triathlon training. It basically boiled down to ‘I’m a runner and I want to run – lofty triathlon goals be damned!’. So, those lofty triathlon goals have been damned and I may or may not race a 70.3 in September (I’m entered but  may DNS or drop down to Standard distance).

The Project has given me the confidence in my speed over shorter distances and I think that it will translate well now I’m heading back to trails and ultras. I will still race shorter road races and in August I have a flat trail marathon planned and then November a relatively flat 50k planned. The focus after Project Road Runner is to get back into some consistency with my run training, I am very much looking forward to following a loosely structured program but with no external oversight other than my Strava friends and myself!

It is a strange conclusion to the project as I thought I would find myself in the best shape I’d ever been in but I really don’t. Yes, I’ve set some decent PRs but if anything I feel quite unfit at the moment! This is probably down to my lack of consistency – I’ve weighed myself and I’m no heavier than usual, my resting HR is pretty much averaging out the same but there is some sort of innate confidence that is missing. I know this will return and I hope it returns sooner rather than later!

However, before I get back to training consistently, I have 20 days in India to look forward to! Sarah and I fly out to Amritsar on May 3rd and we’ll be back home on May 24th. Until then I wish you all happy running.

Project Road Runner: update

For those that don’t know, Project Road Runner is my road running break from trail ultras. The why and wherefore can be found by clicking here.

With 4 days to go until the Finchley 20, 31 days to go until the Brighton Marathon and 45 days to go until the Flitwick 10k the Project is nearing its end! It’s been a bumpy ride for sure. I lost sight of the process and then lost my mojo for quite a while so my training hasn’t been very consistent since Christmas but the positives are there. I have learned a lot about myself and what truly motivates me and I have tried new training methods and this has actually led to some good results and a few PRs along the way.

I will go into more detail when I write the Project Road Runner Roundup a few days after the Flitwick 10k and then I’m flying off to India for most of May and a well earned break from any kind of structure – either at work, at home or at play (let’s face it, running for most of us is play)!

For those interested, I have kept the parameters the same – all new PRs need to be set at races and I’ve improved my 10 mile and Half Marathon times twice! I had wanted to go for my 5 Mile and 5k PRs too during this time but I scrapped that idea as I didn’t want to burn out by over training and/or over racing. The only two left to fall are my Marathon and 10k PRs!

Here is a snapshot of the PRs set during the Project so far:

 

10 Miles:

Start of the Project: 1:07:12 (Training, June 8th 2016)

1:05:14 (Ricky Road Run, October 29th 2017)

1:04:56 (Buntingford Year End 10, December 31st 2017)

Half Marathon:

Start of the Project: 1:28:43 (St. Albans Half Marathon, June 11th 2017)

1:28:41 (Hertfordshire Half Marathon, November 19th 2017)

1:28:06 (Watford Marathon, February 4th 2018)

I will close this short update with the two PRs that are currently in my sights:

Marathon:

Start of the Project: 3:19:10 (Frankfurt Marathon, October 26th 2014)

Goal: Initially I set the lofty goal of 2:55 but judging by how I feel at the moment and where my fitness is I will be happy with 3:15 and surprised by anything better than that!

10k:

Start of the Project: 37:50 (Bushey 10k, July 6th 2014)

Goal: This is my longest standing PR and one I still look at and wonder ‘How?!’. I will be happy to shave even a second off this and I’d be equally happy to run under 39:00! We will see how it pans out on the day.

Desire

Sarah and I went for an unexpectedly soaking wet, freezing cold hike on the blustery downs of Dunstable yesterday.

The hike in itself was unexpected as I had intended to race the Fred Hughes 10 Mile road race in the morning. However, that was not meant to be.  I registered a DNS for no other reason than the desire to race was not there when I woke up. This is highly unusual. I had a terrible night of sleep – worse than the usual pre-race broken sleep kind of thing, I had some strange dreams that I kept dropping in and out of  and my stomach was causing me some difficulty. When my alarm went off at 0645 I was already awake and had been for some time. I didn’t feel wonderful but I got out of bed at 0700 and began to half heartedly prepare to race as I normally would.

After some time moping around my house, trying to be quiet so not to wake Sarah I realised I had accomplished little by way of pre-race preparation – I hadn’t made a coffee, I hadn’t started porridge, I hadn’t showered. I had, however, walked in and out of each room in my house just enough times to register that I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be racing. For the first time ever on a race morning the desire wasn’t there – the only time I’ve come close to this was the Ox Ultra in May 2015 and TDS in August 2016 and both of those were also down to stomach problems and sleep issues – I still managed to go through my pre-race routine and make it the start line of both (and the finish line of one).

In the end I tried to gee myself up until about 0845 but I gave up when I came to the realisation that racing wasn’t going to happen. I packed up my gear, drank some water and went back to bed. Mentally I didn’t feel great but within 15 or 20 minutes I was asleep and didn’t wake again until 1215. When I woke up I knew I’d made the right decision because I didn’t have a heavy heart and my mind wasn’t shouting at me – I felt rested and I looked forward to sharing the day with Sarah. I lay in bed for some time in the peace and quiet and tried to make sense of the loss of desire. I came to a conclusion:

  • I like running fast on the road, but my heart and mind desire the trail
  • I am still recovering from illness so I’m not feeling 100% physically – I need rest (I made this conclusion based on the fact I slept until 1230 the day before too!)

I felt indifferent to having missed the race and felt, as I mentioned above, happy that I would get to spend some quality time with Sarah without having to dedicate some or all of the day to my sometimes all consuming lifestyle. I do hope that this DNS and loss of desire is just a blip, in fact I am as certain as you can be that it is. Whilst coming to my conclusion I thought about a lot of factors and in addition to the points raised above I do feel that racing Fred Hughes could have been one race too many with Watford Half Marathon, Round 5 of the cross country season and the National Cross Country Championships all coming up in February!

Project Road Runner is still underway and I’ve now reset and refocused on the goal of running a PR at Brighton Marathon and taking down some other road PRs whilst I’m at it.

As for the unexpected hike – the wind chill factor made all the difference, making our faces and hands turn numb very quickly. Meanwhile the rain fell harder and the ground grew softer, thus the going got tougher! Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed myself even though I really should invest in some GoreTex trail shoes and vapour barrier socks – my socks were soaked and my feet were very sore, as they usually are if they inevitably get wet during hikes at this time of year. I’m not sure that Sarah was enamoured with the surroundings, but the edge was softened when we met some pigs and cows along the route.

As the darkness closed in, the wind grew stronger and the rain fell harder there were a few certainties: my desire for the trail was no less dampened, my heart had soared, my smile broadened and my mind had relaxed with each step!

2018 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 2018 in life and in sport:

Endurance Sports

  1. Finish every race I start
  2. Win a race or podium (I say this every year…)
  3. Improve my road marathon PR
  4. Race and finish a 70.3 Triathlon
  5. Start and finish a 100 mile Sportive

Life

  1. Advocate for the vegan/tee-total lifestyle
  2. Enjoy the experience of India in May!
  3. Start a personal trainer, fitness instructor or coaching course

Thanks & Praise

There are many things I love about being an endurance addict, and there are many things I love about endurance sports and adventures. One thing that I think worth mentioning is the plethora of blogs that are available to runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes and hikers of long and arduous distances!

As much as I like writing my own blog and planning my own adventures and race calendars, I really enjoy reading about how other people go about their own racing and planning. There is a lot to be gained from reading about a race or an adventure from the perspective of somebody else – inspiration, guidance and entertainment being a few reasons to take the time to look around and see what’s out there.

Below is a list of blogs I read fairly regularly. Obviously there are the usual outlets for commentary and news – Trail Runner, iRunFarAltitude, IMTalk, OxygenAddict, Ultrarunnerpodcast.com, TalkUltra – but this list is a little more grassroots. There are a smattering of professionals, some semi-professionals and amateurs like myself but all have something different to offer. Thanks to everybody on the list for putting their thoughts down and publishing, all of you have inspired or informed me in one way or another over the years!

John Burton (http://runningjohn.blogspot.co.uk/)

Hi, my name is John Burton. Software product manager by morning, ultra runner by mid-afternoon. If I’m not half-asleep on some conference call you can find me out on the trails tearing it up. Or slogging it out. Or just sitting on a comfortable rock in the sun catching my breath. It’s all good.

Dane Rauschenburg (http://danerunsalot.blogspot.co.uk/)

Both knowledge and experience, when not shared, are wasted.

Jon Fielden (https://www.jonfielden.com/)

I ran my first hundred mile race in 2014 (the Winter 100), my second one in 2015 (South Downs Way 100) and my third one in 2016 (Samphire 100). I loved and hated all of them in equal measure but for some reason I keep going back.

Jill Homer (http://www.jilloutside.com/)

Hello! I’m Jill, a freelance writer and editor living in the forested foothills above Boulder, Colorado. I’m an avid cyclist, hiker, and trail runner who tries to squeeze at least a small adventure into every day. Being outside and on the move is my passion.

John Kelly (http://www.randomforestrunner.com/)

I’m the husband to an incredible wife, the proud father of three kids (a son plus younger boy/girl twins), and have an English Shepherd named Dixie who’s too smart for her own good. I work as a data scientist at a startup in DC to support that family, and I run, bike, and hike to support my ability to do that day job with a clear mind. Oh, and I swim, but only because I like to race and challenge myself and triathlon was a natural extension from the running and biking.

Giles Thurston (http://ultrarun.in)

While I have raced in and enjoyed big races such as half marathons and triathlons over the years, I have found the high numbers of athletes involved make these events feel a little claustrophobic, taking the edge off the overall experience for me. Over time this, combined with my love of both mountains and running in general, has slowly drawn me towards trail running and ultra running.

Stephanie Case (https://ultrarunnergirl.com/)

I’m a Canadian human rights lawyer who discovered ultrarunning nine years ago and now my closet is filled with running shoes, rather than high heels!  To steal from one of my favourite running novels, I run to ‘seek the void’.

Phil Collard (https://philcollard1290.wordpress.com/)

I could ramble on here about my potted history involving cancer, two occasions of being told that I may never walk again, a hip replacement and an unlikely Ironman finish in Sweden or…

Jade Belzberg (http://www.jadebelzberg.com)

Writer, trail runner and MFA candidate. A native of British Columbia but currently residing in San Diego, Jade has been writing since the age of five, when she began recording her family’s travels and RV trips in a collection of journals.

Cody Beals (http://www.codybeals.com)

The objective of this blog is to document the slow, often challenging process of transforming myself into a world class professional triathlete. Too often, we only hear about an athlete’s successes, while their struggles, insecurities and screw-ups don’t get the same billing. It’s all part of the learning process and I haven’t shied away from sharing my highs as well as my lows, like overcoming mental health issues, overtraining and insomnia. In being so open, I hope to demystify elite development and help athletes of all levels learn from my experience.

Sam Pearce (https://thefootpathlesstravelled.wordpress.com/)

I play the French Horn for a living. Weird, huh, but someone’s gotta do it. I’m British. I’m from the countryside, but live in the city. I love to run off road. And cycle, and play cricket, and golf. And yes, I love to play the French Horn too, which is pretty neat for me as I get to do it for my job. But mostly I love running.

Derek Cross (http://longtri.blogspot.co.uk/)

Why do I do this crazy thing called Triathlon? Well because I enjoy it of course. I love the training. Okay, sometimes not the running, but everything else. I love the challenge, pushing myself, getting better, pushing again. I guess you could say I am a little addicted to that side of it. And while it has taken me a while to accept it, I love the racing too. I still tie myself in knots with nerves, but once that gun goes, the mind focuses and I am in my element. Really it is as simple as that.

Zach Bitter (https://zachbitter.com)

Endurance athlete and coach. Driven to find his limitations in a variety of environments and help others find theirs. Loves the trials of the journey as much as the result.

Stephanie Jackson-Horner (https://sjacksonhorner.wordpress.com/)

Everything I do is due to pure 100% love of it and giving things ago, you never know what you can do until you try and you often surprise yourself.

 

Once in a while I might add to my endurance library. Click here to see the latest.

I also like to hear about blogs I may not yet have come across so please feel free to contact me or comment below.