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

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!