Friday, February 29, 2008

Ultra Running Research Programme

Lincoln University Human Performance Lab 4.5 mile Treadmill Challenge

Through our involvement with Ambition Life, Martin and I have been invited to take part in the above research programme and on Monday 25th February we went to the University to be “lab rats”.

Although this isn’t a race report I will just mention in passing that before undertaking the 250 mile drive to Lincoln we drove for 2 and a half hours in the opposite direction on Saturday to do the Endurance Life Coastal marathon. Despite being 10 minutes down on our 2007 time, we finished feeling much less tired having maintained a very even pace. Martin was 1st MV50 and I was 3rd lady but we didn’t have time to stay and collect our prizes. We did manage to stuff back the free food before we left though (you won’t be surprised to hear).

Our journey to Lincoln took us via Brandon in Suffolk and Helpston, just north of Peterborough as we killed two (or rather three) birds with one stone and visited friends en route.

By the time we arrived at Lincoln University on Monday morning we had run 28 miles and spent 13 hours in the car since leaving home on Friday evening – just a normal, quiet weekend in the Lascelles/Cummins lifestyle!

This is the point where I hand over to Martin who will do the "scientific" bit!

Normally two days after a tough marathon the last thing we would be doing is exercising to exhaustion, but that is exactly what we had to do, TWICE!

There were two separate tests, one designed to measure Lactate Threshold, Running efficiency and VO2 Max. The other was intended to get us to maximum Heart rate. The first one was hard enough, we started slowly, 10 minute mile pace, or 9 km/hour (scientists measure everything in metric units), and progressing every 3 minutes by 1km/hour until we reached the point where we were definitely producing a sufficiently elevated Lactate level to measure the Lactate threshold and tipping point. This measurement was done by taking a drop of blood every 3 minutes - not an easy thing to do while continuing to run at speed. It felt a lot like trying to put your drinks bottle back into a back pack while trying to run normally and maintain a position on the treadmill. The treadmill by the way was impressively huge. About 2 metres long by over 1 metre wide. And it didn't feel nice and soft and bouncy like the health club ones, so it was like road running. I even closed my eyes for a while to see if I could pretend I was running on the road, but the gas mask strapped to my face spoiled the illusion. Oh yes, that was the other thing, we had to breathe normally as possible while being tied to the gas analyser by two thin tubes. Actually we didn't breathe through these tubes, but they still got in the way as they flopped from side to side, so that didn't help. It also didn't help that the treadmill suddenly cut out for no apparent reason just as I was getting into the most intense part of the test so I had to repeat it, and it stopped twice while Lin was starting her tests. Apart from that though, I suppose the tests went well, and the results were worthwhile, although they must have been somewhat affected by our weakened post-marathon condition. The second ordeal was easily the worse. Running at 2km per hour below our top speed from the first test, the slope of the treadmill was raised by one degree a minute until we just could not continue running at that speed. Each minute seemed to take longer and longer to pass, and the last 20 seconds before I finally threw in the towel being the hardest running I can remember doing. Strangely though, a minute after stopping, I was chiding myself for giving up so easily, since I hadn't nearly reached the heart rate that I regularly achieve at the end of 5 or 10k races. Probably the difference is that I was not chasing a time, or a competitor, and so the only thing I had to focus on was how painful it was, and how easy it would be to stop. I think Lin was a bit braver than me, judging by the amount of sweat pouring off her after she stopped. The whole experience was very interesting, but hard work! Afterwards we had a chat with Paul, the guy doing the research that we were now a part of. On our arrival home we received an email from him with a report giving the results which I had better admit right away clearly showed that, despite our similar race performances, Lin was by far the more talented runner with an outstanding Running Economy. Mine was average, although my VO2 Max was higher, as you would expect because of typical gender differences in that measurement. We were each given recommendations for improving our fitness and performance, mainly involving more speed work, and Heart Rate targets. So we know what we need to do to improve our running. Its less of the leisurely pub runs and carefree jogging through the countryside, and more serious timed road running with intervals, repeats and sets. Oh, and less beer since that impedes the recovery process from all that hard training.I'm not sure I want to be that serious about running, it doesn't sound much fun!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dalwood Three Hills Plus

Just a short report from herself today: Lots of mud, tracks, some tarmac, nice easy stretches across fields, some very cold streams, and the hills. It was advertised as Three Hills, but according to those who know the area an extra hill was inserted somewhere around 7 to 8 miles. According to the garmin it was about 8.9 miles at the 8 mile marker, and the marshal wearily acknowledged I wasn’t the first to tell him that. At the finish line general opinion was around 10.7 miles. Usual finish through the river to the line, then a search for discarded gloves and a weary trudge half a mile up the lane to the car park.

Richard said:

Herself seems to paint a fairly bleak (or perhaps not colourful enough) description of yet another wonderful run in a great location, with excellent marshals and supporters and facilities. I must admit the sun wasn’t shining for a change, but there was no wind, and the weather was very clement for February, perfect running conditions. Personally I found the various bits of mud and water exactly to my liking. The 4 trigs effort seems to have strengthened my legs a bit and I was able to stay in close contact and finally beat my closest and deadliest rival Mr Robert Millward.

Herself again:

I did enjoy some bits of it: loads of snowdrops, some daffodils bravely growing in the middle of a track, and even more optimistic – a load of frogspawn in one of the puddles along the track. It was mentally very easy just following the tape and arrows after last week’s find your own way effort. However a downer was being beaten by two ladies, Bev and Jo who I just about beat last week.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Four Trigs

Sunday 17th Feb saw Richard and Lesley at the Sidmouth 4 Trigs Challenge. This is a find your own way, almost totally off-road, hilly 18 miler, with nine checkpoints. Normally we wouldn’t have touched a find your own way run with the proverbial barge pole, but just after Christmas, Lin and Martin persuaded us to recce the course with them. Two more recce runs followed and we felt confident enough to enter and I’m really please we did. Once again the weather was perfect, no wind, clear blue skies with wall-to-wall sunshine. I won’t go into all the details of the run ‘cos I want to get something on the blog before Lin and Martin as once again they beat me. In short I followed my planned route without getting lost but slowed to a miserable pace after the fourth trig. Although I had stayed ahead of Lin & Martin until now, they soon went past me, although I did briefly catch then up again, mainly because I failed to stop and punch my number at the ninth check point. Martin warned that there would be repercussions if I beat them following this slight technical infringement. The last steep step climb brought me to a standstill on several occasions, but once we were over the top of the last hill, it felt quite good cruising down the hill into Sidmouth. No T-shirt or medal (thank God), but a huge pasty and slice of cake and tea or coffee. Many thanks to the race organiser, a real value for money friendly run with fantastic scenery.

Before the race started Lesley was bleating about almost everything that could go wrong, getting lost, falling over, failing to finish, too cold etc. She even took the race organiser’s phone number in case of trouble. However she once again finished in a faster than expected time and I only just managed to finish my pasty and leave the clubhouse to see her confidently crossing the line.

Four Trigs

Perfect weather greeted us at Sidmouth for the Four Trigs race and Maiden Newton Running Club had doubled it's entry from last year, as Richard and Lesley joined us on the start line.
This year the route followed a clockwise circuit which gave us the advantage of half a mile of flat running before we hit the first hill, but also meant that all the really tough climbs would be on the final stretch of coast when the legs were at their most tired.

However that was some way ahead and we set off at 9.30am into the glorious Spring sunshine. Richard overtook us on Peak Hill as we made our way west towards the first trig point, and very quickly opened up a useful lead. As we turned inland we were treated to the occasional glimpse of his yellow shirt ahead of us but we were more concerned with the chasing pack of Axe Valley Runners who pushed us all the way.

Martin, possibly affected by the weather definitely had a spring in his step and I was working hard to try and stay with him as we safely negotiated the tricky woodland maze and began the long climb up to the second trig point - a welcome drink and jelly babies awaited us here and then it was on to my favourite part of the inland section - some good running along forest tracks and then a downhill sweep to Sidford and the third road crossing.
As we climbed up to towards the third trig we once again glimpsed Richard, a mere 50 yards or so ahead of us...and walking, but he disappeared into the woods ahead of us and by the time we all emerged having checked through the next trig, he had disappeared. Had he got badly lost in the woods or had he increased his lead?

The AVR runners were still snapping at our heels and as there were 5 of them we were under pressure to reach the check points ahead of them, or form an orderly queue. Once we had passed through the donkey sanctuary (all those cute donkeys enjoying the sunshine and no time to stop for a cuddle today) we opened up a gap and could then just concentrate on enjoying the level section as we headed through Weston and turned back to the coast and the final trig.

The last trig is out and back from the route of the coastal path, and sure enough as we were on our way out we met Richard on his way back. He told us he was a bit tired (well I think that's what "I'm f*****" means) hardening our determination to catch him up.
The stretch back along the coast is the most scenic, but also has the toughest climbs. First down to Westonmouth where you descend to the beach for 50 yards of pre Grizzly training on the shingle before climbing the cruelly placed steps up the other side, and we were steadily gaining on the yellow shirt ahead of us. Then another drop down to Salcombe mouth - no taking the easy option along the beach today - the tide was in and there had been a rock fall since we had run it earlier in the year.

On the long hard climb up from Salcombe we finally caught Richard and opened up a small lead as we struggled upwards, but he caught us briefly as we descended the other side. The toughest hill still awaited us and it really is a killer, especially at this stage. The reward for finally reaching the top is the signpost saying "Sidmouth 2/3 mile" and knowing that it's all downhill! We really went for it now, I wasn't sure if we had got far enough ahead of Richard to hold our lead on the downhill - where he is far stronger than me - but despite much nervous glancing over shoulders there was no sign of him and we arrived back at the Yacht Club in 2 hours 52 minutes, just outside of last year's time - but both of us thought that it was much tougher this way round - and more importantly (to me!) I had defended my title successfully and finished first lady again.

Richard wasn't far behind us and then we had time for a dip in the sea (which was only slightly colder than the showers) before enjoying the free post race refreshments and then cheering Lesley home - who appeared to have enjoyed herself so much that she ran straight past the finish and for a moment we thought she was going to do a second circuit. Fortunately good sense prevailed.

And here are the pictures..............................
How many runners buried under there?!
Grim determination on the race to the top of Peak Hill
Plenty more hills where this one came from
And some of them go down!
Sorry chaps, no carrots today
Not far on the pebbles
Does he know we're behind him?
He knows we're in front of him now!
The last, but certainly not least hill

What kept you?
Come on in, the water's.............bloody freezing!
No whining today, just wine
Lesley starts her second lap

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tring to Town

As I can feel your hearts sinking at the prospect of one of my lengthy race reports and in view of the distance, I shall cut the usual preamble and proceed straight to the start line.

8.15am – Pendlebury Manor Hotel, Tring

113 runners on the start line for the 40 mile race along the Grand Union Canal to Kew, and some of these had already completed the distance in reverse the previous day. We felt like light weights who had turned up to a full/half marathon just to do 13.1 miles!

It was about half a mile out of the hotel and along the road to get onto the canal and to begin with it was a little crowded as the tow path was narrow and everyone was settling into their pace. It was great to be running so easily and still have Mr Sensibility running behind me saying “too fast, we’re going too fast”!! However, as usual he was right and we tried to keep to our pre race plan of 9 minute miles which was calculated to bring us in at 6 hours. It’s funny how, if you are doing a 10 mile race, it seems quite a long way, but when your mind set is to cover 40 miles, the first 10 miles fly past. We reached 10 miles in about 1.27, so just under target pace.

The next 10 miles passed uneventfully enough apart from passing the 3rd and 2nd placed ladies. In 2nd place (until we passed her) was the famous Mimi Anderson (you’re forgiven if you’ve no idea who she is – her fame only spreads to ultra running and Ambition Life in particular – but it was an exciting moment for me!). However, to put this in perspective, she had, as you would expect of her, also completed the previous day in a very respectable 5.43.00. As we drew close to 20 miles, we were both working just a little harder to keep on the pace, but again we went through 20 miles in 2.57, so still under target pace.

The absolute low point came in the next few miles when we passed a drunken tramp collapsed at the side of the tow path with various bodily fluids leaking from him, which had to be hurdled. Martin remarked that no matter how bad we felt, we definitely didn’t feel as bad as he did! Flippancy aside, we later heard that said tramp had died and the towpath had been closed – causing slower runners to make a diversion. It was opposite ends of the coin – at the front of the field, elite athletes and en route the lowest form of existence possible to attain.

Now that I’ve cheered you all up, on with the race report. The next 10 miles saw our pace slowing a little and keeping going became increasingly difficult. We were still catching and passing people who had not been as sensible as Martin about pacing, and we were gradually gaining on the one remaining female runner still ahead of us. At the final check point she lingered a little too long and we got ahead of her. It was evidently a nasty shock for her, she had no idea her first position was under threat (actually it wasn’t, I was quite incapable of posing a threat to anything that was faster than stationary by this stage!). So for a few heady moments I was “first lady”, but it didn’t last for long and she soon passed us. I think she had been taking it fairly easy up until then as she pulled away quite easily and eventually finished 4 minutes ahead of us. The amazing thing was that she had run yesterday as well in an impressive 5.20 so she was clearly in a different league than me.

We just managed to keep on target at mile 30 which we went through at 4.29, but it was a real struggle now and our pace fell off dramatically. Lack of training and the colds which we’d both brought with us to Tring began to take effect, and it really was mind over matter just to keep moving. I must have been in a better frame of mind than usual at this stage in a long race as Martin later thanked me for “not whining too much!”

The high point was discovering that the rumour we had heard about the course being short of 40 miles was absolutely true, and most unexpected because we had found out to our cost in the past that Ambition Life events are usually longer than advertised (don’t start me on Day 2 of MOB Coast!!!). We left the canal at Kew and began to follow the markers towards the finish at the Premier Lodge Hotel – never has a High Street seemed so long, but eventually we arrived and thanks to the slightly short course we had managed to achieve our target – finishing in 19th and 20th places overall for Day 2 in 5 hours 52.

Hats off to the overall winner – who completed Day 1 in 4.26 and Day 2 in 4.27 and looked as though he’d just been out for a stroll – awesome!

I won’t bore you with the details of Kew Tube station being a mile walk away and then not having any trains running, the bus replacement service or the multiple change of trains involved in getting back to Tring, nor the 3 hour drive home, suffice to say that next year we will be the tough guys completing both days – much easier logistically to arrive back where you started!!