Saturday, 11 June 2016

Hit the road, Jack.

It seems somewhat strange to start a Blog entitled "Trails and Ales" just as I enter a period of (mostly) dedicated road running pre-Robin Hood Marathon but hey, sometimes life throws you a curve-ball. It might mean there will be slightly more "ale" content than "trail" content between now and September, though the focus will still be on distance running and I'm pretty sure I'll be sneaking in the odd long run on singletrack...

So, who am I? My name's Ben. I run. I prefer to run on trails, and I prefer to run long. Like, really long. Ultramarathons, to be precise. Admittedly, so far I've only got one "official" ultra under my belt (the excellent Kielder 50k, run by High Terrain events), and one "Y'know what'd be fun? Catching the train to Newcastle and then running home" microadventure, but >26.2 feels like home. Next year I plan on returning to Kielder for the 80k, and then tackling the Ultimate Trails 110k in the summer. After that *gulp* a hundred-miler.


But first, there's the small question of a road marathon PB. Unless you're a runner, you probably won't have heard that the Greater Manchester Marathon was found to be short three years running (Ha! Get it?!). UK Athletics, understandably, don't recognise those races as having been marathons and so everyone's times are effectively null-and-void, at least by one way of looking at it. Who has two thumbs and set his road marathon PB at Manchester in 2015? This guy. Well, I thought I set my road marathon PB. Anyway. I'd planned on running Robin Hood this year long before that all came out; it's in Nottingham, where our families live, and I can combine it with taking my little boy to visit his grandparents. It wasn't particularly a goal race for me though. Suddenly, it's become one, and that means track repeats and tempo runs to get some speed into these legs.

The alarm went off at 5am Monday morning, and I dragged myself out of bed, flailed around in my kit drawer to find something suitable to wear, and then staggered downstairs to brew a coffee and inhale a ClifBar. I was due to return to the track for the first time in 3 years, and I wasn't especially thrilled about it. Last time I'd done speedwork I ended up tearing a calf muscle and DNSing the 2013 Kielder Marathon. To be fair, I trained like an idiot that summer, and didn't really have a clue what I was doing. Still, despite having a clear plan to follow this time, I was apprehensive. 8x400m intervals at 5.30m/m pace. For me, that's fast.

I got to the leisure centre about 5 minutes before it opened, which gave me time to put on my HRM and attract some strange looks from the woman parked in the car next to me whilst I did so. What, doesn't everyone tie pieces of black material around their chest in a car park on a Monday morning? No matter, at that point the doors were unlocked and we all filed in. I approached the desk.

"Can I use the track, please?" I politely asked.

"Are you a member...?" (to be said in your finest League of Gentlemen voice)

"Err... yes?" I replied, feebly clutching my Active Northumberland card. I assumed that meant I was a member but, since I have generally treated the gym as a necessary evil to be considered only in seriously inclement weather (Oh, hi there Winter 2015/16! How's it going?!), I genuinely have no idea whether I count as a member or not.

"Do you pay by Direct Debit?" she asked.

"No, but I've used the track before. I did it pay-as-you-go."

"How much did you pay?"

This is going well, I thought. Call me crazy, but I would expect someone who is providing a service or a product to know how much said service or product costs.

"I dunno... A couple of quid, I think."

"Oh, just go and use the track. I haven't got a till."

Well, that's settled then,

"I'll pay you when I'm done if you can figure out how much I owe..?" I replied, as I made my way out.

Ah, the track. A hamster's wheel that's been knocked on its side, and a world away from my beloved pine forests. Still, needs must, and I knew I needed the consistent surface and the easy distance markers for the day's workout. Earbuds in, Rage Against The Machine cranked (my traditional "Beast Mode" soundtrack) and off I went. 4 laps to warm up, stretch, 8x400m with 200m recovery between each interval, 4 laps to cool down, stretch.

It seems I suck at pacing. Looking at my Strava entry, my pace dips around 200m. Obviously, that's roughly when I checked my watch, because then it picks up again. Clearly, running hilly terrain (even the roads where I live have some decent vert) makes consistent pacing virtually impossible, and I'll need to develop the knack. Anyway, workout done, and by the time I was ready to leave the lady on the desk had figured out how much I owed her, so I duly settled my debt. Returned home, ate porridge, went to work, did some yoga later. Sorted.

Tuesday was cross-training. Not a lot to say about that. I'm working out of Quick Strength for Runners. I recommend it, but mainly because misery loves company (it's actually very very good, I just find cross-training to fit under the heading of "necessary evil"). I'm approaching the end of a cycle of that, at which point I'll be switching over to Jillian Michael's 6 Week Six-Pack (don't knock it till you've tried it! Jillian does a killer workout.) until I'm 9 weeks out from Robin Hood, and then I'll start another Quick Strength cycle. Ended the day with more yoga.

Wednesday, did nothing. Wednesday was actually supposed to be cross-training, not Tuesday, but I misread my calendar. Shit happens. I took it as a complete rest day and wandered up the lane with my camera. If you're interested in the stuff that comes out of that, head over to Instagram,

Thursday = tempo run. Alarm went off at 6. Dragged myself out of bed. Grabbed kit and creaked downstairs. Literally creaked; muscles and ligaments were pretty tight. Didn't bother with coffee or a ClifBar this morning, as it was "only" 3 miles at tempo which, for me following this plan, is 6.30m/m.

Bad idea. Probably should have got up earlier and had something as the legs just didn't want to turn over. I completed the workout (actually slightly too fast due to my aforementioned sucky pacing abilities) but it wasn't fun. My body's definitely having a few "WTF?!" moments right now; it's just got used to me asking it to run further than most people drive in a day, and now I'm asking it to do the polar opposite. Hard efforts have always been challenging for me first thing but the oh-so-tricky house of cards that is being a full-time employed husband and father with a distance running addiction requires it. Type 2 fun, for sure. In an interesting turn of events, the shirt I grabbed was my 2012 Blaydon Race t-shirt. I virtually never wear that (maybe 3 times ever?), and had no idea what the date was. It was, of course, 9 June, and so the day of the Blaydon Race. Witchcraft, I tell you.

Friday: more cross training. Friday is traditionally "curry and beer" night in our household, and tonight did not disappoint. The curry in question was a saag paneer, cooked by yours truly, and the beer was Fursty Ferret. Not the most unusual of beers, but it's a regular of ours and happened to be in the fridge. My palate is leaning more towards porters and stouts at the moment but since we appear to have had the brief period of time that passes for "summer" in Northumberland, even I will concede that something a bit lighter is more appropriate, and there are worse choices than Fursty Ferret.

Saturday was long run day. Given I'm starting a new training block, this wasn't actually that long by my normal standards, being a 10 miler. It was to be run at 7.30m/m pace, which should have been fine. Indeed, it would have been fine, only I didn't account for the elevation in the route I planned out weeks ago and loaded into my watch.

So far as vert goes, it's not that bad really. 1181ft gain. I've certainly done "worse". It does mean, however, that consistent pacing is basically impossible. Whilst I averaged 7.22m/m over the entire run, and even my mile splits look reasonable, they don't show the full story, which is that at times I was barely managing 10.30m/m, and at one point I dropped to 11.20m/m. Robin Hood is relatively flat and so I need to be working on holding a consistent pace, not grinding up hills and then having to fly down them to make up time. Finding a long run in the Shire that doesn't involve that kind of vert is pretty much impossible though, so I may just have to deal with it, embrace the added benefits of hills (speedwork in disguise), and hope I can nail my consistent pacing through track and tempo sessions. 

This week has seen me run in Injinji socks for the first time. Long a staple of ultrarunners in the US, they don't seem to be that common in the UK. That said, I'm a convert. They feel a bit weird when you first put them on, and definitely won't facilitate quick changes at aid stations, but once you're wearing them they're great. I'm rocking the Original Weight Performance 2.0 RUN mini crews. Not entirely sure what that all means, but that matters not. I did originally fancy the TRAIL mini crews but apparently they've been discontinued in the UK. I honestly can't see a reason why the RUN won't be usable off road; the main difference seems to be that the TRAIL have more cushioning (which is not necessarily an advantage; it depends on how minimal you like to go) and they have a double cuff to stop "trail trash" ending up inside. Next time I race an ultra I'm probably going to wear debris gaiters anyway, so that's pretty much a non-issue. Thanks to Northern Runner for letting me try for size (and buy) in person, and to The Ultramarathon Running Store for putting up with me cancelling orders (I did end up buying two pairs from them once I was certain on sizing).

I've also swapped out my tried and tested Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 12SET race vest for a Nathan Quick Draw Plus handheld, since I plan on just using water stations at Robin Hood and therefore didn't want to train with the vest on. Specificity, doncha know? So far, I'm unconvinced. The product itself is solid, and I have no complaints about quality; I think I just don't like handhelds. I've used hydration packs for so long (first various CamelBaks, and then the aforementioned Salomon) that it feels kind of unnatural to have a bottle in my hand. Plus, it seems I subconsciously exert a death-grip on it whilst running which is A Bad Thing; any excess tension is a waste of energy better used for smashing a PB. That said, it wasn't anything like as bad at a slower pace, so maybe I just need to learn to relax more generally on tempo runs.

So that's it. Week one of marathon training: done. Week two, let's do this shit.

UPDATE: Saturday afternoon saw an impromptu trip to the pub. Specifically, the Tannery. Normally I'd say this has the best selection of ales in Hexham, but it was a bit disappointing this time. I try and support local microbreweries whenever possible, and so we both had a pint of Pale, by Credence Brewing of Amble.

Credence Brewing say:

Credence Pale is our take on a best bitter. It's modern, clean and highly drinkable. Speciality malts deliver sweet biscuit flavours which are balanced with floral, blackcurrant and spicy notes from carefully selected new world hops.

Clean and drinkable, I'd agree with. I couldn't taste any biscuit or blackcurrant though. In fact, I couldn't taste much of anything. It was a pleasant enough drink, very subtle and inoffensive, but I'm sorry to say not a beer I'd seek out again.

Sunday will be a yoga day. Yoga Today used to sell one-off classes, before they went to a subscription model, and I made sure to buy their "Yoga for Runners". It's really good for stretching out the quads and hip-flexors, both of which I find get very tight very quickly. It's an hour long, and with Daddy-duties I don't usually have time for it, instead relying on the impossibly photogenic Tim Senesi's videos; once or twice a week though it's really good.

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