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Adios to the cross-country season!

 

So the XC series is over for another year! Having completed what in my mind is the ‘complete xc series’ (Southerns, BUCS, Nationals and Inter-counties) for the first time in a loooong time so here’s a little look back over the last few weeks of racing…

Southern XC in Parliament Hills, London

Representing my home club City of Norwich in our wonderfully bright vests with my long term running buddy Mabel!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling strong at the finish! Here I am on the home straight finishing 40th (my highest ever placing at Southerns). Pleased to see my technique remaining strong after 8km of muddy pain! Thanks to Stu for all the help he’s been giving me on improving my form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUCS XC in Graves Park, Sheffield – 55th

Really pleased with my performance at BUCS (British Universities and Colleges) XC this year. Pleased to have finished 2nd out of all the girls at Sheffield Uni and 55th out of around 600 competitors! Here I am jumping over a hay bale and having a lot of fun!

With Ellie and all smiles after a tough run! Feeling cosy in our #TeamAccelerateInov8 jackets!

 

National XC, Nottingham – 98th

Again feeling strong and super pleased to have snuck into the top 100 in my first nationals as a senior lady. There were almost 800 people in our race, which was totally mental

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Managing to maintain form despite the mud!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inter-counties XC, Loughborough – 111th

Team Norfolk after a not so hilly 8.5km of pain! Pleased to still be making the team and wearing the same vest that I got 10 years ago. It is signed by Steve Cram, so despite the fact that it’s getting rather small I am determined never to get a new one! The field was much stronger than at Nationals so really pleased with where I came and also the fact that I managed to pass a few people who’ve been besting me all season!

 

Lessons learned:

  • Technique technique technique!
  • Hill strength can be transferred to flat speed but it is important to get some tempo sessions in as well
  • I haven’t been injured in ages (touch wood) and I’m putting that down to the strength and conditioning program I’m doing (and also the help and support from the Team at APC when I get a niggle!)

 

As per, thanks to the support from Team Accelerate and Inov8 and the team at APC it’s great to see it making a difference!

 

 

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ctrl, alt, delete

 

I’m rebooting my system.

Since late in 2016, post injury and after a 12 week rest from running, I was keen to get back to routine.  That’s perhaps an understatement.

42 yrs of age, with 10 years of regular running under my belt.  Veteran status.  A successful history which includes 10K, Half Marathon, Cross Country Obstacle races, Mountain Marathons, Ultra Distance Trail Runs and one Parkrun.

So it is with a heavy (tired) heart that I recently concluded that I’d made a mistake in jumping back on the horse, so to speak.

This last 3 months I’ve battled fatigue.  I’ve spent days running to/from work with ever increasing amounts of lethargy to contend with.

The reason…..?

My cup of stress brimmeth over.  I’m trying too hard.  Sure, I’ve done more in the past.  The recent past.  But as bodies will, my body conveniently forgot how to perform at a high level of exercise.

The regularity was missing.  The easy start was skipped, in favour of matching expectation.  The conditioning was overlooked in favour of indulgence.

Invitations to join those who didn’t skip the last three months, readily accepted.  Reality check dismissed.  On went the battle.  The battle has been lost.

In order for me to win the war, I must be honest with myself and get back to a slow steady base of fitness.  Give my body time to heal.  Get stronger.  Rebuild my energy systems.  Shed the fatigue.  Construct circulatory systems.  Re-establish neuromuscular connections.  Gradually introduce the workload and tackle levels 2, then 3 using my Heart Rate monitor as my guide.

Running to feel has clearly allowed me to get carried away with delusions of grandeur.  That’s gotta stop.  Humble pie for one please.

Then 2017 can begin in earnest.

I’ve lost the bloat from too much lazing around (eating like I was still doing 70mile weeks).  I’ve accepted and admitted my mistake.

So to quote Rocky Balboa….. “Let’s start building some hurt bombs”.

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Mountain Hardwear Singletrack 3litre Race Vest – Review

In truth I had a bit of advance notice with the Singletrack, as my wife already owns the larger six litre ‘Fluid’ version which has been on sale at Accelerate for a while, which I love. I’ve even been known to forgo my own pack options and sneak out of the house wearing hers from time to time. It’s lightweight, stable, comfortable and practical. All in all a good (and very cost effective) option, although generally too big for my meagre needs.

You will understand my excitement therefore at getting my hands on the smaller three litre ‘Singletrack’. Because if like me you subscribe to the ‘fast and light’ ethos as not just a running option but more a way of life, but you don’t want to have to take out a second mortgage just to afford the necessary gear, then let me state at the outset the most obvious selling point of this vest. IT COSTS JUST £45. Forty. Five. Pounds. Of course any price is relative to means, but that is pretty much half the price of equivelant packs from brands on an equal footing. I’m looking at you Salomon and Ultimate Direction. I own race vests from both of these premium brands, and having now had a chance to put the Singletrack through it’s paces I can confidently state that it is just as good, and in many ways, even better than many of their offerings.

I got the vest out on a Bolehill Quarry – Hathersage – Stanage loop at the weekend. I carried (easily); 1X iPhone, 1X GoPro camera, 2X energy gels, 1X 500ml softflask, 1X energy bar, 1X Patagonia Houdini windproof jacket, 1X Buff, 1X pair windproof mitts, and a car key. If I had needed it I could have fitted in another layer, extra food and a second 500ml softflask. To my mind, there is sufficient capacity to put in a good day in the hills safely.

Setting out from Surprise View car park, it occurred to me after fifteen minutes or so that I hadn’t thought about the pack once. I took this as a good sign. As far as I’m concerned if I don’t realise I’m wearing it then it isn’t causing me any issues, and in turn it’s doing it’s job.

And it does it’s job very well. There was ZERO bounce. Not a millimetre of unwanted movement. In terms of fit and feel it reminds me of the first and second gen Ultimate Direction AK vest, but rather than bottles up around your ears they are instead sensibly placed and held securely lower around the ribs.

From the front

With a bottle, GoPro and gels at the front, I found access to all items very easy with no unnecessary fiddling. Everything was accessible on the move. All the items in the back of the pack were held, again, securely, and caused no disruption to my natural movement. The pack’s stability seems to eminate in no small part from two very thick bands of elastic that wrap around the sides of the ribs. At first I was a little frustrated that these areas were not given over to further storage but having worn the pack in the field I can now see the sense of reserving them for this more practical purpose. I should point out that there is also space for a bladder if that is your preferred choice for hydrating on the move, with a secure shoulder clip to hold the tube. I’ve never been too keen on bladders, preferring the convenience of a couple of bottles instead, so I can’t comment on how the Singletrack works in this regard.

From the rear. Minimalist, simple. Elastic side bands in evidence.

I ran in total ten miles, and the pack carried everything I needed to get me safely and securely round. At one point I opted for a direct line up on to Stanage Edge and resorted to a short scramble, again, the pack held firm and was perfectly suitable to a variety of needs. I was looking for a point of criticism by taking it a little out of it’s comfort zone, and I couldn’t find one. In the space of one run this has honestly become my favourite running pack, probably ever. Minimalist, stable, practical, affordable. And it looks cool.

Mountain Hardwear have a rich and respected history in the outdoors industry, yet their forays into running are not quite as prominent. Perhaps this accounts for the lower price point, because it is certainly not a case of a lower quality product. Quite the opposite. At £45 you would expect there to be a catch, but there simply isn’t one. I would urge anybody to consider the Singletrack when looking at race vest options – I will be wearing it in training and racing throughout 2017 and beyond.

note: I have a 36″ chest and wear a size S/M Singletrack.

Fellmonkeying on Stanage

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Inov8 RoadTalon 240 first impression review:

Having run in these for a few weeks now; these are a great all round road racing/training shoe. They are light but cushioned enough to still be responsive. 

The RoadTalon has a 4mm drop, 240g with energy return through the powerflow material.

The power flow technology gives this shoe a cushioning and protection while delivering a fast feel. They are not quite slippers with its firm, responsive but still protective midsole….

The Shoe is a great alternative to try with its potential to be all the shoe you need, both your racing and training shoe. Having Inov8’s dynamic fascia band the shoe gives great support with a natural feel.They are a great blend of the Inov8 Road-X-Treme 220 and the Inov8 Roadclaw 275

With nothing negative to say, this really is a great shoe. Oh, and when I asked Stu on his thoughts, he said “They are brill and banana colored so I like them a lot!”

You can already purchase the RoadTalon via the links below.

Shop Men’s

Shop Ladies’

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The Art and Science of Tapering and Race Day Preparation

As a coach, working with groups of runners is always interesting. For one thing, it’s never entirely clear what any particular athlete wants to get out of a session, or get out of coaching, so we ask lots of open questions and sometimes get some interesting replies, often in the form of further questions. My advice, by the way, would always be to ask that burning question, whether you think it makes you appear clueless or not!

It’s easy as a moderately experienced runner and an engaged coach with some education behind me to become complacent about things that become second-nature in training. So it’s a pleasure to answer a question in the field such as, ‘how should I taper for my next trail race?’

Naturally, there’s a short answer and a long one. The short answer in the field is: what has worked for you before? If it works, do that. If it hasn’t worked, or if you just don’t know, then my broad guidance would be: for a short race (5k), take a day or two off or with very minimal training directly before race day; for a longer race (10k-half-marathon), take a week; for a marathon or ultra, your taper might begin by reducing mileage 3 weeks out, but certainly reducing training volume (i.e. mileage) while maintaining frequency (amount of runs) in the 2 weeks prior to race day. In discussions with head coach Stuart Hale, he would recommend not running at all in the two days prior to race day.

There are some further bits of advice that I would like to add, hence the blog post. Tapering is as much an art as a science. So, to introduce the complexity, all we have to say is that each individual reacts differently to different stimuli, or lack of stimuli. For me, like with Debs at the shop, a taper often brings about a procession of phantom injuries, pains, aches. Debs reckons it’s half psychological and half that the body is not used to resting. Exactly. Psychologically, we become dependent on the hormones that running releases, the chemical cocktail that gives us the running bug. Physiologically, we become adapted to training stress in the body to the point where we run through what would otherwise be painful muscle soreness and fatigue in all of our mechanical systems to greater or lesser degrees. Much depends on our individual response to that stress, our training age, our biological age, and other such factors. The training overload that keeps us progressing as runners has to be absorbed in rest, and we as runners are often the worst at recognising when to rest.

Frequently, the taper makes this most apparent. As an enforced and necessary period of rest, the taper allows our bodies to repair and the nutritional and hormonal status of our bodies to be restored. Some studies have shown that maintaining high intensity but low volume training during a week-long taper increases time to fatigue by 22% (see Shepley et al, 1992). Studies on swimmers have shown that muscle power can increase by 17-22% and Vo2Max (ability to use oxygen at high intensity) remains unchanged in a 15-day period of tapering (reducing training volume by two-thirds; see Costill, 1986). It may be the case, therefore, that all that volume of training was not actually doing you all that much good. We’ll have to leave that question for another blog, but, suffice to say, a reduction in training volume before a race is demonstrably a good thing. When a runner starts to get those aches and pains as the body begins to properly repair itself from all the damage inflicted on it during training before the taper, you may start to wonder whether your taper has been long enough!

So, my advice for shorter races is that in the days directly before the race, I would be trying out race pace in short segments of shorter runs, so that my volume is reduced by around two thirds of the previous week’s. Drop down mileage significantly but maintain the frequency of running, and maybe even increase the intensity. Avoid strength training or hill work in the week before the race. Try to get out for a short, easy run (perhaps with some race pace pick-ups) the day before the race, to quell nerves and get the body moving. Maybe time it before a meal, so that you absorb and retain plenty of nutrients to keep you in top condition (glycogen stocked) for the race. You could try this routine before one race and compare it against having two complete rest days before a different race, and see what your body prefers.

 

Let’s get down to the specifics of race day.

The idea is to prepare the body for a prolonged effort in a race, and in this example we are talking about preparing for a shorter trail race, around 5km. The shorter the race, the faster you are likely to run, so you might want to spend a bit longer on the warm-up so that your body’s working systems are all primed and fired up.

We might do this in sequence by:

  • Running/jogging very easy for 10 minutes (at a very comfortable, easy pace) to increase blood flow and raise the heart rate
  • Doing some dynamic stretching (things like hamstring roll outs, side steps, carioca, gentle skipping) to activate muscles, tendons and ligaments
  • Moving into some more focussed drill work (things like high knees, fast feet), to get ourselves mobile and ready for specific running actions
  • Finishing off with some strides at race pace, at a point where the body is fully activated and ready to work hard. These short strides should feel comfortable and light, and prepare you for your race intensity fairly gently

All in, this might take between 20 and 45 minutes. Contrary to natural anxieties, this routine should not tire you out. Instead, it will create blood flow in your working muscles and prepare the body for sustained exertion. It should improve your performance because you should reach the start line with the neuromuscular system that coordinates running firing efficiently.

You would want to arrive at the start line with five minutes or so to go, have a little drink of water or sports drink, and be in an optimal mental and physical zone to enjoy the race ahead.

And after your race, don’t forget to cool down and nourish your body. A gentle 10 to 20 minute jog will help you recover faster, as will some stretching. Warmth applied to key muscles may help (a warm bath or shower, perhaps?). Taking on a mixture of carbohydrate and protein (three parts carbs to one part protein (think peanut butter sandwich or fruit and yoghurt)) also aids in recovery, but simply resume normal eating and your body will get the nutrients it needs along the way. The same goes for rehydration: simply drink to thirst.

I hope that helps!

It’s a very subjective thing, tapering and preparing for races, so let me know, what do you do in the days and hours before a key race?

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