Monday, 8 February 2010

Knee Survives 3-Hour Fell Race & Flow Treks Prove their Worth

Location: Long Mynd Valley
Date: 7th February

The Long Mynd Valleys Fell Race.

Total Time
: 2:49:54

Post Workout Nutrition: this, 20 minutes later.

This was my first proper fell race since the knee operation. I'd been up and around The Wrekin a couple of times, so I knew my knee could take some reasonably tough incline action... but the Long Mynd Valleys race is not a small affair. At 11.5 miles and 4500 feet ascent, I was expecting 3 hours or more of running, scrambling and tumbling.

Unloading the car

Unloading the bladder

The kit and the Vibram Flow Treks

Lightning heads past fellow runners discussing the route

Contemplating the ordeal ahead

A pre-race double espresso while Lightning attaches his race number

Barefoot Buzz - Flow Treks

As an additional dimension, I was using my new Vibram Five Finger Flow-Treks for the first time in a race. Last year I ran the Peris Half Horseshoe in a pair of Flows. A similar race in terms of ascent, distance and terrain, it saw my backside and face intimately acquainted with the ground on several occasions.

The Flow-Treks are equipped with a few millimetres of tread, which made all the difference. I did slip once, but recovered - but I would have done this at least once in a pair of studded fell shoes.

Don't get me wrong - they are not the same as fell shoes. They are still barefoot, with the limitations this implies; but I am now learning to run forefoot first and getting a sense of what kind of ground I can be confident on and what kind of ground to beware of. If the path drops away to one side on muddy, grassy terrain, then with fell shoes I can rely on the studs to grip you through it - but with the Five Fingers I know I have to be careful.

I am happy to acquire these new skills at the expense of some performance, because of a growing sense that this is a much better way to run. If I was 3 minutes away from the course record I guess I'd wear fell shoes to squeeze out those extra bits of speed on precarious ground... but I wasn't, so I didn't.

It sounds pretentious, but I felt like a ballerina on the less severe downhill sections, powering forward while placing my forefoot in strategic spots on the stony ground. I am reading Born to Run at the moment and so was particularly inspired by the feeling of reeling through the mountain terrain in pseudo bare feet.

The state of the Vibrams at the end...

...and the state of all my kit, once removed.

Easy Pace, More Fun

Another difference with this race was my pace. Out of respect for my recovering knee I decided to stick with Lightning, whom I normally outpace by about 5 minutes in the hour, mainly on the uphill.

This made the world of difference. First, because we were able to chat on the flat sections and play tag on the other ones - he would get ahead on the downhill parts, then I would catch him up on the uphill and we would compare notes. The key thing for me was not spending most of the race in a state of pain.

The outcome? I was 10 minutes slower, but had a great time. The scenery, camaraderie with other runners and savouring of the moment were much increased, and the time nevertheless respectable.

Mythical Beast

So whilst I am comfortable with the idea that the occasional long run, even at 'pain' pace is in keeping with our ancestral past and the ideas put forward in Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint, I think that a slightly slower, more varied pace is probably even more in keeping - especially when you look at the way persistence hunters work.

In fact the race on Sunday felt like a persistence hunt. I think it was Lightning and Chris who both recently sent me the link to this YouTube video showing a persistence hunt. Very compelling.

At the end of our hunt on Sunday, I reverently killed and ate the mythical avocado, tuna, sardines, almonds, celery and spinach beast, which, paradoxically, I finally caught in the very place the hunt had begun. Lightning, in common with most of the other hunters, opted for the mythical Snickers beast, a huge herd of which appeared to have congregated at the finish line ;-)

The tuna, sardine, avocado, celery and almond beast, successfully caught...

...and being eaten by the hunter

Disaster in the Last 3 Minutes (well, nearly)

Hats off to the knee. It climbed the steepest inclines, it ran on hard stony ground, it bounded down heather-clad mountainsides and bounced around as I slid down muddy slopes on by backside. Yet 2 hours and 45 minutes later it was still going strong.

However, the one thing it was not ready for was being bent under my body I skidded, knee first down a steep slope. I will not repeat my utterances when this happened. At first I was convinced I would be back in the specialist's waiting room on Monday morning; but I think in retrospect it was the shock which got me initially.

Once I stood up I realised nothing serious had happened. It did hurt, as you would expect, since until then I had not required it to move through the absolute full range of movement; but I was pleased to be able to jog the remaining descent to come into the finish a couple of minutes behind Lightning.

I was annoyed to have come so close to completing the race without affecting the knee, but relieved it was not as bad as I first thought. Today, 5 days later, it feels tender, but still reasonably strong.

P.S.Lightning told me that someone videod themselves running the race... and spend the first few minutes behind Lightning and me - look our for us a the 1:20 mark!


Chris said...


Well done.

Chef Rachel said...

wow! Congratulations on a job well done. Good for you for hunting down a more paleo post run meal too!

I'm new to wearing VFFs (Vibram 5 Finger Shoes) and have yet to get the hang of having more weight forward on my foot. Will take time and practice I'm sure. I keep running (really walking) into people who rave about the Born To Run book. I do plan to check it out.

Grok said...

Awesome man. I'm really happy for you that your knee worked. Knee issues totally suck!

I spotted you in the video before I even read the 1:20 part. Getting good at spotting people from our own tribe I guess ;)

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Wow, so glad to hear about your knee recovery and return to fell running. It sounds so fun!

I think you are right about the easier pace. It can make all the difference in fun vs pain, and in stress on the body. David usually runs with me, and with about half his lung capacity, I keep him at a slower pace and in a solid fat burning (easy) aerobic pace. When he wants to turn on more speed, he's got it (though he's more of a Clydesdale than a thoroughbred). There is a lot to be said for putting in solid training at easy paces.

I thought you might find these posts worthwhile:

Basically, when people complain about "chronic cardio" I think they're talking about people doing too much work at high intensity, which as these coaches explain, will tear you down and beat you up over time, especially if you're a big guy.

I loved that book too. I think it must be the most primal thing in the world to move lightly and tirelessly across the ground. Our ancestors were born doing it- it's just that we desk and couch-bound people have lost touch with who we were.

Best of luck exploring running, but be easy on yourself.


Methuselah said...

Thanks Chris.

Rachel - good luck with the running technique. There's also a blog by the author you might like.

Grok - I guess the flourescent orange waist-bag gives me away!

Cynthia - thanks for the links - will check them out. I'm off to do some hill running now!

Methuselah said...

Cynthia - really enjoyed the Heart Rate article. Going to buy a monitor...