Monday, 30 August 2010

Preparing for the Nevis Beast: Mixed Hill Training

Location: The Wrekin, Telford, UK
Date: Sunday - 29th August
Workout: 75 minutes of mixed walking, hiking, running

Next week, it's Ben Nevis beast. I keep referring to these races as beasts. Which they are. But each one has its own special form of beastliness. Last month, the Borrowdale Fell Race's beastliness derived from the length of the race. With Nevis it's the height.

I approached yesterday's training run with caution. Last week I had a great outing in the Malvern Hills, which saw me go barefoot for part of a 4-hour low-intensity hill run in which I did some Pose Running practice.

Funnily enough, I picked up a foot problem. Who'd have thought? 4 hours with no shoes trying a new running method?

Anyhoo, yesterday I decided to simply do a mixture of barefoot and fell-shoe power hiking yesterday. My new x-Talon 190 shoes had arrived, a minimalist, studded trainer I've conceded is necessary for muddy, steep, grassy fell races.

This photo shows the full range of my current grip options, from foot to fell shoe.

  • 21 minutes power hiking in bare feet to the top via the light side (took a steep shortcut to make it harder but quicker)
  • * At the top, donned new x-Talons *
  • 7 minutes jogging / pose running down the dark side because my foot felt better than expected.
  • 14 minutes power-hiking back up the dark side - taking myself closer to the lactate threshold after my success with this pre-Borrowdale (that training session is in this post.)
  • 35 minutes walking back down the light side with Mrs M.
Total Time: about 1 hour 15

: was a hare's leg for lunch when we got back and roast chicken for dinner.

The stony paths on the Wrekin made the first barefoot part a challenge - but I feel I am continuing to build toughness in my feet and this was not an uncomfortable experience.

The x-Talons felt great the minute I got them on. It was like getting the suspension on your car fixed. Don't read too much into that analogy. I am not saying it felt 'right' - just nice!

My sore foot seemed to benefit from being used. I was nervous about the downhill, but it seemed far happier when running than when I had been walking during the week. Fingers crossed, it will be fine for the rigours of Nevis.
... Read more

From Foot to Fell Shoe: A Photo of My Grip Range

This will be a good reference for future posts, as I try to make appropriate selections for different activities.

... Read more

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Weights and Keto Food Day

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Day: 6.45am - Thursday - 26 August

Chin Ups (2 x 5 weighted @15kg, 4 weighted @15kg, 3 weighted @10kg, 5 @bodyweight)
Seated Row (3 x 10 @ 95 lbs) - not using the superslow method in the video!
Ab Crunches (2 x 50)
Romanian Deadlift (5 x 5 @ 100 kg)

Performed in the traditional way - my partner, then me. Not much rest other than waiting our turn.

Total Time: 31 minutes

Nutrition (almost zero carbs, in spite of my Leangains experiment - explanation below!)

20 minutes before: 10g BCAA
1 hour after: 10g BCAA
3 hours after: 10g BCAA

Lunch (12:00pm) - 8 scrambled organic eggs, tin of sardines, leftover steak, bad coconut cream

Dinner (8:00pm) - baked mackerel and avodaco and cocoa dip (no sweetener.)

I have decided not to eat high carb on each workout day. I will typically be doing two intense sessions per week (thus qualifying for the higher carb eating for my Leangains experiment experiment) - but I only feel like I want to refeed on carbs once per week.

On Tuesday after workout 1 I had two sweet potatoes and a banana through the day and my stomach did not really like it. I would probably get used to it, but for now I will stick on one carb refeed on one of the week's workout days, then eat my normal paleo diet the rest of the time.

As you can see I did a couple of days of almost zero carb just to get my stomach right (I had this huge steak after fasting on the rest day.) The stomach might have had nothing to do with the carbs of course, but keto always sorts my stomach anyway.

We hit the back today - first upper, then lower. It took a long time to squeeze on the fifth on the fifth for the deadlift, which is fine: although I did the same last time, that was from fresh. Next time I will throw another 5kg on from fresh.

We deliberately focused on upper abs today because we did hanging leg raise a couple of days before which would have targetted the lower. I suppose it was just a time filler, or something to make the workout tougher and stop us standing around talking.

We did seated row with the machine because my partner's knee was playing up - otherwise I would have opted for one-arm dumbell rows.
... Read more

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

30-Min Chest and Shoulders Blitz

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Day: 6.45am - Tuesday - 24th August

5 x 5 Dumbbell Chest Press (30kg, 30kg, 30kg, 30kg, 28kg)
3 x 10 Hanging Leg Raise
4 x 5 Clean and Press (strict - no jerking - 35kg, 35kg, 30kg, 30kg)
1 x 12 Upright Rows with barbell (EZ bar - 30kg)
3 x 10 Pec Deck (can't remember the weight)

Performed in the traditional way - my partner, then me. Not much rest other than waiting our turn.

Total Time: 31 minutes

Nutrition (higher carb, lower fat on workout day, based on my Leangains experiment):

20 minutes before: 10g BCAA
1 hour after: 10g BCAA
3 hours after: 10g BCAA

Lunch (12:00pm) - 2 tins of tuna, 1 tin of sardines, a sweet potato, beetroot, lemon juice (+ a banana to finish)

Dinner (7:15pm) - 2 hare front legs, cod fillet, sweet potato, fried onions, mushrooms & tomatoes, broccoli

The rogue set of upright rows were instead of a fifth set of clean and press. We'd toasted our shoulders with the dumbbell chest press, so the weight we could use for clean and press was not challenging our rear and side delts.

I'm really getting to like using the EZ bar for upright rows. I hold it with a narrow grip, hands only about 6 inches apart. This allows me to keep my elbows high and execute the last few reps slowly with a good squeeze - much better than the wider grip with a flat bar that seems to necessitate cheating for the final few reps.

As you can see, we also did some pec deck. I started doing flies, then remembered why I hated them and switched to the machine. They seem to aggravate my shoulders and the most effort is required at wrong part of the range of movement.

In any case, I am not sure why we bothered with either. As we well know, we should be concentrating on the big, compound movements, and ideally bodyweight. I guess we are just taking a trip down memory lane since we are having a push to get a bit bigger and stronger.

I have been feeling tired in the last 48 hours. I need to be careful to balance the running with the weights.

I think I got the eating right today. Lots of Paleo carbs, pretty low fat and lots of protein. Looking forward to a fast and some fatty steak tomorrow.
... Read more

Sunday, 22 August 2010

4-Hour Hill Run. Equipment: Shorts.

Location: The Malvern Hills, Worcestershire, UK
Date: Sunday - 22nd August

This was a wonderful outing in spite of the fact that I was in all kinds of pain by the end.

I left the house at 6.30 am with 4 objectives:
  • A long, 4-hour, low-intensity hill run to build endurance for upcoming races
  • Practice the 'Pose Running' technique I have been reading about
  • Toughen up my feet
  • Get some sun
I came back with a selection of photos to illustrate my success.


The Malverns from the A449 approach

I captured this photo as I approached in the car (okay, I know, that's not safe driving - but in my defense, there were no cars around - it had been a joy to speed through parts of the city like a knife through butter, where normally I'd have been mired in traffic.)

I would be running along that ridge, from right to left.

Getting Ready to Go

Waist bag with Mocs, car key and vest

I have no idea why I posed so weirdly!

Alright, so I had more equipment than just shorts. I took a vest, the car key and my Five Finger Mocs, which I expected to need to start wearing one my bare feet could take no more.

Toughening the Feet

The tarmac was okay

Yowser, this was tough on the
bare feet

The grassy paths were a relief

Some hard, stony paths hurt even
through the mocs

After 45 minutes, I needed the Mocs

The terrain was a mix of grass, tarmac, gravel and rocks.

I managed about 45 minutes before I needed to put the Mocs on. Compared to the Flow Treks I normally run in, the Mocs have wafer-thin soles. They are not really designed for trails, so I was impressed they managed the remaining 3 hours without any damage.

This was a bit like progressively exhausting muscles with lighter weights. As my feet got too sore to be bare, I donned the Mocs.... and frankly after about 3 hours, I could really have done with downgrading to the Flow Treks, which alas I did not have with me.

I consider this rather like training with the weighted vest. If I can train under more severe conditions than I race, then racing should seem easy.

Pose Running

This is the first time I have had a chance to try out the technique I have been reading about properly. There is a fair bit of shallow or flat terrain along those hills.

And it just clicked. Seriously - nothing has worked for me as suddenly as this. Perhaps it was because I was being forced to use the correct technique by having minimal or no footwear. Whatever the reason, I can honestly say, I have cracked it.

There is nothing that radically different about Pose Running versus correct barefoot technique (I suspect.) The epiphany for me was the 'leaning forward' part. I found that by quickly lifting my feet with my hamstrings (which the pain of running on stones forced me to do anyway) and leaning forward, I was speeding along under the power of gravity, rather than dragging myself along with my quads.

Getting Sun

There was plenty of sun for the fist couple of hours, as you can see from the blue skies silhouetted by a cyclist who was admiring the view from of the peaks. The UK weather has been a bit moody recently and I have been missing my natural dose of vitamin D.

The Long Easy Run (and Glorious Countryside)

Energy-wise, I felt good throughout... but my legs become progressively tired and achy. This was almost certainly due to the effect on my gait of experimenting with Pose Running. I pretty much reverted to my old technique after a couple of hours, as clearly my muscles need time to adjust. I think my gait was also affected by having a much thinner sole. By the end I was reduced to a shuffle.

This was the English countryside at its best - quiet, warm, teeming with wildlife and a gentle breeze blowing. I found some cows, some more cows, a beetle, some purple heather and a black dog. I also acquired, probably thanks to the presence of the cows, a small cloud of flies that buzzed around my head as I ran, as if in a cartoon. Swipe as I might, I could not shift them.

The flies so infuriated me that I made all kinds of plans to transport them back to the city if they followed me into the car, then get medieval on them once I got them back to the house. Alas, they dispersed once I got below a couple of hundred metres. Clever little b@stards, those flies - they must have figured out I had plans for them.

Food When I Got Back

Egg, avocado & cocoa dip, fruit, coconut cream

Crab and fennel soup with coconut cream

I was pretty hungry. Last night's curry and paleo pudding were filling, but after skipping breakfast, I was ready to devour a big lunch. The avocado and cocoa dip was a first for me - something I picked up from Girl Gone Primal. It was nice - I recommend it with fruit.
... Read more

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Deadlift, Crunches, O'Neil Rowing Test & Monstrous Lunch

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Day:Thursday - 19th August - 6.45 am

Romanian Deadlift (5 x 5 @ 100 kg)
Ab Crunches (3 x 20 with a 2-second squeeze)
O'Neill Test (4 minutes on rowing machine) - 1050 metres

Total Time: 30 minutes

Nutrition (higher carb, lower fat on workout day, based on my Leangains experiment):

20 minutes before: 10g BCAA
1 hour after: 10g BCAA
3 hours after: 10g BCAA

Huge lunch at 12pm - chicken breast, venison, beetroot, sweet potato

Dinner at 7 pm - chicken carcass and bones with fried cauli & onion and steamed parsley

I recently posted a video of me doing a rowing Tabata, which drew some constructive criticism from Chris on my technique. He referred to this video, showing how effortless rowing can look.

So I tried my newly learned form on the O'Neil test today, with an interesting result.

The first time I did the test in February I managed 1063 metres. That time, I had only done chest; but today my legs and glutes were pretty toasted from the deadlifts; and today I was taking it relatively easy, not trying to break any personal bests, just focusing on form.

So the fact that I still went almost the same distance suggests the improved form made a difference. On another day I will go in fresh, with good form, and take a shot at the the title.

Today's lunch was a monstrous protein dose. A huge chicken breast and a big whack of leftover venison. I reckon it was about 1.5 lbs of meat. I am digging this 'eat big on workout days, fast on rest days' approach. It feels right. ... Read more

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Second Leangains Workout and Adjusting to the Diet

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Day: Tuesday - 17th August

Chin Ups (10 weighted @ 10kg, 7 weighted @ 10kg, 7 @ bodyweight)
Dumbbell Chest Press (10 @26kg, 9 @24kg, 9 @22kg)
Upright Rows with barbell (3 x 10 @ 30kg)
Hanging Leg Raise (3 x 10)
Shoulder Press (seated with dumbbells - 3 x 10 @ 14kg)
9 Push Ups to finish, nice and slow, not quite failing at the end

Performed in this order, 3 sets of each. Rest time only as long as it took my partner to do his set - 30 - 45 seconds.

Total Time: 29 minutes

Nutrition (higher carb, lower fat on workout day, based on my Leangains experiment):

20 minutes before: 10g BCAA
1 hour after: 10g BCAA
3 hours after: 10g BCAA
Lunch at 12pm: Salmon, mackerel, sweet potato, beetroot, parsley+ extra tuna and wild blackberries
Dinner at 7.30 pm: Slow-ccoked venison with sweet potato, marrow and fried mushroom and onions

This was pretty much a repeat of last week's session and there were no tangible gains in strength. However, I am not keen on getting hung up on reps and weights. Clearly the objective is to get stronger, but experience has taught me to be patient. Maintaining good form and taking my muscles to the necessary level of effort is the main focus.

I skipped the deadlift, as I will have a second session this week for that when I will also throw in some rowing. Next week we will probably change to 5 x 5 for some variety.

My Leangains eating was not as strict as I would have liked - it's tough to alternate between low fat on workout days and and low fat on rest days. I am an instinctive low-carb eater. Last night I ate more fat than perhaps I should according to the plan. The venison was just too nice ;-) ... Read more

My Running Style Experiment

There's barefoot running and there's minimalist running. The two sometimes get confused.

I have been running in Vibram Five Fingers for over a year now, so my style has necessarily morphed into a forefoot-first strike, which is clearly a step up from driving a Nike-shod heel into the ground in front of me with each stride.

But it's not barefoot. Today my real running experiment starts - to which there are two, linked challenges.

First, Pose Running

Lightning lent me a book called 'The Pose Method of Running' which promises more efficient energy utilisation and fewer injuries. I don't want to become a pose runner, necessarily - and since most of my runs are mountain runs, it seems like the waters are in any case muddied when examining optimal style and energy efficiency. But the principles of the book resonate closely with the philosophies of barefoot running and it helps to have a framework to follow when learning something.

Second, REAL barefoot running

I.e. no footwear.

I have been reading Matt Metzgar's blog, where he has been documenting his journey into genuinely barefoot running - he has run a few races totally barefoot and speaks well of the experience. His page on correct evolutionary running is an excellent summary.

Walking and running with no shoes feels nice once you toughen up a bit. It's liberating. And tougher bare feet can handle even tougher terrain in the Five Fingers.

More importantly, according to Matt, even Vibram Five Fingers can encourage incorrect running style according to Matt and others, because they prevent the feedback that stimulates quick, light, steps.

A part of me likes the idea of running a mountain race truly barefoot - in Born to Run, Barefoot Ted runs on rocks, so I know it can be done. I discuss book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, here. But in reality, most fell races will require at least Vibrams, and probably a minimalist studded shoe, unless I want to finish last every time and have a permanently bruised coccyx.

So don't get me wrong, I do not have aspirations to finish up with an empty shoe locker. Although my work colleagues are tolerant of my weirdness, even they have limits, so I will continue to wear my Treks to the office.

Finally, since everyone else now seems to be getting into minimalist shoes, I need stay weird. ;-)

So I'll keep doing the Pose drills, keep toughening up my feet, do a bit more flat running while I understand the Pose technique, carry on surfing the fells, and see where it all takes me...
... Read more

Monday, 16 August 2010

Sprints, followed by 24 oz Steak-Fest

Location: Lightning's House, Shropshire, UK
Date: 14th August

2-minute warm-up jog
5 x 13-second sprints. 1 - 2 minutes of rest between.

Total Time: 15 minutes

Nutrition (based on my Leangains experiment) - see photos below.

2.15 pm (25 minutes before sprints): 10g BCAA
3:30 - 6pm: big barbecue feed.
No further food that day.

16 oz grass-fed fillet steak, grilled sweet potato slices, salad, tomato puree ketchup substitute

Another 8 oz grass-fed fillet steak

Organic, red and black currents from the Welsh Hills with crappy coconut milk

Each year the Lightnings host a big old barbecue and camping fest at their house. Last year, things went wrong for me, as I wrote about here - too much wine, cake etc - you know the drill. This year, I had one glass of wine and viewed the dazzling array of baking with a trembling lower lip, knowing it would not be mine.

Part of the annual tradition is that Lightning and I do afternoon, pre-BBQ sprinting in their long paddock behind the house. As the photo illustrates, this is not something from which I typically emerge victorious.

Nevertheless, it's good training, and intense enough to qualify as a 'workout day' (under my particular definition) for the Leangains experiment. Accordingly, I ate a huge amount of relatively lean protein and a lot more carbs than I would normally.

The workout window is supposed to be 8 hours, but instead I ate a lot over a few hours and did not eat anything more that day. I am not sure whether that matters, but I am keen to ensure I do not use this experiment as a license for gluttony and thus sabotage the results.

The next morning, 14 hours later, I was still not hungry, which I think attests to the more-than sufficiency of my post-workout nutrition.
... Read more

Friday, 13 August 2010

3 x 10 Quick Fire, All Body Workout

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Day:Wednesday - 11th August

Chin Ups (10 weighted @ 10kg, 7 weighted @ 10kg, 7 @ bodyweight)
Dumbbell Chest Press (10 @26kg, 10 @24kg, 9 @22kg)
Upright Rows with barbell (3 x 10 @ 30kg)
Hanging Leg Raise (3 x 10)
Shoulder Press (seated with dumbbells - 3 x 10 @ 14kg)
Romanian Deadlift (3 x 10 @ 80kg)

Performed in this order, 3 sets of each. Rest time only as long as it took my partner to do his set - 30 - 45 seconds.

Total Time: 31 minutes

Nutrition (based on my Leangains experiment)

20 minutes before: 10g BCAA
1 hour after: 10g BCAA
3 hours after: 10g BCAA
Lunch at 12pm: 8 eggs, coconut cream, fruit, cocoa
Dinner at 8pm: 500g plaice, veg

This was pretty tough - on last week's intense weights session I did the The Random 225, which allowed me to rest muscles between sets and strategically select reps and exercise to avoid failure and optimise work rate. This time it was back the traditional 3 x 10 format, with rests.

However, we ruthlessly avoided the traditional chit chat and walking round in circles to 'psych' up for sets. We just got on with it. This is why we managed so much volume in 30 minutes and often the weights can be seen dropping from set 1 to set 3.

This was the first session where my nutrition and eating pattern followed the Leangains system. So far so good. I had a tip from someone that I need to make sure I eat enough. This, my friends, will not be a problem. I am already looking forward to a huge steak with a sweet potato for Saturday after some planned sprinting. Possibly followed by bananas, strawberries and coconut cream...
... Read more

Thursday, 12 August 2010

My Leangains Experiment

Martin Berkham
I've been following the Leangains blog for a while now.

The author, Martin Berkhan is essentially a bodybuilder and personal trainer who has developed a system based around timing. Intermittent fasting is a key part of the concept.

He says this allows him and his clients to gain muscle while remaining lean. Or put the other way, and depending on where you started, become lean whilst preserving or gaining muscle. Apparently the meal timing encourages the 'partitioning' of nutrients.

I am the first to say that you should never take advice from someone on the basis of how they look or perform. It could be 90% genetics, 10% training; but Martin does appear to have success with his clients too. And more to the point, he clearly understands the science. He has not solely based the system on what works for him (unlike articles written in Flex magazine by people with muscles growing on the end of their enlarged chins.)

Here a good summary of Martin's system, if you want the detail - The Leangains Guide.

A very simple summary would be this:
  • You have an 8-hour eating window, on the post-workout period. For example - eat between 12pm and 8pm.
  • You hit the gym some time around the early part of that window, and make the post-workout meal the largest.
  • Regular, higher-carb 'refeeds' help keep leptin levels up so that hunger does not sabotage correct your efforts and you remain healthy.
There are are various subtleties that apply, depending on when you prefer to train. In addition, Martin advocates taking branch chain amino acids (BCAA) before and after sessions, especially if training in the fasted state, early in the morning, as I do.

I have never taken BCAAs before, because I never thought it was worth it and was not willing to spend the money when I could just eat real food. But for the purposes of this experiment I will give it a try. It will not require a big change for me - but it will require enough change that I might expect to see a difference if it works.

Current Training
  • 1 or 2, 30-minute intense workouts per week, at 7am.
  • A long, easy run at the weekends.
Current Eating
  • On 2 or 3 days, a fast: no food til dinner
  • On workout days, 3 meals, the first an hour afterwards
  • On non-gym, non-fast days, just 2 meals, starting with lunch.
What I will change
  • On gym days, I will take BCAA before intense workouts, and through the morning afterwards.
  • I will NEVER eat before 12, even on gym days.
  • On gym days I will eat higher carb, as a 'refeed' to maintain leptin levels.
I was struck by a statement in one of Martin's more technical posts in which he says that training fasted means that gains are not optimal - but taking the BCAA before and after can make it optimal. I always train fasted, and it irks me that all that effort is failing to yield the results it could.

I will tag the workout days with 'Leangains', so you can see the training and eating from workout days - here.

Call Yourself a Caveman?

I know, I know - our ancestors didn't exactly quaff vile-tasting BCAA before and after hunting, fighting or tree-climbing. But remember this is an experiment, not a lifestyle choice. In any case, I'd like to emphasise that my workouts will continue to be random. Workout days could be weights, sprinting, tabata rowing, swimming sprints or anything else short and with the potentially to build muscle.

Update 15.08.10 - by coincidence, Richard at Free the Animal has just written a post, "Ginormous Meals for Fat Loss, Leanness and Conditioning." I think it gives a great evolutionary rationale for this approach to meal timing and size.

The Goal

I have been doing weights for years, and always struggled to make any strength gains beyond the plateau I reached after 18 months because I was trying also to remain lean, and included running in my program. The only time I had any real strength and size was when I focused on bodybuilding in the late 90s. But I was never really lean and my bulking and cutting cycles seemed largely fruitless.

So my objective here is to see whether I can actually make some strength (and size) gains while continuing to run and remain lean.

My starting point is 11 stone 6.5 and 11% fat. Here's a photo.

Yes, I am tensing the abs; and no, I will not oil myself up for the 'after' photo ;-)

Most of Martin's clients appear not to start lean, so their transformations are profound. I am already lean, with some muscle, so if I am honest I would be surprised to see any profound visible change. The scales will perhaps be a better guide.

See Also:

Leangains Experiment 12-Week Update
... Read more

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Failing to Tame the Borrowdale Beast

Location: Borrowdale, The Lake District, UK
Date: Yesterday, 7th August

Workout: The Borrowdale Fell Race
Total Time: 4 hours 40 minutes
Food: see video (Update: I have posted the recipe for the homemade energy bar here)

For a quick overview of the day, here's a 2-3 minute captioned slide show.

The Borrowdale Beast

Make no mistake, this is a beast of a run. I always hesitate when I say something like that, because having read Born to Run, I know that one man's beast is another man's mouse. Or woman's.

Nevertheless, in my world, and my running partner, Lightning's, this thing lives in a cave and breathes fire. It's 17-miles with 6700 feet of climb, including Scafell, England's highest peak. Road runners sometimes fail to grasp what 17 miles over mountains actually means. They think in terms of 7-minute miles.

In the mountains, you can travel less than a mile and it takes 40 minutes. And it kills you. Occasionally, the downhill gives you back some of that time, if the gradient is just right. Not so with the Borrowdale. Many descents are boulder-strewn or bog-ridden, creating vicious assault courses that can make miles take almost as long as steep ascents.

If you think in road terms, then to get a sense of the scale of a fell run like this, you should simply double the mileage. So this was a marathon plus 10 miles.

The Five Fingers - Not Always Best

As my backside slammed onto the ground for the 5th time on the descent from Scafell to Sty Head, I realised it was time to accept that in their current form, Vibram Five Finger Flow Treks are not suitable for fell running on steep, grassy terrain.

For most of the race I was able to judge how to run according to what I know about my Flow Trek's capabilities on different terrain. However, that knowledge was entirely useless when faced with a steep, downhill, grassy slope because there was nothing I could do about it, even at a slow pace. For much of those sections, I was sliding on my backside - which is fine until you encounter a rock...

Bottom line: I will be using studded fell shoes for some races. The Fives got a fair hearing, and I have to accept that there comes a point where it's okay to lean on modern technology a little. I will still use them for mainly stony, well-pathed races. My feet are getting tough and I don't intend to let them soften up again by leaning on fell shoes when they are not needed.

The good news is that leading fell shoe-maker, Innov8, are releasing a minimalist, studded shoe, the bare-grip 200, in 2011. By minimalist, I gather this means the differential between heel and forefoot padding is basically zero.

As an aside, my Flow Treks are still surviving. I have had to stitch the uppers once, and they are coming away slightly on other places, but they doggedly made it through the pounding of Borrowdale without apparently wearing any further. So they have endured almost a year of fell training and races. Not bad when you consider it's unlikely this was the precise activity for which they were designed.

Missing the Cut-Off

Races like this sometimes have a cut-off point. Racers must reach a certain point by a certain time or they are 'timed out'. This is for the benefit of the marshalls as much as anything else. The weather can by pretty evil on top of those fells and the marshalls can't be expected to sit up there all day waiting for stragglers.

If you miss the cut-off you are obliged to proceed from there to the finish and report yourself, rather than continue the race.

For Borrowdale, you must reach Honnister, which I estimate is 14 miles into the race, before 4 and a half hours have elapsed - which is quite an aggressive target and reflects the standard of the runners usually involved.

Lightning and I missed the cut off, not because we lacked the speed and endurance, but because we misjudged our pace at the start. It was the longest fell run we'd ever entered so we adopted steady pace, stopping regularly to drink from streams and eat food. When I was going slow, he'd wait, and if he was struggling, I'd take more frequent rests.

By the time we realised we were in danger of missing the cut-off, it was too late to step it up.

Lightning was a bit pissed. "We have unfinished business here," was his remark as we trudged back to the start via the road. I was more sanguine. We have three more beasts to tame before the end of October (Ben Nevis, Full Peris, Langdale Horseshoe) and I felt that 4.5 hours in those conditions was just the right difficulty level to ease us forwards into those challenges.

I am a Mountain Goat

I have lost over a stone in weight since the middle of May - in part driven by a desire to feel more goat-like on the fells. I have lost roughly the same weight as the weight vest I use for training; and when I don that thing, I know about it. I also reckon I did a good job of muscle preservation during that weight-loss period. I am now 11 stone 6 lbs and about 10% fat.

During the first two hours of the race, I did indeed feel like a mountain goat. I felt as if I could keep hiking upwards at that steady pace until the end of time. I think my recent shift to some long, easy training sessions may have also helped, along with the mid-paced run last weekend.

We now have about 4 weeks until the Ben Nevis beast, which we WILL slay.
... Read more

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Random 225

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Day:Yesterday, Thursday

Workout: The Random 225 (Upper Body)


Post Workout Nutrition:Eggs, strawberries, coconut cream, cocoa an hour later, then sardines, salmon, peppers and walnuts a few hours after that.

This routine is a way to make things more interesting, and, as always, pack as much intense work into a short space of time as I can.

I like the idea of trying to better my time through brute force, better fitness and strategic choice of exercise, order and timing. I was toasted by the end, and doing 2 reps on the weighted chin ups.

In this case, I used the same weights given as examples on the The Random 225 (Upper Body) page.

Here were the reps (but not the order) of the exercises:

Weighted Chin Ups - 8,5,3,3,2,2,2
Push ups - 20,15,10,5
Floor Wipers - 40,35,25
Clean and Press with Dumbbell - 10,10,5 (on each arm)
Upright row 10,10,10,10,10 ... Read more

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Unexpected Joy of a Mid-Paced Hill Run

Location: Light Side of the Wrekin
Day: Today, Sunday

Workout: ran to the top of the light side of Wrekin hill and back down.

Time to top:

Total Running time: about 28 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition:Eggs, strawberries, wild blackberries, coconut cream, cocoa - two hours later:

I set out to run this at a pace I don't normally use - what runners call 'tempo'. I prefer to call it 'sub pain'. Most of the time I try to keep my short workouts intense and my long workouts easy. The Paleo/Primal way. Even when I am I ascending the Wrekin, which takes about 20 minutes, I tend to want to make it intense, albeit that I can't make it short.

But after yesterday's cycle ride, and with the Borrowdale 17m 6700' beast on Saturday, I decided to opt for an in between. I decided that randomness rules, and that includes random adherence to the short-intense-long-easy rule ;-)

I was really glad I did it. My time (17:14) to the top was nothing special. I've done it in under 16 in the past. But I felt strong. Although I was breathing heavily, I did not really feel any pain. My legs were not hurting at the end, in spite of the post-cycling stiffness at the start.

In short, I took it easy but made it count. I felt refreshed at the end, not fatigued.

On the way down, I gave my increasingly hardy feet something to think about by deliberately aiming for the rockier sections. My Vibram-protected forefeet seemed to be taking the punishment happily.

I have been walking on pavements in bare feet most days during the week recently. I am lucky enough to work in a place where the state of the pavements between the station and my office is pretty rough. At first this hurt a lot. Now I am much more comfortable with it. A combination of desensitisation and perhaps some skin toughening. I think this is helping with the tolerance to more significant trauma when I am wearing the Vibrams.

The knee, by the way, is in much better shape. My consultant told me not to worry. "It's just the stitches bedding in," he said. "Go away and have fun. Only bother me if it's getting worse, not better."

I'll probably write a separate post about that one.
... Read more

Birmingham to Warwick Cycle Ride

Location: The West Midlands, UK
Day: Saturday
Duration: 5 Hours
Workout: Cycling from Birmingham to Warwick on the canals (29 miles)
Food: two pork chops, an hour later, then later, leftover chicken with veg:

Mrs M started to complain a little towards the end of this marathon session on the bikes. 29 miles does not sound like much but there is a lot of gate navigation, bike-carrying, tunnel dodging and rough terrain to contend with.

I had no breakfast, and had broken a fast the night before with a relatively modest chicken dinner, so by the time I got to our destination I was ready to destroy the two pork chops I had taken along to the BBQ. I was so ravenous, I forgot a photo. Needless to say, we took up the offer of a lift back in the truck of some friends.

Here's the GPS map:

...and here's the altitude - the light blue area.

As you can see, there was a general downhill trend. We went through a lot of locks. Birmingham sits on a plateau that's unusually high above sea level. I am glad it wasn't the other way round - those free-wheeling sections were a lot of fun but looked tedious in reverse.
... Read more