Sunday, 26 September 2010

Running in India

So, I have safely arrived in Delhi after several hours on a plane. I will not be able to put in my usual weekly mileage (I am on holiday after all) but I do hope to be able to put in a reasonable amount of mileage during my two week holiday.

I will keep you posted on my adventures of running in India and will try and post some pictures. For those who have not had the luck of visiting India it certainly offers a unique experience on all terrains!

Tuesday 28th September
(10 miles)

Monday 27th September
(15.44 miles)

I am starting to really miss my foam roller. Unfortunately, I forgot to pack it and I am now paying for that mistake. I heavily rely on the roller and use it twice a day shortly after each run and focus on rolling my legs for about 15 mins while watching tv. Since I started using a foam roller I have found that I have less niggles when I run. Certainly worth a go if you have not tried it before and they are relatively cheap at about fifteen pounds.

Went for a 15 mile trail run today mainly on sand. I took my bladder pack but it only holds 1 litre of water which doesn't last long out in the heat. Made a big mistake today and misjudged everything. I was about 11 miles in when I started feeling dizzy and was having thoughts that I was not going to make it back to the main road! Thankfully, I came across a water pump that is used by the locals. I had been warned not to drink from these pumps as the water is not exactly clean and an English boy like me would probably not fair well. However, I did have the opportunity to cool down by splashing cold water over my head, neck and core for a while which gave me a massive boost enough for me to stumble / jog the remaining few miles back home.

Monday 27th September
(15.44 miles)

I am starting to really miss my foam roller. Unfortunately, I forgot to pack it and I am now paying for that mistake. I heavily rely on the roller and use it twice a day shortly after each run and focus on rolling my legs for about 15 mins while watching tv. Since I started using a foam roller I have found that I have less niggles when I run. Certainly worth a go if you have not tried it before and they are relatively cheap at about fifteen pounds.

Went for a 15 mile trail run today mainly on sand. I took my bladder pack but it only holds 1 litre of water which doesn't last long out in the heat. Made a big mistake today and misjudged everything. I was about 11 miles in when I started feeling dizzy and was having thoughts that I was not going to make it back to the main road! Thankfully, I came across a water pump that is used by the locals. I had been warned not to drink from these pumps as the water is not exactly clean and an English boy like me would probably not fair well. However, I did have the opportunity to cool down by splashing cold water over my head, neck and core for a while which gave me a massive boost and enough for min me to stumble / jog the remaining few miles back home.

Sunday 26th September
(10 miles)

A comfortable 10 miles today. A gentle run through the trail - this did lead me to a railway crossing. After spending at least 10 minutes waiting for the train, I plucked up the courage to follow the locals by ducking under the gates and making a dash to the other side. It is about 100 metres gate to gate with several tracks to jump over. I had no clue which direction the train was coming, what track it would be on and how fast. Focusing on the other side I make a quick sprint (good interval training) and covered the 100 metres in a time Bolt would be proud of.

Saturday 25th September
(20k 2 x 10k)

The rain has finally given way and today is the hottest it has been since our arrival. A quick look at the BBC website tells me it is around 36 - 37 degrees. The humidity has dropped a little and I am faced with a different kind of heat. There is not a bit of wind in sight and I am faced with a clear blue sky.

I have picked 1pm to do my first 10k (without water) to see how my body responds to this kind of heat. I did not take water as I have limited the run to 10k and will do anything to avoid carrying to carry a bottle - Obviously it wont help my training if I injure myself through stupidity hence I have ensured that this is a controlled run by limiting it to 10k and a nice 7mm pace. There can be some benefit in doing things like this so that you familiarise your body with such weather and conditions. I  prefer this to happen in training and use the time to work out how my body copes with the added pressure and how best I can deal with it with  the limited resources available.

Coming out of an air conditioned house I was immediately hit with a wall of heat across the body and face. Breathing was instantly a struggle. I synced the Garmin and started at a steady pace, I had not gone far before my t-shirt was soaked, sweat was streaming into my eyes, chaffing was kicking-in around the usual places and my legs felt a little heavy.

Although this route is mainly trail, the first mile is on a sandy road and there are places where I need to hold my breath because I am either passing a dead dog / other creature lying on the side of the road or a particularly large lorry shoots by bringing with it a storm of dust and sand in my face. My body was working so much harder today to keep itself cool (increased heart rate etc) and holding my breath even for a few seconds was a challenge. I calculated it wrong and got a nose full of stench and a mouth full of sand. The conditions can really be unforgiving at times.

I eventually hit the trail and the humidity increased but it also felt a lot hotter. I had ran the first 5k in reasonably comfort, however it was not long before dehydration was noticeable. It is amazing how quickly performance drops. I am used to running 10k every day as part of my morning run followed by a longer run in the evening. Today my pace slowed, my mouth became increasingly dry, my body was quite burnt from the heat - my general motivation had dropped - the 10k seemed a lot further than usual!

It is this kind of physical and mental reaction that I wanted to pick up on and experience. As I have mentioned below, the best thing to do is to focus on running economy and ensure that you get to the next check point (if it were a race) in a reasonable condition so that once you have benefited from the CP you can pick yourself up and try and make up on lost time.

Although I was not dangerously dehydrated, my brain was telling my legs to stop or at least walk! It is at this stage that I simply focused on a point several feet ahead of me and tried to let myself drift off a little thinking of anything other than run (family, work etc). The key is to always remain positive in my thinking. Making a point of recognising landmarks I passed on the way out helps to create a general feeling of running back and getting closer to the checkpoint (or in this case home) thinking that it will only be x minutes before I have access to water, food, AC and perhaps a massage. Before long I heard the beep on the Garmin which indicated that I was only a mile or so away from completing the 10k. Although I probably would not do this in a race (unless the next CP was the finish) I brought my pace down to 5.45 / 6mm which was a major shock to the system that was already overworked. It was not long before I could see the house which immediately gave me that added lift I needed to keep going at that pace. Job done.

I don't think I could ever have made a 10k sound so dramatic given that its quite a short distance and not much usually happens in training, however it is amazing to experience the added difficulties that can be placed in any kind of race when the weather takes a dramatic turn. Running in temperatures in the UK at around 15 degrees and then shooting over to India which boasts temperatures of 35+ degrees certainly provides a shock to the system. Another point I noted was the time it took for me to recover from that run. I could feel the strain several hours later when I hit the road for my second 10k, which in usual training, I would not have felt at all.

Friday 24th September
(0 miles)

Much travelling in Delhi today, places to go, people to see... One thing that has caught my interest is a new Ultra run which was featured in October's edition of Running Fitness and that is La Ultra, The High. A very difficult 222KM road/trail run at the foothills of the Himalayas. Check it out here:

This ultra is by invitation only and boasts some amazing stats on its altitude. The entry is limited to 40 so better get in your CV now! One worth thinking about in the future.

Thursday 23rd September
6.2 Miles

Duty calls in India and the functions have started which means most of the day is consumed by traveling, eating and general being social. This means I could only fit in a quick 10k in the morning while everyone was getting ready. I am now in central Delhi for 2 days so running is going to be very limited.

Wednesday 22nd September
(16 miles)
My usual training requires 2 runs a day, 7 days a week ranging from 85 to 125 miles per week. I try and fit in gym sessions, where possible. One thing is certain, my body certainly doesn't feel like it has reduced the mileage this week. The heat is an unbelievable strain on the body, dehydration kicks in quick which reduced performance substantially and the humidity really plays on the mind. The added stress of local wildlife (when running in the farmland) such as wild boar, snakes, spiders and other creepy bugs adds to stress. Tracks are quite narrow with vegetation on both sides. A constant shaking in the vegetation trips the alarm prevents me from relaxing. I like to hit my preferred pace and sit back and relax. This is certainly unachievable in this kind of terrain.

Today's running was interesting, a mile or so in I was faced with an extremely large eagle swooping down no more than 10ft in front of me to pick up something off the floor. It is amazing how quick you can stop and how high you can jump when surprised like that.

I did my usual head in any direction and get lost for a bit turn around and head in the same direction. I came across a very small village which appeared to house the very poor farmers who work on the local land. This was a Muslim community (presumably as the central feature appeared to be a mosque) where most lived mud huts. The 'streets' were extremely narrow which forced me to run in very deep mud (caused by the farming carts). With many spectators coming out of their huts to see what the hell was going on, I managed to entertain a couple of youngsters by slipping and falling sideways into what can only be described as the biggest pile of bull shit you have ever seen. I tried to take it on with some dignity pushed myself back up and kept running through the community. I think the kids were still laughing when I returned 10 minutes later!

News quickly spreads of some white man running through the local streets which, I am sure, has never been done before, which attracted at least 20 kids between 3 to 8 years old. They all started to scream and get over excited. When they realised that I was simply some mad guy running through their community they relaxed and formed a long line behind me and started to run - it was like a scene out of Children in Need! Shortly after some elderly chap shouted at the kids, and that was the end of my (their) fun.

Running is extremely difficult in this areas because the terrain is a mix of mud, sand, clay, manure and a host of other bits. Mix this with the massive downpour that India has received and you are essentially running in something like treacle. Good training for the x-country season coming up!

Hitting the 12 mile mark today I was seriously dehydrated and smelly - I had sand everywhere, in my eyes, ears and doing its job in adding to the chafing. With the relentless sun beaming down and baking me, I must have looked like something which came out of the swamp. The last 4 miles were quite hard and it simply required the usual approach to this situation which may occur during an ultra, which is to dig in, focus on economy of running and try and move your mind away from the running and focus on other things. Being in India that is very easy to do!

Tuesday 21st September
(10 miles)

Will the rain ever stop? When it rains in India, it rains! The rain was coming down so hard and fast visibility was quite limited which is a dangerous thing on the Indian highway. Still, I managed to put in 10 miles steady on the road.

Local areas are now beginning to flood. There was a risk overnight that we could be trapped if the Ganges burst its banks. Fingers crossed, we should be ok.

Monday 20th September
20km (2 x 10k)

Wow, the weather has changed today and the heat is almost unbearable the humidity is making life very difficult. It is so hot that by the time you get out of the shower you need to jump back in to wash the sweat off again! Not exactly ideal running weather but good training.

As I am not keen on taking a water bottle with me (I like to have my hands empty) I decided to split today's training down to two sessions. A recovery session in the morning followed by a tempo run in the evening.
I decided to move onto trail and run through the local farming community which was an eye opener. Children farming the crops with sickles half their size, shifty movements in the long grass (a snake, monkey or bird?!) and being challenged by some goats to a race. Interesting.

My initial plan of splitting my race pace was instantly set back as although I managed to hit around 6.20mm to 6.30mm for the first few miles the intense heat and humidity slowed my pace right down. In the end I could only manage a disappointing 7mm average over both 10ks but I hope my body will slowly accept this heat...

I will try and venture back on the road tomorrow although I am a little concerned that the locals stare at me so hard, they come close to driving straight into me!

Sunday 19th September
15 Miles

Naturally inspired by the various Commonwealth Games shenanigans which Delhi is preparing for, I decided to slip on a pair of Talons and do a steady 15 miles today. My legs are a little sore today following very long periods of sitting down on a plane and car, so I want to take it easy to avoid any niggles or worst still, injuries.

I was going to ask if they needed an extra marathon runner in the Commonwealth Games, but decided against it for risk of being put on a plane back to London and banned from entering India again.

I decided to brave a 15 mile stretch on road, mud, sand and other bits and pieces found on the side of Indian roads on a relatively calm Sunday just north of Delhi in Gajroula, Uttar Pradesh. This happens to be one of the most accident prone sections of the road, however I have limited options I must run. Things were going well albeit receiving some very strange looks by the locals who were probably not used to seeing some white boy running through their village and especially in such heavy rain.

Breathing was quite difficult (in contrast to Switzerland) because of the car fumes and trying to slip in to a relaxed state of running was proving quite difficult - anyone who has visited India will know that the rule of the road is to beep the horn as hard as possible and play 'chicken'. Survival of the fastest!

It was about 8 miles in with very little terrain other than road that I decided Inov-8 Talons were probably not the best trainers to be wearing. I knew I should have put on the Adios. It was a reasonably eventful run with every other guy on a bike shouting out "Commonwealth?" naturally presuming that I must be VERY lost or participating in the Games.

I think I have even made the local newspaper as some guy armed with a motorbike and camera refused to believe that I was not participating. After taking a few snaps of me running alongside a rather boring stretch of road he shouted back 'you're going to be in the newspaper'! So, apologies to anyone out there going to the Games expecting to see me! Hmmmm

Various words were shouted at me during my run, most of which was in Hindi. One word I did recognise (because my wife shouts it at me quite often) was 'Pagal' meaning 'mad'! Enough said.

This was followed by an encounter with a stray dog. Usually stray dogs decide to run as far as way as possible, however this particular dog stood its ground. As I approached it, I was not entirely sure who was more scared, me or the dog. I shuffled past him (I didn't check the sex, so I will take a guess) and he slowly shuffled by me. We went our separate ways...

Other than that it was a normal steady road run, you know the kind.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Hopp Hopp - Jungfrau Marathon 2010 Race Report

After a 3 hour picturesque train journey from Geneva Airport, my wife and I were standing at the train station at Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. I had completely forgotten about the race coming up a few days later. The views were magnificent boasting snow topped mountains, waterfalls gushing off the canyon falls, bell jangling mountain cows and fresh air. You know, the kind of postcard style pictures you see of Switzerland. In fact, the place was so clean you could have eaten off the restaurant urinals!

This is a place that is not short of adventure. On our way to the chalet we could not make out this ripping sound high in the air. Having squinted up towards the mountains we could see it was a bat-shape base jumper, jumping of the canyons into a field. Mad!

A couple of days before the race I had decided to recce the Lauterbrunnen to Wengen part of the course (around 8 miles there and back) which later turned out to be both a good and bad decision. Good because I knew what was coming up at about 25km into the course, bad because I had destroyed my hamstrings on what the club later called “zig zag” - a relentless zig zagged path up from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen. This ultimately meant I was standing at the start line feeling a little sore. Hey Ho!

The Jungfrau Marathon is an extremely popular mountain marathon attracting around 3500 to 4000 competitors each year. It is not hard to see why; any marathon which heads up towards a the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountain range is bound to be spectacular. Thankfully, on this occasion the snow had decided to stay on top of the mountains rather than under our feet!

Anyway, I digress from the important stuff. The Jungfrau Marathon starts at Interlaken where you take full advantage of the spectator support with a nice 5k flat start. This is followed by a steady climb of about 15km up to Lauterbrunnen, doing a horse-shoe style shape through the valley and the river which flows through it. I had started off reasonably well with a pace ranging from 5.3 to 5.4 minute mile hitting 10 miles in around 56 minutes. All was going well. I had decided to hold back a little to save what I may have left for what may be above Wengen.

We set down as a group of 3 which took us close to Lauterbrunnen. However, I found myself running alone by the time we passed the half marathon mark and had unknowingly dropped my pace down to 6.2 – 6.4 minute miles. Disaster! This lack of concentration cost me as this was the stage where you really make up your time and I was unlikely to be able to make it up in the second half - most of the second half of the course was unknown to me but in any event was simply UP!

I had managed to pick up a group of 3 in the valley who were pushing out a decent pace so I stuck with these guys until we hit zig zag. I didn’t really have a plan for the second part of the course other than to get up it as fast as possible and avoid walking too much. I knew that this is really where the race begins for some and many would have an advantage over me on this kind of terrain and ascent (I live in Bramley which, in comparison, is extremely flat!). Zig Zag boasts approximately 1500ft of ascent in an extremely short distance. I focused on the guy in front (as 2 of the runners I was running with simply drilled it straight up zig zag like they were on a Sunday stroll). The aim was to walk when the guy in front walked and run when he started running. We set a decent pattern of running and then walking for 3 – 5 strides, hands on knees to catch a breath and then plough on with the running business.

It was a relief and a much needed morale boost to hit Wengen with the extremely friendly and loud supporters shouting for me to Hopp Hopp (I could hardly run let alone Hopp!) there was a wave of spectators, flags, horns, bells, food, colours and noise. A young lad got a bit of a shock when he held out his hand for a high five and was met with my clammy and somewhat gel encrusted hands. I don’t think he will be doing that again!

The checkpoints were around every 5k and the checkpoint was much needed at this point of the race. Many of the checkpoints had several volunteers offering water, sports drink (I think called ‘Sponsor’), bananas, biscuits and gel. It was a reasonably hot day so I made the most of drinking as much as I could hold down and even slowing down to walk through the stations to make sure the sports drink went in the mouth rather than the eyes, nose and hair.

A couple of kilometres outside Wengen I met with Anjali (my wife) which gave me a massive boost and learnt that I was in 34th place. I had comfortably kept up with the pace of the guy in front and we were both knocking out between 8 minute to 12 minute miles! Not exactly lightning speed but a reasonable effort up this kind of ascent. Looking behind me I could see that Simona Staicu (first elite lady – see picture above) and (what I think was) her pacer catching up with me quite quickly on the mountains. I had passed her at the 10k mark so she was really drilling it up this section of the course. I continued to push.

I had heard at the start when the organisers announced the elite runners that the ‘horse beating (as in race) UK runner Lobb Huw had entered. It was at this stage that I had reconsidered the prospect of coming in as first Brit! However, there was still a chance to come in the top 3 Brits.

My body had slightly recovered in Wengen with the reasonably flat and soft footing, however the pleasure was short lived. Coming out of Wengen we were met with more UP and a variety of terrain. My ears had started to pop. There were various villages which I ran past without much notice and a few pine forests to enjoy along the way. The shade of the trees the various stages was much appreciated by most of the runners.

After (what felt like a slow) winding trail up to about 37 / 38 km we hit what was to be the hardest (but not steepest) part of the course. This part was attacked with more walk / run rationale (in fact probably more walk than run). At this point I was neck and neck with Simona and her pacer who appeared to be shouting at her in a language I did not understand. It got generally more aggressive (I think) when she decided to walk instead of running. I was seriously flagging at this stage as the ascent had taken its toll on my hamstrings – with a lack of salt intake cramp was certainly imminent. I tried not to focus at this point and look at the positive fact that we only had a few km to go. I decided that despite the language barrier, to tag on to Simona and her pacer and attempt to follow their approach to this part of the marathon. Good decision.

With my views generally being Simona’s back I could not take in the beautiful views of the mountain range to my right and in fact the extremely aggressive drop (although I later sat back with a beer and a sausage and took it all in). You know you are reasonably high up when the helicopter is hovering at the same height as your feet. Importantly, I could hear what sounded like bagpipes above my and Simona’s extremely loud breathing – we were close.

The final section is defined by the bagpipe player and once passed the competitors are faced with an extremely fast downhill section to the finish. My legs were like jelly babies at this stage so although downhill was welcome the speed that followed was not! The sharp downhill needed to be tackled in the right way – just let go and enjoy the ride.

With a quick run (but thankfully I was not forced into a sprint finish) towards Kleine Sheidegg and under the finish sign, I was finally greeted by Anjali. I was only a few minutes behind the Kenyans. Great!

Position: 36th 3 hours 34 (3rd Brit).

Top 3 Male

1st Marco De Gaspi (Italy) – 2.56
2nd Marc Lauenstein (Peseux) – 3.03
3rd Huw Lobb (GB) – 3.04

I was reasonably happy with this time given that I have little to no mountain training and had never competed in a mountain marathon like this. I had finished the Lakeland 100 a month or so beforehand which would have provided some solid base training however the two are approached at a completely different pace (unless you are Stuart Mills!).

I would highly recommend the Jungfrau Marathon which is a challenging, enjoyable and extremely satisfying race. I had the advantage of running with several other Basingstoke Club members who all said the same and did amazingly well. I would strongly recommend that you reach Switzerland a couple of days before and after the marathon and spend some time around Lauderbrunnen and experience the mountain range and various challenging walks available. In particular, the views of the glaciers on The Top of Europe are breathtaking and add to the sense of achievement. You may also want to check out the course beforehand!

From the start, it took me a while for me to settle down in a comfortable pace and find the right group of runners running at a pace I was looking for.

Things went a little pear shaped when I ran past a group of runners looking strong however a few of which decided to use me to set the pace. This is not what I was looking for! I was a little uncomfortable with this and could not shake them off. If I slowed down to allow someone to move forward, they may in turn slow which I need to avoid but I was also uncomfortable with having to set the pace with people on my shoulder.

That said, I would not recommend walking around the mountain range in shorts and t-shirt. Yes! You know who you are!!!


Welcome to Running Mad - Obsessions of a Runner

Welcome to RunningMad

Hi, welcome to my new Blogger site on running. To say that I am obsessed about the thing is a little bit of an understatement.

It seems a perfect time to follow the rest of the running community and bang out some blogs on everything about running. I will be putting together a decent running blog about my training, racing, kit reviews and general discussions and sharing experiences about trail running, marathons and ultras. Please feel free to add to this site – any advice will be welcome!

I run for Basingstoke and Mid Hants Athletics Club focusing on cross country, general trail running, marathons and ultras. I run between 80 to 120 miles per week using this year to build on my base mileage and general strength and experience in racing the various distances.

I have only been running for 2 years however I have picked up the pace quite quickly. I have the following targets over the next 12 to 18 months:

Distance / Target / Acheived (Race or Training)
10km / 30/31 mins / 34mins
10 Miles / Sub 53 / 56mins
Half Marathon / Sub 1hr 10 mins / 1hr 14mins
Marathon Sub / 2.30 mins / 2hr 38 mins
Ultra Marathon / Various / Various

I hope to be able to share my experiences and lessons learnt (and believe me there are many) as I focus on trying to achieve these targets in 2011.

Please keep an eye on my blogs as I record weekly training, race results and generally bang on about my concerning obsession with anything and everything to do with running.

Keep an eye out for my race report on the Jungfrau Marathon….