Saturday, 25 June 2011

Future potential

Surely a pose for everyone? And no matter what your priorities are.

This something I’ve been mulling over since I completed my BGR last year. Perhaps it is a natural thing for someone to do once they have achieved something that is widely held (out with running circles) to be impossible? But I think the reason I specifically keep coming back to this issue i.e. what is my future potential, is because I think I achieved the feat under quite non conventional circumstances.

First of all, Rob and I practically did an ultra almost every weekend in the three months prior to our attempt (my first attempt) and having read a little bit about distance running recently; it would seem this philosophy flies in the face of tradition. Some people stipulate that one long run per month is all you need to do, in addition to your continual weekly training, in order to build up to an ultra. I have real trouble believing that one can run well in a 100 mile race by only ever having run a 30miler maximum in training. Maybe I’m wrong but maybe our philosophy was actually right.

Secondly, for me the BGR training was done without any real depth of personal history in running. Sure I’m ex military and was always regarded as quite fit among my peers but I never actually specifically trained for anything. My fitness was always based on a bit of everything. And before I joined the Army at 19 I was never into fitness aside from playing Rugby once a week for the under 16s. I only got into this sort of thing recently when Rob asked me to do a mountain marathon with him – and any training I did for them was based mainly in the hills.

Thirdly, I got quite ill on a number of occasions throughout the training for the BGR. Many experienced runners might not be surprised with this fact given the information above. I got two chest infections and food poisoning (and injured my ankle), all of which kept me out of training for significant periods of time. In the end I was surprised to find out that I did just an average of 8hrs training a week. 

The food poisoning was a weird one. As soon as I ate a certain fish supper after a speedy 10 hour session in the hills, I felt extremely ill. The following day I managed to blast round leg 1 but then spent the next 3 days in bed being sick. From this point on I had nauseating problems in training for the BGR; the type of nausea that felt like my whole body was being poisoned – right from the end of my hair on my head to the tips of my toes. I also had nausea problems on the fling this year but believe the two episodes are not linked. Ultimately, that fish supper ruined my first BGR attempt, returning 4 weeks later I proved that!

And lastly, I practically walked the majority of the successful round; certainly from Yewbarrow onwards and including all the uphills previously. And of course I was in no-where near peak condition - with remnants of the food poisoning mentally holding me back. 

That said, I am not naive enough to believe that everyone else who does an ultra or a BGR does so without any problems. I witnessed Rob deal with his own demons before I wilted on his successful attempt. However, with the  background above in mind I keep asking that illusive question.....what if? So how did I succeed at that particular challenge?

Well, first off, it was about how much I wanted it?
Quite simply, when I realised that other people had done it, it became a tangible target for me. In other words once I had decided I was going to do it, I WAS going to it. Not once throughout all of the training did it ever occur to me that I might fail. I know that might sound arrogant but maybe I was just being thoroughly positive.

Secondly, I had to ask myself what my body’s ability was - at that time - and what its potential was?
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not much of a runner, so rather than alarm bells ringing I resolved to ensure that my running fitness was as taken care of as much as it could be – and so set into a period of sustained running training for the first time in my life!        

To be honest, looking back, there are flaws in the way we trained. But the beauty of this type of activity is that it is as much about yearly progression as it is about the here-and-now goals; the type of achieving that comes from reflecting on past performances and tweaking things for future events.

And so it is that for future potential these two questions remain.

I think the first question is relatively easy to deal with.
It should be a given that you want to take part in an ultra. You are likely to put yourself through some extreme experiences.

For example take the likes of Jez Bragg and Keith Hughes; I imagine their ultra running experiences to be vastly different in nature BUT quite similar in quality. Despite their differences in their approach to training and their capacity for running at high speed, they both set out with an aim and are both fiercely determined to achieve it.

If you don’t wholeheartedly buy into something it can be quite a struggle at the best of times to give it your all. Recently I had to write a 6 page assignment answer about the merits of a passenger lift to a high storey building. Mentally, I immediately gave up and mustered a disappointing 3 pages. If you’re not entirely up for a 50 mile race, or even longer, and you’re miles from the comfort of your house and your bed, it shouldn’t surprise you if you record a poor time (if that was what your goal was) or even worse a DNF.

Stuart Mills often talks about the power of the mind, saying that staying positive throughout your training and your race is key to success. Stuart is a high performer who usually cuts it at the business end of an event, winning or coming close in almost every ultra he takes part in. There are many people who dispute his musings and his approach to racing. I believe what he is preaching is right, if not least for himself, for many more people who might just try to harness their inner creature more often.

Unfortunately, the answer to the second question (the ability of the body) is rather more woolly. 
Tim Noakes (Lore of running) asserts that someone’s 10km race time can be extrapolated to predict their 50mile or 100mile times. I take it from this then, it is only a matter of time before the elite 10km runners latch onto ultra running and push the likes of me even further down the mediocrity pecking order? Exactly, I just can’t buy into that either.

To answer this question I tend to look around me and see what others have done with what they have been born with. I do this because I don’t have a crystal ball and because I haven’t lived here before; I simply don’t know enough about how the body works; so as I said above, if something is tangible it’s good enough for me.

Warning signs do flash up though when I consider the likes of the best. Almost everyone in this bracket is supremely gifted; take William Sichel as an example. Here’s a guy that was running 2:30 marathon pace and was only ever just getting close to international level. He then decided to run marginally slower and found that he could run for hours on end without stopping. The rest is history in the making.

Most of those at the cutting edge have a deep history of running i.e. something I don’t have. However, there is shining lights out there, people who once perhaps deemed ordinary individuals? Who are now an inspiration to hundreds if not thousands of others e.g. Debs. Here is a woman who only a few years ago decided she was going to run. Already she has represented Scotland in the 100km championships and more recently came third in the West Highland Way footrace.

Mark Hartell once said that he simply got quicker every year he came back. For me this is good enough. Tim Noakes would seem to support this view and extends it by suggesting that we all have around ten years in us to reach our true potential. Clearly the judge is out on this one as I’m not sure what the likes of William Sichel and Stuart Mills would make of it. That said I feel I can give this quandary some flesh.

So first of all I have to decide what my goals are
I haven’t had time to prepare a 5 or 10 year training programme and nor would I want to because my ability will change (hopefully for the better) as the next few years pan out.

I do have a few things in mind;
  • To finish top 5 in the Highlander Mountain Marathon (with Rob).
  • To finish well placed in the elite category of the OMM (with Rob).
  • To finish well placed in a Mountain Marathon as part of a mixed team.
  • To continue to gain meaningful experiences in running ultras.
  • To support friends in their ultra attempts.
  • To race the Highland Fling in at least sub 9 hours.
  • To complete the BGR in less than 20 hours.
  • To complete the West Highland Way race in at least sub 20 hours.
  • To complete the Paddey Buckley Round in under 24 hours.
  • To complete the Lakeland 100                                         in under 24 hours.
  • To complete the UTMB                                                     in under 30 hours.
  • And then maybe, just maybe,                                          try for a sub-3 hour marathon. Haha.

Obviously though, it will take time for my body to adjust to the demand. For this reason, the training and goals have to be incremental. It’s not as if I’m going to jump straight into trying to achieve the biggest aim (UTMB) next year. And it’s not as if the UTMB will be my last aim overall, things will change. Also, although I may want to do, for example, the WHW in under 20hrs it does not mean that I will expect this in my first foray into it, though it would be nice. Similarly, I have nothing against anyone wishing to simply go and try out the UTMB. Its just that for me, I want to be able to give it everything and see how I get on. Besides, it'll probably take me about 5-10 years to save enough money to even contemplate doing it!

My training must reflect my goals.
At the moment I am injured; I am to have an MRI scan on Monday (27th June) and will hopefully have this problem operated on and fixed, if it needs that, in due course.

My aim for that expected operation is to treat it like an ultra. I will try to train hard for it albeit, mostly with non impact training and strength conditioning. Post operation will be treated like post ultra training with the hope that by the time I am ready to recover I can get gradually back into things without too much trouble. If I was to simply give up now I imagine it would take a bit longer than desired to get fit again.

Next year I will be focussing solely on my last year of my honours degree and will probably therefore use 2012 as a rehabilitation year – returning to basics. Essentially, next year will prove to be a good year to iron out any creases that may exist within my make-up e.g. my CV capacity.

After I see how I get on next year (or even the latter part of this year) I will then decide how to best achieve my goals and how they should be prioritised.

History of running.
In addition to the sporadic training I have managed in my life to date, hopefully throughout the next 18months I can establish a decent and sustained base.

It is my intention to approach training in a careful, methodical and gradual way rather than the peaks and troughs that I am used too. I hope this will lend itself to building a better immune system and more ability.

Something else that I feel needs to be mentioned is stress. Once this blasted degree is out of the way, I can focus that time on my wife and kids. The hope is that my conscience will be suitably rewarded enough to allow me to drive the training hard. I’m not going to do this topic any justice by briefly mentioning it here. Suffice to say that I believe, in ultra running, your life needs to be well balanced.

Future potential? What are your goals and how are you going to make sure you achieve them? In the word of (chef) Gordon Ramsey, DONE.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

no further forward

Yesterday was supposed to be a big day for me as I was finally seeing the specialist about my ankle.

So I was sitting there in the waiting room when I was called forward by the nurse/assistant and told that the doctor wanted me to go and get my RIGHT ankle x-rayed before seeing me. At this point I said that it would be better if I got my LEFT side done as the problem wasn't on the right side. She then told me to take a seat to wait for him to see me. 20 minutes he comes into the room and says;

"so I believe you feel you don't need an x-ray Mr Jamieson?"

'Great start', I thought. I was all ready for a handshake and a few pleasantries but this was going to go one way. So I said that although I had an injury to my right side (the bursitis, which I never got a chance to explain) I said that the one that had been troubling me for the past year was the left side.

"Ok then we'll get the left side x-rayed, take this card and I'll see you after its been done"

Things then got from bad to worse as I attempted to explain my perceived problem; as anybody who is fairly compulsive about their state of fitness will testify too, I (like those others) have been frustrated for a while with this damn injury.

A quick summary (well almost);  I was injured by some thug in a game of football May 4th last year, I still did the BGR but noted that my downhill running was badly affected due to severe pain in the ankle joint so I took the next 6 weeks off training and then set into a 25 WEEK TRAINING PROGRAMME for the Highlander Mountain Marathon. The Highland Fling was not our aim this year, rather a spin off, a taper-out training run.

Anyway, SURPRISE SURPRISE I had overtrained by the time the MM came along. I had been running with a heck of a lot of pain since January but because I was so focussed on the competition I just got on with it. And guess what? I picked up another injury at the MM - the achilles bursitis on the other foot. So in the two weeks up to the fling, I was overtrained and injured but I still did it. I knew it was going to be a poor performance (I will get a sub-9 next time) and I predicted sub-11 before I started but the most important thing as far as I'm concerned was that I did it despite my difficulties. This is what ultra running is all about for me - some people get tied up in the winning and the competition at the front - and one day I would hope to be there - but (for now) the vast majority of us will never experience that.

So back to my brief encounter with the specialist; I then wanted to make sure that the injury I have been told about was going to get the proper attention it deserved. A picture paints a thousand words;

The picture above is from a pdf document I found on the internet re ankle posterior impingement injuries. It goes to lengths to point out that the problem is often missed in x-ray unless the specialist is skilled and gives directions on how to exactly place the foot for the x-ray. With this in mind, I set into my explanation of the perceived injury, only to be told about 5 words into my part of the conversation;

"I'm the foot and ankle expert, so go and get your x-ray now".

A little embarressed I walked round to the x-ray dept and was taken in (after a brief wait) to have MY FEET X-RAYED!!! When I explained to the girls in x-ray that my feet (yes, plural) weren't the problem, they said that they could only do what was on the card. Awesome. So they then decided to phone through for clarification. This is just getting better..........

The doc refused to speak to the radiologist and got his assistant to tell them to do both of my heels too. This guys a fricken legend. NOT!

So I get back round there and after waiting for an age he see's me. He gets my shoes and socks off, does a few manoeuvres with the feet, has a look at the x-rays, asks me some questions (obviously by now, I'm sticking to answering exactly what I'm asked) and then launches into a few possibilities, each of which he rules out with explanation. And then comes to the injury I had been trying to tell him about, only 2 and a half hours ago. But get this, as the x-ray does not show a bone spur, he rules out a posterior impingment.

He then tells me that with my symtoms it would appear to be similar to posterior impingment but can't understand why it doesn't show up in the x-ray! A few expletives would go down well here I think. Anyway, to his credit he is now sending me for an MRI to try and rule out anything else.

That said, upon leaving he mentioned to me that the injury I have may turn out to be incurable and that I should beging to prepare myself for that. So yeah, I'm in a real great place at the minute. When I said to the missus that my running could be over before it's even started she just gave a sigh. Bless her cotton socks.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I have a posterior impingement injury. But what I do know is that it feels like a bone on bone impact injury that occurs when really going for it downhill. This injury obviously has a spin-off to the area around the joint because repetative running e.g. a training programme, is just incredibly painful due to what feels like infected soft tissue around and inside where the foot attaches to the leg.

I don't really know what to do now, my heads all over the place. Ultra running is a drug and something I am having withdrawl symtoms from. This blog is as much to get down what happened yesterday as to help me with my thoughts.

If it turns out that I get told that I have an incurable injury I will be using this as evidence when requesting a second opinion.  

A couple of things to add to assist me in later times due to probable memory failure;
He asked how long I had been out the Army and implied that I had requested to be expidited because I'd served in the forces. I wasn't given the opportunity to explain to him that all I had said to my GP was that it was ironic that I was fitter now than I was at any time whilst I was in the Army.
And the other thing was that he asked about my meeting with Dr Duck - a private specialist seen last August and that I would've been using night splints since then. Wrong. Jim Duck never once mentioned night splints to me. 

Thursday, 9 June 2011

WHW jitters

Not me, I'm not doing it (dagnamit).

But I bet there's a few folk out there who just don't know what to do with themselves now. You know what's good for nerves and getting over them phantom pains? 

A laugh. I've got a mate who does Iron Man's so I posted this on his facebook and then thought it might be relevant here too.


Oh, I should say thanks to Debs as I nicked this idea from one of her posts.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

What tips can someone like me give?

I suppose this is why I have started blogging, that and the fact that I've only recently stumbled upon it and have found some very interesting people to read of. I'm from Dumfries & Galloway which is for all intents & purposes 'retirement country' and whilst the running club (that I have just become a member of) is very well supported, with some good talent to boot, it is comforting to get online and read about others I feel I have a connection with despite not really knowing them.

so the first point is 'someone like me'; you know until I was mid-way through my training for last years Bob Graham Round, I didn't actually know what an ultra was. Ofcourse I had read 'feet in the clouds' so when Rob asked me to do the round with him I thought that if other people could do it then there was no reason I couldn't. Simple as that really. And not once through the training did it ever occur to me that I might fail - until I got a bout of food poisoning and then got injured. In the end I averaged just 8 hours a week training but crucially still completed it. Yes, alright, with 12 minutes to spare! But had it not been for the couple of issues mentioned I would've been home and dry in around the 21hr mark which I feel is a fairly average time. Put it this way, throughout our training we were at a 17/18hr pace on sessions that were up to 10hrs, so with fatigued mitigated for we put ourselves in for around a 21 - 21 and a half hour round. It so happens that is what Rob got on the attempt I had to pull out of.

I keep coming back to that because when I meet people and tell them that I'm just getting into ultra running they tell me it's a long process. Then I tell them that I did the BGR in my first year at this sort of thing. Their general surprise at this is what leads me here. You see, I don't regard doing the BGR as being all that and I suppose I can say that as I have nothing to prove in that respect. But the general concensus seems to be that it is a big deal. Therefore, perhaps I do have something worth contributing.

I'm into my second week of accepting that I can't run. In some ways I'm still in limbo as I still haven't seen a specialist nor have I got any idea about an operation that may be required according to the GP. I'm also into my second week of cross training. I admit though, there is an element of fear that I will lose all of my long distance (running) gains but what choice do I have?

Cross training keeps the heart and lungs going and largely avoids the muscle damage associated with running. There seems to be a growing appreciation of the school of thought that running is actually bad for you. Therefore if you must run, keep it to a minimum. I'm not sure how Ron Hill would've viewed this anology! Never-the-less I am eagerly following Disco Stu's blog to see how this pans out for him. He has an ElliptoGO which is gaining popularity among endurance athletes world-wide. In fact he's selling the thing so damn well I'd be getting them to sponsor me, if I were him. 

I went out on the bike for 3hrs on Friday with Bridey (photo of the dude below) and then yesterday I went to the gym for 3 and a half hours this is the weekend top-up to the mid-week exploits; a few cycles home from work and a bit of plyometrics and core stuff. I wanted to mention Bridey because (and Rob will testify to this) he is the type of bloke who could probably just tip up with minimal training and complete a BGR. He, until very recently, worked on oil rigs so I was often amazed by his fitness whenever we would meet up. I thought friday would be another session where I would be doing my best to keep up with him - in fact the opposite happened. This gave me a lot of confidence that perhaps the fitness is still hanging in there, like I say though I'm not looking forward to trying to gain all my running stuff back. I'm sure most people would agree that maintaining fitness and progressing through a training programme is one thing but trying to get fit in the first place, is quite another. 

So where do I think matters in terms of long distance running fitness? This really depends on what you what to run. I am more suited to running up and down hills and hopefully once I get my foot sorted I can get back into that. Why? Because I epitomise crap when running on the flat. I repeat, I'm not awesome on hills, I'm just better there than on a flat road or track so don't expect to see me on any ultra that doesn't have a bit of ascent and descent e.g. the GUCR. Aside from the obvious cardiovascular work that needs to be done I tend to concentrate on leg strength.

Before we did the BGR, Rob was quite concerned about his nemisis - his leg strength, and I decided that I would have to knuckle down and actually get the heart and lungs going now and again by running more often. As said previously we had done a couple of mountain marathons (MM) in recent years; I was generally quite poor on day one, trying to keep up with Rob. If truth be told, my training for a MM didn't involve much running - because I hated it - and so I feel this inhibited a really good performance. The thing that used to stand out to me was how Rob seemed to fade badly on the second day in terms of getting up and down hills with the same ferocity as the previous day. So for his assault on the BGR I forced him to consider a leg weights training programme.

This is something that I decided to do for myself without any prompting from anyone else. I suppose this was because I really liked doing weights when I was in my mid to late 20's but alas have lost all my upper body gains since getting into this malarky. And this is now something that Rob swears by. Not only that but I have 3 mates (ironically all called Chris) that have asked me for leg weight training advice. They're all getting into ultra's. Chris C has already done a fair bit, more than me actually but he lives in a very flat part of britain. Chris T recently did the Calderdale Hike and remarked how badly his quads were hurting towards the end and Chris B always seems to have problems with his quads on downhill sections of runs. I've never had any problems with my legs. In fact on the fling recently I can honestly say that in terms of my legs and the effort, the whole thing was easy. This is why it is so desperately upsetting that my tummy let me down. So there you have it, a wee contribution from me. It may be that many ultra runners incorporporate this into their base training but from the small snapshot of people I know, I doubt that many actually do. Again though, if you're not interested in the ups and downs then maybe this isn't for you. I would also say that before the fling Rob and I were warned about the 'really rough section' - pah - that was our easiest section!

There are loads of things I want to talk about e.g. my plyometrics and core training workouts. These were added to this years programme after me and Rob had a chat about improvements that could be made. My thing that lets me down though is my CV capacity. I have to accept that I'll never be like the greats at ultra running - there are far too many to mention and to start would be to leave someone out. Two guys that stand out as far as I'm concerned though are Billy Bland and Josh Naylor. Will anyone ever beat Billy's BGR record? Maybe Jez or Richie one day but bugger trying to pace them! What I can do though, is be the very best that I can be - just like the majority of people who do this. I feel it's really not about the winning in ultra running, it goes far beyond that as far as I'm concerned. No matter what position you come you generally feel as though you've won something anyway, something within, right?

Eating is also something that needs to be addressed. Ultra running is such a contentious subject because in my view it's trial and error but not in the most economical of ways. You can spend 6months of your life doing one thing only to find out that it was all wrong, only for you to work on something different and find that it only helped you half of what you had hoped for. And all of this as time slips by. We get one chance at life, so it's important to almost everyone to get the parts of the ultra jigsaw to piece together asap. When I'm at my most intense period of training I eat a lot and I don't really care what it is. However, when I'm just maintaining or in a base phase, I try to be quite disciplined. I'll leave this rather lengthy post with a couple of photos of examples of my perceived healthy eating.

Breakfast; greek yoghurt, millet flakes, gogi berries, and pecan nuts with a cup of rasberry tea.

Lunch; (at work - no photo) a cheese and ham sandwich with side salad and hummus and a cup of tea.

Dinner; a pasta dish with garlic bread (preferably brown not white), a glass of water and a multi vitamin and an omega 3 capsule.

Supper; half a brown bread cheese sandwich with pumkin seeds and peanuts and a cup of rasberry tea.

Another tip; get 'waist disposal' by Dr John Bruffa. I paid less than a fiver for it from Amazon. Whilst it doesn't assist with ultra running, it might open your eyes to certain aspects of food as it did to me.

Until the next time folks.........