Friday, November 21, 2014

What the F*KT?

Do you know what an FKT is? I didn’t until recently. In South Africa they weren’t common place until Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel demolished the best time for the Drakensberg Traverse. Ie the ‘Fastest Known Time’ for that route. Here in the good old US of A, the home of long distance trail running they are sought after, documented and even debated in depth on a website

Maybe an FKT is a Strava for grown ups? Those of us using Strava to document our regular training runs are familiar with trying to run a certain trail the fastest, or at least comparing our time with our peers. FKTs here seem to have a certain appeal to a certain runner. There’s definitely an element of chest thumping (although female FKTs are also on the increase) but also a desire to just go out, alone, unsupported and run a trail, whenever.

My Wildwood end to end FKT 'attempt'
Here in Portland we have Forest Park, the 5000 acres of natural wilderness actually IN the city and containing the Wildwood Trail; 30 miles of uninterrupted trail from the city stretching north. To a South African trail runner used to rocky technical trails, Wildwood would be akin to running on a cricket pitch. Manicured, well maintained and un-technical in the extreme. But it is single track the whole 30 miles which is pretty special. It twists and turns through densely wooded forest for a distance that is only 9 miles in a straight line. It is home to deer, coyote, raccoons, allegedly (feline) cougars. When I arrived in Portland I ran on sections of it, and heard more about the end to end run, or even the end to end to end run (60 miles obviously). Eventually and inevitably I was drawn to run the whole trail unsupported, which is how most short FKTs are run.

The view from Wildwood at Pittock Mansion
My plan was to run South to North meaning you start literally downtown and run out, watching the number of hikers, dog walkers and runners dwindle. I carried water and gels for the relatively short time on my feet. My target was the current FKT of 3.38.16 for the 30.25 miles by local legend Yassine Diboun, which didn’t seem out of the question for 30 miles of relatively tame undulating trail.

As I started out on a crisp cool morning I was confident I could get near the FKT. I topped the only significant climb to the historic Pittock Mansion and felt good. As I left the busier parts of the park the miles ticked away (each ¼ mile is marked on a tree with a blue diamond and the distance from the start). But this trail doesn’t bite you, it knaws away at you, the rollers are endless, the twists and turns make finding a rhythm difficult and suddenly your pace has slipped. The twisting single track all looks the same and the blue diamonds aren’t slipping by so fast. I stopped once or twice to take a gel or have a pee, but mostly I plodded rather than ran the last 10 miles or so. I purposely didn’t look at my watch until a mile of so to go and was shocked to see HOW far I was not only outside the FKT, but also my ‘worst case’ time of a sub 4 hour run. I arrived at the end of the trail in 4.12.24, well outside the FKT.

And then it was done
This really was FKT lite, and better runners are attempting more extreme FKTs literally weekly. Those to stare in awe at are Killian Jornet’s Matterhorn FKT, Rob Krar’s Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim record (now likely to stand for all time as national parks have tightened up on solo traversers) and a recent attempt on the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail speed record of 46 days. That’s 47 miles a day. Every day. For over 6 weeks! Karl Meltzer, the winning most 100 miler was last seen on day 32 and appears to have abandoned an attempt at this insane record.

You want to run a FKT?

Decide which record; unsupported (you carry all your own shit). Self Supported (you can stash shit on the route in advance). Supported (everyone else carries your shit)

Find a route that has an FKT within your compass

Post that you are going to attempt it on           

Run with a GPS to record the time, distance and route

Tell your family and friends your intention (makes it easier for everyone to believe you)

Shout ‘go’ as you run off into the distance

For inspiration watch Killian on the Matterhorn

Go do it!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tales from a Pacer

From my TRAIL magazine South Africa column.....

The mission was straightforward; pace one of the World's best trail runners for the last 20 miles of the 100 mile Western States (WS) trail race, the big daddy of trail racing, and one all ultra trail runners dream of. 
Happy crew WS T-1
South Africa's Ryan Sandes went into WS with a Drakensberg Traverse record, a European trail race win and a Japanese second place. Along with Rob Krar, last year's ultra runner of the year, he was the favourite, but a 100 miles is a long way. 

At Western States most of the top runners have crew and pacers. Pacers are allowed to accompany a runner from the 62 mile mark at Foresthill to the finish. I was due to jump in at the 80 mile mark.

Surely having run 80 miles I would be able to do the job and keep pace with Ryan? Pacers have been allowed at ultras for a while, in theory to provide safety for the runner should he or she get into trouble. In reality with only 5 miles between aid stations, the pacer is more a companion and a cajoler, encouraging their runner when spirits and energy dip. You can expect to talk without reply, crack your best jokes without so much as a polite laugh and tell your man, in true Bruce Fordyce fashion, that he's running like a star, when 80 miles into a race shuffling like Ali is more the reality.

Vanessa crewing Ryan at WS
80 miles at Western is Green Gate, which is, well a nondescript green metal gate. When Ryan arrived at 5.30pm with the temperature gauge tipping 30 degrees he DID look great, at least compared to the other four runners who had gone through. We were 5th and it was game on!

But ultra trail runners have toughened up in recent years and as hard as we ran (mostly around 5 minutes a kilometre) there were no ‘big blows’ in front of us. Every split we received told us we weren’t making inroads. Then on a 5km downhill section Ryan decided to inflict damage on his quads and he flew. The 10 minutes to the fourth placer Max King reduced to a visible 30 seconds with just 3 miles to go and we were hunting.

We run straight through the aid station at No Hands Bridge at 96.8 miles and flew after Max, passing him on the gradual climb to Robie Point. But Max is no quitter, and we couldn't gap him. Ryan was spent and I was paying for lack of training and 1000m of climbing in 30k. He dropped me. Ryan was moving, I wasn't. Pacers have been dropped before by lead runners, but it is a pretty humbling badge of shame to walk and jog in to the finish, past the spectators who are well informed enough to know what has occurred. 

Max surged past Ryan again, who had to be content with an excellent 5th overall in 15 hours 46 minutes.

Ryan getting the cooler treatment at Green Gate
Over the next 14+ hours I stayed at the finish line in Placerville High School and watched the other 291 finishers trail in before the 30 hour cut off. 100 miles may be a long way, but to run for 30 hours through two sunrises seems a very long time. Emotions are high when you have conquered that distance, in dry, relentless heat over two days, and those finishing in the hour prior to the cut off receive Comrades like encouragement as they complete the last 300 metres on the school track. Unlike Comrades you are likely only to have your family at the finish to cheer you in.

Want to run the Western States?

As an overseas entrant you may get 'special consideration'. The guidelines seem vague but it beats entering the lottery where your chances are 1 in 10.

You still need to run a 100k race in under 16 hours, or finish a 100 miler in anytime to qualify.

Do plenty of downhill running. The course is always a 'down run' from the highest point just after the start at the Squaw Valley ski resort at 2656m to the finish in Auburn at 394m.

BUT you still do almost 5000m of climbing over the 100 miles. 

Have a good crew. Although the aid stations are well stocked, a friendly face every so often makes a difference.

Have a good stomach. Many ‘drops’ are due to stomach issues from too much sweet stuff.

Check out all the details at

TRAIL magazine is available digitally;




Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gender Bender

There are relatively few sports where men and women line up on the start line together and even fewer where they are competing for the same prize. Equestrianism is the highest profile example, with women competing and beating men in show jumping, three day eventing and flat and jump racing. No adjustments are made, they have to be as strong, as brave and as dedicated as their male counterparts.

In running, women almost always line up with men, but race within their sex. It's pretty recent history when women weren't 'allowed' to race over the same distances as men, and running in marathons and further was more than frowned upon.

Thankfully views have changed, and barriers have been removed. In professional sport, prize money is more often than not at parity, although again, this is a very recent change. It sends out all the right signals about equal opportunity, promoting the sport and enabling women to make a living at doing something they love. Something men have had the privilege of doing for much longer.

But it is early days, and what didn't strike me, until I started writing this post, was how few women appear in TV commercials here promoting brands and products. Whilst that's hardly evidence based it does demonstrate how few women are instantly recognizable in sport. Or maybe it indicates they aren't prepared to sell their soul for a pizza. I would :)

Two Oceans prize money equal for both sexes
What got me thinking was our beloved trail running, and an upcoming race that is offering apparently the biggest prize purse in South African trail running. Great news for the sport if it has aspirations to grow, be recognised nationally and internationally, receive increased media coverage and therefore attract more and better runners to the sport.

A typical WP road race - again no gender distinction
The problem? This is a team event, with two runners in a team, both who have to finish each day's stage (its a three day race) together. Winning men's team R15,000, winning mixed team R15,000. Winning  women's team R5000. The first women's team receives a THIRD of that of the men's and mixed teams. If I was an elite woman trail runner I'd find a strong male runner or not run. What message does this send out to women runners and the wider general public who see images of smiling winners with cheques for vastly different amounts? Or see a quality men's field and sub par women's field. The alleged reasoning is that the men's and mixed fields are vastly more competitive than the women's field as there are relatively few elite trail running women and those that are racing are sponsored by different brands and therefore are not able to race together. This argument falls down somewhat when you see that one of the leading female trail runners (Contego and Vivobarefoot) has teamed with a leading male runner (Hammer and New Balance). Competing brands. No one can blame the runners who are merely targeting the more lucrative categories in a sport where prize money is rare.

ABSA Cape Epic prize money - equal including vets, mixed and masters
But something is wrong if this doesn't start a debate on the equality in sport. I'd argue that if you offered a couple of the leading women R15,000 and you secured lets say Rene Kalmer and another high profile female athlete, you'd receive at least as much publicity as the men's winners, if not more.

It would set an uplifting example to offer the highest SA prize purse for women don't you think?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Beauty at a Price

A somewhat delayed blog.....

Each lamp post on the Golden Gate Bridge has a hidden significance. One the tourists thankfully do not see or acknowledge.

22 years after I first visited San Francisco I'm trying to remember the walks and highlights from that visit unsuccessfully. I'm staying on Vallejo in Russian Hill where Chinatown and the Italian quarter seem to merge into other, naturally. This morning I ran to Golden Gate bridge, across this astonishing structure and back along Union Street home. There's no logical reason to run all the way across a bridge, stop on the other side and run back. But the GG is such an imposing structure that you are drawn to it, and to look at SF from the other side. The view from the Marin Headlands actually isn't anything special. Its the bridge that's special. Although it's a rust rather than golden color, it has a flow and lines that are beautiful. It seems to bend from the peninsula to the headland, arching out across the channel until it reaches land again.

Running the bridge isn't exactly a peaceful experience, with traffic thundering across. Nor is it a particularly romantic one, as I think of the average of one person a week who takes their life jumping. The Bridge is the second most common suicide site in the World behind the Yangtze River Bridge in Japan, with over 1200 suicides and counting. Well not actually counting as official records were stopped in 2005. The 'success' rate is 98% (one woman survived only to try again successfully a second time) and the most common place is in the middle (the locations are mapped by the position of lamp posts). There is a french phrase l'appel du vide, which literally means the call of the void, and is used to describe that feeling when you are on a high ledge and have a desire, feeling of 'I wonder what it would feel like to jump'. Apparently it's very common. Up on the Golden Gate Bridge, with it's low handrail, 80 meter drop to the sea and stunning vistas, it's easy to think, even for a second 'what if...' This is very different to the traumatic and bleak place you would have to be to seek out a place to end it all, despite the strong urge for all humans to live.

Nevertheless, police, workers and volunteers estimate that they save 70-80% of those planning to jump by vocal or physical methods. There seems only a minority who want to see the bridge 'suicide proofed' as it will spoil the aesthetics and cost a fortune apparently. The rest accept the toll as a bi-product of this piece of architectural beauty. As you run across the only indications are strategically placed phone boxes suggesting you reach out before you step out. Would a higher barrier really spoil the view of the bridge from the headland and not be worth 50 lives a year? Suicide isn't an terminal disease. Those talked down from attempt DO have a 10-15% chance of completing their mission, but that means 80-85% will live. Is the cost of a strategically positioned fence and the loss of aesthetics not a small price to pay for saving 40 lives a year?

Maybe I'm alone in these macabre thoughts, and the majority of tourists just go 'wow', but I felt a feeling of emptiness imagining someone's last thoughts as they made that fateful, mostly irreversible decision.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Scrambled Legs

I thought I had this climbing thing sorted. 10,000m of climbing a month for a year, always catching other runners in races on climbs, and flying up to Pittock or Council Crest almost daily. But I got complacent. I didn't have Table Mountain to really give my quads a bashing. I've been running and racing in the low country, literally.

That changed last weekend when I tacked onto a group of 'proper' trail runners and headed into the Columbia Gorge, an hour drive from Downtown Portland,  for some 'vert' on the wonderfully named Rock of Ages trail.  It winds up from the Falls, joins Nesmith trail, tops out at 1180m (3872ft) and descends to John B Yeon Park and the Columbia River. This was no fancy pants, equipment laden group of trailees, this was hardcore and included a Western States podium finisher and multiple trail race winners. However, I had been running well and sort of holding my own in this sort of company. It was also a training run, where there is some etiquette attached to these runs; Wait for the slowest runner. It's only a training run. There's no hurry, etc, etc

Horse Tail Falls
We started at sea level from Horse Tail Falls (aptly named) and went up and up and up, to above Maclears Beacon level in about 6km. The first 2km was at best scrambling, at worst vertigo inducing ridge line running. At least for this klutz. Much of the time on our hands and knees, bundi bashing on a barely used 'path'.  Then at last we could run, through beautiful woods, hardly used trails and melting winter snow. The problem was my legs hadn't climbed this much in one go since a Larch Mountain run/hike last year, and as we topped out at almost 1200m and descended to the turnaround point at sea level below, I was toast. Running downhill, over rocky trails, with shot legs isn't anymore fun than running uphill with shot legs. In my case worse, as my innate clumsiness is amplified and picking my feet up, as my mother used to berate me for not doing, becomes less of an instinct and more of a chore.

I'm not in this pic, I was taking the low road! Photo: Brian Donnelly
Last year I DNF'ed (did not finish) two races, both at altitude, which was my excuse anyway. DNFing a training run became a great idea as I eventually hit the road after tripping, kicking and cussing my way down the technical trail, after 1278m up and 1278m down in 14km and almost 3 hours. The others were heading back up the mountain to run it in reverse as I covered the last few hundred metres back down. We exchanged semi embarrassing chatter, and they offered words of encouragement, concern and surprise that I'd been reduced to bailing halfway through a relatively short run. I hit the road with immense gratitude and jogged the 5km or so back to the car we'd left at Horse Tail Falls along the road, sure that I wouldn't have made it back over the mountain without being completely broken, and waited for their return. It was cold, so I jogged up and down the trail, huddling in a sunspot, and eventually they came whooping and hollering down the trail, with those unbridled expressions of joy of doing something simple you love, running.

A reality check
It felt like DNFing a race. That sense of quitting whilst everyone else around you has achieved their goals. Skulking around waiting for others to finish, with no happy story to share, and the lack of questions about your run.

It was also a sobering experience from a training and fitness perspective. To come up so short, so quickly has led me to the realisation that despite the 10,000 metres of vertical a month I'm now at best a flattish 50k racer. I've lost the endurance base, or maybe the mental desire to grind it out for longer than 4-5 hours at a time. That doesn't concern me normally, but in this company it felt inadequate. I could try and point to a more rounded life that doesn't revolve around the next run, but I'd be kidding myself, because as Masters Champion Noel Ernstzen would say 'We love this shit'. So it's into April with a new goal of at least one 1000m+ one day a week and more time in the Gorge. Not such a hardship I guess.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Not So Cool

Two weeks ago was the Way Too Cool 50k (WTC) in Cool, California. It was my target race for the first quarter of the year. In 2013 I'd finished 17th in a good field of 850 runners. I felt that a top 10 would be an improvement and evidence that I could ALMOST mix it in a quality field. Last month I ploughed through the mud to 4th at the Hagg Lake 50k within touching distance of some good (albeit local) runners.

Sunrise in Cool, CA
Rather than stay nearer in Sacramento I decided to spend a few days in San Francisco, do the tourist things and hopefully enjoy some sun. I haven't been to SF since 1992 when i arrived in the middle of the Rodney King riots. It was a more relaxed trip this time!

I walked and ran and enjoyed being in a bigger city again. Maybe too much walking, running and enjoying it seems.

On raceday I drove the 2 hours to the start and felt the chill morning air common in the Auburn area. WTC utilises some of the immaculate Western States 100 miler trails, most of which I'd ran at night when pacing UK friend Dave Ross to a sub 24 hour finish last June. The weather was cool, but warmer than last year with a promised late morning high of 68 (20c). I was feeling good as I warmed up.

Beats GU as a sugar rush!
The first mile or so of the race is downhill road before you hit single track. It thins the field out, but also ensures you go too fast. My first two kms were 3.44 and 3.54, more like 21km pace than 50km pace. But, i knew from experience that you can just about get away with this as the trail will slow you down and hopefully you wont blow. As we hit the single track I settled into a nice position just ahead of the leading women and churned out the 8 miles to the first aid station. I was running 'naked' with no water bottles or hydration pack as the aid stations were marked to be 3-5 miles apart after the first long stretch.

This wasn't really uphill, that's my late race shuffle
I felt good. I was keeping my place and knew there was a long flat stretch coming up, as we came off the mountain and onto the flat. As we dropped down to the river and onto wide jeep track I hit the accelerator and pushed. I took maybe 7 or 8 places in those 5 miles or so and felt strong. But the next aid station didn't appear where I thought it would, or for the next 3 miles. My decision to run 'naked' was starting to look very dumb, and the sun was breaking through the clouds. Suddenly I was labouring and losing places. Two women flew past me as we made our way along the Western States single track. The Speedgoat Karl Meltzer was on course and told me I was 19th. 19th! I wanted to be in the top 10. Normally, this would have spurred me on, but my legs were heavy and I wasn't going to blast these last 10 miles, so I kept my head down and just prayed a gel and water at the long awaited next aid station would help restore some vooma. GU'ed up I crawled up Goat Hill, one of the two steep hills and ambled along towards the finish. The tank was empty, literally and it was a relief to see the finish banner and the chance to just STOP. The clock said 4.03 compared to 3.59 last year. Not a disaster by any means but a dent in my racing ego as I felt that I should have been in the low 3.50's which would have secured top 10.

I take racing seriously, but its seems I'm a novice when it comes to pre-race, and should have learned by now that walking all day for two days and running in a race without any instantly accessible fluid is just dumb. Winner Chris Vargo (an amazing 3.16) has it better tapped, as he writes HERE

This must be one of the bigger trail races in the US with 1026 finishers this year. Its easy to see why. A great course with a variety of terrains, no massive climbs, great support and everything you can want at the finish; massage, beer, pizza, fruit, soup, more beer, comfy seats. Somehow they manage to accommodate this many runners without it ever seeming crowded or congested. I'm loathed to do the same race three times given the variety and number of races here, but this is one of the best, and I want that top 10...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cradle to the Grave

I came across one of the more interesting lists of records I've seen. As runners we generally run against the rest of the field and then as we get older in age groups, mostly in 5 and 10 year blocks from 40 upwards. I'm now 46 so am technically racing against men in the 45-49 age group, but most races in the US give an award to the first 'master' ie runner 40 and older. Then there are age group awards (normally a ribbon) for 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, and so on.

You never just race against other 46 year olds. Race presentations go on long enough with the 5 year age batches (sometimes presenting awards to the top 5 in each group!). However, there IS an age record for each age from 5 years old and up. Until common sense prevailed, "runners" as young as 5 ran marathons. I'm finding it hard to get my head around a parent letting their 5 year old run a marathon, but apparently it happened in the not too distant past. The complete list is here

Bucky and Jennifers parents; well....
Now you can play a neat game; When would your personal best have earned you a world best, both retrospectively and into the future. So my marathon PB/PR is 2.50.47. Pretty speedy I thought. But not as speedy as 11 year old Wesley Paul who ran a 2.47.17 in 1969 (incidentally when i was two and readying myself for my race debut as a 5 year old, no doubt).

So I can't feel THAT bad about that, as I was a late starter and therefore hadn't reached my peak at 11. I do still run marathons and am in reasonable shape for a 46 year old. Maybe I'll have a crack at it this year either before my May birthday or in my 47th year, when I might have an even better chance? Unfortunately the then 46 year old Reuben Chesang Kambich ran 2.15.24 in 1960 (who said Kenyans have only been running fast marathons for 20 odd years?) and the 47 year Jackson Kipngok Yegon ran a 2.16.20 in 1962. I'm 40 minutes off the pace not likely to make that up anytime soon.

So lastly lets see how long I have to keep my current PB form to content for a world best. 50, 60, 70? At 67 I can have a crack at Luigi Passerini's world best of 2.51.07. Only 20 years to stay in PB shape; A very lofty goal. And then theres the redoubtable Ed Whitlock who has the oldest sub 3 marathon, aged 74 years and 35 days. Beyond belief!

92 year old Gladys Burrill finishing a marathon
Try this yourself. It's fun to see how far we are off of the elite young and older athletes.

This chart surfaced following a column by Geoff Roes on the racing lifespan of ultra runners HERE. Looking at the list again there are very few runners with age best many years apart or even who appear numerous times in the list (Ed Whitlock being a notable exception). Durability at distance running seems a problem. Right now there are many examples of ultra runners who have just crashed and burned after a number of high mileage, high intensity periods of training and racing. Geoff Roes was one. Three or four years ago he seemed unbeatable at 100 mile races. Watch Unbreakable if you get a chance, it is (even for a running film) a great account of the 2010 Western States where Geoff was out for the count and somehow managed to claw his way back. It gives me goose bumps now just thinking about it. It's shot beautifully and gives the essence of trail running.

Fauja Singh a 100 year old marathon runner and holder of 90 year old marathon best of 5.40.04
Geoff, and I have the same opinion that the human body is like a car which only has a certain number of miles on the clock. Once you've used up those miles, it's over, or at least your days of speeding around are gone. I haven't seen any specific studies, other than a few using muscle biopsies of elite athletes. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence of previously elite athletes losing a massive amount of speed. Not from tradional injuries but rather from extreme fatigue or just a lack of being able to get anywhere near the numbers they used to. As a later convert to running (1996-2014?) I'm hoping my body is at least a Ford and not a Trabant....

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I can't run with you I'll slow you down? How come you guys look so comfortable running? You hardly look out of breathe.

I'm so not an 'elite' runner, maybe a good 'club' runner but that would be it. I do love racing, I love the competitive element, and the chance to test my training out. But when I'm confronted with those terms, I find it quite frustrating. So in the hope of dispelling those 'myths' and maybe even gaining the occasional training partner I'll go through them;

1) I do 90% of my training solo, so the chance of running with someone is always a bonus! The pace really doesn't matter, especially if it maybe takes you a bit out of your comfort zone (if that's what you want) and leads to improvement. If it's a purely social run and there are walks on hills, cool! I ran the last 8 miles of a 30 mile training run with a friend on Saturday. We slowed down when I reached him, which maybe wasn't cool for him, but it helped me get to end in OK shape and not completely stuffed! He worked a bit harder maybe than normal and he made sure we took it easy on the hills. He still wants to run with me, so I guess it was OK.

2) Looks really can be deceptive! Especially in races. When I started running, I loved racing anything above 10k. I would spend the majority of the race in a 'comfortable' place not at maximum effort. However, the more I raced, the more I pushed the boundaries, improved my times and then had to work harder to achieve new personal bests. Now any race below a marathon is very near to my maximum effort with a half marathon feeling as hard as a 10k. It MAY look easier, because I'm not stopping and walking or completely out of breathe, but my legs are dying under me, and my brain is trying to ignore the pain by thinking about anything but how far it is to the end. Unsuccessfully.

Sometimes closing your eyes helps!
I'm re-reading Haruki Murakami's excellent 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' and when asked what he thinks about when he's running he invariably can not think of anything specific. Racing to me is the exact opposite of that. I think specifically about how far the next mile marker is (a long way), can I maintain this pace (surprisingly usually yes), did I go off too fast (yes, but it's hard not to in the charge from the line), who is the competition (often the least likely candidate), do I always feel this bad (yes), how far to go (too far).

Beautifully written
Those are the very specific thoughts going through my mind. You could call it 'focus' and certainly if I start working through personal issues, trying to deal with work challenges, etc when racing, my pace can vary (normally slowing) and it becomes a distraction. So there's no choice but to focus on the pain and how long there is left of it!

3) I'm ALWAYS out of breathe at the end, and on any significant hills, but before that it's more muscle pain, until real fatigue kicks in and my heart rate increases to maximum and you try and 'kick' for the finish. Kick meaning to me, knowing that the finish line is a given distance away and you can give it everything. In a 5k it might be with 500m to go, in a marathon with 2 or 3 miles to go.

These internal battles that do not show themselves to others are still there nonetheless, and I'm suffering just as much as the next runner :)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Vertically Challenged

Hills are hard. They hurt and they NEVER seem to get any easier. I always feel slow running up, and most of the time you are slow. It feels more like a tricky exercise in breathing normally and dragging your heavy legs towards the summit.

I've haven't really read anything that specifically says 'run hills, it will make you faster and stronger' but something inside my subconscious tells me to run them. Every day. All year. Most of the time I hate it. I don't get into a rhythm, I just slog it out til I get to the top, and then try and enjoy the downs, which actually don't feel much fun for some reason. BUT I still do them. Every day. At least 300m vertical, which is child's play to Sandes, Olson, Krar etc but for an Oregon runner quite a lot apparently. It always feels a good workout and seems to compensate for a lack of speed work and any other advanced training methods.

In races, at least those without massive elevation gains all those vertical meters start to come into play. Again, although it doesn't feel like it I find I make time and position on hills over other runners, and can also keep a good pace when on flatter sections.

It's been a year since I started the 300m a day trial, and bar an injury and a visit to my folks in flat Norfolk, England I've been around and about 10,000m a month vertical. It hasn't creep any higher as being a car-less downtown Portland dweller the highest runnable point from my house is, guess? 300m! Either Council Crest or Pittock Mansion.

Given the improvement on relatively small hills, I think it's time to step up and start trying longer tougher climbs to really make some impression. It will mean visits to the Gorge, Mt Hood etc, zipcars and group runs, but it's about time after 14 months here.

One of the views from top of Larch Mountain
Larch Mountain is the gnarliest, toughest climb I've found here, and now the days are getting longer that will start to become my fitness tester. It's a straight climb up past Multnomah Falls to a spectacular 360 degree viewpoint. It was 1 hour 45 minutes up and 55 minutes down the one and only time I attempted it, which tells the story. I'm sure it's those climbs that will help get me a bit closer to the speedgoats in time....

Larch Mountain 'run' more of a power hike up

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Run Stupid Run

This has probably been the oddest 10 days of running I've ever had. It started last Thursday with heavy (for Portland) snow and a 'feels like' temperature of -12C, which was cool to run it as it was just settling. Friday was more of the same and a short 10k in -7C.

CAPESTORM, Hi-Tec, Buff and K-Way all work amazingly in -12C
My plan had always been to run the Wildwood trail end to end (30 miles) on Saturday and I thought more overnight snow wouldn't make the trail too bad. It was warmer at -4 and the first few miles were fun, with stunning winter scenes provided by the snow on the trail, deer prints to follow and snow covered trees along the way. By about mile 7 the snow was 5 inches deep and too soft to not break through. My kms went from six to eight minutes with twice the effort. At mile 10 I decided to drop down onto the wide flatter cycle path that runs through Forest Park. It was no better, and I was 10 miles from home but more from my pick up at the end of the trail. So I pummeled through the snow, for a while behind the lone XC skier, until I reached a parking lot on the road with 20 miles down, but too early for my lift back and too far from any cover. Having established my guardian angel was at least 30 minutes away I started to run along St Helens Road back to Portland as much to keep warm as for any other reason, and eventually after some comical 'where are you?' 'I'm behind a garbage truck' 'Where are you?' 'I'm huddling by a sign for BFG Construction' exchanges I jumped into a warm car with peanut butter and jelly muffins and coffee. Never having felt so happy to bail a run and very grateful that someone would care enough to drive out in white out conditions!

Not the traditional WW end to end run
The next day the snow had turned to sheet ice and i met up with local trail legend and WS100 M10 Yassine Diboun (Animal Antics) for a run on Wildwood and the streets. Luckily potential hypothermia wasn't followed by broken bones as we took over 2 hours to run the 10 miles, slip sliding our way back to Goose Hollow. Surely conditions couldn't get any worse? Monday and the thaw had started producing a nice inch crust of soft snow with 4 inches of freezing water underneath. I now have the cleanest pair of NB Minimus trail shoes in Portland I'm sure.

PDX road gritting - it just ends! Still the safest place to run
A few days of 'normal' Portland weather (ie rain) meant a track 5km in 18,08 before the Hagg Lake Mudfest 50k on Saturday. After snow, ice, freezing water, freezing rain, ice pellets and even one sunny run, it was a Mud City at Hagg Lake, with 2 laps of the muddest race I've ever run. Last week's training obviously helped as I managed fourth place in a reasonably competitive race (see results HERE and the first pics HERE). Now I need new trail shoes (trashed!) and new hip flexors :)

Part of the Hagg Lake course - pretty typical section