The Road is Always Long

My journey through the world of ultra marathons.

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The Road to Durban – The Epilogue

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Where do I start? At the end is an ideal place to kick this off.  I cried. For the first time in finishing a race, a few real tears rolled down my cheeks when Mrs T finally found me. I was overwhelmed by emotions that, at the time, I didn’t understand. Thinking about it now, they were from both sadness and joy.  This race got to work on me from the beginning and discarded me like a piece of used gum.

Despite Emirates business class travel, I slept for a total of a minute on the way over, in fact in the 3 nights before the race, I had a total of one night’s sleep.  That is no excuse, more of a note to self to travel out earlier to a race this far from home!  The 1:30am rise out of bed to catch a bus to the start didn’t phase me, I hadn’t been asleep, but I selected the only bus that had been transported from 1950’s Bangalore.  Maybe sleep is important after all.  We were the second bus to set off, but about the 30th to arrive in Pietermaritzburg.  It was cold at 3am, the 3 quid shit catchers (grey joggers) and 4 quid t-shirt form Primark were partially doing their job.  There were still people in single use black bin bags around the start area, I hope these will become a thing of the past on the race start lines.  My own discarded clothes would at least be used again by those who need clothes in SA.

Time went quickly before the start.  I chatted to a few other guys and I was given some good advice by an English guy who could clearly spot my Comrades virginity.  Before I knew it ‘that’ tune from Chariots of Fire was being blasted out the PA system, then Shosholoza, the cockerel calls, then the gun (click here for a wee video of the start).  It was 5:30am. This was it. 7 months of meticulous preparation by my coach Paul Giblin (@pyllon) and I was in fantastic shape.  Having put down a 7 hour 100km earlier in the year, I was confident that I could run quick at Comrades.  The last 6 miles of the 100km were my slowest and I knew what I was capable of over a race that was 10k shorter.  I set off around 4 minutes a km.  This was a few seconds per km too quick, but I remembered thinking the same at the Anglo Celtic Plate and so take a quick look at heart rate and it was in a similar place, so I knew pace was good at this stage of the race.  I monitor heart rate for the first wee while just to make sure I am not overcooking it.  That became difficult on the big climbs, but I tried to wait until the ground levelled out to look again, but it never did, and I just went with feel.

Don’t be fooled by the term ‘Up Run’ or ‘Down Run’ when Comrades is being described. Net down or net up is probably a better description and either way this is a brutal course.  For example, the down run has half a dozen long slow climbs with some short sharp downhills, then there is the final 20k downhill after running 70k.  There are still some sharp and longer uphill sections in that last half marathon. It’s not a pancake flat route, quite the opposite, for a road race.

We leave Pietermaritzburg and join the northbound carriageway of a 4 lane motorway.  It is still pitch black and the only lights are those of the vehicles going in the opposite direction.  The motorway is completely closed for the race as are all the roads of the race. The only noise I can hear are the impact of running shoes on the asphalt.

I won’t describe each section of the race, other than to say that I hadn’t quite understood the amount of climbing involved in that first half of the race, or the pain in the quads I would incur on the last 20k downhill. Anyone contemplating a Comrades finish would be well advised to work on these in their training.

I had no idea of my position in the race at any point, there are simply too many people.  Steve Way was unaware his own position and the man ended up on the podium!!  It was unimportant, I was here to run a time, to soak up the experience and put those months of hard training to the test.

After a particular climb, I turn a righthand corner with a few other guys around me and I can here a familiar voice shouting on me.  Confused, I look across to my left and there was Mrs T in the middle of the road with my first instalment of Active Root and Honey Stinger gels.

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Phew, if she hadn’t seen me, I would have missed this checkpoint!  Consports were an SA based company who were offering a couple of packages for the runners and supporters. For runners, there were 3 checkpoints where you could pick up you own sustenance.  For the support there was a champagne breakfast and a lunchtime Braai (BBQ)!!!  They were very good and I would suggest to anyone coming to Comrades to give them some consideration if you don’t want to rely on the provided energy drinks and food.

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Around 40km into the race, I felt a little twinge in my right foot. It was like I had stood on a sharp stone on the ball of my foot.  I ignored it, thinking that is what must have happened and it would subside, but these roads are clear of debris.  Around marathon distance I picked up some more Active Root and Honey Stingers at the second Consports checkpoint.  At 50k I was still running strong, I remember looking at my watch here and seeing 3:24.  I was running well and on target and we had almost completed all the major climbs of the race.  That “stood on a stone pain” hadn’t subsided and ignoring it became increasingly more difficult.  A couple of kms later I felt and heard a pop in my foot and I was running with a limp.  I stopped for a pit stop and had ideas of taking my shoe off to see if there was something stuck in the shoe.   I knew there was nothing in my shoe, my thoughts turned to utter disappointment and feelings of anguish flooded me.

Feelings of jumping into a bailer bus lasted a millisecond.  This wasn’t a bad patch that I would overcome eventually, this was an injury, this was an injury that was going to end any time goals that I had, this was an injury that wasn’t going to stop me finishing. No way Jose!  I could still move forward, thoughts flitted between people I know who’ve gone through similar tough times in races recently and my own previous form when picking up an injury in a race (I’ve bailed).  I was not going to stop.  Too much time, money, training, effort and emotion had been invested in this race.  This is the game of chance we all play.  I had unfortunately drawn the go to jail card, but I wasn’t out of the race.

At 64km there was another Consports checkpoint and I was walking as I approached.  The look on MR T’s face said it all.  She was conveying exactly how I felt inside.  She asked if I wanted to pull out and got an immediate and flat NO in return.  I took more Active Root but I didn’t want any more gels.  My body was now not burning through the calories and the thought of any more semi solid food made me gag.

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The last 26-28k were torturous with frequent walking breaks from the hobble that I could manage.  I worked out that if I could run on my heels and avoid too much toe off the pain was bearable, but a return to any half decent pace was out of the question.

I’ll say at this point I’ve never experienced anything like the crowds.  For almost the full 90kms there were people lining the route.  From whole families out in their pyjamas at 5:30am in Pietermaritzburg to whole schools, dressed in full uniform creating a tunnel of noise, to groups of friends sparking up their Braai and drinking beer.  It was friendly, fun and fantastic.  At the end of the race I didn’t feel that this race was anything ‘special’, I suspect my thoughts were being ambushed by emotions.  On reflection, and now that the rawness of that emotion has passed, I can honestly say this is a special race.

The old finish is a stone through away from our hotel, the new finish being about 2-3kms along a main road in the city of Durban.  I run past my hotel and wish I was in there, I wished that there had be no change to the finish and I had no more kms to run (I might have broken 7 hours too LOL).  But I had another 2kms to run and I must finish.

IMG_8133As I approached the Moses Mabhida stadium I was in excruciating pain, I was now very worried about the damage to my foot.  Thoughts of stress fractures, broken metatarsals filled my head.  The crowds lined the road kept me going. The noise as I approached the entrance was deafening, people were hanging over the railings to high five you, the stadium was nearly full and I had 200m to the end.  I made it!  A few minutes over 7 hours.  Nearly a full hour slower than my original game plan, but I was at the end and I had a silver medal around my neck.   I had kicked the white towel out of the ring at round 7 and I’d boxed on to the end of the 12th round.  Yes, I’d lost on points, but I was still standing.

I was disappointed, upset, saddened by how the race turned out and at the same time proud that I could muster the resolve, tenacity or plain doggedness to finish in abject and dismal circumstances.  What I’ve taken away from this race is far more than I could ever have expected had the race gone to plan.  I’ll be able to take this experience into each and every race in the future and that is what I am thankful for.

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As always, my rock, my support, my best friend and my wife, Mrs T was there experiencing this with me and my two girls were always in my thoughts.  During the race I was tormented with thoughts of having to tell my eldest I’d pulled out of the race.  The trepidation and anxiety of that was a major driver.

There is so so much more to tell, so many thoughts that I could spill out of this head, some great, some not so great.  The post race scenario, feeling lost, medical, argh, but I am going to leave it here.  Maybe another time.

 

I’ve now been asked a thousand times if I will go back and do the ‘Up Run’ next year.  You get one chance to get a back to back medal.  South Africa is a really long way.  There were a lot of sacrifices made by me and  my family and a lot of people not mentioned on here helped out with childcare and logistics.  I would love to go back, I have a ghost to settle in South Africa, but I am not sure I can ask nor expect these sacrifices again.  We’ll see….

The Road to Durban – Part IV (Almost There)

IMG_5403If a crow could fly direct, it would by over 6000 miles to Durban from Edinburgh.  This will be double the distance I have ever travelled for a race.  New York in 2007, when Lance Armstrong beat me by 20 seconds (and his film crew almost killed me), is just a tad over 3000 miles from Auld Reekie.

Sunday, will see me toe the start line with 22,000 ultra marathoners for, what is arguably, the biggest contest in human endurance on the planet.  Volume of runners is mind boggling and I wonder what it will feel like.  Any other mass participation road race? The last road ultra I ran had 22 people in it!!  Luckily I am in the A pen, which is at the head of the race, but in the back of my mind is a podcast I listened to where Patrick Reagan is interviewed.  Patrick is a US elite ultra marathoner, he finished 12th last year at Comrades.  He told the interviewer that he was in 500th position after the first 5K and was worried that he hadn’t set off quick enough.  This really is a race of attrition versus controlled effort.  It is not last man standing.  Control will be key and I need to ‘keep the heid’ in those early kms. Negative split is the only way to run this race.  A wise old owl recently told me this: “Start the race at a pace above your ability will certainly ensure that you finish the race less than your ability”.

The next concern is the amount of down in this ‘Down Run’. Multiple descents of Arthur’s Seat doesn’t come close and I am going to have to control the descents by relaxing into them as much as I can.  Let gravity and my biomechanics do the work and try not to force anything.

Weather could be the next concern, but there is nothing I can control here.  This will be what it is and I should adjust my efforts and pace accordingly.  I have prepared in Scotland as much as I can with regular sauna sessions post run and even some gym treadmill workouts then diving straight into the 90 degree Celsius sauna (that was brutal by the way).

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Recovery from ACP took a little longer than I wanted and it impacted the training ‘the boss man’ @pyllon programmed for me in terms of effort at specific paces, but the effort was there and that was the main goal.  Things started to turn around in these last few weeks and now I feel ready physically.  A few kgs lighter, diet dialled tighter, only missed one session in 10 weeks due to illness and injury free.

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I can’t ask any more of this aging but able body.  I’ve continued to work hard on mobility, flexibility and strength and now realise that this is key for the older athlete.  If you are 40+ and not doing anything to improve mobility and strength, and are not a genetic freak, then you are heading for the injury bench.  I have all the T-shirts and if I had to dwell on regrets, that would be one thing I wish I had started 10 years ago.  Nothing is certain, of course.

Onto Durban tomorrow, via Glasgow and Dubai.  We leave the house at 17:15 tomorrow afternoon and we’ll arrive in Durban around 16:30 local time on Friday!  Phew, it’s going to be a long journey!

See you all on the other side.

The Road to Durban – Part III (Return to ACP)

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The next step on this journey to Comrades Ultra Marathon (Comrades) was the small matter of a call up to the Scotland 100km team that would compete in the annual Anglo Celtic Plate incorporating the British 100km Championships.  I was part of a strong Scotland team including last year’s Scottish 100km Champion David McLure, 2017 West Highland Way 3rd place, Dave Ward and former Barry 40 winner Grant Jeans.  We were a good team, but we would need to perform well to bring the ACP back to Scotland.  England had brought another solid team with UK 100km silver medalist Anthony Clark, Jez Bragg, who needs no introduction, stalwart Nathan Montague and newbie Michael Stocks who was runner up in a solid time at the Gloucester 50k in January.  The Welsh team were missing a couple of their key strong members but managed to still bring a good team to the party.

Redwick was the small village in South East Wales where the race would take place. A roughly 2 mile loop of country roads that we would run 31 times (plus a little extra) to complete the 100 kilometres.  When we arrived at 7:30am there was no curtains open, clearly the thought of a major UK athletics event happening on some people’s doorsteps, made no difference to this sleepy village. However, I do remember that when the village pub opened at 11am the hamlet suddenly woke up!!

Team chief, Adrian (@tarittweets) was busy organising and setting up the day as we loafed around waiting for the start of a long hard day.  The mood was sombre, maybe Dave’s laid back nature was rubbing off on us.  I was nowhere near as nervous or worried as I was in Perth in 2016, an old hat maybe.

Team photos, support table set up and we were stripped and heading for the start line, some 500-600m clockwise back up the race route.  It was very cold, many had arm warmers on, all had gloves and most had headwear of some description.  There was also a fairly stiff northerly wind that only added to the chill factor. We said our good lucks to each other and then I focused on the task.  The gun fires and we start running, that first hue exhale of breath makes a large cloud of condensation in the air as Ant, Jez and Mike race off into the lead.  They have a twenty second lead by the time we re-enter the village and cross the lap/finish line for the first time.  Mike eases off from the leaders and I move away from Grant and David to join him.  We run together for some of the first lap when we see Jez popping out of the bushes and joins us.  It is clear that Ant is out to run hard and I make an effort to make up the gap to join him.  At this point I am not sure if I have done the right thing. Pace was slower than I wanted, but the race had only started.  By the end of the first lap Ant and I were running more or less together.  Ant it pushing the pace, I decide to ease off and get back to a pace I feel comfortable at, then Ant jumps into the bushes and I take the lead in the race for the next few laps.  I create a gap, but it is short lived as I make my one and only toilet stop and Ant catches me not long after that.  Marathon distance comes up at roughly 2:53 and we go through 50k together in 3:26.  This is hard running and Ant again pushes hard again and opens up a gap.  I let this one go as we are approaching the business end of the race and I am started to feel that familiar low level all over pain starting to climb. If it gets to a point where mobility is affected then my race is over. It was time to ease off.

Photos courtesy of Robert Gale.

A good break in the race report to give my thanks to the support.  Mrs T was my support for the race and she performed like a professional.  I got exactly what I needed on each lap and she made sure I was ok every single time.  There is no doubt that having her there made a huge difference to my race. Even now, after 18 years together, I want to impress her like a love struck teenager.  David and Dave had also brought their partners down as support and they all had a fantastic day, despite the cold weather.  Also, but not surprisingly, the support from the other team’s support crews was fantastic, encouraging on each lap. Norman, at one point, when Ant had opened up a gap of around 2 minutes, said to me that the race doesn’t start until 80k, and to take it easy and keep him in my sights.

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I went through 50 miles in 5:32, the early pace was starting to work its way into every tendon and muscle in my legs and I could feel the inevitable slow coming on.  It was now time to dig, no it was time to excavate deep into the resources to maintain pace and form.  This last 12 miles were going to hurt, I accepted that and started to push.

Photos courtesy of Robert Gale.

An apt time to bring up nutrition.  The only gels I can stomach are Honey Stinger (@honeystinger) and after some monumental mistakes in training I had settled on a plan. When I took a gel (roughly every 3-4 laps) I would take a full lap of 2 miles to consume it, taking pea size blobs every now and again until it was finished.  It meant that there was never a huge drop of sugar into my stomach in an attempt to avoid any stomach issues.  It worked.  Hydration was Active Root (@active_root), who I am now a brand ambassador for, and again I would take sips on the way round a full lap.  Again, this worked perfectly.  Only once did I refuse taking on any nutrition when I thought my stomach felt a little full.  This approach worked a treat.  When I started to feel a little cramp coming on, I added apple cider vinegar (or pickle juice) to my drink and again this seemed to keep cramp at bay until the final few laps.  There was also flat coke in those final laps where the largest amount of sugar you can get quickly is required.  I can’t fault my nutrition this time and I think I have found the right combination of gels and hydration, at least for me I have.  At no point did I feel that I couldn’t take any more of the Active Root on, it is such a great taste, refreshing and thirst quenching, every time.

As I crossed the lap/finish line Mick McGeogh (look this guy up, a quality runner in his day) announced the time difference between Ant and I.  The first time I took notice of this was when it was 1 minute 47 seconds.  At this point I wasn’t sure that I would have enough laps left to catch him, especially if he was still pushing the pace.  It was time to switch goal. To target goal B. Looking at my watch and attempting to work out the basic arithmetic, I had a chance of running under 7 hours.  Let’s be honest here though.  Under normal circumstances that arithmetic would be at Carol Vorderman speed, however after 5 and a half hours of hard running that speed gets slowed to the point where I have to resort to using fingers!  I come through the lap/finish line again and Adrian and Mrs T tell me the time difference has dropped to 1 minute 30 seconds.

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Photo courtesy of Robert Gale

Adrian (@tarittweets) is the essence of ultra running. What Adrian doesn’t know about this sport is simple not worth knowing.  His faith in me when taking a punt in 2016 and again this year after a long term injury is something I will be eternally grateful for.  He has given me chances where I suspect others may not have.  He is the best in the business and I can’t thank him enough for the opportunities he has given me.

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I try to maintain the pace but as soon as I increase effort, cramp starts to appear on my left hamstring.  I’d felt this for some laps maybe 5 or 6, a little tightness here, subside, tightness again, then subside.  I had maintained a pace that was keeping the cramp at bay, but any increase in pace, any change in running form was triggering it.  More apple cider vinegar as I go through the support area, encouragement coming from everyone, Mick announces the time gap is 40 seconds. There are 3 laps to go.  As I move onto the first straight of the lap I see Ant. I haven’t seen him for a few laps.  We get to the hairpin bend after battling into the wind for the 29th time and I can see he has slowed.  I overtake Ant, shouting encouragement for him to stick with me.  We had spent most of the day together, pushing each other, jostling for the lead, I wanted him to finish strong.  But I open up space between us as I maintain pace.  As I approach the support area I don’t take on any hydration, Adrian shouts at me to go for the 7 hours and I dig deeper into the reserves again.  Penultimate lap.  The only real point to see your pursuer is at that hairpin bend and when I round it I can see Ant about a minute adrift of me and my mind turns to winning the race.  My Garmin had gone all funky with the laps and it looked like the sub 7 was off the cards, but the ‘A’ goal was back in play. Win.  Everything hurts so much now, every step is agony, my shoulders are hurting, my back hurts, my legs and feet are trashed.  I cross the lap line, again to massive cheers and encouragement, I swear there was a thousand people there.  I try to keep pace, keep form, keep my head and as I battle through the wind my effort level rises sharply for the last time, or so I thought.  I can’t describe the feeling of relief I had, knowing that I did not have to run that section of the loop again.  The biting northerly wind in full force in your face for almost half a lap.  I round the hairpin for the last time and do the now habitual glance back. And there was Ant. Probably around 20 seconds behind me, he was flying, I could see he was flying, directly into the wind.  I took a massive breath in and started to run, run hard. My breathing spiked immediately, I forgot all about the cramps, they didn’t come back, why? There are two long straights before the village sign, or the relief sign, I can’t describe how good it was to see that Redwick village sign for the last time, no matter what happened in this last 500m I would not need to run past that sign again. I am running fast, garmin would later tell me it was down at the 3:30/km pace, 35 minute 10k pace and Ant is still closing me down, a glance back and I can see the colour of his eyes, this is a fight to the end.  As I see the support team I know there is not enough road left to be caught, I am handed a Saltire and I start to ease off while getting the flag over my head, a last minute panic glance back and I can’t see Ant and I cross the finish line in 7:00:30 to take the British 100km Championships.

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I can’t believe it. Ant crosses the line 7 seconds behind me and we hug, both knowing that we have just ran the hardest race, knowing that we both left everything out there.

Mike finishes third in 7:16 for his first 100km with David 4th and Dave 5th.  When our cumulative times are announced we learn that Scotland also takes the Anglo Celtic Plate home with us.

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It’s already out there in the interwebs, but I feel it is necessary to say that I cannot do this support without the unparalleled support that I get from my family.  There have been some big sacrifices made in order for me to get my 5-6 hour long runs in at the weekend and all the late returns from work as I run home.  I am eternally grateful to have such a supportive family, this simply would not have happened without that.

Second, massive thanks must go to my coach Paul (@pyllon). Yes, I complete the training, but I am a robot, I follow the programming that is input into the robot and that is where the talent is, the programming is the talent and Paul has managed to get more out of this aging body than I thought possible.  It’s only been 7 months.  When he got me, I was pretty unhealthy, a little over weight and doing a bit of running after coming off a long injury lay off.  The longest injury lay off I have had, where I did very little exercise. I am extremely motivated to see where we go in the next 12 months and beyond.

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Lastly, Runderwear.  They pulled out all the stops to source a pair of long boxers for me.  I have been using their brief under tights all winter without issue and tried to buy a long boxer. Sold out everywhere.  A facebook message later and they went above and beyond the call of duty to source a pair for me. They worked a treat and I can report that they do exactly as they claim.  Brilliant under garments, you have a new biggest fan!

 

 

The Road to Durban -Part II

Calling Time on Cross Country

Start of Master's Cross Country 2018 - From Brian Howie

Start of the master’s cross country championships – courtesy of Brian Howie.

After a decent marathon a few weeks ago, I went into the Scottish Masters Cross Country Championships in buoyant mood, thinking I am in half decent shape, not at the top, but getting there.  If the cross country course suits me, I could have a decent run out and I can’t say that for many cross country races I have done over the years.  I have a love hate relationship with cross country.  Essentially, I love it.  It is raw sport.  In Scotland most cross country races are in real fields and more wilder areas than you see around the rest of the world where parkland seems to be the norm.  In Scotland it is rough, sometimes farmland where you are mixing it up where cows or sheep or possible some crops have been for the rest of the year.  This land has usually had the full elements of a Scottish winter applied to it as well, just to add another dimension to how difficult some courses are.  Yesterday was all of that with some ‘obstacles’ thrown in.  For the purists, this was the perfect course, loads of mud, rough, sticky mud, one lad in front of me lost his shoe in the first lap. It had hills, it was on rough farmland, it had fallen trees, tree roots, sharp turns, narrow channels, little sharp inclines.  It was a leg sapping course, probably one of the best ones I have run over.

And I hated every single minute of it.  My frustration at my inability to run on this type of course overflowed yesterday.  Half way into the first short lap (it was one short lap and to long laps that made up the 8k distance) I called time on cross country.  I spent the rest of the race just trying to stay upright, just trying to put one foot in front the other.  I was slipping, sliding and stumbling all over the place, while I watched other seemingly glide through the mud.  Why am I doing this again?  Over the years I can say I’ve had maybe one or two half decent races over the country.  Once at the masters champs in Forres a few years where I was suffering from a virus and still managed a 12th or 13th spot and another at Falkirk nationals in 2009 where I might have finished in the top 70.  Both races were on hard packed, maybe frosty, ground, not too dissimilar to tarmac!  Kilmarnock’s course was the exact opposite, shin deep sludge on winter farmland.  I’ve also been lucky enough to represent my country twice over the cross country for the Scottish Master’s team.  I suspect my selection has been based on road speed than my ability over the country.  Both times have been great experiences despite my poor performances.

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Taking it easier in Dean Park, Kilmarnock – photo taken from Kenny Phillips

After the race, I didn’t wallow in self pity, this is not a self pity blog, this is realism and I was realistic and pragmatic about my next steps:  I was going to put it behind me and get on with training for Comrades, after all, that is the goal for the first half of the year.  Some of my fellow Edinburgh AC lads had great runs, Leon (4th overall) and Chris spring to mind and seemed to enjoy that type of underfoot conditions.  I’m delighted for them, Leon had a great race coming back from a 3 week forced training break due to illness.

When I got back home a looked at my Garmin stats my average HR for the race was 162.  That is low for such a short race, my recent marathon average HR was 164, so it shows the lack of effort in the performance, it should have been in the mid 170’s. Converting that from road paces, I should have been about 30-40 seconds per mile quicker had I got my heart rate up into the mid 170’s.

Speaking about the recent trip down south for the Gloucester marathon.  The idea (if you read my last blog post) was to go down to Gloucester, run a sub 3 and head home.  Most of you will already know that it didn’t quite go as planned.  I felt really good on the day and decided to go out at a comfortable pace.  6 miles went past in 36 minute bang on.  Oops, there goes the plan of a controlled sub 3!  It was a little quicker than I had hoped for, but it was under control.  We hit the first hill and the pace got slowed.  Half way came up at 1:21 and that pace was maintained to the end.  Well nearly the end.  At 24 miles I could see someone closing fast, so I had to dig a little deeper to maintain my pace and was delighted to cross the line first in 2:42.  It was especially pleasing as I could have gotten a few more minutes off that time, if it had been a target race, meaning my fitness is coming back and Paul is slowly getting me into good shape.  There are still 4 months until Comrades, that is a long time in training terms but it means I still have loads more training adaptations to come!

 

Will Power Isn’t Enough

That’s a negative title for a blog post, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) proposes to avoid using words like isn’t, not, can’t etc.  I have no experience of NLP, I read an article once and remembered that single point. I suspect the premise is not to use negative words in normal conversation or written word in the hope it promotes positivity.  It probably doesn’t scratch the surface on the subject to be fair.  However, this will be a positive post despite the title as it will delve into my recent chapter of the world of ultra trail running.  

The Devil O’ the Highlands is an iconic 42 mile (6000ft of ascent) Scottish ultra that covers the top ‘half’ of the West Highland Way.  99% off road across some of the more rough sections of the whole 95 mile route with, arguably, the toughest climbs and challenging underfoot conditions.  It is a fantastic race organised by the fantastic John Duncan and team.  His races, which also includes the Highland Fling, have a European feel to them, fabulous finishes, pristine organisation and well supported.  They are probably the best ultra’s in the UK (personal opinion).

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On the start line with Gerry.  Thanks to Graeme at Monument Photos

 Those who know me, will have noticed a severe lack of racing this year.  A groin injury that first appeared at the River Ayr Race last year came to a head in the wonderful Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra  (I must go back to that one) last October and that kept me out on the injury bench for around 3 months.  A return in the new year only replaced the groin injury with plantar fasciitis.  Man, that is one tough injury to shift, but shift it I did with the help of Ross from Space Clinics in Edinburgh and Lesley, a podiatrist and old school chum at JW Physiotherapy in South Queensferry and I started my come back, ahem, late April only for a slight relapse and some more down time before getting going in May.  Looking back I had about 10 weeks to get ready for the Devil, from zero!  It was only around 3-4 weeks from the Devil that I started to feel a familiar bounce return to my running, the previous 6 weeks being dogged by severe sluggishness.

Preparation could have been better.  Two weeks in the Majorcan sun, eating my own body weight in food, daily, and consuming gallons of local beer had me return to Edinburgh with a small food baby and the running was very sluggish for a couple of weeks.  In the 10 weeks I had built up my long (**actually laughs out loud**) runs to 16 miles and managed one 18 mile run and two 20 mile runs.  It wasn’t enough, but I thought what the heck, let’s do it anyway, even if I have to walk large sections I will push on to the end.

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Coming into Bridge of Orchy with Davie Gow. Davie goes on to taking 5th place in the race.  Thanks to Graeme from Monument Photos

For most who blog, it will be natural to post when inspired or happy, maybe less so when things are not going so well.  It is how social media works, endless posts of wonderful people having wonderful lives.  It can be difficult for most to admit that they were wrong privately, let alone publicise it.  I’m not immune to that, Mrs T can testify!  The truth is, I shouldn’t have toed the line in this race.  Vastly under trained, hugely under prepared and foolish to think that will power, with a little bit of ego mixed in, would get me to the end.  It didn’t and I bailed out at Kinlochleven, 28 miles into the race.  I had problems on the way there, stomach issues at 15 miles meant I spent 10 minutes in the Glencoe checkpoint toilet, my nutritional, sleep and taper approaches to the race should have been different, but at the end of the day, it came down to bad organisation and nowhere near being race primed!

 It wasn’t all bad.  My kit was superb, I don’t have to say that, the ashmei 2 in 1 shorts, classic short sleeve and socks all performed above and beyond, drying out super quickly when I was slowing down or walking and starting to feel a chill.  The zipped neck of the classic short sleeve was a welcome feature for getting a little air in when I heated up and zipping it up when I didn’t, or being attacked by midges!  A number of people complimented how good the kit looks again, which always makes me smile.  Then there was meeting Norrie, a good runner having similar problems to myself on the day.  The chat with Norrie on the way into Kinlochleven, when we were both questioning our running, our motivations, our training, is partly the catylist for this blog post.  I hope it helped Norrie as it certainly helped me.  Also, the 15 miles or so that I ran with Davie Gow, a really top chap and great runner, who went on to finish 5th.  I admired his race planning the preparation and I piggy backed onto his pacing strategy for those miles.  

After 11-12 years of running (as an adult) I love that I am still a student of the sport, I learned some valuable lessons from those guys, from myself and I suspect that will only continue.

A new chapter to my running is coming.  At 45 years old (well in a few weeks anyway) I feel excited about the future as I hook up with someone who really knows their stuff, has a wealth of experience and who I hope can tease out of me the best my body can provide.

Exciting times ahead.

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Coming over the top of the Devil’s Staircase.  Lastly, a huge thanks to Graeme at Monument Photos

33 Shake (a gel, sort of)

If you take away the beer, wine, crisps, chocolate and cakes, I have a top notch nutritional approach.  Ok, the beer et al are normally a weekend thing, and strictly only when a big race isn’t coming up.  I guess about a 90/10% split.  That’s 90% of ‘good food’ like whole, fresh unprocessed food stuffs and 10% of awesome foods like beer, wine and chocolate.

When a target, A race is in the calendar and the training approach is worked on, the ‘diet’ is utterly dialled in.  It is difficult to be so strict with myself all year and I allow myself the indulgences when I am not targeting any races.  Mostly to the detriment of my waistline. I am one stubborn and determined egg though and I can switch to super strict quicker than Trump can covfefe!

Race nutrition is still an evolving programme for me.  I’ve tried lots of products over the years.  Many gels have been consumed, many have been binned, and many have been stored at the back of the cupboard for many years.  That has just reminded me to go and clear them out!  Race hydration will always be Tailwind, water and flat coke for that final push.  I will never forget just how good water tasted when I was handed it at mile 50 odd in last year’s Anglo Celtic Plate.  A lot of people talk about coconut water’s thirst quenching abilities, but for me it is just H2O, plain and simple.  Sometimes you just can’t get any better.

I’ve not found that right gel yet, or at least not until now.  I have dabbled with making my own food balls and they would be fine if you are racing where drop bags are available or checkpoints but if it is self supported and you have to carry all your food then those home made ‘power’ balls can end up home made ‘power’ crumbs after bobbling about in a race vest.  I took my spirulina balls with me last Monday (29th May 2017) on the run in the Scottish mountains.  Their binding agent is coconut oil, which when cold is solid, but put it in your hands and it quickly becomes liquid.  Well after 3 hours of running, your back gives off a lot of heat and when I took the spirulina balls out of the bag, they reminded me of an ectoplasm residue!  I am still working on the recipe for these, so if anyone out there can provide a stable binding agent, that is whole, unrefined and doesn’t taste like kak, I am all ears.  Maybe I should tweet Trump and ask when he puts in his Barnet?

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The Gel

A few months ago, I had acquired a few chia seed ‘gels’ by a company called 33 Shake.  I’d listened to the company founder, Warren Pole, on the Trail Runner Nation podcast many months ago.  If you haven’t listened to the padcast, go do it, really fun show and they have lots of great guests.  Warren is charismatic guy and, like almost all company founders, believe their products to be the best on the market.  The all natural, mostly organic ingredients list pleased my inner healthy living being.  They come as a dry gel, sounds like an oxymoron, but they are dry ingredients that you have to add some water to.

The Back of the Pack

The ingredients are:

  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Madagascan vanilla
  • Himalayan Pink Salt

The nutritional profile of a single gel pack is

  • Calories – 90
  • Protein – 2.2g
  • Carbs – 11.2g
  • Sugars – 6g
  • Fat – 4g
  • Saturated Fat – 0.4g
  • Fibre – 5g
  • Iron – 1.1mg
  • Sodium – 17.6mg
  • Potassium – 103mg
  • Calcium – 1.1mg

They don’t pack as many calories as some other gels on the market, or indeed a Tailwind stick pack, but I wouldn’t just use these gels, I would always be looking at other products like Tailwind or real food to compliment.  The pink rock salt is a good additive.  Table salt is just sodium chloride, highly refined and virtually no nutritional value.  The Himalayan salt on the other hand also has potassium, magnesium, calcium, oxygen and hydrogen in very small amounts, but not insignificant amounts that may well help you in times of stress i.e. like an ultra marathon.

Usage Instructions

The suggestion on the pack is that you should add water, coconut water or fruit juice (!!!) and do this up to 24 hours prior to using them.  I suppose so that you don’t need to put water in them when you are out on the course.  As it was, I was running with a flask of water in my race vest, so decided to fill the gels on the hoof.  I have to say that was a little fiddly and a little messy.  It didn’t help having the Ultimate Direction bottles.  One squeeze of them and water fires out the spout like a fire hose!!  On future runs, or races, I will definitely be taking the manufacturers advice.  It would also mean they would be ready when you needed them.  Filling them with water as and when you need them, means you have to wait about 10 minutes for the water to be absorbed by the dry contents.  The pack has a tight screw top lid and you need that to enable some vigorous shaking once the chosen liquid is added.  However, when they are ready to be eaten the lid comes off and you are left with an easy ‘spout’ to suck the gel into your mouth.

The Taste

I won’t deny this, I was hesitant to try this gel.  I wanted something sweet and the main content of this gel was going to be chia seeds and water.  I’ve made chia seed slurry as a desert in the past and it is an acquired taste.  The thought of that taste, at that moment in time, brought on a little fear!  As I hiked up the top half of the Devil’s Staircase I got over myself and squeezed the gel into my mouth.  I was hit by this intense sweetness, not an overly sweet taste, like you would get from ‘death by chocolate’ cake, this was pleasant and the consistency was nice.  The overriding flavour is vanilla, which again wasn’t overpowering.   The little chia seeds stuck between my teeth only moved my concentration from the pain of hiking up the Devil’s 1000ft ascent.

Overall

These are very good gels.  Ok they are not, rip it open and consume, but I think the prior arrangement of putting water in them before you head out is minor and won’t stop me using them again in training and racing.  The packaging is completely recyclable as well so there is no need to dump these empty gel packs on the course either!!  You know who you are!  A pack of 10 will cost just under 20 quid, so roughly £2 per gel.  I think you are getting great value for money if you are conscious of what types of food you put in your body.

2 in 1 Shorts by ashmei

I’ve been waiting for it to rain in Scotland.  That seems ironic, waiting for it to rain….in Scotland.  Well it’s true, Edinburgh has had the driest April for some years.  I don’t often welcome the rain, I mean, who does, but the garden certainly needed it, my lack of green digits evident by the browning of the plants and grass.  However, I did welcome it this time as I wanted to give the 2 in 1 shorts a chance in the rain.  I’ve been wearing them non-stop since getting on board as an ambassador with ashmei. 

IMG_3759I always wear an inner compression garment when racing, usually some major branded compression short under whatever short I pick for the race.  The reason, as most ultra runners will know, is to stop chaffing.  However, I have picked up some chaffing from stitched seems on other compression gear.  At last year’s Anglo Celtic Plate 100km, I had chaffing in bits of my body that I thought were impossible.   It turned out that a seemed part of the under garment had moved to a creased area on my body (enough information?) and had caused all manner of chaos down there (definitely enough information).  You could ask Mrs T how the shower went after that race, the screams could probably be heard in Aldbury (ashmei HQ).

As an ultra runner the inner merino compression short is fantastic, there are no seems. Well there are seems of course, but the way they have been stitched essentially hides them.  The merino is light, soft and tight, it fits snuggly, just exactly what a compression garment should do.   The inner isn’t 100% merino, there is some elastane in there to perform as the compression.  It is a genius combination.  As the major component is merino the heat control is fantastic, never overheating and not leaving you chilly either.  I haven’t run 100km in these shorts, yet, but I am extremely confident of how great they will perform when I do.  

The rear pocket is large enough for keys, cards and at a push I could get my iPhone 7 in there when the shorts are off.  It’s little more difficult when they are on, but that isn’t the purpose of the pocket, so it was an unexpected bonus.  Within the pocket there is a mini pocket, small enough to fit a couple of coins in and stop them rumbling around in the large outer pocket.  Inside the pocket there is this statement:

“Your body is not the same all over.  You have lumps and bumps and hot bits and cool bits.  You’re not symmetrical like a ping pong ball. You have different sized limbs and muscles, each with their individual needs to be protected against the elements.  This is why we have developed 360 degree MAPPING, to position the most suitable technical fabrics around the body to maximise comfort and performance”

This says it all about ashmei as a company, they are completely athlete centric.  We, you, our comfort and performance come first to ashmei, it is one of the overriding reasons that I wanted to become part of their ambassador team.

Back to the shorts.  The outer layer is a mid length nylon/elastane blend, very light, with ‘breather’ strips down each side which are excellent for keeping things cool around that area.  The shorts fit excellently, they feel tight around the areas that they should, and they feel loose around the areas that need it.  As I said at the top of this blog, I wanted to wait for the rain, I wanted to see how they would perform in the wet.  I opted to stick on a waterproof jacket, an expensive waterproof jacket!  I wanted to compare the shorts to one of the leading brands of waterproof sports wear out there.  Of course I had the classic short sleeve t-shirt on underneath.  I don’t wear anything else these days.

So I went out for an 8 mile run, along the coast. It was lovely to be just running again, the freedom it provides.  Being out at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, there is nobody around, all I could hear were the waves crashing onto the beach, the rain hitting the ground and the gulls squealing at each other. 

I had actually forgotten that the 2 in 1 shorts were waterproof.  As I unlocked the door to the house I looked down and noticed the beads of water on the shorts as they rolled down and off the shorts.  These particular shorts have been washed a number of times so it was reassuring to see that they were retaining their waterproofness.  In stark contrast the top brand waterproof jacket was socked through!!

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Water sitting in beads on top of outer layer of the shorts.

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And water soaking through the waterproof jacket.

The part that ashmei don’t advertise is the multiple use of the shorts.  The merino wool inner is wicking and anti-bacterial, so the sweat doesn’t stay in the garment, they can be used for a good few days before they need to be washed.  I was sceptical of this unknown fact, but it is very true.  I have two pairs of the shorts and once they have dried they go back into the drawer and washed once a week, saving a little on the washing machine electricity, not to mention the way overpriced washing liquid!

Typically of ashmei, the shorts look great too, a must for the vain types like me!!

Overall, stylish, will perform in all conditions, innovative design for both parts of the short and fantastic value for money.

Now, go out and buy some, you won’t regret it.

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Blood and the Endurance Athlete

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor, have no medical training, other than Boys Brigade first aid in 1985, and I accept no responsibility for any nonsense you get up to on the back of what I am about to write.  Consider yourself warned, or disclaimed, or something.  I also have no affiliation with any company that I mention in this blog.

I recently had a full blood analysis carried out.  I’ve used Blue Horizon Medical in the past for various testing when I have been wanting to discover more about how my body works under pressure during heavy training and if there was any nutritional or functional (training/rest/recovery) changes I could make to improve or adapt.  I did this testing when I started to train for the ACP 2016 and half way through the training block.  I didn’t blog about it at the time, mainly because nothing came up in the blood panel, all looked normal at the time.

So it was a surprise to see a few red flags in the latest blood panel when my training has been somewhat subdued over the last 6-8 months.

The first and probably biggest red flag was below normal HCT (Haematocrit) and Haemoglobin.  For an endurance runner these are of particular importance as they constitute the oxygen carrying red blood cells that supply oxygen and other nutrients to the working muscles.  My HCT was 0.39 or 39% and Haemoglobin was 129 g/L (normal range is 130 – 170 according to the lab where the test was carried out).  You might think that they are just below normal and I have nothing to worry about.  That may well be true to your average Jocky MacJockface on the street. Considering the average Jocky has an HCT of 45% (source Wikipedia), 39% is a worrying number.   WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) have a limit on HCT of 50%, anything over that and you are suspected of doping with EPO.  I’ve also read that steroids can boost HCT too.

Over the years I have read many books about pro cycling.  Although not a cyclist, I am intrigued with the sport, love watching the grand tours, the one day classics etc.  It is fabulous to watch.  Its dark side has also had me captivated.  One thing that sticks in my mind is the micro dosing of EPO.  The reason they micro dosed was to ensure their HCT didn’t go above the WADA limit of 50%.  These guys already started with HCT levels of 43-48% and look at the performance gains they got from marginal increases.  Now imagine the exact opposite, the marginal decreases in HCT and the affect that has, and that is where I am right now!

Don’t worry, I am not about to purchase some Chinese EPO online and start stabbing a needle in my a$$ each day.  Needles don’t worry me, I’ve had plenty blood taken over the years and have my fair share of tattoos.  Apart from the moral implications of doping, the thought of actually having to jab myself makes me boak!

From what I understand, a low HCT with a low MCV (Mean Corpuscular Volume) and a high RDW (Red cell Distribution Width) can be a sign of iron-deficient anaemia.   My readings for MCV was 83 fL and RDW of 14.2, these are on the boundary of what is considered low for MCV and high for RDW (again according to the lab’s thresholds).

Of course, this is all self diagnosis and that can be dangerous, but the basics are there to see, even with my limited understanding.   The numbers mean I could be slightly anaemic, possibly just a short term thing, maybe not.  There are other, more serious, reasons that could account for the values, but I am not concerning myself with those, because other than when I train, I feel ok.   What is puzzling me is that I do eat iron rich foods, heme iron and non heme iron, daily.  I take care to consume these iron sources with vitamin C sources to maximise absorption.  It’s nutrition 101.

Folate, B12 and Ferritin levels were all within the normal range, on the low side again, but still within that lab’s normal parameters.

So what’s the solution?  The solution I am going for is to supplement and make a few changes to diet.  Thorne Research do an iron supplement called Ferrasorb.  I’ve used Thorne products in the past and they are expensive, but they one of the best supplement companies and I am hoping this is short term.  Additional to that will be the recommencement of the consumtion of more organ meat, Mrs T will be delighted about that.  Liver, heart, kidney, even good quality black pudding will now need to feature weekly in my diet, I feel a few insta photos of some breakfasts coming up!!

[edit: first breakfast shot post writing]

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The remainder of the blood panel was looking quite favourable.  Cholesterol, HDL and Ratio (the important parts) were within range, as were vitamin D, Thyroid function, liver function, calcium and Uric Acid.  CRP or C-reactive Protein is a good marker of inflammation in the body and my levels were very low.  Meaning, general inflammation is also very low.  Could this mean I am over the injuries, or at least getting over them?

Overall, I think the testing has been worth it.  As endurance athletes we need to know what is going on endogenously as well as the exogenous results from training and racing.   There have been times in the past where I’ve been training hard and getting nowhere with progression, maybe a test like this could have thrown up the reason why there was not forward movement.

I plan to have another test (the same one) in 4-6 weeks, after I have given my body enough time to adjust to any changes in diet or supplementation.  My hope is that I can resolve the problems with food and avoid any medical intervention.

If you follow me in instagram or twitter or facebook you may have noticed that I have been spending a fair amount of time in the gym.

I am actually quite enjoying it.  When you are given a programme to work on, that you trust will fix all the broken bits, it makes it so worth while.  As I age (I’ll be 28 this year), this supplementary must be part of your running.  You can’t live life with regrets, but if I did have one it would that I started this additional work 10 years ago! (when I was 18).

In terms of running, I’ve been doing a little.  The foot injury appears to be on the mend apart from a flare up now and again, so I have to be careful with that.  Managing it to resolution is the key and I have a way forward for that.  The groin issues that I have had for about 18 months are markedly better, probably due to the gym work and the physio sessions I have had recently.  I can’t thank Ross at Space Clinics enough for the work they have done to put this old body back together. It was worth every penny and I would not hesitate to return should another problem crop up.

I’ve also had some initial chats with a coach (which reminds me I need to tell them what the latest situation is!!!), with the view to getting some expert advice on the way forward.  I don’t feel quite fit enough yet to get onto ‘the programme’ but I am hoping over the coming months that I can transition to their planning.  It will be a new departure for me and one I am quite excited about.

Until next time.

Ashmei Ambassador Day 2017

Big Day Ashmei

That was the twitter hashtag for the 2017 ashmei ambassador day (#bigdayashmei) and I had been one of the very lucky people to be invited down to their headquarters for a fun day of brand promotion and then self promotion!!  More on that later.  I started the day at 4:15am, awake long before my alarm was due to blare into my eardrums.  It was still dark outside and the birds were just starting up there morning singing.  I’d decided to cycle to the airport in an attempt to retain my fitness due to a little niggling foot injury.  It was an interesting 14 miles to the airport.  At that time of a Saturday morning the only evidence of civilization is taxis and a handful of ‘walks of shame’.  It give a glimpse of a post apocalyptic Edinburgh, in fact going through Niddrie and Craigmiller give you that at any time of the day or night!! The clubs and pubs were closed, the kebab houses were closed, even the 24 hour Tesco looked empty!  It was a superb ride, the roads were empty, all the traffic lights seemed to be in my favour and I made it to the airport in about 55 minutes, a lot less than I had anticipated.

The flight down was pretty uneventful, however, it was a huge plane, and full!!  A Boeing 767, seat configuration of 2-3-2 and about 35 rows, you do the maths!  It was a big beast and I wondered if the small Edinburgh runway had enough metres in it to get this colossal piece of steel off the ground when there was no prevailing westerly to charge into and give lift.  My uncertainty was answered when the Rolls Royce engines fired up and got us into the air in no time.  It was a beautiful morning in Edinburgh with the sun coming up over the snow capped Pentland hills.  It reminded me of the brilliant training runs I’ve had over the years in the Pentlands, Owain, @scottishrunner (ashmei ambassador extraordinaire and prolific blogger and tweeter) can testify to the beauty of running in the hills only a short hop from Edinburgh city centre.  It really is a fantastic place to live and run.  For such a small city there are trails and tracks all over, combining to make 100s of kms to explore or commute as I do.  I’m digressing a little here but a wee plug for this great city is alright, isn’t it?  We landed a little over the expected time and I headed straight for the car rental desk in the Sofotel Hotel.  There was a very, very long corridor to the car rental desk, all nice lighting giving a luxury feel to it.  However, they must have been pumping out air freshener into the corridor, as it stank like one of those awful car Magic Tree air fresheners.  I felt sick!!  I felt even sicker (is that a word) after the initial conversation at the car rental desk and I will just leave that story there for now. This is supposed to a happy, cheerful blog post.  Not raising the cortisol levels!!!  So in order to maintain my low levels of stress, you understand, keeping my blood below the boil point I’ll just refrain from going into any details.  Which is more to do with the impending litigation that is coming their way!!!!   By this time it is too late to go through the process of another car hire, it’s 9:15 and I am supposed to be in Aldbury in 15 minutes.  Black cab it is then!!!  £££££££££££££££££££££££££££££

Albury is in a beautiful part of the country just north of London.  It’s a small rural village about a half hour train journey from Euston station, close to Tring.  Tring is another small commuter town close by, but the train station at Tring has about 8 platforms and a massive park and ride car park.  The train station looks out of place, it might actually be bigger than Tring itself.

I arrive in Aldbury at 9:45, the Taxi driver booting it for me, and after much pound notes are exchanged, I find the ashmei HQ and arrive, fashionably late, but I do arrive, which at some point earlier, I had my reservations about.  Ashmei HQ is a converted stable, decorated modern inside with large bi-folding doors out into a courtyard.  Picturesque is the word that comes to mind.  The vintage Airstream  is parked outside.  The Airstream is the vehicle the company take to Expo’s and events, it is stylish, sleek and functional.  Exactly like the ethos of the company.

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Arriving late is never good, everyone else has already introduced themselves to everyone and made their new friendships.  However, I didn’t feel like an outsider here, everyone was very friendly, kindred spirits almost.  The other ambassador hopefuls were all just like me, passionate about their sport, willing to talk openly about themselves, their training, their gear and their aspirations.  I was like pig in sh*t.  Here I was, among about 20 other people who I genuinely felt I couldn’t bore with my inane running chat.  They wanted to hear my story, equally, I wanted to hear theirs.  I met some fantastic and charismatic people, be them ambassador hopefuls or already ambassadors or indeed the core ashmei team themselves.

It was fantastic to meet the team behind the ashmei brand, Stuart, Gary, Rob, Elliot, the girls and the 4 existing ambassadors helping out for the day were all very warm and welcoming.  The day started properly with Stuart, the company founder and owner, giving more details on the company history, his own background, what makes ashmei different to the others, the technology, the company ethos and mission.  I knew more than before, that I wanted to be part of this family.  I could see, in Stuart, the same passion in the ashmei products that I have for my sport.  What Stuart described was the reason I was here, he said that once you wear ashmei, it becomes your favourite, you wont wear anything else, you end up cherishing it.  I believe him.

Next up was Gary, the brand marketing guru.  Gary discussed the way ashmei like to be shown (look at this video ).  It epitomises the brand, performance, innovation, quality and style.  It’s it a fabulous piece of cinematography.  Gary didn’t make any claims about the video for himself, but I am sure he had a big hand in it’s production.  Gary showed us the old world media (newspapers, magazines etc) coverage the brand is now receiving, their recent very high rating in the GQ ‘must haves’ being of particular interest.  I can see that the online, or new world, marketing is where the company would like to explore and I can see that any ambassador would be central to that.  My own online presence can be sparse, more to do with time constraints, than having nothing to say.   I sometimes wonder how people manage to have such an big online presence, they must spend all day on the interwebs.   If I am to be lucky and selected as a brand ambassador, this will change.  I will make the time.  It’s not like I don’t enjoy it, making the video for the ambassador day (see here ) was a joy, a joy I never thought I would experience.  Completing that video and watching it through brought a real sense of achievement.  I am no Speilberg, but I can only improve and I know people who can help me with that.

Following Gary was Elliot, the lead designer.  What a job he has and I could feel his enthusiasm for ashmei.  After all, a lot of what I was wearing and looking at were, essentially, made by him.  That must be such a rush, to watch athletes perform at all levels in gear he has designed.  The clothing is designed athlete centric, they are manufactured around the athlete not a market demand.  ashmei bring products to the athlete, for the athlete, designed for the athlete, no extras, no gimmicks, no fuss.  Elliot showed us that right down to the miniscule details the decisions that are made in design and manufacturing are always done for the athlete first, the price point is of no concern until the very last step of bringing a product out.

It really was a fabulous insight into the company, I felt inspired and enthusiastic, at that point I knew what I wanted to do.  We were then given the bombshell that we were to give a 5 minute presentation on our journey, our story.  We’d heard the ashmei story, their journey, now it was over to us.  We would, in turn, be given a 5 minute slot in the Airstream to give our story in front of Stuart, Gary and an existing ambassador.

The group were split into cyclist and runners and while we headed out for a 10k run in the surrounding trails and hills, the cyclists would be giving their story in the airstream.  When we came back the cyclist would head out for a ride in the countryside while the runners gave their story.  The group was a real mix of people:  Young, not so young (me), tall, short (me again), triathletes, cyclists, runners (me yet again) and even a decathlete.  A decathlete who has Olympic aspirations, wow!!  Even though we were all essentially competing against each other, it didn’t feel like that and unlike a race where I want to win, I would gladly step aside to let any of the people I met win the ambassadorship.  All were worthy, all had their own story to tell and I wish them all the best of luck in the remainder of the process.

I haven’t mentioned Rob yet.  Rob is the head of sales.  My introduction to Rob was a little unusual.  When I arrived, I spoke to Lucy who, kind of, got me signed in and gave me a lovely pair of ashmei socks.  I then started chatting to a couple of other hopefuls and Rob leaned through and said, ‘Rob’ and shook my hand.  A little confused, I thought, how does he know my name, this is because I am late, they have all been talking about me, paranoia creeping in, but of course, DOH!, he was introducing himself.  What a div I can be sometimes.  Rob, Owain, Elliot and David lead the run from HQ and out onto the surrounding trails.  It was fabulous to be running again, my foot injury preventing me from doing much running these last few weeks.  David is an experienced ultra runner having completed some of the worlds toughest races.  It was good to chat with him, he has run a few races that are on my bucket list.  Chatting to Sam, Jo, Ed, Gemma, Sophie was easy and it turns out Sophie will be representing England at the Anglo Celtic Plate in Hull in May.  See ye there!  Rob wanted to hear what we were all about and made his way around all the runners in the group.  Then as Ed, Rob and I were running Ed asked Rob what his story was.  It resonated with me so much.  It’s not for me to tell it, but let’s just say we have a similar path to fitness and sport.  We arrive back to HQ after covering about 10k in the trails.  I miss the endorphine rush of running.  Hopefully not long before I get it coming every day again.

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Photo nicked from courtesy of Owain Williams @ScottishRunner

We enter the HQ building to be confronted by a sea of cake!!  Mostly homemade, all delicious, my cake value was taken off and I got stuck in, consuming close to my own body weight of Swedish home made apple and cinnamon slice!! Y – U – M!  I also indulge in a little retail therapy, well with such a big discount it would be rude not to….

The cyclist then head off for their ride and the runners are called, one by one, into the Airstream.  The guys who go first ease all our apprehensions. It’s just chat they say, nothing to worry about, but I hadn’t given it any thought while out on the run, too engrossed in chatting to the other runners.  Before long, and after yet more cake, it was my turn.  Owain was the original ambassador on the ‘panel’ but, quite rightly, stepped out and let David take his place when it was my turn.  It felt easy to talk to them, I generally am not one to blow my own trumpet, and I don’t think that is what they were looking for either.  However, I did mention the three thousand views of my application video J.  I am not sure that I got everything across well though, I felt a little nervous, and there were a few things that I wanted to say that I didn’t.  It’s like the job interview where you leave and immediately remember all the stuff you had in your head before you went in, but it slips to the back of your memory when you are there.  I think I did ok though, a little background on me, my aspirations for the future, my intensity of leaving no stone unturned when preparing for big races and my desire to test their fabulous kit in a Scottish Highland Winter and race over the world in it.

 

And then it was over. The day ended. I felt a little deflated when I left, I’d been on a high all day and now it was finished.  I had to leave sharp as I travelled back to Heathrow but train, underground and train.  Thanks again to Ed (see Ed’s work here) for taking me to Paddington.  It’s been a while since I have been in London and you forget quickly how to use the underground with any confidence and speed!  The flight home was uneventful and the ride back to the house was swift (downhill mostly).  I got home to a nice glass of wine and a debrief of the day to Lisa.

It was a wonderful day, having not experienced anything like it before, I’ll remember it.  And if I am not successful this year, there is always next year.  As for the clothing itself.  I amabsolutely sold.

#bigdayashmei

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Photo courtesy of ashmei

New Ventures


I am absolutely delighted and honoured to have been asked to become a 2017 ambassador for Xmiles.co.uk, the endurance sports store with a specialism in sports nutrition.  I love Anthony’s passion and approach to sports nutrition and this is shown in the vast choice of brands he stocks.  Brands like,

and many, many more at very competitive prices.    They also have products for the vegetarian and vegan endurance athletes out there and supply monthly endurance nutrition boxes.

I’m looking forward to using the products to fuel me through my training and racing in the coming year and hopefully beyond.

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