Centurion Ultramarathon Blog

100 Mile Training Elements

Feb 11, 2015 (1 week, 6 days ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: training-tips

This post follows on from the Building a Plan post from last year. It's designed to pick the general elements that contribute to success at specifically a 100 mile trail race, though many of the facets can be applied to ultras/ running events of all distances. 

This blog is about the central components of successful training ONLY, within each individual heading is a huge range of detail. What's important is to get the general principles right, before drilling down and fine tuning. 

The structure of this post is to take an individual contributing element to success, look at the top line ingredients to fulfilling that element, and offer a real life example of how some of those things might be applied by focusing on my own lead up to the 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100. 

Two things to consider within each heading. Firstly, the application of each elements particularly in terms of quantity and quality will vary dependent on the background of the individual. Secondly, by no means do I consider my RR100 performance to be that of an elite athlete or a shining example for all to follow. It's simply there as an example of application in a real life situation.

Finally, if you are someone looking for completion of as many events as possible, races all the time, or who has multiple ultra races planned within close proximity to one another (I;ve done all three in the past), many of these elements will need to be heavily adapted or eliminated completely. Adapt things to those which work for you but try to still formulate the outline of a plan. 

Overview

The central premise of training in general and particularly in training for 100's where things can very quickly become all consuming and confusing, are:

Keep It simple. Keep it consistent. Keep it productive.

What does that mean?

Simplicity: Don't overcomplicate your training with specifics until you are doing the basics right. 

Consistency: The greatest single contributing factor to your success at the distance, is consistency in training. Consistency is built day by day, week by week, month by month. It's no good running 30 miles as your weekend long run, if you aren't recovered enough to train producitvely again until Thursday. Plan your training. Write down what you'd like to fit in and match that against your work-life commitments at the start of each week to maintain consistency as far as possible.

Productivity: Make every mile count. Is your session going to A. improve your aerobic endurance. B. Work your Threshold/ Lactate to improve your speed/ form efficiency and strength. C. Speed up your recovery. It's ok to run miles for enjoyment only, sessions with no specific objective. But limit the miles you are running in to one of those categories and you will make gains on all counts, more quickly. 

Stress/ Making Time

Reducing stress is the key to maintaining focus and consistency. Almost every runner headed to your goal event has commitments of family, work, commute and these things all induce stress at various times. If you do not look forward to your running, if it seems like a chore, then running is in itself a contributing factor to that overall stress. If that applies to you, consider taking a step back and thinking through if the timing is right to make the commitment to training for a 100 mile race. 

By writing a plan, you will find you make time going in to each day, to fit that session in. Having no plan usually equates to missed sessions or decreased productivity. Squeezing a session in at a less than optimum time is simply a reality of our busy lives and that's ok. Not running because you planned your day badly and otherwise could have, is frustrating and has a negative impact on your consistency. 

Writing Your Plan: Polarised Training/ Phases

The article Building Your Plan goes in to more detail on this element. This is the area is where generalisations are most broad. These are very top line guiding principles only, you must apply your plan to where you are at in your running career and where you are in your cycle.

For a 100 mile race, aerobic endurance is of paramount importance. As such a polarised training model is one to consider following. That is, your training should either be easy, or very hard. 

Simply, run the majority of your mileage Easy/ in Zone 2, working your aerobic system and make the most signficant gains on your endurance whilst allowing your body to recover quickly to be able to train again and maintain consistency/ run more often. Working your aerobic base works your aerobic metabolism, teaching your body to burn fat and become more efficient at covering longer distances. Running easy promotes that, running out of zone 2 does not. So if you train too often in the middle ground, between easy and hard, you are training your body to do something you are not asking of it in a 100 mile race. Run slower to get faster. Here's my favourite video of how the polarised training model functions. (Stick with it).

Include quality training: Speed (Tempo, Progression, Interval, Fartlek) and/or hill work once-twice per week. Hard running should formulate around 15%-20% of your total weekly mileage. Hard work outs need to wait until the Build and Peak phases of your plan. Don't start speed work too early. Begin by incorporating a few fast intervals of 800m to 1 mile within easier work outs. Speed work is going to strengthen your muscles and ligaments but is requiring of more load in order to do that, so earlier in a cycle you are more prone to injury by incorporating these work outs.

Pick a total training block and within it (don't exceed 12 weeks), break it down in to key periods. If your training block is longer than 12 weeks, then consider a stepping stone race(s) on route that allow you to split it down in to more than one block of between 6 and 12 weeks, ideally around 8.

- Base: Simply building your aerobic base
- Build: Introduction of Harder work outs and increasing mileage gradually to continue progression of aerobic base
- Peak: This should not be a big jump from your build. Simply 2-4 weeks where you are operating at a consistent high level.
- Taper: Make sure you give your body and mind a chance to recover from the rigours of training.
*Drop an easy week in between each one of these phases.

This is a huge topic and one I am going to end there with for now.

After a 3 week break following the Bob Graham Round, I ran 2 easy weeks and 3 Base weeks before an easier week. 4 Build Weeks followed, then 3.5 Peak weeks and a 16 day taper which has always worked well for me. You can see the pattern of mileage/ time/ elevation gain in the picture below. Ignore the mileage. That is what worked individually for me, on this occassion. It is certainly not indicative of what is generally necessary for success at a 100 mile event. Many do more, many who do less will still perform significantly better than myself. 

 

Period 1 to mid Build. Period 2 to Race. Races in Red.

Quantity & Quality: How many miles should I run?

The most common question asked of us. One thing is critically important to working this out, that is that you are completely different to the next person. Generally speaking you want to run as much productive mileage as you can, without compromising on consistency or on your health (illness/ injury). Ask yourself how much you can really fit in? Don't look at the mileage element, look at the time element. An off road run through ploughed field 'trails' in British winter is not the same as a road run in the summer. The former could easily equate to 1.5 times the latter in terms of mins per mile or total time for session mileage.

A particularly 'high quality and fast' local trail in my area. 

I will use two extreme examples to give you an idea of how wide a net can be cast here. In training for relative 100 mile events over a 10 week period we have had top finishers setters at our events average at the lowest 40 miles per week and at the highest, over 200 miles per week in the 10 weeks prior to race day. 

Find an optimum level that works for you, ensuring your mileage is productive. If the session is working the three things we mentioned before; aerobic endurance, speed/ strength, recovery, then it can stay. It will be hard to fit it all in at times, that's life. But don't be lazy, run as a habit and do it as often as you can whilst allowing for adequate rest and recovery (rest can mean an easy run and doesn't have to mean total rest). 

For RR100 I looked for gains through sustaining my highest average mileage since pre-Badwater in 2010. I began running daily, cutting out complete rest days and found that a short 25-30 minute jog left me feeling better and more recovered than total rest. They were just what worked for me on this occassion. 

One thing I found useful for aerobic training with a young baby, was the baby jogger. It allowed me to get out of the house and kill three birds with one stone. The baby got fresh air and often fell asleep comfortable in the jogger. I got my run in. My wife got a break. Marginal gains!

Pacing & Pace vs Effort

Simply, when you run off road, ignore your pace and look at your effort or Heart Rate instead. Running to effort is a crucial skill for 2 main reasons on a 100 mile trail event. Firstly, being off road, the underfoot conditions and elevation changes you are likely to experience make every mile different. Consider how reducing your run to a steady hike on a steeper climb leaves you working at the same effort as a run on the flat. Balance that effort and practice keeping it as steady as possible during longer runs. Secondly, your Heart Rate will show significant drift and will more than likely, not be a reliable source of biometric feedback in the latter stages of the race. 

All of my off road runs in training were based on effort and not pace. I got used to running without a GPS and subsequently during the event practised the simple act of remaining 'comfy' as opposed to concerning myself with my splits. I used splits at key points in the race only to reference my performance and likely outcome. 

Social Media/ Training tools

Read blogs and information shared by top runners and experienced coaches. Do not allow consumption of other runner racing or training to lead you off course, pick elements of others plans that make sense and fall in line with your general principles to fine tune your training. Have faith in what you are doing. Be inspired by others but aim to inspire others by setting your own example. 

Mental/ Emotional

Visualise yourself running the event during training. Do the training that gives you the confidence that you will have a good day. Be prepared for low patches and know how to reduce those plus turn them back in to good patches. By doing back to back long runs you will likely suffer some mental lows. Work through them by practicing your pacing and your fueling, and allow yourself to build confidence in the knowledge that the lows will not last. 

Reduce stress on race day by planning as much as you can ahead of time, not just for the ideal race day, but for eventualities if things are not as you expected ie. bad weather, poor underfoot conditions, high or low temperatures and/ or changes to the race course.

Going in to RR100 I had one element here where you could argue both a significant advantage. As my 5th running of the event I knew exactly how things were likely to unfold, from what restaurant I planned to eat in pre-race, to how the course looked. I was able to plan everything and reduce the travel, fueling and pacing plans down to their most simple elements whilst also allowing for eventualities like bad weather or freezing temperatures, both of which I had experienced there before. Visualising doing well at the race was therefore very easy. Recce ing courses up front is something that isn't just a good idea for me, it's essential. I would point blank not show up to a 100 mile unless I had either recce-d it numerous times in training, if local, or studied every facet of the course (video/ blog/ google earth) if international. 

Racing as training.

Racing or running in a race, is a skill on it's own. Not just in terms of tactics and execution, but in terms of preparing for it, packing for it, eating and drinking before hand, getting a good night's sleep free from anxiety over what's to come. If you race more, you will find that your stress prior to 100 mile race day is likely reduced. 

Use shorter races as stepping stones to: Practice turning up to and running a race, As Speed Work, As Performance indicators through a training cycle, As a confidence boost.

You have a Park Run near you that happens every week. These are free and great community events. Use them in your training. Local 10k's, Half Marathons and Marathons are also great as long as you feel you can bounce back quickly and maintain consistency the following week. 

If you are planning on including ultras as part of your training, consider the impact they will have on your consistency. Within 12 weeks of a 100 miler, a long race will likely require a period of taper and recovery. Is it possible that the length of time the race will remove from your key training block, will outweigh the psychological and physical benefits plus experience of running that event? If no then run the event. If yes, then consider what is most important to you. 

Traditionally I've always run races regularly in training for confidence/ ensure my training is on track, as PI's and as solid work outs in their own right. Nothing pushes me harder than racing others. For various reasons mostly owing to having a 1 year old son and running bigger mileage than usual, I found my time to be able to travel to races would be time poorly spent ie. I could save on the hour travel to and from a local race and fit in extra run time as a result. The two races I did fit in (1 x marathon, 1 x 5km) went well, but what made them excellent were that they formed part of a standard training week with no taper and no loss of consistency. 

Long Runs 

Ask yourself if your long runs impact on your consistency. Running 20 miles on a Saturday and 30 miles on a Sunday may allow you to recover in time to run a productive session on the Tuesday. Running 50 miles on either day in one go, will likely not. The reality for many of us is that the weekend is the only time in the week where we can fit long runs in, but by doing two shorter runs you may well find you become far more productive both within that week and over the course of weeks and months. If you are not held to a standard working week, then think about extending your training cycle to 10 days, fitting long runs in. 

Long runs for RR100 consisted of 4 - 4.5hrs easy, following on from 2-3hrs easy the previous day. I was looking for some fatigue towards the end of the 30's and generally experienced that in a minor way. After each big weekend I was able to return to quality training on the Tuesday after a recovery run on the Monday. 

Rest/ Recovery/ Sleep/ Diet

The most important single factor in recovery and therefore consistency of training, is sleep. It's easy to forget that it's not the session itself that makes you fitter, but the process of recovering from it and allowing your body to rebuild stronger. If your sleep is compromised, your body will not recover as quickly or as well. Allow for that in your training and respond to it if you have had poor sleep.

Similarly, consider your diet. Make small gains by eating whole foods and arming your body with everything it needs in order to rebuild stronger and more quickly. I am not going to touch on diet in any further detail here, other than to say that eating a rounded, healthy diet should easily be enough to keep you on track through the entire process of training for and running a 100 mile event.

With a baby under 1 year old, the biggest single challenge I faced in training for RR100 was sleep. Typically, our son would go to bed around 1900, and wake up twice in the night for feeding/ drinking, rising around 0700 the next day. As most parents will know, babies rarely sleep quietly in between waking, shouting or crying in their sleep. All of this meant that I would typically be awake for a large portion of the night, most nights. At no point did I have one continuous sleep through. The reality was that impacted my recovery and some of my runs went poorly as a result. In particular if I left training until late at night, after our son had gone down, I found that I simply didn't have the energy to complete a session as planned. One key long run was binned less than half way through as a result. But making that time to sleep intead of continuing with an unproductive session, allowed me to train again the following day to a productive level.

Specificity

Simply, make your training specific to your race. Particularly focus on specificity in your long runs. Make them as similar to your race day as possible, if you can do them on the race course itself, then that is ideal. Here's two very basic examples of things to think about, out of a huge number that could be included:

- Are you going to run the entire race or is it likely that quite a significant element of hiking will be involved? Then, have you practised hiking in training?
- Does your race go through the night? In all likelehood yes, have you spent time running with your headlamp?

During my long run sessions I carried, ate and drank as I planned to at RR100 and ran routes with similar elevation profiles on similar terrain to that of the race. Many of my easy runs were at night with the headlamp I planned to use during the race, leaving it on afterwards to see what the drain time was like on the battery.

 

Training in the Lakes with Paul Navesey. Great work out, not good for specificity for RR100.

Nutrition, Hydration, Gear, Footwear

Again these are endless subjects so initially think about the basics:

Train in a variety of footwear, but return principally to the shoe you plan to use during the race. Change your shoes regularly, don't wait for the onset of injury as footwear becomes too worn down. 

Train with the exact gear you will use on race day, as often as you can. Have to wear a pack with mandatory gear on board for an event? Wear that pack, fully loaded on your long runs. Work out where it might chaffe or rub and adjust for it. Reduce what you need down to a minimum to save weight but don't leave yourself short on the quality of an item or leave it out altogether if it might save your race.

Eat and drink on your long runs how you plan to in the race. Build a race nutrition plan and stick to it. Don't try something new on the day. Rely on real food complemented by sports nutrition where possible. 

PLAN! Are you 100% sure how long your headlamp battery lasts!! This issue occurs so often in 100s.

I decided on two shoes in advance of RR100, a dry course shoe and a wet course shoe. The course was dry and as such a road shoe was the best, lightest option with the greatest comfort. If trail is dry, often road shoes are a good choice. Fueling wise I went in with a plan to stick to gu gels and supplement with real food where I needed. I took S! Caps regularly and carried a handheld water bottle througout. All of these things were rehearsed over and over again in training. The weight of 700ml of water on your arm for a day is a lot to deal with if you aren't used to doing it in training! I have previously at my most extreme eaten 300kcals per hour of cookies and cheese to fuel a 100, and eaten a massive 74 gels to fuel another. Neither worked. Fine tuning over time allowed me to reach a point I am happy with. 

Physical Prep/ S&C/ Massage/ Foam Roll

Running a lot is a constant cycle of breaking your body down and rebuilding it back stronger. Foam rolling and regular sports massage are essential in preventing injuries and maintaining consistency. Much strength and conditioning can be done through off road running, because that exercise works not only the main muscle groups but all of the supporting muscles and ligaments too. Specific S&C/ Physical Prep will give you added strength if brought in successfully to complement the running. Using your own body weight at first is fine. Yoga, Cross Fit, Swimming, Cycling and other cross training activities should be employed once per week for either recovery or general strength and conditioning. Apply them to the plan when they won't impact upon your run training. 

That's It

There's a lot to think about here. Start with the very top line principles and apply them vertically to your training, adding detail only once you are sure you are getting the fudamentals correct.  

Rocky Raccoon 100 V

Feb 04, 2015 (2 weeks, 6 days ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: racereports

Rocky Raccoon continues to be a great early season throw down. In it's 23rd year, it's seen everyone from Anton to Hal to Scott to Karl to Mike to Ian come and race and this year it was also the US 100 mile Champs.

The trails are great. 5 x 20 mile loops isn't the same as point to point and you'll probably scream at the roots and resent the rollers by the end but at 5500ft total climb you aren't going to get much flatter and faster for a 100% trail race.

Here's some photos I took last time....Hi Paul!

This was my fifth time at RR100. It was my first 100 in 2009, my first DNF in 2011 and since then I'd been back twice, running 20:19 in 2012 and 17:32 in 2013. 

My pacing plan this time was simple. I wrote down Jenn Shelton's 2007 splits for her 14:57. Of course, on trail the weather/ ground conditions could ultimately decide the outcome more than my ability so I wasn't about to hang on those splits if it was out of my hands. The day prior to the race however, some of the other Brits and I: Pete Goldring, Chris Mills and John Volanthen went for a couple of miles out on the course and it was in perfect shape. Smoking fast. The weather looked good. So my pacing plan was ON. 

0600 Saturday and we disappeared in to the darkness on loop 1. As usual a couple of guys went screaming off of the front. David Kilgore ran the first 2 loops in 2:19 and 2:20 respectively, pretty damn fast! (But then he was on the phone by mile 50....) That left a small train of 5 of us cruising along by the power of Petzl Tikka RXP (worlds' comfiest headlamp) until the light came up. my Centurion co-coach Ian Sharman, Liza Howard and I ran together from Damnation Aid Station through to the end of loop 1, #livingthedream. Ian was running well within himself and Liza was after the US women's trail 100 record and the cash from Altra, the time to beat,14:45. I booted a root at mile 19 and crashed on to the trail lifting my toe nail off in the process, but other than that it was smooth all the way. Together we dispatched the first 20 miles in 2:32 (Jenn Split: 2:40). RAIN DANCE!

There was no messing around this time. I didn't need anything to get around the course fueling wise, apart from my handheld UD bottle, some water and 20 Salted Caramel Gu's. At the end of each lap I had to divert 50 yards off course to my drop bag and grab 4 gels but by that time my bottle was refilled by a heroic volunteer and I was straight back out again. I managed to keep my total aid station time during the race to 8 minutes, and 5 of those were at the start finish. No crew required!

I ran with Liza for a lot of loop 2 and we cruised through the marathon mark in 3:20. Ian pulled away a little and made his own space and ran his own race as he likes to do. Loop 2/ 40 mile total time 5:11 (Jenn Split: 5:20). STEADY NOW!

At the start of Loop 3 it started getting noticeably warmer and I had that dry salty face starting to happen, so I starting popping S! Caps more regularly and drinking just under a litre per hour. It worked. Most of this lap I ran with Paul Terranova. I've never seen anyone float around the trails like that. It truly was effortless. We blew through 50 miles in 6:36 and back around to the start finish in great shape with the clock showing 8:00:05 (Jenn Split 8:13). 8hrs is 8:00 miling flat and I knew I would have to spectacularly collapse now to drop behind 15hr (9:00 mile) pace. This was the part I'd trained for, too. I wanted to run well to 60 and then concentrate on running as much as I could from 60 to the finish. Each mile run at this point was another one that I couldn't lose time on. Confidence just built and built through loop 4 and although I slowed, it was no more than I would naturally expect during miles 60 - 80 of a race. I came in off Loop 4/ 80 miles in 11:08 (Jenn Split: 11:20). BRING IT HOME!

On loop 5 I hooked up with Henrik Westerlin from Denmark. We'd to and fro'd through the day but now our races aligned and we pushed each other to run almost everything when on your own it's all too easy to drop in to a hike. At mile 87 it got dark and at mile 95, I finally started to fade. I'd put it all out there for the last couple of hours and physically I was walking that line between pulling a whitey and well, not. We reached mile 95.6 Park Road aid station in 14hrs dead. Henrik had 47 minutes to go under the Danish 100 mile trail best. I sent him on, hiked a half a mile and came good again. At mile 99.5 I passed Traviss in a lot of pain. He'd taken a fall on the roots and cracked his ribs, giving him trouble breathing. Like the pro he is, he simply dismissed my concerns and shouted 'DON'T WALK NOW!'. So I ran in a scant few minutes ahead of 9th place in a time of 14:50. I'LL TAKE IT!

Final Splits/ Stats/ Results

Ian ran out the winner in 13:32. He was visibly feeling bad on loop 3, started loop 5 a few minutes behind the leader, but by the end had a 26 minute margin of victory. A really classy performance.
Nicole Studer set a new US 100 mile Trail Best of 14:22. A couple of weeks after 2nd at Bandera 100km. 
Liza finished a little over 15:30, not her perfect day but a superb effort all the same. 
Of the Brits, Pete Goldring came in with 17:50, a big PB. Chris Mills finished his first 100 in 24:20 and John Volanthen made it in under the one day buckle cut for 4 from 5 finishes. Traviss' ribs took him out at mile 60 but with 30 odd 100 milers finished behind him, nothing further was required as proof of a smart decision. 

Exceptional organisation, a superb course and a great day running around in the woods. It's a big PB for me and one that I put a lot of hard work in to. From that point of view, a really satisfying few months of effort. 

Numbers/ Gear/ Stats

My aim in training and racing was to keep it as simple as possible. Trim out absoutely everything that was non-essential. 

Training:
- 12 weeks averaging 97mpw w/ 100,000ft of climb. That was 650 miles more than my '12-'13 training block for the 17:32. 
- 101 consecutive run days from October through to 48hrs before the race, replacing total rest days with easy 25 min/ 5km recovery runs. That really helped me make running through the winter a habit, rather than start cutting sessions due to weather, time or daylight.

Gear for the race:
- Centurion Team Vest, Salomon S-Lab Shorts, Drymax Lite Mesh Socks, La Sportiva Beanie Hat, Brooks Pure Cadence Road Shoe. 1 Stick Body Glide. Petzl Tikka RXP. 

Fueling for the race:
- 15 x S! Caps. 20 x Salted Caramel Gu. 1 x UD Handheld & water.

Winter 100 2014 Preview

Oct 12, 2014 (4 months, 2 weeks ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: 2014

The penultimate race of our 2014 season is upon us, the 3rd edition of the Winter 100. With it's new home in the middle of October, the conditions this year should in theory favour faster times, however race day in 2013 was blessed with cold, sunny and crisp weather through the day allowing for some very quick early pacing from the leaders. That gave way to some monumental blow ups later on in the race! 

This year we have very strong fields in both the mens and womens races. Below is a quick preview of some of those, as always this is just an off the cuff and very brief insight with factual errors possible, even likely. Feel free to add comments to this and help us expand on the story.

Mens

Ed Catmur: 
Ed has taken home winners trophy's from the W100, NDW100 and TP100. He won this race in 2013, setting off at a blistering pace running a sub 3 first marathon, before later slowing and almost allowing a chasing Matt Winn Smith a glimpse of the lead. As Ed is wont to do however, he kep going and even pulled something back in the final few miles to come home in a time of 16:05. He's raced an incredible amount this year and has been first to admit thats' taken its toll on his results on occassion. Which Ed will we see next weekend?

Marco Consani:
This years Lakeland 100 winner, Marco has taken his running to a new level in the last couple of years recording some truly world class performances. Over 24hrs last year, he ran furthest of any GB runner clocking 248km at Tooting Bec. Earlier this year he ran 145km in 12hrs at Crawley and set a new course record on the Glasgow-Edinburgh Double Marathon in 6:19. An experienced international, you might argue the predominantly flat track of the winter 100 will suit him. Look out for Marco to be up front from very early on in the race.

Matt Winn Smith:
Matt took 2nd place to Ed in 2013, running 16:40 for 10 minute miling on the nose. Whilst he was pleased with his effort, the best thing was the closing pace he was able to produce, giving Ed an initial scare before the leader was able to dig again and find a little more to take it home. Matt was crowned Double Ironman World Champion this August and trains in all three disciplines to an incredible level. Look out for him to go faster than last year. 

David Ross:
Dave is an ever present on the UK marathon scene and has undoubtedly seen an improvement in his performances over the last 18 months across all distances. Able to knock out a 3hr marathon week in week out, he's also produced his 2 best comrades times of 10+ runs in the last 2 years, and set a massive 100 mile PB at the SDW100 earlier this summer running just under 16hrs. He literally only needs to finish the race to be under Mark Fox's Grand Slam record of 83:32, with 53:21 Dave's total time for 3 100s in 2014. An astoundingly consistent level of performance. Of course Dave will be most worried about fending off those behind him in the Grand Slam race this year, but he has an almost 4hr lead on second place Jeremy Isaac. Dave has also recently finished the Wasatch 100 in the US which will give him 5 100's in 2014. Dave's biggest enemy is his own pacing. He runs from the front and very hard indeed. For a long time that led to blow up after blow up, but this year something has changed and Dave has managed to hold on better towards the back end of events such that he really is in contention. 

Duncan Oakes:
Duncan won our NDW100 in August, just 2 weeks after placing in the top 10 at the Lakeland 100. In fact he has raced 4 100 milers since June including the SDW100 and the Cotswold Way Centuries - placing in the top 10 in all 4. As a result he may not be quite as fresh as some of the others but he proved at the NDW100 that he is able to compete irrespective. It will be fascinating to see what he can deliver here.

Ryan Brown:
Ryan hasn't raced much at all of late. Having won our inaugural SDW100 in 2012 in 17:04, he suffered an injury which left him on the sidelines for a long time. He recently turned in an Ironman PB however, well under 10hrs. He could be the dark horse here. Who knows what he might be able to put out on the day. 

Paul Radford:
Paul has picked up back to back 2nd places at the Ridgeway 85 in 13 and 14, running 15:30 and 14:14 this August. He is no stranger to this trail and can hold a terrific pace over the long stuff. Will local knowledge play in to his hands here....

Others to look out for: TP100 2nd place finisher (2013) and 2014 Viking Way Winner Luke Ashton. NDW100 3rd place finisher Jeremy Isaac. 2012 Caesars Camp 100 champ Warwick Gooch. 

Women

Debs Martin-Consani:
Debs' list of accolades grows with each passing year. She prepares meticulously each time she races and as such has some of the most consistent results of any female ultra-athlete in recent years. A member of the GB24hr team, Debs's best as a national team runner is 220km, but she showed that she can do it over shorter time frames too this year, after she ran 129km in 12hrs at Crawley in April (a British best). She then went on to win the Lakeland 100 this July. Previously Debs has also won the Thames Path 100 (2013) and perhaps most memorably the Grand Union Canal Run outright in 2012 with a women's course record of 28:01. As a Centurion Ultra Team Runner she will be looking to take home her second Centurion trophy and a third 'double win' for the Consani family in 2014 to boot. 

Sarah Morwood:
Sarah has had three particularly outstanding results this year, a win at both the Thames Path 100 and South Downs Way 100's, and an 11th female placing at UTMB in August. She's learning each time she runs the 100 mile distance and as such could make for an incredible race between herself and Debbie. Certainly Sharon Law's record could be in danger if both push the pace all day.

Wendy Shaw:
Wendy strung together some records that may not ever be broken at Centurion events. She placed on the podium at all 4 of our 100s in 2013, with 3 more top 5's before or since. After coming unstuck with just 4 miles to go at the NDW100 she will be hungry to avenge that and much like Dave, to finally break her run and take her first win.

 

Redemption on the Bob Graham Round

Sep 10, 2014 (5 months, 2 weeks ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: 2014 racereports

So far, 2014 had been almost entirely devoted to completing the BGR. It wasn't meant to be that way, as my previous two attempts came and went, so my race plans got scrapped in place of coming back and giving it another go. I knew I could get it right, albeit I would need to run at the upper levels of my ability all day to make it under 24hrs. I looked at those first two attempts as two ideal recce's, albeit 2 efforts in the 20hr range within the space of 4 weeks on the route had taken a little something both mentally and physically. I just took the positives from those, and most importantly started working on everything that had prevented me from making it, before, to be in a position to give it one more go this year on September 6th.  

I ended up having what was honestly the single most enjoyable full day of running I've ever had. 

Sunset over leg four on Saturday evening. Photo c/o Natalie White

Pre Attempt

The two previous attempts had failed because of a variety of reasons. If I was honest with myself I didn't work on the route enough. I tried to navigate at least some of the route myself - both times, losing valuable minutes in small and large chunks. I got my nutrition all wrong. I carried too much gear. And I didn't run very well.

I started answering as many of these nagging questions as I could, before this third effort. 

- Navigation: It was really one man who made my mind up to get this done this season and not next. Bill Williamson is a BGR legend. He's completed all 3 British Rounds, and helped scores of runners on their own attempts over the years. I had contacted him at the beginning of the year, but with his own race schedule and being 'booked out' to many other attempts, he simply wasn't able to make either of my first two attempts. After the second failure, he read my report and promptly emailed me to say he'd get the navigators together, told me to get on and do some training and that he'd get it sorted. Within a few hours, he'd emailed me back to say that he'd rallied around and a quite exceptional group of runners had offered to help. I think they'd mostly found the shambolic efforts to date pretty funny, but I took heart from the fact that they seemed convinced I could get around in under 24. From my side I got a few good friends to agree to do the pacing side of things. The list of navigators & pacers ran as follows:

Leg One: Jim Mann (Winter BGR record holder). Matt Winn-Smith (Double Iron World Champ/ BGR finisher)
Leg 2: Alan Lucker (All 3 British Rounds). Matt Winn-Smith
Leg 3: Bill (All 3 British Rounds). Drew Sheffield (Team CR Legend).
Leg 4: Rob Woodall (All 3 British Rounds and Peak Bagger Extraordinaire). Natalie White (Former English Fell Running Champ/ 21hr BGR Finisher). Aidain Linskill (Supporter of multiple BG attempts).
Leg 5: Ian Roberts (31 years of BG support). Bill. Robbie Britton (Team CR Legend).

I knew I would perhaps only be able to ammass this calibre of support the one time. By adding a group of 5 additional pacers to the list, we now had 3 of us out on each leg, one pacer who would help carry kit, a lead navigator, and me. I ended up with more pacers for Leg 5 this time, than the whole of the first attempt. This is how I knew now, to make a BG happen. Nici Griffin would crew us and co-ordinate everything between legs. She would be the glue that held the whole thing together and with her attention to detail and experience on this side of the fence I could think of no one better for that role.

- Nutrition: With only 4 crew points in a 24hr run, a lot of gear, water and food needs to go out with you on each leg. Nici who crewed the second attempt was left with no options for my nutrition going out on stage 3 last time because I hadn't done adequate shopping before hand. This time I listed items to be packed together in individual bags to go out on each leg. No opportunity for error.

- Fitness: I was running ok in training. With 10 previous visits to the Lakes in 2014 alone I had spent a good amount of time learning how to move efficiently over the terrain. But I had hardly raced at all, sticking to occasional one off big efforts rather than consistent shorter racing that I've relied on in the past. This time I ran a marathon on a high school grass track, 3 weeks out from the BG just to see where I was at. I didn't kill myself and ran fairly well. I knew then I had the base fitness to complete and as vastly different as that running experience was, it allayed my doubts about my basic running fitness. 

Leg One:

One issue I had with the first two attempts was lack of sleep. This time with an 0100 start I got to bed at the same time as our 8 month old at 1900 the night before. He woke at 2100 but I managed to get him back down by 2130 and got 80 minutes sleep before the alarm went at 2345 and we drove on to Keswick. It wasn't a lot but it was a damn sight better than 0 minutes. 

When we got there, Ian Roberts was already on site and we were shortly joined by the crew. At the start there were about 8 of us and I was already starting to think the support infrasructure/ team effort on this day was going to be overwhelming. All for one person to run around in a giant circle in under 24hrs. It sounds crazy, it is crazy. That's why it's so brilliant. 

Jim Mann the lead navigator, jogged down to the hall with about 5 minutes to spare having hot footed it from threlkeld. He, Matt Winn Smith and I cracked on at 0100 exactly, Ian's voice shouting '85 minutes up skiddaw is fine' as we shifted through the back streets of Keswick. As is more common than not on the first top, we ran in to clag and some heavy rain. Jackets went on and Jim took the time to ensure we got on to the summit safely in 74 mins, a nice start. We got off on to the trod down to hare crag with no problems. The climb up Calva went smoothly with Matt opening up about his Double Ironman World Champs victory 2 weeks earlier, and Jim talking about his successes at Winter rounds. These were two of the very best guys to have as company to start things off. The climb up Blencathra through Mung Bog went well as the rain died off, but the descent to Threlkeld held one or two special moments. Jim took us initially on a grass line he had found, to cut across under the steeper drop offs of Hall's Fell. We joined it a little high up, however, and conversation seemed to die in the wind as the greasy rock plunged away below us in to the dark and cloud. Matt and I were none too swift over there and we both fell lower down the descent but were able to continue moving well down to the first crew point, right on schedule about 3hr40 on the clock. 

Leg Two:

When we got to Threlkeld, I expected just Nici and Alan, as it was the sociable hour of 0440 in the morning. In fact we were also met by Drew and Ian Roberts. Where else do you get people willfully showing up in the middle of nowhere at that time of the morning just to say well done. It meant a great deal. The first time we ran the BG, Paul and I came in to Threlkeld to a shopping bag full of milk and pork pies on a friends back wall. This was better.

Leg two is great running. Alan Lucker the next navigator was instantly a calming influence. He was totally relaxed even in the face of cloud wrapping itself around the summits. We left Matt at the car attending to gear and food needs and pressed on at a good lick towards Clough Head. As we climbed up the bottom of the fell, we saw car lights behind us and Matt jumped out and jogged up to catch us up. He could have run to catch us no doubt, but that he opted for the lift gave me a boost that we were moving pretty well and I felt really good. 

Clough Head came and went, a short pit stop before the Dodds, but excellent navigation from Alan all the way across Raise and Helvelyn and the two Pikes meant we stayed right on plan, meanwhile we were wrapped in clag all the way. Visibility was just about good enough so as to allow us to look slightly ahead, but when the darkness fell away at 0630 it was the extra light we needed to stay the course. We dispatched the out and back up Fairfield in 15 minutes less than it had taken me last time. Over Seat Sandal and down to the crew point at Dunmail we were bang on schedule and in the space of literally 2 minutes on that descent, the cloud just lifted away to leave the Lakes visible all around us, the last smouldering remnants hanging on to the fell tops. 

Descending to Dunmail at the end of leg two (Photo c/o Alan Lucker)

Bill had emailed me a couple of days before the attempt and told me he didn't want to see me at Dunmail before 0900. Save the energy and be consistent throughout, don't try to bank minutes early on. When I arrived at 0858 it seemed to be a good start. 25 minutes I was at Dunmail last time, 7 minutes this time.

Leg 3:

Bill led the way up Steel Fell and Drew jumped in as pacer carrying a lot of gear with us for the circa 6 - 7 hr leg that is the crux of the round in more ways than one. 

Steel Fell is short and steep but we were up in good time and on to the first plateau with no issues. This is where the magic of Bill's mountain craft began to shine. Without pausing to stop or seemingly even to think he picked out the most even terrain and the fastest possible line between the tops, without ever sacrificing an inch of elevation gain. Chatting away ten to the dozen he gave me total confidence that this leg would be quite different to the two previous times. Every single top came and went between 2 - 7 minutes faster than ever before. I was running where you can actually run and we didn't pause for anything. Overall we worked hard, it was always at an effort, but I was eating enough prior to every climb to allow me to take them in stride rather than the stop start effect of previous attempts. It sounds a bit presumptious but by High Raise at the very centre of the Lakes, I knew we were going to make it in time. 

This was a great day to be out on the fells. 

Starting the climb up Pike O'Stickle with Bill behind. Photo c/o Drew Sheffield

 

Descending Pike O'Stickle like a pro! Photo c/o Drew Sheffield

Over the rough stuff at the top of Leg three towards Great End we began to take some much more direct lines and the savings kept coming.

Coming off Bow Fell. Photo c/o Drew Sheffield

The bit I was really looking forward to was Bill's line off of Scafell Pike and up on to Scafell. There's no easy option here, we took Lord's Rake as before but ducked off left and made our way up the West Wall Traverse. It was a grind up there with plenty of use of hands to haul up the gully but when we popped out on top, we were within reach of the summit rather than way below it as Lord's Rake spits you out. 

Here is a link to a video of the route up Lord's Rake and the West Wall Traverse that we took. The 'easiest' way up Scafell.

The descent off of the top was 36 minutes, down from 50 previously and came via the best scree run I've ever seen.

We came in to crew point 3 at Wasdale in 14hrs dead as opposed to 16hrs30 the last 2 times. Legs were good, energy was good, weather was good, time was in hand. And to help matters, my wife and son together with mum and dad had slogged it round to Wasdale in the car to say hi. It was time to enjoy the best of the lakes, leg four.

With the crew at Wasdale (Muscle beach). Photo c/o Phil Elson

Leg 4: 

Always looming over the Bob Graham aspirant is Yewbarrow. It's steep. Rob Woodall led Natalie, Aidan and I up and took a great line and we climbed it in one swift move pausing for water only once and topped out in 42 minutes, a time I would have taken even if I'd been fresh. We rolled straight on to the higher part of the leg around to Red Pike and I reduced my previous effort of 74 minutes, to 45 flat. It was clear to me now that I just needed to keep moving to get it done. I didn't feel any pressure and really began to take in where were. Leg four really is sensational. It's only around 11 miles, but with 6000ft of climb it's steep ups and downs mean that the leg time is between 4 and 6hrs dependent on how smashed you are. You can see out over the west coast and the Irish sea, down in to the best of the Lakeland valleys - Ennerdale, Buttermere and Wasdale. But most of all the fells there stand as individuals, behemoths standing sentry in a ring around Wasdale Head. Yewbarrow is a classic 1 in 2 climb. Red Pike is a suprising way off from there, before the traverse to the prominentry of Steeple - a real favourite. Then Pillar, Kirk Fell and Great Gable are just monsters taking roughly 45 minutes each to climb and descend. 

1. Drew Sheffield descending to Steeple on our recce in May. 2. Climbing Great Gable on the same recce.

I'm not usually a very emotional person but as we got over Great Gable on to the last three simple tops (Green Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts) before Leg 5, the sun set over Ennerdale and I had to drop back a bit from Rob and Natalie to make sure I held it together!

Last of the sun on the back of Great Gable. Photo c/o Natalie White. 

In to Honister at the end of Leg 4, I had 4hrs50 minutes to knock off leg 5.

Leg 5: 

Leg five breaks down in to two sections. The final 3 tops and a descent down to a road. Then the road run in to Keswick. Ian and Bill led us straight up Dale Head on this one. Not quite as steep as the other routes up from the crew spots, so relatively relaxed and despite my lack of power we hit it on the planned 35 mins. We ran on and round to Hindscarth as dark fell on us, where we could see two headlamps twinkling at us from the summit. Bill asked me if I knew anyone else who would be out here at this time of night and I said no. When we arrived, it turned out to be Martin Bergerud from Lyon Equipment our team sponsor and his wife Lisa who just happens to have done the BGR in both directions. Not a bad addition to the knowledge out on this last section! I was feeling pretty whacked out by now but we were still moving relatively well considering. The only loss of time really was a lengthy pit stop which came on very suddenly but luckily Robbie was on 'hand'. 

When we made it down to the road I switched in to more comfy shoes and pressed straight on to get the job done. When we arrived in to the high street Bill said thanks for a great day in the fells. I couldn't believe he was thanking me! There were probably around 15 people back at Moot Hall including almost everyone from the round and my ma and pa who were then able to get me home (i had no idea how i was actually going to get back) which was nice. I felt pretty vacant, mostly on account of the lack of sleep in the past 40ish hours, but otherwise pretty good considering. 

As I mentioned before it's pretty hard to make the numbers mean anything because of the ground and the weather but I know some might be interested in those so below are what I make the legs out to be after numerous runnings of them, what I ran them in on the day, and my splits. 

Leg 1: 13.4 miles. 5724ft climb. 3hrs 40 mins.
Leg 2: 14.3 miles. 5700ft climb. 4hrs 13 mins.
Leg 3: 17 miles, 6150ft Climb. 5hrs 58 mins.
Leg 4: 10.8 miles. 6011ft Climb. 4hrs 58 mins.
Leg 5: 11.3 miles. 2333ft Climb. 3hrs 10 mins.

Total: 66.8 miles. 25,918ft Climb. 22hrs 15mins. 

I'm not going to talk too much about how hard the BG is, except to say that save for the most talented of fell runners it is not something that can be done without a great deal of effort and planning. I know a few readers of this website will have it on their radar so being as honest as I can: I put myself in sub3 marathon shape, made 10 separate trips to the Lakes for training in a 7 month period, had possibly the most experienced team of navigators and pacers available (of 12 people who paced at different times, 7 of them had finished the BG), devoted my entire summer racing season to meeting this goal and got in with a relatively paltry 1h45mins to spare at the third attempt. I would liken my effort to running well under 18hrs for 100 miles on the flat. It is an exceptionally challenging run. Ultimately fell fitness is very different to run fitness and that is the crucial element. Someone with a lot less road speed can do this, being a good climber and descender is important. My fell experience is still relatively small in comparison to my run experience. Billy Bland walked the route in 22hrs. That's the difference fell experience can make. 

Ian noted toward the end that the number of people attempting the BG is increasing, but that the spirit doesn't seem to have died in any way. He expressed concern that press coverage could be leading to many ill fated attempts but I still get the feeling that relatively few go for it in full. I'm not sure how I earned the respect of people like he to make them willing to support my effort, but I think my determination to succeed and wanting it to be more than just a simple 'get around to tick the box' exercise was perhaps evident in my earlier reports. Whatever the case I am exceptionally grateful to the group of people who made this happen. Whilst I may have been the only one able to do the actual running, I was held aloft by the support team all the way around. 

Lastly, a few good friends have been struggling with injury, poor performance and the odd DNF recently. I have flirted with all three many times in the past. From my relatively inexperienced position, all I'll say is that this sport is somewhat of a roller coaster. There are big peaks in troughs in training and racing. If you hang in there, it will come back around. It's been 5 very poor efforts for me between probably my two best ever runs, Spartathlon 2013 and BGR 2014. Really, all I had to do was keep my head in the game and I have no doubt that a few years ago I would have sacked this off and moved on. Finishing it the third time means many more than 3 times over what it would have done to bag it in one. I could feel the pressure at times in the past 6 months, wondering why I continued to chomp at the bit when a rest seemed to be prudent. I guess I just knew in myself that that wasn't necessary, that it would turn around and that when it did, it would turn around completely. 

I read the below just recently and perhaps it may apply to those of you who, like me, occasioanally fall short over the years. 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

--- Theodore Roosevelt

Robbie Britton's top tips for the NDW100

Jul 30, 2014 (6 months, 3 weeks ago) | Posted by JamesElson | Tags: 2014

Team CR and Inov8 athlete Robbie Britton shares his top 5 tips for the NDW100. Rob won the inaugural event in 2011. 

1. Walk those hills - Most of the hills on the NDW100, especially in the first half, are shorter, steeper hills that are best walked so don't even try to run them. Use them as a chance to get some food out, get water on board and enjoy some guilt free walking.

2. Eat Drink and Be Merry. The Centurion Events have checkpoints at great distances and they are all really well stocked so get your money's worth and stuff your face at every given opportunity. An extra 30-60 seconds at a check point each time may save you hours at the other end of the race. Eat from the go, cross that start line with a pasty in your mouth.

3. Electrolytes - It's August and may get rather toasty. I use S-caps and have one a hour with water, meaning that however much a bashing I give my tastebuds I don't have to worry about getting my electrolytes in as you might with some of the favoured tabs you can get sick off. Keep at the electrolytes during the night, you'll still be sweating.

4. Talk to people! There will be a great bunch of people racing, with a whole bundle of experience. Not only might you learn what to do (and what not to do) it helps pass the time and lets the race tick through.

5. Get a good head torch. When I did the NDW100 I had a five quid torch (which I had stolen from work) and I fell over about five times and lost time overnight because I was nervous with my footing. Get a decent headtorch, such as a Petzl Tikka RXP, and shine that badger all over the trail. 

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