Sunday, 20 July 2014

Finding Ultra!

My journey began in January 2013, I was training for the Paris marathon. There had been a 5 year hiatus between it and my previous Dublin marathon 2008. I had kept active in the years between but I was no where near the physical condition that I had been at in 2008.
I was living in London during that period and my main form of transport was a single speed push bike which, was fantastic fitness and resistance training and the only way to keep my weight steady. I was studying during that period and had also started a family having two little boys.
I have one of those minds which does not allow me to dabble, I'm either doing it or I'm not. And during those years work, study and family life were so busy and enjoyable, there was just no time for racing. I missed the training but understood that one day I'd get back to the start line.
When my training cranked up in preparation for Paris 2013 I had some minor health issues, see here. I made some minor changes in my life and nutrition. Every small change I made led to the next small change and still today I am changing and hopefully progressing as a person and a runner. 
The most notable change during this period was the development of a predominantly plant based diet and this also led me to the world of Ultra running. 

What is ultra running?

Any distance farther than a marathon 26.2 miles or 42.2km is considered an Ultra! 
Most Ultras are either 50km, 50miles, 100km or 100miles. 

As I got back into training and began changing my diet, I began to really enjoy the long runs. Taking time out away from a busy life gave me great perspective and some time to view and asses all the challenges I had in my day to day life. The farther I ran the more perspective I had, so I just started running farther and farther. 

Most people think I'm crazy and that I have some sort of unearthly fitness and determination. I don't! I don't have any genetic predisposition to fitness, I don't have any secret recipe for staying fit other than, grinding out run after run staying consistent and having a goal. Achieving a fitness goal is very very simple. But simple should not be confused with easy. It's not easy, it is difficult but simple none the less. 

How is it so simple? 

All you need to do to achieve any goal is search the internet for a training plan, stick to the plan and complete the feat once the training is done. It really is that simple!

What makes it difficult?

Most people think the accomplishment of the feat is difficult. It's not. That's probably the only easy part of the whole process. I just completed the stone mad Ultra 2014, it is a back to back race that consists of 62km day 1 and 55km day two which, takes you up and over Mount Leinster. I sincerely enjoyed every single step and it really wasn't all that difficult. It was immensely challenging but not very difficult, there is a big difference. What was difficult was the training, the sacrifice and the commitment to the process. (Need help with commitment? see here)

Getting up early every Sunday morning after a busy week in work to grind out a long run. Doing a tempo run in the evenings after putting the kids to bed. Running in the dark, running in the cold, running in the rain. Running late on Saturday night when most people are socialising, and getting up to run again on Sunday morning. Running when all you want to do is crash out on the sofa. Not being able to have a few glasses of wine at a social gathering because you've got to run that evening or the following morning. Running alone.....That's all difficult but that's what it takes.

If you have the desire and can commit to the training you'll find enjoyment in running and when you find enjoyment you can run any distance you like. 
People always look at the outcome and think "Wow" how can you run that far. Those people have missed the whole point. The committed to continue sacrificing day after day after day, that is where the marvel is. The sacrifice comes easy when you have the desire to achieve the goal. But most people lack that desire. They say "I'd love to do x, y or z" but when they discover what they have to sacrafice to achieve it, they quit. They quit because they can't see any enjoyment and therefore lack the commitment. They fail before they even try!

It's not easy, it is damn right difficult but it's very very very simple. 

You must have

Desire; to wish or long for; crave or want.
Commitment; a pledge or promise; obligation
Enjoyment; the possession, use or occupancy of anything with satisfaction or pleasure

Then if you really want it, really really really want it! Just do it! 

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!

@RunSensible on twitter

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Butterfly effect!

It's that time again! Training is all done, taper period is over and race day is almost upon me.

As usual and as expected the butterfly effect is taking place in my abdomen.

Why do we get butterflies?

The feeling of 'butterflies' comes from an over activity in the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. The fight or flight response occurs when we are presented with a challenge or stressful event in our lives. The autonomic (involuntary) nervous system has two components; the sympathetic and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. These two components of the autonomic nervous system work like a 'see saw', if one goes up, the other goes down or is suppressed. 

As we prepare to tackle the challenge or stressful episode our bodies go through physiological changes. When the fight or flight effect occurs our pupils dilate, our hearts speed up along with our breathing rate, the vessels carrying blood to and from our skeletal muscles dilate and this draws blood from our skin (we look pale) and intestines (smooth, involuntary muscle). All this makes us feel 'on edge.'

Because the fight or flight is up the rest and digest is down. This makes sleeping very difficult and will suppress hunger due to the physiological effects of increased heart and respiratory rate and decreased blood flow to the intestines.

As you tackle this stressful event by fighting or flighting (running away) you want a heart that is beating fast, lungs that are quickly delivering oxygen and eyes wide for full vision. You don't want your blood being used to digest food and you don't want your brain thinking about sleep.

As all this happens, the adrenals, a gland on top of the kidneys, start to produce nor-adrenaline or nor-epinephrine (depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live on), this causes a positive feed back loop which, amplifies the whole effect.

Is it normal?

The stomach starts to feel strange 'like there are butterflies flying around inside.' This will continue and increase right up until the race starts. The whole fight or flight phenomenon is nothing to be scared of and it happens to every single person. It's a completely natural response. Be warned drinking coffee during this period is likely to amplify the effect even more. Personal experience has shown me that I start to feel really nervous after drinking coffee while my fight or flight system is elevated. 

As soon as the race starts or just before it starts, you come to a cortical realisation that the event is going to take place. You will feel a calmness engulfing your body and thoughts and then,,, BOOM...... It's race time! 

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible! 

@RunSensible on twitter. If you like this please ReTweet it! 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Pre race blues!

What's the race?

I've had a busy few months training and getting my body in shape for a tumultuous weekend ahead. I'm going to drag my body around 117km of road and trail over Saturday and Sunday morning. The event is the Stone Mad Ultra and the distance is split between running 62km on the first morning and 55km the following morning which, includes running up and down mount Leinster.

The training started as the year did in early January. My average speed while running in zone 2 was about 5min24sec per kilometer. The goal for January was to increase my lactate threshold and therefore increase the average speed while main instating a steady heart rate in zone 2.

The following months goal was quite simple, increase the average distance week on week, month on month. Training went well. Most weeks I was able to increase my distance very slowly and gradually. That's the key to building distance and staying injury free. 

I've only had one very minor injury so far this year. In late February while doing a speed session with my running club I jumped a puddle of water roughly about 2m wide. I landed down on my left foot and felt a twinge in my calf muscle instantaneously. We were doing 8x200m repeats and this happened on number 6. I tried to remain optimistic and attempted to keep pace on number 7. The pain was obvious but not too bad. I slowed up and jogged the remainder of the session.
The following morning it felt OK, I ran 10k that afternoon, it was fine during the run but quite sore after. I used active rest (biking) for 2 days and returned to training on the Sunday morning with a long run. I had no pain and was fully recovered.
I attribute my fast recovery to a plant based diet. 

As the months unfolded my body got stronger and stronger. I noticed the little bit of speed I once had in my leg muscle was slowly dwindling away. My training was mostly long and slow and the emphasis was on developing slow twitch muscle fibres, generating more mitochondria and opening new vascular pathways to aid fuel supply to muscles and excretion of waste products such as lactic acid.
As my long runs got longer and longer I began to feel stronger later on in the run. 2 weeks ago while doing a 42 km run I felt tired for the first 10 km. Then almost miraculously after 10 km my body seemed to switch and every kilometer of the remaining 32 km I felt stronger and stronger. 

All the real running is done and I'm in taper mode now. For a race like an ultra marathon, or Ironman triathlon a taper session begins about 2 weeks before the event. I understand the benefit of taper periods, I do however, struggle to stay restless during this time. The goal of a taper period is to keep the body stable at the fitness level you had reached while also allowing it to rest and recover a bit more than you have over the months leading up to the race. It's a tricky period but essential for feeling fresh on race day if done correct. 
I like to cross-train during a taper period and since I've only been running, I can use my bike to maintain my fitness while allowing the usual running muscles to rest up. 

I'm in week one of my taper period and I feel a bit flat and sluggish while running. This is a worry and it's also a very common occurrence. I call this Pre race blues!

I'm hoping that next week I feel a bit better. Since I've eased off the running my body feels a bit weird. I'm one of those people who feels guilty when I'm not out pounding the pavement. I suppose most people feel that way and we always see the self doubt in ourselves and assume that everybody else is feeling great all the time. I know I do!

"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to the self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement." Steve Prefontaine

There are lots of differing thoughts and explanations on why we get Pre race blues during taper week. I'm not entirely sure that there is ever one real cause but I do believe this,

When exercising at a fairly high volume and for a prolonged period of time your body produces and releases a hormone called endorphins. Endorphins make you feel good and gives you a high or energised feeling after training (if you are a low carb guy and you destroy your body during every session I doubt you'll ever really feel the endorphin affect due to thyroid dysfunction.)
During a taper period the endorphin level will drop due to exercise volume drop. We do this to allow the body repairs the micro damage accumulated from progressive over load. Now we have an unbalanced hormonal system which, will take a few days to re-balance or return to homeostasis. A high functioning thyroid gland is essential for hormonal homeostasis. This period will make you feel really,,, Shitty for a day or two, or three!
Then as your hormones return to a balanced level you should start to feel really good. I start to get a little jumpy and restless during this short period before the race. The best way to describe it is, feeling like a wound up spring, ready to release some energy.

It is essential to do some sort of specific training (in my case running) during this period. However, you don't want that training to over load or stress your muscles to a point of micro trauma. If you do you run the risk of not recovering in time for your event and therefore not being 100% come race day. You also don't want to spend too much time being in-active because this will cause the closure of vascular pathways and the cessation of functioning mitochondria. Both of these scenarios will cause below par performance come race day!

I wrote this a few days ago and omitted to post it on the day I wrote it. It is now a few days later and I'm feeling really good, ready to race and injury free.  

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!

@RunSensible on twitter