Lessons for 2018

As it’s January 2018, most people are reviewing their 2017. I’m not going to because there’s not a lot to look back on. A nagging injury turned into a long-standing injury and I was laid up until June. I then spent four months rebuilding my fitness.

Instead, I’m going to share eight lessons I’ve used to help get me back on track, which might be useful in your training textbook. There’s nothing revolutionary, more common sense.

1) You can’t outrun an injury

Yup, I tried, but the injury came back with a vengeance and bit me on the butt! I knew my foot wasn’t tracking correctly, I knew my knee was askew, my hip was clunking, my shoulder was dropping… but I still kept plugging away rather than getting professional help immediately. By the time I got sorted, I’d make a tricky situation complicated.

The message: If in doubt go see someone in the know pronto.

2)You don’t need to run big miles

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…there is no need to run big miles to be competitive in ultras. Unfortunately, I’d slipped into knocking out a high volume because, well, it’s mighty pleasant chugging around the trails.

Instead, I should have been working on consistency and quality. I’m turning over my training in three day cycles. A short hilly pace run, a longer (30km or so) run and another faster, shorter day – probably a road effort – with the option for doubles on either of the shorter run days. The fourth day? Well it’s either a total rest day or an MTB effort before the whole thing starts again.

The message: If you can run 100 mile weeks, then great go for it, but if 30 miles allows you to train consistently and injury-free then stick with it. Increasing intensity doesn’t just mean upping mileage.

3) Measure your fitness

Okay, so I’ve been running for quite a number of years. Following my spring lay-up, I knew I’d need to build up carefully. However, I also knew my fitness wouldn’t have dropped off completely, as may have been the case for someone with less overall distance in their legs. Following a week or so of 5km runs and feeling fine, I needed to get an idea of my overall fitness. Not having the Spanish language skills to sign up for a lab test, I went straight in at the deep end and entered a 9km flat, road race – under the strict rule I ran no faster than 5min/km. This much slower pace (for me) would give me a good indication of my current fitness and therefore the parameters to plan within.

The message: You can’t get develop fitness if you don’t know what you’re working with. Measure and monitor!

4) Graduated speed

Not being able to take the strain of bashing out big miles week after week, I know I need to get quality in. And while, I’d prefer to be out a-wandering on the trails and hillsides this method doesn’t improve my fitness. Instead, I need to run some pace work. Knowing track sessions injure me (past experience) I have to be a bit cleverer in the training I put together. Progressive runs, pyramids…anything which gradually winds up the pace works…except I’ve got mighty lazy these days. To try to get my legs turning over regularly, I started entering 10km road races once a month. I wasn’t running to win but at set goal paces. Not always fun, but better than trying to slog out faster miles on your own.

The message: Running steady builds a great endurance engine but you have to do faster work to keep on developing your fitness.

5) Use hills for strength

In a longer ultra, I rarely run uphill, but training is a whole different matter. At least one of my shorter runs will include a long uphill chug – usually home. They aren’t pretty, and they never seem to feel any easier, but in order to develop endurance strength, musculature, and running economy, I have to learn to plough uphill.

The message: Embrace hills! They make you tough, strong and injury resistant.

6) Get lifting

Every physio’s mantra! If you want to bullet-proof your body then lift weights. Realistically, it doesn’t even need to be ultra-heavy weights…your own bodyweight will do for starters. I’ve strictly re-implemented the two circuits a week schedule back into my training plan, mixing plyometrics (jumping, hopping and generally bouncing around) with more traditional weight-lugging. And it works, I feel like I’ve got my spring back.

The message: No matter how much you may hate it, prioritize your weight sessions.

7) Focus on intensity

As adding miles isn’t an option in developing training volume for me, I need another specific measure of intensity in my training. Doing mountain ultras, overall weekly ascent is a good option. I aim to summit 4000m ascent a week in general tickover, peaking at 8000m plus closer to hillier races.

The message: Use a measure of intensity specific to your goal.

8) Quad bash regularly

Ultra racing is all about saving energy. In training however, I try to give myself a bit of beating every now and then. It’s pretty common, in mountain ultras, to be running downhill for several km at a time, which can leave your quads like jelly. It’s therefore a good idea to simulate this in training.

The message: Toughen up your legs. Train hard and race easy.
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Acing the A-race?!

Hands up, I was nervous toeing the Ultra Sierra Norte start line. I’d not run an ultra since this race a whole year before. After a long injury lay up, I’d be putting a new training strategy to the test. Doubt – was what I was feeling!

Ready for the off! Thanks to EscobedoHeart for the photo.

Knowing the course, I knew the first 20 odd km would be runnable before we hit the undulations of the natural park. And a dry course, unlike 2016’s event, meant it was a fast start. Not wanting to get caught up in the melee, I tried to keep my pace under control making sure I was eating regularly and giving myself a once over as to how I was feeling and that my right leg was behaving as it should.

Ending up short on preparation time (isn’t it always the way?!), I was wearing my battered, toe-stitched-up, year-old trail shoes. A quick Cinderella scout round Granada’s many running shops the week before, had revealed not one had a single shoe in my size. Nada! Nothing! That prince had gone awol 🙁

Following multiple blind online purchases, which has resulted in a stash of unsuitable, ill-fitting footwear, I really wanted to try some different shoes on…but it wasn’t to be. My old Saucony Excursions would have to make it round (so I hoped!).

First two checkpoints down, and I’d been told I was second woman. Nice! Just as we hit the first technical section and I hit the deck (for the first time). Seems like those trusty trail shoes were well and truly knackered. On the loose dry shale and flint of the natural park, I was like a duck on ice. Great, this was going to be slow progress, as not one, but three women went fly past in their shiny, grippy shoes.

Oh well, I wasn’t racing anyone else, just my 2016 time if possible. I’d then averaged just over 8min/km, so this year, I just wanted to stay under… but at 16min/km + downhill pace on the technical it wasn’t going to be easy!

Slowly, slowly, I reeled in the fourth and third women as the trail opened up into undulating jeep track. I played to my uphill strengths and hunkered down in third place. The second woman, running with a guy in support, was running every hill – not a game I was going to attempt – and I was able to trot past on the smoother downhills.

A quick chat with Steve and we were into checkpoint 3. I was literally in and out, leaving as second woman. Fueled with my own supplies (dates from Qatar – thanks Angie Salter, pecans from the US – thanks Judy Alexander, and Nakd Bars from the UK – thanks to Nicky Lees), I didn’t need much other than a water top up.

Pretty soon, that ‘run up every hill’ lady was trotting past again. “Okay,” I thought, “Up to you”. I wasn’t going to get drawn into this cat and mouse game just yet.

Just past 30km and another slip-slide-bum-descent-and-get-overtaken-by everyone and we came into an area of natural park which looked very different to the previous year. A wild fire had ravaged the area over the drought-ridden hot summer months. Such was the extent of the fire damage, which had totally destroyed all vegetation, wardens were laying feed cubes for the wild boar and deer.

Into 40km and first sandwich stop. Thanks to Sevilla Corre for the photo.

Hitting the 40km checkpoint, and my first sandwich stop I knew it was a straightforward-ish 14km run into the ‘half way point’ and drop bag time – if I didn’t take a wrong turn as in 2016! Heading out in a small group with the 2nd/3rd woman, who I’d been vying backwards and forwards with, I was making decent progress. Needing to retie my laces, the group pulled ahead and I was happy to let them go, preferring to run the next section on my own – with a potentially slippy section I didn’t want to feel any extra pressure. Dropping out onto a runnable track, I was able to pick up pace, reminiscing how fatigued my legs had felt at this stage last year. At around 48km, I spied the second woman. Neither her nor her running partner looked fresh. I hung back, before overtaking, as we headed into the drop bag checkpoint.

After a short wait for my bag to be found, I slurped my coconut water and chocolate milk, grabbed a couple of sandwiches, changed my socks and headed out. I’d decided to walk a couple of km uphill and get moving after the stop. The third female overtook and again I was relieved with another technical section coming up.

Following another desperately slow, slip-slide-slip-over descent, I could see the second woman and about five other runs spread out over the next couple of kms as I started the ‘firebreak of doom’…basically a 6X up and down loose grit, vegetation free, firebreak.

Giving a little whoop as I finally finished this section, I could now not see any other runners ahead, as the group I’d previously seen had headed off over the horizon. Hitting the next checkpoint – a pop-up style affair in the middle of nowhere – I downed a Cola Cao sport (basically chocolate milk) and was informed the second woman was about three minutes ahead.

At 64km I spied the second woman, now walking hills and head held down, she wasn’t looking in the best place…with a cheery ‘Hola!’ as I passed…this was the last I saw of her or her running partner. I knew I had a good 10km plus of runnable trail ahead and was feeling strong. My right knee was sore but still tracking straight. I was running well.

Overtaking 4 or 5 other runners, I was into the next checkpoint and out onto the last technical section. I was keen to get this down before nightfall. As I climbed up the last firebreak trail, I was awestruck by a massive bird soaring just above my left shoulder. I’d seen birds of prey riding the thermals for most of the day, but this one was really close. An Iberian imperial eagle, I was later to discover. I’m guessing a couple of hundred runners trailing through the undergrowth was disturbing plenty of dining opportunities for him.

Still making decent progress, I hit the 80km checkpoint as night fell. Lighting up time, I soon discovered all the rocking and rolling on my backside had broken my backlight. (Apologies to any runners depending on my red tail-light!) and ripped a big hole in the back of my Skins! Oops! I’d been flashing since 30km!

A quick refuel and I was back out, shouting at two guys heading off in the wrong direction! This next 15km section was legendary last year…quagmire. Thick, deep, sole-soul-sucking, mud. This year was definitely better, more runnable, but still plenty of walking as we headed through Iberico pork farmland, where pigs had rooted up the rock interspersed trail which had then baked hard. Making annoyingly slow progress, and feeling like I could still run, was frustrating.

Soon we were into the last checkpoint. The guys I’d been tailing headed straight out but feeling in need of something sweet I stop while the volunteers rustled up a hot cola cao. Gulping it down, I knew it was a 10km trot in and I’d be done. Legs still turning over, I decided to run it in and get the job finished. Back on the tracks we’d headed out on many hours previously, I was still running and my legs were feeling good. Hopping over a toad and thinking: “It’s going to rain soon!” I was into the town and covering the last few km. Entering the finisher’s chute, I just had the steepest finisher’s ramp in history to conquer 🙂 and I was done! Home in 12 hours 40 minutes, second woman, and just over ten minutes behind the lead woman.

Most importantly, the new training strategy has worked and my knee had held up. And my poor old Saucony Excursions…well they’re on their way to shoe heaven.

Apologies for not posting this sooner; I’ve been waiting for more race photos since plenty appeared to have been taken. The only conclusion…my bare backside was tripled XXX even by Spanish standards. 

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How hard can it be?

“It’s less than 12km,” I say. “How hard can it be?” I add turning to hubby Steve. We’re sat planning a few races.
We’ve spent the summer entertaining Ultra Trail Spain running guests and races always have to fit around their needs.
I’ve also been recuperating and rebuilding post injury. It’s taken around six months. There’s been a few niggles and the obligatory torturous Global Postural Reeducation reviews. My running style has changed, my stride is shorter, and I’m a lot slower.

Hitting the tarmac too!

Steve has also been embarking on a ‘wheelbarrow workout schedule’ as we undertake a pretty epic construction programme in our house.
We’ve been churning out a short road race at least once a month since June, we’re a tad rusty racing off road. Of course we trail run all of the time but it’s not the same as getting onto some unchartered territory. Spoilt for choice on the trail race front at this time of the year we decided we should get racing off-road before a little ultra we’ve scheduled toward the end of the year (my first this year!)
Our online choice – a 30 odd km race or what seemed a very short trail race. Both our training plans had a 50km scheduled earlier in the week and so the shorter option seemed a fitting choice.
Wise to my world, Steve piped up: “What’s the profile look like?”
“Um, I don’t know!” I replied. “It’s not going to be high altitude though.”
We duly enter.

Turns out hubby Steve quite enjoyed the ascents!

On the Friday before the Sunday’s race, I happened across a Facebook post confirming the route of the III Coliseo race, downloading the file to reveal a rather jagged profile. Oops! There didn’t seem to a 100m of flat anywhere on the course.
Breaking the news to Steve, I quickly glossed over the 600m +- profile information, by reminding him how short the route was.

A new way to start a race

A request to the gods to bless the race.

We rolled into the nearby town of Almedinilla. It’s of Roman villa fame, with the race taking its name from the rebuilt coliseum. After a sombre blessing to the Roman gods (yup, new one on us too!) we were off and over the startline, with me strategically placed last.
Knowing this course really wouldn’t be suited to me, I just wanted to nurse my knee round, come back injury free, and firing on all cylinders. With a 3km road start, I couldn’t help but lace my way through to the middle of the pack, hitting the trails, we were immediately onto single track and heading steep uphill before coming to an abrupt stop are we queued to scramble up a bank. This was to be a theme with plenty of stop starting and natural obstacles to negotiate along the way.

Plenty of single track, ascents and descent. (Thanks to Explorasur for the photo.)

Runners were assisting runners, turning and pulling each other up rock faces as well. as shoving each other up…although I think in my case this was fear by the guy behind who saw my backside lurching rapidly in his direction as my foot slipped on a thin branch.
I made slow progress but somehow made it home injury free and second in my age group – lack of female entries I suspect.


Back to the dreaded tempo

The following week was the final race of the Granada road series. So as to avoid a fine for not handing your timing chip back, pretty much everyone turns out for a final foray on a two lap fast and flat 10km course.
With over 1000 runners packed into the starting pen, we were nose to tail, and it’s impossible to get a clean start. Regardless I had my 4:20 min/km target and off we set streaming down the road. The first lap was crazy, with much ducking and diving to get away from the masses. The crowds thinned over the second lap, and I was cat and mousing with a chap who’d decided I was his official pacer.

A great photo from El Runner y La Turista making me look like I can actually run!

Determined not to get caught up in a charge to the finish, I doggedly plugged away running a negative split, backing off as soon as my average pace was correct. The guy hung on my tail, chugging along, before nipping past as we entered the stadium and headed to the finish line. No sprinting for me this year – lesson learned from a pinched hamstring last year.
All in all a decent tempo run on the dreaded road! And yes, the road race felt much harder than the trail race the week before.

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In need of my comfort blanky!

Us ultra runners know that a ‘buff’ (trademarked name for a generic bit of stretchy cloth) is an essential piece of kit. It’s a hat, scarf, bandage, sling, flannel, sock, snot rag…whatever we need it to be!

But it’s not something you take along to a road race, or do you? In an effort to be as cool as possible while running one of my ‘force yourself to run faster’ 10km road races, I didn’t bother taking one along.

Ready for the off!

It was hot. Starting temp at 9pm was 38C so, in assessing my necessary kit, I decided a ‘buff’ wasn’t required equipment (especially since it was my turn to carry the keys and was already wearing a running belt). How wrong I could be?

On the starting line

With prize money on offer, the race had attracted some of our faster local road runners vying for a position up front. Steve (hubby) kindly got me clear of the melee around the first bend and out of town. I was soon able to pick up the pace, with a fair descent and find my place in the race.

At about 3km I had my first reminder as to why a ‘buff’ should have come along for the ride. Not used to running this quickly, I was feeling in need of fuel and I stuffed a couple of jelly sweets into my mouth. It was never my intention to swallow. I was puffing too hard to chew. I was only going to give them a bit of a chomp and then spit them out. Now I’ve never mastered spitting on the move and ended up with jelly sweets glued to my neck. A quick wipe over with that generic bit of cloth would have aided removal here.

I need of my blanky!

Hitting the first water stop at around 4km. I grabbed a bottle for a swill down. I was carrying my own electrolytes since it was hot, my idea was to simply rinse some plain water around my mouth and spit. Again I failed, ending up with sputum stuck in my hair. Where’s that ‘buff’ when you need it?

I could see a woman up ahead. Probably around a minute away. I was doggedly sticking to my 4:30min/km pace. That’s quite quick enough for a rehab tempo and the Sahara wind was drying my mouth. (Yes, I’ve not escaped the desert hair dryer. Except this one is always blows dry.)

I really needed to clear my throat. Swirling some water in my mouth, I again attempted to spit. This time down my number. Pretty disgusting and again a ‘buff’ would have saved the day.

Finally winding back into the town, I was glad to push for the line if only to go and get cleaned up. Race done in 44:40, 2nd in age group and 3rd woman overall. Not my fastest 10km but I’m not complaining since the 30 euro prize money will go toward purchasing a new ‘buff’ or two!

Picking up a 3rd prize!

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Why a multi-day race is in your reach!

Mid-year and the time when many runners start to think about the next running season’s big challenge. And entries to multi-day events are starting to fill up. Many competent ultra runners shy away from the multi-day thinking they don’t have the training time to commit nor talent to complete. Well I’m here to tell you that you do have the talent. Multi-day training isn’t about running mega miles in training. Yes, you can run 150 miles a week and you’d probably finish a multi-day event…but realistically unless you’re a pro you’d get injured doing so.

Consistency in training

Like all ultra training, consistency is the key to success. If you can run 100 mile weeks without injury and have the time to do so, then fab, no worries. But realistically most of us amateurs fitting training around other life commitments means we simply don’t have the time or stamina to do so. Having the time to recover from training is after all as important as the training itself.

Here’s my take on multi-day training (which has worked for me).

1. Specificity!
If consistency in training is rule #1, then specificity has to be rule #2. If your multi-day is hilly, then train for hills. Get a hold of that course profile and mimic it in your training. For example if Day 1 is moderately hilly and Day 2 is mountainous, then work through your training plan to copy this. An example would be to incorporate some hill reps into the end of your session on one day, followed by a decent power hiking session (yes, you’ll be walking up a mountain) on the following day.

Great hill training for hilly multi-days!

And if you don’t live in a hilly area, then plan to get to the hills at some point in your training and mimic hills by ending your runs in the gym and hitting the weights. Squats, lunges, deadlifts all hit your leg muscles as uphills do.
Similarly, if you’re doing a multi-day event in the heat…then train in the heat. You need to experience what this feels like so that you can mentally manage how your pace is going to be affected and how you need to alter your hydration. Don’t forget you’ll also be living in these conditions for the event.

2. Maintaining speed
Okay, so you probably aren’t going to setting any speed records running a multi-day event, and while the majority of your training will be done in your lower heart rate zones to trigger that fat burning, if all you ever do is run slow then that’s all you’ll be able to do.
Challenging your anaerobic zones – that’s hard effort not just a little bit faster than your steady chug along pace – will make you stronger and you need to be strong enough to take on the sustained efforts a multi-day involves.
If I run intervals on a track – I get injured. Instead, I’ve swapped speed work for hills (let’s face it, I’ve no shortage of hills to train on now). Running hill reps builds leg strength and gets me blowing hard…I can certainly max out my heart rate which is exactly where I need to be to trigger that anaerobic burn and build power.
I also run (shock horror) shorter road races. As I struggle with pushing my pace doing intervals a 10km up to half marathon road race is ideal for getting me running hard. The excitement of running with others forces me to get my legs turning over. Indeed, my half marathon PB was set a week before the start of a multi-day.
And if all else fails, I love a pyramid session. Because short intervals are so risky for me, I find a pyramid gradually winds up my pace and heart rate in a safer way.

Even road races can be great multi-day race training!

3. Tempos
Weekday training, where it’s difficult to incorporate a long run around other commitments, involve tempos. I’ve currently got a nice little 6km loop, which is run once, twice, even thrice depending on where I am in my training. Since it’s mainly off road and incorporates a fair bit of ascent and descent it’s impossible to run at a set pace. There’s simply no way I could maintain running it at my marathon pace without exploding. Instead, I run it at 80% of my max heart rate. So for example the first section is flat/ down hill and is run at a fast pace, I then hit single track which winds on a very cambered gradient. My pace drops here so as not to risk twisting an ankle but that HR still keeps ticking over around 80%, I then hit a hard ascent. I run the first 200m or so but as soon my HR starts to pop too high and I’m puffing very hard, I power walk which keeps my heart rate up there. There’s then a runnable section at a fair clip, before a technical downhill. I use this to challenge my concentration when I’m feeling a bit jaded to keep my HR where it should be.

4. Long runs
It’s a common misconception to think that running a multi-day means copying those distances in training. You don’t need to run big miles week after week. I repeat you don’t need to run big miles.
It’s nice to do a fairly focused week as a mental stimulus. For example some Ultra Trail Spain guests are training for multi-days and want a holiday which also allows them to run fairly aggressive mileages in training, but we certainly don’t hit the distances they’ll be tackling in their multi-day…we advise them to save this for their event. And our pace is pretty conservative. all they have to do is run, rest and recover. During our multi-day training camps however, we actually focus more on the other training strategies which you can use in your training schedule and will help you finish a multi-day event.
For AAUT (5 days, 230km and completed three years in succession) my longest run was only ever 40km. The longest day of the event is 70 odd km run after three pretty heavy days. I never found the 70km day particularly hard during the event. Tiring but not exhausting.
My 40km training run was however then followed by a 30km the next day. Yes, I used back to back runs (judiciously) to get the body ‘happy’ with running on tired legs. But I believe in ‘saving’ my legs for the event I’m training for.
I do enjoy long runs and have to resist the temptation to go further. My weekly long runs are a very moderate 40km maybe 50km max…run to a very easy heart rate and not every week. This means I’m on my feet for a good long time and while the length of time makes the run intense, it’s actually very gentle in comparison to much of my other training.
If my heart rate is shooting up during my long run session, then I simply walk. This session is also a chance to practice fuelling and getting the body dialled into digesting on the go.
Progression during long runs is also a good way of getting an extra bang for your buck. But to be honest, I’m too lazy to focus on this much. Plus, living at the top of a mountain means every run is a little bit progressive since I’ve got to get back up the hill at the end!

5. Strength training
For a multi-day or any long race in which you’re going to be out for 5 or more hours a day running, you need to get strong. Strong muscles stabilize your bones from the straightforward hammering of movement they are going to take. Strong muscles stabilize your digestive tract so it doesn’t get shook up on the trail. Strong muscles repair fast. Convinced yet?
Strength training doesn’t need to take up masses of your time – it can but it doesn’t have to. Five minutes concentrated effort it better than none, especially if you’re fatigued after a run.
Form is king however, it’s better to do 3 squats well than 30 poorly. And don’t even be tempted by plyometrics (jumping and leaping while weighted) until you’ve mastered the movement pattern with control. Simple bodyweight drills can help get your body moving the way it should…and if all else fails I recommend checking out global postural reeducation. I knew exactly where I was twisted but this was the only method of physio which could get me straightened out-ish.
If you don’t fancy pushing weights then yoga, pilates, anything which involves carrying your own bodyweight, which is after all what you need to do, is a definite bonus.

6. Cross training
I get injured easily. Ever since I started running, I’ve come to grips with the fact that I can’t run every day of the week. It’s just not possible.
For me, cycling and/ or spinning works, for both higher or lower intensity training. It’s a way of avoiding junk miles. For example, being surrounded by hills it’s impossible to run a recovery run. Your heart rate simply is not low enough for recovery. It’s much better to walk or cycle.
While in the Middle East, I used spinning as a way to notch up my heart rate in the summer when it was too hot and humid to do this outside with a degree of safety. Spinning also builds great leg strength and turnover.
There are plenty of cross training options in the gym. Just think about how that class will help your running. If it leaves you too sore to run, then it’s not going to be suitable while you’re building up for a big event. Circuits can be a great way to get some strength work in for those who really don’t like lifting – just don’t let your form slip.

And I think that’s just about it. The distance never worries me, but the battering my body will take doing a multi-day does…which is where strength comes in. Your aim is to make your body bullet proof and fatigue resistant. The variety of training also keeps you focused.

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Why it pays to Be Prepared!

As all good ultra runners (and Girl Guides) know it pays to ‘Be prepared!’ It’s what we do best and while I won’t be towing the line at an ultra any time soon, I’m just as thorough in my prep for shorter races.

Why? Well, it can mean the difference between a pleasant experience and a gut-buster!

Others might choose to wing it and go with the flow but if planning is going to save me a few seconds here and there, as well as make it all that bit easier, I’m going to invest some time in it.


Graveyard running! Doha residents will be familiar with this type of terrain…not usually seen in a Spanish CXM!

A month after I returned to running from injury I was tackling a night-time CXM (cross mountain race) which I’d completed the year before. Then it was a warm up for a mountain ultra; this year it was the maximum distance I’d run for quite some time.

Pre-race thoughts

Knowing the course meant I could plan my race to take advantage of the terrain. Conscious that I was barely fit enough to complete the 16 odd km (with 400m +-), I’d have to use the track to my advantage.

The 3 km flat riverside trail on the way out and back were where I planned to pick up some pace, plus – not much damage I could do to my leg here. And, the weaving paved track through the San Juan cemetery – yes, this is a Scooby Doo inspired course – is exactly what I was used to from running Doha pavements. Totting this up, I’d reckoned I’d have just 8km or 50 percent of trickier, riskier, leg-torturous trail to negotiate. Finishing seemed all the more realistic.

A visit to the global postural re-educator physio the day before meant I was in decent shape. He had showed cautious positivity about my progress. Of course he had no idea I was hitting a CXM Nocturna…but no doubt realised I was being as conservative as he wanted. The: “I know what you runners are like!” gave that one away.

The day of the race was hot. Hey, that’s why it was a night race! I wasn’t particularly concerned here – thanks to Qatar – heat is my strength.

Nordic Walkers ahoy!

The race was also the Andalusian Cup for Nordic Walking. The walkers would be setting out an hour before us and following a slightly different course. Steve and I had no idea Nordic Walking was so popular until we rocked up at the number collection.

Signed off as present and correct we headed to a local bar to rest up in an air conditioned room until the start.

Just after 8pm, I started my warm-up. Everything felt okay. There was definitely some twinging in the right knee/ shin/ calf but isn’t there always? My plan extended to starting nearer the back and gradually winding up my pace, ready to hit the ascent up into the mountains and the mines famed for providing the gold used to decorate the Alhambra.

At 9pm we were off, under a dying sun, and keen to make the most of the remaining daylight. The pace seemed pretty quick to me. I think the lead guys were trying to clear the first bit of narrower track before the lead Nordic Walkers hit it heading back.

All too soon we were into the hills and the first hard ascent. I’d overtaken a fair few women but had no idea where I stood in the field as we started to zig zag up the first climbs, which seemed steeper and more slippery on the gravel than the previous year. Combined with steep ascents, this track reminds me of UK coastal path, despite there being no sea in sight. I’d also forgotten about the ‘derelict building balance’. We climbed up onto what must have been the top of the walls of a once substantial building and then balanced along…one false move to the right and you don’t just fall off a wall you also roll down a mountain.

Relieved to reach the top

Reaching the summit, the track widened as we avoided the holes dropping into the old mine shafts. The gradual uphill was most definitely runnable as the lights started to twinkle in Granada below.

Dropping down into a small wooded track, I was aware that the race had started on time this year. Last year, we’d started 20 minutes later and I’d hit the wood as I lit up, weaving between the trees downhill, my beam catching the dust of faster runners. This year I was through the trees and into the cemetery before I needed to hit the switch on my headtorch.

The ghost bride…or Princess of the moon as she prefers to be known!

Following the glowing flags up and down, round and round, the gardens of the cemetery is pretty surreal. I was definitely ready to meet the ‘ghost bride’ at the checkpoint on our exit.

All downhill from now I thought to myself. Last year I’d really struggled with the descent, but this year, on a less crowded track I made good time and was soon crossing the road and dropping back onto the river bank and heading back to race HQ.

I was now passing other runners and Nordic Walkers as I picked up the pace to cross the finish line in pretty much the same time as previously (but running 2km less as the course had been modified to reduce the distance on the river bank).

1st in age group and 5th woman overall.

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? I’d finished feeling strong and injury free. Now to plan the autumn season 🙂

Making the podium.

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On the road to recovery

Yes, I’m back running 🙂

A visit to the champ-runner-physio saw her refer me to her own physio.

It seems that she unfortunately had a serious knee injury a couple of years ago – I believe (note: ‘believe’ due to my lack of Spanish language skills) this was an ACL blow-out – and as a result was told by five physios she would never run again. Luckily, the final physio she saw said that ‘yes, he could help her get back running’, and he did.

Given the complexities of my right leg she felt more comfortable sending me to see the physio who got her back running. The treatment suggested combines traditional physio, osteopathy and other techniques to give a whole body approach in a package called Global Postural Reeducator (GPR). Yes, I had to google it too!

What’s Global Postural Reeducation?

Typical physio treats the site of injury. GPR looks at the whole body to discover the cause of injury in an attempt to prevent further occurrence. So, in my case, I knew the knee cyst was not the cause of the injury, merely the site of current injury.

GPR treatment

So I knew physio and osteopathy would be involved, but I was a little bit shocked to walk through the door of the treatment room to see a body shaped table (no nicely padded surfaces here) with rotating arm plates and straps, plus a rope pulley system above. Maybe I sidestepped and started to walk backwards but Marcos the physio immediately pointed at my right hip and said that was the problem.

This was looking good! I’ve always known my good ol’ right hip doesn’t play ball.

The first session involved a general assessment and a discovery of what GPR really involves. There’s definitely some physio, osteopathy and then chiropractic, PNF stretching, yin yoga (almost) and no small amount of torture. It’s certainly an aggressive treatment – you can only manage one of these sessions a week – and it’s 100 per cent dignity free!

How it works

Most of my first session was spend working on my right leg, hips and lower back. I was pushed and pulled in every direction going. In GPR, the physio applies PNF stretches to try to realign deep functional muscles which have gone awry due to chronic injury and the body’s attempt to compensate around the injury site. This is NOT pain free.

When your body is injured it does everything it can to protect the injury site. If the pain is long term, your internal muscles realign which can cause a multitude of other issues.

My right hip is pants so the rest of my body has over many, many years rearranged itself to try to compensate.  Many of my joints and muscles are doing jobs they aren’t designed for. It’s actually pretty amazing that the human body is capable of this but detrimental in the long run.

Marcos also discovered many past injury sites. Remember the cockroach-leaping-gracilis-strain of a couple of years’ ago? Well there’s a nice amount of scar tissue from that! That cockroach has definitely made a lasting impression. However, on leaving that first torture, err I mean GPR session, the pressure in my lower leg had pretty much gone.

After three sessions we’re working on increasing hip mobility – I have a nice 50 min a day physio set to work on – as well as lengthening my abs, getting my right shoulder back where it should be and leveling out my diaphragm – and I’m allowed to start to run again.

Back running (and racing)

After a couple of painish free easy runs, I decided to get back racing using some shorter races as tempo sessions.

First up a semi-night run in the flat bit of Granada. My goal to hold just under 5 min/km for the 9km. I finished just in time (as it got very dark!) as 4th in age group and 10th women, but most importantly feeling okay.

The start line for the Cuna de Lorca.

Nine days later and I was back on trail for a local CXM Sierra Sur De Jaen Minitrail. In all honesty the 15km was a bit much distance wise, however the 400m positive was manageable and the track of a level surface, which is important for my recovering ankle.

I’m so far back, I’m not even on this photo of the start of CXM Minitrail 😉

I decided to dust of my poles, in case my leg needed some help, and as a result was forced to start at the back (a race regulation). As a slow starter this gave me chance to warm up and gradually pick off the other runners. By 7.5km I was pretty sure I was lead woman after passing a woman at the second aid station. I’d do my level best to hang on, but conscious I shouldn’t push my HR out of my chosen range. This meant I crossed the line in 1:32:07 less than 50 seconds ahead of the 2nd and 3rd women.

While I was delighted to come home campeona, I was aware there weren’t many women running and the heat had tortured the ladies in 2nd and 3rd. I still seem to have my Qatar-gained heat acclimation.

Crossing the finish line and I caught the camera man off-guard. He was also trying to roll out the tape for me to run through (he didn’t manage it)!

My recovery is sound, so here’s hoping my right hip continues to play along. We’ll see at my next GPR session.



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Granny always knows best!

My granny always used to say: “Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves!”

“What’s that got to do with running?” I hear you shout! Quite a lot as it turns out.

What my granny really meant was that the little things add up…yes, she was probably on about all those pennies spent on sweets eating into my budget…but as regards to running I’m learning the importance of her creed.

Injury alert!

You see, I’ve been sat on the sidelines for the last eight weeks… injured! I’m getting to grips with watching everyone else out running in gorgeous spring sunshine (well, here in Spain anyway), and watching Mr F take part in races I’d quite like to have tackled.

Photo taken while volunteering at a local race.

According to the folks in the know, I’ve got a Baker’s cyst in the back of my right knee. And before the bread jokes start, the condition is named after the guy who first spotted them.

The cyst is pressing on the artery feeding my lower leg. During movement it swells up so much that the oxygen is effectively cut off to my shin…hence why there’s periostitis on my upper tibia…my muscle is screaming out for food! On radiography, there’s also another little lump above the ankle where muscles insert on the fibula – but I can’t really feel it.

No one is really sure what causes Baker’s cysts. They can be asymptomatic of osteoarthritis but there’s usually pain in the kneecap then – and the kneecap is about the only place in my right leg which is never painful. The doctor is of the opinion that my foot has been going one way and my hip the other. My poor old knee is stuck in the middle, hence the cyst.

Pennies = little things

And this is where the ‘looking after the pennies’ lesson comes in; I’d ignored all the little hints that everything was not well until I couldn’t walk without a limp.

*My old orthotics hadn’t felt quite right for ages (downright painful if I’m honest), but I hadn’t bothered to get them checked out.
* Saucony had slipped an extra 2mm heel to toe drop in the new model of my Excursions – I hadn’t realised but my ankles weren’t happy.
* I hadn’t upped my mileage but I was spending more hours out on the trails. Plus, running more single track means more uneven foot placement.
* I’d been a bit lack lustre with my daily physio exercises. My right hip has been slipping back into its old ways. (I really need regular physio assessments as I can’t feel when an exercise is wrong myself.)
* I’d been running at easy pace but I’d not been refuelling adequately. I wasn’t feeling hungry so wasn’t bothering to fill up anywhere near enough. My body was wearing down.
*As I’m hitting that age when my hormones are starting to do weird things, I’d been getting concerned that I was laying down belly fat. I certainly hadn’t slashed my carb intake severely but it seems I had enough for my body to start leeching energy and minerals from wherever it could.
* I hadn’t been wearing my heart rate monitor. My Suunto had finally bitten the dust (the dam thing never actually worked properly in the 18 months I had it) and reverted to my old Garmin sans HR.

My body had been warning me everything was not well for a long time but I hadn’t heard. The outcome is that all these extra ‘pennies’ have added up and it’s now my turn to make big withdrawal from the injury bank.

Looking forward…

I’ve another couple of weeks of absolutely no exercise due to the diclofenac prescription and then I’ll be under the wing of a physio, (I hear she’s a runner, so fingers crossed for sympathy) before a steady build up back to fitness.

The only running I’ve been allowed to do – getting sorted with new orthoses!

In the meantime I’ve binned my orthotics and got kitted out with a pair of flashy new moulded inserts. The podiatrist is a bit of whiz in football circles – so if all else fails I should be able to kick a ball although I’m not sure what my granny would think of that!

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45 minutes in the hurt locker

I’m an ultra runner. I love lacing up, slinging my pack on my back and plodding out for a day on the trails. But I also know that the best and strongest runners are all-rounders.

As a species, us humans are inherently looking for an easy life. We love doing what we can already do, but this makes us lazy and in fitness terms it means we lose it. Over the last few years, I’ve started to find it more and more difficult to find the motivation to run a bit quicker. True, I do get injured more often than not when I do, but I’ve been shirking my responsibilities to speed.

So, in an effort to ensure I do regularly keep my legs turning over, and get some pace work in on the road, I’ve signed Steve and I up for our local ‘Gran Premio de Fondo’ series of races here in Granada. Yes, we won’t make every race but for 40 euros for the whole series, including timing chip hire, we can’t really go wrong.

Our first race of the season was a flat 10km alongside about 1,500 other folk on 19 February. I knew it wasn’t going to be a speedy, speedy one since we’d had a high volume guest with us all week, but running on slightly fatigued legs was an opportunity not to be missed.

Knowing there would be a large turnout, Steve and I arrived early to get a parking space…so had everyone else! The queues for number collection (including 30th anniversary long sleeved tech top) and toilets were long, but we were quickly at the front and pinning our bibs on our vests and lacing our chips on our shoes.

Gerbil wheel warm ups!

There was time for a quick coffee before the gerbil wheel warm ups. I’m not so keen on trotting around and around in circles so did my own dynamic warm ups, playing particular attention to sideways movement. I knew there’d be loads of lateral switches trying to get clear of the usual running road-block start.

With about 10 minutes to go, we headed to the corrals, which notoriously most people completely ignore! I got to the front of the 4-4:30 min/km pace – which is spot on where I can run….unfortunately there’s always a lot of very ‘ambitious’ runners ahead in these races. I don’t like to start further forward as I know that I do take a few km to get revved up, but for future races I’m going to have to bite the bullet and get my elbows out and muscle up front.

A quick catch-up with Eric of AAUT organization and we were off at 7:40 min/km. Yup, it was a slow start! After much weaving, shuffling and side stepping, I had a eureka moment and tagged on the back of a ‘guia’ guiding a blind runner. I’d spotted that when he shouted ‘guia’ people got out of the way and I could also slip through the gap!

The guia and his charge were breathing heavily at 3km and with a less dense crowd to navigate I passed by. Shortly after, I spotted Eric bounding along. He’s easy to spot, towering over the shorter runners. A few words and I was again on my way.

The course was now out of the town and into the campo, twisting up and over the motorway. Tagging a fellow Moclin runner at about 7km, he passed by me with 1km to go shouting for me to follow him…but if I’m honest it was starting to hurt…and hard.

Me – just in shot! My face says it all!

My time in the hurt locker was risking breaking me and I had to dig deep as the course headed uphill, before swinging into the finish, which I was mighty relieved to see. Coughing and spluttering into the finish tunnel, it was time to grab a goody bag (race tee, banana, juice, water, and croissant) before joining the beer queue.

Crossing the line in 44:24 was good enough for 9th woman and 2nd in age group. I can’t say it was pleasant but definitely a necessary evil. I’d taken about 90 seconds to cross the start line, so my time was where it should be for my current fitness.

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Staying warm over winter

Staying warm Moclin style – with the tradition of La Candelaria.

Qatar doesn’t really do winter…yup, the humidity leaves and it gets a bit cooler… aka pleasanter for your runs but it’s never exactly what you’d call cold.

Spain on the other hand does cold very nicely. Thankfully, our little part of Andalucia doesn’t really do proper cold. While the coast got a covering of pretty thick snow, we’ve had a grand total of nada (to date). It’s certainly been well into minus temps at night, making for slippery road running first thing, but as soon as that sun gets up it’s been plenty warm enough which is ideal for getting out and laying down the foundation for the year ahead.

Following Ultra Sierra Norte, I had a couple of weeks easy. We visited the UK…very dark and wet underfoot….where I went swimming for the first time in ages (including a touch of athlete’s foot!) and bagged a few road miles.

I took a turn out with Torbay Athletics Club – km reps along the seafront off 90 sec rests. Very Doha Corniche-esqe – even palm trees – except there was a gentle drizzle falling. After a couple of weeks easy my legs were zipping along and at low altitude it was simple running.


It had been a while since we’d checked out this hill top.

Back at base, here in Moclin, and getting ready for Christmas the weather was super. Steve and I got out exploring and discovered so new gems of trails. Long ones, short ones, narrow ones and plenty of dead ends too! Being reticent on the sunscreen application I burned the tips of my ears pretty badly. Top tip folks, keep the sunscreen going even when you think the sun isn’t at its strongest. I was then consigned to wearing a flappy desert cap – you know the Goofy ears ones – while my ears healed.

New Year heralded a weather change and a few weeks’ chilly snap. A few dull days were brightened up with some strength work incorporating the dreaded Mirrodor steps into tempo sessions. Squatting, leaping and lunging up and off steps certainly makes picking your feet up on trails harder work and a nice way to simulate that post-50km feel.

A favourite view at dusk.

And that’s it, you’re pretty much up to date with where we’re at and what’s been happening. Weirdly, I have zilch races booked in this year. I’d like to get a 100 miler in, and I do have my eye on a 130km here in Spain toward the end of the year. There will no doubt be a few others on the horizon.

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