Wet, wet, wet at Ultra Sierra Norte

Hereby follows an apology:

Dear feet,

Recently, I subjected you to horrendous conditions and for that I am truly sorry.

I want you to know this because I appreciate how awesome you are. Where other people get blisters and black toenails, you never let me down. No matter how far we run, you are perfect.

I try to look after you, keeping your nails short, wearing comfy socks which are neither too tight nor too slack, and always wearing appropriate shoes to ensure you get the best conditions possible…but I’ve let you down and allowed you to get wet, wet, wet.

My shoes were clabbered up.

My shoes were clabbered up.

I’d like to emphasis that this was through no fault of my own. You see it rained…torrentially…and you know as well as I do this wasn’t supposed to happen. You see, we read Kirsty Reade’s review of the Ultra Sierra Norte Marathon race on Race 247 and according to her the race is perfect for those seeking some winter sun.

I did indeed ignore all knowledge of northern hemisphere meteorology and somehow believed heading west in a country would mean less rain (thinking Wales V England here) and that despite forecasts to the contrary it would hale sunny come race day. As you know the opposite happened; it streamed down Thursday night, Friday daytime and Friday night. There were puddles in puddles and the 100km ultra race start was delayed 20 minutes as race officials worked out a roping system to get everyone safely across a flooded river at around 25km.

Thankfully the forecast was slightly wrong and the rain stopped for the start, we streamed out of Castilblanco de los Arroyos, Sevilla, and onto jeep trail and within 1.5km – we hit the first flood water at 2km. Step-stoning around the side, most still had dry socks but at 2.5km I decided I couldn’t reach the gate folks were using to balance around racing flood waters without getting wet and simply waded through…you were now wet 🙁

At 6km we hit the first mud on a narrow, rough verge-side track, not so bad, since I was well up in the field. We then enjoyed about 8km of easy running on a wide 4X4 trail, but alas the fog came down thickly and I took you – and two guys in tow – the wrong way across flooded pasture. The water was simply swilling off the fields, I could see no course markings but could hear CP 2 at 16km.

Ready for the startline

Ready for the startline

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The checkpoints were well stocked.

I’d already lost count of the number of flash floods we’d crossed as we hit the first descent. It was slippery and steep and there was a fair bit of grit flying around. I ignored the stone which flipped in the heel of my left shoe and dug under my heel. I’d remove it later I thought to myself, and carried on.

We were now into the Sierra Norte national park. The fog had lifted slightly and the views were pretty amazing, even in the wet. There was a heady scent of eucalyptus – definitely not rosemary as other reports have suggested, although there was plenty of rosemary around – as we bumped up and over wide gritty track descending to the roped river crossing.

Crossing 50m of swirling torrents we grabbed the rope, hung on balancing over stepping stones awash with water. As I neared the far bank, one of the guys assisting shouted ‘primerio’ as I lurched into deep water to grab his hand and get pulled ashore. His reference to primerio I suspected referred to my near-miss dunking i.e. I was the first to very nearly fall in.

Next up a short track of gravel with that lasting sideways drag on the legs feel post trudging through a strong current, we were quickly climbing up a sporting firebreak of hard ascent and the water was squeezing out my shoes but sucking in grit. Not as aggressive, or as long as our Granada province climbs it was enough for me to take a few places.

Onto wide jeep tracks once again in damp woodland, the kms ticked by with more burst rivers rushing over the top of the trails rather then underneath the bridges as they should, I continued to ignore the grit biting the underneath of my heel.

Eventually I decided to plop down on a rock and remove the offending stone for another to immediately take its place. At 30km crossing another cambered firebreak, I was forced to a standstill as another chunk of grit bit into the bridge off my right foot. As you know, I wear hard plastic orthotics and so there’s nowhere for a stone there to go but into you guys. Hopping on the spot and trying not to put my sodden sock to ground and pick up more grit, I managed to get my brand new Saucony Excursions (yes, I know, brand new shoes for the race but I was after every mm of grip I could get) on before turning hard left and dropping down steeply through a pine forest.

There was one near miss as the pine needles gave way and slide down on my backside, pushing my sticks forward to get a grip before we slid into thorns. Washing my fingers off in another handy river crossing, it was uphill again as two guys who’d caught me on the descent tell me I was primero. I said I didn’t know and left them on the up.

More wide track combined with off piste firebreak up and overs and we rolled into CP36 ish. The chaps again told me I was lead woman. I wasn’t so sure, removed more grit from my shoes, put my jacket on as it was raining (once more), and headed out onto the track. The guys were right a km or so later a lassy from the Ukraine came bounding by. I picked up pace, a little relieved that I was no longer the hunted, and kept her in sight.

As I was now boil in the bagging in my waterproof jacket, I wasn’t feeling so great. I took off my jacket before stuffing plenty of food down my neck. Hitting the next CP, I attacked the ham sarnies and banana chunks before heading out onto slate track. Focusing on stuffing a Nakd bar in I missed a left spur up a wide firebreak not realising until I’ll trotted 2.5km into a crossroads with no markings. Scanning the horizon I could see tape fluttering in the distance on a hill. Cue turnaround and go back to find where I’d gone off track – that’s an extra 5km for the mathematically challenged 🙁

Back on route, trail eventually became track and I was into the 56km checkpoint and drop bags. My coconut water caused some interest among race officials. I downed a coffee, removed my waterproof leggings and changed my socks. Yes, feet you were to enjoy 8km of feeling dry.

Back out and there was a steep camino uphill before an equally steep trail descent and then a groundhog day firebreak which just went up and over, up and over for mile after mile, with a nice little stream in the bottom of every valley. Into the next CP, I was pushing on conscious that it was late afternoon.

More flooded track as dams had burst, another CP and a firebreak ascent before a moderately tough descent. The light was fading and I wanted to get down before fishing my headtorch out and lighting up. My watch read 80km. Heading through game park in the dark, there was definitely something snuffling and snorting to my right – I wasn’t hanging around to find out what as I hit the official 85km checkpoint.

“No more technical!” I was told. It hadn’t been particularly technical so in my naivety I thought we’d fly home…in reality I was heading into the Somme. Running alongside a fence, with the road the other side, we trekked though plough, rocks and flooded fields. The earlier marathon runners had turned the ground to quagmire and progress was slow.

Feet – you were sodden and now covered in mud. Myself and a pair of other runners ping ponged taking it in turns to take the lead through the mire. Worse; the fog came down. The glow stick markers were increasingly difficult to see as we ploughed on.

Popping out onto the road through a hole cut in the fence we hit another checkpoint. The guys were looking jaded and I just wanted to get finished so I took the lead and pressed on…back through the fence and off the road, cursing as odd cars whizzed past hooting as I tackled km after km of mud, dropping into streams as water flooded off the fields. Eventually I emerged at CP12, just another 5km and I’d be done.

Crossing the road, I traced through trail we’d run earlier in the day but with 200 plus runners now through, the narrow track had turned to soup. I slip-slid through, relieved as I turned onto hard trail breaking into a run. Time to get this done! I could hear the finish line – a cheer as another runner finished – another 10 minutes and I was there being interviewed by Chito Speaker as the 2nd female. It turns out the runner heading over the line 10 minutes earlier was the lead woman. If I hadn’t added an extra 5km, I lamented, but such is trail running.

The race was completed – 14 hours 8 minutes and 22nd across the line.

I felt fine, ate a hot pork roll, and headed back to the sports hall where we’d spend the night. I showered, amazed at how great you guys looked. I was expecting blister on blister thanks to the grit; toe nails hanging off…but there was nothing. I suspect I have damaged the second nail on my left toe and there’s a small rub mark on my right foot – but that’s it.

My right hammy had been nagging from 8km but that’s nothing new and aside from that, nothing. I feel fine. Seems like the terrain we run over in organizing Ultra Trail Spain running holidays makes for ideal training 😉

Thanks to my feet, we bagged a 2nd place and some delicious honey.

Thanks to my feet, we bagged a 2nd place and some delicious honey.

So please forgive me feet, it seriously wasn’t that bad was it? I wasn’t one of the crazies stood on the start line shivering in lunas. Would be interesting to know if they were two of the 114 finishers out of the 221 starters or if the mud sucked their sandals off at 90km.

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Jamon and trails

Race prizes in Spain are a beauty to behold to ultra runners…since they usually involve our all time favourite items…namely food!

So far I’ve bagged olive oil, peaches, asparagus from road races. Yup, I know it’s enough to make any ultra runner drag his or her lazy ass around a bit of tarmac. You often get a sample delicacy just for showing up.

But for me, the biggest prize I’d set my eyes on was a jamon. These are often offered as prizes but so far had eluded me.

The sun is shining bright over Moclin.

The sun is shining bright over Moclin.

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As I’m just heading into my last 100km ultra for the year; I’ve been forced to top of my high endurance miles with some faster work. Now, as I’ve done more long distance stuff, I’ve fallen out of love with the speed. It’s just too darn hard work. Tell me to run for a day long no problem, but ask me to sprint for 5km and well, it’s a slog. Plus, I really struggle with my right leg…you know the one with the knackered hip, torn hamstrings, slack ligament and dodgy foot. It really doesn’t agree with doing speed anymore. Following it making its complaints known after the Santa Fe 10km, I’d given the Granada half marathon a miss in exchange for long, steady miles.

We'd put in some big miles, and no rides home with a mule.

We’d put in some big miles, and no rides home with a mule.

It had settled, we’d knocked out a 50km, it did get nagged with a series of climbing reps. (I reckon I’d been pushing off too hard from it.) And I’d had to back off. The Moraleda 10km was a do or die. It would either play along or it wouldn’t. I’d run the race as a tempo effort and try to maintain a steady pace throughout.

None of us were exactly sure how the race would pan out since it was the first running of the event. Most of the speedy folks had been lured into an 8km night race on the Friday before. The 10pm, aka freezing, start time had put me off of that and so we’d headed over to Moraleda. I knew the course wouldn’t be flat, but neither will my 100, so it suited just fine.

The uphill start wasn’t easy. My hammy got a grump on within 600m but I backed off and it was okay. A pair of womenn whipped past and I knew they’d be the lead pack as they picked up a younger girl just ahead. By 1500m, I was pretty sure I was in 4th.

At about 3km we headed onto a jeep track and uphill. Aside from the ascent the trail reminded me of the wind/ 4X4 shaped sand of Zekreet, Qatar. I was on my territory and easily trotted past the girl in 3rd. I could see the two lead women ahead. By now a girl with a ponytail was just stretching out.

As we hit flat trail, my hammy wasn’t going to let me open my stride, but I was doing okay and maintaining a moderate pace. Hitting about 6km we started to drop downhill. I was closing on the woman in shorts and bra in 2nd – braver than me in long socks and arm sleeves as I was cold. Unfortunately the continual downhill triggered a bit of stitch and I had to ease back for fear for seeing my breakfast. The women in 2nd pulled away again, and the girl now in 4th came past me. There was still all to play for as I could still see the ponytail plait of the lead woman bouncing along.

Hitting the flat again, my stitch passed and I was able to close in on the girl in 3rd. As we hit more uphill, I was in touching distance, but turning a corner the gradient was steeper and my hammy protested. Less ascent and I was back up with her; however the distance was too great and as we turned into the downhill finish she pulled away.

Congratulating each other – such is the way in Spain – I was happy with my time. About 30 seconds faster than Santa Fe on a hillier course. I was 4th woman overall and 2nd in my age group. The woman in the bra and pants won the veterans, in front of me. But better still, I’d got my hands on a jamon!

Finally I'd got my hands on the prize.

Finally I’d got my hands on the prize.

I’m now into 100km taper; having my usual arguments with my right leg – still free to a good home – and hoping it’ll get me round the 60 miles. A week to go and we’ll find out.

On first glance the course is reasonably fast with just 2,000m + and -. In reality however, the weather forecast is rubbish in Seville over the next week and on race day, and after 16km of easy running, the course map indicates there’s 40km of hellishly technical stuff. Bum shuffling is going to be so much fun in the rain. Think I need to get myself some waterproof pants.

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Hitting the trails – thankfully

Following my 10km charge, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks nurturing my niggly hamstring, blowing the cobwebs out on our local trail race, and discovering the benefits of recent endurance training.
On lurching over the line at Santa Fe, I knew my hammy would need some careful management. There were definitely some residual changes going on, but having felt similar pains before I know I’m best to keep moving…but very slowly. There was nothing else for it but to get a high mileage week under my belt. Yes, I know that every physio, GP, witch doctor will always recommend the opposite but I understand my legs and more importantly my hips. The worst thing I can do is stop entirely. Everything just ceases up and then, when I do move, muscles tear.

Following my nose and ended up a bit far from home.

Following my nose and ended up a bit far from home.

So pack loaded, I headed out from Moclin on the Monday for a magical mystery tour. This was to be a theme of the week as I clocked a steady 20km, 25km, 40km… The weather for the week started slightly mucky but by the Thursday was positively roasting. There was definitely as much walking as running going on and gradually, slowly by surely, my hammy decided life was worth living. (Before you all get too jealous, I was working…honest…route finding does involve a lot of getting lost, doubling back, and eking out supplies.)

By Friday I was ready to put my legs up. Heading back out on Saturday for a short totter down Moclin’s firebreak I was all set for Sunday’s CXM – the direction of the race route had changed and I wanted to check how slow I’d be heading downhill.

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Moclin CXM had the interesting scenario of an uphill start and uphill finish. Either way a tough ask. The day dawned warm and after liberally applying sunscreen we were off. Just a steady one for me as I didn’t want to risk my carefully nurtured hammy. The uphill start suited it nicely and it was well warmed up before the first downhill on which the main field when flying off. Let them, my strategy was saving my quads for descents later in the race over 24km and with 1,800+  there was plenty of climbing to be done too. This clearly suits me! I love nothing better than a strong and long climb, and much fun was had picking off some very competitive girls. I knew they’d get me on the downs so didn’t put as much effort in as I probably should have but this race is part of a longer game.

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Another relatively high mileage week was to follow, I’ve got another to chalk up this week and then I’ll be into taper. Facebook friends will know, I’ve just chucked in some faster hill work and fingers crossed the hammy is holding out. Three weeks and I’ll be lining up on the start line of another 100km, and I’d like to think I’ll stand a reasonable chance. Of course trail 100kms aren’t that straightforward for us amateurs but here’s hoping the weather, fueling, trails all go to plan 😉

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Why I hate running fast!

One day I’ll run a race without some part of my body falling off! This last Sunday’s run was merely a 10km ‘how-fit-am-I job?’ but it would have been nice not to have an issue popping up just before.
Following a great week’s running on the trails around Moclín on an Ultra Trail Spain training camp, I’d entered the final race of the Gran Premio de Fondo Diputacion de Granada series.
The XI Prueba de Fondo 525 Aniversario Fundacion Santa Fe-Le Hispanidad is a 10km road race and rare for these parts – flat. Hence it was a good shot of recording a fair 10km time based on current fitness levels. However, as is always the case for me, preparations were not hitch free.
Following a brilliant run on Thursday, I realized I’d been attacked by a particularly hungry bug. He wasn’t picky as we’d all lost chunks. It was no doubt while trekking through some long grass since both my legs had been ripped to shreds, with one bite sitting right on the sock line of my right ankle. Of course I couldn’t resist rubbing and scratching and my ankle gradually puffed up throughout Friday. Hitting the antihistamines and electrocuting ‘clicker’ I was in a race to try and get the swelling under control ready for the real race. The ankle didn’t so much hurt as feel sore while walking downstairs because it was so swollen.
Elephant foot didn’t look any better come Saturday. It was time for drastic measures and big thanks to Angie for the hot spooning tip to take the itching out. Now sporting a club foot plus self inflicted scorch marks from the scolding spoon on my lower limbs, I decided long socks were the best bet for race day.

 

Some of the Pueblos de Moclin crew.

Some of the Pueblos de Moclin crew.

Sunday dawned threatening rain, but thankfully as the Pueblos de Moclín squad headed off the mountain, the clouds cleared and despite a meaningful sky it was brighter in the valley.
A massive race turnout meant parking was at a premium so it was a mad roll out to the race, grab numbers, pin on while in the toilet, and hit the start line just in time for the gun.
Forgetting what a crushed affair these races can be, I’d got myself far too back from the start line and spend the first 3km weaving past steadier runners. Thoroughly miffed, I knew I’d gone out far too quick and was forced to drop a couple of seconds per km for the next two km to catch my breath. I was in dire risk of cramping. Taking it very easy through the main square and its cobbled surface, while not concentrating on where I was going, I nearly ran into a wheelie bin.
Hitting half way, I knew I could hold on, but I was gasping and generally shot. My left quad, usually guaranteed to be obedient, wasn’t happy. And I remembered how much I hate short road races and how much I hate having to run fast.
My foot was absolutely fine, although my shoes were so tightly laced there was no chance of movement. A two loop course, I spotted Steve on the return and madly signaled that I was kippered. It felt like he was gaining on me, I had to hold on, and all too soon I was back into the cobbled square and in avoiding the bin I nearly clipped a kiddie spectator (I was staying on the smoother surface at the side). Thankfully, we were quickly heading back onto the track from where we’d started and side-stepping a mountain bike I tried to push for the line.

Sadly as I tried to reply to a speedy young girl I’d picked off a km or so earlier I felt that familiar ‘slip’ in my right leg…my good old hamstring was also reminding me why we don’t run fast…and I was hobbling over the line. I was completely bushed.
Have I mentioned how much I hate running fast? Official time 44:13 and watch 43:38. Not bad after plenty of miles this last week, but not where I should be. And that ankle well, it’s returning to normal size. And that hamstring well, a day later, I can definitely feel it. I’ve been rollering my hips and back like mad so hopefully disaster will be averted. We’ll find out when I run tomorrow.

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Dusty Runner in Spain…what I’ve learned so far!

It’s official, we’re set up in Spain and Ultra Trail Spain Running Holidays (http://ultratrailspain.com/) is up and well, running in Moclin.

Of course, we’ve had a house here in Spain for nearly 3 years and been running here as regularly as we can, however there are few things the last couple of weeks has reminded me about the fun to be had running the trails in Andalucia.

Great view...hill to run back up though.

Great view…hill to run back up though.

1) What goes down must go up. When you run downhill for several km, you invariably have to run back up at some point. Reserve enough energy to do so.

Walnuts...home to earwigs.

Walnuts…home to earwigs.

2) If you’re going to scrump figs from trees on the trail sides split them open before popping them into your mouth. There might be something inside (maggots!).

3) Even in October the sun burns. Wear sunscreen. Cue the idiot who scorched the back of her neck.

4) It doesn’t just rain on the plains. We’re in the mountains and it seems to be able honk it down satisfactorily here too.

5) Don’t expect the wildlife to hang around for a photo. The ibex will wait until you’re fumbling around in your pockets to hop and skip out of sight.

I can't remember it being this steep!

I can’t remember it being this steep!

That’s it for now, what would you add?

That moment when you realise the rain has washed your bridge away.

That moment when you realise the rain has washed your bridge away.

 

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The case of the stolen 500m

Own up, who’s nabbed 500m off me? If anyone finds it please do return as I’m sure I’ve not slowed down that much in the last six months 🙁

Every so often, two or three times a year, I put myself through a 20 minute time trial. It’s easy, warm up and then run as quick as you can for 20 minutes. Simple. No counting laps, no aggressive cornering on the track, no trying to hold a set pace, it’s literally ‘boom’ and off you go.

…Except I seem to have mislaid a full 500m. The whole lot has just vanished. Where did that go?

Well, I’m blaming the increase in humidity for a start.

In the dying weeks of our time in the desert, I was hopeful the weather gods were smiling and summer was nearing an end. But sadly after five days of low humidity, it’s become apparent those deities weren’t happy with us sand dwellers, and we are back up to 85 percent plus humidity.

Not only will the ibex get a giggle at my mountain running skills...they be laughing at my speed too!

Not only will the ibex get a giggle at my mountain running skills…they’ll be laughing at my speed too!

I use TTs as a measure of fitness. Following Ultra Sierra Nevada, I had a full month very easy, letting my ankle settle and my body generally recover from a year of running. Mid August I started to build some distance back into my legs; nothing of any great mileage as it was too darn hot and humid but enough to start to feel fit again a couple of weeks ago.

For the Eid break I fixed myself a challenging week’s training to see where I’m at. The results, well as seen, I’m not where I thought I was! My heart rate is about where it should be, my legs feel absolutely fine after some fairly big km’s so let’s hope it’s the humidity and running on uneven pavements at night (street lamps don’t work) which stole my 500m…although I was blowing pretty hard at the end of 20 minutes.

Next TT will be in Spain. Here’s hoping that maybe my missing metres will have been returned!

I'm sure runs here will help me find my missing 500m!

I’m sure runs here will help me find my missing 500m!

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Dusty Runner heading out of the desert

The countdown is finally on towards Dusty Runner in Doha becoming just as Dusty a Runner in Spain.

As many regular readers will know, I’ve been backwards and forwards to our home in Spain for the last couple of years establishing our running holiday business – Ultra Trail Spain  – http://ultratrailspain.com/

Well now the countdown is finally on and in less than 30 days Dusty Runner will be kicking up the trails in Andalucia for good.

I’m not going to lie; I’m certainly not going to miss Qatar’s summers. Attempting to run in the aggressive heat and humidity isn’t easy. I can be thankful for the lessons (more often than not learnt the hard way) it has taught me. Thanks to the desert climate I’m a bit of an expert on hydration, core temperature control, running slowly, heart rate monitoring, and stimulating fat metabolism – a happy consequence of running slowly it appears.

Coping in the extreme heat certainly helped me to become a better runner and disprove Noakes Impact of Temperature on Pace which reckons you’re on your own past 29C. If it were gospel, I’d be an Olympic marathoner since we don’t run in temperatures below 29C anytime between May and November! I’m certainly no 2hr 20 marathoner so I reckon his research needs updating to accommodate natural heat adaptation.

And it’s thanks to Qatar I became an ultra runner – a place where it’s difficult not to get swept along by the many dedicated and excellent endurance runners living here and passing through. When you have to travel to access trail races you tend to make the journey worth the while and do a long one.

I will of course miss this crazy band of people – many of whom are already dotted all over the planet – as people came and went, ran and walked. We remain friends wherever we may be.

A small group of crazy desert runners.

A small group of crazy desert runners.

I'll be leaving the city...

I’ll be leaving the city…

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A band of brothers joined by the desert experiences we have shared, the pre-dawn runs we’ve tackled together, the extreme heat we’ve endured looking out for each other, the water and electrolytes we’ve shared, and laughs we’ve had battling one of the toughest environments the world has to offer.

The desert may be short on water but there’s no drought and the camaraderie, banter, and love shared by runners. It’s been an honour to share the roads, trails and construction sites with you 😉

As a parting shot Doha isn’t letting me leave without a reminder of how challenging the summer can be with high temperatures and stupidly high humidity continuing into September. This last weekend has left me crying: “Give me a break, I seriously cannot keep washing my running shoes after every run!”

Such was the amount of sweat washing down my legs after just 10km in the last few days I’ve been leaving squelchy footprints in my wake. Even I got the hint from the usually oh-so-polite petrol station staff about standing outside while drinking my water and refilling my bottle. They’re getting a bit fed up mopping the sweat patches up from me being inside the store!IMG_1207

...for here!

…for here!

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You know it’s hot when…

It’s mid summer here in Qatar, a not so great time of high temperatures and extreme humidity. Simply stepping foot outside the door makes you question your mortality as you’re slapped in the face by the furnace like heat.

An annual meme for Qatar ;-)

An annual meme for Qatar 😉

It’s a time of year only Gulf dwellers can ever really relate to and a reason why I and hubby Steve cannot wait to bid farewell and get set up in Spain permanently operating Ultra Trail Spain running holidays. I’m looking forward to leaving the oppressive heat and intense humidity behind. We feel we’ve done our fair share of crazy hot summers.
As a tribute however, I’m going to try and give those readers complaining about feeling hot but not living in the area an idea as to how hot a desert summer feels to a runner.

Please note what follows is no exaggeration, all of the below have happened either to myself or those who will remain nameless ☺

You know it’s hot when:
1. Your weekly long run starts at 1am in an effort to beat the heat. Problem is it’s still only just teetering at a low of 32C and it’s plus 60% humidity at best.
2. You’re convinced your handheld is leaking…only to discover it’s your sweat running down your arms and dripping off your water bottle.
3. You can only get to 7km before you start to squelch in your running shoes and leave little wet footprints in your wake. There’s so much sweat running down your legs it overflows the tops of your shoes.
4. Your heart rate flat-lines when you’re still warming up aka walking.
5. The elastic holding your shorts up fails! The weight from the sweat you’re producing simply pulls them down (and is probably the main reason why it’s never good to go commando in this part of the world!)
6. Your long slow run pace is a full two minutes per km slower than your equivalent cool weather pace.
7. Your post-run pee is the colour of creosote.
8. Your long run consists of running the same 50m stretch, backwards and forwards, past a big hotel that leaves its doors open and has brilliant air con.
9. You’re downing 800ml of fluid every 8km and still thirsty.
10. A puddle appears immediately you stop. Yup, that much sweat is pouring from you.

 

Over to you desert dwellers; what would you add? Comments please.

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Sweating it out in the desert

It’s been a case of back to Qatar with a bump…well more of a sweaty puddle really.

While I’ve been away, the temperature has racked up and the dreaded humidity has arrived. Added together they make for pretty rubbish running, not that I’ve been doing any just recently. I’m on recovery for a few weeks following Ultra Sierra Nevada to give chance for my rattled joints to settle back down.

It's that time of year again when dusty, gives way to sweaty!

It’s that time of year again when dusty, gives way to sweaty!

I’m a big believer in active recovery. My body was designed to move, and if I sit still and veg for more than a couple of days stuff starts to fall apart. My back namely. So I’ve been implementing a moderate regime of walking of an evening. This also serves to preserve any heat adaptations I’ve accumulated. I’m hoping this will also help to ease me back in more readily when I start running again. (Treadmills are a no go for me, so there’s no chance of training indoors.)

As the desert is out of bounds at the moment due to the extreme heat – been there, done that on my own, and nearly didn’t survive – I’ve been poddling around the city trying to catch the slightest air movement. The high humidity really is the challenge and it’s amazing our ability to literally boil-in-the-bag at this time of the year.

I know there’s plenty of research going on at the moment right here in Qatar into the effects of heat stress during exercise on the body, so it’ll be really interesting to see the results and how we can use these to improve training methods.

According to Noakes' research we should be at a standstill with temps of 35C+

According to Noakes’ research we should be at a standstill with temps of 35C+

It’s been a little while since Dr Tim Noakes published his Central Governor Model which reckons that your brain will make changes to slow you down and stop you overcooking all on its own. That research only went up to 29C…our temps in Qatar won’t get that LOW at any time of day or night until October…so we’re sort of into unchartered territory  and it really is a case of steady, steady or risk succumbing to heat exhaustion on every outing.

Effective training in the heat

  1. I’m now training to time. Rather than set a distance to reach; I’ll aim to spend X amount of time outside in the heat. This means there’s no pressure to reach a certain distance target and I can just go as far as the weather allows me to on that day.
  2.  For me it’s all about being flexible; if there’s literally not a breath of air movement and I’m feeling the effects of the heat within 2km, then I can slow the pace (walk even) and back off. As long as there’s consistency to my training, then I can still maintain a level of endurance capacity.
  3. I’m creative with my speed work. The spin bike can be a useful way to the heart rate up and cadence high, nice and cool while indoors.
  4. It’s time to try new things. The summer is a great time to try new classes at the gym which build strength and endurance.

We’ve also been busy building Ultra Trail Spain running holidays online. It’s a hectic time, but we’re looking forward to welcoming you all to Spain shortly.

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Surviving Ultra Sierra Nevada – part 3

Buckle up folks, this is going to be a bumpy ride for the final installment of my epic 103km Ultra Sierra Nevada 2016 blog.

The race has so far seen me tackle challenging trail under the cover of darkness, trudge through inferno temperatures on exposed mountainsides, and now  there’s just the final push to be made. A 5km straight climb from Pradollano up Veleta to 3,200m elevation and back down again. Easy!

Part 3 – The final ascent

So despite my dodgy leg, I’m pretty sure I can hold on for the last push and finish this beast of an ultra within the 25 hour time limit. This doesn’t stop me being nervous, well downright scared if I’m honest, of the trek up Veleta and back down again. I’m not sure what will happen at that sort of altitude. Qatar is flat or below sea-level; our greatest elevation is a miserly 103m – I’m about to head over 3,000m higher than this.

Will I cope with the oxygen deficit? Will I feel faint and keel over? I just don’t know.

I’d trotted tenderly on the road into Pradollano, up the steps to CP8 and the feast laid out by the Granada Integra crew. One thing was for sure, they weren’t letting anyone tackle the big one without sustenance, as a plate of rice was pushed into my face. Opting for the salami sandwich option, I was ready for the final push – the ascent of Veleta and 1,000m up in 5km.

Before heading back out onto the trail, I nipped to the loo, conscious that with cable cars rocking overhead there wouldn’t be any chance of going behind a bush should I need to do so 😉

Easing my weary legs back down the steps of the aid station cabin, I passed Robert (the guy from number collection and one of the few other Brits tackling the race) heading into the CP. I was soon back out on to the trail, through the gate and onto what will be the end of the ski slope come January. The terrain was very different to that of the Sierra Nevada foothills. I’m no geologist but the outer hills and mountains seem a bit more frayed at the edges, and made of looser, crumblier limestone/ sandstone, whereas Veleta thrusting up higher is composed of harder more rugged stuff.

The first section from the 90km point followed MTB tracks with cable cars swinging above, before we hit the harder, steeper shale and scree as we climber higher and higher. I passed a few struggling runners, shared more of my trusty jelly sweets, and ploughed on.

Nearing Veleta's summit.

Nearing Veleta’s summit.

Trekking on.

Trekking on.

I’m not going to say it was easy, but it wasn’t as hard as I was expecting. I guess the extreme heat and humidity, as well as the high levels of air pollution, of Doha mean I’m used to there not being a lot of free oxygen in the air to breath. I definitely was not having as much trouble as the male runners around me…a happy bonus of being a woman and therefore not having as much muscle mass to feed with oxygen!

As I neared the summit of a lunar like landscape, passing mountain streams, cattle grazing on summer grass, and leaving the end of cable car track far behind, I got told by one guy the altitude was killing him as I passed by. Hitting CP9 a couple of hundred metres further on, I explained to the Al Borde de lo Inconcebible mountain team, who were manning the aid station, to go help the runner in trouble.

Refreshments at CP9.

Refreshments at CP9.

A snow trough at the top of the mountain!

A snow trough at the top of the mountain!

Taking the opportunity for quick sit down I was glad to muster some energy for the descent – when my dodgy right leg would really be put to the test. Thankfully we descended via much gentler tracks, mainly MTB trails and a km or so of road around the top of the ski slope.

I’m not going to say it was easy descending, I had to gingerly tap my foot to the ground and watch on as the guy who’d been ‘dying’ at the top of Veleta whisk past me with a quick ‘sorry’ as he descended.

After taking what seemed like forever, Pradollano was in touching distance and I was heading over the wooden bridge into the plaza and crossing the finish line behind a 62km runner…which sort of messed up the punching the air photos of me going over the line (I thought it was bad form to whip passed him in the finishing corridor 😉 so held back)

Over the finish line.

Over the finish line.

Al fresco finisher's refreshments.

Al fresco finisher’s refreshments.

Medal over my neck, I took a seat, was offered an ice cream, and was going to wait it out for Robert who I reckoned would be about 20 minutes behind…except the organizer came to inform me I’d won my age group and hinted that perhaps I’d like to take a shower…i.e. you aren’t greeting the dignitaries looking and smelling like that! And so I hastened off to get myself ready for the prizegiving ceremony taking place in 30 odd minutes.

I was quietly chuffed, I’d swanned around on course, taking photos, walking downhill, handing out jelly sweets to one and all, and made it home in under 20 hours. I won my age group (on a technicality – the woman’s winner was technically a lot faster but it seems you’re not allowed to win an overall prize and an age group prize!) and was 6th woman overall – granted there weren’t many of us taking part but nevertheless I’d survived.

My training a la ultratrailspain.com style had paid off. I’d reccied where I could, gone out late on night runs, done reps and tempos, long runs and fartleks. On a good day; well there’s a good 90 minutes for me to save on that course 😉 That won’t get me to the top of the women’s ranks…just a whole lot closer.

A big thanks to everyone who supported me in training, on the day and afterwards. It was an awesome adventure, and I’m grateful to have shared it with so many folks.

It blows my mind however, how the fast chaps run it under 13 hours. Answers on a postcard please? Awesome running guys!

 

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