Monday, 26 September 2011
Friday, 20 May 2011
One step on the Great Wall
A view back over a flat section
Ming Tombs on the run route
7th May 2011
Definitely a ‘just for fun’ race for me, the North Face 100km China run near Beijing was a very late addition to the calendar. I received entry about 7 weeks ago, and even though I knew that I wouldn’t really get a chance to do any specific distance training or change my ironman training schedule to focus on the race, I still jumped at the chance. I’ve never been to Beijing and really wanted to see the Great Wall. Here was a race giving the opportunity to run on the Great Wall, through the Ming Tombs and surrounding mountains. Awesome.
With some trepidation I toed the start line at 4:30am, headlamp on, 100m climb up some stairs of the Great Wall just few yards away as the ‘warm up’ ahead of the 500m climb up a ruined section of the wall just around the next corner. I stuck with the lead group for this first 8kms, right up until about 300m up that first mountain, by which point I knew I was going far too hard. These 50kg ultra runners were FLYING up that mountain, and I knew it was time to let some of them go – otherwise I was in serious danger of ruining my chances of finishing. From then on, it became a much more solitary race. The 200 strong starting field had been spread out on the first section of the Great Wall, and that first mountain trail blew the field apart completely.
I hadn’t been anticipating quite how much of trail race this was going to be. With a 20km section of the Great Wall to run and being near northern suburbs of Beijing I had expected much more road and hard surfaces to contend with. I’d imagined stone and stairs. I’d not been wrong about that – there certainly were stairs and Wall, but about 60-70% of the course was on single track, (the ruined section being boulder track), and much of that was goat tracks up or down mountains and heavily foliaged brush trails which, had they not been marked, I’m not sure I would have found. It was a run, a scramble, a climb, and – more and more towards the latter half – a hike though the beautiful landscape north of Beijing, though small rural villages, remote orchards and fields, and through Chinese history: The Ming Tombs at 70kms (see photo) were a hidden gem, found somewhere between a gradual 5km climb on road and a 400m stair climb up the next mountain.
By the time I had reached the Ming Tombs I was in quite a bad state. The section from 40kms to 70kms was tough, both mentally and physically. I could no longer hold the ‘natural’ pace that I’d been enjoying in the earlier sections (barring the uphills!), and the constant steep climbing and – more importantly – descending on twisting, uneven and often loose surface trails had made my calves (up), quads and knees (down) really start to hurt. The walk-run strategy had really started to kick in.
By the 70km mark, I knew I would make it. There may be some walking, but I would get there somehow. There were also more runners on the course now as the 50km race course converged with ours there, so I fed off their motivation and numbers, enjoying having company again.
At the finish I knew I was properly broken as I could not even run the entire last kilometre without having a walking section. I’d gone much further than my training should have allowed and my body was telling me to stop. So with 10:45 on the clock and 10th place in the bag, I did just that.
But of course the next day we went sightseeing: 4 hours walking around the Forbidden City is a true test of how easy walking is (or isn’t). O yes, there are stairs in the Forbidden City too.
An AMAZING race. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
This is what team mate Will Kelsay and I are up to this weekend: The Beijing leg of the North Face Challenge Series – of which Will is doing the 50km race and I am doing the 100km race – is taking place this Saturday.
Here's the course profile and maps
For me, the first 20km's is on the Great Wall of China, and the rest is in and around the nearby tombs, mountains and forests. The whole route should be stunning. Not only is it a 100km route, there's some aggressive climbs in there - like a 500m climb on the Great Wall in under 3kms (between km 9 and km 12). Sounds to me like that's just a set of stairs! In fact the whole profile looks more like an ECG than a route profile. There are 200 entrants running the 100km, 400 running the 50km (which Will is racing) and several thousand I think participate in the 10km which is around the reservoir where all three races finish.
Race day is Saturday 7th May. I have a 4:30am start, although the early start will be probably be a little irrelevant as I am not going to have any idea what time of day it is as we arrive on thursday morning for the saturday race. I am hoping that my brain will not get to Beijing before Sunday. Planning on wearing the GT for the race as it should capture some great data.
At the moment I'm trying to pack. So far, the Global Trainer is in the bag, with LOADS of Nathan products as I've not decided what to use yet, some PowerBar to keep me going, my On's, some BC compression socks and some run kit. Now back to packing...
Friday, 29 April 2011
The only problem with this is that around where I live is by no means flat. So, I strap on the trusty Global Trainer and head out for the run. With all the data that the GT collects, I did a little web surfing and found this article which suggests how to take into account ascents and descents: http://runningtimes.com/Print.aspx?articleID=10507
The article’s author suggests that treadmill tests show that a 1% elevation means that per mile for a 5min/miler they should allow 10secs more per mile and that a 7:30 min/miler should allow 15 secs per mile more; and this is for every single % per mile. (52.8 feet per mile is 1%)
So this is what I’ve done:
The Global Trainer tells me that I’ve gained and lost (circular route) 1550 feet in total. So that’s 155 feet per mile, and at an estimated flat pace of 6min/mile, this amounts to a 3% grade or 36secs/mile extra due to the climbing. However, we need to add back in the descending – apparently you get back about 55% of the time of the climbs – so as you would expect, you do go slower over a hilly course compared to a flat course. This means that I’m left with a 16secs/mile handicap because of the hills.
My 6:28mins/mile pace through the rollers therefore works out at a ‘normalised’ 6:12mins/mile pace. Given that I was supposed to be running 6min/miles, I clearly slacked off a bit, but not as much as the actual pace suggested.
Its not a bad guestimate at how hills translate into flat pace – the GT data again proves itself invaluable.
But now I’m going to get back to the Royal Wedding highlights!
Thursday, 28 April 2011
Wednesday, 13 April 2011
13th MPRO, 9:01
Port Elizabeth has to be among the most friendly Ironman races I've done – another cracking race put on by Triangle (who also run another of my favourites, Ironman Austria). Only there for a weekend, the warmth and generosity of the people there was as reliable as the weather was changeable.
But it wasn't just the locals that made this weekend a fun start to the season. As ever, the individuals participating in the race and some of the characters I met this weekend will make this a memorable event. Great times had – thanks to Dave, Kyle, Dominique, Clifford, Andi and to some older faces - Rachel, Ed and Sarah et al. Great to spend some time with you all in PE.
Race day the weather was a relative blessing compared to what it could have been. Despite a relatively calm swim, I struggled to hold form and pace in the water and exited the water minutes back on where I'd been hoping. That feeling of ticking over continued onto the bike, and then onto the run, where the heat and lack of top end was taking its toll physically and mentally. I'd counted near 40 bikes ahead at the first turnaround, and knew there was a lot of work to do, but had very little to give. I did start picking people off, but by lap two it was more and more difficult to keep tabs on position.
The run was flat and well supported. It annoyed me that I seemed to be wasting such good conditions ona mediocre day. I settled in though, pleased at least to be running, even if it was survival pacing, and focussed on finishing and picking up some Kona Points at the least, and not getting lapped by the Raynard and Andi who were cracking out course records there in PE.
Crossing the finish line I found out that I'd been too hard on myself, finally finding out that I'd placed 13th MPRO (note that one woman beat me, but that woman was Chrissie Wellington!). The British women had been having a stellar day with Chrissie and Rachel going 1,2; and a solid performance from Yvette who toughed out a rough day too.
In hindsight, I'm OK with the result. Yes, I wanted to go faster, but some days are just like that, ticking over the miles from one point to the next. As a benchmark, its the fastest early season race I've ever done (in fact the only early season race that has had a successful finish!), and it shows that the fitness is there, but perhaps the speed needs some work. A lot of new kit got tested out there in front of the roaring crowds of the Eastern Cape, and it all came through for me: the On's were light and fast, and their forgiving construction meant that even when midfoot landing wasn't working out (for most of the run thanks to some really tight legs), survival pace and some heel-toeing still got me to the line unscathed; the new Orbea Ordu performed to expectations, and she's a beauty; the new Sugoi race kit and the Orca 3.8 wettie are super-comfortable and sharp as; combined with the SBR Sports TriSlide the only chaffing I have is on my wrist from the Ironman wrist tag! Also notable was zero gut issues, even with the relative heat – I'm going to thank Neovite colostrum for that!
All in all, a solid early season race. A great starting point for great things later in the year. Now time for some recovery and a bike/swim block before a 100km run in China in 3 weeks. Bring it on!