So with two and a half months to go until the cape Wrath Ultra, it is a good time to for me to review and take stock of my progress so far and see what I still need to do.
Goal: The Cape Wrath Ultra is an 8 day stage race following the Cape Wrath Trail in the Highlands of Scotland for 400 km.
The longest day is 72km with ascent of between 800 and 2500m ascent each day.
The majority of the route is off-road, either single track, vehicle track or completely off track, with 48km of road.
Basically it is a beast, and putting in 8 big days in a row is going to be extremely difficult.
My running background is based around mountain running, with previous success in events like the LAMM, a 2 day mountain marathon as well as working in the mountains of Scotland all year building good hill-fitness. So the rough ground and the ascent each day is not going to be my biggest challenge, for me the difficulty will come with covering such big distances. I did run one road marathon a few years ago and was happy with a sub 3.30 time, but I certainly wouldn't class myself as a good/fast distance runner.
My training is therefore based around 2 things;
1. Increasing my endurance for running long distance,
2. Working on my strength and conditioning so that I stay injury free, both in training and during the event.
I had a good running year in 2017, with lots of munro bagging runs, good results in the LAMM and SIPR early in the year and then the Loch gu loch swim run event in September. During the summer I had been busy running and let my conditioning work slip, so during the Loch gu loch, with its large amounts of road running (in a wetsuit - Don't ask!) I picked up an annoying swollen ankle. It was at that point that I committed to my CWU entry. Not wanting to start training injured I took November off to recover.
Training period 1 - Base endurance - December to February:
For this period I have been focussing on building base endurance, building my resistance to longer distance on the flat, improving my cardiovascular efficiency and training my body to digest fat for fuel, not sugar.
I used a heart rate monitor for training which was a great way to ensure that I stayed in zone 1, below my aerobic threshold as much as possible on these runs. This really did feel quite slow at times initially but was important to maximise the specific benefits that I was after. I had a good start, with most of my runs in December being around 20-25km, upping this to include a few 40km days in January and February.
my other main aim was to improve my sugar/energy regulation. Last spring for racing I was relying heavily on gels and high sugar foods and really struggled to maintain even energy levels, finding myself on a sugar rollercoaster by the end of an event with big sugar lows really affecting me. To try to break this cycle, during this period I have been completely avoiding sugar on my runs, working with unsalted nuts, sugar-free flapjack and sandwiches instead. Also I was experimenting with how little food I could get away with. This forced my body to metabolise stored fat for energy, rather than relying on the small supply of easy access sugar.
Neither of these things are radical training tactics, but it is the longest period that I have stuck as rigidly to a fixed plan, rather than just doing what I could fit in, or felt like at the time.
Result: The results have been really good so far; The pace that I can now sustain within my zone 1 heart rate has increased by around 20 seconds a km, I can run further without muscle/joint soreness during the run and recover quicker. My energy levels on a run have been pretty steady on quite low volumes of food.
Downsides; After lots of long slow runs I feel pretty well set up to run slowly, but it doesn't feel like I have much spare speed or power to call on, so it is time for phase 2!
Training period 2 - Strength and speed - March:
Goal: The aim for this period is to build on maximum power, ensure good conditioning to make sure I am robust and protected from injury and improve my maximum speed.
This is going to be a mixed approach, gym based circuits, from SkiFit www.befitapps.com/skifit speed work on the trails, with short hill sprints for power and some high intensity bike sessions on the turbo trainer (especially on wet, snowy days!)
Training period 3 - Race specific - April to mid-may:
Coming next will be the fun bit, putting all of the training into practice on the hills. I will be aiming for as much volume of trail and mountain running as possible. I will include a week of back to back hills runs to match race fatigue and also have some plans for single monster days in the mountains.
Every now and again I look at the route and the distances and get a bit overwhelmed. This is massive for me, and I genuinely don't know how it is going to go. But I have to remember that is exactly the point, that is why I was so keen to enter and exactly what I like from an event, the challenge and the adventure of setting off not knowing what the outcome will be. It was the same for my stag-do Bob Graham round in 2012 and the same for my only Triathlon, The Celtman, ultra-Ironman in 2015, and I came 16th in that!.
Every day will be hard, every day will be different, but so long as I can stay injury free I will be at Cape Wrath on the 27th May feeling great!
Right, back to it.....!!
With only 4 months to go until the Berghaus Dragons back race it seems like a good time to take stock of my training and see what I still need to do.
“It always seems impossible until it is done” - Nelson Mandela
"It was a great day, really enjoyed it. I think I have the hang of it now!"
Lorna M, Navigation for runners 2018
"A very enjoyable day on all counts. Ian ran the course in a thoughtful and professional manner, and the course was tailored to meet everybody's objectives. (Really important point if you are not sure wether to go or not)"
John C, Navigation for runners
"Absolute professional - Ian inspires confidence in the most hostile of environments and couldn't be a more enthusiastic and capable guide. Can't wait to run with Ian again soon!"
Rob M, Celtman Support
"Ian's knowledge of the Scottish highlands and enthusiasm for running in the mountains, make him the perfect person to guide and advise you on an epic adventure!"