As a first objective for the 2015 season I chose the 125km TransGranCanaria after having participated in the Advanced 83km in 2013 and 2014 perspectively. The build up was pretty much perfect in terms of training, logistics and arriving ahead of time and settling in. I also knew the last 85km fairly well as it was the same course as 2014 Advanced. From here onwards, I learnt 3 things fairly early on:

  • The additional 42km and the night makes a lot of difference
  • I understood why this particular race has a “SERIES” classification on the World Tour
  • This island has a strong capacity to “eat up” participants (and 200+ it did!)

Challenges / variables

As with many mountain ultras, there’s always a large set of variables beyond prior physical and mental preparation. These were:

  • An earlier 23:00 start which translated to navigating 8 hours at night VS the usual 00:00 start time with 7 hours of darkness.
  • Strong winds predicted during the night, up until the 42km mark at Fontanales.
  • A dust cloud during Saturday, which complicates breathing and can also raise temperatures.
  • The afternoon is known for soaring temperatures in the thirties without much shade.
  • Micro climates – pretty much anything goes and weather forecasts may not be accurate.
  • An adjusted course which translated to 127.5km actual distance
  • 8666m of positive gain, with around 7000m just up until the 82km mark. That’s 90% of UTMB total elevation gain over a much shorter course.
  • A gazillion rocks 🙂

The start – Agaete

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Shared a taxi to the buses at Expomeloneras with two Brazilian elites that stayed at the same place, Manu Vilaseca and Chico Santos. The ride was pretty quick and we arrived in Agaete around 21:30 – lots of wind and a much lower temperature than in the south. I went to have coffee and bumped into Nuno Rocha, who I started the race with.

Agaete -> Tamadaba | 9.8km

The challenging climb of 1200m positive gain over 9.5km went very well. I stayed at a reasonable heart rate and didn’t care about placement as it was a convoy of runners up a single track with little margin to pass. Noticed the strong winds as we got to the end of the steep climb. Just grabbed some water and oranges on the way through the food station.

Tamadaba -> Tirma | 18.9km

After a short flat section, we diverted to a forest area during which I started noticing my head lamp changing intensity under the influence of branches and lights of other runners in front and behind me. The dreaded realization that it must be in “Reactive Mode” (adjusts intensity via a light sensor) and not “Constant Lighting” (constant output, drains batteries quicker). I didn’t bother to stop as the trail seemed to not be too technical, yet suddenly I crashed down pretty hard on my left side with trekking poles flying. Rock and roll. Got through the rest of it without further scrathes, but found it difficult to use the left thumb and also had minor lateral movement restriction on the left leg.

Tirma -> Artenara | 33.4km

I continued with this section alongside or just behind Brice Jacquot from Team Hoka, whom I met a few weeks ago in Madeira. I recall a group of 15 runners just rolling along. Fell again somewhere here, but the context is still unknown 🙂 My focus was to get to Artenara, where a friend (Emanuel Freitas) would have some medical kit handy where I could clean my hands. None of that happened and I didn’t spend too much time – opted to stock up on food and liquid instead.

Artenara -> Fontanales | 42.8km

Rolled with a small group and we made our way to Fontanales relatively quickly. I caught up with the Portuguese runner Ester Alves just before the food station, but decided to stay a bit longer and have some salty snacks. This is where the Advanced race started last year. At this point I was with this weird sensation of water staying a very long time in my stomach and usually salt and some sugar helps the absorbtion process along. In theory. I left just ahead of Fernanda Maciel.

Fontenales -> Valleseco | 50.3km

Weird Deja Vu doing this section at night and was pretty much alone, with Fernada a few hundred meters back. Got lost with 2 others for a few minutes before the climb up before Valleseco and wound up doing the last kilometers with Fernanda. She appeared to be having a hard time, being still in recovery from an Aconcagua record attempt a few weeks earlier. Grabbed some liquids and was out.

Valleseco -> Teror | 56.4km

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Covered most of this alone, but lost a few minutes again going off track just before the turn into Teror. Manu Vilaseca and Lucinda Sousa screamed with directions as they caught up from behind. I again had assistance from Emanuel, but didn’t take anything special beyond an energy bar with. I now knew controlling hydration was going to be tricky because I still had that “washing machine” sensation in the stomach, some thirst despite drinking a lot and also the sun was rising. And two of the bigger climbs of the day up to Talayón and then again to Garañón to conquer. The things we sign up for …

Teror -> Talayón | 62.8km

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I tried to climb at a decent rhythm, but it felt like a crawl and the Portuguese speaking trio of Ester, Lucinda and Manu was always a corner or two in front, but I let them to it as the women were having a great day 🙂 Passed a few others and was happy to arrive at Talayón and help myself to a generous serving of potato chips and more water. I caught up with the Spanish runner Pedro Bianco and talked to him for a bit, having Google translated many of his training articles and tidbits from Facebook. He was having an even worse day at the office and said he came to finish, and would do so walking, if it has to.

Talayón -> Tejeda | 71.2km

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I started having big difficulties urinating, despite taking in what I thought was more than enough liquid at the time. This didn’t make for pleasant running. Before the long descent to Tejeda, I caught up with Lucinda Sousa who dropped back from the trio and wasn’t feeling too good. We ran together until Tejeda.

Tejeda -> Garañón | 82km

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I stayed a few minutes here to take some more food and liquid in. And eyeballed Roque Nublo as one of the last difficult challenges prior to my drop bag at Garañón and the last marathon to Meloneras. Many runners of the Advanced race started passing. Difficulties with emptying the bladder continued and for a while I was wondering how sensible it would be going up to Garañón, which is 11km without much access for any assistance. I pushed along, climbed slowly and eventually arrived at Garañón feeling semi-trainwrecked. But the kind that probably would pass with some recovery window. After the bag check, I asked if it was possible to speak to a doctor as I was getting worried about not being able to urinate. They checked blood pressure, blood glucose and oxygen levels, which was all reasonable. I had the option to accept “soro” (IV therapy) and being forced to stop, or stick around a while, attempt to rehydrate and then descend at own risk. I stayed 45 minutes, ate well, took a few glasses of water and about 6 black teas with sugar and informed the organisation I’ll continue.

Garañón -> Tunte | 94.5km

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After the short yet steep climb to Pico de las Nieves I noticed the big blanket of dust and the rising temperatures on the rocky descent down to Tunte. My main goals here was to try to get to Tunte without sweating too much, which is like asking a baby to never cry. I slowed down further as I thought it was still possible to arrive at the end in under 20 hours without pushing too much.

Tunte -> Arteara | 108.6km

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As in 2015, someone was responsible for dropping buckets of water on those willing to accept. Marvelous! I took several cups of water and some fruit in. Also discovered ice amongst the orange pieces and helped myself to a few of them too. I left here walking the small hill unil the road and called my coach to explain what was going on with the hydration situation. He recommended to take it very easy, try to finish, but if it gets worse, to reconsider. The climb out of Tunte went fine and I wanted to finish the 1.5l of water I had with me before the next aid station, 14kms away. The hot as hell dirt roads and zig-zag descent was just as demoralizing as in 2014. Again focussed on getting water and salt right here. The situation didn’t get better, but also didn’t get worse. It was controlled.

Arteara -> Machacadora | 119.5km

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The Swedish runner Elov Olsson caught up with me and we decided to roll at a rhythm of 05:30 to 05:00 minutes per km until the end, which meant sub 20 hours and a nice buffer to spare. I started feeling bad again just before Machacadora, slowed down and told him I’ll seen him at the end. Stocked up on a little more water for the 8km stretch to the end. I was very much motivated by a 1L shandy with ice, even though I don’t really like beer very much.

Machacadora -> Meta | 127.5km

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About halfway into the river, 19:15 since departing Agaete I saw the familiar frame of Chico Santos in front of me. He wasn’t feeling good and had difficulties in breathing from the dust cloud. As we say in Portuguese, “mais coisa, menos coisa” – at this point, neither time nor placing matters and we did the stretch to the end together, mostly walking and reflecting on the night and day. We crossed the meta in 19:55. Happiness!

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Passing thoughts

I consider this race more difficult than TDS or Madeira Island Ultra Trail and worth every of the 4 UTMB points. It’s fairly early in the season and even with 2 to 3 months of preparation, still very violent right off the bat.

Organisation was excellent as usual. I heard some random complaints about course markings and the food stations, however it’s the same for everyone. Par for the course. It’s an ultra marathon after all and uncertainties are to be expected. It’s how you deal with them that matters most. Rock OR roll!

Move: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move55955093

Exercise vs Training

The dictionary defines exercise as “bodily or mental exertion, especially for the sake of training or improvement of health”. To keep this definition simple, let’s break it down to two things:

  • exertion: Stress applied for an adaptive response (being uncomfortable)
  • health: A state of body balance, without disease or injury (feeling good)

As with typically skewed RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) values for macro and micro nutrients in food, it is said that 30 minutes of “exercise” per day is required for optimal health. What does 30 minutes of exercise mean?

Walking to pickup the paper? A spinning class? Some running? Gardening for a while? Choosing stairs? Climbing a mountain? Swinging kettlebells?

Often in the trail running community I hear (or read on social media) this typical progression towards some races:

“I entered Fashionable Challenge X 2014 to see if I improved. It’s been difficult to train more than twice a week the last 3 months, but we will do a course recognition on Sunday and then I should be ready. I stationary biked and used the treadmill as weather’s been pretty bad.”

Epic fail.

Exertion

Lets analyze exertion within the context of two common personas – the happy-go-lucky weekend warrior and a fitness fanatic. They’re both looking to run ultras.

Tim, 36 year old weekend warrior

Tim stand up paddles, bikes, runs and little bits of other things inbetween. Because cross training, it works. He’s injured often.

He sacrificed a Sunday with family for the synergy of mud, sweat and … 23 selfies power hiking the 47km course he’d be running next week. Competitively. 8 hours, 7 sandwiches and 4 cokes, check. 200% of the weekly RDA for exercise.

Sustained weekly exertion: not enough for an aerobic development response. Sometimes potent enough to get hurt.

Telmo, 27 year old that doesn’t know moderation

Telmo trains 17 hours a week – runs 11 and 6 hours crossfit. Because you get fit on WODs. Gets by on kinesio tape.

He feels utter crap on Sunday morning after his 2 hour tempo run on Friday and his 11 x 7 minutes intervals the day after. Yoda said shit bricks, you shall. 3 espressos and 2 Voltarens and he’s out on the trail. 30km, insanely high HR, but he’s happy with his pace for next week. Broken, but “happy”.

Sustained weekly exertion: predominantly anaerobic development for aerobic challenges. He’s chronically overtrained with busted adrenal glands.

Both are applying a stimulus, but towards the opposite ends of beneficial and healthy.

Health

Our body is a network of complex subsystems that lends itself very well to adaption. Hit the weights often enough and muscle and bone density increases, practice aerobic sports and the heart and circulatory system also changes. Do nothing, acquire a spare tire.

HOWEVER, adaption is a double edged sword.

Tim (weekend warrior) won’t ever near his athletic potential because he doesn’t stress his body enough for a steady adaptive response. When he does “exercise”, it’s either for too long at too low an intensity or too fast out of the blocks that he gets injured. He’s exercising, but not improving or getting healthier.

Telmo also won’t ever reach his peak, but for VERY different reasons. His body is adapting though, but towards that of an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, without any skills. He’s exercising, but also not improving or getting healthier.

There’s this misconception that fit individuals are always healthy. The state of the body at the time of the stress response always dictates development. If your legs are heavy, your heart rate is sky high but you’re at your normal tempo run, you’re long not doing a tempo run anymore.

Both are exercising, but exertion does not improve health for either and they’re not aligned with their goals of running ultras. There’s a better way.

Training

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We all have different motivations for gearing up and moving. Fresh air, being in nature, having some quiet time, burning excess calories, vitamin D, improving physical condition and a whole lot more. However, the danger of habit lies in just doing the same thing over for whatever reason you’re motivated for getting laced up in the first place.

That, however, is all still just exercise. It’s short term focussed, for today, not necessarily part of a bigger picture.

Training on the other hand implies a more systematic and measurable approach to being able to progress. The dictionary agrees:

“the education, instruction, or discipline of a person or thing that is being trained”

Training is about a process, not a single workout or bout of “exercise”. There’s thus a much longer investment in time towards a better defined goal. For some that goal is a faster finishing time, others loosing weight. What’s very important though is a focus on improvement AND a relatively well defined goal. Finish Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in 25 hours. Loose 5kg during the next month.

Exercise should line up with an embrace those goals. YOU HAVE TO HAVE A POINT. And you have to be able to prove a progression towards that point, not on any given day, but over a period of time.

It’s possible to excel in exercise, yet totally suck at training.

Telling the difference

It’s almost 2015 and that time of the year where pavements and trails are packed, until January 7. Everyone that sucked in air during that first week and stopped, exercised. Ditto for gyms, new memberships and equipment queues.

What do you want to achieve?

Any metric, be it bodyweight, how high you can jump, far or fast you can run, is game. As long as you work towards that goal. And systematically get there. Happy training!

Solemates

I was very fortunate to grow up in a somewhat rural farm environment in the Western Cape, South Africa. Barefoot, most of the time – shoes were optional for school until age 13, yet compulsory for church. We also played sports, mostly rugby and cricket, without any footwear. Ditto for running around a grass “track” around the football fields.

Today still I’m mostly a flip flops and shorts guy. I own some shoes though. Too many running shoes, 1 pair of formal shoes and a few sneakers I just don’t use very much.

Sensors

Our feet are one of the most sensitive parts of our bodies. They’re also the foundation for most of the physical activity we do. Each foot has:

* 35 joints
* 28 bones
* 120 ligaments
* a variety of muscles
* some 7000+ nerve endings

Thus during the duration of each gait cycle (transition of the lower limbs while walking or running), there’s thousands of inputs and messages being sent back to our body. More remarkably, all of these sensory inputs has been fine tuned by many thousands of years of evolution. We trust safety and warning systems in our cars, yet turn our own OFF.

… by wearing and mostly running with excessively padded shoes.

Shoes

I’m neither a proponent of minimalist nor the Hoka cushioned movement. My running shoe collection is represented by both edges, with some in between that range. I also don’t think there’s a “perfect” shoe. If we revisit the foot stats above, there’s a metric ton of moving parts that can be adapted and trained. Joints, bones, ligaments, muscles and awareness of feedback from those nerve endings.

Variable soles

Stability and mobility of the feet are instrumental for a long and injury free running career. The feet has direct impact on the running gait. I believe it’s extremely beneficial to rotate shoes between workouts in order to avoid overuse injuries, emphasize different muscles and also tune sensory feedback.

Variable terrain

In addition to swapping shoes, changing to terrain from street, to grass, to mixed, to stones and rough mountain amplifies such training effects. Ditto for gradients such as climbs and descents.

If you regularly train a pancake flat loop, with the same shoes, you’re in trouble!

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My current state

I’m currently rotating between:

* Asics Gel Zaraca 2 (minimalist road)
* Haglofs Gram Comp
* La Sportiva Bushido (considered minimalist trail, but still has heavy support)

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For the volume of running I do (60 to 120km+ per week depending on where I’m at in a training cycle), it’s important to strike a balance between mixing things up YET also be able to go out tomorrow or the next week without my feet being a mess. Therefore, heavier shoes with more support also has it’s place during higher volume weeks.

During your next run, “touch” the ground with your feet. Connect with it. Read and interpret. Feet never lie.

Passing thoughts

I wear contact lenses. They’re a tuned and optimized for my current level of eyesight. I sometimes also wear glasses to mix things up. If I wear neither, do I see well? NO. If I only wear thicker lenses, do I see better? NO.

Preparation for the TDS was a 12 week training cycle (including a 2 week taper with reduced volume) of specific training with lots of vertical. I commenced with training after a short recovery block after the Azores Trail Run and had a recovery week in pancake flat Amsterdam mid June.

Arrival

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We took care of travel logistics (flights, transfers and housing) in January already and the trip out was uneventful. We arrived before 15:00 in Chamonix, settled in for a while, went for a jog and then headed out to watch the start of the PTL. The weather was mellow with some cloud cover, however we knew worse times were coming. Afterwards we took care of groceries for the next few days with everyone carrying a few bags back home. I took a lot of cheese (when in Rome), a bunch of avocados and some red wine (always compulsory) with for snacks.

We prepared dinner and those doing TDS (most of us) started getting gear ready for the checkin the following day. I went to be early and had a good rest.

Checkin

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Woke up to p*ssing rain during the night and even more of it during the morning and it shaped up to probably be a very very wet and slippery TDS, much like the 2012 edition. Went for a short 30 minute jog, got soaked and was quickly reminded just how cold being wet in chilly conditions feel.

For checkin I had a chance to test the waterproof specification of my new WAA Ultra rain jacket and thankfully in passed during a good 20 minutes of standing about in heavy rain. The only organisation feedback I have at this point is the short checkin window (one afternoon) for the 1600 TDS participants – all other races have slots across 2 days. I went through random obligatory material checks as well We found a pizza place with a multi-course “trailer” menu for lunch and afterwards headed to the trail zone and picked up a few last minute items at really good prices.

Dinner was spent again finalizing bags, charging phones and GPS watches and putting clothes ready for dressing real quick at 4am the next morning. I also put breakfast ready, prepped the coffee machine and headed to bed just after 21:00.

Race day

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Had a good almost 7 hours of sleep without interruption and was dressed up and having breakfast (energy cake, bananas and some coconut milk, water and coffee) by 04:00. Sergio and Sidonio joined me a few minutes later and we met up with everyone else just outside the house and made our way to the bus departure zone in downtown a while before 05:00. Missed our designated 05:00 bus, but made it to the 05:30 one. Good spirits throughout the bus ride, along stop at the tunnel en route to Courmayeur and had some last snacks and sips of water before getting off the bus and dropping halfway bags at the departure.

Courmayeur

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This was the biggest race in terms of total participants (1600) for me thus far. The ambient was great and emotional – an energy that’s very difficult to put in words. After the Italian national anthem, we set off through some streets of Courmayeur before commencing with the first climb into the mountains. I was expecting a narrow single track, but it was quite wide and runnable without much congestion. I controlled heart rate for the climb very well and never spent much time in a high or red zone.

Col Checkrouit (7km)

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Used the bathroom quickly, then grabbed some water and isotonic before setting off again. It was starting to feel colder a little higher up and I noticed a strong headwind on the descent towards Lac Combal. Beautiful view of snow covered mountains accross. Noticed Arnaud Julia Bonmati coming up from behind and I let him pass. He took the win in 2013, coming back some 30 places towards the end. Extremely windy section next to the water.

Lac Combal (15km)

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Had some chocolate, cheese (when in Rome!) and stocked up on liquids before going up what looked like a “hill” in comparison to what awaits us later in the day. A long and winding dirt road section followed and I just setlled into a comfortable stride, low heart rate and let gravity do it’s work. I’ve learned from past ultras that going hard on these flowing sections set you up for serious muscle strain later on. Went through some streams, cattle and another small lake before another short climb up to to Col du Petit Saint-Bernard.

Col du Petit Saint-Bernard (36km)

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The usual liquids refill, grabbed some banana pieces and a salty broth and eased into what would be one of the longest descents of the whole course. Temperature started rising a few kilometres later as we went into the valley to the first checkpoint with assistance. Nice single track, lots of kids waving flags and a run through a park and picnic area. At this point I regretted not having neither sunscreen nor sunglasses, but so it goes. Lots of movement at the checkpoint.

Bourg St-Maurice (51km)

I had some coke, refilled liquid and took a few minutes to consume various bits of food I don’t really remember. My backpack got checked for mandatory gear prior to departure. We passed several houses on what was the start of probably one of the longest climbs on the course. Noticed many families having mega sized ice cold beers in their gardens. That thought soon detracted by the single track into the climb. It was very very hot on the way up and I passed several runners, many of them just standing gasping for breathe or working hard, but not really moving. Bourg St-Maurice to Cormet de Roseleno was 16km odd and it felt like more than an hour for what was the 5km up to Fort de La Platte.

Fort de La Platte (56km)

There was a bunch of us in a train, spread out over a few hundred meters. This would continue mostly until Col du Joly, where the group spread out. A fun climb and very technical descent into the “halfway” section at 67km where we had access to our drop bag too.

Cormet de Roseleno (66km)

Refilled on gels, liquids and spent maybe 10 to 15 minutes here, taking time to eat and drink well as the next aid station was 19km and 1700mD+ away, with some unforgiving terrain. Realized maybe 2km after leaving I probably consumed too much, but the first part was a longish climb, so there was time for the stomach contents to settle. The descent into La Gitte was very beautiful, with sunshine and many grassy hills.

La Gitte (74km)

Replaced fluids from a water tank and went straight into the next climb. Unforviging, with soft terrain that often gave way, it was getting colder, visibility wasn’t that good going up and the descent was tricky, with some large rocks and plenty of mud. A few more kilometres and we arrived at a super chilly Col du July.

Col du Joly (86km)

Took some time here again to eat and drink well before a long drop towards Les Contamines. Daylight was fading so I mounted my headlamp already, entered a dirt road which soon became a techinical and wet descent through a forest down to Les Contamines. My GPS watch died here too, so flying blind until the end. Pitch dark between the trees. No runners in front, or behind. It’s always nice moments being alone too, but also can’t help to constantly wonder if one’s not lost. The course markings were very reflective against the headlamps and it was almost easier keeping tabs on the course at night than during the day. Tedious flat section before Les Contamines.

Les Contamines (95km)

Again took a few minutes to refuel and was quite optimistic to know that there’s only 23km missing until Chamonix, however combined with a 1300mD+ elevation change, that’s never easy at the tail end of an ultra (more on this later). I also bumped into Sergio’s wife, Nivalda, who was waiting for him on the way into Les Contamines. Started with the climb up feeling pretty good, passed 2 runners and noticed a few lights behind me too. Had music playing loud and continued up the dirt road, only after about 10 minutes realising I probably went off course and passed an important turn as I couldn’t see any lights behind or in front. Backtracked a few minutes, which is always risky on an uphill because if you were in fact on course before, you’d have to climb up again. Saw lights coming up the hill a while later and noticed them taking a left into the forest. Followed suite and lost maybe 15 to 20 minutes with the navigational error. We climbed in a group of 3, went down pretty fast and then probably had the worse experience of the whole course. Col de Tricot. A WALL!!!! This climb was so steep, the path went up in a zig zag and literally it felt like you’re not even moving despite grinding pretty hard. Ditto for the lights in front – they appeared to also just be “standing”. Was happy to pass through the top, however it wasn’t over, just yet. Some more single track with marginal climbs, a checkpoint before the last descent and what a fun ride it was going through the muddy forest before some tarmac into Les Houches.

Les Houches (111km)

Didn’t stick around too much here as I knew I could comfortably do a sub 19h final time even if I worst case just jogged to the end. Word had it it’s all flat into Chamonix, but the course was mostly a gradual few degrees climb on mixed terrain for about 8km. Was pretty stoked to reach the “1km missing” barrier, knowing it’s pretty much in the bag and looking forward to all sorts of forbidden food at the end.

Chamonix (119km)

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Nivalda, Ana , Paulo and a few others were at the finish, also waiting for Sergio, who was still a few hours back. I arrived 01:45 and remember sensations of relief, joy but also coming to grips with probably a few damaged toes and an intense burning sensation in the lungs from the altitude changes during the course. Managed to come in 34th out of 1600 runners, first Portuguese back “home”. Bumped into Sebastien Nain who arrived 90 minutes earlier, exchanged some words and we took a photo together. I made my way towards the food and drinks area, another Portuguese, João Nunes arrived and we had a beer together before I started shivering from the cold. Time for a hot shower!

Thursday

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I went back to the finish line to wait for Sergio’s arrival, but to also get fresh chocolate croissants and hot coffee from the bakery in town that opens between 05:00 and 06:00. I could not manage to sleep before 07:15 and woke up at 10:00 pretty fresh given the pounding of the day before.

Went downtown for a while, watched the others come in, had some more to eat and then went home to try to recover some hours of sleep before dinner.

Leisure time

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The TDS is the first of the UTMB races to finish up, so it was quite nice to be able to kick back and wind down after the adventure while everyone else (CCC, UTMB and OCC) runners still had to grind some teeth. I spent Thursday and Friday mostly just being around the house, taking the odd walk into town and catching up with work. Also spent a lot of time eating, but managed to keep it cleanish, although the volume was still quite large.

Friday after the wet UTMB departure, a few of us went shopping and racked up some expenses from the Millet, Salomon, The North Face and other stores in what’s probably the closest to 5th Avenue New York that I’ve seen for trail and outdoor thus far.

Sunday

Today was “tourist” day – we went up to Aiguille du Midi  and then visited Mer de Glace before a dinner of epic sized pizzas!

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Takeaways

  • Train at altitude before doing any of the UTMB races. The median altitude for TDS was 2200m with 2600m peaks. Back home in Madeira our highest peak is 1900m, at which altitude it’s not really possible to train for very long distances. I’d fly out a while before and spend some time above 2500m for a few days where possible. The cable care up to Aiguille du Midi is a good option too. It’s possible to spend a few hours per day there, just hanging out in the building, eating, reading, working etc.
  • I didn’t do any recon of the course, other than a rough overview of the profile map. I would most definitely consider doing some of the UTMB courses, especially the tail end, to have a sense of what to expect towards the end. Les Contamines is 23km out from the finish at Chamonix, it was however a downright nasty section of the course with some really intense climbs that I wasn’t expecting at all. Probably also good to have a mega dose of some caffeine source prior to leaving there.
  • Pickup as much water as you can from natural sources (streams, waterfalls etc.) when available as there’s some sections of 18km+ that’s going to set you back more than 2 hours and a 1L minimum capacity won’t fly there.
  • Have warm soup. Everywhere.
  • Walking sticks. Use them religiously. Do most hill training with them too.
  • In terms of pacing and strategy, I’d probably would have been more careful during kms 30 through 51, maintain a better average from 51 through 87km and then be more focussed on that last climb out of Les Contamines – it can be worth 10 to 15 positions in that section alone.
  • Col de Tricot means “a wall” 🙂 You will dream that, for days.
  • Pay close attention to weather forecasts. And have good gear. Seriously, don’t cut corners here.
  • Get into a proper sleep rhythm of bed by 20:00 a few days prior in order to be able to wake up before 04:00 on race day, functional. The devil’s in the details, but you can literally stuff up months of work by failing with sleep.

With that, I’m closing the season without any more ultras this year. Ditto for Grand Raid Reunion. I will structure 2015 around 3 races to free up some time for other projects.

Trail running Training Zones

Running mostly focusses on maintaining a consistent pace and effort over a prolonged period. This is perfect for the aerobic system, which prefers a set intensity over a given time, much like a car being in the same gear on a highway.

Trail, mountain, fell and cross country running are very different beasts though. Uneven footing, hills with varied inclination, descents, terrain differences, jumps, altitude and temperature changes etc. Initially adjusting to, progression and eventually competition requires training to respect these race conditions.

It can also be (“can” because there’s prevention for almost everything) very violent on muscles, joints, bones and the metabolic and nervous systems. A rough 100km ultra could be the equivalent of 10 to 16 hours of continuous gym, running, jumping and a multitude of other movements, while being sleep deprived, somewhat dehydrated and with too much or too little nutrition depending on your progression through aid stations.

A good training programme not only includes preparation for all of the above, but also race specificity – adjusting training load and working on specific aspects more prominent for a given objective. But first, let’s talk fuel ..

Energy sources

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For the context of ultra endurance events, I’ll focus on the 2 primary sources for those …

Glycogen

Carbohydrate resources stored in the muscles and the liver. This supply is limited to about 2000kcal, enough to power 90 to 120 minutes of high intensity exercise. If you ever “hit the wall”, then you know what it feels like when this runs out 🙂 Glycogen is thus 4kcal x 500g (1g of glycogen/carbohydrates is equal to 4kcal) for most athletes. The 2000kcal ceiling is for highly trained athletes – most have less.

Used when training intensity is high, high end of the aerobic zone or above.

Fat

Fat stores in the body that provide a concentrated source of energy. As intensity decreases, fat becomes a very important fuel source as it spares glycogen as a primary fuel source. We can store up 80 000kcal+ in the body (1g of fat is 9kcal), thus it’s a limitless energy supply. I’ll cover “Fat Adaption” in an upcoming post.

Used at lower intensity exercise, mostly in the aerobic zone.

Training zones

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A good training plan incorporates training at various intensities, each very important for adaptions specific to races of varied profiles. Zones are also complimentary (high intensity MUST co-exist with recovery etc.)

Recovery

Performed at very low intensity and helps to clear out lactate and other metabolic waste from hard workouts. Also very important for aerobic system adaptions and “resetting” the cardio and nervous systems.

Fuel: mostly fat, but also some glycogen

Aerobic

Improves aerobic efficiency – the body’s ability to produce energy in the presence of oxygen. You’d mostly race in this zone.

Fuel: hybrid fat and glycogen, about 50% each when exactly on your Maff zone.

Threshold training

High intensity tempo runs to raise lactate threshold and tolerance. Helps to teach your body to use lactate more efficiently, so it takes longer to build up in your blood.

Fuel: Mostly glycogen, 70%+

Anaerobic

Helps the body resist conditions of hypoxia(lack of oxygen) and trains it to maintain a high intensity in the presence of metabolic waste.

Fuel: Mostly glycogen, 90%+

A simple formula for your aerobic zone

An easy and mostly accurate method for finding your aerobic zone is the 180-Formula. It requires training and controlling intensity with a heart rate monitor.

180 – <your_age>

You can measure progress of your aerobic system over time by using the MAF test . A better and more reliable way is having a stress and lactate test performed in a lab.

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A few guidelines

Depending on how many days you can train per week, a balanced plan includes all of the above zones, except when you are in taper or recovery. The end goal is to grow efficiency (running economy) in your aerobic zone, but also allow your body to respond well to more intense climbs etc. Be careful with high intensity sessions – they should always be followed by a recovery session.

An example of how this translates to trail

Profil-TDS-2014

The profile above is for the upcoming TDS® (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie)

The race profile has an average altitude of less than 2000m, but there’s several peaks above 2000m, with most of time at altitude being from 56km to 86km.

Things to watch out for:

  • It starts with a steep climb from km 2 – potential for lactate accumulation right off the bat if that first climb isn’t performed with caution
  • I’d be in high aerobic, but still within threshold zones and dips in anaerobic on most of the climbs
  • Flat sections (there aren’t many 🙂 ) are mid to high end aerobic zones
  • Descents are performed at aerobic or less, sometimes in recovery zone depending on the gradient
  • Most metabolic waste would accumulate on ascents
  • Most muscle damage occur on the descents
  • 15km -> 36km: potential for overreaching and having to do the climb towards 56km with elevated blood lactate levels
  • 56km -> 86km: reduce intensity as heart rate would be slightly higher due to altitude
  • 86km to 105km: critical valley to control fuel for the finish
  • 111km -> finish: let rip in aerobic zone or whatever else is left

Resistance VS Assistance

Last year, more or less after we started our new business venture, I picked up a copy of Steven Pressfield‘s Do the Work to get real with what we just set ourselves up for. I read The War of Art a few years before, which has been a game changer towards getting the absolutely essentials done, well. I remembered just how brutal and direct he was.

Especially with procrastination that affects every one of us, dearly. You can’t avoid it, but awareness and acknowledgement of things that set ourselves up to be less productive allow us to identify and attempt to manage such weak moments.

Resistance

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Sometimes before, or when, setting out to do something we deem important, there’s that little voice inside. That discourages. An internal dialogue commences. One that keeps you from getting busy. The harder you grind, the worse it gets. Self-defeating thoughts. As Steven Pressfield says, resistance, it’s a law of nature, a fairly simple one to identify:

Where there is a Dream, there is Resistance.

Thus: where we encounter Resistance, somewhere nearby is a Dream.

Examples of such roadblocks in daily life

  • Having to have an important conversation, but delaying it
  • Adapting healthier habits
  • Getting a new business venture going
  • Hell, even keeping one up and running 🙂
  • Sticking to that diet
  • Leaving that job that drains you
  • Allocating more time for family and friends
  • Learning anything new

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And as an ultrarunner you probably know resistance as …

  • Inability to do regular STRETCHING 🙂
  • Regular muscle, core and other strength work
  • Power hiking up a hill you probably should be running
  • Kilometre 60 in a rough ultra, your glutes are mush, but there’s a 1500mD+ climb on the race profile
  • Being too conservative in picking challenges and objectives. Mediocre goals means little growth.
  • Absence of training logs
  • Spending time getting mentally prepared for intervals and speed work. It’s going to hurt regardless. And you will hyperventilate. Just suck it up
  • Not complying with recovery and cross training.

Resistance is a naysayer – it’s “something” that enters your thoughts. I tries to paralyse you. But, it’s NOT YOU, just an external force. It also manifests as fear, addiction, perfectionism etc.

Assistance

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Ironically, one of the best “antidotes” against resistance is pretty much against most of the principles we learn as children, at home and at school. Resistance likes rational thought – it can then reason with you, towards the negative.

If there’s an item on your todo list. And it’s important. Then just begin with it – it’s a LOT harder figuring out what’s important and should be on that list VS just getting down and dirty with starting to work on it. In other words, “start before you’re ready” … pretty much like setting off for any ultra 🙂

Pressfield also states that for every law of nature, there’s also an opposite. When working on something, you produce energy. A force. Every run starts with a few small steps. The fact that you’re already out, with shoes on, putting one foot in front of the other, sets you up for a “tailwind” that is assistance, sometime down the road. Or up the mountains 🙂 But the wind can only help you, IF you’re busy running already … So, lace up. And siga!

I personally prefer to start executing on anything, violently. It’s not going to be perfect. But it’s a step in the right direction. If there’s a second chance, I know what the other 20% should look like. If not, I learnt from the 80% what didn’t work. “Organised chaos” as a life principle tends to work pretty damn well.

Of priorities

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As noted above, resistance is a potent indicator of what we should be doing. However, we can still split those into 2 distinct groups:

  • what’s urgent: has to happen right now, like pay your IRS bill by midnight
  • what’s important: being present and supportive when you’re child’s born

When you’re pressed for time, always tackle what’s important, before what’s urgent. An example:

If you miss your deadline for the IRS bill in favour of seeing your son cry for the first time, you’ve missed out on something urgent and probably will be fined, BUT showed up for what’s really really important.

Be careful, very careful with that distinction. A few extra hours at work here and there may be temporary urgency, but the effects of the important individuals in your life may be irreversible.

As a passing thought, life is mostly a tug of war between resistance and assistance. Let resistance guide you towards identifying the most important things you should be doing. Then START, and focus on assistance as a means of getting there. And do the work® 🙂

Usually a major pain point in race preparation is figuring out exactly what the regulations for required material actually mean. There’s soooo MANY races being organised nowadays, however there’s no common set of standard rules used across the board, so one has to read the fine print. Every single time. It gets worse with last minute weather changes as well.

Admittedly a touchy subject because sometimes a rule isn’t black or white, but grey and I imagine it won’t be much fun being disqualified at the end a 164km race for “misinterpretation” 🙂

MUCH worse though – the regulations are there for safety. As Paulo Pires always says: “In the mountains, the mountain commands. You merely have some permission to play. And to play safe”. If requirements are “waterproof jacket” and you rock up with a 100g super light Gore-Tex  garment, but temperatures at 2500m altitude would be negative, you COMPLY, but not to SAFETY

The problem

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Let’s start with a basic problem definition. Here’s an example from the The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®, which I went through yesterday to see if I’m missing anything for TDS:

“two torches in good working condition with replacement batteries”. Which of the following combinations are valid?

  • What does “good working condition” mean? A 200 lumens light that can still beam 140 lumens?
  • Is one set of extra batteries required for the 2 lamps, or a set for each lamp?
  • Do the torches need to be the same? Can the backup be weaker and lighter than primary?
  • Any minimum lumens specification? You can maybe get by with 30 lumens, but it’s not safe.
  • Can batteries be rechargeable as well?

“stock of water minimum 1 litre”

  • A standard 1L camelback container (aka “bladder”)?
  • Are 2 water bottles of 500ml each sufficient?
  • 500ml water bottle and a camelback reserve?
  • 500ml water bottle and a few small handheld ones?

“warm and waterproof gloves”

  • They have to cover all the fingers too, right?

Thus there’s a LOT that’s open to interpretation, with compliance being any of:

  • Overcompensation – some will depart with a huge 300 lumens light or 2L water, just to be sure and safe
  • On the line – some folks would set out with sketchy and super lightweight lamps, with a 50% chance of going blank at the worst time.
  • “Meh, I don’t care- this is probably fine”

A proposed solution

I come from a technology background, for which the industry is mostly built around a set of strict and well defined standards for interoperation between different parties. It’s also easier to comply with rules and regulations if they are easy to understand. We need an accountant MOST of the time to understand how we should hand over money to the government, but ultra running should just be simple. And hassle free. And fun.

Interoperation

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There’s usually multiple layers for safety and regulations. Local government, medical staff, race insurance, the organisation and the athletes. It should be super simple for each of those to speak the same “language”, which means better compliance and better interoperation.

Standards

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A common language. One that’s not open to interpretation, lawyer or consultant speak. Here’s a few glove examples:

* “[G0] gloves, covers full hand, windproof”
* “[G1] gloves, covers full hand, windproof and water resistant”
* “[G2] gloves, covers full hand, windproof and waterproof”

… and lights:

* “[L0] 100 lumens light, set of extra batteries”
* “[L1] 150 lumens light, set of extra batteries”
* “[L2] 100 lumens light, 2 sets of extra batteries”
* “[L3] 150 lumens light, 2 sets of extra batteries”

Thus for a short race with predictable weather conditions:

  • gloves, G0
  • light, L0

… and mega ultra with unpredictable weather:

  • gloves, G2
  • light, L3

Something similar to Microformats, which is a set of open standards for how to render reviews, contact information etc. on web pages. Athletes and others can click through and very quickly understand what’s required for lights, gloves etc. for any particular race.

A pipeline for brands

painkiller

I’m a firm believer in consumer products having to be pain killers. And not vitamins – “nice to haves”. For this reason,
having an industry and manufacturers focussed on regulatory compliance, safety, comfort and striving to for example produce the “best possible set of Gore-Tex gloves (full hand)”, everybody wins. Big time. The world doesn’t need yet another variation of a Bonatti®, Hyvent® etc.

This also creates a strong marketing pipeline and consumer feedback from regulations. “For approved L0 and G2 products, click through.” “See reviews for L3 compliant products.”

However, such changes need to start from within the playground – the races. And other events. In the better interests of the athletes. Both in the mountains, and their sanity during preparations.

Just my 2 cents. Tear it up. Or down 🙂

Showing up

Pretty much the moment we set foot in school, we’re conditioned for leaning towards the upper bound of the 0 to 100% scale. I initially subscribed to and complied with this mentality too, almost always in the 90%+ ballpark, until grade 8. At that point I realised there wasn’t much free time for another passion – reverse engineering how things worked.

Naturally, I invested less time and could get to the 75 to 80% ballpark by working an order of magnitude less. This was my first introduction to the Pareto principle and also what Tim Ferriss later covered as Minimum Effective Dose (MED)

Pareto and Principle of least effort

pareto_principle

The Pareto principle states that “roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”. This translates very much to what we know society as today: 20% of the population has 80% of money, 20% of your customers or clients yield 80% of your turnover etc. Most important however relates to investment of time:

It takes 80% of the time total usually to finish the last 20% of whatever you’re busy with.

That’s exactly why so many projects fail (read: never complete), it’s so difficult to change course with some things and also where “overtime” sneaks into modern life 🙂

The principle of least effort states that “animals, people, even well designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or ‘effort'”. Effective laziness. There’s only two options here: change your environment to be more suitable or change yourself to be more suitable to your environment

Consistent 100% efforts are bullsh*t

100effort

Performance is never linear. It’s always going up and down. My best, your best etc. is determined by so many factors on a given day. A 100% effort is actually a very very rare occurrence. We can for example apply this to percentage of time spent at maximum heart rate – you’d spend very little time (no more than a few minutes) in even the most intense build cycles. Most individuals can’t even reach real max HR due to the level of pain required to get there.

There’s a better way …

Endurance training and Pareto

So what school initially and having a coach now guiding me towards 4 primarily annual goals, taught me, is that consistency matters. The basic math here is quite simple :

5 efforts at 90% objective / goal intensity is MUCH better than 1 x 100% effort and 2 x 95% efforts that leave you broken (“de rastos” as we say in Portuguese).

Your goal with endurance training is to stimulate the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, energy and other subsystems for adaption. Let’s say our objectives for a given week are :

* Monday – 1 hour recovery intensity (to cleanup the long run from Sunday)
* Tuesday – 1 hour tempo run
* Wednesday – 1 hour recovery
* Thursday – 1.5 hours at race intensity
* Friday – 30 mins anaerobic intervals
* Saturday – 1 hour recovery
* Sunday – 4 hour long run, race intensity

Let’s also assume the chosen intensities are achievable – nothing crazy that leaves you gasping for breath, other than the intervals 🙂

For this build cycle the following training days are the most important:

  • tempo run – lactate tolerance and running economy
  • intervals – lactate threshold, running economy, stroke volume etc.

However the ultimate objective is:

  • nursing the long run, the climax of the week’s work

Pareto principle at work:

  • Notice how 20% of the really hard effort is spread across 2 workouts – the tempo on Tuesday and the intervals on Friday.
  • The other 80% is spread out around it, but crucial to getting the maximum benefit from the week’s output – recovery and diverging towards race intensity.
  • Thus 20% of the total work time yields us the most adaptions.
  • BUT the 80% is crucial for reaching the level of required intensity of the 20% work allotment

Principle of least effort:

  • A clear path of least resistance – only 2 really intense workouts during the week.

Lifestyle and habits

I can’t stress enough the importance of turning good habits into a lifestyle – something that becomes an integral part of you, but that still must not define you.

Feeling rundown? Reduce intensity. Focus on the 20% that matters, but show up 100% of the time.

habits

The Economy of Time

Every day when the clock ticks over at 00:00, we all have the same 24 hour time allotment. Yours is as precious as mine, as is that of the homeless man down the street, the 6 year old at school and the terminally sick 86 year old in hospital. Time doesn’t care about race, social status or where you come from. We’re raised in a society largely based on numbers, however accounting of and accountability for time spent is something very often overlooked. And terribly misunderstood.

There’s a very fine balance between too little and too much idle time. Both can be stressful. Here’s a few things to think about …

Non-evolutionary concept

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Time and clocks is something very recent in the context of our evolution. It was always only ever defined by light, mostly sunrise and sundown. Daylight having been a major window of opportunity to migrate, hunt, settle or outrun a predator. Night time to recharge. If you sucked at managing it, you’d either die of hunger (not find food as weather changes) or be eaten (the saber-tooth tiger caught up). Survival of the fittest, in this case merely just being on top of a single soft skill, time management, got your very very far.

Today, you probably won’t die for getting it wrong, but your life won’t be optimal either.

The world is concurrent

HK-Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Mongkok, Hong Kong

Unless you’re living in a Soviet bunker somewhere in the woods and not dependent on anyone or anything, your world and life is concurrent. While you’re swearing while doing dishes, someone else is watching TV, another friend is having sex and your sister on holidays in Tokyo’s waking up and someone else just finished a run. Your and their daily agendas are independent swim lanes. Of people, work responsibilities, admin overheads, exercise (hopefully :-)), parental duties etc.

It’s tricky to plan a day in isolation. Almost impossible to do perfectly with others. Don’t fight nature and concurrency – try, but do and comply with what you can, in the moment. The things you didn’t do, if it was really important, it’ll find it’s way back into your schedule again. Sometimes when getting round to a task, concurrency (read: someone else) already took care of it …

Wall time VS perceived time

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Scenario: I agree to accompany and back you up in a meeting that would not exceed 1 (uma, una, one, een, ) hour (in theory :-))

We talked about it during lunch, I thought about it weighing impact on my own schedule, discussed it with my better half, helped prepare a presentation, did some research and we rehearsed it the day prior. It went well and we had a Q&A session afterwards. What was the total cost of this meeting? One hour? Two hours? NO!

  • lunch discussion – 30 minutes
  • weighing options – 1 hour
  • chat with partner – 15 minutes
  • research – 3 hours
  • presentation – 1 hour
  • rehearsal – 1 hour
  • dressing for and driving there – 1 hour
  • presentation – 1 hour
  • wind down cocktail and Q&A discussion – 1 hour
  • drive back home – 30 minutes
  • decompressing after – 2 hours

12 hours and 15 minutes . One and a half work days. Or HALF a day!

Everything takes longer

As with other things in life, we can choose to see data points and signs for what it really is and react to it. OR fly blind, ignore the signals get stuck in a rat race of 101 things to get through and never being honest about how much time something really takes. An hour run will be 90 minutes – you also need to warm up, warm down and shower. The drink with a friend you haven’t seen for ages won’t have you back home before midnight.

Time for the likely and worst case scenarios, not the happy path.

The whole world is late

Past-Due

The vast majority of the population however skews time accounting. EVERYBODY’s late. It’s a constant trade off of meeting VS work VS gym VS a healthy meal VS spending quality time with your spouse etc. The times you do get it right, something, someone else and even you pay for it though.

Opportunity cost

While doing something, you’re not doing something else. This is NEVER a problem if on average most of your time’s spent being productive, both in the sense of getting things done as well as being uplifted and energised by what you do. Tasks shouldn’t constantly leave you feeling drained – that’s merely a symptom of working on the wrong things.

Before saying HELLS YEAH!!!, think of the opportunity cost.

Vampires

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We all have “friends” that yield a net negative investment in relation to time spent with them. Every time you’re investing 2 hours of free time listening to how bad the life of another, his/her relationship, their career etc. is, time accounting works like this:

  • Adjustments made to set aside the 2 hours – 15 minutes
  • Face time – 2 hours
  • Recovering from this energy drain – 1 to 2 days
  • Missing out on doing something productive (opportunity cost) – priceless 🙂

If you can’t filter and prune them out easily, allocate them less time.

Quality, not quantity

Thus, it’s now how much time we spend, but how we spend it. You have around 16 daily hours to work with, if you sleep normally. On a regular work schedule, you’d spend 8 hours working and maybe 1 or 2 getting there. 6 to 8 hours of leisure time. 2 to 3 of those for daily chores. And suddenly there’s only a 2 to 3 hour window of quality time left to spend on and with the people and things dear to you. Make it count!

Getting real with training

On average I train 8 to 12 hours a week, depending on where it is in a training block, recovery weeks being shorter than build weeks. However, the time overheads of that’s quite a bit more. Time to change clothes, warm up, warm down, stretch, drive up to the mountains, figuring out appropriate routes to fit the plan, extra load of washing clothes etc. probably puts that figure more in the 15 to 18 hour ballpark. That’s OK. I see it as such. And try to plan accordingly …

 

Açores Trail Run

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Mid February I noticed a buzz on Facebook regarding an upcoming crossing of Faial in the Açores and promptly registered for the Ultra Trail Faial Costa Costa after getting clearance from my coach. Due to an unexpected participation in Gêres Trail Adventure  in addition to the planned TransGranCanaria and Madeira Island Ultra Trail , accumulated racing stats on April 27 were: 2 months, 3 ultras, 304km, 18600m vertical gain, 9 points UTMB. A lot of load in a short time when factoring training blocks in as well. I met the race organiser Mario Leal in Madeira and also in Gêres where we talked about the possibility of going there on May 24 to participate, given I haven’t made any travel plans yet. We worked something out and I was looking forward to a shorter race (48km and 2000mD+) to test the engines.

21 May – travel

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Flew out from Funchal with Nuno Gonçalves, via Ponta Delgada and arrived in Faial late afternoon and transferred via courtesy bus from the organisation to Hotel Horta. Spectacular view of Pico, the highest point in Portugal at 2351m.  Had a late dinner, or rather, we picked a place that was pretty slow with service – 3 hours for soup, a plate and coffee 😦

22 May – acclimatise

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Woke up early, had a really good breakfast with perhaps too much cheese, but still healthy nonetheless 🙂 Around 11 we headed out running along the marina area for an hour, bumped into Desafios a Dois and then had a pretty filling lunch. Mid afternoon was spent at the Botanical Gardens of Faial with a large group of runners. Most from the North of Portugal arrived today, with another flight expected for the 23rd. Afterwards we planted some trees at Ribeirinha and took a group photo. Had dinner with friends from Porto and an early night.

23 May – leisure

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After a morning jog, spent most of the day working and intermittently ducking out for important things like registration, bib collection and the briefing, which I missed while having coffee in the lobby. Happens 🙂 We had lunch with ArmandoIvone and a local friend of theirs. Got clothes and gear for the next morning ready. I decided to just use a waist belt and a single 500ml water container and leave the backpack home given aid stations were fairly frequent. At 20:00 everyone had dinner at the hotel where I observed Luís Mota‘s trade secrets – to serve oneself at least three times 🙂 Ducked for bed early around 21:30.

24 May – all systems go

Woke up at 6, showered, applied vaseline to all the important bits and then made my way up to the breakfast area which was already an ant’s nest of activity. The plan was to keep the morning meal simple, but it escalated into a mega serving of eggs, copious amounts of cheese and a large bowl of cereal. Three cups of coffee. Check!

Ribeirinha

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The buses dropped us off at Ribeirinha where more coffee and other goods were available. We talked to a bunch of people and there I met Johan Holmgren -a Norwegian commercial diver who happened to be in port on race day. He arranged an inscription the day prior and decided to test his legs after having been out at sea for almost 20 days in a small yacht. The start was animated and we were off at 09:00 – a very fast start with an almost immediate descent back down to sea level. I felt good and decided to stick with the front group, around position 7, with Anna Frost and Carlos Sá chasing. We climbed up to a lighthouse and then went through a couple of technical ascents and descents before arriving at the first aid station, where I refilled water and had a handful of raisins. Heart rate was above target, but I felt good nonetheless.

Aid station – 10km

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This section was quite rolling until the 14km mark, which was a “water only” spot. Beautiful landscape views and some runners even bumped into cows here. I continued with my rhythm and could almost always see Luís Mota’s fire red t-shirt out in front. Nobody chased, but I suspected Frost and Sá to not be far behind. I think around km 14 or 15 we started with a zig zag climb up towards the volcano crater. Once about a kilometre into that I looked back and could see Anna and Carlos – he shifted gears and passed me just before the aid station at 19kms.

Aid station – 19km

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Refilled water again, grabbed some cut banana pieces. Anna Frost left a few seconds before me – women being way way more efficient than men as they don’t have that “Wow, omg, FOOD!” reaction 🙂 We climbed up to the crater and did the rest of the course until km 28 together. Spectacular views from the ridges of the crater, especially Pico with what looked like a BUFF of cloud cover 🙂 The ground was very very uneven for most of this section – cow / cattle trail with nasty holes and it gave away quickly when cadence slowed just a tiny bit. Was quite happy to get around the crater, crawl up another technical section and descend down to the next aid station before the very long descent towards the finish line.

Aid station – 28km

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Grabbed some Coca-Cola, a few pieces of oranges and we were out pretty fast. Left Anna at km 29 as she said she was going to take the descent slow and wasn’t feeling her legs very well for going down on the day. After some words, I went out ahead and caught up with Carlos a short while before The Trail of Ten Volcanoes. He went out ahead again on the flat levada section, but caught him again on the descent just before the aid station at 38km.

Aid station – 38km

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Carlos passed, but I stopped to have some more coke, refill water and a few slices of marmalade. At this point we were well interleaved with runners from the shorter distance run, which was fun too. We caught André Rodrigues around km 40 – he was recovering from injury, treated this race as training and his objective was to treat the last section as a warm down. B*tch of a climb up in what was becoming a real scorcher of a day without much tree cover. I continued to grind and saw Carlos maybe a minute behind.

 Aid station – 44km

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I don’t remember this one very well and think we just went right past it – I thought it was a camp / picnic site at the time 🙂 Only real race feedback I’d have is a very clear sign marking respective aid stations as the public presence at this race was so overwhelming it was quite difficult to differentiate 🙂 Another small climb up here with a pretty steep descent after. Expected Carlos to pass, but he didn’t come and just maintained my rhythm  down to the finish line. Saw Sebastien Nain heading towards the finish as I left the last few bushes – too late to chase 🙂

Finish

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Spectacular ambience at the finish line – loud music, a big crowd, lots of cheering and beer. Loads of beer 🙂 And a local somewhat spicy fish dish. Excellent! Watched Carlos come in and Anna Frost shortly behind. I was quite happy with my official time of 04:34 and 7th place in a very strong field, especially given a fairly controlled race and the 3 ultras in 2 months prior. Rushed for my drop bag, changed to shorts and naturally headed to the beach area a few metres away to freshen the legs and clean up a bit. Had to swim with flip flops due to a very rocky entrance and had to swim out a few times to prevent them arriving at Horta by sea 🙂 Nuno Gonçalves arrived about 40 minutes later and we were back towards Horta on the transfer bus about an hour later.

Everyone cleaned up, we started recovery with ice-cream and then a gin at Peter Cafe Sport (aka “Peter’s”) before a multi-course dinner at the prize giving ceremony a few blocks down towards the end of the marina.

25 May – Pico

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A group of us decided to climb up Pico and agreed to have breakfast a bit later and catch the second morning ferry across – a 20 minute ride. We arranged transport up to the official starting point / “trail” at around 1150m altitude. We had to attend a safety briefing, sign in and agree to a EUR 1200 rescue fee if anything happened to go wrong that day. Small price to pay for such an opportunity for the worst case, so we signed with a smile. The “trail” was mostly a set of beacons one needed to track on the way up – some 45 to the top. It took us about 75 minutes to reach the area just before the peak and we did some further rounds before descending back to the base. Bumped into Sebastien and Anna up top. Took road shoes – they were totally cut up from the rocks on the way down.

26 May – recovery and departure

Most of the arranged flights back to Lisbon and Porto departed late afternoon. We had a flight out to Ponta Delgada where we spent the night, with an early flight out back to Madeira the following day. A very different experience than Faial – noted to go back and explore this island.

I’d definitely recommend this race to anyone geared toward entry / middle distance ultra trails and if you’re based in continental Portugal, DO take advantage of the great charter flights 🙂 The organisation was excellent and the program and logistics around the event was very well structured too. 2015, SIGA!!!