Monday, 18 April 2016

Kit crisis

Yup, it's that time of year again when I start worrying about my kit.  Since I am supposed to be racing the Lakeland 100 this year it is more important than ever that I have the right gear for this particular race.  There are two main reasons why the correct kit is so crucial for this race - it is 105 mile over some pretty rough (and wet) terrain, plus it is an unsupported race so if you've picked the wrong pair of shoes you can't rely on a support crew to have a different pair for you waiting at the next checkpoint along the route.

The problem I have is that I don't live anywhere near any running shops so most of my shopping has to be done online. This often means I end up at the post office returning gear I have purchased but has turned out not to be suitable for me.  More so than in shorter distance running, the gear you use plays a huge part in how successful your race is.  I'm sure most of us could put up with some blisters for the duration of a 10k (although you really should try new shoes if that's the case!), but try it over 50, 70 or 100 miles and it could spell disaster and end your race.

My trusty UD SJ 1.0 pack is quite literally falling apart at the seams so I have no choice but to buy a new pack. I really liked this pack but struggled to fit my mandatory kit, plus food into it for the Lakeland 50 last year.  That is to say, I could fit all the kit in but I couldn't actually fasten it on myself once all the gear was in.  I had a size small. A friend purchased version 2.0 of the SJ pack, getting the medium size.  Unfortunately, even with all my kit in, the medium pack still didn't fasten tight enough and was jiggling around all over the place - major chafing issues! So, with all my gear in, small is too small and medium is too big. My other issue with the pack was the accessibility of the pockets.  I always struggled to get anything out of the side pockets and more often than not would end up having to take the pack off to get anything out of them, which kind of defeats the purpose of them. Whilst I could have used the second bottle pocket for food, gels etc I tend to need 2 bottles as I do drink a lot when I am running beyond 15 or 20 miles.  Talking of bottles - I love the soft flasks! Love them. Any pack I buy will definitely have soft flasks.  I prefer to be able to see exactly how much I am drinking, and in particular, how much I have left.  It is so much easier to refill bottles rather than a bladder, plus they don't get warm from your body heat like a bladder does.

So, my list of requirements is as follows:

a size between small and medium ;-)
lightweight and comfy
front pockets for 2 soft flasks
soft flasks
front pockets for my phone, gels, food, bits and bobs
needs to fit all my mandatory kit
reasonable price

The thing is, packs are much like running shoes, you can read all the reviews in the world and all your friends might swear by this brand or another brand but you have to find the one that suits you best.  It is a very individual thing. Last year, for the Lakeland 50 I wore a pair of Hokas which provided me with lots of cushioning, protecting my feet from the rough terrain, but that comes at the expense of responsiveness, and they were not particularly grippy. The were the right shoes for that race at that time.  However, for the 100, they are simply not suitable at all because the toebox is too narrow.  I got away with it last year as it was 'only' 50 miles but they are just not in the running (excuse the pun) for this year's race.  I have tried them in longer races before and my feet were a mess as a result.

I have odd feet (don't we all?) and I wear specially-made orthotics.   These were designed to help with my collapsing arches and the inward roll of my left ankle.  I cannot wear them in all my shoes however.  I don't wear them in my fell shoes - with the nature of the terrain, particularly the steepness, they would just move about and cause problems.  I tried it once, it was a painful experience!  I have tried to stop wearing them in my trail shoes with less success. So this issue adds to the trickiness of buying new shoes for me.
Of course, there is the issue of not living near a running shop, and me making multiple post office trips.  Whilst I am sure they appreciate my custom, it is a bit a of a pain in the ***!

So here are my show requirements:

a good amount of cushioning
enough grip to give me confidence in the boggy/muddy sections of the Lakeland 100
a roomy toebox
clown-sizes - I have massive feet!
not too heavy - the size of my feet means bigger shoes and more weight
comfortable with or without my orthotics
not too pricey (especially when you have to keep taking them back to the post office!)
pretty colours to match the rest of my outfit ;-)
oh, and they need to make me run faster!!

I have a new pair of shoes which I will be testing out this Wednesday so fingers crossed I fall in love with them.

So my shoes and my running pack are my main two gear concerns at this point, but there are others too.  Don't get me started on sports bras!  The only things I am certain about are my waterproof jacket and trousers - I have the Inov-8 race ultra versions - and my socks - I will be wearing x-socks sky run socks.

I can feel a few more post office trips coming...

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Happy Anniversary

This past month or so has been much like the middle part of an ultra. You feel awful - still for no apparent reason (after countless tests etc); you're exhausted despite only being a third of the way into the race, mentally you're at your weakest knowing you have such a long way to go and you still can't be sure you're going to reach the finish; you've run out of that initial adrenaline rush; everything hurts and you're sure you're picking up niggles and aches that shouldn't be there; the end is nowhere in sight and in all honesty you're ready to call it a day and jack the whole thing in.

I have been so very close to withdrawing from the Lakeland 100 over the past month - keystrokes on the computer away. I couldn't see any other option other than a DNS.  My asthma is 'back'.  This has been a bit of a shock to the system as I haven't been symptomatic for over 6 years and now I have to use an inhaler on a daily basis (to be reviewed). Continued lack of sleep, and continued bouts of illness have really taken their toll. It's hard to understand what's going on because there isn't this one big thing to illustrate or explain why I have felt the way I have.  There have been days when I have felt so utterly exhausted and weak that I felt I could quite easily crumble into a pile of dust on the floor.  Not a nice feeling I can assure you.

So has there been a magical turnaround? Has something changed to make me decide to keep going, to keep aiming for that intimidating start-line? Physically the answer is not really.  I'm still lacking in endurance, speed and strength - training has been too sporadic to address any of these issues.  But I'm trying to use April to build up towards a really solid May and June.  I just hope my body can handle it.  I've cut out a few foods - eg. chocolate and haribo - which can only be consumed on a long runs. In general my 'diet' is pretty good - lots of vegetables, fruit etc but little tweaks here and there may help.  I've set myself a couple of strength challenges too for April.  Just small challenges but steps in the right direction I hope.  I am trying to be more consistent in my running but I have to continue to be flexible in this, and listen to my body.

Mentally I've had to give myself a real battering. The challenge ahead is properly scary. 105 miles through the Lake District with 20,700 feet of ascent! It makes your eyes water doesn't it? I've done similar distances in the past (many years ago) - two 24 hour track races (102 and 103 miles), but they're flat obviously, and I've done the West Highland Way - this broke me COMPLETELY, and it is 10 miles shorter and has almost 6,000 feet less climbing.  How can I possibly get myself ready to face that start line?

I don't have the answer to that right now. But I know that I will get there.  The mental and physical training I will have to put myself through between now and the end of July is daunting.  It feels close to impossible right now if I am brutally honest.  But I have to at least try.  Last friday I attended I charity evening hosted by the Brathay Trust; it was a talk with Joss Naylor, Kenny Stuart and Billy Bland - true legends of fell-running.  It was an incredibly inspiring and entertaining evening.  I did have to sit on my hands during the charity auction though! Their wise words really struck a chord with me, and to quote the great Kenny Stuart I simply need to apply "a no nonsense attitude. Just get on and get it done."

March was my 10 year running anniversary. This is not the time to give up.  It's the time to do something special. Traditionally you give gifts made from tin/aluminium for 10 years - a L100 medal would do just as nicely.  The modern version of the 10 year anniversary gift is diamond jewellery  - I'll leave that up to hubby *wink wink*. Hey, whatever it takes to get me back to Coniston right?