Monday, 28 March 2011

What a lovely week!

View from the tower
It's been a very social week, with an activity-filled weekend to round off my first week of UTMB training. Trail runs all week with great company, starting with a loop with Paulina the Ultrababe on Wednesday. Thursday was a night trail run with Keith aka "Buzz Lightyear", visiting from Oz. Another ultra-nut with the biggest, smiliest personality on the trail. We got out the headlamps halfway through our run, and I now realise I need to get a brighter headlamp if I'm going to do anymore night runs! Hit the trail on Friday morning again with Marnie, fresh back from the Tokyo marathon and in training for the Great Wall Marathon (GWM) coming up. We ran (mostly) up to the top of the Jelutong Tower for good measure, seeing as we're both in need of some stair training for the GWM (Marnie) and The North Face 100 Oz (me). Nice view from the top!

Smiles at the top!

Tower stairs 
Ended up doing a solo run on Saturday due to a very late night out on Friday .. apologies I didn't make the morning run, Patrick! Nonetheless, cranked out 15 miles on the trail with a full pack ... I think the boys are feeling marginally lighter ... although my new pack will need some modifications to stop some chafing at the back of my neck. Nothing new there, had to do the same with my old pack. Longest run to date in a skirt, no complaints so far! I'm thinking the running skirt could be made of a lighter material and maybe a little shorter for racing, but I'll experiment with a couple of things I have in mind and report back later. Pic below were taken at the tail end of my 15 miler .. the rest of me was drenched in sweat from the heat and humidity, but the skirt still looks pretty perky, no signs of sticking to the legs either.

Running wild!
Tried to collect the race pack for the 2XU Compression Run that afternoon, but the queue was crazy and stretched all the way round the basketball court outside Velocity .. come back later!

So then it's off to the Edge Adventure Clinic for a navigation crash course ... Paulina rocked up as well and we had a bash at being Topo Queens ... with varying levels of success. We learnt to read a compass and work out our bearings on a map, starting with a few practice checkpoints to make sure we got the general principles right. We all did the first one together, and then checked the map to locate CP2.
Er .. which arrow am I supposed to follow???
"No, we don't have pink flags for the girls and blue for the guys .."
Starting out at Lorong Asrama
Wilson (the instructor) then told Paulina and I to lead everyone to the next practice checkpoint .. and I managed to lead everyone through a lovely muddy overgrown trail only very slightly off course. We then had a quick lesson on how to rectify having overshot the CP, and finally found it after a little searching and several dozen mosquito bites. I'm off to a good start for Sabah, then!  
After I led everyone though the mud .. 
I read maps best when they're upside down ...
Lost? Not me!

Nearly done!
Topo Queen leads the way with her massive pack 
We then decided to go off on our own to try the first 4 CPs and had a whale of a time second-guessing ourselves when it came to choosing routes on the map. We found all 4 CPs without too much deviation and thought we'd call it a day before it got dark. However, I might have to go back again on my own for some extra practice .. I don't think Sabah will be as simple as this!
Last CP!
Sunset at Mandai
Managed to collect the 2XU race pack just before the booth closed .. no thanks to a very dim taxi driver who had no idea how to get there. 

Then off to the ECP to give the Twilight runners a little support .. after we'd scoffed a stack of Ah Hwee's chicken wings, of course! The runners had been going for 6 hours when we got there, and over half had called it a day. The remaining runners were plodding on steadily .. well done to everyone for hanging in there! 16 hours on a flat 10k loop is no mean feat. 

So all in all a good week, and looking forward to another one! 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

UTMB training week 1

UTMB training has begun! I've faffed around with running random distances since recovering from my kite crash ... anything less than 2 hours didn't feel right ... and thought I'd better pull my finger out and get started on a proper program.

I've been speaking to Pete Roper the 'Off-Road Guru', and he'll be drawing up my training schedule for the next few months leading up to UTMB. I first saw Pete at the 2009 Endurancelife Classic Quarter. He took off like a shot at the start (bearing in mind this is a very challenging 44 mile trail run on the Cornish coast path), and finished with a convincing win and a new course record. Impressive stuff! So I figure Pete's the right person to be helping me with my lead-up to UTMB.

So the next four weeks look pretty steady, 6 runs a week and a day off after a long weekend session. This is my base training so only 55-65 miles a week at the moment, but all runs except the speed session to be done with a full pack. I've loaded up with 3kg at the moment, bringing the weight to 5kg with 2 litres of water on board as well. Welcome back, boys! ... I name my bags of rice/sugar after my favourite men to give me a little more motivation when they start to feel like a dead weight. I end up 'talking' to them on long runs as well .. it's much more fun thinking I've got Hugh Jackman as a running companion, even though I have to 'carry' him! ;)

This means RTI HK is off the menu .. too much too soon. I've had to give this one up in light of the bigger picture :( .. but there's always next year! 

The Boys!
As you can see from the pic, my running mates will the the delightful Mr. Hugh J. (yes, if you say it fast it sounds like 'huge' ... ;)), and my new hero, the Desert King (STILL waiting for the teapot dance, by the way!). They're with me for the next 6 months or so whether I like it or not, so enjoy the ride, boys! :D
Lovely and sweaty after a loop on the trail :)
Had a lovely run yesterday on the trail with Ultrababe Paulina. She's soon-to-be Ironbabe as well and will debut her transition skills at Ironman WA 2011. It was my first run with a fully loaded pack as well, I've got aching shoulders today to prove it! :) 

Took the cheetah skirt out for a spin as well, they're working well and I find myself trying to get the skirts washed in time for the next run rather than pull on a pair of shorts ... time to get some more skirts, then!

I'm attending a navigation clinic on Saturday for the Sabah Ultra Trail run. The route is entirely self-navigated and I'm likely to find myself in the arse end of nowhere if left to my own devices. The organisers have teamed up with Edge Adventure Sports to provide clinics for the adventure racers and runners, lucky for me! So fingers crossed by Saturday evening I'll be able to find my way round the course in Sabah next month and not end up discovering a new tribe in the deepest part of the jungle. 

Saturday night is also the start of the Twilight Ultra Challenge, 16 hours on a 10km loop course at East Coast. Not quite my cup of tea (it's completely flat) but kudos to those who have signed up! We'll rock up during the night to offer some support, and grab some of Ah Hwee's fabulous chicken wings from the Lagoon Food Centre, no doubt. Happy running, everyone!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Finally ... an update!

Phew! It's been over a week since my last post and all sorts of things got in the way. No sleep at all following the Desert King's amazing race in Atacama .. (which he very convincingly won) .. the race updates were never on time and nail-bitingly exciting amidst a completely impractical time difference! Add a slew of work and a stinking cold to the mix and you have a very grumpy smurf. Ah well, I've come out the other side relatively unscathed (except for the Bottega Cabat-sized eyebags!) so all is pretty much on the up again.

I did manage a 13 mile test drive in my new running skirt on Sunday ... what a revelation! Pics will follow when I get the chance. But seriously .. such a liberating experience! No more sweaty shorts sticking to the front of your legs .. no muffin top .. and I'm pretty sure I had an extra spring in my step because they felt great! I'm not sure how short they are when I'm actually running in them, and I was running at East Coast on a Sunday afternoon, but I did notice I got a lot of attention running past people .. definitely more than a normal cursory glance .. hopefully in a good way! I wasn't even wearing the cheetah print one .. it was just black with purple panels down the side.

The main reason for trying the skirts was to eliminate any chafing issues during an ultra .. and 13 miles isn't quite an acid test, but we'll get there. The skirts come with their own little mesh bag for washing  in to keep the fabric protected .. well thought out! I'll be back with a better review once I've done more miles in them, but no complaints so far! :)

Have a great weekend .. I'm pretty sure I will! (Despite having to work all of Saturday .. bah!)

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Special delivery!

Quick update .. it's been a super busy week so far and no time to sleep or think! Have managed 10 miles everyday so far and everything's feeling good, I can feel the speed coming back, yay! And yes, still doing the barefoot running .. but maybe too much - sore toes today!

My running skirts have arrived so I'll be trialling them ASAP .. but work is getting in the way! :) Never mind, they look fab anyway but will tell all when I've got more time.

In other news, the Desert King is in the lead at the Atacama Crossing, and is currently in the process of nailing Stage 4. Stage 5 is the Long Day so send your regards to him and other random competitors .. it helps motivate them!

Happy Thursday, everyone! :) 

Monday, 7 March 2011

Altitude training ... suggestions please!

The Atacama Crossing is underway! For the record, I am not racing in Atacama at the moment .. but I will someday! The previous post on the race was to drum up some support for the Singapore-based participants Thaddeus Lawrence and The Desert King. The race is run at altitude, the highest elevation being 3000m.

This got me thinking about my training for the UTMB .. where there's about 9500m (yikes!) of positive altitude change. We start at 1000m, and the highest peaks are about 2500m, so training in pancake flat Singapore is a bit of a problem considering our highest 'peak' is 164m (no, I didn't leave out any zeroes).

UTMB Course Profile
After some research, I figure I could go to Genting and train, hopefully an affordable option both time and money-wise, and the elevation is between 1000m and 1800m at the top.

So, here's where I need some input. Anyone knows of any runs in that area (trail or road .. preferably trail) that would be safe to do alone? Any other locations which are possible for altitude training would be appreciated (Must be accessible and affordable from Singapore). Also, any recommendations for places to stay? I figure I could stay at one of the Genting resorts like First World Hotel and just run loops from there. Anyone keen to do this as well let me know! Cheers!

BTW, take a look at DO's post on barefoot running and this one at Birthday Shoes on starting barefoot running and barefoot running in ultramarathons. Still doing my daily barefoot runs and trying very hard to be patient about this!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Atacama Crossing, Chile

Training at 2400 ft of altitude
This year’s 4 Deserts series kicks off in March with the Atacama Crossing 2011, the world-renowned, 250km endurance footrace across the driest desert on the planet.

Competitors will spend seven days, from 6 – 12 March, moving through the stunning landscape of Chile’s Atacama Desert, on a grueling course that spans salt lakes, sand dunes, canyons and oases.

The racers will be carrying all of their own equipment and food for the week over the forbidding terrain and through soaring temperatures, with the added test of high altitude and severe aridity compounding the challenges they must endure. The Atacama Crossing is grueling not only because of the forbidding terrain which is rarely flat underfoot, and a harsh climate, but also because of the altitude that averages 2500m (8000ft) during the race.

Atacama's ankle-breaking terrain
Many consider the Atacama Crossing to be the most difficult of the 4 Deserts series, thus always attracting top athletes -- this seventh edition of the event is no different. The top contender for the 2011 race is 29-year old Anders Jensen of Denmark, who won the Sahara Race 2010, and is intent on repeating the feat.

Six competitors will also be setting out in Chile to finish the 4 Deserts series, which includes the Gobi March (China), the Sahara Race (Egypt) and The Last Desert (Antarctica), and join the prestigious 4 Deserts Club. Those competitors are Diego Carvajal (27) and Lady Lucy Tang (43) of the United Kingdom, Mayuko Okabe (29) of Japan, Alain Wehbi (42) of Lebanon, Devrim Celal (40) of Cyprus and Singapore’s Thaddeus Lawrence (38).

The Desert King
Anders (his mahjong 'kaki' call him the Desert King)  and Thaddeus are based in Singapore, and you can send them messages of encouragement and support here or leave a message on Anders' competitor blog. They won't get their mobile phones back till after the race so their only form of communication with the outside world are our email messages and blog comments. 

... so sign up for the email updates and send them a message to keep their spirits up! The race starts Sunday 6th March at 8am Chile time, which is 7pm Singapore time.

Sun 6th March, Stage 1: Navigation by Rock = 35 kilometers / 22 miles 

Mon 7th March: Stage 2: The Slot Canyons = 42 kilometers / 26 miles 

Tue 8th March, Stage 3: The AtacameƱos Trail = 40 kilometers / 25 miles 

Wed 9th March, Stage 4: The Infamous Saltflats = 43 kilometers / 27 miles 

Thu-Fri 10th-11th March, Stage 5: The Long March = 74 kilometers / 46 miles 

Sat 12th March, Stage 6: The Final Footsteps to San Pedro = 16 kilometers / 10 miles 

Friday, 4 March 2011

Running bare .. my first steps!

Look, the Tarahumara wear skirts too! But also note the difference in foot strike between two amazing runners.
I'd read Chris McDougall's book Born To Run late last year, in which he chronicles his search for the answer to "Why does my foot hurt". In it he explores the life and running habits of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, arguably the greatest distance runners in the world. It's brought barefoot running to the public arena and added fuel to the growing number of barefoot running converts. I see loads of runners in Vibram Five Fingers on the trail and at the races, so I'd say it's definitely taken root in Singapore.

I've been thinking about barefoot running for a while now, but with wanting to qualify for UTMB last year, I really didn't want to make any drastic changes. So I thought I'd make a start this year, before things really ramped up.

Also, I've just ordered a pair of Inov-8 X-Talon 190 .. touted as the world's lightest XC and mountain shoe. There's a 3mm heel-toe drop (the differential between the heel (9mm) and forefoot (6mm) height - the lower the number the 'flatter' the shoe) and it's very minimalist for the terrain it's designed for. I'd like to be able to use it for the UTMB so I thought I'd better get my skates on (... or would that be off?) and get used to some barefoot running.

Inov-8 X-Talon 190 ... fierce or what!
I only wear lightweight trainer/racers, anything from the Adidas Adizero range. I clocked up 1700 miles (2720 km) of injury-free running last year and I don't think I've had a running injury in the last 15 years I've been running. I don't bother changing my shoes too much either. When they get worn out they feel better than when they were new. However, a zero heel drop is quite a significant difference from what I've been used to so far, definitely time to start some specific strengthening.

I took a look at The Running Barefoot website ... there's a lot of information there and I didn't read a lot of it (eyes too tired!) I just skimmed the key words 'relax' and 'high knees' and figured that would do for a 5 minute test run.

So yesterday evening I ran to the local track, a 440m painted path just by the community centre. Took my shoes and socks off, put them in my pack, and ran. 

...  and you know what? Even though I was running on flat ground, at a peak time when all the local residents are out in force, and it was the furthest thing from a trail that you could think of ... I loved it. 

While I was taking off my shoes I remember thinking,"Okay, high knees and relax!" .. and then I was off. I must've had a huge grin on my face, but it felt so natural and liberating to be running round the track barefoot with no heel strike. Somehow I clicked right into it, and it felt exactly right. Keeping my knees high was definitely the way to go, and that led to a natural forefoot strike just like I hoped. No jarring, didn't feel like there was any negative impact or pain.

I only planned a 5 minute run to get used to it, but I was having so much fun I ran for 15 minutes averaging 8 min/mile. I stopped because my toes were starting to feel tender and I didn't want them to blister. The stares I got from the walkers, joggers and local soccer players warming up were hilarious. They all did a double take when they saw me running with bare feet. Maybe my fuschia nail polish had something to do with it as well. Wait till they see me in my skirt!
Fuschia toes .. great camouflage for missing or black toenails!

Now I'm writing this, my toes are still a little sore and I'm researching which pair of Vibram Five Fingers will suit me best (I'm thinking Bikila). Any suggestions? I can't wait to try running run barefoot on the trail but I think having some form of protective cover would be prudent ... plus I'd end up having crocodile feet with all the hard skin I'd have to develop! It'd be no fun at all if I had to stop after 15 minutes either! I figure I'll do 15 minutes each day for a week, then see if I can manage 30 minutes without blistering my toes. Stay tuned!

The apple crocodiles had the grape bunnies backed up against the pineapple wall ...  was this the end for the hapless hoppers?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Running skirts, anyone?

This week's been a little crazy so far, lots of things happening and life is starting to get very interesting indeed!

Was worried I'd be paying dearly for the run (and stairmaster workout!) on Sunday without any training to speak of, but looks like my body's remembered how to recover now and I've managed a 10-15 mile trail run everyday so far. I'm dreading starting the speedwork though .. scheduled to start next week. I'd much rather run 30miles steady than have to go at lung-busting effort for 300m! Still, no pain, no gain, right? And with TNF100 Oz coming up soon and my ultimate goal of UTMB in August ... I'm thinking if I don't suffer now I'll really be paying the price when I do those events.

Time to suck it up, Fat Bird! ... good thing I work well under pressure ;)

I'm also working through my post-mortem list of the GNW100s to see what I need to change. First off was the shorts chafing issue ... unpleasant to say the least! My Under Armour run shorts had been great throughout my training and racing, even for the TNF 100k, so I had no reason to expect them start chafing me at about 120km into the GNW100s. But, life's no fun without challenges, right? So I ended up cutting the lining out of the shorts and that was enough of a remedy to get me through the last 54km or so.

Fab or what! (Picture: Running Skirts)

I've started looking at alternatives this week. I am averse to running in tights of any length due to potential camel-toe issues and just how inconvenient they'd be if I needed to answer the call of nature. Yes, I mean pee ... or worse! :D When you run ultramarathons on trail it's highly unlikely that the organisers will be able to put portaloos at regular intervals ... some of the checkpoints are only accessible by foot! So it's a reality that needs to be addressed .. keeping well hydrated does have it's consequences, as well as deciding to have that second sausage sandwich at the last checkpoint.

Anyway, I only wear running tights when it's cold. And since I live in the tropical paradise of Singapore, my alternative to shorts is the running skirt. Some of the top runners (mostly female :D) wear skirts to run ... have a look at Catra Corbett  and Jamie Donaldson (both amazing ultra-runners) ... and once you think about it, running in skirts does make sense. No chafing, no camel-toe, a flattering silhouette, great ventilation, no sweaty shorts sticking to your legs post-race (also contributes to the camel-toe problem), and no VPL (visible panty line). They'd be a great solution to the post-run clothing dilemma too .. you can go take a bus, MRT, sit in Starbucks for a double skinny macchiato and muffin ...   

Catra Corbett in action (Picture: Dirt Diva)

I saw a couple of ladies at the NTUC run and asked their opinion. One said from her "Once you've tried skirts, there's no going back!". How you look affects how you feel, and if you know you're looking great for your run, chances are you'll be running better too. It's a win-win situation. 

Okay, so I've looked at all the ones available, and there's enough of a choice out there to make it interesting. You can get them locally from 2XU, Nike and Adidas, but the choice isn't vast and the colours leave a lot to be desired. Training and racing gear doesn't have to be boring .. once again the lovely Catra comes to mind ... but she is at one extreme of the spectrum. Looking online, there are a few more options. Skirt Sports (by pro-triathlete Nicole DeBoom), Athleta (a part of the GAP group), Moeben, and Running Skirts

I've now ordered a couple of pairs from Running Skirts to try out (yes, one of them is cheetah print!), they should be arriving early next week! ... I love receiving stuff in the post, there's something about having a parcel or chunky package to open .. so exciting even if you already know what it is! I chose Running Skirts as they had a great range of colours and styles available, and they ship to Singapore. The Athleta ones looked a little boring and the Skirt Sports ones didn't really appeal. I'd like to try the Moeben ones as well, but thought I'd wait for my RS delivery first. I'll post a review once I've tested them out ... can't wait!

By the way, STARC ladies (and Bruce .. they do a purple plaid one!), this might be the solution to matching the lovely STARC vest! There's a UK branch .. check out the colour combinations at Running Skirts UK, or maybe they'd do a custom one in purple and gold!    
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