Archive for May, 2012

You can do a lot with 8 weeks.. time to get SMART

There’s 8 weeks left and that’s still a lot of time available to improve your performance in this year’s 50 or 100 event. I can guarantee that if you read and act on this article it will happen, BUT you might not like what you read..

Before you go any further you need the following:

  1. Cup of coffee or tea
  2. Piece of paper
  3. Pen or pencil
  4. 15 free minutes to think

To compete successfully in any sport you need the correct combination of fitness, technical ability and experience. When you consider that these elements may vary from event to event, it’s easy to understand why success in never guaranteed. Before you can start to pencil in your daily training activities you need to do some research and self analysis. Each person is an individual and the training schedule should reflect this, only by asking some important questions can you reach the perfect outcome

Step 1: Be specific

‘Sports specificity’ refers to the fact that your body adapts ‘specifically’ to whatever you do in training sessions. If you run very hard for short periods of time during training, you will eventually become very good at running hard for short periods of time. The point to take from the law of sports specificity is that before you plan your training sessions, look at the end point you are trying to achieve (the race you are to compete in) and use this as your guide. For this specific article our target event is the Montane Lakeland 50 and 100.

Questions to ask about your event (feel free to add more if you’re still keen) rate 1-5:

  1. How long do I have to run for?
  2. What’s the surface like?
  3. What are the hills like?
  4. Do I have to carry anything with me?
  5. Will I need to eat and drink on the move?
  6. What are the weather conditions likely to be?
  7. Are any other skills required e.g. navigation?
  8. Are there any other specific things to take into account?
  9. What do I want to get from this race, complete or compete?

Practical task 1: Ask at least the 9 questions listed above and write down your answers on your piece of paper, you may drink your tea or coffee during this process..

Step 2: Work on your weaknesses

Ask an athlete which training sessions they enjoy the least and it will often be their weakest discipline. If you are great at running a long way at a very slow pace, your favourite training runs are likely to involve running a long way at a very slow pace. We all enjoy doing what we are good at and by doing it more, we become even better and the cycle continues. The diagrams below refer to the ‘I like it’ cycle and the ‘I hate it’ cycle, some of your activities will fall into the ‘I like it’ cycle whilst others will fall into ‘I hate it’ territory.

Any new form of training leads to rapid improvement followed by the inevitable plateau. To get past this plateau you are required to train harder, smarter or in a different manner. If you always train the same way, you will currently be plodding along that very plateau, maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit, come out of your comfort zone and address those weaknesses with self analysis..

Questions to ask about yourself (feel free to add more if you’re still keen) rate 1-5:

  1. How good am I at keeping going for several hours at a very slow pace?
  2. How good am I at sustaining a fast pace for a prolonged time (10k race)?
  3. How good am I at sustaining a fast pace for a short time (1 mile)?
  4. How good am I at short steep hills?
  5. How good am I at long continuous hills?
  6. How good am I at running quickly down hills?
  7. How good am I on rough terrain?
  8. How good am I at fuelling during long races?
  9. How good am I when carrying packs or equipment?
  10. How good am I at other critical skills such as navigation?

Practical task 2: Answer the above questions (rate 1-5), everything scored 1-2 is a weakness, everything scored 4-5 is a strength and 3 can sit in the middle for now.. If your strengths match the list generated in practical task 1, you can stop reading and go put the kettle on, if your weaknesses match the list generated in practical task 1, we need to talk… (might be worth putting kettle on again)

Create an action plan

Fancy words with a simple meaning, from your two tasks you have now highlighted the exact demands of your key race and your self-analysis has highlighted whether you are going to find it easy or hard. Look for the ‘mismatches’, if your race has rough descents and your self-analysis highlights you are poor at running down hill and poor on rough terrain, that’s ‘action point number 1’.

Being aware of your weaknesses is not enough.. you may now be sitting staring at your piece of paper saying “I know.. I know..” as it’s likely that you already had a fair idea but you just haven’t yet acted. So now is the time to set some SMARTER goals.

Smarter Goals:

Specific – by completing tasks 1 & 2 we know that your goals are specific to you
Measureable – how are you going to measure improvement, by race performance?
Agreed – You need to ‘buy into this’, talking is nice but without action it’s pointless
Realistic – Progress, no matter how small, is progress. Set yourself manageable targets
Time Phased – Set a date by which time this will be complete, possibly your next big race?
Evaluate – After your events look back and ask if it worked or not
Repeat – Every 6 months repeat this process as your weaknesses become strengths, your goals will change.

For each of the SMARTER goals you need to clearly identify how you will achieve the desired outcome. Are you going to join that local running club track session? Are you going to force yourself to tackle rocky descents? Decide how to turn those weaknesses into strengths and then act! Let’s be very clear about this, 8 weeks is long enough to make a real difference to your performance, you just need to act now.

Practical task 3: On your sheet of paper write down the next 4 weeks of training and how you are going to tackle those weaknesses. When are you going to carry the pack? When are you going to practice that navigation? What about those descents and that longer run?? Do it now, it will take 10 minutes.. can you see on your piece of paper how you are going to tackle those weaknesses?

Nothing explained above can possibly be classed as ‘rocket science’ but few people ever take these steps and use the outcomes to guide their training. When applying SMARTER goals the most important letter is the letter ‘A’ which represents ‘agreed’. My job today was to ‘facilitate’ you in a journey of self analysis but I can’t force you to do it. If you want to improve, you can either agree to take the next step or you can stay where you are.. happily running along that plateau. If you are happy with your current ability and improvement is not something that interests you, that’s great. Ultimately the view from the plateau is still far better than the view from the couch 😉

Marc Laithwaite

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Who’s looking after you? (Part 3)

In this weeks installment we look at CP 1,3 and 12, bringing you the people behind the support..

Checkpoint 1, Seathwaite Village Hall, Seathwaite

Lakes Leisure Ulverston have been responsible for CP1 since the first ever year. Caroline and Luke based at Lakes Leisure Ulverston have been keen supporters every year and are now experts at feeding and hydrating 100 runners who are still relatively sprightly at such an early stage! Caroline and Luke will also be found at registration and the finish line, so you’ll probably recognise them by the end of the event!

Checkpoint 3, barn close to Wasdale Inn, Wasdale

The Wasdale checkpoint is staffed by Audra Banks First Aid Training. Audra herself is competing (again) in the 100 event and has (again) managed to convince friends and colleagues that serving soup in the early hours really is a great way to spend the weekend! When not competing, Audra and her team provide first aid training courses and event first aid cover. If she gets a blister on the course, at least she is experienced enough to deal with it.. If you get a blister, that’s probably the best checkpoint to stop at!!

Checkpoint 12, Lakes Runner, Ambleside

One of the oldest established running and climbing shops in Cumbria, Lakes Runner will once again be supporting 50 and 100 runners as they pass through Ambleside. This is generally one of the most popular points and a place where friends and family gather to support. Along with Bilbo’s Cafe (2nd floor) it’s an iconic Ambleside landmark for all train runners, pay them a visit when you’re next in town..

What’s left?

The next installment is our final one and includes CP7/8/9/10.. a flurry of numbers to end the blogs!

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Who’s looking after you? (Part 2)

In this week’s installment of who’s looking after you, the spotlight is placed upon 4,5,6 & 14, let’s meet the people behind the numbers..

Checkpoint 4, Buttermere Village Hall, Buttermere

Charlie Sproson is the man behind checkpoint 4 although this year, he’ll be the other side of the table as he’s competing..

Charlie owns an outdoor retail website called outdoor warehouse and has been involved with all things outdoors for the duration of his entire life! He’s already a super keen trail and fell runner and regularly participates in events all over Cumbria, he’s also a great guy with intense enthusiasm and this showed last year at Buttermere Hall. Standing in for Charlie will be friends and family who will be staffing the checkpoint, although on this occasion, just for Charlie, we will waver the ruling regarding outside help from your  friends and family. It would be a little harsh if he were refused refreshments..

Checkpoint 5, Braithwaite Church Hall, Braithwaite

Tony and Giselle are at CP5 and that’s probably as much as we need to say for those who’ve done the event before.. they’ve been there every year, feeding, supporting and pushing people onwards and they are the first ‘real food’ stop (mains and pudding!!). Tony and Giselle have been long distance runners and walkers for many years and have racked up more LDWA events that they’ll serve hot meals on July 28th. They are probably our most experienced marshals and you will receive their hospitality at a time when you need it most! They will be supported by family and friends to ensure they have enough hands..

Checkpoint 6, Blencathra Centre, Threlkeld

Checkpoint 6 is manned by the team at Planet Fear. One of the longest established outdoor websites and now having a base in Keswick town centre, these guys are right in the thick of the adventure racing scene. They are most famously known for providing free socks at last year’s event which was one of the most gratefully received items by any competitors at any point on the course! Unbelievable, we spend 12 months organising a complex event and these guys just turn up with socks and steal the limelight.. why didn’t we think of that!! Their experienced team will be there in 2012 to push you onwards towards the finish line..

Checkpoint 14, Tilberthwaite, Coniston

The last checkpoint and only the steps from hell stand in your way. That is of course aside from the descent into Coniston, which is worse than the climb.. let’s not focus on the negative, CP 14 is staffed by Loving Outdoors. Scott and his team will be feeding you and convincing you that that last few miles won’t really be too hard. One thing of interest is that last year competitors in the 100 mile event were hallucinating in the final miles. Based on that fact I should also point out that Loving Outdoors drive a motor home which is coated in green astro-turf. So, for hallucinating 100 runners, it’s not you, it really is them..

Next time we’ll look at 1,3 & 12, stay tuned..

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Performance is all about damage limitation..

The term D.O.M.S. is used frequently within the world of endurance, it represents the ‘Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness’. The name refers to the fact that sometimes you don’t actually feel the effects of a training session or race until the following day when you step out of bed. Those who have ran a marathon will understand the sensation. You cross the line and undoubtedly you’re tired but there isn’t a great deal of physical pain. However, the next morning, or perhaps even the morning after that, your attempts to walk downstairs backwards provide the family with the highest level of entertainment they have experienced in their lifetime.

So what’s happened? Has someone been repeatedly battering your tired legs throughout the night whilst you failed to wake from your marathon induced, coma like sleep? The answer lies with D.O.M.S. and the inflammation process.

The inflammation process

During a marathon running event the muscle tissue is damaged due to repeated stress and this triggers the inflammation process. The damage occurs ‘during’ the marathon but the inflammation process takes 24-48 hours to reach its peak, so the pain you feel the following morning was actually happening ‘real time’ during the second half of the race.

An important note to make here is that when people slow down in the final 6 miles of the marathon, we generally assume it is caused by low carbohydrate stores, often termed ‘hitting the wall’. However, there is likely to be a significant amount of muscle tissue damage by this stage in the race which will undoubtedly have an impact upon performance. Due to the D.O.M.S. effect, we rarely discuss the significance of tissue damage during the event. It’s important to recognise that the pain you experience 24-48 hours after the race is caused by damage which happened ‘real time’ in the second half of the marathon.

*Part of the inflammatory process involves fluid build up in the damaged area, due to this fluid build up you may weigh more 24-48 hours after the marathon that you did before, perhaps even 1-2kg extra in weight! Don’t worry.. it’s just water and it will pass.

How do I know if I’ve got tissue damage as opposed to simply having tight muscles?

  1. It’ll be very ‘tender, warm and swollen’ and if someone squeezes your leg you’ll instinctively want to punch them (NB: they never see the funny side of your response).
  2. When you stretch, it makes no difference to the tenderness, the pain still exists (it’s not tight, its damaged) and its probably better if you actually don’t stretch!

*Myth explosion – the pain and tenderness the day after the event has absolutely nothing to do with lactic acid in the muscles.

How does damage affect performance?

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that a damaged muscle will not work as effectively as a healthy muscle. However, aside from the actual physical damage directly affecting performance, it’s possible that the inflammation process is acting on a much higher plane and going straight to the governor.

The central governor

There are various theories regarding ‘why we slow down’ and one of the most prominent in recent years has been the ‘central governor’. This theory suggests that fatigue is controlled by the brain (which can effectively switch off nerve signals to muscles) rather than fatigue being controlled by ‘peripheral factors’ such as the ‘actual muscle damage’.

Okay, here is a simple example:

  1. The muscles is damaged and therefore doesn’t work well, as a result you slow down. That is ‘peripheral control’, the muscle is damaged and the muscle doesn’t work, at no point is the brain involved.
  2. The muscle is damaged and somehow the brain’s monitoring system detects this. As a result the brain blocks nerve signals to the muscle so it can’t function fully and you are forced to slow down, that’s central governor control.

Why are we talking about central governor and gone off track from inflammation?

Yep, I was hoping you’d ask that. When we damage a muscle we kick start the ‘inflammatory process’ which is a chain of events involving a series of chemicals, each having a different purpose and action. One of the most widely researched in a chemical known as Interleukin-6 (IL-6) which is released into the blood stream during early stages of muscle damage and inflammation.

Research suggests that IL-6 is detected by the brain and as a consequence, the brain then acts to slow you down in some way. In one study (completed by Tim Noakes 2004) runners completed 2 separate 10k runs a week apart. They were healthy during both but prior to the second run they were injected with IL-6 and ran almost a minute slower.

Just stop and think about this for one second

Look at the 2 examples given at the top of this page for ‘peripheral control’ and ‘central control’. These 10k runners did not have muscle damage prior to either 10k, they were healthy, fuelled and ready to go until injected with IL-6. Their slower time cannot be explained by muscle damage, low fuel or any other form of peripheral control. The only possible explanation is the circulating chemicals.

The chemical IL-6 has even been suggested as a possible cause for the lethargy associated with ‘chronic fatigue’ or ‘chronic overtraining’. We know that all general illnesses and all forms of stress kick start the inflammation process and that in turn creates IL-6.

What causes the damage?

  1. Damage will be far greater if you’re not conditioned to the distance and terrain. In simple terms you need to spend time on your feet and do the longer sessions.
  2. Harder surfaces are more likely to cause damage, although this isn’t always strictly true as runners do become accustomed to the surface they train on.
  3. Running down hill is the real killer as the muscles contract eccentrically, braking your speed, thereby causing much greater damage.  You should therefore condition yourself to downhill running before the event. Remember that the climbing aspect of trail/fell running is not the damaging part, it’s the descending which is the real killer.
  4. Training without a pack and then suddenly adding a pack for race day will be enough to create significantly greater damage, in particular on the descents. You need to condition yourself to pack weight.

How can you avoid the damage?

  1. As above, you need to complete longer sessions, including descents, with the correct pack weight.
  2. It’s possible that damage may be reduced, by using compression clothing. Research is very poor but ‘subjective’ feedback suggests that it certainly helps.
  3. Your weight and the weight of your pack have an impact. Losing weight personally and packing light will both have a significant impact upon damage.
  4. Whilst this is a subjective / commercial / controversial addition to the list, we’ve found that specific shoes will also help, in particular the Hoka shoes which are designed to reduce impact, in particular on descents. Our personal findings are that Hoka’s dramatically reduce damage and associated DOMS.

How can you deal with the damage?

  1. Nutritional interventions, specific foods and supplements can combat inflammation and help your recovery and performance. For more information see previous blogs from March relating to nutrition for optimal recovery.
  2. Ice baths or standing in a cold lake/river following your training runs can also be beneficial. Once again, research is undecided with regards to benefits but subjective feedback suggests that it helps to reduce DOMS.

*It’s important to note that the inflammatory process is a vital part of rebuilding damaged tissue, despite the fact that this article views it as a negative occurrence. Don’t take NSAIDs (anti-inflammatories) unless prescribed, they are not the answer.

What should I do if I have tissue damage?

  1. Rest and let your legs recover for a few days.
  2. Avoid very deep post event massage or stretching, sticking fingers into or stretching damaged tissue is never a good idea, wait a few days at least.
  3. Eat the right foods and focus on anti-inflammatory diet.
  4. After a few days do some light exercise such as cycling to encourage blood flow to the area and assist the repair process.


Recce day 4, the report..

Apologies for delay writing this, I’m still recovering myself from the weekend!

The weather was very much in our favour and we even had a tailwind! On Saturday evening Scott from Loving Outdoors gave a great, simple talk about GPS devices and which are most suited for 50/100 competitors and this was followed by an equally interesting presentation by Stuart Smith of Adventure in Mind who discussed the merits and skills of map reading whilst on the hoof! There was a great turnout Saturday evening considering that this recce specifically targeted 100 runners only but there were also some familiar 50 runners in attendance.

Sunday morning the coach arrived 8:00am to collect recce runners from Dalemain House, dropping them off at Buttermere to start the journey back. The tracks on this stage are pretty good all the way through and running is relatively easy, with the final sections being on quiet roads. Despite the good terrain, the distance is over 30 miles so it certainly wasn’t going to be easy for anyone! After meeting the coach at Dalemain I waved everyone off with a packed lunch and could hear them singing happily as the coach headed towards the A66. I decided to follow the route backwards on mountain bike and followed the old coach road to Keswick, before completing the out and back track between Blencathre and Skiddaw. By the time I started descending the track from Latrigg into keswick I spotted the familiar figure of Paul Navesey, climbing towards me, followed by several other runners. Whilst recces are great social occasions, I noticed a distinct lack of conversation between the front runners and left them to get on with it.

The rest of the group made their way along the old railway line and began the climb up Latrigg, at this point I was assessing the situation from a Keswick cafe armed with a large coffee and a piece of flapjack big enough to sink an aircraft carrier. Terry was waiting at Blencathre centre and notified me by text that Navesey was through with others closely following, I replied by text, commenting on the size of the flapjack. I left the cafe 3kg heavier and returned via the old coach road ahead of the runners to count everyone in at Dalemain. One by one they arrived and as the hours progressed it started to drizzle.. then the day hit an all time low.. 2 goals in the last 4 minutes, unbelievable. The radio was switched off and the remaining runners noted our mood.. The obvious exception was Clare, who having returned from a windswept Dockray checkpoint proceeded to celebrate in fanatical fashion.

We’ve never witnessed as much drama during a recce day, who knows what’s in store for the double header June 23rd / 24th. Whatever the future holds, we look forwards to seeing you there..

Lakeland 100 Team

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Recce Day 4, Final Details.

Recce day 4 takes place from Buttermere to Dalemain and covers the 2nd quarter of the 100 course. The route is one of the easier sections with relatively good tracks and few aggressive climbs and descents.

On Saturday there will be guest talks at Crosthwaite Parish Room, Keswick, CA12 5NN. To see the exact location GO HERE

The talks start at 6:30 and there will be 2 speakers, Stuart Smith from ‘Adventure In Mind’ will be discussing map reading skills and how to apply them for the Montane Lakeland 50 and 100, Scott from ‘Loving Outdoors‘ will be talking through GPS devices and which are the best for ultra runners. Refreshments are free and friends or family are welcome for a charity donation of £5 on the door.

On Sunday the coach will pick up at 8:00am from Dalemain Estate near Pooley Bridge, please park your cars in the car park at Dalemain estate but use the back section of the car park. To see the location GO HERE. The coach will then drop off at Buttermere Village Hall to start the run (60-75 minute drive), to see location GO HERE.

We advise that you stay in Keswick as this is the most convenient place for all activities, but please be aware that Dalemain is the only collection point for the coach, it will not collect from Keswick.

Checkpoints will be manned at Braithwaite, Blencathre and Dockray with water and basic refreshments, but please bring your own snacks and any other specific products required.

You will need to print a road book from the competitor area, if you are using GPS download the track/route (there will not be the option to do this on Saturday evening or Sunday morning). You can also pre-mark a route map to help with navigation, there is a map link provided on the competitor area of the site.

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Who’s looking after you? (Part 1)

Checkpoint 13/5, Chapel Stile, Langdale

A great place to start and an amazing place to visit. Last year during the event I took time out at midnight Saturday to visit Chapel Stile, staffed by ‘the Howards’. The checkpoint was an oasis of calm, runners sitting outside on sofas and armchairs, warming themselves next to wood burning chimneys whilst mellow music played in the background. I wondered if I had mistakenly wandered into a Morrocan oasis, most runners seemed in no hurry to leave, preferring to chat and drink coffee.. I sat in a comfy chair and stayed for an hour, watching the line of head torches appear as runners, one by one, out of the darkness.

The checkpoint is staffed mainly by Andrew Howard, brother of Max who competes in the 100 mile event every year! It doesn’t end there, Max’s wife Lynda has done the 50 and this year is doing the 100.. there’s more, Andrew’s wife Helen has caught the bug and will also be doing the 50 this year! The family own Grove Cottages of Ambleside, just a few hundred metres up the road from CP12 Lakes Runner, if you are looking for a wonderful place to stay for a week of recce and training, this family know a bit about the course and you couldn’t possibly meet a nicer bunch of people:

Once again the Howards will be staffing CP13, Chapel Stile, it’ll be hard, but try not to stay too long.. 😉

Checkpoint 2, Corn Mill, Boot, Eskdale

For the 100 runners you’ll be facing darkness soon after this checkpoint so this is the perfect place for Petzl and CP manager Martin Bergerud. Petzl lighting have been supporting this event since the first year and continue to do so. This year Martin and his team will be feeding, hydrating, supporting and pushing you onwards to Wasdale. Martin is an all round mountain man, runner, cyclist and great guy so you are in safe hands. Part of Martin’s role is to ensure that petzl produce the best products for ultra runners, at the June recce, we’ll be handing out models of the Petzl Nao, possibly the world’s most intelligent head torch and asking for your feedback:

If you fancy trying one out, join us in June for the 2 day recce and say hello to Martin!

Checkpoint 11/3, Kentmere Institute, Kentmere

Q: How many marshals and smoothy machines does it take to make fresh fruit smoothies for 900 competitors?

I personally don’t known the answer to this question, but the Montane team seem to pull it off every year and this is now the trademark for the Kentmere checkpoint. Now that I’ve posted it in this blog, they are going to have to do it again this year! Kentmere is always busy and Paul Cosgrove’s team generally resemble contestants in one of the many TV cooking shows, when told they have only 60 seconds to serve up their food for their highly critical judges.. The difference between the Montane team and their TV counterparts is that the Montane team continue in that mode for approximately 6 hours!!

Expect smoothies, support and fairly lights from team Montane at Kentmere.

In the next exciting issue.. who’s at 4,5,6 and 14? You’ll have to tune in to find out..

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