Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Post 50 mile malaise

We got round the Lakeland 50 fairly comfortably; we weren't fast, but we finished with some energy to spare. I'm sure we could have gone further, or maybe faster, but I'm not sure that it would have been as much fun.

So the effect it seems to have had on me has come as a bit of a surprise. I'm really tired. And really hungry. All of the time. Even more hungry than I usually am, and craving carbs.

It seems a strange sort of deep tiredness, almost like a fog; the first word that comes to mind is weary, and then maybe torpor...

The tiredness may have been enhanced by my almost sleep free 32 hours volunteering at the LEL (London Edinburgh London 1400Km audax) control in Brampton, and I may be getting a cold, but it feels like more than that.

It may be post-event blues; I had been so focussed on the Lakeland 50 (and so convinced that I was going to struggle to get round) that now that it is over everything seems a bit flat. The downside to a high driven by anticipation, adrenaline and endorphins.

I suppose all that I can do is wait and see what happens next. I'll keep sleeping a lot, and eating a lot of cake, and I'll avoid any hard exercise (and the bathroom scales) for a few more days and then I'll try to take myself in hand...

Monday, 5 August 2013

The perfect trail shoe? Inov8 TrailRoc 255 - long term review

A few months ago I published a blog about my apparently endless quest for the perfect trail or fell shoe. This boiled down to a shoe that was either wide enough to comfortably accommodate the bunion on my left foot, or soft enough to conform to the shape of my bunion, while at the same time strong enough not to split.

In February I bought a pair of Inov8 TrailRoc 255 shoes from Pete Bland in Kendal. As I commented in a blog post at the time they appeared to be promising, but after training in them regularly since then, and running the Allendale Challenge (26 miles) in April, the Swaledale Marathon (23 miles) in June and the Lakeland 50 in July I thought it was a good time to review their performance.

I bought the TrailRoc because it is an Inov8 with a "natural" fit, so based on my experience of other Inov8 shoes I expected it to accommodate my bunion. I chose the 255 with a 6mm drop (2 arrows in the world of Inov8) rather than any of the lighter models (zero drop 235 and 150, 3mm drop 245; the numbers refer to the weight of a single UK size 8 shoe) because I was looking for a more rugged shoe that would protect my feet and give me a little support in a 50 mile event.

Inov8 TrailRoc 255This shoe also has a strip of stronger material (presumably this can be  described as a rand) running right round the front of the shoe above the sole, a couple of centimetres (or an inch) deep, starting in front of the heel. This makes the shoe stronger, although less flexible, less prone to damage from sharp rocks, and, most importantly, protects the foot from sharp projecting rocks.

In terms of my experience of the shoe, I found the upper to be very comfortable, and suffered very few blisters. Of the blisters I did have, most were between my toes, caused by my toes rubbing together. I don't think that this was shoe specific, and I seem to have resolved the problem by wearing Injinji toe socks.

The toe box is wide enough to accommodate my bunion without re-lacing, and the rand didn't cause any problems even though it clearly prevented the  material from deforming around my bunion. The rand is excellent at protecting the foot from sharp stones, and seems to have helped prevent the splitting I have experienced with other Inov8 shoes.

The grip isn't quite as aggressive as I might like, especially on wet rock, but it handles most other surfaces adequately. The rock plate protects the sole of the foot well, and on the very rough trails of the Lakeland 50 my soles (that is the soles of my feet) survived quite well.

The combination of the welt and the slightly more padded upper does retain water more than other Inov8 shoes I have used, but not to the point where it becomes an issue.

To summarise, I like them; maybe the grip isn't perfect, but at least I haven't destroyed them yet. They are comfortable when worn for long periods over very rough ground and they seem to be robust enough to survive for a good few hundred miles more. They aren't superlight racing shoes, and they aren't very aggressive fell shoes, but for long rough trails and general off-road training they are great.

Perfect? Probably not, but really quite good.

If you don't believe me, there is an excellent review here.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Cold porridge

It seems to be the consensus amongst runners and cyclists that a big bowl of porridge is the breakfast of choice before a long run, a long day in the saddle, or a race. Since I eat porridge almost every morning whatever I am doing, I find it hard to argue with this position.

However, in the summer I find that I don't always want a bowl of steaming hot porridge, but I still need the slow release carbs to get me through the morning. I came across the solution a few years ago (actually 8 years ago now I check) in a copy of The Times, a newspaper I never read, which had a recipe by Jill Dupleix for "summer porridge". I would give you a link to this as I know it is still on The Times' website, but unless you are willing to pay up, it is safely buried behind their paywall.

The idea is not really original, it is simply another reworking of Bircher muesli, and once you have the basic idea it can be easily customised to meet your preference. My version is very close to the Jill Dupleix version, and the main difference between this version and most of the current versions of Bircher muesli is that the oats are soaked in water and not in fruit juice.

For two medium sized servings, take a cup (250ml) of large oat flakes / porridge oats / jumbo oats (weighing about 100g or 3 3/4 oz) and soak in some water (say 300ml or 10 UK fluid oz) in a large bowl for 20 to 30 minutes. Then drain off the excess water and add the following:

3 generously heaped tablespoons (maybe 70 - 100ml) yogurt - I use full fat Greek style, use low fat if you enjoy being disappointed
1 dessert spoon of runny honey (about 10ml), more if you have a sweet tooth
1 banana - sliced thinly

This is my basic recipe, to which I add some (usually one or two fresh fruit, one nut or seed and maybe one dried fruit) of the following:

Fresh raspberries or strawberries
Fresh or frozen blueberries (I just add them straight from the freezer)
Sultanas or chopped dates or chopped dried apricots
Pumpkin seeds
Chopped nuts - almonds, pecans or brazils
Chopped pear or peach
A grated apple, unpeeled

Mix it all up and put it in two bowls. That's it.

Eat it.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Montane Lakeland 50 2013 - Food

Runners obsess about food and drink. Sometimes they make this sound more important by talking about "nutrition" and "hydration" "strategies", but it does come down to food and drink.

We had a plan, a strategy, perhaps even a philosophy about food and drink for the 50, based on experience of eating and drinking in marathons and in training; but even so, at the point of starting the 50 we had never covered more than 30 miles in a single session, so whatever we did was purely experimental.

The plan was simple; eat lots of food, often. Since we weren't going super fast we decided to take quite bulky real food, and chose not to rely on the food at checkpoints. Apart from water, when we set off we could have done the route entirely self supported (at least in terms of food, we may well have got lost!).

The real food versus sports / energy drinks / bars / gels discussion was straightforward. Most of those things seem to make me feel sick if I eat them in quantity, or in isolation for any period of time. I'm starting to think that although sports drinks and gels give me a short term boost (in a fast half marathon, for example), they tend to make me crash shortly afterwards, and from experience of very hot marathons, I am fairly convinced that the very high sugar concentrations actually prevent my stomach from absorbing water. So, we were expecting to be out for 14 hours or more, so no sports drinks, gels or bars. Easy.

What to take instead? First of all, we were required to take emergency food we didn't intend to eat, so I bagged up a big lump of shop bought marzipan and a handful of dates and dried apricots and hid them in the bottom of the rucksacks. For an emergency boost equivalent to a gel, we took a pouch of banana baby food (essentially, just mashed banana - very expensive mashed banana, but easy to carry). Apart from that, we took the following:

Cheese and pickle sandwiches
Home made flapjack - the Dan Lepard halva ones with figs and pecans
Chocolate and sea salt sticky rice and oat balls (recipe from Feed Zone Portables by Biju Thomas )
Dates and dried apricots
Salted boiled potatoes
Salted almonds
Nuun electrolyte tablets

Yes, I realise that was a lot to carry, but we wanted to be sure that we had what worked. Having a choice meant we didn't need to eat anything we didn't fancy, or eat all the same thing until it caused a problem, and if something plainly wasn't working, we could have something else. And nutritionally it seemed to cover all of the bases; slow release carbs, fast carbs, protein, fat, salt...

Of the things in the list, we ate some of everything, and all of the rice balls and flapjack, most of the dried fruit and quite a lot of the sandwiches and almonds. The potatoes might have been a bit of a mistake, they were nice, but a bit messy and fiddly to get at, and too heavy. The salty almonds were great, and encouraged me to drink more; I was definitely dehydrated as a result of the hot climb out of Fusedale.

I also ate and drank a few things from the checkpoints; a flapjack and a fig roll at Howtown, a cup of tea at Mardale Head, more tea and a couple of bits of apple (delicious; quite a revelation) at Kentmere, tea and a cheese sandwich at Ambleside, tea and a bit of bread at Chapel Stile, and finally more tea at Tilberthwaite.

At the end, all I really wanted was a cup of tea and the remaining cheese sandwich.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Montane Lakeland 50 2013 - A grand day (and night) out

Following on from my last post...

...we arrived at Coniston on Friday evening, found the event headquarters, parked and pitched the tent in cloudless, still conditions.

We did the weigh-in thing, signed in and had kit checked, then collected numbers, maps and road books, got some free stuff,  and had dibbers apparently permanently welded to our wrists.

Back at the tent we ate a couple of sandwiches and some rice pudding, then had an early night.

Next morning I was awake early, and surprised to see so many others up and about. I was a little dismayed to see that the sky was still cloud free, and promising to be warm.

After breakfast I sorted out the food I was taking with me, and added a change of socks and a vest to my rucksack. I stuck some magic tape onto my shoulders to help stop my rucksack rubbing (thank you to the neighbour in the camper van for the loan of a pair of scissors; the magic tape resisted my teeth) and A did some similar last minute faffing.

After a last minute cup of tea we went to the briefing in the hall, already full of sweating runners. Then we were on the coach and off to Dalemain to wait for the start.

And so it began with a quick dip of the dibber and a jog round the fields at Dalemain, in the blazing heat, then off towards Pooley Bridge. Once we were through Pooley Bridge we were soon out onto the track above Ullswater. It was still very warm as we dropped down to the first checkpoint at Howtown. Once we had dibbed, topped up water bottles and grabbed a piece of value flapjack, we were back off up the hill, pausing only to point out to a couple of competitors that they were about to head off up Fusedale without bothering with the first checkpoint.

And so to the first climb of the day; it was hot, humid and airless. Everybody seemed to be suffering, not just me, which was some consolation, but not much. At the top we ran over the soft bouncy turf, and actually found the correct cairn, and footpath straight down to Haweswater. A bit of a drag along the lakeside path and on to the second checkpoint at Mardale Head for a cup of tea and a sit down on the tarmac.

It was still warm on the drag out of Mardale Head to Gatesgarth Pass, but once we over the top there were ominous grumblings and rumblings of distant thunder, accompanied by one or two huge spots of rain. A few hundred metres further and it was pouring, it didn't last long, but it was worth putting on waterproof tops for.

There were more showers off and on all the way to the next checkpoint, making it difficult to decide whether to keep the waterproof on, and steam within, or chance taking it off, only to replace it again almost immediately when the next downpour started.

A more unusual side effect of the rain was the deluge of dilute sweat and sun cream finding its way into my eyes and causing some discomfort, as a bonus my steamed up and rain spattered spectacles weren't helping over the loose and rough surface of the descent. I had a choice, take my glasses off and see vague shapes, or leave them on and see a wet blur.

But still we managed  to arrive at the Kentmere  checkpoint for another cup of tea and a small piece of apple (don't worry, we were eating more than this, but the food deserves a blog post all to itself). We had been going for 7 and 3/4 hours and had covered 27 miles; not fast, but that wasn't the point, we wanted to be sure of getting round, and given the lack of training we didn't want to take chances.

Once the tea was drunk, we left the throbbing techno behind and we were back out into more rain. Waterproofs back on, we set off up over Garburn Pass. We met a few of the people we had overtaken earlier, and assumed that they had resisted the lure of the checkpoint, but apparently we just faffed more than anybody else.

We got over the top of the Garburn Pass fairly easily, and chatted to a hundred competitor, clearly not a local, who seemed to think the weather was just crazy, one minute warm, the next cold, then raining and then thundering. He was fed up with putting his waterproof on, then taking it off again, so he was leaving it in his bag.

On to Troutbeck, then to Ambleside, stumbling through the woods as it began to get dark. The checkpoint was packed, and steaming hot. We grabbed another cup of tea, and I had a cheese sandwich while trying to get a blister plaster to stick on A's Vaseline covered feet. We didn't stay long as it was too hot, but more faffing with head torches was required once we were back outside and realised that it was now dark.  

It wasn't a great surprise that it was dark, but it was earlier than we had been expecting. It was only 9:40, and we had been hoping not to need the headlights until 10:30 or so. Never mind, at least the rain had stopped.

The next section to Chapel Stile, was relatively easy. Mostly runnable after the initial climb, even by the light of our torches. And we got to within a few miles of the Chapel Stile checkpoint before the rain became heavy enough to warrant putting the waterproofs back on; this time they stayed on until the end.

The checkpoint at Chapel Stile is clearly best appreciated after dark; lit by blazing scented logs, it is a bizarre apparition in a tent pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but we tried not to get too comfortable, even though the offer of tea once more proved irresistible.

Now properly dark and properly raining, A took the opportunity to change out of shorts and into running tights, in a somewhat indiscreet manner. Then I took the opportunity to show my inability to navigate in the dark by leading a group past the stile I was looking for, despite A having pointed it out to me. I kept trying to explain to people not to follow me, but they wouldn't listen. Somewhat chastened, we fell in behind those who knew better than us, but for some reason we let them get away, and once more I was at the front. This time it worked out a little better, and we were soon heading down past Blea Tarn; but of course we couldn't see the tarn in the dark and my confidence was a bit shaken by now, and I  had to get a grid reference from my GPS to confirm we were on the correct path.

Another group caught up with us, and following some debate over whether we had strayed to far away from Blea Moss, we turned to head directly to the distant light on the self dib on the road. Entirely to everybody's surprise, this turned out to be about 20 metres away, when a moment before it seemed to be about half a mile away.

On towards Tilberthwaite the rain got heavier, the wind was blowing and A's headlight was fading. We stopped to change the batteries, but it wouldn't work. We could have tried another spare set, but the cold was starting to affect me and we agreed that she would take my headlight and I would manage with my (awesome Hope) hand torch.

The checkpoint at Tilberthwaite was a disappointment. This wasn't anybody's fault, it just didn't provide enough cover from the rain, and we were craving a dry spot to allow us to put on every additional piece of clothing we had; waterproof trousers (have I ever, in my life, worn waterproof trousers?), buff, extra Helly Hansen thermal shirt, Buff, hat, gloves...

And then back out into it, for the final stretch. It was now after 2 in the morning, and we had been out for 14 and a half hours, but we now had less than 4 miles to go. We weren't giving up, even with a horrific climb up the side of the quarry in front of us, with everything awash, and streams pouring along the paths. But it went reasonably well, we kept to the path and at the top found a safe way over the stream above the waterfall, now in spate. Then past the tarn, and very slowly down the very rough path down to the cottages and the track back to Coniston.

And so back to Coniston, still running, and into the school to be greeted like heroes... when in fact we had taken 16 hours to achieve what others had done in less than 8, and if we had only gone a bit faster we would have missed all of the rain and the dark. Although I'm not sure I really would have wanted to miss all of that.


Montane Lakeland 50 2013 - getting to the start

Way back in September we entered the Lakeland 50; a 50 mile jog in the English Lake District from Dalemain near Ullswater to Coniston. It is open to runners and walkers, with the winner coming in somewhere around 8 hours and the last competitors completing the event just within the 24 hour cut-off. This generous cut-off time, and the fact that it is run in conjunction with the Lakeland 100 (almost a complete loop around the Lake District, 100 miles long) make it seem less daunting than it really is.

It is only 50 miles (only 50 when compared to the 100), and only 3100m of ascent, and back in September it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to consider entering. And besides, it was filling up fast, so if we wanted to do it, we had to commit. So we entered, and then had 10 months to worry about it, and even do a wee bit of training.

Training didn't really go well. My partner in all things, A, had been injured since the Swaledale marathon in early June, and was just beginning to run again. After a horrible experience in the heat at the Windermere marathon, and then an enjoyable Swaledale marathon, I had pretty much abandoned running. Without A's encouragement, and the bike and wetsuit competing for my attention I had done as little running as the injured A.

Still, we had 10 months, so that was OK.

Then it was the new year and only 6 months to go, but the winter seemed to have almost run it's course in a fairly benign way for once, so we would start serious training in the spring. Then of course the snow came, later and heavier than I can remember it, and by the time of a slightly shortened (25 miles) and rerouted Allendale Challenge (on April 6th) we still hadn't really started any serious training. In June we ran the Swaledale Marathon (23 miles) reasonably comfortably on a warm day, and completed an official recce of the Lakeland 50 route from Pooley Bridge to Ambleside on a wet and windy day.

Then we had a heat wave, a couple of long hard walk / run days in the Lake District, a reasonable amount of cycling (including a 100Km sportive on the tandem), and an unofficial recce of the remaining part of the Lakeland 50 route from Ambleside to Coniston. This final recce was less successful than the earlier recce. With the combination of the logistics of bus travel to the start from Coniston and the car journey from home, we finally started this at midday on one of the hottest days of the year. While it was beautiful, it was also very, very hot, and we struggled. The result was that although we got to see the route, our confidence was seriously dinted.

We did do a bit more training than that, but I think we only managed one month between September and June with more than 100 miles in the month. Definitely lower volume than we had intended; and the longest run was barely 30 (very hilly) miles.

When the Lakeland 50 finally came around, we set off in the car to Coniston with a sense of trepidation bordering on dread. But at least the weather forecast looked OK...

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Counting teeth

Sometimes I talk to cyclists (by this I mean actual, real people who are cyclists, and not the imaginary people in my head who I address in this blog), and they demonstrate their superiority in all things bike by attempting to discuss with me the number of teeth on the sprocketty things at the back of our respective bikes. These people always know the number of teeth they have on each sprocket, and I never do. Sometimes I have to look to check which bike I am riding.

Obviously these people are geekier than I am about bikes. That people even exist who are geekier about bikes than me might come as a surprise, but it is true, they do (and when I say people, I don't really mean people, I mean men).

I think these people actually consider the gearing of their bikes before they buy them. I tend to buy a bike because I like the colour, or the shiny bits attached to it are aesthetically pleasing in some way, or the man in the shop tells me that it's really great and it's just what I need (they often say that). I have been known to discuss the merits of triples over doubles or compacts with bike shop assistants, but we can usually both tell that neither of us really knows what we are talking about, our eyes glaze over, conversation peters out and I buy the bike anyway just to end the embarrassing silence.

So in an attempt to satisfy my inner geek, to bolster my male pride (seriously dented now that I have admitted in public that I choose bikes entirely on the basis of the colour), and to maintain the impression that I understand these things, I have decided to perform a survey of the number of teeth on all of the sprockets on all of the bikes in the house.

I also think it could be useful to know which gears I use, which combinations I like, and maybe even, why. All of this valuable research will lead me to the conclusion that I need a new bike. Probably.

The result of all this oily tooth counting is summarised in a table. This shows the number of teeth on the chainset, whether double (or compact) or triple, and the number of teeth on the cassette sprockets; these are labelled "front" and "rear" in the table (respectively) for simplicity, and possibly clarity.

The "Gear inches" columns show the gear inches for each gear combination, calculated in the following way:

Gear inches = (F / R) x D

where F is the number of teeth on the front ring, R is the number of teeth on the rear sprocket and D is the wheel diameter in inches, including the tyre.

This is explained, and can be calculated here and here. Wikipedia has a good explanation of gear inches, and its origins for those interested. Although it dates back to the days of the high wheeler (AKA penny farthing), the usefulness of the measure is that it allows you to directly compare gear combinations on different bicycles with different sized wheels.

I've done the calculations for all of the gear combinations, even though I realise that some of them are never used, or at least aren't really sensible to use; big ring at the front to big sprocket at the back being the obvious example.

Gear manufacturer
Wheel size
Gear inches
Best road bike
Campag  Veloce / FSA – 2 x 10
Old steel  road bike
Shimano RX100 – 2 x 7
Shimano Deore / Sugino – 3 x 8
Shimano Altura – 3 x 7
Modern MTB
Shimano Deore – 3 x 9

Once I had counted all of those teeth, tabulated them and calculated the gear inch values, then I needed to think of something to say about them. And I'm not sure what that something is, so I may just be waffling from this point.

The tandem

From what I have read about tandems, especially touring tandems, most people agree that the widest range of gears possible is a good thing, and I haven't seen much convincing evidence for the use of doubles or compact doubles on tandems anywhere that has hills. Some racing tandems are almost certainly excepted.
Given that this isn't a racing tandem, and that I have ambitions to tour, and that I am surrounded by hills, the gear options on my particular tandem look well thought out and appropriate (but purely by chance as I only bought the tandem after I happened to see it in the shop window from the car). There aren't quite the low gears you would get on a true MTB, but I'm not sure I could keep the tandem upright with any lower gearing.

The road bikes

I think that I already understood the difference between the road bikes; the old steel bike (an Orbit America from 1991, pretty much as new in terms of build) has an old school double and a 7-speed rear, meaning that the gearing is limited and there are no easy options uphill. A bike for flat country, or more likely, proper hard men. I do love this bike, but I might not quite be up to it.

The new road bike (an alloy Bianchi from 2009) has a compact double, and from the numbers you can see that you get a wider range than the Orbit, both because it's a compact (50/34 compared to the Orbit's 42/52) and because it's a 10-speed. But what makes better sense to me now is why I seem to be changing gear so much, and why those changes are often changes at the front and the back at the same time. The gears are just too far apart and there are often no easy routes between those gears that are close together in terms of gear inches. So that might well explain why on rolling ground, for example, I never seem to be in quite the right gear... And why I don't think a compact double would be my first choice in the future no matter what the marketing men want me to believe.

The hybrid

This is geared pretty much like a mountain bike, but I guess the big wheels make a difference to the gear inches. To be honest it is fine; probably the gears are a bit low, as I spend more time in the big ring than on the other bikes, but given what I use it for, it is OK.


This has some very low gears, the kind you struggle to move your legs fast enough for. This seems to sum up the difference between roadies and offroaders. With a road bike the cooler you are the bigger the gear you can push, with an MTB the smaller the gear you can turn without the bike falling over, the cooler you are.

I'm not very good at spinning my legs that quickly, but apart from that this has all the gears I need, and they always seem to be in the right place.


I'm fairly certain that my perfect all-round bike, for the terrain I currently ride on, would have a triple somewhere in the region of what I have on the tandem.

The obvious alternative, the compact double, looks great on paper, but not so good in real life.

The downside of a triple is the increase in weight, which is small enough for me to live with, the alleged increase in maintenance overhead, which I am not really convinced by, and the sheer unhipness amongst the wannabe racer crew, who I don't care about (especially when they are walking and I'm not).

I wonder how many others would come to this conclusion if they gave it some proper thought and could get away from the attitude that only old men and weaklings needed triples? Or just stopped buying what they were told to buy.

And maybe I should have thought this through before I bought all of those bikes.