Sunday, March 02, 2008

No rest for the wicked

It's been a tough week. I've had no rest; none from work, none from training. I haven't had a day off work for 2 weeks (it'll be 3 by the end of this week). Factor into that a lot of early mornings and air travel, and general disruption.

Usually I rest on Monday, but I had my second heat chamber session at MMU. After Fridays session, where I was pulled out after 33 minutes when my core temp hit 39.6, we decided to start slower and with slightly lower humidity (30-42% - still high!). I ran at 7kph for 20 minutes with no ill effects, and then the speed was upped to 8kph for 10 minutes, but with my temperature hitting 39.3 we decided to slow it to a walk, and just jogged the last couple of minutes. My temperature was 39.4 at the end, so I was still very hot, but at least I had made it through the full 45 minutes. I had used 1.5l of water and gained 0.4L in weight, so I had sweated out 1.1l; quite a lot! certainly more than I will have the luxury of drinking in the desert. My urine hydration scores had still not improved; still in the 700's (600 being 'Hydrated'). Although I only covered 7km, which doesn't sounds like much of a run, it was quite tough.

On Tuesday I ran into town during my lunch and collected my New Balance 1100MDS trainers from the cobblers. I'll post more about those later. So, I did 7 miles at lunch. In the evening I went back to MMU for my final heat chamber session with the students. I weighed in before the start at 62.1kg. This is perhaps the lightest I have ever been since being a teenager! After some discussion, they had left the dehumidifier running for most of the day and got it down to 18% at 40C (it did go up to 25% whilst running before they got it back to 18% again). The difference when I walked in was immediate; the air felt drier. Still, we decided to take it steady and start at 7kph and only upped to 8kph, then 9kph in the last 10 minutes. The difference was incredible. This time, I was not covered in sweat on my stomach and limbs, just sweating from the head. In other words I was evaporative-cooling. My core temperature only went to up 38.5C. I drank 900ml of water, and still weighed 62.1kg afterwards; so fluid balance. This was a great relief and confidence booster. It means I can run at temperatures of 40C with a low humidity and hopefully get between checkpoints 9-12k usually) using only the supplied 1.5l of water. I estimate to use 750ml every 45 minutes, so that is what I will budget for. I hope CP-CP will only take me perhaps 1.5 hours, though I realise there will be times this could take longer.

My hydration level had not improved after testing, so I'm taking more drastic steps to improve it. Firstly, one of the Students, Sarah has very kindly given up her own time and written me a document on Hydration. It explains the difference between Hypotonic, hypertonic and Isotonic and has recipes for each. I'm currently sipping one of those recipes as I type! Secondly, I have ordered myself a pocket osmometer to measure my own urine osmolality. This is a little over the top, but given that my body appears to 'normally' operate at this 700 - 800 dehydrated level, I need to address this and fast. If I get to the desert feeling my normal '700' self then I am going to get in trouble on day 1. I'll no doubt take the osmometer into the desert, at least to use up to the admin day and keep on top of this situation. Just bring me your first morning sample for my 'hydration drop in centre' if you are taking part in this years MDS!

I thanked all the physiology students, and the psychology students who I saw on Thursday evening, for their support before and I'm sure I’ll do something to show my appreciation when I get back from the MDS.

On Wednesday I did a 11.5 mile trail run, taking in 1000ft of ascent. I know I promised not to run too many hills, but I have no choice where I live!

On Thursday on did 12 miles, practically the same route as the day before.

Friday was my usual gym session, a little more focus on strengthening and some higher weights this week.

On Saturday I got up early and drove to Swansea, where I worked until 2pm. I then went to my hotel and changed, packing a 12kg pack and heading out on a pre-planned 16 mile run. Eight miles of the routes was on the beach from Swansea towards The Mumbles. I was pleased to take the opportunity to run along the flat featureless, and not to mention cold and windy beach. It was good mental training as well as getting some sand underfoot too. Because of the time I started (after 3pm) it was quite dark as I finished the last bit of the beach, again something which I can draw parallels to in Morocco on day 4. I got back to the hotel sometime after 7pm, after averaging a steady 5.2mph. The pack had no so much rubbed me, but given me a painful massage. After some pretty poor food service (1.5 hours late!) I went to bed.

I was up at 7am on Sunday for work and finished at midday. I then drove 3 hours home and set off for my run at 4:30 pm. It was one of those situations where I though, "do I really want to START running 22 miles at 4:30pm, knowing it will be getting dark in a hour". Still, of course I set off telling myself it's good mental training.

I had a few minor hold ups whilst I adjusted my pack, which with 12kg was really hurting my back now. I carried on but at 4 miles I stopped and decided to start taping up my back to prevent even worse damage. It was then an old man, in his 70's decided to walk past with his dog and strike up what I can only describe as a fairly bizarre conversation. I say conversation, but he just talked at me for 20 minutes. I just could not get away. Initially I felt sorry for him, assuming he had on one to talk to (probably true), but I made my excuses when the conversation took a particularly strange turn. Ask me about the budgie-man in the desert, and I'll tell you.

I managed to escape and it was already getting dark and I'd not even covered 5 miles. I ran on as the light failed and even took in a new piece of planned route, which I enjoyed and made me forget about the back pain. At the top of a 2.5 mile climb, at the 11 mile point, I stopped and put on more tape on my back. I had also been adjusting the straps and gradually lowering the pack down. This made the pack bounce more, but took away some of the pain, albeit temporarily. I ran down into Newcastle-under-Lyme and past my old high school, which looked much smaller than I remember before heading towards Apedale. By now of course it had been pitch black for a long time. I had been running with my head torch on, totally alone on footpaths that I think only I use. My mother phoned me, worried about me, and said she had stopped off at my house and left me some dinner. I felt slightly guilty as it was mother’s day and I hadn't even seen her. I sent her flowers today to make up! At 16 miles I walked up a 2 mile long hill. My back was torturing me by now. I had also not picked up one of my electrolyte sachets, so I was running low on fuel and flagging. I felt pretty rotten, and was strangely pleased by that. Tough, miserable training sessions are what get you through tough actual events. You draw on the mental strength from the training and tell yourself that you've been here before. It is this kind of miserable experience that I hope will give me the will to continue in the desert.

I half-promised myself I'd knock a mile off and only do 21, when all the time I knew I'd do no such thing. Doing less than I had planned, for no reason that feeling rough and tired, would be the first step to giving up when it comes to the real thing. I dragged myself through the last couple of miles, much of which I did with one hand between my back and the pack to ease the pain, and made it home; 22 miles and 2000ft of ascent, mostly in the dark. I dropped my pack and got straight in the car, drove to the nearest shop and bought a few bottles of Luzozade sport to boost my ailing blood-sugar levels and give me the strength to cook the dinner my mother had kindly left for me. I ate as much as I could, tried a bath but just could not relax, so I went to bed about 10:30pm. I slept quite well and got up at 8:30.

This morning my ankles and knees are sore, but I am in better condition that I expected to be. Including the heat chamber sessions I have covered 76 miles this week, and today I am resting from training as planned. This is my last week of high mileage, so I just need to get through it. I'm working in Ireland for some of the week, so it's more early morning flights and disruption. I expect to feel equally terrible next weekend, but can then take my foot off the gas and taper.

As mentioned, I picked up my MDS shoes from the cobbler this week. The cobbler is a true old skool craftsman. He first glued the Velcro on (I gave him a speech about not using super glue when I dropped them off, so he hasn't). Then he has machine stitched the Velcro, in one piece, at the top AND bottom of the Velcro strip. He'd even managed to get it to stitch through the hard plastic at the back of the MDS1100 shoes. Only across the toe where big rubber toe- stub is has he used glue only. He's also gone all the way around the edges and sealed it with more resin-type glue. There is now way a grain of sand is getting in that way. The only way it will happen is if the gaiters rip, or it somehow gets in over the top (I doubt it because I will use ZO tape around my ankle). He charged me £25 (and was worried about the amount!). To be honest, if they hold up (and I'm sure they will) and I survive the event, I'll go back and give him another £25. If you are struggling to get yours done, get them to this guy! Ask me for his details if you need to.

ECG tomorrow. It should make for some entertainment when it shows up a load of heart defects that are attributable to endurance training. Should frighten the nurse anyway! Medical certificate and ECG sign off for it isn't until the 18th March. Who said you could get into see your doctor in 48 hours these days?

I'll have to change my plans for this Sunday. I can't make the Grindleford Gallop because I am staying in Manchester the night before and can't take my kit along. I'll still do the distance, just not the course.

Finally, a sobering thought. This was posted on the MDS organiser’s website this week. The route for 2008 is 245.3 Km long, making it the longest ever in the history of the MARATHON DES SABLES.

Have a good week.

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