The 3 Elements Of Trail Running – Brief Thoughts After #BareFootLeJog Part 1

I finished at 10pm on the 2nd of September after a 53 mile day in 10 hours of running.  This was the day after, having had a nice evening of celebrating with the traditional Scottish beverage.

I finished at 10pm on the 2nd of September after a 53 mile day in 10 hours of running. This was the day after, having had a nice evening of celebrating with the traditional Scottish beverage. ¬†There’s nothing like making fun of yourself with a proper wolly pose ūüėČ

Sean Conway, having completed his JogLe posted an article called the 4 elements of trail running.  At the time, I was in the process of putting the final pieces of my LeJog in place, so I read with interest and even added an additional element.

Travelling for 38 days, carrying what you need to survive tends to provide you with lots of time to ponder ephemeral ideas like the nature of endurance or how we escape from that dark place we sometimes find ourselves as ultra runners.  The whole elements of trail running seemed to stick in my head and it seemed to me that there are actually 3 elements to focus on.  The 4 Sean Conway mentions are actually breakdowns of these 3 elements and having complete LeJog, barefooted and unsupported in 38 days, I think I can put my thoughts down (38 days is a long time to think!).

The first element, although they are all of equal importance is mechanics. ¬†I’m referring to the understanding of how you move as a person and developing the efficiency of this movement. ¬†I felt I was reasonably efficient when I ran or walked, but on the 5th day I found I was moving far better than day one. ¬†Maybe it was getting used to the 8kg pack or even the breakfast I ate, but regardless, running along the Devon section of the South West Coast path felt more fluid that running ever had. ¬†Later I was using what I knew about physiology (research in book like Anatomy for Runners and various podcasts and websites) and I would then treat the problem and alter my movement as consciously as I could to prevent the problem. ¬†My hips would hurt near the end of the trip and so I dealt with them by working on my quads that were causing the problem. ¬†The was one problem early on that could have ended the barefoot LeJog adventure after just 5 days. ¬†I¬†was thrown off my feet by the gales of day 2 and had a lovely bruised lump on the top of my left foot. ¬†We compensate for injury, no matter how small and alter our mechanics, and mine caused severe tendentious at the join between my Achilles and my Soleous muscle.

This was hard to deal with and then leads to the second element, mentality. ¬†We train our bodies when we take on long distance running (well, any length of running or exercise) but how often do we train our brains? ¬†Day 6 was a difficult day. ¬†I had nothing to do, I could barely walk around and the time seemed to be used by my brain to think about failure. ¬†I realised a few days after that I wasn’t looking into that dark place but I had fallen in. ¬†The people who had virtually joined in, donated money and spoken to me at races before LeJog became a whole host of people I was going to let down. ¬†Then the phone buzzed and a friend sent me a message that threw my own words into my face…

“You either do something or you don’t. ¬†There’s no trying to do something”

I’d like to thank Master Yoda for that pearl of wisdom, but it had a massive impact on me. ¬†I genuinely believed those words when I spoke them and they seemed to trigger some kind of flow state. ¬†The rest of the run was rescheduled so that I had several weeks of short days and I set my mind to getting as far as I could. ¬†I think this is the part of our mentality as ultra runners that we need to celebrate and keep building. ¬†We can enter these flow states and become problem solving machines, but it seems to take utter immersion in what we’re doing and slight changes to our environment to trigger them. ¬†The other part of the mentality that is equally as important is acknowledging the suck! ¬†We know when things are bad, but we don’t always acknowledge them. ¬†I reached a point near the end of the trip where I would just admit I was tired, admit I needed to stop and once I did this, solving the problem seemed to be easier, whether it was related to physical or mental tiredness. ¬†Mental tiredness tended to end in a quick snooze and the physical tiredness was in some cases completely removed by knowing what to eat.

Above Malham Cove.  One of the best climbs of the trip with some awesome limestone slabs to bounce around on.

Above Malham Cove. One of the best climbs of the trip with some awesome limestone slabs to bounce around on.

Now comes the third element which is metabolism. ¬†By this I’m not just referring to what we eat, but how our bodies utilises water and the food we put in. ¬†After 2 weeks, I was barely eating anything. ¬†I would mix a bottle of tailwind up (2 scoops in 600ml) and this would last me for half a days worth of moving, followed by a refill and then an evening meal. ¬†Admittedly I was staying aerobic for most of the time, but even on the occasions where the trail was tremendous and it would be a sin not to unleash for just a few miles, I didn’t seem to need the extra fuel that we are told we need. ¬†I would go into shops after 20-30 miles and what I purchased was specific. ¬†I even left a fair few shops with no extra food and just water, even though I knew the day after would be a long one without any form of food stops. ¬†Now this is all diet based, but there is the side of metabolism that relates to what fuels we burn whilst moving and it really did seem to boil down to fat as fuel and glucose as a minor top up. ¬†I must have been doing something right though since I lost 10lbs over all, which was 4% of body fat with a 2% muscle gain. ¬†I was hoping to at least lose enough to get that coveted six pack!

Two days after I restarted (day 9) I was lucky enough to be given a bag of left over roast potatoes and a nice lunch they made too.

Two days after I restarted (day 9) I was lucky enough to be given a bag of left over roast potatoes and a nice lunch they made too.

Now I’ve been really brief with these elements, since I have lots of thoughts on each one, in particular the mechanics and mentality elements. ¬†They are what made the trip as successful and for the majority of time a joy to do.

What was or wasn’t on my feet aside, once I got my head around the mentality and mechanics elements the metabolism seemed to be second nature. ¬†If something hurt, I would hunt for the source of that pain, whether it was poor movement, tight muscles or the distribution of weight in my pack. ¬†Aches and pains that I was getting seemed to go, new ones developed until I found their source and they would be banished too.

It’s time to round this off as the first part. ¬†These 3 elements deserve a little more time, so I’ll be working on my thoughts some more and posting about them as distinct ideas, but as far as the LeJog write up goes, this is part 1 of a possible 3.

Hope you found something useful or interesting in this post.

Day 28 – The Nature Of Endurance

I’m no expert, and the words below are likely the result of dehydration, malnutrition and a distinct lack of sleep.

I rambled about this in an earlier post but yesterday, feeling oddly ill and making my way (at a slower than slow pace) to Bellingham I seemed to have had a moment.

The nature of endurance and the drive to move forwards is somehqta schizophrenic. ¬†I’m not making light of the condition in anyway however.

When those¬†difficult moments hit, there is a part of a persons mind that says “Stop! You don’t have to go any further”

This is true of my situation as I have everything needed to stop at any moment and be comfortable for a day or so. ¬†But here’s the paradoxical bit. ¬†I don’t seem to stop. ¬†There’s another part that seems to reply “I know. ¬†Still gonna keep going till I reach….”

The two different personalities jostle for dominance and really, it seems that at the core of it, endurance is an unwillingness to listen to the part of the mind that says “stop”.

Today, many people will endure lots of hardships and they will do it because it is in our nature as humans, but only if we allow it and encourage its flurishing in the young people we interact with.

Day 22 & 23 – Thoughts Whilst Crossing The Moor

We all have that dark part of us that we hide and in doing so we hide from it.  We teeter on its edges, occasionally moving just beyond its horizons, but we avoid it at all costs.  We stare into the abyss and nothing but dread stares back.

Yet, at some point I made the conscious decision to go in.  It is easier to be in a dark place and stare up at the light than it is to stand out of reach of the dark and wander what demons lurk within.

Gradually, this dark place began to fill with light.  Where once there were undefined shapes of forbidding, there now stands figures of encouraging challenge.  The way out is easy to find, no longer a distant star, but more a beaming beacon.  The euphoria of reaching a stop point was simply the realisation that it is possible to sink lower than you imagined and then rise out.  I am no longer ashamed or fearful of this dark place. 

It is easier to crawl out of the pit of despair than it is to avoid falling in.  

Pasta meal curtosy of Bob from The Outdoor Station.

Stepping Out Of The Suck

3:45am and the alarm sets off.  I awake to the sound of music, but motivation is distinctly lacking.  It’s windy, rainy, cold and I’m up before the sun!

Sometimes you just have to embrace the internal dulldrum and step out, and small things provide just enough of a nudge to get you moving.  This morning I’m glad I did for two reasons…

 

Reason 1 – Rain doesn’t always suck

  

Reason 2 – Even a dull field is interesting with magnificent skies


Have great Tuesday! 

Testing Out Plan C #BareFootLeJog

Normally, a bank holiday involves a lie in, lazy morning and then possibly a visit to the local boozer.  I need to cut down on the alcohol so, 4am start to the day, couple of coffees and out the door.

Was shown a super route around Lathkill Dale, which is a mere 10 miles from me, but an area I’ve never run!!  

Post 11 miles leg teaser, a little Easter Sunday polish food left overs and back to Buxton, to pick up a local runner for a mini route recce.  A little bit of slow adventuring, some of my favourite running places finally got linked up in reality and then some lunch.  So, slightly shy of 20 miles in and I’m leading a trail run with Buxton AC runners.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an incredible display of lights from my favourite burning ball of gas…

The Sun ūüėä

Plan C for the barefoot 120 miler this summer is 28-33 miles, which if I feel as I do today, after training, then it should be doable.  Now I’m just going to repeat today’s shenanigans tomorrow to see what happens to my legs on Wednesday.  

And I’m completely in love with my Luna Venado sandals.   They are really not meant for trails, but now that they’ve started to bed and mould to my feet, they are just amazing! 

Here’s some snaps from my phone to prove how great a day it’s been