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This blog is my professional view and opinions on anything related to massage and fitness. This may range from new therapies, training modes, interesting aspects of massage or fitness, to food, recovery and other aspects to remain in good overall health.

 

By Lee Weston, Feb 15 2019 06:29AM

A 50 mile winter Ultra marathon along the Cornish coast line – Porthcurno to Porthtowan.


This was the first year that MudCrew Events have put on the 50 mile version of its big brother, The Arc Of Attrition(AOA). The AOA, in its 5th year, is forging its own reputation for one of the best UK winter 100mile ultras from Coverack to Porthtowan along the South West coast path. The 50 mile, 2750m elevation, Arc50 ran alongside the AOA this year and only 100 entries were drawn from a ballot of 250 last May to trial this format. In my own opinion, it was an amazing success on many levels with it being superbly organised with a great atmosphere and comradery, spectator friendly and set in the most stunning of locations.


The event this year had added excitement of snow adding to the drama for a lot of the 100milers getting to the start line on the Friday but thankfully for the Arc50, starting on the Saturday morning, it didn’t effect peoples travel arrangements. Lots of my friends and family were concerned that the race would be called off but having run 4 MudCrew events before, one of which was a night coastal trail run in the midst of storm Brian in Oct 2017 (The Tempest) which went ahead, I knew that they would try everything in their power to keep the event on so the elements could add to the challenging course.


An early registration of 4-6am on the Saturday kicked off the day at the finish line in Porthtowan. A very smooth and efficient process was evident and to my delight there was actually a full kit check before being able to pick up your race number. This makes a change from races where you are told to have the “essential kit” and told it would be checked and without it you wouldn’t be able to run. With the majority of time, there are no kit checks with others without any of the kit on the start lines. This is something that annoys me for two reasons: one being unsafe for the runners wellbeing and two its also an unfair weight advantage for those not carrying the kit. So it was a refreshing to be given a very sensible and safe kit list that was policed. Each competitor even had a GPS tracker so support crew, organisers, friends and family could check on progress and ultimately the runners safety.


The briefing was concise and light hearted considering the task ahead of us and then we were on the bus heading to the Minac theatre. A last minute decision to put my leggings on before getting on the bus proved to be a good move considering the wind chill and battering the exposed coast line was getting. Being a novice to these ultras its always the case of looking around and scoping out what everyone else is wearing, what kit they are packing, trying to pick up tips from others with pervious experiences instead of learning the hard way.


After navigating the icy roads, the buses arrived at the Minac theatre, an epic setting to start the race from and as you would expect as we got out the coaches to walk up the hill to the start it hails! We had 45 mins to check kit get sorted, have a cuppa tea and ready for the 8.30am start in the bottom of the Minac. There was theatrical music, drums beating, and flares being let off for the race start. 50 miles to go!


Overall the weather was kind, wind the whole day with a few head winds stopping you in your tracks but dry after the first couple of hours of rain and hail showers. This meant that I could really get the layers right and not have to be putting on and off jackets to keep warm or dry. The race only had one check point that was at 28 miles at St Ives so we were encouraged to have our own support crews meet us at certain access points along the way. It was great to have my wife, Serena and brother, Paul popping up every now and then to give support as I trotted by. I only really needed a pit stop with them to restock on water/food & drop layers at Pendeen Watch Lighthouse at ~15 miles before a longer stretch inaccessible to the support crew until St Ives. This was also said to be the more difficult terrain, which it did prove more challenging to keep a rhythm.


The first 15 miles went quick with not too many navigational dilemmas and undulating paths that were fairly good to maintain a consistent speed. The 13 miles to St Ives was more clumsy, technical, boggy, lumpy which meant the ability to get into a rhythm was hard. However, it was great to test the body clambering over granite rocks, hopping from rock to rock, meandering between boggy patches and attacking big stepped climbs. It was fair to say you had to make a real effort to remember to look up and take in the stunning scenery around you as you were compelled to keep the eyes on the trail to stop ending up face down in the mud, which happened twice. Thankfully not face first into a granite boulder.


Along the way to St Ives, about 17-20 miles in, I paired up with Mark another runner, who was local and knew the path well and running at relatively the same speed. He was faster really than I, but it was a good incentive to stay with him to push myself and get as many miles done before the dark set in. We hit St Ives both in need of the aid station or our support crews. And what a welcome sight the Arc Angels (names for the 200 volunteers manning the 4 aid stations over the 50 & 100mile route) were at the check point. I have never been looked after so well. One got me a hot drink and hot food whilst the other was filling water bottles and stuffing supplies into my race vest. The chili con carne was exactly what my stomach needed after starting to feel the effect of too many gels & my very dry home made flat jacks.


The next part was a big flat 4-6 mile road section around Hayle inlet and it was at this point my knee started to feel the effects of 35 miles of running. Classic ITB syndrome on the outside of the knee. Every time we walked and had a chat with one of the AOA participants walking along broken, but hell bent on finishing it, was a relief to the knee. I was determined to stay with Mark and navigate the dubbed “dunes of doom”, a 4 mile section across the sand dunes just before Gwithian, which was tricky enough navigating in the day light let alone the dark! That was the incentive to keep pace. Just before entering the dunes another 50mile runner passed us, we were roughly in 6/7th at this point from what we could make out, and this older runner sparked Marks competitive streak and started to push on. I couldn’t keep up and started to flag behind these two. At the end of the dunes, I saw my wife and was saved by coffee and pain killers, a winning combo.


I pushed on and the last 11 miles was runnable and an undulating good path. We stuck as a three passing each other in the worlds slowest speed battle for those positions and I managed to find something to keep me going. The thought of making it a 10 hour finish was becoming ever more possible trying to keep up with these two and considering I was only expecting to finish between 12-14 hours I was motivated to keep pushing. However, I was concerned I was going to bottom out with not enough fuel so trying to get some Haribo, milky ways and gels down me over that last stretch, which was a struggle. The party tunes blaring out of the support crews cars was a much welcome distraction and lightened the mood helping me take the mind off the churning stomach.


It just happened to be that as we were passing more and more 100 mile AOA participants grueling out the last miles, Mark suffered from some cramp issues and the other chap dropped off so I was pushing on in the dark which got interesting navigating the coast path. I had to stop and check a downloaded digital off line map as I started to question whether I was going on the right path. A few more big descents and following ascents certainly kept the intensity up in the last 3-4 miles. Meeting the marshals directing runners across the road, up the valley and directly up the side of that valley to the finish was a blessing and a curse. Only 800m away from the finish but that was up 270m of elevation to get there. One last push and I was there much to my surprise of 10:00:51. A warm welcome by the oragnisers and my fantastic support crew, Serena and I could sit down, finally, a job done and I could attempt to eat my celebratory pasty!

Things I learnt from this race:

The surprising maturity of the participants and winners- everyone seemed to be a bit more mature than your normal road race. The field of runners were experienced and there were only 15 18-39year old participants in the Arc50 out of 67 that finished. I have come to the conclusion this is because the more mature athlete has better mental resilience for races of this nature, they have the decades of training to call upon and potentially more time to train or they love the experience and the friendly nature of these “races”. It goes to show when the positions 1-4 were all 40-49 years of age and I came 5th.

The accumulation of training over the last 2 years was noticeable– my training leading up to this event was very broken and not necessarily perfect and certainly not peaking at race day however I was 1 hour and 20 minutes faster to 40 miles over similar terrain with the same elevation than 2 years ago in my first 40 mile ultra. So this is really reflective of the body adapting over time and the longevity of training benefits over years.

Running with a someone helps- I would have never of finished in 10 hours if I hadn’t ran with Mark or at least tagged on to the two in the last 11 miles unwilling to let them slip out of sight. It is amazing how much more you push yourself if you have company, a pacer and a bit of a challenge.

I carried too much kit - I knew I didn’t have all the guchi kit for this race and could have saved weight on some items such as gloves and survival bag but it was also the fact I carried too much water and food I didn’t either want or could eat. So a lesson learnt to really stream line my kit and think harder about what to eat/carry in these races.

Other aspects of training need attention – with my knee giving me trouble for the last 15 miles and the days after the legs not having DOMS it just goes to show that it wasn’t the lack of mileage in my legs but the overall lack of robustness of my body and neglect to the strengthening and maintenance of a supple balanced body. If I want to do longer races, this is a massive wake up call to more effort and time in the gym and at home working on the other aspects of fitness for running and not just the weekly volume.


Overall, a fantastic race with a really good atmosphere and brilliantly orangised. One which the whole way around you have admiration for the women and men that were battling through the 14h hours of darkness on the Friday night to complete the 100miles under 36 hours. The winner completing in under 22 hours this year. A true physical and mental battle of will to complete either distance. The seed has been planted and fingers crossed I will attempt the 100 mile AOA next year. A year of prep begins.



By Lee Weston, Jul 15 2018 07:09PM

Ultra-running has kind of become my thing over the last year, more through organic growth rather than an intension, and with the hills getting bigger and distances getting longer I wondered what all these people around me were doing with poles!? So running with poles is a thing and although you may write them off as cheating or gaining an unfair advantage, don’t knock it until you have tried it. I am now a massive fan and convert after recently trying them in the Mozart 100, a 103km ultra in the Austrian mountains, with 4500m of elevation. Without them it would have been an ugly affair. Also, if it’s allowed in the rules and regs of the race, which it is in most mountainous ultras, why not use the kit allowed to gain the most benefit within the race.


After a bit of research into the potential benefits, reading blogs and articles about how they are like Marmite, you love them or hate them, I thought it was worth a try. I have always known of the benefits of hiking with poles. They keep you more upright, therefore reducing the load on the quads and calves giving you more power from the glutes as well as off-loading the lower body and utilising the upper body. Some articles claimed a 40% increase in upper body use whilst using poles which is a huge aid to the lower body.


When my friend who I ran the Mozart 100 with was suffering from a knee issue leading into the race it seemed to make sense to use poles a bit earlier than intended. I had planned to practice running with them leading up to the Arc50, a 50 mile ultra in Feb when ground conditions would be treacherous and very hilly on the Cornish coast path. I decided to invest in a pair, not lightly though as they come at a cost! Made from carbon fiber or aluminum they are designed to fold up smaller for ease of packing away and also to save weight when running/carrying them. This makes them expensive £80+.


I bought a pair of Mountain King Trail Blaze Skyrunner Trail Poles off eBay but not long before realising I couldn’t take them on the plane in my hand luggage. So, I ended using normal light weight trekking poles borrowed from a client’s client who lived in Salzburg. Amazingly they do give you a lot of extra go, even on the level. They definitely take some getting used to but my friend wouldn’t have made it around the 103km without them and I would have been in a lot of pain! I found on the flats you could use them in an alternating swing pattern, and the same on ascents however you could double pole to give a big power uphill walking or running. I found the double pole most beneficial downhill to help reduce the load and impact also stabilising yourself on uneven/slippery descents. They definitely take some getting used to and wouldn’t be for everyone, but I was sold on them in 5-10minutes of using them, and that was just a normal light weight walking pole, not even a specific running pole. However, they do throw up a few logistical things to consider like where to carry them, feeding on the go etc.



Potential gains:

1. Offloads the legs and aids in the mechanics of ascents, descents and flats.

2. Increase upper body work out and opening up of the chest by being upright making it easier to get your breath when working hard.

3. Reduces the risk of injury / falls as helps stabilise yourself on your feet.

4. Reduces the likelihood of early fatigue.


Potential problems:


1. Your hands aren’t free to eat, drink or perform other tasks which can be annoying but just takes some time to get used to.

2. They aren’t permitted on airplanes in hand luggage so can be a pain if traveling light.

3. Consideration has to be given to where you store them on yourself when not using them as running holding them can be arduous.

4. They can be an expensive bit of kit if you don’t like running with them / utilise them enough within races.



Top tips if your considering using running poles:

1. Try before you buy, even if it’s with a trekking pole. You will soon find out a rhythm or whether it is for you or not.

2. Practice makes perfect. This is something I didn’t have the luxury of and had to play with it on race day (not ideal) but it will make you far more proficient and economic with your energy.

3. Think about how you will store them whist running that is easy to access and perform whilst fatigued.

4. Read reviews before you buy as there are pros and cons relating to the brands, material they are constructed from, wrist straps and the construction of them (Z folding or telescopic).

5. Make sure you get the right size too as most aren’t adjustable to save weight. A rough guide is multiplying your height by 0.7 or a pole length allowing your elbow to be at 90 degrees whilst you are holding the grip and the tip on the floor.


Hopefully this gives you a brief overview of a few things I experienced in researching, buying and using poles in the last month or so within my silly Ultras. For me it will be an essential bit of kit, first to be packed in my bag alongside my toilet roll, whistle and phone.



By Lee Weston, Jul 2 2018 02:06PM

If you haven’t noticed protein is added to everything on the shelves at the moment. It’s becoming a big buzz word in the food industry and is seen to be a healthy go to choice to munch on something high in protein. This is just a simple round up of some of the facts, so you know what to eat, how much to eat and whether it’s worth your money in all these new supplements and foods with it added.


Why is it important?

Protein is a macronutrient made up of 20 amino acids (AA), 8 of which are essential (unable to be synthesised by the body) and 12 that can be made by the body. You require a balance of all of these and more importantly the 8 essential AAs. Proteins are important for growth & repair tissue, used in key functional elements of the body like enzymes, hormones, and used within the immune system. Proteins can also be used as an energy source if required. Protein has been jumped on by the food industry in its marketing campaigns as it helps to reduce the glycemic load of the other foods its added to/eaten with as well as releasing hormones which may suppress the appetite, like Peptide YY. So do we need all of this added protein to normal foods or can we get it from our normal diet?


Sources of protein

The best sources of protein are the ones which are natural and mixed in variety. They are graded on an arbitrary scale of 0-100 with 100 being the best closely matched AA balance of that the body requires.


Meat offers a good source of protein however often comes with higher saturated fats & cholesterol. E.g. red meats. Chicken and turkey are often seen as great sources. Also, fish is a great source with the added benefits of omega 3 & 6 essential oils.


However, eating meat isn’t the only option. Veg, fruit, pulses, lentils, cereals all have plenty of protein in them to offer. The top 10 veg are below:


1. Peas

2. Spinach

3. kale

4. Broccoli

5. Sprouts

6. Mushrooms

7. Brussel sprouts

8. Artichokes

9. Asparagus

10. Corn


The main thing to remember is to have a variety of sources and not rely on one. If you are vegan or vegetarian that’s not a problem, it just means a bit more time in investigating new recipes with new ingredients. Making sure you have sources of plant-based protein in each meal/ snack.


How much Protein do we need?


This all depends on what your goals are. For the general population the recommended daily intake is 0.75 g per kg body weight per day. For a 75kg male = 56g of protein. However, the below table gives you an idea of what you require in g/kg body weight/day if you are training for specific events or goals:


Type of athlete & Daily protein requirements per kg body weight (g)

Endurance athlete -moderate to heavy training 1.2-1.4

Strength and power athlete 1.4-1.8

Athlete on fat- loss program 1.6-2

Athlete on weight-gain program 1.8-2


Its advised to increase protein intake by 0.2 g/kg body weight/day if you are reducing your kcal to retain muscle mass and not to lose it in fueling the body. So, for a non-athlete reducing kcals it would be 0.95g/kg body weight/day.


There has also been research showing the body can’t utilize any more than 2g/kg of body weight /day and therefore if you are consuming more than that you are wasting your money and urinating it down the toilet. Long term studies haven’t been done yet to see if it has an impact on the kidneys by filtering and excreting this excess protein but short term studies suggest it isn’t harmful.


Are you wasting your money on these supplements & new products with added protein? – No not necessarily. Just depends on how much you are requiring


1. Convivence – as much as I have the philosophy of eating a balance diet and making an effort to eat as much whole food as possible, sometimes in a busy day it can be quicker and easier to grab a protein shake. Normally much easier to stomach rather than a full-blown meal pre or post work out, and much quicker. However not advised all the time.

2. Muscle mass- if an induvial has a large mass and is trying to put on weight they may need to consume more protein that comfortably possible. For example, a 120kg male may need 240g protein if looking to gain mass. That would be 1200g of chicken breast a day (20g of protein for every 100g of meat). This is where adding a shake could be beneficial.

3. Can aid recovery and update of carbohydrate post exercise, when it is hard to get on solid foods after intense exercise it could be a faster, easier option to aid in recovery.



If you chose to have supplements or high protein additive alternatives…..


Things to remember about supplementation:


1. You don’t hear people being diagnosed as protein deficient! That must say something in itself, ask yourself, is it really necessary and/or am I just being lazy and ignoring a good healthy balanced diet.

2. Track your marcos - see what you are intaking at the moment, don’t just assume you require more protein. Know what and how much you are putting in and energy your expending from the body.

3. Do your research! - read up what is in the supplements and understand what you are putting in your body, research has shown a large variation in the quality of supplements some with harmful ingredients.

4. Remember a whole and balanced diet is better- it will have far more vitamins and minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, fats and potentially keeping you fuller for longer than shakes or supplements/ high protein additives to normal foods.

5. Think of supplements as a supplement and not as a substitute.



By Lee Weston, Mar 1 2018 02:44PM

With the running calendar for the year getting closer and closer as spring is around the corner this is a brief blog regarding the most common running injuries and how to combat them. Up to 79% of runners will get injured in any given year (1), so making sure you know what the main ones are and how to prevent them it key to sustaining your fitness and reaching your running goals.


The most prevalent injuries unsurprisingly occur within the lower body injuries, however upper body injuries do occur as a result of falls or load carrying (backpacks etc).


The Most Common Injuries Resulting from Running:


1. Patellofemoral Pain (knee pain)

2. Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome

3. Tibial stress Fractures/ syndromes

4. Plantar fasciitis

5. Achilles tendonitis (2)


Of these I have experienced them all apart from No. 3, thank fully, at some point in time and prevention is much easier, cheaper and less frustrating than trying to get over some of these injuries whilst continuing to train.


The aetiology (causes) of running injuries are multifactorial but the main ones being overtraining, previous injury history, inappropriate /poorly fitting footwear as well as poor running mechanics. These are confounded if there are a combination of these risk factors and then perpetuated by an increase in weekly running mileage and history of previous injury as found in male runners specifically(3).


Among many anatomical differences in your running style / mechanics (gait and leg length differences and foot arch height) the biggest factor which impacts on lower body injuries, that we do have control over, is muscle strength imbalances in the lower limbs. This is the easiest preventative measure to make when planning your run training along with making sure you have the correct foot wear. Imbalances place greater strains on particular areas of the body finally leading to injury. E.g. if your gluteals are weak and inhibited then you can end up having ITB or knee injury as a result. With weak muscles fatigue sets in quicker and this is when injuries can occur as joint integrity is compromised.


Top Tips to Reduce Injury Risk:


1. Listen to your body- if you're feeling fatigued and supposed to be doing a tempo run then don't, reduce the intensity and take it slow. Or even cross train taking a low impact option instead like swimming or cycling.

2. Develop a specific training plan that from what you know about your own body and weaknesses as well as how you like to train. Everyone is different and an off the peg 10km training plan may not work best for you.

3. Get fitted with the correct shoes to suit your feet and running gait as well as the intended terrain you plan running on. Replace every 400-500 miles too.

4. Mobility and flexibility- make sure you cool down and stretch post runs, use the foam roller, attend yoga classes and also book in some regular sports massages. This will keep you supple and stop your muscles getting tight and fatiguing potentially leading to injury.

5. Strength training is key- make sure you address your weaknesses and stay balanced. Work on a good foundation of muscular endurance and then focus on strength training on your areas of weakness to stop early fatigue and compromised running mechanics.

6. Nutrition and hydration- stay hydrated and make sure you fuel yourself when training and running, both pre, during and after to gain the most from your training into race day.


From my own experience, which is backed up by research (4), the majority of running injuries are due to a sudden increase in mileage or excessive mileage. Again, it takes experience to know when to back off and take it easy so if you have the guidance of a trainer, or experienced runner then listen to them as they will save you a lengthy and painful injury & recovery process.


If you want any advice on how to structure your training for a race, how best to increase your distance/mileage or in a strength training program to improve your running, then please get in touch and we can discuss how I can help you.


Currently I am training myself for my 1st 100km Trail Ultra Marathon in June and chasing a PB in my road ½ and full marathon in April.


---------



(1) Altman A, Davis IS. (2012) Barefoot running: biomechanics and implications for running injureis. Current Sports Medicine Reports 11(5):244-50.

(2) Taunton JE, Ryan MB, Clement DB, McKenzie DC, Lloyd-Smith DR, Zumbo BD. (2002) A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries. British Journal of Sports Medicine 36(2): 95-101.

(3) van Gent RN, Siem D, van Middelkoop M, van Os AG, Bierma-Zeinstra SMA, Koes BW. (2007) Incident and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine 41(8): 469-80.

(4) Jacob SJ, Benson BL. (1986) Injuries to runners: a study of entrants to a 10,000 metre race. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 14 (2): 151-5.




By Lee Weston, Feb 13 2018 02:09PM

By no means I am not a natural born runner, I simply don't have the physique and body shape to excel in fast paced road running. I veered into trail running to stimulate the senses and ease pressure on an existing back injury. The constant changing length and frequency of your stride changes off road stopping a repetitive high impact of road running which can have a negative impact on your back.


This is where I came across the Fan Dance (http://www.thefandancerace.com/ ). Whilst out walking in Pen-Y-Fan I came across people running in a trail event and searched on line for trail events in the Brecons. I stumbled across the Fan Dance run by Avalanche Endurance Events (AEE). An organization run by former SBS/SAS in delivering a replica of the exercise high walk test march the SAS carry out in their final week of selection which is a 15 mile 1000m elevation out and back run or TAB (Tactical Advance to Battle) over Pen-Y-Fan. This race has two categories where you carry either the essential survival equipment, food and water (approx. 6-8kg) as a Clean Fatigue category. Or a heavier 16kg Bergen (plus water + food - approx. 20kg total) as a Load Bearing category carrying more equipment for being self-sufficient, as it would be in the SAS.


This is a truly authentic event with the Directing Staff (DS) providing its own mountain safety team on the mountain over the whole event to deal with any incidences and doesn't compromise on integrity. After gingerly entering for the 2017 summer Fan Dance as a Clean Fatigue entry I started my training.


Training & Running in the Clean Fatigue Fan Dance -Summer 2017


So how do you train for an off-road trail race with a pack? Assuming you can run at least 80% of your race distance on the flat that would be a good starting point. If not then building up from your longest run distance by 10% on the long run each week would be a good start whilst doing 1-2 shorter 3-8mile runs mid-week. Start adding hills into the shorter tempo runs. Once you are happy with the distance and hills in the shorter run you could start adding hills into the longer runs and keep the shorter runs flat. This will start getting your legs ready for the loads. Once you are hitting a couple hundred meters in elevation you could start adding weight into a pack on one short run a week. Start with 2kg and you may already be doing this with carrying a water bladder. You can then increase this by 10% each week in a shorter run until you reach 60-70% of the required weight. Only increase weight or weight by 10% at a time.


It is really important that you have a good fitting running pack. My preference is a Salomon 5litre race vest for lighter weights (https://www.salomon.com/uk/product/adv-skin-5-set.html?article=396874) but for the clean fatigue kit of the summer 2017 race I used a 20l Inov8 back (similar to this https://www.inov-8.com/catalog/product/view/id/315/s/all-terrain-25l-running-pack/category/126/ ) to be able to fit the extensive survival kit necessary to run.


So after not the best training leading up to the race, in hind sight not enough hill reps, and really struggling with the heat, considering lack of fitness I came in 1st in category at 2h 48m and ranking approx. 50th in the overall category rankings since 2013 when it was first started.


I learnt a huge amount from my training, the event and gained a massive sense of achievement however more of a respect for those that were doing the Load Bearing (20kg) category. My next goal the Woodhouse edition in winter 2018.



Training & Running in the Load Bear Woodhouse Edition Fan Dance- January 2018

The rest of the summer was focused on cycling, building up to walking the national 3 peaks and cycling 470 miles in-between them in 4 days. That broke me for a month and was November before running pain free again. The race was on. Having not run with a heavy weight on my back before I took and read all the info AEE sent on types of Bergens, what to pack, how to pack and more importantly how to train for such a feat. One thing is that they do not skimp on, advice or information, if you follow it and prepare, plan then you will achieve it. However impossible it seems.


Starting off with very similar training as before, building the long runs and doing my shorter runs as hill repeat sessions. I added in weighted intervals (walk/run) at first into my running commute into work with 6kg weight. Building from there reducing the intervals until running and then adding weight once happy with short runs with 6-10kg. Their advice is to only load up to 60% of weight for the majority of training and add gradually. You only need to run maybe 1 loaded run a week or a heavier or longer loaded run every two weeks. The main reason is allowing the body time to recover. The same was with running in walking boots, a requirement of the load bearing category. This training is totally different to me and surprising that with the correctly packed Bergen and adjusted right with the weight high up on the shoulder and none on the lower back/hips you can comfortably run with 20kg.


It took a process of trial and error in working out how to run with a bergen but most importantly the focus is on the fitness and hill reps without weight. The faster and fitter you are without the better you will adapt to carrying load.


Gym work was really important, having an old and long-term back problem it was key to keep strength and importantly endurance in the para-spinals, gluts, abdominal and upper back (trapezius, rhomboids and lats). For this I was working on a 2-3x 30-45 min sessions in the gym with the main focus on endurance 20x 2 in opposite & balanced movements in every session. Within one of the sessions during the week I added an element for strength (12x3) at a higher weight that rotated week on week. This served really well. Another major focus was on pec & trap flexibility with an emphasis on movement patterns on unstable surfaces to help proprioception and balance.


Nearer the event (6th Jan) I attended a Special Forces (SF) Fit hill fitness session in the Brecons on the 16th Dec, primary to test out kit and also gauge expectation and fitness for the event to come 3 weeks later. A great event that was held by AEE to help with navigation of the FD route and boost fitness. A hard 15 miles with stops for intervals, bodyweight exercises and races which all catered to the varying fitness levels (3 small groups in total) which made for a balanced competition between all. I would highly recommend this if you are thinking of loaded running or the FD as you can ask the DS directly any questions and get a taste for what it's like.


The Woodhouse edition of the Fan Dance, a 18.5 mile alternative route taking 3 different ascents of Pen-Y-Fan incorporating off the beaten track routes through gauze and marsh land. Even with all the training this was a totally different beast. 5 hours and 28 minutes later I came in after snow, rain, icy paths, boggy ground and wind. They say you never climb the same mountain twice and completely agree with that. I was just thankful to have finished a true challenge and to finally take off the bergen, surprised to have come in 1st in category (1st male, load bearing winter woodhouse edition 2018). The hand shake, finishers woven patch and nod of acceptance you get from the DS makes it all worthwhile.


The gradual intro into weighted running from the summer clean fatigue to the heavy load bearing of the winter Fan Dance was definitely the way to get the most out of the events and building up the intensity. Surprisingly loaded running has improved my unloaded running speed. A few weeks later I was able to hold 7.38 min/miles for 15 miles which I have never been able to do. So I am going to keep elements of load bearing in my running training leading up to a 100km race in June but with light weights (5-8kg) of essential kit.


In conclusion if you are looking for a challenge of true mental and physical toughness that is different from your run of the mill trail off road races, whether load bearing or clean fatigue, I cannot recommend this race series enough. Truly humbling to take part in a race that is so steeped in military history and conducted with precision and integrity. Surprisingly it really does improve your running speed without load too, so maybe a strategy to employ to improve your road running.



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