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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, Jan 27 2020 04:15PM

This is the first of 2 blogs covering my first, and most likely (hopefully) my only, 100 mile ultra marathon. I felt like it could be a good insight for those who run and those that don’t to understand the reasons why you would want to attempt 100 miles, the training and all the other logistics and things you may not have even realised were a thing.


So this leads to the Why?! This seems like a very good question even to myself as I sit writing this a week ahead of the race. Thinking of how I will be feeling this time next week after running for over 25+ hours. The answer is very difficult to explain and only those who really know my character would essentially be able to grasp. Having being asked this the most out of all the questions I will try to explain.


I only started running after needing to a way to keep fit around my work after moving to Bristol and giving up rugby. This led me to doing my first marathon in Oct 2015 and went surprisingly well considering when I was playing rugby I thought running a marathon was a stupid idea. After that I ran a 40 miler in May 2016, skipping straight to an ultra distance, The Quest, along the north Cornish coast. Home for me and although a massive jump up in distance I really enjoyed it and surprised myself with coming 13th overall and 12th male. I think this was when I heard about the Arc of Attrition (AoA) run by MudCrew, the 100mile (ish) winter ultra marathon with a 36 hour cut off and 6000m (ish) of elevation around the Cornish coast from Coverack to Porthtowan. And whilst I was sitting in the pub post-race struggling to eat a burger after 9+ hours of running, totally broken I was just in awe of anyone being able to run 100miles let alone on that terrain, in winter.


It wasn’t even a dream, I knew it was impossible for me, physically, mentally, every aspect. Skipping through 2017 with another trail marathon and ultra (31miles which went badly) and a crazy solo 3 peaks hike and cycle it came to 2018 where I had been inspired to do 100km in Austria that was a bit hilly. It was different, a challenge, with good time cut offs, beautiful surroundings it was a weekend away with a friend and a 64mile (ish) run. Training went really well and in hindsight I had probably trained enough that I was capable of running much more than 100km as post-race felt really good. Good for having run 65miles & 4300m elevation. This was the tester; this was when I felt that 100m could be physically possible. So I went about working out how to gain qualification for the AoA. I managed to gain a ballot entry to the Arc 50 (50miles, the baby brother of the AoA) to see what it was like running a winter ultra with only 1 checkpoint. Again, pushing myself to the limit I finished 5th and gained qualification for the AoA, however again I was broken with back issues and unable to eat towards the end of the race and for the rest of the day. I had a lot to learn. I had entered another qualifier, The RAT Plague 100km before the ARC 50 just in case I didn’t finish it. So another 100km starting at midnight and coastal so a nice intro into night time running in the summer. Again finished feeling better but having a few bumps along route and 4 hours quicker than my 100km the year before. This was all confidence building but knew a massive step up to the next race, the A race, the main goal.


After 4 years since hearing about such a stupid race thinking it was an impossible feat, to getting myself into a position where I felt it could be possible it has then taken 2 years of planning & prep to get to where I am now. Physically prepared to complete it, quietly confident, mentally prepared to complete it, unknown. I guess that’s the key thing I have learnt is that they body is an amazing machine, it will adapt, get stronger and deal with whatever you throw at it given the right preparation. Some things you can’t physically prepare for and it doesn’t matter how fit you are if you’re not mentally prepared and motivated to finish a race then you most likely won’t and will DNF. This is the element that drives me to keep on testing myself and why I am toeing the start line to one of the UKs hardest 100milers as my first one, apart from loving Cornwall and the south west coast path, it’s the unknown limits of what your mind can achieve and what it can make your body do. I’ve not found that limit yet and although I don’t want to fail in finding where that limit is, I want to achieve something for myself that I truly believed 4 years ago was impossible. Plus I’m as stubborn as they come and won’t back down to a challenge I’ve set myself, this is a race against myself, no one else.


Hopefully that gives a bit of an insight to the why, the main question I get all the time. The short response for those I don’t have time to bore to death with the above is simply, why not? People think I am a bit mental but mostly we live within our comfort zone and totally unaware of what we are truly capable of, physically and mentally. I see so many amazing people of all ages, genders challenging themselves for many reasons in these races and all so social and keen to help each other as very few are truly in a race against anyone else, just themselves.



Training, logistics and all the other bits


The training is much like any other race but just jacked up on steroids, and this is where you find out that ultra runners are slightly “different”.


I will keep this bit as short and insightful as possible:


• A short run is 1-2 hours and not worth taking water or a phone, its more to carry.

• Getting up early is the only way to fit it in around life, 5 am get ups on the weekend and getting out is the only way to fit anything else in the day.

• Even as a PT I felt out of my depth with 3 months to go until the race and enlisted the help of an experienced ultra running coach, Michelle Maxwell, to help advise me on how to best train with the time I had. One of the best investments I’ve made as I have learnt so much and made my training time more. There is always room for speed and hill work even if you are running 100miles.

• With 6 months of training it has built to 12-16h of training a week plus stretching/maintenance takes its toll. Fitting it in around work and life gets hard to justify what you’re doing sometimes. With this in mind something always has to give, if it doesn’t you end up broken or disappointed.

• You hope and wish for understanding friends and family as they normally pay the price when you’re out running at 6am on Christmas morning.

• Also you need to be able to sweet talk them into being your Crew, supporting you and cheering you on between checkpoints, throughout the night in some cases, whatever the weather, ready to deal with whatever state you’re in, physically or mentally. I wouldn’t want to crew myself, I’m like Jekyll and Hyde.

• Strength training x 2 week of high weight and low reps, programmed properly, has been a game changer for me and feel it’s really corrected my errors from my last 100km training program. Stronger means faster, more efficient, more resilient and proven to incur less injuries.

• Training is all about volume, low intensity for 80% of the time getting in easy miles over the same type of terrain and then 20% being higher intensity. Time of the feet is key whether its walking or running. I’ve done nothing more that a 28mile run in one go leading to this race but have been hitting 60-80 mile weeks with back to back run over multiple days on training peak weeks.

• The key to ultras is to run the flat (shuffle or mince as my wife describes my running style), walk the hills (this is when you eat, the best bit!) and run the down (if you can). I estimate I’ll probably walk ~30-40% of the course (hills and just generally being broken towards the end). This conserves your energy instead of wrecking yourself by mile 50, that’s unless you’re a pro.

• Rest is not to be ignored. Sleep is king. Rest allows the body to respond to training, recover and get stronger to the demands your placing on it. However there is a very fine line between over doing it and everyone is different. Resilience to training demands, illness, stress & tiredness, physically and mentally isn’t to be shied away from when the going gets tough. Sometimes you just have to get it done however bad, low or knackered you feel. This is something an app or coach can’t tell you; this is about knowing your body and feel for the training. This feeds into the resilience/stubbornness one needs to finish a race that will hurt, a lot.

• Always take toilet roll with you on a run! From my experience it’s a life saver and leads you on a trial and error approach to pre and during race nutrition. Be Prepared to try eating anything and everything to keep your stomach from churning.

• Getting use to eating whilst on the move is key, you only aim to offset your calorie expenditure and you should never be working hard enough in a race to exhaust carb stores, mostly getting your energy from stored fats. Slow and steady, whilst eating, wins the race.

• Kit, kit and more kit. I have lost tabs on the cost of what I have spent on kit and would make me feel a bit sick if I knew how much it all was. However, the right kit is a game changer. There is no such thing as bad weather just bad kit.

• Holidays are normally a disguise to your loved ones for an excuse for a reccy of the race route or chance for a training run in a fun new environment. However you dress it up its hard to hide a 3-5 hour run.

• During a 100m race its unlikely to need to sleep even if it does take you the time limit of 36 hours. Key to this is caffeine, however this may lead to use stomach issues if relied on. Better still is ensuring your fully rested the days leading up to the race. Lots of runners have experienced hallucinations, it not uncommon.

• I find having multiple, flexi goals are important for a race of any length. For this race number 1 absolute goal is to finish, whatever it takes and having all possibilities covered/planned for. The rest will be flexible and will change to get me to where I need to be. For example best case scenario goals are the times to checkpoints to run a sub 30 hour, breaking that down I’ll know min/mile paces I need to make in sections and distances to the next check point. Ticking them off as I go and changing the ‘goal’ posts as I need to if the going is good or bad, which will happen.

• As a result of the above you’ll be a mental arithmetic ninja by the end of your training, it’s the best way to keep your mind busy whilst on the long runs, converting mile to km and min/mile pace to min/km and anything else you can calculate to keep your mind off your dying legs. I strangely find music an annoyance and want to enjoy the environment I am running in, even when its dark. My killer playlist only comes out if the shit hits the fan and I need a beat for my legs to follow.



So for me all the planning and preparation is almost over and it’s not long until race day, well to see if 4 years from inception and 2 years of training can make this personal challenge possible.



By Lee Weston, Oct 14 2019 02:46PM

00.05 am of 10th of August was the start of the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) running event/festival of which I was partaking in the 100km/64 mile Plague event, the longest of the 4 distances (11, 20 and 32 miles) but not the stupidest with a 24 hour Bring Out Your Dead (BOYD) event.


As with all of the MudCrew events I have taken part in it was amazingly organised and not afraid of a bit of bad weather. As other events in the south west were being cancelled like Boardmasters in Newquay, the R.A.T. was not to be delayed or cancelled with only a few well communicated logistical alterations to the event as a whole. As a result the event went ahead and as a competitor it was an amazing experience and well worth the wait from not being able to enter last year.


The evening started off wet but after registration and the customary theatrical start of the race with drums beating, green flares and some fire juggling, we under way just after midnight and only got caught in a shower at about 48/50 miles into the race. Not bad for being in the middle of a storm.


So the usual with regards to a coastal ultra MudCrew event, lots of hills (4200m), technical coastal terrain (badger holes and greasy downhill mud slides included) with a well marshalled and marked course (mostly self nav though). My first long (over 1.5 hours) night event and it was an interesting learning curve. Being up since 8 am on the Friday and setting off at midnight to finish at some point the Saturday afternoon was a bit concerning when I couldn’t get a nap in and thought I may struggle with sleep deprivation towards the end. However, this wasn’t the case but it was more the focus of running at night with very little peripheral vison allows you to get in the zone and the time flew by. Saying that it was getting a bit tedious towards the morning running a large 16mile sections mostly by myself, and how easily it is to get lost, even with a Garmin route map. It did save me going further off course and a valuable lesson learnt, its worth stopping and double checking and if you’ve got a watch with a route application on it learn how to use it.


So with a great sunrise to see in Saturday morning all was going well for the first half until 32-36 miles where my stomach was not happy, even unable to eat the bacon sandwich provided at the checkpoint at 36 miles by the amazing checkpoint crew. I wanted to eat it so badly but just couldn’t stomach it. So lesson number two was to sort out hydration and electrolytes for further races. The Tailwind that I was using and recommended by so many, just isn’t for me so on to the next. Back to the banana, orange and salted peanut combo to help settle the stomach.


With the out and back course I was worried about the boredom of the return leg but seeming as I couldn’t see anything out the out leg it was great to see the landscapes on the way back.


From 40-45 miles I had to admit that I wasn’t as well conditioned as I thought I was and learnt lesson number 3, more terrain in training and increase the core work. I had to run with poles from 40 miles as my back wasn’t happy and in all honesty my legs were kind of done by mile 20.


Coming into the back 20 miles it was hot and a surprising win for the day was that I was able to keep more hydrated than in other pervious races. This meant I could stomach a post run beer and not be in a bad place. The support was also amazing with a big pub-based festival at The Ship Inn which was the location of the last checkpoint. It was great to have the 11, 20 and 32 mile competitors very supportive to the plague competitors and everyone encouraging each other regardless of their distance. We all had to complete the last 4 miles which was most possibly the hilliest 4 miles of the whole course.


Overall the race was a great event to attend with very cheap camping on site for the two nights, good food & coffee stalls open early to late with a bar and disco for those who could stay awake that long. I was in my sleeping bag by 9.30pm as I couldn’t stand on my achy legs or keep my eyes open any longer after 36 hours awake and 64 miles run. I would highly recommend this race to anyone. A key thing I’ve learnt in the last 9 months is to always review your own performance of the race breaking down into training, nutrition, hydration, kit and pacing etc. With a 14th place, 11th male finish and approx 4 hours quicker than my 100km last year I was very happy with the result and good stepping stone on to the next “main event” the Arc of Attrition 100mile winter coastal ultramarathon. There is always room to improve and I have my 3 lessons learnt from this race.



By Lee Weston, May 29 2019 02:34PM

These are just a few brief reviews of the last couple of running events I have done in March and May. The pros, cons and bits you can’t figure out from event websites.


The Jurassic Coast Challenge 22nd -24th March 2019


A multi day event held down in the beautiful Jurassic coast line of Dorset hence the name, and the objective being to run, jog or walk a marathon a day 3 days in a row. This event is superbly organised and a really good multiday event with people signing up for either 1, 2 or all 3 days. The operation has been refined over the many years its been put on by VO two Ltd which reflects in the very professional and smooth running of the event.


I signed up to this for getting some high mileage in over a few consecutive days whilst my wife was away on a Hen do. The draw being the navigation being easier than most on self nav trail running events as it was a coastal route and lots of provisions in the terms of aid stations and transport to and from the start/ end points each day. The idea of camping and packing all my own provisions for 3 days isn’t my idea of dipping my toe in the water of multiday events. The biggest draw was the location, not having been to Dorset nor seeing any of the famous coast line, I thought it would kill two birds with one stone.


The accommodation for a single participant couldn’t have been easier with it being very affordable and only a mile away from the Race HQ in Chesil Vista Holiday Park. This was in a new static caravan with 2 other participants, very spacious and all the mod cons required. The site even had a restaurant, bar, swimming pool and sauna free to use. The HQ was a great set up too, utilizing the Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy with food being on offer for breakfast and dinner, event shop, registration and massages available.


The course itself was A to B, B to C, C to D in nature being mini bused out to the start each day and collected at the finish to come back to the HQ. All was well run with two groups, essentially fast and slow, being dropped off and set off at different timings allowing the slow group participants longer to complete. With very generous cut off times, allowing people to walk it, it’s a great event to enter as a first timer on a trail marathon or a multi-day event as it offers you the reassurance you can finish even if a lot of things don’t go your way on the day.


The course normally goes, day one Charmouth to Portland, day two Portland to West Lulworth, day 3 West Lulworth to Studland Beach. However there was a clash with another event along the same section of coast so it went in the order or day 2 then 1 and then 3. The course itself was overall really good providing great scenery, varied under foot (beach, shingle, paths, fields, steps, tarmac) and not too technical all the time. Personally, I enjoyed the end of Portland to West Lulworth as it got hiller and more scenic on the first day and also the whole of West Lulworth to Studland Beach, day 3. This for me was my favorite day as it had great scenery, challenging hills, flat runnable pavement at times to make up ground and time and a good long beach section to finish on. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the last 2 thirds of from Charmouth to Portland as it was behind Chesil beach, with sections on the shingle, unable to see the sea and mentally challenging meandering around the farm land behind the beach clocking up more mileage with the feeling of not getting anywhere.


Over all my mileage and elevation were as below:


Day 1- Portland to West Lulworth – 27.2 miles 1118 meters

Day 2- Charmouth to Portland – 28.6 miles 1092 meters

Day 3- West Lulworth to Studland Beach – 28.1 miles 1330 meters


Overall, I really enjoyed this race with the ability to sign up to as much as you wanted and still being about to achieve it within generous cut off times. Well organised with plenty of time to recover in good accommodation and services (food & massage) provided. Shame the accommodation wasn’t on site but this is only minor disadvantage but there was free car parking at both sites. A great event to do as an individual with lots of friendly people running but also fantastic one to do with friends, all in an area of outstanding beauty.




Cornish Imerys Trail Marathon 19th May 2019


My latest race back in my home county of Cornwall getting the chance to sight see around St Austell’s China Clay works, new and old. This was a great opportunity to run a trail marathon on a route which is not normally open to the public, with some spectacular views over the south coast and of the Luna-esk quarry’s of which the region is famous for.


The event was run by St Austell running club in partnership with Imerys and staged in the grounds of Cornwall college, which was idea, holding a fun run, half and full marathon. There was a really nice and friendly atmosphere and good provisions on site for parking, food and bag drop. The number pick up was held up as you had to find your number prior to picking it up which wasn’t communicated clearly when entering. With collecting your number you received a very good technical running T shirt, much better than the normal you get. The route was well marshaled with great signage and ample water stations throughout the course.


The course itself was a very runnable trail marathon, not being too steep on the gradients so if you were able to you could keep churning out the miles without stopping. I may have walked 4-6 times briefly which isn’t too bad for me. The trails were the same for the half and full until mile 8 when the full split off for a 13-mile loop to rejoin again at the same point to finish the last 5 miles into the finish. The weather was good so some really good views and the paths not being technical at all so you didn’t have to watch your foot placement all the time. This led to a more relaxed run and being on some very wide-open quarry roads made it unique. However, if the weather had been different the course is very exposed to the elements so could have been a totally different story. In total I made the elevation and mileage as: 917m 26.1 miles.



At the finish there were a number of supporters, family, friends and club supporters, which made for a nice atmosphere when your token medal, water and banana for your efforts. Food, drinks and ice cream were available for everyone to enjoy and support the remainder of the participants coming in whilst sitting in the sun.


Overall a great event and course which is well organised, marshalled and well suited for anyone who is going into trail running for the first time or for those wanting some different scenery on their trail events.



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, 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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