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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, 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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