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West Highland Way 2012.

Posted by Rob Woollen on June 27, 2012 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (8)

The West Highland Way Race is a 95 mile ultra-marathon, running through the Highlands directly from Milngavie (7 miles north of Glasgow) to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. Many consider it an achievement to walk the path in a week, but this race is non-stop with a 36 hour time limit (of course you stop to eat and change clothes). With around 15,000 ft of ascent it is no walk in the park and I ran last year as part of a team with my Tough Guy ( http://www.toughguy.co.uk ) buddy Denzil. we finished in just under 32 hours, and both realised that running in a team is a difficult thing to do. Towards the end of the race, my pain was such that whilst I could maintain a good pace on the flat, and a reasonable pace uphill, downhill was agony and I had to almost crawl. Denzil was ok on the downs, but struggling on the uphills and needing more and more rest stops. My advice to anyone running ultras is just to do your own thing. I had crewed a race for Denzil a week before and he had given me a few of 9-Bars to fuel me through the race. So much nicer than the Powerbar I had taken with me last year.

This year I read about an old school friend, Jonny Dee, whose son has been diagnosed with a genetic disorder which prevents him from sitting unaided or walking http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/1465089_parents-in-race-against-time-for-boy-with-incurable-spinal-muscular-atrophy. I wanted to do something to help so I signed up for the WHW again with the aim of completing in under 30 hours and raising £1000 for the SMA Trust. Thank you to all who sponsored me. Anyone reading this who still wants to can go along to http://www.justgiving.com/rob-woollen - the site is still live for a month or so.

As a personal trainer I spend a lot of my time running with clients, so this formed about 90% of my training.This year I was invited to be part of a trial at Leeds Met University which involved weekly 90 minute runs at altitude followed by 5km time trials which came in handy for getting at least slightly longer runs in. I also managed to fit in a couple of marathons. I have always maintained that I would never run a marathon, but when we got our very own in Manchester for the first time in 10 years, I had to enter. I ran the race in 3:30:08 which was around what I would have expected. A month later I ran the Stockholm marathon with Jonny Dee.

My race crew consisted of my crew from last year, the amazing Rick Kilburn and Ste Trevor, along with dedicated runner Matt Johnson. We were fully expecting me to leave Glencoe after 9pm and therefore have a mandatory support runner so Rick and Matt had discussed sharing the last 24 miles. Learning from last year I booked a room at the Premier Inn for the boys to get a kip after I left. This made a real difference to them - they took it in shifts, with Ric seeing me off at the start while the others slept, and then the others seeing me through up to Rowardennan while Ric slept. They then joined up and saw me at Auchentyre.

The first 19 miles went well. I wore Inov-8 Flyroc shoes as last time I had a couple of nasty falls coming towards Conic. This time I had a couple of near misses, one rolling on my left ankle and one pulling my right groin a little. Nothing to worry about. Knowing that I suffer with my knees on long runs, I had opted to wear two neoprene knee supports. Perhaps a little rash as I had never worn them before.

When I met Matt and Ste at the first checkpoint I found that I had forgotten to pack my change of clothes, and had to run on in my soaking wet ones. I discarded my knee supports as they seemed to be adding nothing but chafing. Luckily Ste had a spare jacket for me, and Matt had a spare hat, so I got on my way a little down but warmer than I could have been. I was already experiencing some pain but was expecting this - I have a dodgy right leg from a tight adductor and a hamstring overuse injury. I found my stride and hit Rowardennan a little later than I hoped. But when I got there I found that my mileage was wrong and I was actually making good time. "I'll be fairly quick over this next part", I told my crew, "I remember it from last year, it is fairly flat".

The run up the side of Loch Lomond is picturesque but fairly brutal. What I had failed to remember is that this stage is 25 miles long! The bit I "remembered" was about 2 miles long, leaving 24 miles of fairly unforgiving terrain! I was really glad to see a familiar face at the Beinglas drop bag stop. Dinah ran with me for part of my first attempt last year and had been forced to pull out of the race in advance. Thanks for crewing Dinah!. After catching up it was on to Auchentyre.

At Auchentyre I was glad to eat my Chicken Porridge (1 tin chicken soup, 3 sachets ready brek) and felt right as rain. The boys had picked up my clothes and I was refreshed and warm! I can hardly remember the run over to Bridge of Orchy, but what was in my mind was that I had run over half the course in under 12 hours. I was feeling good even though my legs were pretty painful. For an hour or two I had been pretty cold and I knew I needed some better clothing. Fortunately at Bridge of Orchy Matt gave me the perfect jacket. A runner in the opoposite direction had told me to keep my on a lady ahead of me as she did not seem to look good.  When I caught her up we had a chat and she was thinkiing of quitting. I walked with her until we met her husband. I saw her at the checkpoint and she had decided to pull out. she was understandably gutted but should be very proud of the fact that she made it so far in pain.

Bridge of Orchy is a memorable place for me. For one, it is where my support crew greet me with a bowl of ravioli! Excellent! But it is also the place where I know I will come on to face Ranoch Moor. Last year I sat on a rock as I climbed the unending hill and gave serious consideration to calling it a day. It is not the distance, nor the hill that gets me, but the cruel, hard, , uneven, sharp , fist-shaped cobbles. Every step is agony. I knew that I was losing time on the hill, but I made a decision to take my time and not exascerbate my knees. It was the right move. I made Glencoe with my mental health intact - last time I was close to quitting but this year I was on fire! By the time I got there I knew that I had probably lost my chance of getting round in a day. But I made the right choice and stand by it. I continually questioned myself throughout the run - if I was not running why not? I only allowed myself to walk when the terrain demanded it (mostly due to my leg). And when I was walking it was as fast as I could possibly do it.

A nice baked potato and beans and some chocolate milk and I was off. 9-Bars restocked and my New Balance trail shoes on. Next up was the Devil's Staircase. Now I had remarked to the boys that I did not think it deserved its name - if my memory served me correctly it was not all that bad. I was wrong! It was a killer. It occurs to me now that when I ran with Denzil we may have stopped a few times - I went full power to the top. Coming down towards Kinlochleven was a mixed experience. I felt strong but my legs were killing me and picking my way through the rocky surfaces was not pleasant at all. I stopped to pick up some pieces of what appeared to be marble from the streams for the boys.

Every time I got on the flat or uphill, I found myself taking a good few places on the run. But every time we came to a downhill I was unable to maintain my advantage. What should have been an chance for a bit of speed was a limping drag and I kept playing leapfrog with the same people. I came into Kinlochleven for my weigh-in and eat a pack of Jaffa cakes!

We were just outside the 10pm cutoff for a support runner so Ste had decided to run with me. He had no trouble keeping up with my limp, but I powered along taking every possible opportunity to run when it was flat, and power-striding the hills. At this point I could hardly lift my right leg. Ste listened to a number of expletives as my dragging foot hit rock after rock, sending a shot of pain up my leg. By the time we hit the bonfire, I was ready for this to be over. Matt geared up to join me and Ste decided to stay with us. We were off! Only about 10k to go. Disaster nearly struck as I limped over a rock and promptly fell - nearly right down the cliff face. Matt and Ste couldn't believe that I was unhurt - apparently I just folded over a huge sharp boulder that should have broken my ribs. Perhaps I was just too soft and flexible in my tired state! Regardless I got up and ran on. As we approached the 5km point I knew that I could afford to run that little bit harder. It did not matter any more if I hurt my legs - they had hardly ay more to do. I pushed hard down the hill and took a few places. On the flat I pushed up towards a 7 minute mile.

"Please tell me that is it!" I begged my crew as the turning for the leisure centre came into sight. "Leisure centre", read Matt. I dug deep, pushed hard and finished at a sprint. Apologies to those who witnessed the sight of a wild-eyed madman, groaning and frothing at the mouth as he pushed in to the finish line.

I finished in just under 25 hours 50 mins, nearly 6 hours quicker than last time. I could not have done it without my support crew who were as slick as a pit crew - I never had to ask for anything it was just done. While I was keeping warm running, those guys were waiting for me in the rain.

I am glad to say that I feel like I did my very best. I never once gave myself permission to give less than 100%. When I could not run I tried to always walk fast. Even on Ranoch Moor where I was kind to my knees I powered up as fast as I could. that is the spirit of the ultra-runner.

Ironman UK 2010. What went wrong?

Posted by Rob Woollen on August 23, 2010 at 10:18 AM Comments comments (3)

Those of you who know me will be aware that I was hoping to knock an hour or so off last year's Ironman time. Last year I had an injury which prevented me from fulfilling my potential in the marathon so I was ready to get to work this time around.


Unfortunately it was not to be. I was on target to knock an hour off until the 13 mile point in the run. At that stage my legs just gave in and I was forced to drop my pace significantly to the point where I finally came in 10 mins slower than last year!


So what can we learn from this? Was I just not up to the job, or is there something I can take away for future use?


There was nothing extrinsic that affected my performance (ie there are no excuses!). On reflection I think I may have messed up on the following two areas: -


1. Nutrition. Last year I ate steadily throughout the bike ride. This time around I realsied about half way in that I had not been eating anywhere near as much. This may have left me short of much needed fuel later on


2. Salts. I realised too late at registration that I had lent my salt tablets to somebody and had to buy some more. However they did not have my brand, so I picked up the only ones I could get. I think I just failed to prepare properly and did not really know how or when to use them. In the last 4 miles of the race, after I had been steadily taking the tablets my performance improved and I picked up a little time.


So the moral of the story is - fuel efficiently and prepare properly by trying out your salt tablets in trianing and using the same system on race day. In the end the race became about survival for me - and I managed that!

Do you REALLY need to stop? ADIL triathlon 27/06/10

Posted by Rob Woollen on June 29, 2010 at 6:14 AM Comments comments (1)

Wow! This was truly the hardest race I have ever entered. Only half the distance of Ironman, but so much harder!


After a fairly standard 1.9km swim in Ullswater we set off for the 56mile Bike route. Those familiar with the Lake District may know the Kirkstone Pass (including the top bit called - The Struggle. With a top speed of 41.2mph, and a lowest speed of about 4mph, I made it round with an average of just over 16mph.Thanks to all my clients I pushed on to stay on the bike for the whole course. There were two occasions on which it nearly beat me, and I was seriously considering getting off and pushing. I just felt that there was nothing left in my legs. But I thought of all the times that I have asked you, "Do you really need to stop?" and realised that my words would ring hollow unless I applied the same rule to myself.


In fact it was on the big hills that I learned a great lesson which I would like to pass on. This was my first proper test of my new bike - and I had gone for a triple chainset (3 rings on the front) for the first time ever as this allows easier gears for the bigger hills. But I learned that sometimes you can overuse the low gears, and actually get more tired by riding in the lowest gear than by riding with slower leg speed in a higher gear with a bit more "bite".


I fully intended to run the entire run section, and passed a number of walking athletes on the first mountain. Then I saw the second mountain -Fusedale - and the reason why only one person ran the entire course (all but 25m). I did manage to run the whole 13 mile course with the exception of Fusedale and came home on the hottest day of the year in a time I am happy with.

What do you think about when you're racing? Cartmel Trail Race 21/03/10

Posted by Rob Woollen on June 29, 2010 at 6:07 AM Comments comments (0)

Cartmel in the Lake District is a lovely venue for a trail run. This was 17km of fairly challenging terrain - and we got a Sticky Toffee Pudding for our trouble!


The question I decided to answer for you this time around is one that I am often asked. What do you think about when you are running for two hours. I decided to really give that question some thought during the run.


If you have asked me that question before, I have probably said that I use the run as a sort of meditation, sorting out my thoughts and getting my head straight. And that is certainly true for a nice relaxing trainign run around Styal Woods or along the Mersey. But what about on race day? Do I still let my thoughts drift off, or do I think about the run at all?


It turns out that I spend almost every minute of the race thinking about the race itself. How is my time? Am I going too fast or too slow? Can I put a little more effort in without blowing up? Who is around me? Am I gaining or losing places? Am I using my arms properly? Am I using my legs properly? Am I on target for my finish goal?


So the answer is that I spend the vast majority of the time thinking about the run, my technique and my time.

Toughguy was on ice!

Posted by RWPT Personal Training on February 3, 2010 at 8:12 AM Comments comments (0)

Temperatures of -7C on the morning of Toughuy and 3/4 inch of ice on all the lakes.

We went out to break the ice first thing in the morning to make a channel through for competitors, but Billy Wilson  -the creator of the race - would not hear of it."It's called Toughguy" he yelled!


There is a great Youtube of my friend Paul Jones breaking through the ice to claim first place.


After a couple of hours in registration making sure everyone knew how to use the new electronic timing chips, it was time to hold the starting line ready for the race. It was apparently colder than last year, but without the deadly windchill.


As a running marshall, I had to do a little bit of stopping when we got to the first water obstacles. It amazes me the number of people who run round the edges. Why come all this way and do the race but miss bits out. One guy shoulder barged me out of the way when I tried to steer them away from the edges.


It did not seem as cold as last year, but the ice on the barbed wire crawl was deadly. I also banged my legs a few times on half-sunken icebergs in the lakes!


The big theme for me this year was "CAN I DO A LITTLE BIT MORE?" I asked myself that question about 30 times during the 2 hour ordeal and usually the answer was "YES!"


I came home 351 out of the 5050 who entered (and 4200 who finished!) which is Ok seeing as I had additional duties along the way. All in all a great race - highly recommended!

Toughguy on ice

Posted by right-way on January 25, 2010 at 12:33 PM Comments comments (0)

My first top 100 place came last winter, but at the expense of hypothermia.


I was down on the farm marking out the slaloms last weekend (a killer hill run where we take a steep bank and make the competitors (including me!) run up and down about ten times. The ice was around 3 inches thick on the lake under walk the plank (if you don't know Toughguy take a look at www.toughguy.co.uk) and easily withstood a concrete block being thrown onto it.


Hopefully over the last week or so it will have melted a little, but I can envisage hypothermia again. If you are coming down to the race, make sure you have warm clothes for after and get something hot inside you as soon as you can after the race

Ice running

Posted by right-way on January 25, 2010 at 12:30 PM Comments comments (0)

After spending 2 weeks doing only indoor sessions, and really missing my running (I did have a go once on fresh powder, but certainly wouldn't take a client out) I ordered some Yak Trax. Thanks to MKW for telling me about them.


Yak Trax are essentially snow chains for trainers. They arrived the other day and I found them easy to fit and they look very good. Now all I need is some packed snow or ice to try them out!


Chances are it will not snow now for another 20 years, but I am glad to have them at the ready just in case!