Friday, 17 February 2012

A Rocky Balboa style run up the snow covered slopes of the Uetliberg

I am sure you have all seen that scene in Rocky 4 where Rocky goes to deepest darkest Siberia and runs up the snow covered mountains, slipping and sliding and grinding his way up till he reaches the top.  Well my run today was like that in some parts.  The Uetliberg is completely covered in snow at the moment, and whilst there are some paths that are relatively clear, I avoided those and tried to find the ones that were covered in deep snow.  Most of the way up I was following a downhill bike trail, which quite obviously is not that flat and not that straightforward.  The only part where I was following a well groomed trail was when I was on the sledge track, and after almost getting wiped out by someone on a sledge I decided to leave that rather promptly.  The sign indicated walkers were allowed to walk on it, but people travelling fast downhill on a sledge don't have that much control and you are putting yourself in the firing line.

I knew my progress today would be slow compared to normal, but I still managed to reach the top after 7.5 kilometres and 1 hour of running.  An average pace of 7.5km/h given the uphill and snowy, slippery conditions is not bad at all.  The other day I saw that if I was to average that kind of pace in the MDS I would be in the top 100.  I would be ecstatic if I did come in the top 100 by the way.

The total distance I covered today was 21km or a half marathon as you may prefer to call it.  I have had ever such a slight cold the last few days and was a little worried incase a run made it worse, but I actually felt much better whilst I was running, and since coming back I feel okay too (other than being a bit more tired than normal).  I have been drinking lots of "special water" the last few days.  By special water I mean that I have been adding echinacea drops and WinterFit formula to normal water in order to try and stave off the cold.

This weekend I will try to fit in at the bare minimum another half marathon, and then on Sunday we are going snowshoeing in St Antönien once again.  There are lots of ways I can turn the leisurely snowshoe hike into a serious training session.  For a start I can always walk in the deep powder where there are no existing tracks, and if I really feel like punishing myself I can take the snowshoes off altogether.  Out of those 2 options I will probably go for the former one, but you never know.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Kit selection - all kit now ordered other than some minor bits and pieces

Well folks a big deed has been done.  After asking lots of different people for their opinions on kit choice for the MDS, I have gone and ordered nearly all of the things I will need.  I will publish the full kit list once I have it in my hands and have had a chance to determine the finalised contents of my pack based on weight and size.

I have gone for the minimalistic approach on all items except the survival ones.  As my sleeping bag may or may not be warm enough I ordered a Raidlight Micropolar fleece that will keep me warm in bed if need be.  I can also wear that at night in the camp.  Besides the clothes that I will be wearing whilst running the only others I will take with me (besides the lightweight fleece mentioned above) are a Montane Slipstream Quantum GL jacket and Montane Featherlite pants.

For the running shorts I will either go with Nike Tempo 2 in 1 shorts or Brooks Infiniti Notch shorts depending on which I find most comfortable.  For the top half I have opted for a RailRiders long sleeved Eco-Mesh top, and I will be wearing a Raidlight Sahara Cap on my head.  I will also take one multi-purpose Buff with me.

I have opted to forgo the comfort of a sleeping pad as quite a few people mentioned they managed easily without, and I will forgo a pillow as most people used their bags or clothes for this.  I will not be taking a stove and fuel with me as all the meals that I bought can also be rehydrated with cold water.

The only luxuries I am likely to take are my camera, a small travel toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste and a pair of earplugs (apparently a must if you want a good nights sleep).  The only items I am currently missing are the mandatory 10 safety pins and spare batteries for the headtorch, a few items of first aid and some energy bars and energy drinks powder.  All of these can easily be obtained in one shopping trip in Zurich city centre.

I haven't totted up the total weight yet, and I may be able to reduce some of it by getting rid of packaging etc, but I have chosen my kit carefully so I hope that the pack weight will be at the lighter end of the scale.  It will be a lot easier for me to run if I am not struggling with backache from a heavy pack the whole way round.  Obviously after the first day the pack will start getting lighter as I begin eating the food.  By the end of the race I can imagine it will feel like a feather on my back compared to the first day.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

My friends at Tour d'Afrique Limited have helped boost my fundraising total even closer towards the target

Not only have several of the people I met on the Vuelta Sudamericana 2011 tour helped my fundraising campaign, but the company itself has also now put up £100.  It was great to go on to my fundraising page and see it go over £9,000 for the first time.  That was somehow a very significant milestone that I was hoping to achieve in the coming days, and now it has been met.  There is now less than £450 left to raise, which is fantastic.

As you know the TDA Vuelta Sudamericana 2011 tour was a big part of my training plan.  Before that I was not able to handle day after day of hour upon hour of exercise.  But after cycling 4,300km over mountains where the air was thin and on both paved and non paved roads, I became tougher and able to handle the demands of several days of intense exercise without injury.  The interval training sprinting away from the packs of dogs gave me that extra edge that I was looking for too.

If you want a really cool cycle expedition where everything is organised for you, but you still have the freedom to cycle at your own pace throughout the day, you can check out their site  Their Cairo to Capetown route is where it all started but they now offer much much more, with expeditions all over the globe.  If I have the means and the time I would love to do more expeditions with them in the future.  Thanks once again Tour d'Afrique Limited.

The birthday marathon

I stuck to my plan for yesterday.  Well kind of anyway.  I covered 42km as I wanted to, but I split it into 2 parts.  The first part I did in the afternoon and that was 30km and then the second part I did in the evening with Negrita and that was 12km.

It probably would have been better to do it all in one go, but I felt pretty cold and wanted to go back to the apartment and get warm again.  Actually I had a slight sore throat by the evening and I hope that I am not going to catch a cold in the next couple of days.  Despite the slight sore throat I was adamant I wanted to fulfil my plan for the day, and so did the final 12km later in the evening.  I wasn't aching from the earlier run and was quite surprised how you can bounce back after a few hours R&R.

My plan today was going to be another long run and possibly some hot yoga.  This has changed now though, because I think if I rest today my sore throat may not develop into anything more, and by tomorrow I may be as right as rain.  If on the other hand I push myself today, I may get a full blown cold, and that would affect my training for a week or so - not good!  Lots of vitamin C and hot tea should help prevent it developing too.

Kit selection - food

I have just ordered all the freeze dried meals that I will be using during the MDS, and they should be arriving at my sister's house in the next few days, ready for me to collect them when I go to London for the Mencap team meeting on the 28th Feb.

I want to experiment a little with the various meals and brands, so I have ordered much more than I will need for the race itself.  The two brands that I went for were Mountain House Foods and Backpackers Pantry.  Both have been mentioned on other MDS blogs as being suitable for the race, and they also do a vegetarian range (which is very important for me of course).

The advantage of freeze dried foods are they are much lighter than the corresponding fresh foods, yet still tasty once they are rehydrated.  You normally use boiling water to rehydrate them, but since I have decided to reduce my kit weight by forgoing a stove and fuel, I will be using cold water.  It mentions that it is possible to use cold water for both brands but that the rehydration time will be longer as a result.

Once I have the foods in my hands I will start to try and assemble a selection, whose calorific content is a minimum of 14,000 calories.  This is the minimum requirement set by the MDS rules.  Since I am not a dainty little thing I will probably put some extra packets in on top of that.  I found out yesterday during my long run just how much better I do once I have some extra calories in my body.

Kit selection - sleeping bag update

Hi folks

It seems that PHD mountain software require 30 working days to make the sleeping bags, as they make them to order.  This means that there isn't enough time for them to make it before I will need it.  They have offered me instead one that they already happen to have in stock.

The one they have in stock is the same spec as the one I ordered except that it is made of 800 down and not 900 down, which adds 40g to the overall weight.  So the total weight will be 440g as opposed to 440g, which is still extremely light.  The cost will be £29 less than the one I ordered.

It will still be a great piece of kit but next time I do an event like this I will make sure I start getting my kit much earlier.  I am getting on with the rest of the kit selection in the next couple of days so I do not face any similar issues.

Update: I just spoke again with PHD mountain software and they have put me at the front of the production line in order to try and accommodate my needs.  They are fairly confident they can give me the exact spec I ordered within the timeframe I need it in.  Now that is what I call a company with good customer service.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Important kit selection - shoes and sleeping bag

Well the first 2 major kit choices have now been finalised.  As mentioned previously, I have decided to go with the PT03 desert shoes made by UK Gear.  If you recall I already have the winter version and have been training with them for some weeks now.  So I decided to go with their desert version for the race itself.  I will have long rip stop nylon gaiters sewn on to the shoes by Sandbaggers.  In terms of size I went for 1 European size larger than my normal shoe size to allow for swelling.  I am normally a 42 so I went for 43 for my race shoes.  Any larger and I would risk avoidable friction blisters in the first day or two of the race.

The second major kit choice was deciding which sleeping bag to take with me.  I already have 2 sleeping bags but they are both far too bulky to put in a small backpack, and they are not designed with weight reduction in mind.  I have been doing some googling and I came across some sleeping bags made by PHD mountain software that are suitable for the MDS.  I was looking at both their Minimus Down Sleeping Bag and their Minim Ultra Down Sleeping Bag as two possibilities.

The Minim Ultra Down weighs in at an impressively lean 345g although it mentions that you may have chilly nights.  The Minimus Down on the other hand weights in at 400g (if you choose the 900 down and MX outer options) but is around 3 degrees warmer.  I decided that a good nights sleep is important and went for the Minimus Down option, slightly heavier but warmer.

The one I chose says that it is comfortable down to 5 degrees.  Whilst the mercury may dip below this on occasion (during the night), if I take my silk mummy liner with me, that will give me an extra 5 degrees of warmth, allowing me to sleep comfortably at zero degrees.  If it gets any colder than that I will just have to wear some clothes inside the sleeping bag, although usually I don't feel the cold as much as some people do.

You may wonder how they manage to get the sleeping bags so light.  Well for a start there are no zips or collars.  You just climb in and out through the opening at the top of the bag.  Then the rest is down to advanced material selection.

I am happy that I budgeted well and have enough funds remaining to get the kit that I want.  I realise not everyone can do this.  By the time I start working again in May I will have taken an 8 month career break, but I calculated very well what it would cost and stuck to my budget pretty much all the way through.  The only thing I hadn't budgeted for was the diamond ring that I got for Anny but that was well worth it anyway.

I am very close to choosing the rest of my kit too and more posts will follow on that shortly.  I will pick up all the kit when I go to the UK on the 28th February.  Then I will have a full month to train with the actual kit and actual weight that I will be carrying in the race.  I am hoping that through wise kit selection my pack will not be too heavy.  I have no idea yet how much, but I am guessing 8 to 9kg.

Monday, 13 February 2012

I have been a very bad boy today, so tomorrow I will do a "birthday marathon" to make it up

Today I have only done an hour of Pilates as part of my training.  That is really not enough considering I am currently on a career break and have all the time in the world to train (when I am not fundraising or trying to select my kit for the MDS or doing household chores).  So I am going to give myself a little treat on my birthday (tomorrow) - I am going to run a "birthday marathon".

Most people would probably use their birthday as an opportunity to stuff their face with cake and to get a little tipsy.  Not me, I will run a marathon.  But I am not all "goody two-shoes" as in the evening I will be tucking in to the cake that Anny has so kindly volunteered to bake for me.  I wont need to feel guilty whilst I am stuffing my face though, as I will have earned it.

Flights to Morocco booked for my pre heat acclimatisation training

As I have been mentioning in a few previous posts, one of the aspects of the MDS race that concerns me most is the heat, and how I can prepare myself for that.  Well that problem is now solved.  Today I booked my flight to Morocco so I have 2 weeks prior to the race to get used to running in the desert heat.

I will be flying from Paris to Ouarzazate via Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc on the 21st March.  On arriving at the destination I will be met by either Lahcen Ahansal or one of his colleagues, and after spending one night in Ouarzazate I will be transferred to Merzouga.  Lahcen Ahansal is a legend in the MDS world, and has won the race multiple times, along with his brother Mohammed.  They run a tour company called Cap Dunes based in Ouarzazate and I will be using them for my transfers etc.  If I am lucky Lahcen or Mohammed themselves will be doing the transfer and I can try to pick up a few last minute tips from them.

Merzouga is a perfect base for training, as it is right next to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes.  So not only will it be possible to get used to the heat, but it will also be possible to get used to running in the sand and on MDS type terrain.  I will have 2 full weeks there before I am transferred back to Ouarzazate on the 5th April ready to meet the other UK runners at the Berbere Palace Hotel.

Update: Lahcen Ahansal confirmed he himself will be doing the transfer.  So I will get to meet the MDS legend in person.  Cool!

Snowshoeing weekend in Graubunden

At the weekend Anny and I tried snowshoeing for the first time.  We went with a couple of friends of ours, Irina and Daniel, and they drove us to the start location in St Antonien.  Anny and Irina left on Sunday morning and took the train home, but Daniel and I did a second more strenuous snowshoe hike on Sunday and then he drove us back to Zurich in the evening.

On Saturday morning we arrived at the hotel where we had arranged to meet the guide at around 11am.  We had decided to go with a guide so that he could show us some nice routes and also for safety, because the risk of avalanches in that region is fairly high at the moment.  The guide was Dutch but spoke both German and English.  He explained that Saturday would be a fairly easy hike and then Sunday would be a little more challenging.

After getting a nice hot drink to warm ourselves up, Otto the guide showed us how the avalanche rescue devices worked and then gave us the snowshoes and poles.  There isn't much need for instruction in how to hike on snowshoes, because more or less it is the same as walking except that you have big pieces of plastic on your feet.  The route was a long steady climb up to a hut where we stopped and ate our lunch. On the way up a 63 year old lady passed us on skis with skins on the bottoms, and we were quite impressed by how fit she was.  Around the time she passed us we saw a group of chamois higher up the mountain.  They are a goat-antelope species that are well adapted to living in steep, rugged, rocky terrain such as the Alps.  The lady's dog was trying to stalk them and somehow hoping she didn't notice what he was doing, but he had no chance and she called him back, and he came back on her first call.  If only Negrita was quite that obedient.

After a lunch consisting of bread, chocolate and mulled wine, we headed a bit higher up the mountain just to warm up a little, and then we turned round and headed back to the start point.  We had left Negrita in the hotel while we headed up the mountain, so we went back to fetch her and then went out for dinner.  It would have been nice to take Negrita with us, but the snow was far too deep and she gets cold very quickly.  Our stomachs satisfied we went back to our rooms and rested/ slept for pretty much 11 hours.  It was not as though there was much night life to keep us up late.

The happy couple

Lunchtime snacks in the shelter of a summer hut porch

On Sunday morning Anny and Irina left, and Daniel and I had a breakfast buffet and then waited for the guide and a few additional people to turn up.  Daniel had posted the snowshoe hike on and one girl had signed up via that.  In additional a husband wife pair who Daniel knows through his work were coming from Zurich.  So we were 5 people plus Otto the guide.

Once everyone arrived we drove to the start point, and commenced the hike.  The original plan had been to start the hike from the hotel, but the route had changed due to the increased avalanche risks.  The mountain we were climbing was the Eggberg.  From the start point to the top of the Eggberg was around 750 vertical metres and we were climbing at the rate of about 300 vertical metres per hour.  The Eggberg is well hiked and there were always ski tracks to follow, allowing us to move quicker than if we had to make our own trail in deep powder snow.

Everyone in the group was pretty fit and climbed well, although due to my current state of fitness I felt like I wanted to run up the mountain at times, and to burn off some excess energy.  Once we reached the ridge I did run a little.  I ran the final few hundred metres along the ridge to the summit.  The views from the top were stunning and well worth the journey up to see them.

It was pretty cold on top and even colder on the way down as the sun began to fall and the side of the mountain that we were descending was plunged into shade.  One of Daniel's snowshoes broke on the descent and the guide lent his snowshoes to him.  That meant Otto was then descending in just his boots and he was sinking into the snow every few metres as the ski tracks gave way.

Half frozen we arrived back at the car park and then drove back to the hotel for a cheese fondue.  There is no better way to finish off a cold day in the mountains than with a bubbling hot fondue along with some alcohol.  Fully warmed up and bellies satisfied once more we separated and drove back to Zurich.  Anny was waiting for me at home with open arms and the weekend went very well.

Daniel making his way up the Eggberg

Others from the group close on Daniel's heels

The top of the Eggberg - a buried sign

Me on the top

Me on the top again

An interesting snow formation near the car park

Quick roundup of last Friday's training

Friday's training regime was made up of a run of 10km in the morning on the snowy Zurichberg with Negrita, followed by a 21km run in the afternoon along the lake towards Kussnacht and back.  As I often do with my half marathons in training, I try to do them in under 2 hours.  That proved easy enough although I was still pretty achy from the previous few days of Pilates, yoga and strength training.

I would have considered going further but I wanted to save some energy for the weekend of snowshoeing that Anny and I had planned.  It was probably a good plan, because I didn't find the snowshoeing that strenuous in the end, so I can consider Saturday and Sunday as active rest days.