Friday, 2 March 2012

Just tried my first freeze dried meal (smooth oatmeal with raspberries), and all I can say is yum yum

As you know I recently bought tons of freeze dried meals, much more than I need for the MDS itself, so that I can experiment with them beforehand.  Well today I decided to try one of them.  I went for the Mountain House Smooth Oatmeal with Raspberries.  That is the one I plan to have for breakfast each morning before starting each stage.

You simply tear open the pouch, pour on 200ml of boiling water, give it a good stir, wait around 5 minutes and then it is good to go.  I deliberately used cold water instead of boiling water though, because I am not planning to take a stove or fuel to the MDS (in order to save a few grams and space in my pack).  The manufacturer says cold water also works but that you need to allow more standing time, but I wanted to try it out myself and see.

I can report that cold water works just fine and it tasted delicious.  It tasted just as fresh as if I had made it from scratch using fresh raspberries and rolled oats, and I can honestly say that I had never imagined freeze dried meals could taste that good.

In summary I will be very happy to have that each day for breakfast and I just hope the other meals are equally delicious.  Don't worry I will be trying them out over the coming days and weeks and will report back to you.  I may even try making one up during a walk/run and see if I can do it without stopping, as that way I know I could cope doing so during the long stage.  Unless I really need to stop during the long stage I would prefer to eat on the go and save the time.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

"The parks of London" 20 mile (32km) full gear test

Today was my first opportunity to go running with all my MDS gear and I was excited to be able to try it out.  I was also a little worried in case I didn't get along with some of it, as there isn't much time left now to find other alternatives.

I am calling my route "the parks of London" because I started off by running over Tooting Bec Common and then I went to Wimbledon Park, Wimbledon Common and then my final park for the day, Richmond Park.  All of the parks are nice but Richmond park is absolutely huge and you can easily do all your running in that park alone.  There are also lots of deer that live there, although I didn't see any today.  There must be a lot though because I saw a sign saying there will be a deer cull shortly.  Poor Bambis.

Beautiful views in Richmond Park

Sign notifying people of a deer cull taking place

I did 20 miles or 32km without any stops, and I averaged just over 10km per hour.  So the whole run took me a fraction under 3 hours and 10 minutes.  I was happy with that as I was carrying my pack with all of the food and survival items in it, plus the two 750ml bottles were full of water, so that is a total weight of 8.5kg (7kg for the pack plus 1.5kg for the water).

So in case you were wondering how I found all the new kit, here goes.  Clothing wise I found the Nike Tempo 2 in 1 shorts amazingly comfortable and I don't anticipate any problems with those at all.  I almost forgot that I wearing shorts at all - they are that comfortable.  They also stayed dry the whole time.  The RailRiders Ecomesh shirt is also very comfortable.  It is nice and loose fitting and despite getting wet it dried very quickly once I finished running, and even though it felt wet to the touch on the outside I didn't feel the wetness against my skin.  Unfortunately because of the British climate I was wearing a vest underneath the shirt, so I can't tell if it rubs anywhere yet, but for that I can always do a short run where I wont get cold or go to the gym and try it without anything underneath.  The Raidlight desert cap also stayed firmly in place throughout the run and I can't fault that.

Feet wise is not such a perfect story.  The gaiters stayed up well and I didn't really notice them, which is great, but my feet have now got a couple of nasty blisters from either the socks or the shoes or both.  Now I should add that a callus has been forming on the ball of my right foot for a while now, and I probably should try and remove that, as I had imagined that it could cause some blisters to form underneath.  Up until today I haven't really had many blisters that bothered me though.  It is also possible that the shoes being 1 size larger than normal (to allow for swelling in the MDS) caused the blisters.  I did notice however that the Injinji crew socks are slightly thinner than the ones I have been wearing so I will try my old socks in the new shoes and see if that feels better or worse.  My feet stayed dry, which is good, but after the run I checked the socks and there is already some bobbling.  I wouldn't really expect bobbling to happen after only one run and it remains to be seen if that continues or if it was just because the socks were brand new.  The PT03 desert shoes are much softer than the PT03 winter shoes, including the tongues, but my left shin is still getting sore where the tongue touches it.  I cannot really comment on whether that is going to be the case in future, because I already had a haematoma on my left shin from my 50km run last Sunday.  Whatever happens the desert shoes will cause less bruising than the winter shoes though, being that much softer.

The OMM pack feels more comfortable than my mountaineering one that I had been using before.  It is hard to make a true judgement because my back still has some sores on it from last Sunday, but today's run didn't make those sores worse so that is a good sign.  However, saying that I just found a new sore on my left hip.  I did do the waist strap very tight today though, as I didn't want the pack bouncing around on my preexisting back sores, so next time I will try loosening the waist strap ever so slightly and seeing if that helps prevent hip sores.  The back of the OMM pack is much shorter than my mountaineering one and I prefer the feel of that.  The Raidlight bottles in the shoulder straps didn't bounce too much, which is good, and I was able to drink from the bottles on the go, but I am not a huge fan of the valves.  If you leave the valves open the water splashes out, and if you close them it is quite hard to get them open again without having to use both hands.  Nevertheless being on the shoulder straps they are easily accessible and even if I have to use both hands to open the valve it is better than having to carry bottles in my hand or having to go into my pack to retrieve bottles or refill a bladder.

The Oakley eye jacket XLJ sunglasses felt pretty comfortable, although after the run I noticed the points where the frames slide over my ears are a little bit tender.  I didn't notice that during the run so it can't be that bad, and they stayed firmly in place, which is good.  Maybe after wearing them for a bit they will become even more comfortable and not cause any tenderness above my ears, but today was the first time trying them out.

My overall summary would be that I am pretty happy with my kit choices and think it will get me through the MDS just fine, although I need to find some solutions to prevent further blisters like today.  I really hope it is just the extra shoe size that caused the blisters, although it wouldn't be good if my feet don't swell and I end up getting friction blisters in the MDS because of it.  Based on what I have heard everyone's feet will swell to some extent though, so as long as my feet can make it through day one when they are not quite so swollen, the extra shoe size will be needed on subsequent days.  I maybe should also think about going the callus removed from my right foot.

By he way for all your attention seekers out there, I have a great way for you to get some extra attention. Go out running in London with long gaiters attached to your shoes.  You wouldn't believe the number of strange looks I got from people or the number of children telling their parents what strange boots that guy is wearing.  Anyone who is familiar with the MDS would know what they are though, and one woman stopped and asked me if I was doing the MDS and said her husband had done it last year.  Whilst I was running I felt fine, but once I stopped and was taking the train home I did feel a little embarrassed wearing them.  Since they are stitched to the shoes there is no way to take them off now though, and I need to get used to the shoes, so the folks of Zurich better get used to me running around the town with my gaiters on.  However, I am sure the folks of Zurich won't pay as much attention as the folks of London do.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A very happy man. My pack weight estimate was spot on

Tonight I picked up the remaining part of my kit at the team meeting at the Mencap HQ.  Once I got home I was eager to put everything into the 25L OMM rucksack and weigh it.  David at Sandbaggers had originally recommended the 32L OMM rucksack as the perfect size for the MDS, but I told him that I wanted to take the minimalist approach and asked him if a smaller lighter rucksack was also possible.  He said the 25L was also possible, but that it would be a very tight fit.  I was a little bit worried looking at all the food lying on the bed, and wondering if I was going to be able to fit everything in.

I began by packing all of the survival items (aluminium blanket, signal mirror, sun cream, venom pump, first aid items, whistle etc) in the top pocket.  Then I started filling the main section of the rucksack with food.  There are over 20 packets of freeze dried food so that takes up most of the space in the main section, but there was just enough room left at the top to fit in my sleeping bag and fleece.  In one of the side pockets I managed to fit my windproof jacket and pants, and in the other pocket I managed to squeeze 2 large recovery drink packets and a spare pair of socks.  So basically everything is now in the pack other than a knife, compass, safety pins, lighter, sand goggles, hand disinfectant, plasters, camera (my only luxury item) and 3 AAA batteries.  I may also take my silk sleeping bag liner and a few energy bars depending on space.

When I weighed the pack it was 6.9kg (a very pleasant surprise).  If you allow for the items I mentioned above that are not yet in the pack then it will be around 7.5kg, which is exactly what I was aiming for, so my estimate was almost spot on.  Although the main section is at present pretty full, after I have eaten a couple of the packets of food it will no longer be a squeeze and it will be easy to unpack and repack it.  Even after adding in the extra items above, there is still a little bit of spare room in the pockets, which means the important items will be easily accessible.

It is going to make a big difference running with a lightweight pack like this, rather than one that weighs over 10kg like some people carry.  The only thing that remains to be seen is if I have sacrificed too much comfort in order to save weight.  If I have then that will just have to be a lesson for the next time I do it (wink wink).  I think I will manage though, and the main concern of warmth at night should be covered by the fact that I have a fleece with me and can go to bed wearing that if necessary.  Or it can serve as padding to lie on if I don't need to wear it.  I am also not scrimping on the calories, as that is important for recovery.  I plan to take a few more than the mandatory 14,000 calories and there are already over 15,000 in my pack without any energy bars (which I will add in later).

In London to collect all my racing kit and to meet my Mencap team mates

Hi folks.  I arrived here in London yesterday afternoon on the Eurostar.  On the journey I managed to read the rest of my running books that I have been meaning to read for ages.  I have read all the ones I have now, including "Born to Run", "Racing Weight" and "The Runner's Body".  They are all pretty interesting as they break down a lot of commonly held myths that were created mainly by sports drink companies and sports shoe manufacturers.  For instance, when we sweat a lot we aren't left with a low concentration of salt in our body.  The concentration of salt in sweat is less than the concentration of salt in our body, so actually provided you don't drink copious amounts of water, the concentration of the salt solution in our body rises not falls.  Drinking sports drinks containing salts is better than drinking water alone, but it does not actually raise the salt concentration in our body, because once again the salt in the sports drink is more dilute than it is in our body.

The reason I am here in London is to collect all my kit for the MDS, and to meet my Mencap team mates this evening at the Mencap headquarters.  A lot of the kit was here waiting for me at my sister's house - something like 14 packages or more.  The rest of it I will be getting from Sandbaggers at the meeting tonight.  I had a lot of fun last night opening all the packages and it was like Christmas all over again.  I am very impressed by how light all the kit is, and think during the race I will really appreciate not having to lug around a heavily laden pack.  The most amazing pieces of kit in terms of weight have to be my PHD sleeping bag weighing in at only 400g and my Montane Slipstream Quantum GL jacket weighing in at only 65g (for size M).  The jacket feels like a feather and yet is windproof and rainproof.  PHD had some concerns about my deadline for the order as mentioned in an earlier post, but in the end they came through and gave me the exact sleeping bag that I ordered with the 900 down instead of the 800 - thanks guys at PHD.

Last night I also spent some time going through all the freeze dried foods, and measuring out the mandatory 14,000 calories, trying to see how much weight and space this would take up.  The food is definitely going to be the heaviest item in my pack, and at a rough guess it looks like it will be around 5kg (I will do a proper kit weigh in once I get back to Zurich).  The good news is that since there will be around 5kg of food for 7 days, each day my pack will become 0.7kg lighter.

Tonight it will be really interesting to meet the others in the Mencap team and see how their training and fundraising has been going.  It can be hard at times talking to outsiders about what it is like to train for an event such as this, because the average person has no comprehension of what it involves.  Everyone tonight has something in common though.  We all know what it is like to prepare for the MDS.  A common theme, a common goal.  There will also be 2 previous participants sharing their experiences with us.

Lastly on the fundraising front, I had another 20 pound donation, meaning I now have only 347 pounds and 60 pence left to raise before hitting my target.  Once my 2 new corporate sponsors put their money on my site we are now talking about a mere 47 pounds and 60 pence left - yeeeehaaaaaa.  We are so close to the target now that we can almost reach out and grab it, but as they say on the London Underground "mind the gap".  It may seem like a very small amount but it still has to be raised.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Cool surprises from Anny - true love

Anny asked me to join her for a coffee after work and when I went there she gave me a piece of paper and asked me to read it.  It was a printout of an email chain but I had no idea what it was about so I asked her to explain.  She didn't want to tell me but suggested that I google the name of the company and find out what they do.  Suddenly without even needing to google it, it all fitted perfectly in to place.

The company was an adventure travel company based in France.  Several weeks ago we had been discussing whether or not Anny would join me at the finish of the MDS.  The only viable way seemed to be to do it via the event organisers, who have put together a friends and family package.  The cost was extremely high and I told her that she didn't need to come unless she really wanted to because of the cost.  She said she would give it some thought and we could discuss it at a later stage.

I had no idea that in the meantime she had been contacting the organisers and making the actual booking.  When she told me tears almost came to my eyes.  It means so much to me that she will be there to support me in my adventure and to share part of it with me.  The package allows the participants not only to be at the finish, but also to meet with us at the classical concert that will be hosted on the penultimate day of the race and to see the start of the final stage.  Seeing her one day before the end, I am sure that on the final day I will run like I am on fire.  It will give me a real mental boost to know that she is so close by and to know that I will see her again at the finish line.

With the fundraising good news and now this cool news from Anny, today has been a great day.  Thanks Anny - you are a star!

2 new soon to be sponsors

Hi everyone.  Well the fundraising campaign has had some more good news.  There are now 2 more companies willing to sponsor me in cash, and the money should be on my site within a week or two.  I don't want to give their names until I have the actual money, but one company is willing to sponsor me £100 and the other is willing to sponsor me £200 and donate some special energy drinks.

Once that money is on my site I would only have £67.60 left to go before I hit my target.  The target of £9,500 is of course the minimum target though, and the fundraising doesn't have to stop once I reach it.  The more donations the merrier.  It would be great not just to hit the target but to exceed it.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A 50km run (no walking) with an 8kg backpack

Today I wanted to do something hardcore.  So at around 12.30pm I set off for a run with my backpack weighing in at just over 8kg.  I had a route in mind and it was one that that some of us used to cycle after work at UBS on Monday nights.  The route heads out past the airport to Bulach, then out into the countryside and to Dielsdorf, returning to Zurich via Niederhasli.  I wasn't sure if I would make it all the way, as it is a very long run indeed, but as is often the case in Switzerland the small villages along the way are serviced by train stations and it is no problem to find your way back to Zurich.

I haven't been feeling that energetic the last week or so, and I wondered how well today would go.  At first I felt sluggish but after a few kilometres I started to loosen up and felt okay again.  The sluggishness came back around the 19km mark, and I figured I needed to eat something.  Luckily there was a petrol station nearby and I stopped there for some sandwiches and pastries, and a large energy drink.  I was worried that I wouldn't be able to run again with such a full belly, but it seemed to go okay and I was jogging again after just a minute or so of walking to get back into the rhythm.

After that stop I didn't stop again except for a couple of quick pee breaks and once at the 42km mark to dump 1.5 litres of water so the pack wouldn't dig into my back so much for the last 8km.  I can tell you that the 1.5kg reduction in my pack weight (from dumping the water) was extremely noticeable.  It was okay getting to the 42km mark, albeit not that fast, but the last 8km I found tough.  Today definitely tested my mental toughness as it would have been easy to just call it quits at 42km, but I wanted to run further than that.  In fact today is the furthest I have ever run (the 70km I did the other day doesn't count as I only ran half of that and walked the other half).

I decided to finish my run once I hit the 50km mark, and luckily I was near to a train station when I was at 48km, so all I had to do was a small loop to complete the last 2km and arrive back at the train station ready to catch the train.  The end of my route was Niederhasli.  From there I took a train back to Zurich HB and then came home.  I didn't take any photos en route but I took the following one to show that running with a backpack can have it's downside.

Some nice chafing from running with a pack