Sunday, 2 June 2013

Western States 100 Training Update: Heat Acclimatisation and GUCR 2013

Acclimatisation to the heat out in California in late June has been something I've been wanting to get my body and mind ready for. But how!?.... I was listening to an episode of the Talk Ultra podcast which covers the MdS race in Morocco each year. British MdS competitors often use indoor heat training to acclimatise and this was mentioned in the show and the use of a heat chamber at Kingston University's Sports Science department. So I googled it to find out more and arranged a free 1 hour session which I completed last Tuesday.

I met Chris Howe who works in the Sports Science department at the Uni and is an accomoplished ultra runner himself having won the Cardiff Ultra 50 on the Sunday in under 7hrs! A top bloke who explained the session and what I would be subjecting myself too. Essentially you run steady to hard for an hour on the treadmill which is set up in a small lab heated to 35.5 degrees. Core temperature readings are taken every 15 minutes using a ear probe to monitor your increased temps.

The science and research behind this type of session demonstrates that consistently elevating your core temperature daily (especially through moderate exercise) in the two weeks before your goal event in the heat helps your body to physically adapt via an improved sweat function to remove heat from the body more efficiently resulting in an overall lower core temperature for the same effort. That's the theory anyway!

My pre-session temperature reading was 36.7 which Chris said was nice a low. That was about to change! You could immediately feel the heat as soon as you stepped into the chamber. Wow running in this for an hour is gonna be tough was my first thought... I mean for most ultra runners, including me, running on a treadmill in any conditions for any amount of time is not fun. So it was good mental training too. In the first 15 mins my temp rose over a degree, and by 30 minutes by another. At 45 minutes my temperature was 39.4 degrees C. For Chris this was too high - 40 degrees could mark extreme heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke so he asked me to ramp down the speed and incline on the treadmill. I had been runnning at 5mph (12 mpm pace) and a nice 8% incline. In the final 15 mins I powerhiked the incline bringing down the pace and my temperature to below 39 which Chris was happy with.

It was a great workout and served to demonstrate how the body (especially mine!) can't work as hard as it would in normal temps as it simply produces too much heat which it can't get rid of quick enough. Quite simply the only way to manage this is to slow down and in doing so reduce the amount of heat generated. So this is what I must learn to manage in the next 3-5 heat chamber sessions scheduled for the last two weeks before I fly over to the States. Sauna sessions also work well to elevate core temps so can be incorporated into my training as well.

As well as the physical adaption that may occur through these heat acclimatisation sessions I think the biggest plus is knowing mentally that when I stand on the start line of Western States I won't have quite the same level of apprehension and uncertainty of the unknown in regard to running in the heat. My body will be use to it and my Central Governer will hopefully recognise the signals as the June temps steadily rise in the heat of the Californian sunshine and adapt my effort inline with what i've learnt in the chamber. We shall see....

I should add that I completed the above session with just two days rest following the North Downs Way 50 where I finished 6th (see previous post). I felt strong and well rested. My new diet and consistent training continues to reduce my recovery times after long runs which is pleasing.

I followed up with a 35 mile long run this weekend (through the night) in support of friend James Elson who was running the Grand Union Canal Run (GUCR). This is a classic ultra race of 145 miles from Birmingham to London along the tow path. Most reading this blog probably know of it. I had the pleasure of being part of the crew for James ( (Race Director - Centurion Running) who is an accomplished ultra runner (Rocky Raccoon 100 - 17hrs32mins PR). I planned to tag along from Leighton Buzzard (home town) along the canal down to Watford and then return back. The exact mileage was unknown at the time as I didnt know how much I would be supporting James as his pacer. The crew was made up of James' mates and accomplished ultra runners in their own right (4 GUCR finishers!) including Robbie Britton who placed well at the Worlds 24hr championships. There were 6 of us in the crew in total in a 2 car convoy. It worked really well as one of us would pace James whilst the others would get to the next meeting point at a bridge section on the canal and set up a temporary aid station with everything James could need including gels, SCaps, tomatoes, hot beans, cheese, sausage rolls, pastries hot coffee, coke etc. We were a well oiled machine as we rolled down the canal edging ever closer towards London. And what's more James wasn't just here to run and complete the distance, no no.... he smashed it! When I picked him up at 9pm on Saturday night in LB (90 miles in) he was leading the race! James hit 100 miles in 17.5hrs, and throughout the night was able to maintain a healthy margin between him and second place. I paced James for short 2 mile section and a further 5 mile section from the 100 mile aid station down to the outskirts of Berkhamsted. It was great to see the race unfolding on the other side for a change. Crewing was such a buzz ampified by the fact that James was leading such a historic UK race. I finally left the crew at the Grove in Watford (115 miles in) to head back to LB in the very early hours setting off on the 27 mile run at 3am. It was an extremely enjoyable run as the sun rose and a new day dawned having not slept a wink. I also got the opportunity to see the other runners on the GUCR and the gaps that separated them. It took a full 45 mins running in the opposite direction before I came across the 2nd place runner. We were getting vague reports from various people as to the distance which was getting back to the crew and James. The gap at this point we worked out to be over 6 miles which was a healthy cushion. And so it stayed that way with James winning the GUCR in 29hrs19mins. The only runner to go sub 30. The final runner who finished the full distance came in just under the cut off in 45hrs in the early hours on Monday morning!

To read James' full GUCR race report go to

Would I ever run the GUCR having now experienced it from this unique perspective? I probably will is my answer but not for quite a few years. What I saw that I wouldn't want to experience myself is the final 50 mile death march. Running 100 miles and then dragging myself another 45 miles at not even a fast walking pace definitely doesn't appeal. Thus whilst I'm never gonna have the pace or endurance of James (I simply don't have the time required to train and race enough) I would want to train properly and get my pace right to 'run' the entire distance. To do this my goal first is to excel in the 50 mile and 100 mile distances. And I'm saying here and now that I don't plan to increase the distance above 100 miles until I can crack 20 hours for the 100. 104 miles for UTMB being the exception here ( hey what's an extra 4 miles between friends ;-)

So that's a rather more lengthy training update than I had intended.... So enough from me already....

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