MY ROAD TO THE TRANSGRANCANARIA 80-MILE ULTRA-MARATHON
September 20, 2016
MY ROAD TO THE TRANSGRANCANARIA 80-MILE ULTRA-MARATHON
APRIL 17, 2016
My Road to The Transgrancanaria 80-mile Ultra-Marathon:
The seed of an idea to run the Transgrancanaria (TGC) 80-mile ultra-marathon was sown in April 2015. My family (wife Tess and two daughters Lila – now 6 – and Sofia – now 4) and I went on a holiday to Gran Canaria. When we were on holiday I ran every morning before the kids and my wife (Tess) woke up. I need to wear myself out to be able to relax! I loved the dusty trails and ended up running 100 miles during that holiday (despite falling over spectacularly on one of the frst runs – I still have scars from that today)!
Running friends of mine had completed (and were planning to complete) big Ultra runs. The distances seemed ridiculous to me – impossible. But by the time we were in Grancanaria I had already ran one ultra-marathon before – MCN Black Mountains – 40ish miles, wih 3000ish metres of elevation. I found it really tough, but I wanted to go further. I searched for long races on the island and found Transgrancanaria (TGC). I was interested – but not ready to commit yet…
After that I’d continued increasing running milage and taking on local ultras – managing third place in the Preseli Ultrabeast (50km) pictured at the start of this article – and the MCN Brecon Beacons Ultra (42 Miles). I’m not really very quick, I just train hard and can descend quickly (with very little effort). At the end of the Beacons Ultra I felt I had more left in me… Spurred on by these performances, I entered TGC in June – and booked a family holiday around the event.
The day after a 35-mile long training run I entered Tintern Trot, a short, easy, fell/trail race. I felt some pain from the start of the race (to be expected, due to the 35-miles in the previous day) and at some point in the race I remember turning my left ankle. I didn’t break stride, I just continued racing, ending up with an identical time to the previous year (despite the long run on the day before). I took this to be an improvement!
But since this race I have had pain on the top left hand side of my foot on load-bearing and impact. The pain, whilst not unbearable, was present on every step – from the beginning to the end of every run, from this point onwards. I still don&rsrsquo;t really know what the problem is. So I was injured, but I wasn’t letting that stop me.
Unable to run, I started road cycling – trying the local climbs (The Tumble, Hay Bluf, Llangynidr, etc). Cycling just doesn’t do it for me like running does, it ‘doesn’t scratch the same itch’. My legs are on fire cycling, but I still have plenty of breath and I felt my running fitness would ebb away…
Still, I believed there was no alternative, so I was determined to stick with it until my foot healed. During one training ride I had stood out of my bike saddle and my chain broke, causing a fall, which hurt my ribs badly and ruled me out of road cycling for a while. After this came spinning classes – endless, horrible spinning. I did four classes some days, desperately trying to hold onto my fitness, whilst unable to do anything too strenuous outdoors, with my rib injury. I swam too, joining a masters class in the local leisure centre. It wasn’t running though…
A couple of weeks later I returned to running. I had had a doctors’ appointment and they had ruled out the stress fracture I was worried about – but they offered no alternatives (it was a fracture clinic) – so I decided just to run. I ran for a week, pretending it wasn’t hurting. In reality I felt some pain on every step – on the top of my foot on the left hand side. Not intense pain to start with, just annoying, like a stone in the shoe.
But the pain increased as the week went on – and by the end of the week the pain was as bad as ever. I felt like I had just ruined a month’s resting by returning to running too early. The next week I took to the water, swimming daily – culminating in a 6km swim in a Swedish lake. And another 6km, with 50 or so others, squelching through weeds in Llangorse lake.
The next week a chance post on Facebook was to change my training forever. I had been spinning and swimming – and had been in the gym – and was generally bored with training. Then I saw a Facebook post about the ElliptiGO. The day after the post, despite apprehension at the nearly £2000 price, I went to Gym & Tonic in Hay on Wye to try an ElliptiGO.
I connected with it instantly, feeling more comfortable on it than I ever had on a conventional bike. I was sold, after some chatting to ElliptiGO ‘enthusiast extraordinaire’ and ‘endurance guru’ (‘EGO-Maniac’ Idai Makaya). I took the plunge and ordered an ElliptiGO 8C – on Idai’s advice that the bike was returnable in 30 days, if you were not satisfied.
So the ElliptiGO arrived! Tess and I excitedly unpacked and constructed it (mainly Tess constructed it, to be honest) and I got out on my first ride. As on my test ride, I felt completely at ease on the ElliptiGO. It gave my heart and lungs the workout I’d been craving, without hurting my foot. I sometimes get lots of stares and shouts as I ride about, but I don’t care (it’s all part of the fun)! I now felt like I would be able to continue cross training for TGC ultra-marathon, whilst letting my foot heal.
Training after this point was constant on the ElliptiGO, making sure I got plenty of elevation in. Climbing hills on the ElliptiGO is very similar to walking quickly up steep hills, perfect training for the 8,000m of ascent in TGC. All the while, my foot was no better really. Every now and then I’d start running again, the pain would build up over days until I had problems walking, then I’d stop again. So the vast majority of my training was being done on the ElliptiGO – which didn’t hurt my foot.
Idai challenged me to join him and Andy Nuttall in a 200km Audax cycling event in January 2016 and I accepted. It would be great training. On the 2nd of January came the day of the 200km. After a quiet evening in an AirB&B bed I met Idai and Andy (for the first time) and we set off in light rain. This time I had rested properly beforehand and had eaten properly as well – as a result it was a breeze – albeit a ‘wet breeze’ (thanks to the rain all day). This had a lot to do with the company, it was great to ride with Andy and Idai and we had plenty to talk about. Both know a lot about endurance events, having both started the Paris Brest Paris (1,200km) Audax ride in the previous year – on their ElliptiGOs.
Idai is extremely well informed on nutritional strategy (and also, interestingly, sleep strategies for long events). It is his belief that you can build up sleep prior to an event by oversleeping so you don’t need so much sleep during the event. I am inclined to believe him (he has the experience) – although oversleeping may be easier said than done, for me! It was very useful and interesting to have his input. The three of us kept on, despite the rain, to finish 205km in a respectable 11.5 hours. It was a great day despite the rain and my legs, surprisingly, were fine afterward.
You can see a video of our ride below:
This sort of ride has to be great training for ultra-running! Kind to the body, yet great training (physically and mentally). So I carried on after this event on the ElliptiGO – and sporadically (as my foot allowed) running. I managed a couple of 25-plus-mile runs, with over a mile of elevation in them. Every time, though (during and afterwards) my foot was very painful. I felt the chances of me completing the race were low and I wondered whether it was really a good idea to start.
Two weeks before the race I had a change of heart. I made the decision I was starting – no matter what – figuring that starting and not fnishing would be much better (for me) than not starting at all. I started training harder on the ElliptiGO (albeit far too late). That week I would climb all the big climbs in the area – twice on consecutive days. The end of the week came and, for better or worse, I needed to rest for the race. I tested my foot over 10 meters a couple of times – and it didn’t feel too bad. Was there hope of finishing after all?
I’d decided to adopt Idai’s oversleeping method, sleeping more before the event so I’d be less tired during the race. Our flight was early in the morning, so we had to leave the house at 1am. I had been adjusting my body clock so I could get a full night’s sleep before 1am. I ended up getting about 6hrs. The night before the race I slept fairly early, around 10:30pm. The plan was to get up for breakfast then go back to sleep until dinner, in the evening. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be. I woke up about 7:00pm, having had a good eight and a half hours’ sleep.
At the event itself, there wasn’t much talking at the start line, silent bodies all nervously awaiting the start. Plenty of fanfare though – with lots of lights and loud announcers! We were off to much fanfare – plenty of spectators lined the streets at the start. Lots of runners, lots of people, this was it!
It was a very long race. I found the uphill cimbing easier than the downhill descending (which was hurting my quads and causing my foot to get more and more painful).
After 45km of running, with over 80km still remaining in the race, I was ready to throw the towel in due to the foot pain. Somewhow, I didn’t, and I continued on (despite having already called Tess and told her I was pulling out). The race was seriously tough – and the final section was all downhill (which was awful for my injured foot – and for my quads), but I managed to complete the full 80-mile course in under 24 hours.
The next day I was a wreck. It was very hard to walk – or to sit down from standing – and I didn’t even have much of an appetite. I managed a small walk to the beach, but not much else. I resolved to not do more than an hour’s hard exercise in a day – for the next month – but then, in the evening, Andy Nuttall asked if I wanted to do a 300km ElliptiGO Audax ride in two week’s time.
I’m not great at saying no – so I said yes!
Whether or not my foot heals the ElliptiGO will always be a major part of my training now. If my foot doesn’t heal then there are plenty of challenges waiting for me on the ElliptiGO. I’ve just got back from the 300km Audax ride with the awesome Andy Nuttal and Stuart Blofeld – who were both preparing themselves for a mammoth 2,100km cycling event, which has to be completed within just 7 days of riding (it’s called the Wild Atlantic Way Audax)! I’ve also got a 400km and a 600km Audax cycling event booked for myself to ride on the ElliptiGO – and then I’m hoping to do a three or four thousand mile trip across the USA, on the ElliptiGO!
If my foot’s ever better, the ElliptiGO will be instrumental in ensuring I remain injury-free. A post from Idai about the new ElliptiGO Arc makes me think that the ElliptiGO Arc may be a great tool for my downhill running training. The pain he felt in his quads (after riding the Arc fast) sounds identical to the pain I feel after downhill running, when I’ve not done it in a while. So maybe I can train just as hard – and run much less? It’s GOing to be fun finding out, anyway!