The hills are alive, with the sound of running: a trail running weekend in Chamonix

I think that one of the amazing things about running is the variety of ways that an athlete can out one foot in front of another and attempt to cover an given distance as fast as possible. Whether you are a 100m sprinter or an ultra-ultra distance runner, you are a runner. And that means that everyone can find the type of running that suits them.

The reasons that a person finds themselves drawn to one type of running over any other are many, varied and complex. To some extent the choice will be dictated by the proportion of fast vs. slow twitch muscle fibers one has. Opportunity, motivation and peer pressure also play important parts.

For me a range of factors have led me to become fascinated by the marathon and especially road marathons. I have had an inglorious and short (one race) attempt at track racing (3000m in my case). But time and time again, I come back to 26.2 miles of tarmac. But that is slowly changing…

Trying on the trails

ROY_0009
Running in the Alps with the Trail Running Team ©Roy Belchamber

Increasingly, thanks to the influence of my wife, I am finding myself drawn to running on long-distance trails. Over the last few years, my summers have been spent in the Alps taking on long races, multi-day running trips and even longer ‘fast-packing’ trips.

And last weekend that culminated in a weekend of running with six other trail runners who make up the Trail Running Team in the Alps around Chamonix.

Getting to know you!

ROY_0157
© Roy Belchamber

The Trail Running Team are a disparate bunch, who came together as the result of a social media campaign. Their ‘prize’ for being picked from the hundreds of applicants was the publicity of being on the team and in Trail Running Magazine, a weekend away in the Alps on a trail running weekend run by Julia Tregaskis-Allen  from Tracks & Trails and some pretty lovely kit from the team sponsors.

The runners all arrived on Thursday and whilst some knew each other from having been to the same assessment day in London or Church Stretton, really they were strangers. So we had a meal, cooked by yours truly, at the Gite Michel Fagot, where the team stayed, and got to know one another with the help of some lovely French wine!

The team was made up of the following six (click on their name to find out more about them)

Within that group there is an amazing range of experience and lifestyles, but three days in the mountains, with 60 miles of running, 5500m of altitude gain and 3800m of ascent, as well as an overnight stay in a mountain refuge, meant that the team really bonded. It was great to see people who share a love of trail running bring such passion and positivity together and that is what I have enjoyed about the weekend: getting to know other runners. Most of the group said at some point that they are used to running alone and in fact most of them enjoyed that aspect of trail running: the opportunity to be with your thoughts and enjoy some solitude. But at the same time, the experience of learning and sharing experiences together seemed to be a really positive.

ROY_0283
Night running with the Trail Running Team. Photo © Roy Belchamber

A quick mention should go to the sponsors who supplied the team with some great kit. Apparel, backpack and footwear came from Mammut and their new trail running range. Nutrition was all from TORQ Fitness, including gels, bars and recovery shakes. The team also had headtorches from LED Lenser, sun-glasses from Tifosi and calf-guards from Compressport. There will be a kit review on here in the next few days, but for now it is safe to say that all the kit performed really well, all the more impressive given the tough test that it all got from the amount and type of running we did.

Trail Running Team rules

All in all, the weekend was a really wonderful experience. We laughed, struggled, learned and experienced together. I have been really inspired by the six runners that I joined for the weekend and I can’t wait to see what they all achieve in the future. And I think that my focus on road marathons has definitely taken another step backwards while I have been taking forward steps along the trail.

 

The Simple (Simon) Guide to Racing a Marathon – Part three: Fuel

Eat

As with hydration, I think that during the race, the best you can hope for is to top up your fuel stores as best you can. The body can absorb 90grms of carbohydrate per hour which equates to about 360 kcal.

In general running is considered to require about 500 kcal per hour. However this is a rough estimate. For a man of my weight running at my target pace of 6 min/mile the rate of calorie burn rises to almost 1000 kcal per hour.

Depletion is inevitable. The ‘wall’ isn’t.

Even if I consume 90g carbohydrate per hour, that will deliver around about 360 kcal which is less than I need to run at my target pace. However provided that in the days leading up to the race, I manage to eat well and top up the carbohydrate stores in my body – the endogenous fuel – there will be about 2,000 kcal that I have in my body to which I add the gels as I go.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 21.42.59

The ‘wall’ is something I have encountered a few times – once in the London marathon – and it is pretty real. When it happened to me in the London, the change from feeling good and barreling along at 2hr 40min pace to shuffling through an aid station guzzling energy drink and gels, took just two miles – 15 minutes. Thankfully the recovery was equally swift and I was able to finish that year in 2hrs 43min. But I had missed my target by 8 minutes and those minutes were spent trying to refuel.

So my aim when I am racing a marathon is to buffer the endogenous carbohydrate stores that I have through the consumption of gels, in my case those from TORQ Fitness.

My plan in London this year is to take six gels during the race – one every 30 minutes – to keep the depletion of muscle glycogen stores to a minimum and to give the ‘wall’ a miss altogether. I would say that for most runners who are trying to race the best they can, a similar strategy will be beneficial.