Summer training: an uphill struggle

Filling in the blanks: Summer 2014

Get stuck in

Two people run up a mountainside track under a blue sky.

Photo by Eoin L.

With the Mourne Way done and dusted and my main job finished for the summer I had the luxury of two and a half months to focus and prepare for the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB). After a low volume recovery week it appears I had a hard month of training, building week on week:

  1. 5.5hrs, 61K, 500m+
  2. 8hrs, 81K, 1000m+
  3. 12hrs, 102K, 3400m+
  4. 40hrs, 175K, 11000m+ !!!

I was psyched to get some real training in after the illness at Easter. One Wednesday I hopped out of bed early and decided to run 50K, in the rain, for shits and giggles. I set off from my house along the tow path to Lady Dixon park and then followed what I could find of the Dixon-Divis trail to the summit of Divis mountain above the city, then reversed back home. I did a shorter version with a long hill repeat the next week, two days after a lumpy (2000m+) 30K in the Mournes.

Intense workouts were in there too (Donard/Commedagh and Belvoir hill-reps), with the usual commuting runs and some weekend Mournes activity. It was hard work, but I had plenty of time to eat and sleep, and was beginning to feel stronger.

The recce

28 litre Lowe Alpine pack with maps, passport and jacket.

I love travelling with just a small carry-on 🙂

To escape Belfast during the Twelfth weekend I hopped on a plane to go running on the trails around Mont Blanc that I would race come August. I carried a 6kg pack with light bivvy gear, basic change of clothes for travelling and plenty of snacks. I had five days to complete the route, but was aiming for four.

Arriving in Chamonix at lunch time, I set off to climb past Les Houches, over the Col de Voza and find a place to stay in Contamines, 21K later. The lure of a dry bed after the hot meal I had to buy anyway, saw me settle for guesthouse accommodation for this and the following damp nights. I met a small group of other runners who were on the same mission. Choosing to use guesthouses in advance, they had brought only their light running gear. Although still covering the same daily distance, they were moving much faster than I.

The following days saw 42K to Maison Vieille above Courmayeur (Italy), 55K to Champex Lac (Switzerland), and 37K to Flagere (back in France). There remained another 9K back down to Chamonix, but a break in the weather gave me an opportunity to break out the bivvy bag. When the sun rose in the morning I had a perfect view of the Haute Alps. It was hard to resent having carried the extra weight of the sleeping gear for 4 days. (For comparison, the Elite MMM course involves carrying a similar pack for only 55K, split over two days).

The days were long (10-12hrs moving), the climbs were relentless, the ground was hard. I did not cover the exact race route because the Tour du Mont Blanc has numerous variations, but I sure as hell got the idea: it is equal parts magnificent and merciless. August would be tough.

The final push wobble

After such a successful month I hoped to put in another few weeks of effort before tapering, but things never really got going again. Returning from the alps, my throat started to play up a bit. Fearing a repeat of Easter ruining my perfect 3-year UTMB plan, I backed right off to nip it in the bud. A long weekend away in Galway added to the feeling of losing ground. In one of my logs I write:

Life and health disrupting training. Legs literally going mad at night from lack of running – very restless.

Once I got going again, there were exploding shoes and a sock fiasco that disrupted more runs. I had to accept that I would not have made significant gains in the last few weeks and that rest was important too. I did get a solid 64K week in a fortnight out, then it was time to break in the race shoes and get my head in the right place. Training was over. I had done what I had done. It had to be enough.

narrow trail winding through wildflowers

In parts magnificent…

Trail zig-zagging up through 45 degree forest slope.

In parts merciless.

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