Preparing for my first ultra run

Friday 16 October 2015 08.09 AM

Andrew Risbey, Founder of timeoutdoors, completed his first ultra run recently. He explains the challenges he faced on the way and how he dealt with them.

This is the second blog post I've started with 'Wow! What a year' - but it's true. It's been another busy year - including moving office, recruiting three new members of staff and training for my first ultra run, the Ripon Ultra 35 mile run.
The year started off on a​ high with the launch of the new website and a huge increase in traffic from 20-30,000 people a month to over 90,000 a month. Once that was done it was time to focus on growing the team to make sure we could continue to develop the site - three months later we'd moved into newly refurbished offices overlooking Ripon Cathedral with two new team members. I'd now run out of excuses for starting my training for the ultra.

The decision to take part in the Ripon Ultra wasn't the result of some carefully considered strategy - it was by chance that last year I was out with the kids and came across one of the checkpoints on the route about a mile from home. A quick chat to the guys there and a couple of hours later I was signed up. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
When I sat down to plan my training I quicky realised there was no way I could cover enough miles in the hours after kids' bedtime and at weekends when we're normally juggling clubs and parties for three kids! So from April I changed my usual routine of driving the 10km into the office to include some cycling and running. Cycling is fairly simple when you've got an office shower but requires a bit more effort to keep you socially acceptable when you haven't - fortunately the route into the office is mainly downhill so doesn't require huge efforts. For me running into the office was a non-starter, I don't enjoy early morning runs, the shower would be essential and I get withdrawl symptoms if I'm not working by 8am  - but running the 10km route back home with over 1,100 feet of ascent proved to be a really effective way to train. Not only was it a fantastic route right through Studley Royal deer park but it also meant I was home for 7ish having done my training so didn't interfere too much with the routine of family life. The only challenge was getting back to the office the next day as the car was still in town (hence the cycling)!

Combined with some longer weekend runs, this turned into a routine which saw me making steady progress with fitness from April onwards - which I thought was plenty of time for a run which didn't take place until October. My trusty companion during this time was Runmeter, a fantastic app for tracking and sharing training which helpfully reminds you during your run how far you've run, how long the last mile took and how far ahead or behind your best time you are (that's not always a great feature!). Why anyone spends hundreds of pounds on devices these days is beyond me - this cost me a few quid to download and it costs me £4 a year for their 'Elite' service!

All was going well until I got ill, which knocked my training out for a few weeks - but the real challenge came when my back went into the worst spasm I've ever had, which made even walking difficult let alone running for 35 miles! I've had ocassional 'back' issues for a few years (it's a family thing) but it normally sorts itself out after a few days of Iboprufen - this time was different. I was in pain for weeks and it showed no signs of going away - it meant I couldn't even run when we went to the Alps in August (how frustrating is that!).

So I decided this needed some proper action, I needed to get to the root cause of the problem once and for all. After visits to a chiropractor and two physios, they all said my back was incredibly tight and that massage etc would help (which it did temporarily), but I didn't feel they'd identified the root cause. Then I thought about my gait - none of them had looked at this at all - so after Googling gait analysis North Yorkshire I came across The Gait House. A 30 minute chat later and I was booked in. We've written in detail about how they approach things - in a nutshell they use 3D laser cameras to do a very detailed gait analysis to understand the root-cause of your injury and provide you with a long-term solution (don't confuse this with the gait analysis you get at a running shop, it's in a different league!). This is me as seen through their cameras - it's the same technology they use to create Gollum in Lords of the Rings!

The upshot was that 25+ years of running without going to those Yoga classes my Mum said I should meant that I was incredibly tight around my quads and lower back - in particular my piriformis seemed to have tightened which was causing sciatica-type pain in one leg. The solution was to follow some daily stretching exercises to address specific areas, sports massage to help shift the tightness and ideally some form of other exercise to help with core strength/flexibility.

This all sounded great but it was September and I had 35 miles to run on 3rd October. Stretching exercises using a simple resistance band (basically a big elastic band) fixed around the piano leg started immediately - 20 minutes each night just before bed was the optimum time to get the most benefit; I found Lisa Melling, a great sports massage specialist in Ripon, who started the unenviable job of loosening me up each week; and I also started swimming 1km on Friday mornings before work (I really don't enjoy swimming but it really is great for cross training). I only had a few weeks to go and also needed to get some longer distance training runs in at the weekend - the furthest I'd run in training was 24 miles and I was starting to wonder where the other 11 miles were coming from!

In my next blog I'll explain whether the plan came together or whether it all fell apart and how the run itself went.

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