Monday, 23 May 2016

Centurion running North Downs Way 50 2016 ultra-marathon race report

My preparation and running strategy for the Centurion 2016 North Downs Way 50 ultra-marathon, much the same as my strategy for every other run, can best be described through the experience I've had with my toenail.

My biggest-toenail on my biggest-toe on my biggest-right-foot was damaged as a result of the NDW100 last year. It never really recovered, but never really gave up its affections for its toe and doggedly held on - even through another ultra-marathon, the 2016 SDW50. However, with increased 'training' recently, and the demand from my wife that I cut my toenails the day of the event, it gave up the ghost and mostly detached itself. A swift tug would have completed its demise.

Why am I telling you this again? Because it's a near perfect example of how I deal with pre-race and race running strategy. I don't. My toenail had pretty much fallen off of my toe and yet I simply placed it back into its seat and slapped a plaster around it. No one would be the wiser, not even me.

So when I asked Justin 'Jimmy' Bateman (above right (love running with that guy, BTW)) on the run "When does it feel like you're running 50 miles?" I was metaphorically bound up in plasters and, through self-coerced ignorance, 'out for a jog' that just seemed to keep going one step at a time.

And there were a lot of steps. 100,000 or more I should think. They took me through some very familiar trails, twists, ups and downs and through some of the most beautiful parts of England. Having ran here twice last year, I was quite familiar. But still I gazed at the lofty views from Denby's vineyard and ran more slowly through the colourful woods carpeted with bluebells and other coloured plants (with names that I'll never care to learn). I even enjoyed the sprawling tapestry of roots in the ground as they cross-crossed my path and caused me to dance between them. All of the trail, apart from those bloody steps, were a delight. Actually the steps weren't even too bad and I even appreciated the fields between the last check point and the finish a little more than I did the previous two times.

What possessed Stuart March to take such a photo?
... And why did I pay for such a photo?
I think that appreciation came mostly from the pace I held in my eagerness to catch-up with Jimmy and Ilsuk 'The-Man-The-Myth-The-Train' Han. You see, I had started with both of them and I had a burning desire to finish it with them too. But it was not to be. I'd failed myself and whilst I have no regrets on my efforts on the run, I was a little gutted to have left myself behind.

Having said that, if I'd have known they would have abandoned me, I'd have hung out with the 'Bazooka!'. Mad, hilarious and all awesome, the Bazooka! was the nick-name I gave to Goska. She gave me the nickname 'Sean Penn' after calling me Nash and Josh and asking 'what's your name, again' 4 times. She was immediately a character I liked and quite literally a barking mad one at that. She ran past Ilsuk with a bark and growled at some sheep. See, character. Tracking towards coming in under the cut-off time of 13 hours, but making it in with a last stellar effort of 10:25, I was happy to get a chance to offer congrats at the finish. She beamed a huge smile, shared a note of congrats and fist-bumped me a goodbye - hope to run with her again sometime!

I pushed Ilsuk and Jimmy out of the way
to be the first to get a photo across the stones
I'm not sure whether it was because I was usually on the heels of Jimmy, but I didn't really get to know anyone else. I was generally quiet and focused with getting on with the run. The heat at times was exhausting and couple it with the hills it all certainly made chat less of a priority. Still, in the opening flatter miles it was nice to chat with Jimmy and Ilsuk, but for their army of fans. It seemed every other corner there were people running or waiting to greet them. Ilsuk himself was of course effortlessly roving and chatting around the conga line keeping up his network of fans and friends. Such a flirt.

I did find some time during the 09:49 I was out there to contemplate both the previous years 50 and 100 events. The NDW 50 had stolen my heart with the heat, the route and the hills, but the 100 had trampled my body for much the same reasons. I was genuinely broken at the end of the NDW 100 miler. But here I was out on the same trails and I asked myself whether I'd do the 100 again. And whilst I didn't out-rightly call it, I think I would. However, I was surprised at my reaction to the question and I felt a genuine pang of in-trepidation about the thought of doing it again. It really was brutal. Which, for me, is cause enough to stand once more at the start some time and see it through.

These are the bacon sarnies you've been looking for
It's of course not a Centurion event without mentioning the volunteers. Splendid people who not only are really helpful in getting you topped up with water, pep-talked to continue or stuffed with food, they're mostly runners themselves and really get why we're out here and pushing ourselves through it. I really must make an effort to volunteer to help - I think if I carry on and do more runs without volunteering I'll be missing one of the biggest, if not the best, parts of the community.

And lastly, whilst ultra distance runners report hallucinations, apparitions and such, it's quite rare they happen so early into an event. But Jimmy caught a photo to prove that this did in fact happen around mile 8 or so. Props to the 'Naval Division' for the offer of the bacon sarnies and the Imperial Fleet for taking the time to make the run even more fun.

Next up for me with Centurion events is the Chiltern Wonderland.

Pleased with another NDW50 finish

Garmin trace and data of the North Downs Way 50.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

What size is the Syntace X12 axle O ring?

This is a question I'd asked myself when I found my X12 Syntace O ring ripped in half during a recent service. Disappointingly, the O ring had only lasted 9 months and I hadn't removed my wheel all that much during that time. With little doubt that I'd need to replace it again in 9 months, I thought it best to get a few spares in.

Unfortunately, Google was of no help and whilst I had found forum posts of people who had found replacement O rings, no one had bothered to share the size. Syntace certainly didn't offer much in the way of information on their own design and I didn't want to buy a complete new axle for the sake of something that should cost in the region of £0.30.

Finding the one ring to rule them all

O rings are measured with an internal diameter (the hole), outside diameter (the distance between two opposite outside points) and then finally the cross section (the thickness of the ring). With a ruler I took a rough measuring of the old O ring and ordered a selection of similar sizes, in different materials, from Polymax to then compare them to the original.

Different qualities of O ring

It's worth noting that there are different materials for O rings which offer different properties. The closest feel to the original was Nitrile, but in the end I opted for EDPM O rings as they are hardier in the natural elements; perfect for UK weather. And now that I have the right size, I can easily order new O rings as needed.

The Syntace X12 O ring size has an outside diameter of 17 mm, internal diameter of 12 mm and then a cross section of 2.5 mm.

The EDPM O rings, which I could only find in British standard sizing, ended up being slightly larger, we're talking 0.12 mm, and still fitted just fine.

Want a Syntace X12 O ring for free?

Contact Syntace direct and they'll send you some in the post, for free! Neat. You may need to explain why you need replacements, I explained how they fell apart within 9 months, but they were posted quickly and with a minimal of fuss.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

6 things not to do before running an ultra

Inspired by running coach, Justin Bateman's rather sensible 6 things to do in the week before an ultra-marathon, I thought I'd have a crack at the 6 things not to do before an ultra-marathon.

1. Report in to begin your training regime

Reporting for training duty
It's ill-advised to begin your training programme shortly before you run an ultra. In fact, it's ill-advised you start any long distance race without considered and proper training. Why? Well for example, the training for one of my longest runs, The Ridgeway Challenge, 2014, started a month before the event. And as you'd expect, it nearly sucked and was much harder than had I put in the proper training. I wouldn't recommend it.

Take-away: It's best to build up to an event

2. Dress to impress

Gucci shoes will cause your heels
and toes to explode
Whilst those cool new shoes that totally match your outfit, and clearly set you apart from those oh-so-last-season runners on the start line, the new un-bedded shoes will in fact make you quite uncomfortable and cause skin to burst into spontaneous flame. Again, I've done this. You are advised not to.

Take-away: Wear what's comfortable and familiar

3. Forget helpful info from your recce run

The skin-shredding shoes from point number 2 were purchased because I found when running around where I live, shortly before an event, I was slipping and sliding on saturated wet mud and feared that would be the same case along the route in the ultra. If I had spent another 20 seconds thinking about it, I probably would have remembered that when I recce'd the route, not but a few weeks before, I would have recalled that there wasn't much mud on the well drained course and I would have been fine in my regular and most comfortable shoes.

Take-away: Think about the ground conditions where the race is held

4. Have a massive breakfast

I ran a marathon a few years back, and being new to the sport and not being fully aware of pre-race nutrition (I'm still none-the-wiser), I had a fry-up. Who wouldn't? Anyway, I felt great all the way to the start line and from then on it was an uncomfortable race to the finish, medal and a toilet. Big breakfasts don't help on a long run and neither do greasy ones. So don't do either or worse, combine them. Again, like I did.

Take-away: Poop weighs a lot and makes running uncomfortable

5. Dress to impress even more

Yes yes, OK, I clearly have issues with self-image, but this one is just as important. Dressing in the right gear is obviously a sensible thing, but do make sure you agree with yourself that 'sensible' is something that a) you've used before and b) are comfortable in come rain or shine. I didn't, and adorned in my shiny (and snug) new shorts I managed to chafe my derrière over the course of 50 miles. So much so that I couldn't sit properly for a few weeks. Please stop laughing at me. Unless you enjoy frequently applying cold cream to your buttocks or enjoy awkwardly perching on a train seat with the use of only the one 'good buttock', then I wouldn't repeat what I did.

Take-away: Always have a good supply of Aloe Vera at home or
preferably wear comfortable and familiar clothing

6. Pack for luxury

Running an ultra is a difficult experience, so there's no need to make it any harder than it needs to be. That's why I pack 12 rolls of Andrew Triple Velvet (in Peach) and a hot towel. Because I'm worth it. Well no, I'm not that silly, but I do remember packing no less than 5 separate water-proofed collections of wet wipes for one race. In the end I used none, but I still carried the weight, and the weight of all the other critical just-in-case items, the whole way.

Take-away: Pack for what you think you will
need and then halve it

Common sense

I couldn't agree with you more, dear reader. All of the above take-away points are obviously common sense. But it's our irrational human fears or over excitement that can so easily fog our logic, which then of course mires our ability to make sensible decisions in the weeks leading up to a big event. It happens to me even before I book the event. I could be a lost cause.

So I'll leave you with a final key take-away which may help, and it's one I've learnt the hard way, that you should remember what works on your good runs and try and emulate the conditions, the kit and the preparation for your next event. Don't let fear, excitement or what-if concerns influence you to make decisions that ultimately could hinder your event or worse, your health.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Replacement headset for Cannondale Trail SL

I have a Cannondale Trail SL Single speed (2013) and the headset has died. It died because I was impatient during a fork upgrade and mangled it, but that's beside the point.

The good news is that it's easy to replace the headset and you even have some choices on manufacturer as well.

Firstly, if you are coming to replace your headset in your Cannondale Trail SL, then you'll need to verify the dimensions of your head tube and seek a suitable replacement.

Dimensions of the Cannondale Trail SL head tube

There's a lot of information out there on the web about the different sized Cannondale head tube diameters. This was mostly from the old world of the Headshox and the early Lefty's. Now, most of the Cannondales, including the very latest Lefty's, use a standard 1.5 steerer tube.

You'll find that the diameter of the head tube is 49.6mm for both the top and the bottom. If you have a frame other than the Trail SL, then I can't be sure it won't be the same measurements, but a good bike shop should be able to remove the headset and confirm the diameter.

Replacing like for like

If you are using a Trail SL frame with a 1.5 straight steerer tube fork, then it's 99% likely that you are using the Cannondale KP191 headset. That's their standard go-to headset.

If you're using a tapered fork, then you're probably using a combination of the Cannondale KP191 for the lower cup and bearing and a Cannondale HD232 for the top. Cannondale don't offer just a tapered option.

Both of these are readily available and priced reasonably too.

However, now that you know the size, you can choose other non-Cannondale brands to satiate the brand-lover in you.

What type of headset is it?

There are three types of headset, IS (Integrated System), EC (External Cup) and ZS (Zero Stack).
  • Integrated headsets have the bearing cups pre-built into the head tube. You simply drop the bearings in and you're away (This isn't the Cannondale Trail SL).
  • External cup headsets are pressed into the frame (commonly also known as press-fit headsets) and the bearings sit outside of the frame.
  • Zero stack headsets are the half-way house. They are pressed into the frame and the bearing is generally within the frame too.
They are accompanied by four numbers.
  • The first number is the internal diameter of the top of the head tube
  • The second number the external diameter of the stem clamp area
  • The third, the internal diameter of the bottom of the head tube
  • The fourth the external diameter of the fork crown race
Put together, and using the Cannondale Trail SL headset with a 1.5 straight fork as an example, the headset designation would be:
  • ZS49/30 EC49/40
Simple, right?

Chris King and Cane Creek headsets for a Cannondale Trail SL 1.5' head tube

Chris King
If, like me, you want a 'King' headset on your bike, then you'll need to choose either one of these headsets depending on the fork you have:
Cane Creek
Whilst probably the better headset and they have a great following, Cane Creek headsets are simply just not as lust-worthy. Still, if function over form is your preference, then go for the 40 series. Handily, they also include the designation / sizing in the name of the product:
  • 1.5 straight fork - 40.EC49
  • 1.5 to 1 1/8 Tapered fork - Tapered ZS49 | EC49/40
  • 1 1/8 straight fork - Tapered Conversion ZS49 | EC49/30
I personally went for the Chris King and ordered a InSet 5 to go on my trail and to match up with my tapered Reba. Fitting took minutes and it's fantastic. Couldn't be happier.

Hope this helps someone. Do ask any questions about the Cannondale Trail SL, Chris King headsets or headsets in general below.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

South Downs Way 50 2016 race report

I remember this corner with that odd tight turn just before the tree and the soggy mud just after. It's where Justin "Jimmy" Bateman reminded me to have a salt tablet. I remember that left turn, because I took a 'pit-stop' there. I remember this hill and that one. I was waiting for that communications tower. The pigs don't smell any better, but they seem to be on both sides of the trail now. Huh, I saw a mountain bike in the exact same spot last time. There's more sun now, but I still didn't stop for that ice cream I once promised myself. I walked this hill reluctantly, but less so now. And the hatred I felt for the final miles has lifted with a higher pace.

The distances of the SDW50 are hard to explain to others

I've only run the Centurion South Downs Way 50 once before

But it felt like I was running my regular trails. I knew what was in store and I looked forward to the ups and downs. I acceptingly slogged the never-ending ridges between the numerous gates and counted down the steps to the friendly aid-stations. I fondly recalled where I stubbed my toe in 2014 and where I found a second wind and ran like a child.

I felt no fear or trepidation at the start, this was just a 50 miler and I'd slog it out come rain or shine. But I hadn't expected the barrage of memories all vivid and as fresh as the day before. What makes an ultra for me isn't the run, the trails or even the exceptional organisation from Centurion, it was, as ever, the people.

I missed Justin on this run

I haven't seen him in a while and I specifically blame him for getting me into ultras. He deserves nothing but all the medals I have. He helped me get through the SDW50, he goaded me into signing up for the Ridgeway ultra and he carried me home on that one too. I'm really looking forward to re-uniting with him on the North Downs Way 50 in May.

I've really got to stop waving my thumb at photographers!

But enough with the soppy

I had one mission today, beat the PB Justin and I set ourselves in 2014. Actually I had two missions, that one was mine, but Ruth, not wanting to be kept hanging around too long, gave me a 10 hour limit before she started driving home. That gave me an extra 10 minutes over on my PB in case I didn't make it. It was going to be tight.

My carefully planned and executed training had me in the best shape of the week and whilst I was able to hold off the inevitable onslaught of the man-the-myth-the-train that is Ilsuk Han, I did keep him at bay until 37km. He passed me like he was on a golfing holiday and wandering to the next lazy driving green. Smooth and calm as ever. He complains, but he's consistent, gets the training in (or so I believe) and he thinks about his approach. And it works well. I look forward to seeing him pass me again at the North Downs Way 50 in May too.

Me and Kuji smashing it

It's a small world at times and none more so than in the ultra community

As Ilsuk was approaching me I met none other than Kojiro 'Kuji' Oshima who I had met previously on the NDW50 and, I believe the 100 too. He's a lovely fella and he seemed in high spirits and happy to see me. As I type I'm beaming a smile at the screen and around the room, but these words of warmth and joy can't quite express how nice it was to see him out there and how no doubt we'll be at the North Downs Way 50…

At some point I also met Cat Simpson. I introduced myself as a friend of Justin's and we chatted for a little while. We passed an 'Andy' she called out to, who seemed to be struggling. Cat and I chatted for a few more minutes before she effortlessly cruised out of view. Good luck to her SDW100 run this year.

Andy. Hmm, I wonder whether that's the fella Justin has run with? Well, he caught up and I again introduced myself as Justin's friend and again we chatted a little while. He was struggling with an injury behind the knee, but he was still clipping along at a fair pace. We wandered into the half way point together. Nice chap, but the knee was a struggle for him. I wished him well and hope to see him, yup you guessed it, at the North Downs Way 50 in May!

There were a lot of other people I met along the route. The odd hello, the short conversation as we passed each other back and forth, up and down. It's really quite pleasant. Everyone in the same situation and, for the most part, enjoying the experience too.

Another thumb!

I'm going to say I was quite impressed with my run

I kept it steady (as best as I could) at the start, there was no mad rush off and I was even considered enough to consciously start walking the hills when it provided a strategic advantage, and not just when it became too much. It was paying off. I felt pretty good around the 40 mile mark and with some (slower than normal) mental arithmetic I wondered whether I might be able to get that PB.

And so, the chase was on. Head down, focused and making the decisions that will see me go faster overall. Walk that hill, track that guy and push hard on the flats. Walk for 30 seconds, recover and let's go again. No walking or slowing until the next gate. Power walk this bit. Get some food in. Remember your salt tablets. Right, we're getting there. It's coming together. Keep it going and we'll get it. OK, get it a bit faster now, oh sod it, go for it. GO FOR IT.

Centurion South Downs Way 50 - Worthing to Eastbourne

By the end I was giving it some real beans

I had big eyes for the finish and one eye was never far from checking the watch either. I could do this, I could feel it. I just needed to dig that little bit harder.

I was flying. Or that's what it felt like. Consistent speed, constant pushing and no let-up. It felt great. Clearly others had the same idea and they were picking up their pace too. I would have gone faster, I think, but for getting stuck behind a queue (how very British. And doubly so that I politely accepted my fate and kept my position). However, once out on the pavement it was go-go-go. I'd realised at this point I was close to the PB. I just needed to keep going and not blow up.

If the finish line had been another mile I may have walked over the line. I was really giving it everything I had. I fully expected to have something left to sprint the infamous running track at the end, but I had nothing. I was already giving everything, and in fact I didn't care. I'd get the PB, I was about to greet my wife and I was hoping that maybe I'd get a glimpse of Ilsuk and Kuji to congratulate them for a job well done. And, I'd collected another awesome SDW50 medal. I couldn't have been more chuffed.