Run Coed Y Brenin is unique within the UK’s trail running infrastructure. It is the only Trail Running centre, with a series of way marked trails for all abilities and distances, supported by a standalone running shop. After last years A Day with Anna Frost, I was invited to return for a weekend of ultra running seminars, talks and sessions. Coed Y Brenin has a dedicated conference room, which would be the base for all activities over the weekend.
After travelling up from the flats of Milton Keynes, to the rolling valleys of North West Wales, a crisp morning, with cloudless skies greeted my arrival. Upon entering, a fresh spread of fruit and 9 bars suppressed a long drive induced appetite and unique course t-shirts, stood proud, amongst the wooden cladding of the room. The course attendees were a mixture, from sub 1.20 half marathoners and the 6th female at Manchester’s marathon, to those embarking on their first ultras and experiences on trails. Matt Ward, the man behind Run Coed Y Brenin and the trail network, was quick to point out, if anyone was expecting a weekend of high miles and hardcore talk, this was not that course. This was a chance for everyone to take a way one or many lessons, encouraging all levels of aspirations to learn from one another and speak to elites. First to take the stand was Donnie Campbell, reigning UK Ultra Champion and Salomon Athlete. Founder of Get Active Running, Donnie is a former Royal Marine and qualified personal trainer and sports coach, who outside of racing trains a host of athletes.Covering the fundamentals of training, the key areas covered were periodisation, 7 types of running, injury prevention, recovery, overtraining and above all taking your time. It is all too common that people try to jump start from inactive to 50, 60 miles a week, and those who take time reap greater rewards, making real time gains and reducing the likeliness of injury. Miles should never be increased by more than 10% over the session before and varying speed, distance and intensity is key to stimulating the neuromuscular system. Run the same 10K loop at the same intensity and you aren’t stimulating your body to adapt.
It’s with that, that you must make sure you slow runs are slow and build in 12 week blocks. It can take 12 weeks for your body to fully adapt from a training cycle, and therefore a 3 week intense push now and again won’t deliver the results you want. And likewise, overtraining can lead to overtraining syndrome, which you may never come out of. We aren’t machines, we need to rest and recover. It has ended the careers of many elite ultra runners, after only a couple of years on the pro circuit. As Donnie pointed out, look at Keynan marathon runners, at most, they run 2 marathons a year. Just 2.
Consistency is king. One thing that stuck out and was repeated throughout, was looking at what Kilian and other elites do it not key to success. We are all individuals and our bodies react differently to stresses and stimuli, those we look up to, on the whole, have taken years and multiple training cycles to adapt their muscles, lungs and networks to work at a higher level.
Experiment, take your time, have fun and if you want advice, reach out to coaches like Donnie.Next up was Rachel Campbell, who after meeting Donnie has taken on a new journey into Ultra Running. A registered and practicing nurse, Rachel spoke about balancing work and life, whilst trying to train to a high level. One thing that quickly came out was the fact they share different training volumes to achieve their optimum performance. Rachel has a lower weekly mileage, and for those that will immediately make a connection with a slower or less successful runner, she recently took 5th Female at Hong Kong 100!After hurting her leg on the Highland Fling Race, at around mile 20, Rachel continued, causing a fracture in her leg, which would sideline her for over a year. Following healing, it took a full year of gradually building up her load, distance and intensity, whilst following rehabilitation. It was after this experience that she took 5th at the Hong Kong 100 in January this year.Learning to listen to your body and not ignoring niggles can prevent long term injuries and keep your goals within reach. Pushing through and getting the remainder of the weeks sessions in, can lead to an extended period of inactivity due to injury. It could potentially end your ultra and running career.2016 Lakeland 100 Champion, Mountain Fuel Athlete and member of this years Salomon Ultra Running Academy , Michael Jones was brought into speak about the psychology of running. Many runners are quick to spend money on an instant fix, i.e. new kit, weekend away on trails or different nutrition/supplements, but how often do we look within and work on our mental game? Endurance Sports are often quoted as being x% mental (pick your favourite number) and it’s easy to look beyond this as not neccesary.Much like training the body, the mind takes time and shocking it at once, is like overloading the body with high miles; it’s too much and you are likely to negate positive adaptation.
Covering Mind, Body and Soul, Michael looked at ways to influence the mind towards positive thinking, through self talk and visualisation. From breaking down the day into smaller sections, to writing positive messages and goals onto a mirror, you are working thoughts and reinforcing your decisions daily, until it becomes fixed within your mind that you can do it. The body is an interesting vessel, the only function we can have the potential for complete control over. Well, for a short period. As Michael says “Your breath is a gift”. Full engaging your diaphragm, breathing deeply can recenter the mind and clear the head of thoughts. There are a series of techniques that can be employed and trained, and I’ll be working Michael in the coming months to provide a deeper insight into this area.Remember, nerves are natural and can benefit performance. If you’re stood on the start line and feeling nervous, this can boost your performance. Get too nervous and this can destroy your race. No nerves, well, you may be too confident and the latter result occurs again. Finding the balance is key, but knowing yourself makes it a whole lot easier. If you want to find more out Michael can be found at apexrunning.co
After a light lunch it was time to don our running kit and take to the trails surrounding the centre. With marked courses up to 13 miles, offering everything from easy trails to technical rocks and roots, Run Coed Y Brenin offers the feeling of the high mountains, with the safety of being within touching distance of trail centre.
Over the course of the run, we followed a 6 mile route which offered everything from fire road, boggy woodland, technical descents, roots and stunning vistas.Of course, there had to be a “Sting in the Tail”.After making our way back to the centre, the attendees were taken through a mobility and strengthening class, lead by Andrea Vaughan. Flexibility can be an subject many runners shrug off, after all we’re not gymnasts or dances, however, being able to utilise your full mobility can aid in lengthening your gait and in my case, stop your hamstrings tightening up on longer runs. …. my flexibility is one of my greatest weakness that I actively ignore (note to self).Smaller muscles are often neglected and strengthening this can aid balance, reduce the onset of fatigue and above all boost performance. Think of abdominal muscles, there are layers of muscles, countered by your back. Spend all your time doing crunches and you’ll off balance your body and potentially achieve an aesthetic result, rather than useful core that will help navigate descents, power up hills and keep you in check at the later stages of an ultra.After a hearty healthy meal, everyone retired back to the conference room for the evening’s entertainment. Now for anyone who hasn’t followed Elise Downing on her circumnavigation of the British coastline, well it’s time to follow her story! The self proclaimed “Writer, Runner, Speaker and Dedicated Cake Eater”, ran 5000 miles around the British coast in 10 months, with all her essentials strapped to her back. There was no fancy support crew, accommodation or blue chip sponsors taking care of her every need.From sleeping in 200 random people’s homes, to managing the stress and discomfort of winter running along the South West Coastal path, Elise’s positive attitude was infectious, as were her love for the simple pick me ups. Dry Feet! Dry feet were and remain her luxury in life and something we could all take something from.
What some my find staggering, mind bending and even unbelievable, was that Elise did not suffer a single blister on her 10 month running expedition. I’m lucky to survive an ultra without one, especially if my feet get slightly wet! Superb foot admin.Elise’s story is one we can all relate to. Rather than an athlete pushing for an FKT, after years of training and having the cutting edge of sports science at their disposal, Elise’s circumnavigation is grass roots, transparent and is accessible to all abilities. I’m not suggesting you head out and try to repeat it, though, if you are, I tip my hat to you, but it shows that with determination and through managing expectations, anything is possible.
If you are reading this and have not seen one of Elise’s talks in person, I implore you to check out her website and get in contact to find out where you can.
Day 2 opened with a chill in the air and a cloudless sky once again. At 8pm sharp, the attendees set out onto the trails, taking in 13 miles of welsh off road variety. I ditched the big camera for my phone and took the opportunity to speak to course members and athletes. It soon heated up, jackets were stripped off and descents opened up as we discovered the Goldrush Trail, taking on the switchbacks, long sweeping descents and fire road transitions.Before showers and snacks, everyone buddied up for PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) under the watchful eye of Donnie. Utilising a partner, a deeper, targeted stretch is possible, but if it hurts stop. A stretch should never hurt. Gear.
It’s a minefield, and Matt, Michael and Donnie took the helm to steer participants through essentials for on the trail and their racing tips.
Matt, Run Coed Y Brenin‘s founder took everyone through the differences from stack height to drop, tread patterns and where to utilise each. On a similar theme to Donnie’s talk, simply going for what your favourite runner is wearing may not be the answer. Being able to run an ultra in a low drop shoe takes a lot of adaptation and strengthening in the muscles, and although being able to use the same kit is appealing, making sure you get what works for you. Visiting a running retailer has real value and can set you up for a career in comfort.Michael went through how he fills his pack, what he carries and modifications made to his pack. Amongst the top tips were sizing up on a waterproof/windproof jacket, to allow for easy changes on the trail, while keeping the contents of your pack dry. Training with your pack and experimenting the pockets, means come race day you will be able to maximise its potential. Donnie went through his beautiful drop bag, explaining what he uses and when. Kit is a personal choice, but making sure you have subsequent body cover for the worse weather or if you fall is essential. Yet, having kit that’s wet is compromised. Cheap sandwich bags allows dry it kit to remain that way, even your waterproof. It may feel counterintuitive, but keeping everything dry pays off on the trail. To finish the weekend, Ben Price, formerly of Torq Nutrition delivered an informative seminar on all things nutrition. Utilising more than one energy pathway by combining Glucose and Fructose (the body can absorb 60g of Glucose based carbs per hour, but Fructose opens another channel) allows the body to gain higher levels of energy during exercise. I should point out that the optimum figure lies somewhere between 30-90 grams per hour, so its about finding what works specifically to you. On top of this, the course attendees learnt about keeping a neutral stomach, different diet options, how to build up to an event from a nutritional perspective and the effects of nurtion around training, whether fasting and the physiology of recovery. To round things off, the floor was opened up for a brief Q&A, before every attendee received a cup containing samples to try on their next run. It had been an educational two days, and as someone who spends a lot of time reading up on the sport, attending events, racing and having a social group that are on the verge of 50% trail runners, the Ultra Weekend had value for all levels of experience. A huge thanks to Matt for organising the event with his team, I can’t find fault, nor can I suggest at this moment in time a way of improving it.
If you want to learn about all aspects of ultra running I truly recommend you get in contact with Run Coed Y Brenin and enquire about 2018. The unique setting is the perfect set up and value wise, I’ll be bold and say its a bargain.
I look forward to see attendees out on the trail and following their races this year.