2022 Review. AM I a professional yet?
I'll run through some of the stats from last year, give a brief overview of how training went over the year, as well as some key takeaways and finally goals for 2023.
My 2022 Data:
Swim: 26Hrs (72KM)
Bike: 368Hrs (9,773KM + 150,000m+)
Run: 548Hrs (5,350KM + 170,000m+)
Total: 1,001 Hrs (couple of hours missing from UTMB Thailand). Doesn't include Stretching/Yoga, Mobility drills and foam rolling (Approx 100hrs).
Interestingly Killian Jornet's review showed that he did 1,000 hrs of training with 500 hours dedicated to running (covering 250,000m of vert though!).
1,000 hrs was the target for the year, an increase from 780hrs in 2021. This wouldn't have been possible while trying to keep my full time job that I had in 2021. 2021 was still a good year of training, but the extra 220hrs and as importantly an additional 2,000 hrs of recovery (that would have been spent at a desk/working), have made a sizeable difference to my performance this year. It's a great example of the difficulty of making the jump up to elite performance.
Going into 2023 I'm aiming to do closer to 1,100 hrs. I plan to keep in a similar amount of time on the bike, as I believe you can build up a much larger aerobic base than with running alone, and increase my run volume to 6,000km with 200,000m+ of vert. I don't consider this to be a huge increase, as I only plan on racing 5 times this year compared to 9 times in 2022. Generally for me, any race that goes over 5hrs in duration requires a 1 week taper and 1 week recovery. I'd say this taper and recovery period doubles for an event over 10hrs (e.g 100km races) and quadruples the recovery period for races over 20hrs (100 milers). When you include the travel time for each race as well, the extra 100 hrs of training should be feasible.
Doi Inthanon Thailand by UTMB, Summit 160 (170km), 6th
Ironman World Champs, 166th
Kong Lakes long course 85km, 1st
Ultra X World Championship 250km, 1st
Veinte Leguas, 6 Leagues 32km, 1st
La Ocera 50km, DNF
Bob Graham Round, 22hrs 15mins
Ultra Sierra Nevada 100km, 1st
Peddars Way Ultra 78km, 1st
The 2022 season was split in two halves. The first 6 months were focussed on two main races Ultra Sierra Nevada in April, and the Ultra X World Championship in June. I referred to the training method during this time as "The Walmsley". I did 4 long runs per week, all at a steady pace, as well as 2 threshold/interval sessions, 3 recovery rides and 2-3 gym sessions. Generally this meant that days were either long or hard, so the overall training stress was high every day. Although I believed this would prepare me well for the Ultra X multi-day format, it was incredibly draining.
I was sleeping over 10hrs/night and eating huge quantities of food to support the training load. I don't count calories, but my watch gives me an estimate that I am burning around 5,000 calories per day during a full training week.
I started using an altitude tent to sleep in from March. Although it doesn't give the same effect as real altitude, I do think that it gives an improvement in fitness, but there is a trade off with good sleep/recovery. I first introduced it during a peak training block and the additional stress was too much. The result was a torn VMO in my right quad (I think dehydration was a factor). With hindsight I was probably pushing myself too hard as a result of starting out as a full time athlete. Based on my performance on day 5 of the Ultra X World Champs, winning by 18 minutes (the greatest margin of any day accounting for distance) I would say that the training method was effective.
The second half of the year was focussed on two main races, the Ironman World Championships and the 170km Doi Inthanon Thailand by UTMB. Going from good ultra running shape to triathlon shape was surprisingly difficult. I had good cardio fitness but none of the specific muscle and power for the swim and bike. My idea of 3 weeks of bike touring to ease myself in was cut short after getting hospitalised with concussion and broken collar bone after a van hit me. Once I ruled out surgery, I was able to start cycling again 1 week after the crash, with some running around the same time and swimming just 4 weeks later. Although I didn't lose much bike fitness from the broken collar bone, it was still a huge drain on sleep and recovery, as well as impeding my running and swimming.
After Kona the focus quickly switched back to trail running. I find going from triathlon to trail running much easier. With triathlon you are able to build up a larger aerobic base and muscle from the swim and bike, with out the constant breakdown from the pounding of running. I had a 6 week block before tapering for 9 days before the race. This seemed like a dauntingly short amount of time when my average run distance had been 50km for the last 12 weeks, to prepare for 170km with 10,000m in Thailand.
I tweaked the programme quite significantly from "the Walmsley" format. I made sure to reintroduce the "Hard Easy" principle, and brought back double run days in order to increase run volume while allowing for recovery between sessions. This meant around 20-25hrs of training/week vs the 25-32hrs I was doing in the summer/triathlon block. The difference was noticeable in terms of fatigue and ability to do the hard sessions well. Combined with better sleep as the temperature returned to an acceptable level, I was "absorbing" a lot more of the training. The lower volume also meant I wasn't eating "unhealthy" food that was necessary with the 30hr+ weeks just to have the energy for 2-3 sessions per day. The high sugar/junk diet had also resulted in weeks of agonising tooth pain and root canal treatments. I didn't go completely vegan but I massively reduced my meat and egg consumption, cut out dairy entirely, and increased my intake of local fruit and vegetables from the market. All these factors made me start to feel more energised for sessions. After 6 weeks I had gone from 67kg, back down to 64 kg/BMI of 20.9 (which I consider a good race weight for long distance triathlon or UltraTrail). After about 2 weeks on the "cleaner" diet I also noticed I didn't have that "tight chest" feeling when doing threshold intervals. I am very aware that 0.5kg weight loss/week is not sustainable long term, and I have gained more weight back over the Christmas/off season (69kg at the time of writing).
The build up to Thailand was the best I have ever done. By following a traditional structure of base building (12 weeks of triathlon) before a race specific training block (6 weeks), I was in the best shape I have ever been in my life, and something I plan on replicating closely for the build up to UTMB. It's impossible to say how I would have performed if I hadn't picked up covid the week before the race. I had been confident that I would be able to get on the podium and potentially even win. I managed 6th place, but the decision to race while still suffering from a highly elevated heart rate and fatigue was the wrong one. By pushing myself when sick, I have suffered from 2 months of long covid/burnout type symptoms, that have required careful management.
Guess that's why its called an "Off Season"
Surprisingly I felt OK the days after the race in Thailand, but things soon took a turn for the worse. HRV (Heart Rate Variability) went from low to the lowest values I've recorded, and my stress level was to an all time high. I would wake up each morning feeling totally "fried" and more tired than when I had gone to bed. Alcohol and caffeine made it significantly worse as would the smallest amounts of stress, including easy exercise. I also had brain fog that left me feeling confused and forgetting the most basic information.
I managed to do enough training to feel ok to attend a CPET (cardio pulmonary exercise test) testing session with Trail Med in Leicester, just as my HRV was returning to a balanced state. I did a ramp test on a stationary bike, while rigged up to a gas exchange mask and ECG machine. Although it was useful to get the all clear on my heart health, pushing myself to V02 max 1 month after the race was too much too soon, and I was straight back to a feeling of burnt out, with poor sleep and high stress and anxiety. It's been 2 months since the symptoms started and it's mostly been bad weeks with the odd few days of feeling ok. Things are getting better, but very slowly, so I am building back up gradually.
My UTMB index has moved from 715 to 780. This puts me at 2,000th in the world and 54th in the UK. I was hoping to reach the 800 mark by the end of this year (as this is considered elite by UTMB ) but then scores of 801 (Ultra Sierra Nevada) 794 (Ultra X Slovenia) and 790 (UTMB Thailand) suggests I'm not far off. 2023's target will be to get to 850, with the aim in 2024 to be above 875. However the index doesn't really matter, as it's not an exact science.
Prize Money and Sponsors
I happily managed to win £9,200 in prize money in 2022 (Ultra X and Kong Lakes), which although is not much of an annual "salary", it's probably up there as one of the highest figures amongst trail runners, given how little the sport generally offers in prizes.
After the results from this year, I've had some interest from brands offering free kit, but none yet jumping to "sign" me, although there might be something upcoming. A key point to note, is that all opportunities so far have come about by me reaching out to brands and contacts in the industry. If you've had any good results in the sport, my advice would be to ask around, and you might be surprised at how easily some will send you free kit or offers.
Key Takeaways from 2022:
Training and Racing
Race less often in order to peak and recover effectively.
Beware of the feelings of winning and being in peak fitness, they are addictive.
More training isn't always better, but sometimes it's necessary.
Don't race if you are sick.
Look after your body. This years issues: 1 torn VMO, 1 Achilles strain, 1 broken collar bone, 2 cases of food poisoning, 3 root canal treatments (on same tooth), 1 case of long covid.
This sport is all about the long game, so keep considering how your body will feel in 10 years time.
Dedicate time in the off season to a specific activity/holiday in order to actually unwind and get away from training.
Cut out caffeine for at least a week each year.
"You can only get better by playing a better opponent"
I think the quote from Jake Green applies well in trail running. Hence the races I'm targeting in 2023 will have a higher quality field of athletes, or push me out of my comfort zone of the 100km distance. Most of the races I will actually be able to drive to this year or at worst a short haul flight. After 9 events on 3 continents in 2022, I am actually looking forward to far less travel for the upcoming year, not to mention the savings financially as well as from an environmental perspective.
I am keen to try and get selected for Great Britain's 80km trail team, and compete at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Austria in June. Given that the unofficial selection race is now just 20 days away, I think I need to be realistic with my expectations. Given the last 2 months, I'd just be happy to be racing again in full health, and ultimately the main goal for the year is a top 10 finish at UTMB!
The journey continues..