Dare Valley Country Park Fell Run.

Well. They call it the Bwllfa Dare for a reason. As Vicky, Gerwyn, Sarah Adams, Jay Goulding and I were soon to find out.

Yet again, Vicky Jones had suckered me into another fell run, now that I had finally thawed out from our previous experience on Craig Yr Allt. Vicky mentioned today that she’s looking for a fresh career challenge: think there might be a few Arabs who could do with some more sand. They just don’t know it yet. 

This one was in my local stamping-ground, the Dare Valley Country Park, March 8th. I’m think I’m right in saying that it was the very last race of the Welsh Fell Runners Association’s Winter Series. It actually felt like more like the start of their Summer Programme. The weather was glorious. The sun truly shone on the righteous: I know, because I was stood next to them. 

The route was just under 10k, with over 300m of climbing. The race category was described as ‘BS’, which I can only assume means ‘Blinking Steep’. Previous victims of my prose may recall my description of the types who enter in these events. They’ll also recall the dog who beat me home last time, despite simultaneously taking part in his own 6-legged race. He was there again: I’m sure the bit when he cleaned himself was an attempt to pysch me out. But this time I was more prepared. I’d actually read the race pack and brought the proper kit, with some shiny new trail shoes, and even a whistle. An ACME Thunderer for the cognoscenti: nothing but the best. The shoes were the cheapest I could find in Sports Direct though.

Start-time was again a very civilised 14.00 hours, and entry-fee a remarkable £4. These races are amazing value, but with the organisation behind them of far more expensive commercial event. The love the fell racing community has for their sport shines through.

On the hooter, and with absolutely no preamble the race headed north, up the steepest broken terrain. I swore that this time I would run all the way, unless of course scrambling on all fours was required. In which case I’d allow myself to use my teeth as well. I’m proud to say that I met this objective. Admittedly, to the untrained eye it may have appeared a shambling walk at some points, but I never stopped running. Not even when I felt like being sick. 

I’d love to say that the terrain levelled off at the top. Running across the heath felt even harder somehow, and not even the views could distract from the effort. We were heading for a Trig marker at the top. I expected a 20 year-old broomstick, with a 5 year-old brush and 2 year-old handle. Turns out it was a big, concrete navigation aid. Who knew? Jay Goulding, evidently. He flew past me on his way back down the mountain whilst I was still trying to make it out in the distance.

If I thought the way back was going to be easier, I was sadly mistaken, The terrain until now had been uneven, slippery, rock-strewn and sometimes boggy: and that was the main path. Now came a near vertical drop, even including streams and railway sleepers (?) to hurdle. Once again, I can’t stress how awesome the regulars are at descending. They seem to flow down like water. I had all the grace of a tumbling watering can. I’ll confess to being relieved to get back onto the comparatively level. Even then, challenges remained. I’d thought that the organisers had slipped up as I’d not gone through every patch of mud in the Park. But then I realised I’d missed a turning. The kind of ground where you don’t check if you’ve left a trainer behind: you wonder about an entire leg.

I wouldn’t like to say I was glad to see the finish and the rest of the gang. It was exhausting, but great fun, and part of me didn’t want it to end. Admittedly, only a small part. Writing this tonight I can’t believe how much the whole of me aches. 

But I’ve also got the glow from another great experience. I’ll join Vicky in encouraging all club members to enter one of these events. They’re a great workout, and a great adventure. You might even finish ahead of that blinking dog.

Simon Morgan

Craig yr Allt Fell Race – 25th January

Even with the weather being so bad at the moment it is great to see that Taff Ely Triathlon members are getting out there racing. This week saw four members doing some fell running. Simon Morgan provides an entertaining report.


It was all Vicky Jones’s fault. ‘Come do something a bit different’ she said. ‘Ros and I had a go the other week, it was a right laugh. Though we did put the “fell” in “fell running”’, she said.

And so Sara Morgan and I found ourselves celebrating St Dwynwen’s Day up to our knees in mud, covered in scratches, soaked to the skin, and absolutely loving it. In the good company of Ros Edmonds, Vicky, Sarah Adams, 80 plus others, 1 man and his dog.

The race was organised by the Mynydd Du Club ( http://www.mynydd-du.org.uk/home ) as part of a winter series. But apparently there’s events organised throughout the year. There was some initial confusion when we got there, but some of the other runners were keen to help us out. Top Tip 1 – get there early, start might be ages from the sign-up point.

The organisers were slick, gave a good race briefing, had sign-posted the route very well and had marshals at all key points. And all for just £3! Was a bit nervous when we were given a map of the route – my orienteering is right down there with my DIY skills – but it didn’t prove an issue thanks to the quality of the organisation: gave us an incentive to keep up with the field though.

Our thinking was: it’s under 4 miles – how hard can it be? We also turned up with ordinary daps and a technical  T, with some heavy warm-up clothes. Turns out gloves, headgear and a wind-proof top were mandatory; trail or fell shoes highly recommended.  Top Tip 2 – check the website’s terms and conditions. As proud as I am of my TET Hoodie, it’s not the best thing to run in during a monsoon – I’m carrying enough extra weight as it is.

Quick word on our fellow runners. Quite a mix of ages and looks. A few looked like Forrest Gump after he’d run the US a few times. Should’ve known better when I clocked the worn but high-spec kit that was standard – didn’t pay to under-estimate these guys. Even the dog tied to his master’s shorts turned out to be useful. Top Tip 3 – carry stodgy doggy-snacks to every race to slow down your four-legged competitors. (Ok – there may be a limited market for that one).

We started at the back. Race went north straight away, tarmac initially then muddy trail. Sara and Sarah hit a nice tempo, I left them and started picking off those ahead of me, even as things started getting slippy. Including 1 man and his dog. I was feeling good. But the first downhill was a revelation. The regulars (and their pets) start flying past me as I negotiated the mud, streams and greasy hillocks. There truly is an art to this kind of descending. And, well, mine is a bit like my orienteering. And DIY.

The next half hour was a succession of scrambles up, slides down and stumbles through streams. Think desperate cons escaping the Deep South Penitentiary with the prison guards on their trail. Excepting the fact that the bloke with the dog was actually ahead of us. At one point I was holding the sides of my hoodie out as a sail to push me up yet another hill. Quite how many hills were squeezed into 4 miles is still something of a mystery. Traction was sometimes all but impossible, as more of the field came past. I’d love to say it was all down to Top Tip 4 -wear trail or fell shoes. But, let’s face it, the dog wasn’t wearing them.

And so, after the muddiest, narrowest descent yet, we all got to the finish. Cheered on by the soaked-but-supportive marshals. And a cheerful yip from the dog, by now busily tagging a gatepost. The squelch back to the cars – and Ros’s bike: the woman lives Rule #5 – was enlivened by talk of our (mis)adventure.

But my mind kept going back to the knowing look one of the marshals gave us at the finish. He knew we’d caught the bug and would be coming back.

Run Training for Intermediate Triathletes

Run Training for Intermediate Triathletes

Are you an intermediate? If you think you are a beginner then take a look at the run guidance for beginners page. If you are from a running background and run your 5 or 10 km races at less than 6 min/mile or equivalent, then you will already have the running talent or understand enough to coach yourself through a triathlon. However, you will probably find you have to run less than you are used to in order to fit everything else in.

As an intermediate, you will get around a triathlon, but unless you really sort out your running, it is unlikely you will nail the run and finish very strong and high up the field in a race. If running really is a weakness and you find yourself being overtaken in the run by a lot of triathletes you overtook earlier, then spending a period of time sorting out your running should pay dividends in terms of improving results.

As with all training you have to decide how much time you have available to run. If you can spend between 7 and 10 hours a week training, then the good news is, it should be possible to focus your run training with targeted sessions. However, before you decide how many sessions and how far and fast to run in them, you need to establish your base level. A simple way to determine this is to undertake a time-trial on a relatively flat surface. If you like to run races outside of triathlon you probably already know how long you are likely to take for a standard distance given your current level of fitness. The time taken in minutes and seconds in a race or time-trial can yield training paces and speeds for all distances. One of the tried and tested methods to improve your running on this basis is to use VDot tables of paces, as proposed by Jack Daniels (one of the foremost exercise physiologists to work on endurance running) and his VDot values (arbitrary units) are easy to apply. Basically the concept of VDot values is designed so that the higher your number is, the faster runner you are. To give you a idea of how good you have to be for particular VDot values, if you can run 5km in 24 minutes, you will have a VDot of 40, whereas if you can run it in 18 min, you will have a VDot of 56.

Whilst Daniels designed the VDot with pure runners in mind, they are very applicable to triathletes as long as you don’t try to run like a pure runner and train hard for the other disciplines at the same time. Injury or burnout will be the most probable outcome if you do.

Daniels’ VDot tables are easily found on the web and downloaded as spreadsheets. One that is very clear is http://www.runbayou.com/jackd.htm. Input your time and distance run in a recent race and you are given training paces and speeds for a variety of distances, based upon your own VDot value. It really is very simple.

Typical sessions for someone running three times a week could include one based on Intervals or Threshold pace and two based based on endurance at a slower pace. As a triathlete, you might find that working on your running for a few months or mesocycles (e.g. two or three weeks of progression followed by a recovery week) can yield great dividends.

One of the common pitfalls that a lot of triathletes fall into is to undertake hard sessions too frequently. As a general rule, less than about 20% of your total distance should come from your fast-paced Intervals and Threshold workouts combined e.g. <10% each. Most (around 80%) of your total distance or run time should actually be conducted at slower paces. These are also worked out for you in the VDot calculator. Pacing is key and if you are inexperienced, learn to use the technology now available, such as a stopwatch, or alternatively, a running GPS with its many functions. Ensure you run at the paces given and not faster.

Interval sessions are based on a number of short fast runs with plenty of rest in between. You can opt to do your Interval sessions at a local 400 metre track where distances are easily known. Set a pace for a distance, typically 400 metres up to 1600 metres or 1 mile maximum and work out around 5 km race pace with an easy jog for about the same amount of time to recover as you take to cover the interval. An alternative to the track is to find a straight flat trail or cycle path and set up the laps as a particular distance on your GPS or other speed and distance device to record your time e.g. stopwatch, for the Interval. As a track example, a triathlete who has recently run an accurate 5 km in 24 minutes exactly has a VDot of 40 and should aim to run a 400 m Interval in 1 min 52 seconds (pace of 7 min 28 seconds per 1600 metres or mile). The total session distance for Intervals run at this pace should be from 2 to 3 miles, or 3200 to 4800 metres, not including warm up, cool down or recovery between Intervals. Remember if you are running up and down hills these paces do not apply. Other important aspects that you should include in your Interval sessions are a dynamic warm-up and some drills to improve your leg speed and body posture.

Threshold sessions are usually continuous efforts of 20 minutes or longer run at a pace that is at least 25 sec per mile slower than your Interval pace. There should then be enough recovery after this effort to bring your breathing and heart rates back to that of easy paced running. If your Threshold efforts are longer than 20 min, then slow your pace by a few seconds per mile. Again as an example, a triathlete with a VDot of 40 should aim to cover a flat 2.5 miles at a Threshold pace of 8 min 12 seconds per mile, a total of 20 min and 30 seconds, not faster.

Most of your other sessions should be run at much easier paces as longer, continuous runs. The paces are defined as Easy pace and Marathon race pace. The slower of these is Easy pace, which for the example VDot 40 triathlete is 10 min 11 seconds per mile, whereas Marathon race pace is 8 min 46 seconds per mile. Running most of your miles between these paces will help your aerobic system develop and also allow your body to recover.

To reiterate, around 80% of your time or distance should be run at a sustainable pace that feels relatively easy. All of your longer sessions should be run between the Easy and Marathon race paces and the 80% guidance on the time or distance spent at these paces does not change whether you are a pure runner or triathlete.

By Ed Morgan

Tor-y-Foel Fell Race – 11th January

It’s good to see that Taff Ely Tri members are racing early in the New Year. Vicky Jones gives an account of the Tor y Foel fell running race.

7Fell.3 km with 370m of climbing – it seemed like a good idea in December – excellent training for the climbs of the Slateman triathlon I’ll be doing in May.  99 of us gathered on the Taff Trail near Talybont Dam in beautiful weather for the 2pm start with Ros and I representing Taff Ely Tri. From the start it was clear that most of the gathered crowd were experienced fell runners but we didn’t let this put us off.

The run began with a steady incline made difficult by uneven ground with the sun in our eyes and by the time I reached the point where I could see the summit far in the distance the first runners were already ¾ of the way up – and looked to still be running! Along with most of the competitors the slog to the top was done slowly, with no hint of running, in fact at one point I was moving so slowly that the auto-pause on my Garmin kicked in and didn’t resume for four minutes!! If you’d have asked me at this point if I was enjoying it the answer would have been an emphatic NO. But then, the summit, there were four enthusiastic and supportive marshals, amazing panoramic views and a lovely downhill stretch.

Once I persuaded my legs to move again I was off and amazingly I was smiling. From there it was a mix of running, slipping and sliding to the end. The support throughout from marshals and other competitors was amazing. The results aren’t out yet  but the timing guy told me I was sub 60 minutes so I’m pretty pleased with that and am already looking forward to my next fell race. If you haven’t tried fell running then I heartily recommend it – there’s another event in a couple of weeks and at only £3-5 an event there isn’t really an excuse not to 🙂

For more information and fixtures have a look on the Welsh Fell Runners Association website http://www.wfra.me.uk/index.htm

Run Training Advice For Beginners.

If you are starting out running and haven’t done much previously, the secret is slow and steady, you need to give your body time to adapt no matter what your fitness level and history in other sports. If gentle running is an issue and finds you out of breath as soon as you start to jog, then a flat run and walk strategy is the way forward. Take heart, we’ve all been there but try to be consistent in your running and Increase the number of times in a week you run before increasing the time you spend running at one go.

Don’t worry about the distance, simply focus on the amount time you spend out running until you feel confident to keep going. Only once you are confident to run two or three miles or about thirty minutes non-stop on flat terrain, should you start to build the mileage.

Your shoes are probably the most important piece of kit in the whole of your triathlon armoury. They have to be right for you. Most of us don’t have perfect biomechanics and you may need an assessment of running form to determine which of the several types of shoe is right for you. There are good running shoe shops around that offer video analysis of your running gait and will offer to do this for you, although beware the Saturday boy or girl who may have little experience and whose aim is to sell you the most expensive pair. It is worth getting it done professional especially if experiencing issues such as shin splints or knee pain. There are lots of confusing terms about over- and under-pronating, cushioning and stability shoes, natural running gaits etc. The general rule here is don’t spend too much money on your first proper pair of running shoes until you are confident that they are the right ones for you.

Most triathletes will have gone through periods of running injury which are more or less debilitating. However, the most common cause of the injury is building up the mileage when the body is not ready for it. Of course, if you are otherwise very fit, your body may well be able to tolerate increases, but the general tried and tested rule is not to increase your running mileage or time on your feet running by more than 10% from one week to the next. It is especially important not to increase the length of your longest run by more than about a mile and a half or 2.5 km in one jump. Always allow a day or two recovery after a long or hard run before you undertake another similar session. You need to allow your body time to recover and running is the most damaging of all triathlon’s disciplines. You also have to avoid the surprisingly common mistake of over-training. Also, If you find yourself getting niggles which don’t go away after a couple of days, there may underlying issues with your core of biomechanics which may need addressing. It is usually better to back off on the running to sort out the problem. Whilst pushing the running can mean you make advances in your running and help with fitness gains, and result in faster triathlon races, it is also a risky strategy for older triathletes or the injury prone.

One really good way to work on your run training, especially as you move towards the race season is to undertake back to back training sessions, commonly known as brick sessions where you cycle for an hour or two and then get straight off the bike and change into your running kit/shoes and go for a run. If it is your first go at a brick session, then keep the run short for a mile or two at most. You will quickly understand that there is no feeling quite like the jelly legs you experience when you start to run after cycling hard. However, if you build even short runs immediately on to the back of a hard or long bike ride you will run faster during races as a result of increased strength endurance.