Champion playlists!

A recent study presented at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference found that listening to your favorite music can increase your enjoyment and improve your performance in sports. It doesn't matter what type of music you listen to; all that matters is that you listen to your favorite bands in order to receive the benefits of lowered perceived exertion.

I like to listen to a variety of different things depending on the purpose of the training session or where I am in the race. I listen to the Talk Ultra podcasts and a random shuffle of my music library during long runs, faster music with song lengths that match my interval length during speed work, and some songs that V wrote for me when I need an extra boost in a race.

Top athletes in our sport love music when training and racing: everyone has seen Karl Meltzer, Kilian Jornet and Ryan Sandes running with headphones. Like me, you probably wondered what they're listening to. I asked each of these champions and some of my running friends for their favorite bands and I created a Jango station for each runner based on their input.

Karl Meltzer (most 100-mile trail wins ever)
Karl has some great music that he didn't even choose himself! A friend loaded up an iPod for him and he just rolls with what's on there - an attitude which reflects the rolling acoustic and bluegrass music in his playlist (Jango station):
  • Grateful Dead
  • Widespread Panic
  • Rusted Root
  • David Grisman
  • Phish
  • Umphreys McGee
  • Moe

Kilian Jornet (UTMB and Western States winner)
Kilian has a huge list available on his website and also describes how he uses music during the night in his Salomon video ¨how I prepare an ultra¨. His list is a diverse range from Catalan bands to classical music (Jango station):
  • Els Amics de les Arts
  • Meredith Brooks
  • Sopa de Cabra
  • Manel
  • R.E.M.

Ryan Sandes (4Deserts and Leadville winner)
Ryan has a great list that is full of music that I know and like. The Jango station based on his suggestions also introduced me to a few new, similar artists. His playlist includes:
  • The Kooks
  • U2
  • Coldplay
  • The Killers
  • Red Hot Chilli Peppers
  • Sublime

Joel Meredith (Atacama Crossing 2012)
Joel is a huge music fan and has a fantastic mix of music to listen to. He also regularly posts a video of the week showing a new band. He's a great source of music you may never have heard of before (Jango station):
  • The Naked & Famous
  • Kasabian
  • Florence + The Machine
  • We Were Promised Jetpacks
  • The Glitch Mob

Matias Anguita (5-time Atacama Crossing competitor, 2012)
Matias works as a running coach and spends a lot of time running and working with athletes in Chile. He always has some music going and likes a wide range of styles. His current favorites are (Jango station):
  • U2
  • Chickenfoot
  • Guns N' Roses
  • Soda Stereo
  • Cee Lo Green

Daniel Rowland
Here's what I'm currently listening to when I'm not testing out some of the playlists above! (Jango station):
  • Donkeyboy
  • The Naked & Famous
  • Iron and Wine
  • Trampled by Turtles
  • aKing
  • Paper Bird

If you have any favorite bands, running playlists or suggestions for great podcasts please share them in the comments.

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Training weekend with RunningChile

After a period of reduced training and two weeks with low running volume due to a persistent cold, I got back into my training with a great weekend of running. There's no better way to keep the motivation up than to train with friends and that's exactly what I did.

On Saturday I went to the RunningChile road session and ran a fast 4km and then a much easier, relaxed 8km while chatting with Matias. He's preparing to run 40 marathons in 40 days and to finish on his 40th birthday. It was great to catch up and learn about his preparations for the challenge. The team had organized a sale of Sural compression gear at amazing discount prices after our run so I also picked up a few pieces of new gear to try out.

Beautiful early morning running path in Vitacura.

Members of the RunningChile team.

Further up the running path at the turnaround.

On Sunday I joined the new RunningChile trail captain, Francisco, and the rest of the team for a run up Cerro Huinganal. It's the first time I've been up this climb and although I ran on some of the trails near this area during the UMA last year they're all new trails for me. It was a fairly easy ascent and then a fantastic rolling descent that winds and curves through a forest and back down to the base. I really enjoyed training with the team which is a group of very motivated people ready to put in a solid winter of training before the K42 Chile and UMA later this year. I tried out my new UltrAspire Revolution pack during this run and I'm looking forward to running with it some more and testing whether or not it is the right pack for my upcoming races.

Captain Francisco explaining the route.

RunningChile team at the summit of Huinganal.

On the descent back to home.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon V and I did a run along the contour path on Cerro Carbon. It was a beautiful afternoon and a fantastic way to end of the weekend.

V and I on the contour of path on Cerro Carbon.

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How to train for a multi-day desert running race

During the Atacama Crossing I met Joel. He was running his first 4Deserts race, like me, and he had a fantastic race and thoroughly enjoyed himself. We swapped some Nuun and Go energy drinks in the last couple of days and amazingly a fresh flavor made a huge difference to each of us! A multi-day event is long and there is plenty of repetition: running each day, eating the same food, drinking the same drinks and following the same recovery routine. A small change like the flavor of a drink can be a great mental break.

However, before you even get to the desert there is a lot of work to do and you're likely to face some boredom during the training phase. Joel is currently preparing for his next desert challenge in the Sahara and asked me for some ideas to add a little variety to his training:

Everyone who does endurance sports knows that consistency is king, but sometimes the biggest challenge is not an injury or lack of time; maintaining a level of excitement and motivation for a race or goal that is months away is vital. Here are two suggestions to achieve this: do more races or add some changes to your training. I sent Joel a few of my ideas to keep the variety in my preparations. The following is a combination of information about how I trained for the Atacama Crossing and some ideas of how to add variation in preparing for an epic challenge! [Matias was my coach leading up to the race and provided me with plenty of advice and guidance on how to prepare. Some of these ideas come from him.]

I based my training week around the weekend, initially starting with a long run on both Saturday and Sunday with my pack. I then increased the weekend training to include a long run on Friday and finally to include a long run on Monday to complete four long runs in a row. During this time I slowly increased my pack weight starting at 3kg for 3 weeks, then 5kg for 3 weeks and finally 7kg for 3 weeks. Matias explained to me that you don't need to train with a pack weighing more than your maximum pack weight as the weight starts decreasing after the first day. This focus on building up to a simulated stage race each weekend, working on my nutrition strategy and learning how to run with a pack kept me excited for each approaching weekend.

With big weekends there wasn't a lot that I wanted to do with the week in terms of mileage. I aimed to make every session a purposeful training day. The purpose meant that I was focused, whether it was on achieving a certain speed, running with a certain weight or training for the heat. I tried to create as much variety while tweaking my gear and developing specific conditioning with the aim of always performing well on the weekend long runs. Typical purposes and training sessions would be:

Improving speed
  • 5 x 3 minutes at 155 to 165 bpm heart rate with 3 minutes recovery
  • 5 x 3 minutes at 155 to 165 bph heart rate with 1 minute recovery
  • 6 x 90 second as fast as I could with 90 second recovery

Running at threshold
  • tempo run of 2 x 10 minutes at 4 min/km with 3 minute recovery in between

Running doubles
  • running two sessions a day instead of one
  • run the same course to determine what factors made the morning or evening runs better or worse than the other run that day

Gear testing
  • running in full race gear to test it and check what it felt like and what needed adjusting 
  • running using exactly the salt, gel and drink mix I planned to race with and religiously taking it on different schedules
  • testing to see how many calories I could process in a one-hour run (600 made me sick, 300 was about right)

Varying training surfaces
  • treadmill - interval ladders (1 min hard, 2 min hard... to 5 min hard, and back down again with 1 min rest in between)
  • treadmill - heat sessions wearing race gear and a full tracksuit, gloves, warm hat, a few extra t-shirts and run at goal race pace to simulate desert conditions
  • treadmill - 10-minute tests at race pace, with race weight to see if average heart rate decreases over time
  • roads - useful for speed and tempo sessions
  • trails - great for long runs and hill sessions

The goal was to maintain a constant focus on the weekend training to know that no matter what happened during the week if I got my weekend training in I would be happy. The rest of my training turned out to be fun and playing around and testing any idea I came up with. Knowing that a 10-minute session was a valuable test, that I could run an hour and test out my nutrition, or that running a 40-minute speed session was sufficient kept my mileage up as I would be excited to get those shorter, purposeful sessions done.

So, this is how it was all supposed to work. However, I had days when my alarm went off at 5:15am and I pressed snooze, or weekends when I wanted to go away with V and I couldn't fit in my goal of 3 or 4 longs runs, or even late afternoons when I chose to have a glass of wine instead of go for a run on the trails in perfect weather. But I had enough variety in my training schedule that I managed to train sufficiently without getting stuck in a rut or miss 3 or 4 days in a row because it was monotonous. In the end this all paid off and I enjoyed a great race.

As always, if you would like more details or if you have any questions about what I've written above, ask away in the comments below.

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Atacama Crossing - gear that worked and gear that didn't

The Atacama Crossing was an exciting and fantastic journey. It was my first self-supported stage race so I had a lot to learn about the gear and what I needed to take with me. I read a lot of reports on the internet, looked at the pictures of previous 4Deserts events and the Marathon des Sables, spoke to friends who had run the race before, and worked with Matias to get to the optimal amount of gear. Once I had come up with the tentative gear list I trained with my pack, slowly building up to the race weight that I would be carrying.

Overall I was very pleased with what I took and it mostly worked according to plan. I started with one of the lighter packs, around 6.5kg or about 15 pounds, and that lightened up as each day went by. I had the minimum gear and also a few luxury items (toothbrush, iPod, a few extra calories per day). However, there's always a little room for improvement and ways to tweak gear after experiencing using it in a race so here's an outline of how my gear worked and what changes I might make in the future (especially as my little brother asked for it! In the comments here).

What worked
  1. Salomon pack and front bottles: the Salomon XA20 pack with two bottles on the front was a great combination. It was a tight squeeze to get my gear in there, but I was pleased to have a pack that was small, light and kept me to the minimum gear. I would not go any bigger in the future and after running with this pack for many miles in training I was comfortable and happy during the race. The front bottles worked well and made it fast and easy to drink and easy to fill up during each stage. This was a great combination that I would use again.
  2. Dry bag: a required item after there was nonseasonal rain in the Atacama in the week leading up to the race. I took a small dry bag which I used for my sleeping bag and clothes. I don't think this was needed to keep my gear dry, but it did help to keep everything organised and was useful as a pillow too.
  3. Sleeping bag: my Marmot Atom bag was ideal. It was light, kept me warm even on the coldest night and didn't get dirty even though I was putting my dirty body in it every night and often in the afternoon too. A great sleeping bag that I looked forward to using at the end of each day (and it is red!).
  4. Running shoes: I couldn't decide before the race whether I wanted to use my Brooks Cascadia 6 or my Brooks PureGrit shoes. The Cascadias are great shoes, durable, cushioned and have a rock plate. The PureGrit is a light and fast trail show with a lower drop (4mm v 10mm). Matias convinced me that the Cascadias were the best choice and I'm glad I went with these shoes. They provided enough cushioning and felt great on my feet for all the stages. I got a few blisters, but that was a result of sand getting through the mesh in my shoes. Wearing full sand gaiters would solve this problem easily and let me wear these great shoes without any problems at all.
  5. Wigwam socks: Great socks that were long enough to wear with my gaiters and felt comfortable during the race. I did get some minor blisters due to sand in my shoes, but I don't think any other socks would make a difference with this problem. I took two pairs and was very happy to change into a clean pair of socks on the long day.
  6. Running shorts: I took a spare pair of light, short running shorts. These were supposed to be to sleep in and for after each stage. When my tights started chafing I changed over to these and used them exclusively for the rest of the race. They felt great, most importantly didn't chafe and I didn't have to think about them. I'm definitely wearing running shorts in future races.
  7. T-shirts: I took two Brooks white t-shirts. They fit well, were white so they didn't get too hot in the sun and they felt comfortable all the way. I was happy with this choice.
  8. Cap: I wore a light, white mesh cap that I received at the Lican Ray to Villarrica race. It kept the sun out of my eyes and fit well. I would probably change this at my next race to a desert cap to meet the neck cover requirement and to provide some shade for my neck.
  9. Sunglasses: my Oakley M-frames are my favorite piece of gear ever! They fit great, keep the sun out of my eyes, are durable and fit super-comfortably. I cannot recommend these highly enough.
  10. Required gear: I didn't use the gloves at all, wore the warm hat during a few cold nights, used all my sunscreen (I took double the minimum and was glad I did - highly recommended), and used all the alcohol gel to clean my hands and also to clean my feet before taping them in the morning. Some of the required gear I used, some I did not, but I had to take it so I might as well use it.
  11. Blister kit: this was required gear, but gets a category of its own because it's so important! I used all my tape and it helped tremendously with preventing blisters. I would recommend taping feet for every stage and I preferred the elastic tape that I had in my kit. I taped my forefoot and big toe for the first few stages and later in the race a few trouble spots on other toes. Learn how to tape your feet and take plenty of tape - this can make or break your race.
  12. Headlamps: I took two Petzl headlamps: a TacTikka and a E-lite. I only used the TacTikka as I didn't need a backup during the race. This light worked perfectly. It provided enough light and the red light was useful so I didn't disturb my tentmates in the night. Two great lights that I would take again.
  13. iPod shuffle: My shuffle doesn't weigh much and when I put on a great playlist from V during a tough section and during the night it more than contributed for its weight. The shuffle really really helped get me through some of the evenings and some tough patches so definitely on the list of successfuly gear. A key fact to remember is that while you spend a whole week in the desert only 30 hours of that are running. There is a lot of down time and having some sort a distraction or something comforting helps to get through the hours of rest. My iPod provided that for me.
  14. Toothbrush and toothpaste: these were my luxury items and went a long way to making me feel better after I worked through my sweet protein shakes and expedition meals. I would definitely take these again.
  15. Food: I took a simple diet for this race: a protein shake before the day's stage, two protein shakes after the stage and during the evening an expedition foods freeze-dried meal. This was a low amount of food and I was hungry, but it was enough. I was happy with what I took, but would consider taking a little more food and maybe slightly more variety for a future race. Potential options that I woould consider are high calorie items, such as dates, and very flavorful foods, such as parmesan cheese and serrano ham.

Fully loaded and running with my gear.

What didn't work
  1. Bladder: the mandatory gear list required that we would be able to carry at least 2.5l of water. I had two front bottles and a bladder to carry this amount. I used the bladder only once and it was difficult to fill up. I saw a few other competitors had platypus soft bottles that they could easily access and which were fast to fill up and easy to carry. I think that this is a better option.
  2. Gaiters: I used a pair of REI gaiters that covered the top area of my shoe, but not the whole shoe. A few times during the week the cord holding the gaiter under my shoe broke and I had to make an emergency repair. The breaking was not a huge problem and it was easily remedied. The problem I had was the the gaiters did not cover the whole top of my shoe so sand still managed to get in through the mesh on my shoes. I will use a different gaiter next time.
  3. Salomon 3/4 pants: these are great pants, but they chafed near my groin during the first and second days so I decided not to wear them anymore. I think that the coverage of my leg was great and the compression helped, but the chafing was too much so I wouldn't use these again. I would probably only take a single pair of running shorts that I would use for all the stages and all days of the race. 
  4. Salt: I didn't take my salt regularly and probably needed to take more than I did. I don't think it is fair to blame the salt tablets, but I didn't use these effectively and need to look to find a way to improve my salt intake regardless of whether it is changing the type of tablet or adapting my training to practice taking tablets regularly.
  5. Race food: I took gels and didn't take them as regularly as I planned. I think that more variety is required for me to keep eating during the stages and this is an important area to improve. I like gels and they work for me, but only when I actually take them!
  6. Compression socks: I took compression socks to wear after the stages and help my recovery. These helped a lot after my long training runs, but I didn't use them much. Again, I don't think this is the fault of the gear, but rather something I need to work on or an in-race routine that I need to develop. 

What I'd leave behind
  1. Arm warmers: I took these to provide extra warmth during the stages, as an additional layer for during the night if it got too cold and because they're easy to put on and take off with other gear on. I used them at the beginning of the first stage and that was it. They are a great piece of gear, but it was warm enough during the stages to do without them and I didn't need the extra layer at night. These would be left behind.
  2. Base layer t-shirt: I took a tight base layer t-shirt instead of a jacket and to wear at night. I wanted to carry something lighter than a jacket, to have a cosy layer to sleep in and wear around the camp and to have a long-sleeve top to wear during the race if I got sunburnt. I wore the long-sleeve shirt around camp and to sleep in, but I had to change in the morning to my race t-shirt and then wait for the start without a warm layer. I would change my combination of upper-body clothing from two t-shirts and a long-sleeve base layer to a t-shirt, a long-sleeve t-shirt and a jacket. 
  3. Sandals: I was sneaky and brought a super-light thin pair of pedicure sandals that I got from V. They broke in the first five minutes I was wearing them! The ground is too hard and rocky to walk on without shoes so you have to wear something when you're around camp (and it became a requirement later in the week after some people got diarrhea). After my sandals broke I was fine wearing my running shoes. This might be a different story if I had bad blisters, but I would take the risk and go without sandals.
  4. Buff: the mandatory gear requires a desert cap or a hat with some sort of neck protection. The buff met this mandatory requirement, but I never used it. I would prefer to carry a desert hat to meet this requirement and leave the buff behind.
  5. Alcohol gel: I mentioned how useful this was previously and that's 100% true, however, I carried two little bottles and one was definitely enough. Nothing extra coming with me next time!

In the tent, with my sleeping bag, race t-shirt and shoes in the picture (and Jimmy!).

What I'd bring with
  1. Sleeping mat: Matias told me to bring one, Francisco lent me one and I still didn't bring one! I made it without a sleeping mat and slept fine each night and wasn't negatively impacted at all. However, I spent a lot of time in my tent, relaxing and recovering for the next day so I think this would be a small luxury that would be worth carrying. This is similar to my thoughts on the iPod, there is so much time that you spend in your tent and not running that it is worthwhile to do it in comfort.
  2. Jacket: I chose a base layer instead of a jacket and in terms of warmth I was happy with the decision. However, having a jacket that I could easily and quickly put on or that I could leave on until the last minute before the race would have been a better choice.

If you have any questions or would like more detail of how my gear worked during the race, leave a comment and I'll answer your questions below.

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What's next?!

After the Atacama Crossing I've started to put together a list of races and a potential race schedule for the rest of the year. I'm planning to focus on single day trail races with two intentions: firstly, I want to work on my speed, and secondly, after racing at Lican Ray earlier this year I think I can perform well at the 50 mile (80km) distance. I also believe that this type of racing will help me to prepare for fast individual stages during multi-stage races.

The definite races are all in Chile and I have a few other tentative races depending on how the season works out. As it is now, my race schedule has some defined goal races, but also lots of flexibility to fit in a few more races if I learn about something new and exciting.

Shorter fast races
These are races that I want to do to improve my speed and also to enjoy running as fast as I can again. They are a lower priority, but should be exciting and good way to test my training and measure my speed.

Salomon X-trail 21km - this is a new race for me and possibly also V's first trail race in Chile (she's planning to run the 7km). We're going to make a weekend of it and go to the national park where the race is, camp on Saturday night and race on the Sunday. I'm super excited about this weekend!

K42 Chile - I ran the K42 last year and finished 5th (race report here). It was a fantastic course, well organised and had a good level of competition. This is part of an international series and a good result here means I could qualify to go to the final in Argentina. I want to work on my speed on the downhills for this race and also plan a consistent overall pacing strategy.

Finishing the K42 Chile in 2011 in 5th place.

I love these races and the longer the better- "more miles, more smiles!". I have only one definite race in the list for now, the Ultramaraton de Los Andes, and two other interesting races that I'd like to get to.

Desafio Ruta del Condor - I heard about this race very recently and it is so convenient because it finishes in the Mall Sport about 15 minutes from my apartment. It is a mountain bike track and across some beautiful trails in the Andes. If I do run this one, it will be a training run to test out gear, pacing and my nutrition strategy for The North Face (TNF) 50 mile races later in the year.

The North Face 50 Ecuador - this is another race that appeared on the TNF facebook page and so far there are no more details. It is planned for 30 June and would be a perfect time to get away from the Chilean winter, travel to a new country and run a 50 mile race. This is another race that I'm excited about and I can't wait to get some more of the details.

The North Face Ultramaraton de Los Andes - after the Atacama Crossing this is my most important race of the year. It's on the trails I run every week, it's hard, it's beautiful and last year I didn't finish. I want to go to this race, run well and get a great result. More than any other race on the list this is the big deal for the rest of the year.

Cerro el Carbon and Cerro Manquehue from the UMA course.

That's the current plan for the rest of 2012. If you have any suggestions for races please leave them in the comments below.

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Running in the Andes with UltrAspire's Andy

Last weekend was the Maraton de Santiago (MDS), the biggest road race in Chile. The race was very well organized and had a huge turnout - it was great to see so many people running. I didn't race as it was too soon after the Atacama Crossing for me, but I did go to the expo on Friday night to support the RunningChile team and to see the various stalls.

At the SportVillage stall I met Andy who is one of the owners of UltrAspire and who had come to show the first set of UltrAspire gear at the expo. There was a lot of interest in his gear and lots of questions which was a positive start. We planned to go running on Saturday so Andy could see some of the great trails around Santiago.

On Saturday we did a 16km out and back trip from Providencia over parts of Cerro San Cristobal and up to the Mirador on Cerro Carbon. It was a beautiful day and we saw some spectacular views of Santiago and towards the Andes.

Looking over the city from the contour path on Cerro Carbon.

View from the mirador on Cerro Carbon.

View from the mirador on Cerro San Cristobal.

Andy gave me an UltrAspire belt (consisting of the Atom and Reflex MBS parts) to try during the run and I was really impressed. It fit really well and held my camera, metro card and some cash easily. I'm looking forward to trying a bottle with the belt (in place of the Reflex) and also to trying one of the packs from the UltrAspire line.

On Sunday we met again and this time I took Andy on a shorter, more touristic route over Cerro San Cristobal. We went up to the Statue of the Virgin and ran back over the other side of the hill with views of Huechuraba and Cerro Carbon where we had run the previous day.

Santiago from Cerro San Cristobal.

Andy enjoying the view from Cerro San Cristobal.

It was fantastic to have a visitor and to share some of the trails that are within running distance of the city.

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