Supporting Alzheimer’s Society

220px-Alzheimers_Society_Logo.svgWith my competitive rugby season having drawn to a close a few weeks back, I have been fully focussed on what I’ve got coming up in the next few months on the endurance race front.

I have a very well defined training plan in place which is now in full swing, but in addition to my own physical and mental preparation, I have made a final decision on the charity that I will support from now, through the end of the Yukon Arctic Ultra in February next year.

My grandmother suffers from dementia, which can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.  There are good days and bad days, and she requires help, both from the family, but outside help too.  This is why I am supporting Alzeimher’s Society who provide an array of services for sufferers of, or those affected by dementia, including:

  • Information & Advice: for anyone dealing with dementia
  • Care & Support: practical and emotional support for dementia sufferers
  • Research: dedicated to defeating dementia
  • Campaigning: for change to improve all aspects of care and support
Whatever I am able to raise will go towards allowing Alzheimer’s Society to continue to provide their valuable services and research, to whomever needs it.
For a single donation (or multiple if you feel generous 🙂 ), you will get to witness me challenge myself mentally and physically in at least 2 different events:
  • In September: Tor des Geants: 200 miles, on foot, through the Italian Alps, with 78,000 feet of ascent
  • In February: Yukon Arctic Ultra: 430 miles, on foot, pulling all my supplies in a sled, and temperatures down to -40 degrees Celsius or lower (-50 last time I was there)

A likely 3rd event will be the New York City marathon in November.

How is that for fantastic value for a single donation; 3 events for the price of 1 🙂

I’ll be attempting to write more about each of the above events, and my preparation for them, over the coming weeks and months.  So, follow this blog, or visit and like my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ryanshaw72, to keep up-to-date.

I know it’s early days yet, but if you would like to get a donation in early, you can donate online via my dedicated JustGiving page.  None of the donations will be used to finance any of these challenges, they all go to the charity.

Tour of the Giants

This is it.  My next big adventure is confirmed.  Some facts:

  • A foot race situated in the Aosta Valley in Northern Italy
  • A maximum of 700 participants
  • Surrounded by 4 of Europe’s highest peaks of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, the Monte Rosa Massif and Gran Paradiso, all above 4000 metres
  • A total distance of 330km (~205 miles)
  • Elevation of between 300 (1,000 feet) and 3200 metres (10,000 feet) above sea level at any point
  • A total ascent of 24,000 metres (78,000 feet)
  • A time limit of 150 hours

Those are some of the facts and figures that make up the experience of the Tor des Geants.

The Yukon Arctic Ultra in 2015 has been my longest ultra to date, which turned out to be a tad over 300 miles.  This is less distance, but what I have not encountered before is the level of elevation change that this race will bring with it; the equivalent of going from sea level to the summit of Mount Everest 2.7 times over the 200 miles (about twice the height that your standard trans-Atlantic flight might cruise at).  Just as the Yukon was a step into the unknown for me, this will be too.

I feel fortunate that this opportunity has arisen.  The race is limited to 700 participants and more than 3000 registered for the race this year, so it became a bit of a lottery as to whether or not I would secure a place.  Fate was clearly on my side on this occasion.

Now that I’m in and my entry fee paid, I need to fully revive the determination, drive and commitment that I had for the preparation of my previous challenges.  I’ve got to focus on preparing myself mentally and physically if I want to be successful once I line-up on the start line on the 11th September.

It’s a semi self-sufficient race, meaning I need to function independently between checkpoints, in relation to equipment, safety and any unexpected events that could occur, such as a deterioration in the weather, personal injury, equipment failure and so on.  In addition to checkpoints, where supplies of food and water can be replenished, there will be 7 life bases where a prolonged rest can be taken, and showers provided, should it be desired.

And so it begins … and continues …

I’m an egg-chaser at heart

egg_chaserI’ve been very quiet on the blog front over the last few months, and I find myself at Heathrow airport waiting for a flight to New York, so suddenly have a couple of spare hours on my hands to do something with.  My blog absence has in part been because I’ve had other things to do which have kept me very busy.  No matter what the title of this blog entry might suggest, running has been a big part of my life for the last 2 or 3 years.  It all started because I didn’t think I could run a marathon.  I didn’t think I was physically built to cover such distances after spending my youth sprinting, long jumping and playing rugby.  So my extreme adventures all started because I wanted to get the answer to that one little question, “Could I run a marathon?”, and perhaps I took it too far! 🙂

I’ve always been physically active in some way, if nothing else, just to keep myself fit.  But to prepare for some of my adventures, it’s taken a lot of determination and commitment in pounding the streets to get the miles into the legs, as well as the time required to do it, come rain, shine, or anything else Mother Nature may have chosen to throw my way.  I went from being a, maybe an 8 miles at best, weekend jogger, to completing my first 100km event using a somewhat short, very specific and well-defined 16 week training programme. After all, if you’re going to prove, or not, you can run a marathon, push the boat out a little bit more to see how far you might be able to go.  I wouldn’t advise anyone to attempt to go from 12 to 100km in 16 weeks.  I did do it though, and I finished in a tad over 13 hours, but the preparation wasn’t achieved without some really painful physical problems, resulting in some expensive medical attention, thanks to my employer and private health insurance.

The completion of that 100km event opened my mind, and the metaphoric door, for what could really be some fantastic adventures.  With some further sustained effort, I have been very fortunate to have been able to participate in some amazing races, including finishing 160 miles in the Ocean Floor Race in the Egyptian Sahara desert, and the 300 mile Yukon Arctic Ultra in Canada.

So that’s what it’s all about for me; the adventure.  It’s not because I love running.  Running the 1000’s of miles I have done over the past few years has been all about preparing the body and mind for the adventures that I have wanted to experience, not about the running itself.  The running has been an enabler for me to undertake those adventures, and to finish what I started; the adventures and the challenges associated with them.  Being self-sufficient in the desert at +50°C, or at -50°C in the Canadian sub-arctic.  Managing yourself, what you do and when you do it, in conditions that might otherwise do you some serious harm.  Dealing with sleep deprivation, hallucinations and other ensuing games that play with your mind.  Sleeping and living in the wilderness, wherever it is, for extended periods.  The challenge of managing your mind, however hard or dark some of the experience becomes.  Overcoming the physical demands that you’re placing on your own body; win the mind game and the body will follow.  Proving to myself exactly what I am physically and mentally capable of.  The opportunity to visit, and experience first-hand, some of the most beautiful and amazing places on the planet.

My focus for the last few months has been diverted away from anything extreme.  It has been aimed at what I think was my very first true sporting passion, rugby.  I have started playing again, and I’m loving it.  But I also help coach little people too (both my son and daughter play) on a Sunday morning.  The memories of the Yukon are still clear as day, and with the 1 year anniversary of that race close upon me, I’ve been thinking about it more and more, and quite envious of those competitors that will be attempting it this year, starting on the 4th February.

There are so many extreme challenges that I would like to attempt, even though my recent attention has been diverted.  Rugby and extreme endurance racing, on the face of it, don’t feel like to be activities that would work well together.  I might just have to try though, and see where I end up.  The big risk with rugby is injury, with it being a contact sport, and the impact that potentially has to preparation and participation in any planned events.  The immediate drivers behind considering doing both is my continued passion for the egg-chasing sport, alongside my determination to return to the Yukon and complete the longer 430 mile distance, all the way to Dawson City, in 2017.

So it seems I am very event driven when it comes to running.  I’ll do whatever is needed to participate in a new adventure, and if there is nothing new on the horizon, the running suffers, and that has what’s changed my focus over the last few months.

As lucky as I have been, these types of adventures don’t come for free, both in time and financially.  If I was single with no dependents, maybe things would be different.  I still have many dreams as to what I would like to achieve, and I would like to think at least some of them are still going to happen; so it might just be time to dust down those running shoes and start some early preparation for the Yukon in 2017! 🙂

Becoming a lean, mean, running machine :)

calories-what-are-theyYou might have already noted that I’m taking part in a 100km race on Saturday.  It’s something I don’t feel prepared for, but am going to take part anyway.  I’ve not put the training in to feel at all comfortable.  A combination of summer holidays, business trips, and a knee problem after the Yukon Arctic ultra, have led me to be more sedentary than perhaps I would have liked.  Having said that, to protect my knee, but to retain some level of cardio fitness, I have taken to cycling my commute to work, rather than get the train.  That’s on hold though this week, in the run up to the race on Saturday.

Whatever happens on Saturday, happens.  I don’t expect to finish it quickly, but I do expect to finish it.  I am treating it as a reintroduction to ultra distances, and the commencement of some serious preparation for the Legends Trail in Belgium next March; which by all intense and purposes, is going to be a real tough one to complete!  That means a few things:

  1. I need some more races this year
  2. I need to lay out a revised training plan
  3. I need to revise my diet

I’ve never typically worried about the races or the training.  Once I’m in the groove, that part normally looks after itself.  The diet though is a completely different thing altogether.  Why?  Well, I love my food, and there seems to be a common misconception that you must be able to eat what you want, when you want, when you’re training for, and participating in ultras.  It’s just not true.  Typically, because of my indulgences, my weight yo-yo’s in between races.  I don’t think that can be a healthy approach, and so I want to take some steps to address it.  After all, I’m not getting any younger either, and there are still many things I would like to try to achieve that are going to be health dependent! 🙂

Not to get too scientific, with the help of a simple online calculator, I’ve calculated my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).  Your BMR is the number of calories your body needs just to keep it ticking over.  If I stayed in bed all day, I would need an intake of about 1800 calories.  Considering I never get the opportunity to stay in bed all day :), a normal day, with little or no exercise, would see me need an intake of about 2160 calories per day, to maintain my current weight.  The formulae to provide these numbers are based on the Harris-Benedict equation.  Depending on how active you are, you multiply your BMR by a given factor.  So, if you do little to no exercise, that factor is 1.2.

My ultimate goal is to become leaner; less weight, same power, equals more efficient, and ultimately faster running.  That’s my theory anyway.  To start to drop weight, I am going to need to reduce my daily calorie intake.  What I also need to consider though, is the energy expenditure of my training, and ensure those calories get replaced.

My BMR is 1800 calories with little or no exercise, so to start to lose weight, I am going to cut 500 calories from that value, giving me a revised figure of 1300 calories.  In addition to the 1300, I need to add on the extra calories I will burn through training.  For example, I know if I run to work, I burn about 1600 calories.  Those 1600 need to be replaced, giving me a revised total of 2900.  However, I want to bring a little consistency in how much I intake on a daily basis, so in combination with my training plan, estimated calorie burn, I will calculate a daily average, based on expected weekly activity.

For example, if I run to work 3 times per week, that would see a calorie expenditure of 4800 calories.  If I cycled to and from work for the remaining 2 working days, that would be about another 3000 calories.  That’s a total training expenditure of 7800 calories.  7 days of my reduced BMR total, to help promote weight loss, would total 9100 calories for the week, giving a required weekly calorie intake of 16900.  That averages out to 2400 per day.  So that, to begin with, will be my goal.  Based on my training schedule and revised BMR, use a daily required calorie average to help steer my diet.

This will be a big learning experience for me, and I’m sure it’ll need some tweaking.  My instinct is that 2400 calories won’t be enough for me, but to begin with, I’ll put some trust into the approach and monitor how I react to it, and tweak the number if it seems necessary.  Time will tell.

Next?  The diet plan.  That’s going to be the hard bit.  What to eat, how much of it to eat, and when to eat it?

Check back soon, as I’ll start to publish an expected weekly planner for food to match my expected calorie requirements.  First though, there’s this 100km run I need to deal with on Saturday 🙂  Wish me luck … I might need it! 😀

Distracted? … me? Time to focus!

spain6It’s been too long since I last posted here, and for that I apologise.  I’ve been to Spain for a couple of weeks, and I just got back from a business trip to New York on Saturday, and now I’m ready to refocus and crack on.  And I need to crack on.  In less than a month, I’m joining a friend in the 100km Thames Path Challenge.  I have no expectation of how long it will take us to finish that, although I’d like to think I would be capable to beating the time I achieved in 2013; although that was my first ever ultra.  I completed the 62 miles in 13 hours and 3 minutes on that occasion, but I prepared religiously.  That preparation, or the religiousness of it, has not occurred this time around, for several reasons that I won’t go into here.  I’m committed to starting it though, and stubborn enough to want to finish it.  And it’ll be a refreshing change to be running with someone.  That never, or very rarely, happens for me.  Lucky Paul! 🙂

Some of you that follow what I get up to, may remember my desire to go from London to channelParis under my own power.  The intention would be to run (jog) from London to the South Coast (preferably Dover), Kayak across the English Channel, and on reaching the French coast, cycle to Paris.  That middle stint, the kayak, was always going to be the tricky bit.  The French authorities have banned unorthodox Channel crossings and you need explicit permission.   Two letters to the French authorities didn’t create a response, so I did end up writing to the Prime Minister.  Long story short, about 10 days ago, I received a letter from the British Embassy in Paris who have provided me with alternative, French authority contact details.  So, I’m not giving up on the idea quite yet, but it’s cutting it close to the wire for anything to happen next year, if I don’t get permission soon.,

In true “me” style, the cogs in the head never stop turning, and I have also put some thought, albeit not really serious thought, into running before attempting to walk.  The Atlantic looks like a nice stretch of water to cross … in a rowing boat.  From Blighty to New York, a city to which I paid many, many, many visits over the years.  In all reality, it’s a bit of a pipe dream at the moment.  Financially, I would need a massive amount of support, so if anyone knows of a corporate who would be willing to support such an adventure, let me know! 🙂  And, of course, it would mean taking time off work, and getting the support of my employer.  In terms of time commitment, it would be way and above everything I’ve entered or wanted to enter until now.

Back to reality though, and to concentrate on what’s achievable now.  I need to focus on preparing for September, and then for the inaugural Legends Trail race, in Belgium, in March.  I really need to start to knuckle down.  Belgium is going to be really tough.  A friend contacted me recently who happens to be Belgian, live in Belgium, and wanted to know more about the Yukon Arctic Ultra, as he is thinking about entering, and wanted my advice.  He won the Ocean Floor Race in 2014; I finished 5th, more than 24 hours behind him! 😮  I do have more experience now than I did then, but I would never even consider comparing myself, and my abilities, to his own.  He thinks the Legends Trail is going to be tougher than tough; that speaks volumes, and really confirmed what I thought already knew.

So, for now, look out for some updates in the final run up to the 100km on September 12th.  More to come soon …

Up and Down, and Round and Round

legendstrailIt’s confirmed.  On 4th March 2016, I’ll be competing in The Legends Trail, in Belgium.  250km/155 miles of trail loveliness :).  The not so lovely bit is the 7000 metres of ascent and descent.  That’s a smidge less than 23,000 feet!  AND, I’ve got 60 hours to get to the finish line.  This is going to be one tough race.  To make me a little more nervous, I’m going to have to brush up on my almost non-existent navigational skills, with a good old traditional map and compass.  I will definitely take my GPS, but I don’t want to rely on that.

There are not masses of other details available for this race yet.  There will be checkpoints, and cut-off times for those checkpoints, which haven’t yet been published.  It starts at 6pm on Friday 4th March, so it’ll be a long, lonely, and dark first night; that should make the navigation all the more interesting :).  And I will be carrying a tracker, which seems to be a very popular feature of these extreme endurance races.  It gets everyone involved, even when they’re sitting back home on the sofa!  There is, of course though, the mandatory equipment that I will need to carry with me:

  • Race number (worn in front, visible and easy to read at all times)
  • Mobile phone with a battery charged and operable for the duration of the race (roaming service recommended, with Organizers’ numbers (given at registration) recommended
  • Survival Blanket
  • Whistle
  • Running pack or belt able to store obligatory equipment
  • Bottle or hydration pack of at least 1 litre capacity and at least one litre of water or liquid (checked on leaving aid stations)
  • Enough food to last to the next aid station
  • Waterproof and wind proof jacket (regardless of expected weather conditions)
  • Shoes appropriate for the surface
  • Elastic bandage
  • ID or passport
  • Headlamp with spare batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Some money
  • Red light from dusk till dawn attached to your backpack/pack

I know this can be done … the distance at least, anyway.  The bigger unknown for me, at the moment, is the terrain and its “up and down” nature.  So I need to put some thought into how I’m going to prepare for that.  It’s going to need something more than the relatively flat streets of South London!

For those of you that are aware, this by no means indicates that I’ve given up on my own idea for 2016 … getting from London to Paris under my own steam.  The blocker there remains getting permission to kayak across the English Channel.  It’s been very quiet from the French authorities from the 2 letters that I’ve sent to them.  But I’ll continue to remain positive for now that it’ll work itself out.

In the meantime, I’m going to prepare for the 100km Thames Path Challenge, after I promised a very good friend I’d do it with them!

London to Paris in 2016?

london2parisThis is my work-in-progress idea for “the big(ger) one” in 2016.  I may already have let some of the detail slip to those of you that are closer to me, and it’s something a little bit different; getting from London to Paris under my own power. That means there’s also a large expanse of water in the way, which also happens to be the busiest shipping lane on the planet.

If I can get it organised, it will probably take the form of:

  • Run from London to the South coast
  • Kayak across the English Channel to France
  • Cycle from the French coast to Paris

The run would be 80 miles, give or take a few, the kayak stretch would be 20-something miles, depending on the launch and landing points, the strength of tides etc., and the cycle would be about 180 miles, again depending on where I landed in France.

The biggest hurdle for me is going to be the kayak.  Since June 2013, the French authorities have banned all unorthodox crossings of the Channel.  The exception is some swims, but they are heavily regulated.   To overcome this, I will need to get special dispensation from the French authorities to allow me to do the crossing in a kayak.  I think I have the appropriate contact information, and I have been told from a reliable source that the French navy like this type of thing.  In conjunction with my charity links, I’m keeping everything crossed that it’ll work itself out.

The crossing, albeit the biggest challenge (without permission, this isn’t going to happen), logistically there will be many other things to organise and arrange.  Some are:

  • I will need a support crew in England and France
  • I will need a safety/pilot boat for the crossing, to keep me out of trouble
  • I will need a new bike.  My hybrid, although fine for my commute to work, probably won’t cut the mustard for this event
  • I need confirmed, safe as possible routes, for all 3 elements of the challenge. I have proposed routes either side of the Channel, but they need verification
  • I need to learn to kayak in open water, so a kayak might come in handy too 🙂

It’s early days, but I am going to arrange my training under the assumption it will go ahead.  If, and it’s a very big if at the moment, I get permission to cross the Channel, I expect that it will take place in May or June, 2016.

If permission is not granted for the crossing, I will keep a contingency event in my back pocket as a backup “big(ger) one”. I’m unsure what that might be yet, but I think I’d rather a non-stop event, than something broken into stages.  If you have any suggestions, I’d love to here them, whether it’s an organised event, or an idea for a challenge that would need to be arranged.