Sunday 14 April 2013

TORQing About Running (it's a homonym, y'see...)

A few months ago, I happened to see a message on Facebook about an interesting sounding new initiative. TORQ are a fitness consultancy firm that also produce a range of nutritional supplements such as gels, bars and recovery drinks. They are highly regarded in the mountain biking community, and sponsor teams in cycling, MTB, triathlon etc. They are now interested in getting involved in the trail and ultra running scene, and were looking for runners to make up their new trail team. What was interesting about this was that they are not looking for the top runners in the country, but instead are interested in putting together a team of inspirational runners who are passionate about the sport regardless of whether they are elite athletes. So runners from all backgrounds were asked to submit a CV describing what running means to them, a little about their background, and any blogs or the like that they might have.

You may have noticed that I quite enjoy banging on about running (my poor wife sure knows it), so I figured I would put something in. To be honest I hadn't heard of TORQ before this, but a friend described them to me as the "Rolls Royce of gels" which was pretty high praise. Since I pretty much use gels exclusively when I run, I thought why not have a crack.

The idea was put together by Simon and Julie Freeman, two fantastic runners themselves (Simon was casually telling me about his 2:30ish marathon times) who set up their new running-based social media marketing service Freestak just 6 months ago with this idea in mind. Making it open to all runners is I think an amazing idea, as you only have to look at Twitter and Facebook to see the inspirational effect that runners have on each other regardless of if they come in 1st or 201st. A selection of applicants were selected from the hundreds (or millions according to Julie) of CVs that they received to attend an "assessment day" in London. Unfortunately this was on the same weekend as the Viking Way, so I was unable to make it. Luckily a second event was put on at Church Stretton ("the Switzerland of the UK" according to Drew Sheffield) over at Long Mynd in Shropshire.

I turned up a bit early to take advantage of the location and go out for a little run. After saying "hi" to Simon and getting my name badge, I poked my head into the room where other arrivees where sitting having a chat, and asked if anybody fancied a quick run. I was a bit surprised when all I got was a stunned silence. "Erm. A run? Y'know, that thing we all like to do? No? Nobody?!". Luckily one guy, Ben Sears, decided to join me. We headed out past the pub and headed up the hill on the Shropshire Way. It was a nice morning for it, and we gabbed about running along the way. After half an hour or so, we bumped into Matty Brennan, Simon from TORQ, and Stuart Mills who was there to give a talk about his own unique views on race preparation.
Ultra Stu getting ready to blow people's minds
We headed back to the youth hostel and I got chatting to some other people. It was great to catch up with Lindley Chambers, Matt Dunn and Chris Baynham Hughes. I also got chatting to Andy who was crewing at the Piece of String Fun Run (I made sure to thank him!), Matty who I have bumped into several times at the Brecon Beacons Ultra, and a whole bunch of other people who just love to run! It was lovely to be around like-minded people who didn't think I was nuts.

The day started with a talk on nutrition from Ben from TORQ. Nutrition in endurance sports is an area that really interests me, particularly when working out the optimum way to fuel myself through 100 mile races. My current views are that for these kinds of races fat-burning is inevitable, as no matter how many carbs you take on you can never absorb enough to replenish what you are using. Therefore it makes sense to program your body to be as efficient at doing this as possible. I can now run pretty well on no fuel, which kind of came about as an offshoot of being a stingy bastard and not being able to afford gels (certainly not 3 for every hour that I run). Having said that, fat burns in a carbohydrate fire as they say, so I am very much a gel man when I am racing. I just tend to take enough to keep those fires burning rather than relying entirely on the energy from carbs. For instance I probably only had at most 15 gels (plus a few bits and pieces at the aid stations) on the 147.8 mile Viking Way Ultra. It works well for me I think, but I in no way think that I have all of the answers. It was really interesting to hear some of the things that Ben discussed (particularly his recommendation for bacon sarnies during racing. Yum!), and there was a lot of interesting debate from people with different experiences.
Ultra chat
Next up was a fantastic talk from Stuart about preparation for racing. The two main themes of his talk were mental preparation and pacing. In both cases Stu has some really interesting ideas that he has proven work brilliantly with his own amazing accomplishments. First he believes that a lot of people are a little too self-deprecating (just look at the titles of a lot of the ultra blogs out there); that we should aim our goals high (why aim to get a podium place? Why not aim to win); and that a positive mental attitude can have a huge affect on performance. His thoughts on pacing are slightly more controversial, as his motto "as fast as you can for as long as you can" attests. Pretty much the first rule of ultra running is "don't go out too fast or you'll blow up", so this advice kind of throws that idea out of the window. I have to say that I sort of agree. You're going to slow down later anyway, so why not get as many good miles in as you can? Obviously I'm talking more about a comfortable but tough pace than about a full on sprint, but this is the approach that I tend to use (for better or for worse). Certainly a lot of people found his ideas really interesting and there was a lot of positive mental attitude visible in some of the discussions I had with people later in the day.

Finally we got to the best part of the day, and headed out into the hills for a 7ish mile run. The weather had turned and the rain and fog had come down, resulting in a few disgruntled comments. I loved it! If you can't enjoy bouncing down a hill splashing through the mud then you've no chance in these climes. Perhaps if people had come out with me in the morning they would have enjoyed the better weather! We were told by Julie that this would be a "non-competitive" run, to which for some reason everybody turned and looked at me. As if I'm competitive. I'm like the most uncompetitive person ever. If there was a competition for being non-competitive, then... Oh right. I see it now.

It was really good fun and there were some fantastic sections such as when we barrelled down through the snow that was left over from the past few weeks. It was fun to watch people attempting to tip toe around the puddles. Just get in there!
I got in there
We arrived back at the youth hostel muddy, happy and ready for a drink. I thought I would just hang around for one drink, but ended up rambling on for about 4 hours. A lot of people were interested in the Piece of String Fun Run as it had come up in Stu's talk. As it happens, Simon knows James Adams, the evil bastard that came up with the idea. He was telling us about when he first heard the idea and how stupid it sounded. Of course who is more stupid; the idiot who came up with the idea or the idiot who ran it?

I had a great day at the event regardless of what happens with the team. Of course it would be great to be involved with something like this, particularly given its uniqueness, but there are only 6 places available and everybody there was clearly incredibly passionate about things. I have to say that I don't envy the decision that Simon and Julie now have to make to select the final team. Regardless of who gets picked, I can't wait to follow their progress and see how this works to progress trail and ultra running in the UK. Good luck everybody!

Oh, and without sounding too pandering, the TORQ gels are indeed really nice, with some really tasty and interesting flavours available. The rhubarb and custard flavour was my favourite. Okay, sellout mode off.

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