Friday, 18 June 2010

Welsh 14/3Ks: Part 5 Stage Three (Final)

Recap Stage One
This stage was well known to me and the team. We did it in four hours and came back to camp. You drive up hill to the start of this section but lose all this height at the end. There were some sore knees as the descent is steep. I felt great throughout this stage.

Recap Stage Two Having lost all the height from descending stage one, we had a big climb at the start of stage two. Within an hour of leaving camp I was suffering big style. V-Footing was looking like a good idea, but the fasting....less so! I 'saw toothed' the ascent and things improved immediately.

Over a period of four hours (from the first feelings of fatigue) I found with a saw-tooth burst of energy on intense sections, things were vastly improving for me. Similarly on the plateau and downhill sections I was able to 'power up' simply due to the lack of intensity required. The completion of Stage two involved a long and occasionally steep descent that brought us to Ogwen Cottage and stage three. I felt good at this point. My feet were in excellent order and energy levels were good.

Stage Three
At the end of stage two, we had lost all the height we'd gained at the start. So, as with the start of stage two, we now had to gain height back at the start of stage three. 3000ft here we come!

I started slowly and steadily up the front of Pen Yr Olwen. The fear of a repeat of what had happened at the start of the previous stage hanging over me like the Sword of Damocles. I soon realised I actually felt fine on this ascent. I could keep going. I kept stopping and taking in the scenery every ten minutes or so and on a few occasions, dug out my camcorder to do a piece to camera. Looking back at this footage it is obvious that I am in very good spirits throughout (the joke-number goes up although joke quality is debatable as always!).

The regular, small breaks of a minute or so were leaving me very refreshed. Another 'crash' never felt remotely likely, even though this climb must have been similarly demanding to the start of the last stage. We summited after an hour or two and I knew the worst was behind me. From now on there may be a few tough sections, but nothing like the one we had just done. As intensity dropped at the end of the walk, the rests required diminished massively - now it was simply a case of endurance. I could sense an ability to keep going. I felt pretty good.

On the summit of Pen Yr Ole Wen the sun was hanging low in the sky, the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up. The day was ending as indeed it had begun. Rain would follow shortly.

We picked off a series of summits which, on this section, are typically a pile of stones on an undulating plateau. I was typically at the front, forcing the pace (psychologically I find being at the back quite tough), tracing our route on my map. There was one 'dog leg' - the last serious bit of up and down, to pick off Yr Elen, and then the worst really is over. Before we knew it, we were at the final summit; Foel Fras, twenty hours after we had started. There would still be over an hours walk to get to the car park and finish line.

The carpark is a long and drawn out 'romp' away. It feels never-ending; boggy and monotonous, but I felt 'on the ball' and was happy to navigate and lead on - a stark contrast to the last attempt of this route when exhaustion meant that I would rather just follow. (Navigation requirements meant that on the last attempt I actually had to assist in the navigation).

Again on my previous attempt at this walk, during this latter section my right knee gave in to Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITB). A staggering pain that really hurt, meaning I had great difficulty walking. I had never had anything like it before (or since). It is the reason that now, on this attempt, I carried a trekking stick with me - just in case.

But there were other differences with the me of now and the me of then - not just those of diet. On my previous attempt I had been a runner - completing around three five-mile runs a week. I had also done a lot of 'Stepper' work in the months leading up to it. Since those days I have abandoned distance running and stepper machines and adopted sprinting (only once or twice a week for about 5x10s per session), and become a fan of pistols and pillar jumping. I was curious about how my new training would play out in terms of knee-health. And what of the diet? Paleo is in some respects a 'low inflammation' diet. Maybe by avoiding grains my body was more responsive and sensitive to its own immune response?

When we stopped for a rest, the other guys would chow down. On one or two such refeeds you could see the energy response in them. Once or twice a few of them opined about the discomfort of climbing on a full stomach - a consideration lost on me! In terms of general energy levels I was acutely aware of silence and conversation amongst the others. It ebbed and flowed. A few times I tried to strike up conversation, but to little or no response (this was an ongoing activity and a situation I was actively analysing, trying to gauge how others were feeling in comparison to myself).

Here was the game-changer. Here was the point I knew that I'd be doing this again; V-Footed and fasted. My energy was constant. I could go on. I was mildly physically tired but muscle fatigue I could push through (although I am unsure if I could do another big uphill section - but then maybe I could as I had found the start of this stage surprisingly easy). At the carpark I arrived in a chirpy conversational mode, happy to have fulfilled my goal. There was more in me but I couldn't test it as there was nowhere else to go.

We got to our final destination in the small hours. We had been walking for 20 hours first summit to last summit, and a few around 23hours in total. By the time we got back to bed we had been up for over 25 hours.

Two support drivers welcomed us with a can of lager each (see photo above - you should be able to spot me amongst the Thousand Yard Stares!). I enjoyed it although it tasted VERY sweet to me. I was worried about the consequence of drinking a can of lager on an empty stomach so decided to eat my emergency ration of two boiled eggs. If it was not for the lager I would not have eaten until the following day.

Of the five who completed this walk, I would have classified myself amongst those feeling 'best'. A big turnaround from the stage two sentiment of 'amongst the worst'.

22 miles. 15000ft of ascent and descent. 25+ hours without sleep. 8kg of equipment. 20-odd hours of walking. Four hours of feeling 'down' but zero hours feeling 'out'. I am a sprinter who climbs and throws. Burst of speed and energy are my preferred means of exercise. I walk quite a bit - but when I walk it is at a sedentary pace, relaxed and usually in conversation.

I think I may well be the first person to have completed this whole walk in VFFs. I also think I might be the first person to have completed this walk completely fasted (by which I mean my last meal was the evening previous to the walk itself). Certainly I would imagine that I am the first to be fasted AND V-Footed on the walk (although this combination does seem to be popular amongst the paleo crowd).

No place for Vibrams?
The number of blisters and aches had increased amongst the team throughout the day. In the past I myself have had major blisters on my heels from long walks in boots - but in the VFFs nada, nothing, zero! My feet were absolutely fine.

You can see from the picture documenting stage two that the terrain was incredibly rugged. You'd have thought it would be no place for VFFs. But in truth I was launched in to this final stage of the mind that the VFFs were the ONE piece of kit that NEVER let me down and kept exceeding my expectations. Although I had planned a change of footwear at Ogwen Cottage, the VFFs were going to be worn for the duration.

Fasting Thoughts
Would I do it again? Undoubtedly YES! I think I need to train my body to handle ongoing physical activity but I have this feeling (!), that now I have taken my body this far, I could attempt this walk again in a month or so and, with a saw-tooth approach to the hard bits, in addition to a newly developed metabolic imprint to work from, I would fare much better throughout.

I have a superb set of video clips documenting the adventure and it is very rewarding looking back through them and seeing my response over the day (mentally and physically). Having reviewed the footage I know that it pushed me hard, but I also know that the anxiety generated by the nadir of the walk was misplaced. Once my body mustered its resources, things were always going to get easier.

I look shredded at the moment. Lots of vascularity - along my abdomen, arms and chest. Oddly enough when I did stage one as a fasted training walk a few weeks ago I followed things up the next day with a mammoth breakfast in the local cafe. I assumed I would be able to eat a similar sized breakfast after this walk as I had done so much more work....but believe it or not I struggled to eat exactly the same meal. I was just not that hungry. Clearly my body was still serving up energy! No need for an endogenous source of calories, it was doing very well on body fat thank you. Amazing. There is already talk of the 'next challenge'. My stove will NOT be packed.

Since the walk I have developed a love of goats cheese and lamb (cold). I have also desired cold showers (they don't seem so cold at the moment). My appetite is growing as the days since the walk elapse. Perhaps my body is 'standing down' now the trauma is over?

A few people have asked me 'why did you do it?'. The question is a bit vague and can be interpreted and answered in several ways depending on how you interpret the question:
  • Why walk the hills? - I need my 'greens'.
  • Why do the Welsh 3000s? - I like a challenge.
  • Why do it in Vibrams? I find them comfortable and allow me to be surefooted. No blisters, no damaged knees. The foot is allowed to work as evolution intended with the rest of my body to absorb the shock of the footfall. V-Footing is the only way I see myself walking in the wilds whilst shod.
  • Why do it fasted? Hmm, this comes from a position that snacking en-route is the norm. I take the opposite view. Assuming that it is normal to be fasted before exercise, why carry food and/or eat if you don't need to?
Ultimately though, I guess once in a while I need to embrace an outlier. On Saturday 12th June 2010 I rode a Black Swan.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5


Alex said...

Great posts, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I've begun to move towards longer fasting periods myself and definitely find my appetite suppressed if I exercise towards the end. Good to know VFF's are up to the job of some serious trekking - I'm enjoying my second summer in mine but haven't really ever put them (or my knees) to the test as you have.

guy said...

Fantastic write up!

Really enjoyed reading this series and congratulations on your success.

A true bit of n=1 experimentation and great flouting of "conventional wisdom".

You didn't mention your colleagues reactions. Were they confused, impressed or converted?


Methuselah said...

Top marks. A superb effort. Inspired by your success, I've been chewing this over with Lightning, who as you know is a big fan of the Welsh mountains. It think we fancy a shot at the title. Doing it fasted and in Vibrams is quite an achievement, and of course doing anything physical for 24 hours straight is an achievement regardless. The steady energy levels and lack of blisters is exactly what I would have hoped to happen. Good work.

Asclepius said...

Thanks for the positive commments. As you may have read elsewhere on my blog - it is the sides of a mountain that support life, not the summit. I take a lot of heart and motivation from reading some of the paleo blogs out there. This is my humble contribution.

Alex - I 'memory dumped' a lot of the experience here. It could have done with some editing I guess - but it is a sincere and 'raw' account.

If you have been up on Crib Goch or the Glyders you'll be aware that with all the stones and scree and loose decents and scrambling, along with all the boggy walking on the Carneddau, I have pretty much put the VFFs through EVERY kind of test they could have bar snow and ice! As footwear goes, they have hustle! I will be trying them out in winter this year...and will post something up accordingly.

As you can see from my posts, I have been fasting over the past three years or so. It gets easier and the more I push it, the more I see possible. I am aware of a need to address the point of diminishing returns. I am still working on that.

Guy - From my training walks, with my mates they progressively warmed to what I was doing. One of the guys I turned on to VFFs last year and he actually did the first two sections of this walk in them. He is currenlty stating a blog about his V-footing - I will link to him in due course.

With the team, I think that most of them found me odd - at least initially; how I eat (paleo and fasting) and train (handstanding and planching etc...) made me stand out as a bit of mad. I think that they have now had enough time to get used to my methods and in that repect, they have seen enough of my results to know that I would SUCCESSFULLY do this walk in VFFs and fasted! Familiarity breeds contempt and all that.

However, if at any point on this walk you'd have asked them to foresake their food on this walk or their footwear, then maybe they'd have a greater appreciation for what was done. Like I said, they have seem me fasting in VFFs on walks for the last few months - so I guess it has lost its 'wow-factor' a bit.

Mehtuselah - Cheers bud. I spared Lightning a thought while I was up on Foel Fras last weekend. The Welsh 14 3Ks is waiting for uber-runners like yourselves to blow me out of the water! Of course I will then push the bar further by doing it in a loin cloth! ;)