After a very successful week one of training, it was soon Monday again and time to begin the final five sessions of acclimation. This week was always going to be about striking a balance between beginning a taper towards the race, whilst still pushing me hard enough to ensure the acclimation work was of maximum benefit.
I had completed my homework over the weekend with a little help from the British weather, which consisted of two layered long steady runs (20 miles and 17 miles), followed by jumping straight into a hot bath for a 30 min soak.
I was keen to hit the first session of the week hard, or so I thought. Arriving at the University I felt sluggish and just a little off colour, but I expected to shrug it off and be fine once I started running, however the chamber and the heat were to call my bluff.
If there is one thing I learnt on Monday it is that you need to be ready to fire on all cylinders in hot conditions as even just feeling slightly ‘off’ can have a significant impact. We conducted the usual 10 min warm up at 10kph and I was feeling hot, then as Charlotte ramped up the speed for me to 11.5kph the legs just didn’t want to respond and I felt like I was cooking. The temp was at 34.5 degrees and the humidity at 82% which may have exacerbated things, but the truth is I just wasn’t feeling it. We took the sensible decision to slow the treadmill down to 10kph and gradually I began to feel a bit more like myself.
It just seemed to be one of those days where nothing clicked, my urine sample indicated I was dehydrated before we began, which meant for safety we had to do a second one after I had drank lots more fluid, which yes you guessed it, resulted in the bucket being used at 45 mins into the session!! Despite the setbacks though I actually ran further in this session than in any of the previous five, covering in excess of ten miles, and as Jeff said at this stage that could prove hugely beneficial.
Thankfully normal service resumed on Tuesday although the session wasn’t entirely plain sailing. Sadly Jeff had been taken ill with Man Flu and had kindly decided not to share these germs with me. Hence he left my session in the capable hands of Louise and Charlotte. Things were going great, I felt strong and even with the temperature reaching 32 degrees and 80% humidity I was happily trundling along at 11.5kph. After 70 minutes though the treadmill had obviously run out of legs, as without warning it just slowed to a stop and every time we attempted to restart it we were greeted with a ‘treadmill stopping’ message! I think it may have been the machines way of waving the white flag in protest that I hadn’t given it a rest, either that or they aren’t designed to function underwater and was hence protesting at the amount of sweat it was covered in!!
Thankfully the team performed brilliantly and in a matter of minutes with help from the wonderful technicians a new treadmill had been subbed in and we were able to start again. Standing in the heat chamber waiting for the switch showed how effective my training had been as I actually started getting chilly despite it being 31 degrees and was glad to start running again. It was a great confidence building session and I hoped for more of the same over the next few days.
Jeff returned to the fold on Wednesday having shaken off his man flu and I was to have my best session yet in the chamber. Everything went well and I spent an uninterrupted 90 minutes on the treadmill, other than Emily popping in every 5 minutes to monitor my progress. I felt strong throughout the session as we followed the usual protocol of 10 minute warm up at 10kph, then increasing the speed to 11.5kph which I remained at for the duration of the session before cooling down. Jeff intentionally tried to keep the humidity down which towards the end resulted in the temperature spiking, however this resulted in me feeling cooler which is a great sign for Greece. For a majority of the session we operated around 31 degrees and 70% humidity, however at the end the temp increased to 33.5 but the humidity reduced to 50%.
I truly felt like I could have run all day in those conditions and it is a testament to the work that Jeff and his team have put in with me that my acclimation appears to be peaking at just the right time.
I will be honest and say I had my doubts that I would have any sessions as positive as this one during the first week as I found it hugely tough, but everything slowly seems to be coming together ready for the event. This goes to show that when you put your faith in the experts, you just have to trust the process.
That faith was further enhanced during Day 9 when Jeff purposefully reduced the humidity and raised the temperature in the room. Despite the temperature peaking at 36.3 degrees at 42% humidity, I felt like I was cooling down running at 11.5kph, so after 30 minutes Jeff gave the all clear to increase my speed to 12.5kph, and then up to 13kph after 55 minutes in an effort to increase my core temperature. I was flying along, feeling great and was not bothered by the heat in the slightest. In fact it felt like running in temperatures more akin to 18/19 degrees than 36.
My perception of thermal sensation/comfort and effort had all dramatically altered and were now significantly lower than they had been even on day 6 and I finished the session with a feeling of excitement regarding what we as a team have achieved.
I couldn’t believe the two weeks had flown by as quickly when I arrived for my final session, Claudia from the media team returned to conduct an interview with me before I started my session and then take some final promotional photos. Then it was down to business for the last time. Once again the temperature was high (reaching 37 degrees) and the humidity was low (40%) and much like Thursday I was able to run at 13kph. We had a couple of issues with the rectal thermometer again, but otherwise the session was plain sailing and concluded an excellent period of heat acclimation.
The facilities at the Human Performance Centre at the University of Bedfordshire are second to none and have been the perfect place to train for my event. I would urge anyone who is looking to compete in extreme conditions to get in touch with the department and take advantage of the expertise that they can offer.
I can’t thank Jeff, Emily and Charlotte enough for the support that they have given me over the last two weeks. They have been integral in preparing me in the best possible way to represent the British Spartathlon Team in Greece next week, and I feel confident that they couldn’t have done a better job. They have made training at the university an absolute pleasure and I wish them all the best for their future endeavours.
All that is left is for me to do them proud….. Spartathlon 2019 here I come!