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Slate Quarry Challenge

Slate Quarry Challenge 2

Obviously a very strange time for everyone. I am finally, finally starting to feel human after 8 weeks of 100 mile weeks and 40-50 hours working. I run a great session Tuesday night, the first good session of the build up (I’m not making this up in hindsight, I swear), so things are looking great for Bath Half on the weekend. Corona Virus develops quickly, and I decide not to go to Bath. And then London Marathon is postponed. With all the deaths and financial worries, it seems ridiculous to lament the London Marathon is postponed. But I can’t help it. When you train that hard for something, you play tricks on yourself, you have to internalise how hard you are working (it doesn’t help to moan), you promise yourself things when the race is over, you dream about how well you will run, and how good it will feel. Then it’s all gone. I miss it.

I know, the quicker I can get over it, let it go, and move on, the better for me and my family.

Slate Quarry Challenge 3

I go to the track and run 10 x 100m, cos I feel like it. The first time I have run this session in over 5 years. I used to be able to run all the reps in 12 seconds, off a rolling start. So here we go;

Rep 1 = 17.6 seconds. Terrible. Hips tight, no power. This is a stupid idea!

Rep 2 = 16.5. Still utterly embarrassing!

Rep 3 = 16.0

Rep 4 = 15.7. Ok well not quite so terrible

Rep 5 = 14.7. Hey! Felt easy

Rep 6 = 14.8

Rep 7 = 14.5. At this point I think, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could run 13 seconds, as a 38yr old marathon runner. I try and visualise myself doing it, stamp the hell out of the ground, get foot back down bang bang bang

Rep 8 = 13.6. I can’t remember last time I had this much fun down at the track. I wonder if I could do it off a standing start?

Rep 9 = 13.6 (standing start). London Marawho? I don’t bother with rep 10, I’m too busy doing my victory lap!

We decide as a family to self-isolate. We have friends in Italy going through hell, we have read enough from World Health Organisation to decide it is a good idea. We take the kids off school, I cancel all my coaching appointments, and we don’t take any guests. Our AirBnB is supposed to be opening on the weekend, but all our guests have cancelled, rightly. It is hard to stay motivated, and new measures being announced by the government every day.

I need something to focus on. I decide on the Quarry Incline Challenge. A bloody big incline around 240m long and 31% gradient. You can see it from everywhere in town, once a track to pull slate up and down the quarries.

Slate Quarry Challenge 4

Day 1 of 7

Run up this bloody big incline as hard as possible, every day for a week! I’ve been wanting to try this for a while, but always looking to bag miles for marathon training, and this gradient offers very little return. Lung busting and thigh killing, no real point to it, just to enjoy pushing myself see what happens over the week. Will I get faster or slower???

Monday: 4.35

Calm morning, no wind, slate bit wet. Felt hard immediately, ran the whole way, but effort seemed to go on forever.

Day 2 of 7

Wet and windy morning. Body aching everywhere after tough day at work. I’m not an idiot. I know that if I want to improve on this hill over the course of a week, I can’t hammer it flat out every day. Today I try to work on form. Stand straight, pop up with whole body rather than grind up on burning thighs. Keep elbows tucked in.

Tuesday: 4.25

I run 10 seconds quicker than yest, feeling way easier. Was it the familiarity, knowing the lines and the distance, or was it calming down and focusing on technique?

Day 3 of 7

Light rain but no wind. Really looking forward to getting out of the house and clearing my head. Had to take my wife’s phone for selfies, mine ran out of batts. On the run, it kept beeping with notifications, driving me nuts. Trying to combine the effort levels of Monday with the focus on form of Tuesday. Feel like I’m getting a feel for my materials. The crushed slate can take so much weight before it gives way and causes a slip or fall. There is one big slate slab near the end of incline, which is black death if you step on it, I saved enough energy this morning to leap clean over it.

Wednesday: 3.58

Really happy with that, came home so much more ready to take on the day and all the new challenges we’re facing.

Day 4 of 7

Beautiful spring morning, mild, no wind, birds singing. But, unlike yesterday, I really wasn’t up for it this time. One too many ciders last night (i.e. one cider), woke up tired, groggy, and a bit scared of the incline. It’s definitely getting harder to run faster every day. I give myself an easy day, just go back to concentrating on form, I tell myself. Then, halfway up the hill, I realise I have energy left, the slate is dry and I’m finding gripping easier. I throw myself into anaerobic mode, but all I seem to do is slip around. Thighs burning instantly, fall, fall again, no momentum or rhythm, claw, pump arms, trip and fall right at the finish line. Roll over and frantically reach for my watch, lactic flooding my arms.

Thursday: 3.51

Left a mark on me that one. Takes a while to recover. Falling all the way back down the hill, legs jelly, head swimming. Getting very close to my best here. That last 50m was a mess!

Day 5 of 7

Gorgeous morning, crisp and bright. Wake up bit scared again, scared of the pain. But also, have been visualising where I can go faster, make small improvements, and I’m keen to try out my theories. I start with much faster tempo, take better advantage of the dry slate, in the last 50m I let myself go into anaerobic, but without losing form, keep high cadence, keep arms close to body, neat and snappy

Friday: 3.42

Feel about as exhausted as yest, but have saved time by not falling or slipping at all. The black slate of death is not so bad when it’s bone dry, so I can step on it and save energy. Target now for the week is to run one minute quicker than first attempt, so 3.35! Can I do it?

Day 6 of 7

Sunny but cold. Taking it easy today for a big assault tomorrow. The family are going to climb up and cheer me on for my final go. I will attempt to run 3.35, 1min quicker than a week ago. Today I went up steady and took this time lapse video. Also considered the best line up for tomorrow. Was very happy with the time anyway, have definitely improved over the week.

Saturday: 4.43

Notice my hands, with all this washing they have never been in such bad shape! Cuts and grazes all over them, sting like hell when washed now and any lifting is very irksome. Can’t even tie my shoelaces properly (nothing new there).

Day 7 of 7

Absolutely perfect morning. Lie in a little bit, have pancakes and coffee. Poor Nina has to tie my shoelaces (on Mother’s Day), my hands have got so bad. The family set off to the incline while I watch Walter Payton on YouTube for motivation (my favourite American Football player, who liked hill training).Jog over to incline, it’s cold but I’m feeling good. Do a few drills at the bottom while I watch my fam climbing the incline. Set off, feel good immediately. Have adrenaline soaring through my blood, I’m light and poppy. Halfway up I know it’s going really well. Haven’t slipped once. It’s burning now, but I can hear my family cheering. One step at a time, don’t slip don’t slip. 60m to go, change gear, start pumping arms all the way to the end.

Sunday: 3.06

I knew it was fast, had no idea it was that fast. Have to remember that on Monday I honestly felt I was flat out, incredible how familiarity and adaptation can occur in a single week. If someone had raced me on that first day and bested me by 90seconds, there is NO WAY I would’ve believed I could’ve got there in a week! So nice to be out with the family, eating biscuits looking down on our little town, surrounded by mountains. This silly little challenge has really helped me in our 1st week of social distancing. A little bit of routine, and a great way to start every day. Controlling the controllables.

Slate Quarry Challenge 18

I have set up a Strava Segment, Bryn Hardd Hill, so you can all come and beat my time!..Have a brilliant Sunday everyone, thanks for following!

https://www.strava.com/activities/3206288955/segments/79828987297

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Russell Bentley
Russell Bentley
Track runner. Trained in Kenya, Won the Snowdonia Marathon 2018, PB Berlin Marathon 2:20:20

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