How to become a Mountain Lion in 10 ‘easy’ steps

I was recently asked to write an inspiring and encouraging newsletter article for my beloved Stainland Lions Running Club. It seemed a bit of a shame to only share it with my teammates so I’ve decided to publish it here on my site.

Now before you read this I should state that I am not a qualified coach, a nutritionalist or indeed a running expert. I’m just a guy who likes to run. All views are entirely my own and I can only draw upon my own knowledge and experience as a practising athlete.

So here goes…

Mountain Lion

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a very successful running career so far and everything I’ve achieved is the result of hard work and dedication. It’s important for everyone reading this to understand that I am not even the most talented athlete in my club. I just work harder than anyone else I know and hard work always beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. If you don’t believe me then check out my Strava stats and you’ll see the true cost of what it takes to run at the highest level.

www.strava.com/athletes/901539

Now I know what most of you are all thinking…how can I ever run at elite level? Well the truth is that most of you won’t – despite the fact that you are probably more than capable enough. This article is not about trying to turn everyone into an international mountain runner. It’s about making you realise your potential, set yourself a personal target/s and try to help you to improve your performance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a front runner or someone at the back of the pack – everyone is capable of achieving their goal/s. In addition to this I want to promote the sport of fell/mountain running for anyone unfamiliar to off-road running.

You’ll also have to forgive the title of this article as unfortunately nothing worth achieving in life is ‘easy’, especially within sport. That said there are some things you can do to improve that are easier than others.

So here are my top tips…

Marginal gains

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer to anyone. Understand that if you make a number of small changes in your life then collectively they will have a huge impact on your performance. The other 9 tips I’m about to share with you are all examples of how to make these marginal gains.

Hills.png

Hills. The very word is enough to frighten most runners. Don’t be afraid – hills can be your friend. The more you do the easier they get. Hills are a staple diet for any wannabe fell or mountain runner but even those who prefer the road or track can enjoy their benefits. If you incorporate a weekly hill session into your training then you will see a huge difference in your performance. I’ve never been a natural climber but I’ve turned climbing into my secret weapon by regularly doing hill sessions and slowly increasing the difficulty and speed at which I do them. It’s also good to vary the incline and terrain so that your body learns how to adapt to the changes in ascent. Remember that no hill is ever the same.

Start by choosing a hill to practise on. If you are a real beginner then you don’t have to run the full length of the climb. Set yourself a target and try to improve the distance each time you do it. You could also try a pyramid session using lamp posts as markers. I used to regularly run up and down Coldswell Hill in Stainland, starting at the bottom and running up to the first lamp post and back, then to the second and back and so on and so forth…Then when you eventually ‘top off’ and reach the final rep, work your way back down to the first until you’ve completed the pyramid.

For anyone who fancies a more difficult challenge you might also want to consider repping an incline like Trooper Lane. There are a number of segments on Strava to aim for and you can compare your performance over a number of weeks.

If you live in Calderdale then why not run over to Trooper and have a crack at these segments…

The 1 / 3 Peaks / High 5 / Magnificent 7 / Ben 10

Strava

Arguably my best tip. Strava has literally changed my life. Please be aware that it does come with a serious health warning as it can be very addictive. However if you do decide to succumb to the dark side and immerse yourself in ‘segments’, ‘badges’ and ‘Kudos’ you will undoubtably reap the rewards.

Ben Mounsey x inov-129

Equipment

I’m no expert on road shoes but I do know my mountain gear. Having the right shoes for training and competition is the easiest improvement that anyone can make.

In my opinion the best fell/trail/xc shoes for racing are the inov-8 x-talon 190

inov8_x-talon190

They’re the lightest fell racing shoes on the market and they provide both excellent grip and fit. I use precision fit because I have very long and narrow feet – if you don’t then make sure you order standard fit and go for the 200 model.

x-talon 200.jpg

For training I wear the inov-8 x-talon 212

212

They’re a very durable shoe and good over all terrains. Mine are also a precision fit shoe so go for the standard alternative if your feet aren’t like mine.

212 standard.jpg

My other golden recommendation has to be to BUY MERINO for base layers. It’s as simple as that. Merino will keep you super warm in the winter even when it’s wet – there is no better alternative.

If you want to splash the cash my personal favourite is the inov-8 hooded long sleeved race elite merino base layer.

Merino.png

It is quite simply the best top I’ve ever worn for running.

That said Aldi have been selling a really great selection of merino baselayers and I’ve tried those too. They’re not quite the same beautiful fit as inov-8 but at £15 you can’t go wrong!

Core strength

All the best runners have a super strong core. It’s what drives everything during exercise and is essential when you’re climbing the hills. If you improve your core strength then you will improve your technique and ultimately your results. I spend at least 30 minutes everyday on core exercises either in the gym or at home. If you’re pushed for time like me then opt for the latter. I try to do 200 sit ups, 100 press ups, timed planks and various exercises with resistance bands everyday after a run and before I jump in the shower. Start small and build up the amount – trust me after a few weeks you’ll be able to wash your running kit on your stomach 😉

Ben Mounsey x inov-48

fell race

If you never experienced a fell race before then you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Granted, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Have a read of my inov-8 blog about how I ‘fell’ in love with running if you need a little inspiration…

Here are my top 5 recommendations for reasonably LOCAL fell races during March…

(see the Fellrunner site for more details and other races)

  1. Sunday 6/3/2016 Ian Roberts Memorial (6.4 miles/853ft climb) @ 11:00am
  2. Saturday 12/3/2016 Haworth Hobble (31.7miles/4396ft climb) @ 8:00am
  3. Sunday 20/3/2016 Heptonstall (15.4 miles/3169ft climb) @ 10.30am
  4. Saturday 26/3/2016 Rivington Pike (3.2 miles/699ft climb) @ 15:00pm
  5. Tuesday 29/3/2016 Bunny Run 1 (3 miles/328ft climb) @ 19:00pm

Body

It’s a fairly obvious point to make but if you look after yourself and respect your body you’ll be able to run faster, run for longer and become much stronger. Eat well, sleep well and try not to over indulge on the booze (cutting down on alcohol is massively important!). Also if you’re someone who struggles to get a good night’s sleep then go and do one of my Trooper Lane hill sessions and I guarantee you’ll be out for the count until the morning. In fact make sure you set 2 alarms or there’s a danger you might not wake up until the afternoon.

In terms of diet the best piece of advice I can give you is to eat like a king in the morning. My usual breakfast consists of a power smoothie, a pack of smoked salmon and a strong coffee. I use a Nutribullet to make my smoothie and include a banana, strawberries, blueberries, mango, natural yoghurt, porridge, chia seeds, milk and a scoop of protein. It’s the perfect way to start the day! Plus you won’t need to eat until dinnertime unless you’re like me! Snack on nuts, seeds and fruit and try to stay away from the chocolate drawer.

Over the last 12 months I’ve managed to lose a stone and it’s the main reason I’m able to compete at such a high level. Power to weight ratio is crucial in fell/mountain running and if you can lose weight and maintain or increase your power output then you will see a huge improvement in your results.

Also little tip for getting motivated to run after work is to have a double espresso and a small banana about 20 mins before a run. It’ll give you enough energy and drive to get out in whatever the weather!

Inspiration

I find inspiration by looking at what other people are doing in their training and their race results. In addition to this I use Strava as a motivational tool e.g. segments and challenges. I also read plenty of books about inspirational stories, usually about running and cycling.

My personal recommendations are…

  1. Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes
  2. Running Hot by Lisa Tamati
  3. Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith
  4. Born to Run by Chris McDougall
  5. The Secret Race by Daniel Coyle & Tyler Hamilton (this one is just a great read!)

My fell running heroes are Ian Holmes, Rob Hope, Rob Jebb and Karl Gray. I’ve previously blogged about how friendly and approachable the elite athletes of fell running are. I consider myself very lucky to be able to call these four men my friends, especially Karl and Rob Hope. I’ve learnt a tremendous amount from them all over the years and my advice for you is to try and do the same. Next time you’re at a fell race don’t be afraid to chat to the guys who finish at the front. Not only are they exceptionally talented athletes but they are also extremely modest and humble people. Ask away, they’ll be more than happy to share their tips, especially if you buy them a pint in the pub afterwards!

 

Enjoy it

There’s no point in doing anything in life that you don’t enjoy. The same applies to running. I have to confess that despite being a good runner I don’t always feel fast or great when I’m training. In fact 40% of the time it’s a real struggle and I have to try and motivate myself, especially when the weather is poor outside. It’s all about having a positive mindset and I always enjoy running once I leave the house.

Run with friends, meet other like-minded people and always do it with a smile on your face. The more you run, the fitter you’ll get and the better you’ll feel. When you start seeing all your hard work paying off then you’ll enjoy every run you do and you’ll even start to love hill reps (OK I lied about this bit – there’s probably only me who actually enjoys running uphill, but it does get easier!)

DARE TO DREAM

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t ever let yourself believe you can’t do something either. Anything is possible and if you want something badly enough then you can achieve it.

In the space of 18 months I’ve gone from a top club runner to one of the best mountain runners in the country. There were lots of people who didn’t believe I’d make it to international level but I never doubted it for a moment. Last year I made the GB mountain running team by 8 seconds.

8 SECONDS.

The sum of marginal gains.

It was worth every sacrifice I’ve had to make and every hour I’ve put into training. You can all be whoever you want to be and achieve your goals no matter what.

Life is short.

Don’t waste any opportunities or have any regrets.

Dare to dream.

Now stop reading this article, lace up your trainers and I’ll see you on Trooper Lane.

‘Better call Phil!’

HOW IMPORTANT IS A RACE RECCE? 

Fell running is becoming an increasingly popular sport. These days the racing calendar is so heavily saturated you could race a couple of times a week if you wanted to or even twice in the same day like my hardy friend Darren Fishwick of Chorley AC. However, it’s almost impossible to find the time to practise every single race that you intend to do. So just how important is a recce?

This year I’ve had to think very carefully about choosing which races I want focus on, everything else has to fit in and become preparation for these key events. My first major goal is to try and prepare for Black Combe, the opening race of the British Fell Championship. I’ve competed on this course once before in 2008, the last time it was a Championship fixture. Unfortunately for me I don’t have any fond memories of that miserable experience.

Results: Black Combe Fell Race 2008

Many of you reading this will be very unsurprised to hear that I didn’t have time to recce the course beforehand, so I turned up blind on race day and relied on the rest of the field to show me the way. The only ‘small’ problem that I had with this plan was the bad weather. Black Combe is located on the edge of the west coast so there is very little protection from the wind and rain. In addition to this the heavy fog clouded our vision and as soon as we climbed up to the first summit it was impossible to see much for the rest of the race. My plan of following the leaders soon came to a swift and very abrupt end when I lost sight of the person in front of me. I wandered aimlessly trying to find my way to the final checkpoint and trudged into the home straight several minutes down on my expected time. I finished way down in 47th position with many of the other big names in fell running, most notably Morgan Donnelly and Ben Abdelnoor. It was certainly one of those days to forget. Still it could’ve been worse- by all accounts Steve Smithies ran most of the fell race on the main road, much to my amusement!

‘BETTER CALL PHIL!

This year I’m desperate not to repeat the same mistake as I did in 2008. I would simply have to make more effort to recce the course.

So what to do in my hour of need?

Only one thing for it I thought…better call Phil!

Better Call Phil

Within the fell running community Phil Winskill barely requires an introduction. He’s the life and soul of every post-race party, the undisputed king of social media and head of online banter. His daily running diary on Strava is what inspired me to start writing my blog so it seems only fair to honour him in this post. We’ve been good friends for many years and it’s a highlight of every fell race or away weekend when we get to meet up. Whenever I require some navigation help, a laugh or a beer then Phil’s the man to ring. So naturally when I needed to spend some time getting familiar with the Black Combe race route he was the obvious choice to show me the way. It was nothing to do with the fact that I’d exhausted all the other fell running contacts in my phonebook or because everyone else I know was actually working midweek. Luckily for me we’re both teachers and we’d agreed to find a few hours on a Friday (Feb half term) in between marking and planning outstanding lessons for the following week 😉

Pictured above: Classic Winskill taking fell racing seriously in Grizedale Forest (left) and looking good in the Latrigg Fell Race (right) www.granddayoutphotography.co.uk

I woke up that Friday morning with a smile. The weather had been stunning the previous day and I was praying for similar conditions. Plus heading up to the Lakes instead of going to work always fills me with excitement. I’d agreed to meet Phil close to the race start at Silecroft and he’d also managed to persuade a couple more runners to join us – Borrowdale’s Martin Mikkelsen-Barron and Keswick’s latest signing James Appleton. I’ve been friends with Martin for years and we’ve battled against each other many times on the fells. He’s a great bloke and without doubt one of the best climbers in the country (It probably helps weighing less than 10 stone!). I’d never met James before and at first I did wonder what he was letting himself in for when he set off through the mud in a pair of Hoka road shoes. However any doubts about his experience and ability were quickly put to rest once I watched him skip effortlessly up the first climb. It also turns out he’s quite a famous photographer and unbelievably one of my students had recently written about him as part of their coursework – weird!

‘ANYONE WHO GOES OFF TOO HARD AT THE START OF THE RACE WILL INEVITABLY PAY A HEAVY PRICE FOR THEIR EARLIER EFFORT’

It was on this initial ascent that we paused to discuss route choice. Was it quicker to climb steeply to the top of Sea Ness or traverse around on a longer but more runnable path to the summit? Martin and I decided to test our climbing legs and head straight up as Phil and James opted for the latter. We jogged slowly, chatting on the way and emerged as the first pair to the top. Phil assured me that his route was still quicker as he’d stopped for a leak on the way up. It doesn’t matter anyway as I know which way I’ll be going on race day – no doubt following Martin’s footsteps on the steep ascent. One good reason so far for making the long journey up to Cumbria.

From here we climbed steadily to the summit of Black Combe. It’s difficult to appreciate the elevation gain as this section of the race is extremely fast. There is a real temptation to push hard at this point but I have a vague memory of the punishing climb in the last few miles from the Stream Junction to the South Summit. Anyone who goes off too hard at the start of the race will inevitably pay a heavy price for their earlier effort. Mental note to self – don’t be that guy! (fully aware that I’m probably gonna be that guy!).

It wasn’t long before we disappeared into a thick layer of mist and the weather quickly began to deteriorate. The glorious sunshine from the day before was all but a distant memory – I was regretting not checking the weather forecast in advance! The nice enjoyable part of the recce had drawn to a close and I was very grateful for the fact that I was wearing 2 pairs of gloves and 3 layers! – merino, softshell and waterproof. If anything I was probably too warm in my choice of attire but it was comforting to listen to the other lads whimpering about being too cold halfway round the route.

FogPictured above: The ‘stunning view’ from the top of Black Combe. If you look closely you can see the coast of Ireland 😉

At this point we were using Phil’s handheld GPS to guide us to the next checkpoint but he was already very confident about getting to White Combe. It’s a good job really as the rest of us didn’t have a clue in which direction we were suppose to be heading. This section of the race is almost featureless and there are many paths and trods that can lead you astray. It’s very easy to go wrong and it brought back painful and frustrating memories of 2008.

Eventually we dropped to the stream junction, probably not the easiest or quickest way, but we got there in the end. Just the evil climb up to the south summit to contend with. I dropped a cheeky gel on the approach to try and give me some extra energy to beast Phil on the climb. He caught me red handed but it was too late by then, he knew the score. We hit the ascent and quickly settled into a steady rhythm/slow shuffle. It’s important to pace your effort on this climb as it’s notoriously long and steep. This is where the race will undoubtably be won OR lost. I’ve been really concentrating on improving my climbing ability this year and I was keen to test my legs. My Trooper Lane hill sessions have obviously been doing the job as I managed to run every section of the ascent. I’m not convinced that this will be the case on race day but I felt really strong so it’s given me a big confidence boost. Annoyingly it appears Martin is also climbing well (not that this was ever in doubt) and we chatted most of the way up. James was equally as impressive – it must be all the training he does carrying expensive photography equipment to the top of mountains!

When we eventually reached the summit we didn’t hang about, the weather was atrocious. I was almost tempted to lend Phil my spare pair of gloves but I was enjoying the feeling of warm hands far too much. We descended at pace, all except James who was of course wearing road shoes. He did explain later that he’s nursing an injury and the extra ‘bounce’ in the sole helps to ease the pain.

A SURE SIGN THAT IT WAS DEFINITELY TIME FOR A PINT’

By the time we reach our cars it was raining hard and we were all completely soaked to the bone. I unlocked the car door and quickly jumped onto the back seat to get changed into some warm clothes. 10 minutes later and I found myself in a rather embarrassing predicament. I’d borrowed my mum’s car for the drive up and didn’t realise she had a child lock on both of the back doors. Thankfully Martin was kind enough to let me out (after laughing for a few minutes) so it’s a good job I wasn’t on my own or I might have still been there. A sure sign that it was definitely time for a pint!

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/497194149

SO WHAT DID I LEARN FROM TODAY

  1. In terms of the route it looked exactly like it did in 2008. Had it not been for Phil’s navigation and handheld GPS I’d probably still be running around on top of Black Combe like a headless chicken. I’m no more confident about the navigation except for the steep climb to Sea Ness.
  2. I managed to run all of the climbs so I know I’m in great shape.
  3. Always check the weather forecast before a recce.
  4. If you borrow your mum’s car, always take off the child lock.
  5. Martin weighs less than me.
  6. Martin is still a better climber than me.
  7. James is one amazing photographer www.jamesappleton.co.uk
  8. The Miners Arms in Silecroft doesn’t open till 3pm on a Friday
  9. The inov-8 X-talon 190 are miles better than Hoka road shoes for fell running ;-)(especially downhill!).
  10. A recce is best shared with friends and washed down with a well earned pint.
  11. But most importantly what I really learned is that everyone needs a bit of Winskill in their life.

Phil2