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Penny Comins: my brain hurts
Posted by: Penny Comins
Posted on: Friday 14th November 2014


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Following a busy year which has included Norseman and Ironman Hawaii, in her last blog, Penny Comins revealed that her next challenge was a 216 kilometere ultra with over 14 kilometres (!) of climbing involved at over 3,500 metres of altitude.

With a new challenge comes new skills and knowledge to gain. Here is the second instalment of her preparation for the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race


UTMB qualification process - Manaslu Madness

Raring to go with my new technique from head coach James Kuegler at Cadence Coaching, I tighten the laces on my Inov8, Roclite 285’s and start to head to the trail head. Kuegler has other ideas. Back to the grass.

Warming up has never been in my vocabulary, same with stretching. Both are not factored in to my time schedule and don’t resonate with my way of thinking. But with the Manaslu Mountain Trail Race being my first ever running stage race I am absorbing everything I can in order to help me get through this unscathed. Kuegler’s experience is vast in the endurance world and has raced in Mont Blanc, so he knows what it takes.

We ‘activate’ our muscles by walking on the outside of our feet, inside of our feet and bending in all the ways I usually try to avoid in case I sprain something. Kuegler explains this will help the memory muscle and prevent the sprain I was trying to avoid. We do a deep squat stretch to activate our legs and then are off. Now this routine I can cope with and will implement. It is easy enough to do in a pen at a big city marathon too; impressed I trot on.

Running behind me I have nowhere to hide; knee high, chicken wings in and reducing the contact time with the ground I float on. We hit a hill and as usual the wheels fall off me.

Kindly Kuegler explains weight and power ratio and that I am doing just fine for my ratio. Pleased, I listen intently on how to get up a hill using my ‘gears’. Lots of little steps, keeping my heel off the ground and leading with my knee was key to keeping momentum. When I thought I couldn’t run anymore I was asked to hop on one leg. Easy I thought and showed off my hoping skills immediately. This is known as the ‘acid test’. If you can hop then you can keep running. Put back in my place I continued to hop up the hill. Hands on knees is a no no and walking is only after the gradient is so steep you fail the acid test.

My lungs stop me going up at pace and my brain stops me coming down rapidly. Kuegler took me through techniques to slow down heading down gradients. Similar to skiing I am counter intuitively leaning away from the incline, taking mini steps at the apex of a corner. I slalom my way down and then let rip for the final easier gradient. Having control is re-wiring my brain that I can go down hill fast. This is an enlightening moment for me.

In the trails we tackle different geographic obstacles. Having a Masters in Geography I can easily see the benefits of staying low on a trail, following the camber on the outside of a corner and sticking to the hard packed ground for the most grip.

What I struggle with is lifting my head and trusting my sub conscious is working. Naturally I want to look down where my feet are landing and plod on like that. Being forced to lift my head and look ahead is challenging my conscious mind and I find it mentally draining. I am how ever gliding over the roots and trusting that I have processed the ground below. With a high leading knee I will get through.

The last challenge of the day was looking for the LOLR. Not an acronym for Lots of Laughing Racing but more the Line of Least Resistance. It seems I am more of a kiwi by heart that I thought; I am a sheep that just follows on and doesn’t look for an easier route on the trails. This I need to practise to use my energy efficiently and comes with knowing a course.

Last week my legs were tired. This week my brain hurts too. Luckily coffee is a kiwi staple and relaxing in a café post run I felt I was getting the hang of things. Now all I need is some running fitness in my legs.


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