Archives for October 2016

Tribe Nutrition – Product Review

Tribe Pack

Tribe Pack

I recently tried a Tribe Pack and thought it good for a review. It’s a small box that fits through your letterbox that contains a number of nutritional goodies. The contents come in a variety of forms and flavours depending on what your preferences are. Generally they are broken down into the following:

  • Energy
    • Energy bars
    • Trail mix
  • Recovery
    • Protein bars
    • Mineral boosting seed mix

Tribe flavours are extremely varied, but my favourite so far is the cacao and orange energy bar. It’s delicious, so requires significant willpower not to just stuff the whole thing in at once while running.

Anyway, back on topic. The biggest selling point for the Tribe products is the quality of the ingredients. You wont find any simple carbs or trans-fats here. Instead you get raw, whole foods, complex carbs and natural protein. The idea being sustained energy without the massive high and crash found with more conventional sugar based energy products. They also taste pretty good.

As you might expect a Tribe subscription is easy enough to setup. You fill out a simple questionnaire on the website and it tells you how much food you need for the level of exercise that you’ve put in and it proposes a subscription frequency.

The first box is only £1, so it doesn’t cost much to dip your toes in the water.


My nemesis

Eden Project Marathon 2016

Welcome to my report on the Eden Project Marathon 2016.

Eden Project

Last Sunday (16th October 2016) I ran the Eden Project Marathon. It was my second time at it, and this time I was going “covert.” The first time I ran it dressed as Batman alongside a friend dressed as Robin, and I fooled myself into thinking I was running it easily. It still clobbered me as it is a tricky course with a variety of climbs and a good mix of trail and tarmac. This time I was dressed as a runner, but not as a marathon runner, no, this time I was dressed as an ultra runner and playing around with a new hydration/nutrition strategy. I had my smallest pack on, and was carrying a litre of water and all the food I would need for the race.

Not only was I trying a new hydration strategy, but my new coach had set me a very specific pacing strategy too. It would be a test, and my ability to adhere to the pacing strategy would give him a good view of my conditioning. Ah what fun 😉

I was really looking forward to it, and while I would not normally condone trying new things on race day, this was different for me. The Eden Project Marathon was a race that I was looking forward to and wanted to enjoy, but it was just a “training” race for me so I had some leeway for trying new things.

The race itself usually fields 200 to 300 people with the usual wide spread of finishing times, and it is a pretty friendly affair. Friends and family of competitors are allowed in to the Eden Project for free on race day which gives it a good atmosphere. When you finally cross the finish line not only do you get a tech-T and a small medal, but you also get a pasty and a tin of Tribute (Cornish beer.) What more could you want? 🙂

Eden Project Start 1

Chilling at the start

The marathon course is a figure eight with the start/finish being at the bottom. There is also a half marathon which uses just the bottom loop of the figure-8 and starts half an hour after the marathon. The half marathon course has a small amount of trail on it, but the majority of the mud and the technicality is in the top loop, which only the marathon runners get to see.

<img class="size-medium wp-image-3738" src="https://i2.wp diovan″ alt=”Eden start 2″ srcset=” 225w, 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 225px) 100vw, 225px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />


My pacing strategy for the day was heart rate bsed, after my recent lactate threshold testing, and I would be starting slow and finishing fast. It can be summed up as zone 2 -> zone 3 -> Whatever is left.

As we started I had one eye glued to my heart rate monitor and the other on the road. To stay in zone 2 I was dismayed to see that I was so slow everyone was pulling away from me. I started near the front and for more than the next hour I had to bottle my ego as lots of people ran off. The route was mostly tarmac with a small amount of muddy trail and as I ran into the top loop I was pleased to see that it was time to shift up a gear.

The top loop is significantly more technical than the bottom loop and when I looked at the data afterwards I can see that even though my heart rate was higher my pace was a little bit slower for the next couple of hours. It was a fun section of the route though and I only had one slip. It was a painful one though. Both my feet slipped as I was climbing over a stile and both shins slammed forward into the wooden bar running across the middle. I continued with blood slowly oozing down my legs. Ah well, it happens.

I was dismayed at about 18 miles when I realized that things were beginning to come apart a little. My hips were sore and a short sharp zig zag decent taken a tad too enthusiastically had blown my quads a little. I pushed on, continuously slowing myself to keep my heart in the target zone. It began to occur to me that “whatever is left” for the final stretch may not be that impressive. My spirits had lifted a little though as I had overtaken a few people as they tired. Now I just needed to stay in front of them.

Along the way I saw a few familiar faces and chatted with them as we overtook each other. I chatted to a few new folks too, and as usual everyone was pretty friendly. It seems to come with the miles 🙂

Finally, with the worst behind me and 10km to go it was time to take the brakes off, let the ego out, and give it some welly. Whatever that may look like. It turns out that my brain and body had a little surprise for me. My heart rate climbed another 10 beats, my pace lifted and my form sharpened up. Sure things were aching, but I’d already been running for over 3 hours, so they would. I grinned, fixed my gaze on the back of the person in the distance and the chase was on.

I caught the first person, and cruised past, focusing on the next. One by one I reeled folk in over the next 52 minutes. My heart rate climbed and I put an effort in every time I overtook someone. I focused on looking unflustered, calm and comfortable to discourage any thoughts they may have of picking up the pace and taking it to the line. It worked. With less than a mile to go as I wended my way past the Eden Project car parks I turned a corner and saw a small sharp hill going up. I shouted at my legs “come on!” Startling some walkers (sorry!) and dug deep. When I looked at my heart rate results afterwards I saw that at that moment I set a new max heart rate for this year, even higher than my recent VO2max test.

The last half mile is significantly downhill and it was an effort to maintain form. I did something that I would only ever do at the end of a race and lengthened my stride, bounding down the hill. It blows your quads, but for a one shot descent it feels pretty good. I flew over the line in 72nd place at 4 hours and 5 minutes. A PB on this course by 25 minutes. I took about 3 people on that final descent alone.


Just after the finish, stood next to Mark

What a way to finish the race. I had tried not only a new pacing strategy, but also new nutrition and hydration strategies too at the urging of my new coach. They all worked and came together for a great day out. My friend Mark had still managed to beat me by two minutes, for his 7th Eden Project Marathon finish (that’s all of them!), while moaning the whole time about his lack of training…..

Anyway this is just the start with my new coach. His job is to build me up and into shape for the Dragon’s Back Race next May. If I’m setting personal best times before the proper training has even begun then what will I be able to achieve in 7 months time!!!

See you at the Eden Project Marathon next year?

A trip to the Sports Science Lab – Marjons

Marjons Logo


A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of popping into the Marjon Sports Science Lab to do some tests. I had just taken on a new coach (Charles Miron of Solo Sport Systems) and he likes his athletes to get their Lactate Threshold checked out. He then uses this to precisely set training zones. I’m a total numbers geek, so jumped at the chance to gather some more stats. I booked myself in straight away with Ben Anniss at Marjons, on the recommendation of a friend (Fin Saunders – Team GB Sprint Triathlete, and all around nutter that just raised over £3000 for charity by doing a 24 hour non-stop indoor triathlon.)

I shall tell you a bit about lactate threshold (LT) and VO2Max testing first, but if you want to find out more about my experience then scroll down a bit.

Incidentally if you live in the Plymouth (UK) area and want to go through something similar then Ben is most approachable and you can find his contact details on the Marjons website here.

Why do I need to get my lactate threshold tested?

If you want to simply know why, as an amateur athlete you should do this then it is pretty simple. I’ll use myself as an example: My optimal heart rate for aerobic training is in a window just 7 beats per minute wide. Too hard and I am needlessly exhausting myself. Too slow and I will get sub optimal results, especially considering I will be going slower and spending even more time running! The testing is not expensive, doesn’t take long and will mean that you are getting the most out of your daily run. Personally I can’t believe I didn’t get this done sooner!

Lactate Threshold Testing

Lactate threshold graph

Lactate threshold testing is the science of testing blood lactate levels while an athlete exerts themselves at gradually increasing efforts. The level of lactate in the blood increases with exercise. Lactate is a waste product created by your muscles and the more you exercise the more of it there is in your blood. The thresholds measured in this testing (LT1 and LT2) show firstly where there is a sustained increase in lactate above resting levels (LT1) and secondly where there is a rapid rise when your body can no longer deal with the lactate as fast as you are creating it (LT2). LT1 and LT2 are then indicators of marathon and 10km pace respectively.

The key for me was identifying the heart rate at which these thresholds occur so that they could be used for training purposes. My coach has since laid out some specific training zones for me to work in to optimise my fitness gains specifically considering the discipline that I race in (ultramarathons.)

Over time these thresholds will change with fitness, which means my training zones will shift too. Ben was keen to stress that if I feel that this has happened I should return to the lab to figure out the new LT1 and LT2. My intention at the very least would be to return once or twice over the next 8 months to get a feel for how my training is progressing anyway.

In short knowing your LT1 and LT2:

  • Help you to identify your optimal training stimuli
  • Gives you an indication of endurance performance
  • Indicates training adaptation (if tested regularly)

All pretty good things if, like me, you have limited training time, enjoy racing and want to get the most out of your body.

VO2 Max testing

VO2 Max Normative Data

VO2 max used to be a number that a lot of athletes worked off. It shows your maximal level of oxygen consumption and is heavily influenced by genetics. Essentially the higher the number the more Oxygen your body can process and the faster you can go. In recent times lactate thresholds have become more important than VO2 Max for endurance athletes as the further you run/cycle/swim the less likely you are to be limited by your capability for maximal oxygen consumption.

The testing

Not for the clausterophobic

Not for the clausterophobic


I had a chat with my coach beforehand and he said that as an ultramarathon runner my test would need to be subtly different to that of someone that prefers shorter distances. This is due to the way ultramarathon trained bodies react to the test. Essentially I just had to warm up for a bit longer, but nothing excessive. 12-15 minutes would be enough. The test itself took the following format and was all done on a 1% incline to simulate the effort required to overtake wind resistance:

  • Warmup (12-15 mins)
  • 3 mins at X kph (my starting speed was 9 kph, yours may be different)
  • 1 min rest while Ben took blood from a fingertip to put into the lactate analyser
  • 3 mins at X+1 kph
  • 1 min rest for blood
  • Repeat, adding 1 kph each time until blood lactate values achieve a certain value
  • Cooldown

All in the test took about 40 minutes, and it is sub-maximal, which means you are pushing towards the end but not going flat out. The mask contains a small turbine so that Ben could measure how much air I was sucking and blowing as I ran. The mask is quite oppressive, but did not at all hinder my breathing. It did strike me though how much emotion it hides as I ran harder and harder while staring at my reflection in the mirror opposite the treadmill.

The process of blood taking was pretty much painless as Ben just took it from a fingertip. After the first couple of pricks, and as my blood pressure went up with the effort, it pretty much just kept on dripping.

After my lactate threshold test Ben said that if I wanted to do a VO2Max test as well then it would be best to do it on a different day. The VO2max test is a maximal test and it basically gets harder and harder until you can do no more. It holds less relevance to an ultra runner, but does give a general measure of overall genetic capability by showing how much oxygen your body can process while exercising. It is a limiting factor of performance at shorter distances. I, of course, went back a week later to give it a bash.

Before the VO2Max test I did a short steady run to warmup and arrived at the lab sweating. I grabbed a mouthful of water and was straight on the treadmill. Ben put the mask back on me and after a couple of minutes to loosen back up the test started. Ben put a crash mat behind the treadmill which was mildly disconcerting, but thoughts of it went out of my head as I started running. My pace for the test was 13kph which is about 7.5 minute miles. The treadmill started flat and the difficulty was added via incline with it increasing 2.5% every couple of minutes. I lasted a whopping 8 minutes, topping out at 183bpm with a VO2 max of 55 which is not too bad considering I’m 40 this month. VO2 max decreases with age as you can see byt he table above.

What did all this mean?

The ultimate result when the stats were returned to my coach was some very specific training zones for me to work in. I was slightly disappointed with some of my numbers until I put them into context. Based on the test results my current marathon pace would be 8.77 minute miles and my 10km pace would be 7.26 minute miles. That equates to 3 hours 49 minutes and 45 minutes respectively which is 20 minutes off my marathon PB and 2.5 minutes off my 10k PB.

Thinking about that for a second I’m actually really happy with it. I am coming out of a large rest period and I’m at the start of an 8 month training block which will take me into The Dragon’s Back race next May. I have a lot of time to make improvements, and with a new coach, access to the Marjons Sports Science Lab, and a mass of my own enthusiasm , I have a strong belief that come next year I’m going to have a good result or two. And by that I don’t mean wins, although I wouldn’t turn one down. 😉 My aim is to simply do what I can and do it to the best of my ability, with maximum enjoyment along the way 🙂

Have you emailed Ben at Marjons yet to get your numbers dialled in? It’s not just for the pro. Any of us can benefit from knowing precisely what zones we should be training in. As an example my window for optimal aerobic capacity is just 7 beats per minute wide (146bpm to 153bpm)–services/sports-science-lab/


Ben at work