A very different off season…

By this time last year I’d been running hard for 4 months, had the race of my life at Country to Capital, raced OK at XNRG’s Pilgrim Challenge and been out for the Tri Training Harder Team launch in Portugal.

This year has been very different.


In January we went to Norway for the final phase of selection for the SPEAR17 expedition, so I had to train very differently. I finished Autumn 100 in October reasonably fit (and very tired) but I needed a lot more strength if I was going to survive selection for the expedition team.

After a bit of a tough year I needed a fair amount of time to recover, mentally more than anything, and get to grips with medicine to do this degree some justice. I started working on movement patterns to lay the foundations to become ‘anti-fragile’, then got back in the gym to build some strength. I slowly brought a little running back in to tick over, not that I needed to be a fast runner for Norway, but I needed a solid CV fitness and wanted to regain some ground ready for the year’s racing.

For New Year we stayed in the Lake District in a youth hostel with a group of the better half’s family friends which was great fun: as an outdoorsy bunch we hit the fells for a good few hours of toddling around every day, and served as a reminder of how much I loved off-road running, fells and endurance.

Lake District New Year 15

My body (I?) seemed to quite enjoy strength training and being more relaxed about eating; I put on muscle quite easily, and didn’t seem to put on much more fat. It was great not trying to loose weight over christmas and made the whole affair much more relaxed. January last year I was at my lightest and fastest ever, but the cumulative stress of trying to shed weight + all sorts else was just too much and pushed me over the edge. Since then I’ve pretty much maintained the same body composition, until trying to put on muscle recently.

I also started getting very interested in carbohydrate vs fat metabolism, and the potential benefits of becoming “fat adapted” for low intensity endurance exercise. I won’t be geeky here. For the geeky version, have a listen to the second InDurance podcast (alternative fuel for sport health & performance) :


In short, I switched my diet to ‘High Fat Low Carbohydrate’ (HFLC) which is a pretty trendy thing at the moment. Anecdotally I found I could maintain energy levels for longer, but couldn’t do high intensity stuff. Thats pretty much the consensus in the sporty scientific world about HFLC; it could just be a trend at the moment but there is a lot of interesting questions to be asked here.

Polar selection

I had a toxic mix of excitement and nerves leading up to this. I had a fairly important medical exam the day before we left, but this was completely overshadowed by my apprehension about two weeks of Arctic training in Norway. I’d never operated in that kind of environment before, let alone performed.

The purpose of the exercise was twofold:

1: learn polar routine

2: final team selection

A lot was riding on this. I’d been working towards getting on this team for a long time, and it will be a life changing experience. We had 9 people going to Norway, but the expedition plans at the moment are to take 6; the boss had to choose who the 6 would be, and who would be the reserves ready to step in if something goes wrong.

It was a pretty punishing two weeks. Daily routine pretty much went like this:

  • wake up in a freezing cold tent full of hoar frost; move around as carefully as possible to stop the ice falling down from the roof soaking and freezing everything
  • get the cooker going – start melting snow for water. You had to become a cooker ninja and masterchef
  • use the hot water for our dehydrated meals and fill up 2 x litre flasks for the day
    • don’t let the water boil as the steam condenses on the tent roof and freezes everything…
  • roll around putting kit on one person at a time trying not to be too much of a tent rhino
    • 3 men per tent becomes pretty tight in these conditions…
  • pack all kit away, including sleeping bags which have now frozen solid
  • tent down, pack all kit into pulks; scrape ice off skiis and pulks
  • ski for 7-10hrs (thats the tiring part…)
  • stop every hour for a quick handful of food from your grazing bag, and a swig of water from thermos
  • finish the day, tent up, reverse of the morning routine with added foot and general maintenance
  • get into sleeping bag, now frozen solid, and try to thaw it out
  • be freezing cold all night. Wake up all the time shivering violently
    • this is a contentious point…some of the guys managed to generate thousands of joules of heat, and were pretty warm at night with dry sleeping bags. I seemed to get mine soaked from hoar frost (hopefully not urine) at the beginning of the exercise, and never dried it out. This provided great morale for everyone else
  • repeat

Blue morning

This routine was quite taxing and soon our appetites had sky rocketed. We wanted to eat everything in sight. I was pretty happy I’d filled my grazing bag with fatty foods (nuts, dark chocolate, biltong) but craved variety. I had measured everything out before I went and split it into separate identical bags, each with 3267 kCals, which I got closer and closer to finishing as each day passed. Some other guys had taken salami and cheese, which usually wouldn’t turn my eye, but I found myself craving it. I didn’t crave sugar at all, maybe partly to do with having such a low carbohydrate intake leading up to the exercise, or the fact that our bodies were tuning into the low intensity for long periods fuel of choice?

Anyway, I managed to get onto the team, am now back on solid ground and pretty much recovered from my zombified state. I had another rather important exam when I got back, so have been non-stop on the go all January. So some well deserved sleep is in order, and I’ve started running again which feels great.

With a big order put in with High5 today, and an appointment booked at The Bosworth Clinic for some prehab / maintenance, its time to switch focus to running again. The main focus over the next few months really needs to be medicine, it’d be silly to ruin it all with only a few months to go, but I’ll be keeping my sanity with some training ticking over.

Its good to be back.

One Comment on “A very different off season…

  1. Pingback: Season round-up – Ollie Stoten

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: