Race Re-Cap: Spitfire Scramble 2017

Spitfire Scramble

The Spitfire Scramble has become an event that I keep returning to year after year. The first two events I visited as a spectator and for the past two years I’ve taken part as a runner. It’s grown from small-scale race to a much larger event, but still retains that friendly, personal atmosphere that it had in 2014. I train at Hornchurch Country Park regularly as it is only 10 minutes from my house. Runners now come from all over the country for the Spitfire Scramble, so it’s great to have this park right here on my doorstep.

For those not aware, the Spitfire Scramble is a 24 hour multi-terrain race which can be run solo or in teams of up to eight. It begins at midday on Saturday and continues until midday on Sunday with each team completing as many of the 9.1km laps as possible. In between laps, participants camp on site where you can rest, relax and support the other runners.

I was part of a eight-person team made up of ladies from my triathlon club. We called ourselves the ‘Havering Tri n Scramble Babes’ and the running order would be Lydia, Angela, Nicola, myself, Laura, Amy, Kay and Lisa. My triathlon club also entered another two teams of eight, plus three solo runners, so once again we had a great presence at the event. We were visited throughout the weekend by family, friends and other club members so our campsite was always buzzing.

The campsite was in a different location this year to provide more space for the increased numbers of participants. Although the run route was the same, the start and finish points were different. This actually worked much better as the toughest hill was towards the end, meaning the final kilometre was all downhill back to the campsite. My club organised a few reece runs of the course leading up to the Spitfire Scramble, so I was very familiar with the route.

Glen and I had invested in a much larger tent with a queen size air bed. It was much more comfortable and the envy of our clubmates!

Spitfire Scramble

The terrain varies from tarmac, grassy trails, gravel, tractor tracks and rough stony paths. There are also a few bridges and stiles to negotiate, so the course certainly keeps you guessing especially during the night. Being the former site of RAF Hornchurch, there are several original World War II pillboxes alongside the course. The Hornchurch Aerodrome Historical Society were on site giving out information including the origin of the name of the street which I live on. Many of the surrounding streets were named after notable pilots. I think many participants overlooked this aspect of the Spitfire Scramble, but I personally loved getting a history lesson alongside my running! I also really appreciate how the race organisers have kept the history alive from the design of the medal to the air-raid siren which started the race.

My laps were at 2.15pm, 9.35pm and then 5.35am. The cooler weather and lack of fancy dress (thankfully) meant that running felt easier. Unlike last year, I managed to not get lost which was a result! I started off feeling really strong and completed my first two laps much quicker than last year, but by my final lap the exhaustion caught up with me and I walked a lot more. I’m not really cut out for endurance, as I’ve been focused on sprint/olympic distance triathlon this year.

Spitfire Scramble

In the evening, I arranged pizza to be delivered to the campsite for the team. It was quite a struggle convincing the local branch of Dominoes to deliver to the park, but we managed it in the end. It was worth it to see the look on the faces of the other teams and we walked through the site carrying boxes of delicious pizza!

There was a gorgeous sunset over camp as I prepared for my second lap.

Spitfire Scramble

I find it really difficult to sleep at the Spitfire Scramble as I’m so conscious about missing my turn. I was unsure about when I was due to run, so I wandered over to the transition area at 3.30am to wait for the hand-over, but it turned out I was about 2 hours early! Heading back to my tent, I tried to get some sleep for a few hours. Embarrassingly, I did almost miss my turn as Nicola came in sooner than expected and was waiting to hand over the baton! I sprinted over to meet her and started my run feeling a bit flustered.

After my third and final lap, I could finally relax. I was so exhausted that I slept on our deflated air bed which wasn’t particularly comfortable!

Spitfire Scramble

We ran into the finish line as a team just before 12pm carrying our club flag. Rounding off our weekend with 25 laps in 24 hours, we placed 7th out of 13th in our category. Between everyone in Havering Tri, we completed 149 laps!

The Spitfire Scramble was once again a brilliant weekend. A chance to hang out with friends from the club and enjoy running off-road. It’s something a little different from triathlon, but still brings the club together. I’m proud of having such a great event in the local area. The marshalls were all amazing, sitting out on the course throughout the night.

Spitfire Scramble

Have you ever taken part in a 24 hour relay run?

Training with Heart Rate Zones

How I set up and train with heart rate zones to improve triathlon performance

Monitoring and understanding your heart rate can be an effective way of improving your triathlon performance. It ensures that you are training at the correct intensity for each workout and taking appropriate recovery.

This method of training is fairly new to me. Previously my training has always been done on ‘feel’, but this year I’ve invested in a heart rate strap and I’m working within specific target zones.

Setting up your heart rate zones

The first step in this training method is to set up your heart rate zones. There are several ways of doing this, but my coach uses a treadmill running test to determine your lactate threshold. The test is set up so that the speed of the treadmill increases every 3 minutes until the point of failure, whilst a heart rate reading is taken every 30 seconds.

During the test, I wore a device on my calf which uses LED light to monitor the amount of lactate in your bloodstream. Lactate is a byproduct of aerobic metabolism in the muscles- it accumulates rapidly as we exercise and needs to be cleared. When the amount of lactate in the blood reaches it’s highest sustainable level, this is considered to be the individual’s lactate threshold. It’s not unusual to feel slightly sick and very fatigued at this point!

The results of the test determine your maximum heart rate, training zones and corresponding running paces. It’s recommended that the test is repeated every 4-6 weeks, as training zones will change as your fitness progresses.

How I set up and train with heart rate zones to improve triathlon performance

Zone 1- Active Recovery
This zone is used for low intensity and active recovery. Blood flow to the muscles is increased to flush out waste products. You should be able to hold a conversation and feel comfortable.
For me this zone is less than 149BPM and a running pace of less than 7.51 min/km.

Zone 2- Endurance
This zone increases your overall endurance and improves your bodies ability to burn fat. Training in this zone feels very light and you should be able to hold the pace for a long period of time.
For me this zone is 150-167BPM and a running pace of 6.55-7.50 min/km.

Zone 3- Tempo
This zone improves blood circulation and improves aerobic capacity. Lactate begins to build up in the bloodstream in this zone. Training in this zone is challenging but sustainable. Running or cycling intervals are usually done within this zone.
For me this zone is 168-186BPM and a running pace of 6.22-6.54 min/km.

Zone 4- Lactate Threshold
This zone improves your speed endurance and develops the lactate threshold. In this zone, our bodies are primarily using carbohydrates as a source of fuel. Training in this zone should feel very intense and you should only be able to mutter a few words at a time.
For me this zone is 187-197BPM and a running pace of 5.53-6.21 min/km.

Zone 5- Anaerobic
In this zone, your heart and respiratory system will be working at their maximal capacity, with the source of fuel being 100% carbohydrate. Training efforts within this zone stimulate increased activity of glycogen within the muscles. Training in this zone should leave you gasping for air and should only be sustainable for 10-20 seconds.
For me this zone is over 198BPM and a running pace of over 5.52 min/km.

Training in heart rate zones

Putting this into practice, I’ve set up my Garmin according to my heart rate and my coach structures my training plan based on the zones. Heart rate zone training ensures that my easy sessions are actually easy, and my hard sessions are actually hard. Much of my running and cycling is now done in Zone 2 which initially felt incredibly slow and slightly counter-productive. It’s a common mistake with many runners to run too fast and too hard without developing a strong aerobic base. I’m trusting in the process and persevering with the Zone 2 sessions as it will help me to become more efficient and lower my overall heart rate.

How I set up and train with heart rate zones to improve triathlon performance

The Zone 2 sessions also enable me to recover from my harder sessions at the track and on the Wattbike. Now that I’m running at a more controlled pace, I’m noticing that I’m not suffering from any niggles which might develop into injuries. I focus on form and technique whilst I’m working in the lower heart rate zones.

At the other end of the spectrum, when I see Zone 5 on my training plan, I know it’s going to be a tough session. I’ve been doing some interval sessions on the Wattbike where I’m aiming to get into Zone 5 for just 8 seconds at a time. I haven’t quite manage to hit the top zone yet, but I’m working hard on pushing my heart rate up.

Do you train according to heart rate zones? Have you ever taken a lactate threshold test?

6 Track Sessions to Improve Your Running Speed

Improve your running speed and endurance with these track sessions, including pyramid and interval workouts.

Since last September, I’ve been attending a track running session with Dagenham 88 Runners. Thursday evenings at the track have quickly become my favourite session of the week and I’m beginning to notice improvements in my speed.

The track is a perfect place to practice speedwork on a smooth, flat, well-lit surface away from traffic. Our sessions are structured and challenging, but they vary each week keeping things interesting. Intervals are a chance to push your limits and test your speed- I love the feeling at the end of the session knowing I’ve given it my all.

However, track workouts seem to divide runners- you either love it or hate it. The sessions are not supposed to be easy and the intervals can be very intense. The track can be intimidating to beginners, so I’d highly recommend finding a friendly running club open to all abilities.

If you are thinking about trying a track session, here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • The track is 400m around the inside lane. Two laps are 800m, three laps are 1200m and four laps are 1600m (approximately 1 mile).
  • We always run anti-clockwise, except when warming up and cooling down.
  • We do our hard efforts in Lane 1, then move out the outer lanes to recover.
  • We overtake in Lane 2 or 3, then move back into Lane 1 when safe to do so.
  • We always start with a few easy laps to warm-up then go through some mobility drills before starting the main session. It’s essential to warm-up properly for tough sessions like this.
  • Track sessions are suitable for all abilities. We are usually split into three groups based on our 5k time and the session is slightly modified for each group.
  • Know what your 5k time is before arriving at the session, to help decide which group you should join.

If you are going it alone at the track, you’ll need to be prepared with some session plans to avoid running mindlessly. For some inspiration, here are some of my favourite sessions:

Track Session 1

8 x 800m
2 min recovery jog between each interval

Track Session 2

600m at 5k pace
300m recovery jog
300m at 3k pace
1 min 45 second walking recovery
Repeat 4 times

Track Session 3

400m, 800m, 1200, 1200m, 800m, 400m
1 minute recovery jog between each interval

Track Session 4

4 x 1500m
100m walking recovery between each interval

Track Session 5

800m at 5k pace
400m recovery jog
10 x 300m at 90% effort
100m walking recovery between each interval

Track Session 6

6 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 3 minutes, 6 minutes, 4 minutes, 2 minutes, 2 minutes at 5k pace
2 minutes walking recovery between each interval

Do you run at the track? What’s your favourite session?

Race Re-Cap: London Winter Run

London Winter Run

Last Sunday, I took part in the London Winter Run. It’s the third year this event has taken place- having missed it in 2015 and 2016 due to injury, I was keen to get involved this time.

The 10k run is on closed streets in central London with over 16,000 people set to take part in aid of Cancer Research UK. The event is themed around winter with partying penguins, polar bear hugs and a snowman blast-off. The route starts in Trafalgar Square and takes runners past sights including The Royal Courts of Justice, London Stock Exchange, Bank of England, St Paul’s Cathedral, Somerset House and Downing Street.

Human Race events are typically very well organised and the Winter Run was no different. The bag drop was quick and efficient and there were plenty of toilets available. It was absolutely freezing on the morning of the race so I tried to leave it until the very last minute before taking off my hoody and replacing it with a black bin bag to keep warm.

Despite being given a start time of 9.54, the organisers seemed to be fairly relaxed about which wave you actually started with. There was nothing to stop you joining an earlier or later group. I queued with the hoards of people in the funnel and shuffled forwards towards the starting line.

I managed to paper cut my finger on my race number whilst I was waiting in the starting pen. It started pouring blood and continued to bleed all over my hand throughout the race. Being a triple-hard athlete, I soldiered on and ignored it. Well I didn’t want to wipe blood on my T-shirt!

Each wave was set off with a blast of snow, it actually made me jump as it almost hit me in the face! The first mile was fairly congested but I expected this with such a large-scale event. The crowds soon began to thin out and I found my pace, whilst taking in the sights around me. Running through central London on closed roads really is quite a special experience. Despite being freezing at the start, I quickly warmed up.

The course twisted and turned, so I could see faster runners on the opposite side of the road. The halfway point was marked with a water station in the Guildhall Yard. I didn’t stop to grab a drink, but quickly glanced at my watch and saw 27:49, so I wondered if I could pick up the pace in the second half.

I felt really strong throughout this run. No aches or pains, just lots of energy and determination. Along the way, we heard a gospel choir, drummers and of course the wintery characters. I high-fived the huskies as I passed by and laughed at the penguins dancing. The atmosphere was amazing, with plenty of runners out to enjoy the sights and sounds without taking the race too seriously.

The ten kilometres seemed to fly by, before long we were heading back along The Strand with Nelson’s Column in the distance. A few people have said that the course was slightly long, my Garmin measured it as 10.15km. Perhaps that was due to weaving around crowds and adding on slightly more distance. I crossed the finish line in 55:28. My PB for 10k still stands at 53:56, but I’m pretty pleased with my time for the Winter Run considering I just used it as a training run.

At the finish line we received a shiny medal and hug from a polar bear. Apparently there was also chocolate, but I seem to have missed this! The walk back to the bag drop area was quite long taking us via St James’ Park, I started jogging to try and stay warm.

Back in Trafalgar Square, I finally wiped the blood off my hand! I couldn’t leave before meeting the lovely St Bernard dog Isobel, I wonder if she had brandy in her barrel?

London Winter Run

London Winter Run


I took part in the Winter Run as a guest of Human Race, but all opinions are my own.

Do you find that you run better in the winter or summer?