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Debbie in last place – not something you’re likely to see ever again. Photo credit: Dan Stinton.

Montane / Polygiene Via Trail Series Event and interview with Debbie Martin-Consani

17-Apr-18

Last updated: 06-Nov-18

By Dan Stinton

If you put silver into your clothes they'll stop you smelling. That's the take home message from today’s chemistry lesson at the Montane showroom close to Kendal in the Lake District. 

We're assembled here to check out the new Montane Via trail series which utilises Polygiene technology to reduce odour in our running kit. Reducing odour means less piles of sweaty running clothes lurking in various corners of the house, which means less need for washing, which ultimately saves the planet and then we're all heroes.

The new series consists of male and female tops, tights and shorts and the Via Trail running packs in varying sizes up to the Dragon 20 all treated with Polygiene, which is a first for any trail running pack range.

RUNULTRA_Montane-Via-Trail-Polygiene-series

The new Via Trail Range

The plan for the launch day is to learn all about the new range and technology, try it all out on a short run in the local area with Montane athlete, Debbie Martin-Consani, and then have a good old discussion about it in the pub later. In terms of plans, this was a very good one.

To set out the environmental credentials of the new products, Polygiene tell us of a study that demonstrates that product production only accounts for 1/3 of the environmental impact, and it’s the consumer use of regular washing and drying throughout a typical products lifecycle that impacts on greenhouse gases, energy use and water use.

Like all good ideas, Polygiene sounds simple - the technology is based on a silver chloride produced from recycled silver that is embedded (on a microscopic level) into a textile during the manufacturing process and stays there. The silver ions in Polygiene inhibit the growth of odour-causing bacteria, and therefore the clothes shouldn’t smell after use.

Whilst that might be the theory, before we publish our thoughts on using the kit, we have to give it a thorough test, so that will follow in a separate review coming soon after we’ve done some serious sweating and subsequent sniffing of the gear!

As part of the event we're treated to a presentation from Debbie and suddenly we're straight into ultra running on a rather epic scale. Debbie has a fantastic running history having represented Scotland and Great Britain in 100km and 24-hour races, and winning top places in numerous races including the NDW100, SDW100 and the Montane Lakeland 100.

Last year Debbie ran the Tor des Geants, the non-stop 205 mile/330km ultra-trail race from the 4,000m Alp range through to the Gran Paradiso Natural Park and the Aosta Valley. She wrote a fascinating and engaging race report on her website

We managed to squeeze in a few extra questions for RunUltra:

Q. How did you go about training for the Tor des Geants (TDG)?

A. I went from running a flat 24-hour race in July to training for TDG nine weeks later. It was far from ideal, but the opportunity came up. As Richard Branson said “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later”. I felt I already had a good endurance base from training for the 24-hour, so I had to get my hills legs into shape.

Thankfully, TDG is a big hiking race (well, for me!) so I just spent a few weeks speed hiking up and down Munros with poles. Hill reps of Ben Lomond became a firm favourite. It’s good training, but also a comical way to freak out the tourists. If I’m honest with myself, I was already burned out before I even started TDG, following a 30,000ft training week a few weeks after the 24-hour.

My legs were OK during the race, but general fatigue set in sooner than I would have liked. I did what I could in the time I had to prepare for the race. And all I even wanted to do was just finish, so I have no regrets. 

Q. How did you feel after the TDG and how long did it take you to recover?

A. Exhausted, understandably. I didn’t have any mobility issues. I expected to have the worst DOMS ever and my feet to be bleeding stumps, but my legs were ok. I did have a fair amount of swelling, though, and my eyes were so puffed out they barely looked open.

I totally underestimated the effects of sleep deprivation, and it took a few weeks to even regain basic cognitive skills. It was like being a little bit drunk, all the time. 

Q. What was your toughest moment during the race and what are your coping strategies when the going gets tough?

A. I had two distinct low points [during the TDG]. The first was on the third day (I think - they all rolled into one), the sun was setting and I was getting cold and hungry. I kept pushing to get to the aid station before sorting myself out, but I left it too long.

It was about an hour longer than I expected, so by the time I got there I was a shaking incoherent mess. The volunteers were amazing and got me blankets, heaters, sweet coffee and a place to sleep for an hour. I was completely gone, but they truly saved me. The race was to be a massive lesson in self-care and that hit home like a ton of bricks.

My last night was by far the hardest. It was Thursday and it was my fifth night out. I was surviving on about six hours sleep (total) and wasn’t even eating enough to sustain me for a day in the office, let alone a week in the mountains. It was sub-zero and I had to climb up to 3000 metres. Alone.

It was a beautiful clear night, but my tired brain was struggling to make out what were reflective race markers and what were stars. The climb wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, but I was stumbling a lot on the descent. One slip and it’s a long way down. The sleep deprivation had taken its toll, I was going a bit crackers and was freezing.

By the time I got to the next aid station, just after dawn, I was shaking so much I couldn’t physically eat. I was throwing soup all over the table. My lungs and chest hurt so much due to nights out in the cold. I can’t even describe the pain and the cough I had. Still, nothing ever happened that made me want to stop. Stopping was never an option.

The drive to get back to Courmayeur trumped every low point I had. It was a big deal for me to be away from my son for so long, so I had to make it count. I’m sure most mothers can relate to that.

Q. What’s the key difference when preparing for a 24-hour race compared to a specific distance, do you prepare or train any differently?

A. I don’t race a lot, so I like to train specifically for an event, taking into account the terrain and ascent. My mid-week training doesn’t differ much. I do two speed/faster sessions, two easy days and have one rest day. But the weekends are more race focussed.

Training for the 24-hours, I did long slow runs on the canal or road. It’s not exactly exciting, but neither is running in circles for 24-hours. It’s good mental training too. 

Q. How do you feel about being the first female ultra runner to join Montane?

A. I’ve been a Montane Ambassador since 2011. They were the title sponsor of the Highland Fling at the time and I was second lady in that year’s race, which was also the British Trail Champs. I’d never even won a race at that point, so it was a complete shock when they asked me. I felt like a complete charlatan, but I jumped at the chance.

Q. What about women in ultra running generally?

I would love to see more women lining up for ultra races. But at most start lines, men outweigh woman by quite some margin - and the longer the race the greater the margin. There are many barriers that come into play. Time is the biggest factor.

Although I appreciate the sport is attracting younger participants, ultra runners are generally of an age where family and careers take priority. Time, and lack of it, is a huge barrier in a sport that can be quite selfish. Plus, on average, women spend more time on household chores and childcare than their partners. Finding the time and energy to fit in high mileage weeks is no mean feat.

There’s also still the stigma of women being away from their families for training or racing.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been out running and asked if my husband is “babysitting”. I doubt a man would be asked the same thing.

There’s the safety issue too. Especially if the only time to train is early morning or late evening or a race involves running through the night or navigation. Being alone in the dark or being left behind on a training run, could put women off even trying. Some women prefer to run with others and might not have training partners keen to cover the distances required. 

A major factor is that women don’t have the same levels of confidence and self-belief as men do, so they could be put off even trying in the first place. On the flip side, it means that the majority of women who do participate have trained for the task, paid attention to detail, are less likely to fly off at the start and therefore more likely to complete. DNF rates are often significantly lower in the women’s field. 

RunUltra Comment: Debbie won the Grand Union Canal Race herself outright in 2012 and that included falling in it! Everyone needs a good race story, but if falling in a canal wasn't good enough, she also managed to get hit by a car during the White Rose Ultra! A lesson to stay out on the trail rather than tarmac-bash surely?

Q. What’s your favourite bit of Montane gear and why? Is there anything that’s not on a standard kit list but you always take with you?

A. Where do I start? I’m loving the new spring/summer 2018 range, because I’m a big fan of running skirts and vests. Montane Athletes were involved from the design process right through the testing, so it’s great that the products are athlete-led and tested in the proper environments and conditions.

We’ve just had a pretty hard winter and I would have been lost without my Spine Jacket. Nothing gets through that. And the prism gloves are amazing. 

I always carry my phone and usually a tripod because I love taking photos. My friends moan about the time I spend faffing with staged run shots, but I know they love it. 

Q. Can you give us any tips for training for an ultra?

A. Pretty basic, but train on the course or terrain similar to the race. Don’t over-train because you see others running 100+ mile weeks on Strava. Everyone is different and the mile and pace junkies usually end up on the injury bench. Mix up your training and don’t simply plod out long slow miles. 

Ultra running is more complex than ‘normal’ running because it’s not simply putting one foot in the front of the other. You need to think about kit and get used to running with a pack. Nutrition and hydration is a personal thing and often involves some trial and error.

Don’t get bogged down by the pace and splits. Pace is less important. Pacing and staying within an effort you can maintain for the duration of the race is very important. 

Q. What’s your favourite nutrition on the go? Any other nutritional tips?

A. I am not great at eating and drinking during races and it’s by far my biggest weakness. I once ran a 53-mile race on five jelly babies and coke. I have got better over the years, and I was working with dietician Renee McGregor (RunUltra’s dietician) to improve my race day plans. 

It’s far from perfect and it’s always a work in progress. What works one race, you can’t face in the next. I struggle to chew, so anything liquid helps. It’s not ideal but I rely heavily on Tailwind, Gu gels and Shot Bloks. I buy all the aforementioned sports nutrition products, so no plugs for sponsors.

Q. What’s the first thing you want to do after a race? 

A. Drink Pepsi Max and eat chips. I do try to lie down with my feet up.

RUNULTRA_Montane-Via-Trail-Polygiene-series_Out-on-the-moors

Checking out the Via Trail series.

After running Transgrancanaria earlier this year (a 128km race from the north to south of the island) what’s next in her race calendar? She definitely has a bucket list of the big races and has a Bob Graham Round planned in June and is taking on the UTMB in August. Debbie has many other races that she wants to tick off including some of the big American races; Badwater and the Western States 100.

Debbie took us out on a run in the local area on the afternoon. She runs with an effortless style and you can see the enthusiasm as she bounces along laughing and joking all the way, I even learnt a few new swear words. An engaging and friendly person who would be great company on any run - If you can keep up with her of course!

Check back here for the Montane Via Trail series reviews soon!

About the writer: Dan is a Peak District based runner collecting mud and scrapes in and around Glossop. He likes nothing more than running into the Dark Peak and then writing about how difficult it was at All Hail the Trail.

All images Dan Stinton except when stated.

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