Monday 10 March 2014

It's tough up North!

Flushed with my success at the Dorset coastal I was looking forward to my next race, The Tour Deh Helvellyn. 38 miles in, over and around Helvellyn and the Lakes.

On the way up we had driving rain, snow and wind so strong I struggled to keep the car pointing in the right direction, this was going to be fun!

I had company for this race, I'd managed to pursuade my brother that it would be fun to come along, and besides he gets a lift home for Christmas. On arriving at the pub we had a nasty shock when they said we werb't booked in untill tommorrow and then to find the kitchen was closed early! Hmm a bad omen perhaps!?

I must admit I was more than a little aprehensive about this one, it had a ompulsory kit list as long as my arm, it was blowing an absolute hooley outside, there were lots of big hills and it was really far! haha, but that's why I do this stuff, scary stuff is fun, eventually, and you don't have adventures doing nothing!

That said I was almost happily disapointed when my Pertex over trousers where scrutinised at kit check and I was nearly not allowed to do the race. After a gentle bolocking for not having proper trousers I was allowed to get on with it though!

I've asked myself before when trail shoes are no longer sufficient and a pair of fell shoes would be necessary, turns out this would have been a great time to own some! I don't think I've ever properly fallen over flat on my face, rolling down hills, skidding around on my backside ect, but I must have spent more time on my arse than my feet, big chunky lumps of rubber would have been usefull, hell football boots would have been welcome!

This race provided everything underfoot from Tarmac, Scree, mud and rock you name it we had, even a swimming stage! The weather was a veritable delight of variation as well, one moment there was wind that knocked you off your feet, the next it was sunny and you were a boil in the bag runner! It was brilliant, brutal, but great!

I finished in a time of 8:00:42 in 38th place, pretty good.


Highlight of the winter

After a shakey few races, and pretty poor performances, things finally started to feel a little better, both in myself and my running.

I'd signed up for the Dorset Coastal Challenge, starting and ending at Lulworth Cove. Having done a lot of the coast path before I new this was going to be exciting and tough, but I was going with a mindset of give it everything and race really hard.

So that's exactly what I did, head down and powered on. If you know Lulworth you'll know the coastpath is, well, undulating! The course had a total ascent of over 6000ft, so that gives you an idea of the undulations.

Any way, all was going pretty much to plan, sun was shining, I had a target in my sights that I was gaining on, the only problem was the bloke behind me wasn't disapearing. Try as I might I couldn't shake the pesky little blighter! Then all of a sudden a group of runners formed in front of me, scratching there heads!

Oh come on, we're not lost! this is supposed to be an easy well marked route with bugger all navigation! But yes, somehow we'd gone wrong, it was at this point that the guy behind me caught up, and I realised he'd been chasing me for the last few miles in an effort to give me back a gel I'd dropped! haha.

So after wandering around Dorset for 3 miles further than we needed to, we eventually got back onto the right track and the rather large group broke up rapidly, with everyone starting to race again! Funny how we revert to herd behaviour when lost, then back to solitude when we feel safe!

Unfortunately I dropped the ball on my water intake and started cramping at about mile 13, a bit sooner than I would have liked!

It's a funny one this race, you've got about 3 or 4 races going on at once, an ultra, a marathon, a 10 k all sorts. So doing the Ultra you run past the finish to do a 6 mile loop or so. This was tough, the worst part was that noone was saying ultra runners this way, finish that way. Instead they where cheering and cajolling you to the finish line. This could mean two things, I was really far back and the rest of the pack had finished, or I was reasonably far at the front. I'll be honest by this point I didn't care, I trudged on, dreading the set of hills to come. These just about finished me off, and rolling into the last checkpoint with three miles to go, I looked rough, and was seriously regretting those extra 3 miles I'd done!!

All in all a great race, finishing in a time of 6:50:35 in 14th place, rather pleased with that!

Long Time No Blog

It's been a while since my last blog, for a few reasons, the main one being an injury I picked up that knocked me out for most of the summer. Not entirely positive what it was, possible stress fracture, possible lower compartment syndrome or tendinitis.

Whatever it was it was a complete pig! Being injured and wanting to run your socks off is the worst thing ever, you don't realise how addictive it is until you can't do it, and there's no miracle cure, you just have to stop running and rest. The only thing I can compare it to is giving up smoking, I was irritable, short tempered depressed you name it, the worst thing was knowing that everything I had worked so hard for, fitness wise was slowly slipping away and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it except rest and consume copious amounts of deep heat and Ibuprofen!

Still, looking on the bright side, every cloud and all that, I did a bit of marshaling and this enabled me to see a race from every angle. Right the way from the freak of nature that's an hour ahead of everyone else and looking as fresh as a daisy at mile 60, to the people coming in an hour after the checkpoint has closed and to be brutal shouldn't have been there in the first place. Seeing a race from every angle had a profound effect, I knew where I wanted to be. At the back is grim, reminiscent of the walk of shame after a hard night on the beers, with the sun just creeping over the horizon, birds starting to sing and you hanging so far out of your arse your forehead is scraping along the tarmac, and to top it all you've still got 40 miles to go! No thanks I want to be that freak out front, just once.

I also learnt a lot about injury prevention and treatment, and perhaps more importantly about myself. It doesn't mater if you have a niggle and have to miss a day or maybe two's training, a niggle can quickly become a monumental, incapacitating ball ache! This is exactly what happened to me, being young, green and bloody minded I thought taking a break would spell disaster for my training, so I kept pounding on regardless making things worse and buggering up what was turning out to be a decent level of fitness.

The last lesson injury taught me was to race hard. I'd not been doing too bad, starting to finish races top 10's or so, but I would always be comfortable for the whole race. I've since found that being comfortably uncomfortable the whole way, and racing hard gets so much more out of my races, and who knows, I may one day be that freak at the front.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Malvern Midsummer Top 10

I went to Malvern once, on a course of some descrition, I saw precisely bugger all of the hills due to them being encased in thick, thick fog. So I was well up for a marathon over the Malvern Hills, what better way to see them than run over and around them!

Trouble was two weeks before, whilst out on my Sunday long run, my flipping IT band goes at mile 12 or so! Cursing I think about what I’m doing, and stride out a bit, correcting my foot strike, over coming the immediate problem and finishing the run. Unfortunately the damage is done.

Thinking back I know exactly what went wrong, I was lazy! Okay so it was my Grandmas 80th, Happy Birthday Grandma, and we had had a late night and a couple of beers, so hauling my ass out of bed the next day for a 20 miler before the drive back South was less than appealing! That combined with a very flat, coastal route along the Mersey Side Coast Path, lulled me into a lazy lollop, and injury ensued! Still a couple of unscheduled days off, which drove me bonkers, and I was okay, or at least able to run.

The next problem hits a week before. Every year I forget I have asthma, and every year I remember when the hayfever season comes around and I find myself trying to breath through a straw! And I’m not talking those nice big Maccy D’s straws, I’m talking capri sun straws, great for stabbing capri sun but utterly useless as a straw! It’s then a mad dash to find an inhaler, which is usually down the back of the bed with about two puffs left, the first of which is dust and dog hair!

So the day before the Midsummer Malvern I’m not 100% to say the least, and there’s no map just a road book, odds are looking good that I’ll get lost, then have an asthma attack and die of hypoxia! Still should be a good day, might even manage a pb.

Arriving at the campsite the day before I change my mind about a pb, the hills look mighty tall, I couldn’t see that last time I was here, damn the British weather. Which was actually being rather kind today, so I set about lolling on the grass in the sun, perfect race prep me thinks!

It piddles down all knight, and I can’t work out whether my tent is leaking or the reason my sleeping bag appears to be wet is that I’m a sweaty git, deciding it’s neither and most likely condensation, and even if it was leaking I can do nothing about it, I nod off.

Whilst looking for a parking spot I manage to upset a cyclist by stopping in the middle of the road whilst trying to figure out where to go. He then shows his displeasure by over taking me, and promptly falling off in spectacular fashion, apparently being taken out by absolutely nothing! Poor old sod. Managed to find a parking spot pretty close to the start, so all’s good, for me anyway.

After registering I set about for pre-race ablutions, entering the cubicle I’m stopped in my tracks by the smallest toilette I’ve ever seen! Honestly it was about six inches high! This made things awkward to say the least.

0900 came and off we went, starting with a big ascent. Once up, it’s not too bad, theres a series of undulations and I get into the swing of things, I tab along with a guy that I later find out lives in Aus, runs 100 mile ultras and is just out for a bit of exercise before lunch with the inlaws! As it happens this turns out to be a good moove, he sets a pace that, normally I’d think was beyond me, but I keep going. At about half way there is a group of four of us and we’ve stopped overtaking people.

I have a bit of a bonk at mile 17 or so and the other three press on slightly. I catch up to one guy and tab along with him until cramp stops him in his footsteps, feeling a little bad I carry on, then the hills start with avengance! I catch up with the Aussie and the last 7 miles are quad killers, if you’re not blasting uphill you’re getting hammered going down, a cheeky little end to an enjoyable race.

I managed a time of 4:51 ranked 4th out of 200ish runners, my first top ten, better, my first top 5. Okay so it was a joint 4th but who cares, and admittedly the guy that won did a sub 4, but there’s always one weirdo that wins, one day that will be me!

Thursday 27 June 2013

My first proper fell run, good times. I must admit I was a little apprehensive about this one, and for good reason, check out the contours on this beauty!
Not to worry, I get to do 3 of my most favourite things, camping, running and being amongst mountains and big hills!

Unfortunately I manage to fail spectacularly at the first hurdle. Now when you go camping there are a few essentials that any moron would bring with them, a tent for example, some tent poles and perhaps even some tent pegs, these are all generally considered essential items of kit for a successful camping trip. I didn’t manage to forget the tent, which would have been silly; I did however manage to leave all the tent pegs at home! If memory serves, I think I last used them as pegs for my purse nets, whilst out ferreting.

Fortunately I had a surplus of cutlery, a few spoons and knives later, coupled with the spare tyre for the guy ropes and the tent was looking superb, mc guiver eat your heart out.

Race day arrives, I pay my £8 quid to the campsite, and toddle of to find the start.

You can always tell who the fast people are at these things, they just look fast, like a long dog or race horse you can see they have some miles in them. I pick one chap that looks like a seasoned fell runner and think it would be good to beat him.

At the briefing we get the usual stuff about the way marks, checkpoints and warnings of weather being hot. The organizer then goes on to explain that we will be running near a stream so if needs be we can drop down to it and get a drink, I’m hardy but I’m not hardy enough to risk liver fluke, and looking around I don’t think any one else is either!

We start with a lap of the school field to spread out the pack before we got onto the fells, then its all stop. The first 5-6 miles is up, and up in a big way, we all walk. After 6 or 7 miles I start to feel good and on a down hill section I stride out a bit, overtaking one gentleman I look up and where there were people, there are none. Confused I slow and ask the chap I’d just passed “where did they go?”, yep we were lost, after a brief conflab and consultation of the map we decide to go to the edge and look down, sure enough there were runners, about 500 feet straight down! Only one thing for it, make like a mountain goat and go straight over the edge.

Getting to the half way checkpoint I re fill my water pack and plod on. Rather typically there’s a cameraman waiting at the top of a large incline, after a series of large inclines to snap me at my best! Catching up with the target in front, I decide to tab along with him for a bit, thinking this would mean we won’t get lost as I’m not navigating. This turned out to be a misjudgement of my new running partner’s navigation ability, after jumping/falling over a fence and wading through a brooke we find the right path and are joined by another chap.

Somehow we find out that we are ranking 10th, 11th and 12th, thinking how nice it would be to finish in the top 10 we all stride out a bit, the older chap, satisfied that neither of us are over 50, and his vet position is likely top 3, is happy enough with any ranking, so we all decide to come in together and let the clock sort things out.

Then half a mile from the finish disaster strikes, these two bods, apparently getting beneficially lost pop up in front of us. We all exchange pleasantries and they storm on, once out of ear shot we all have a little grumble, then quickly get over it. Well two of us do, the other chap being slightly ahead of us, gets all excited and speaking in hushed tones tells us they’ve gone the wrong way. Not really the attitude I feel, if people go wrong you tell them, not just watch them and snigger, glad you’ve gained an extra place or two. Any how they didn’t go wrong so no harm done.

Finishing my first proper fell run, quads, calfs and everything in between burning, in a time of 4:53:58, 13th out of 137 very pleased.
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Friday 12 April 2013

Jurassic Coast - Day 3

Nothing really matters. Having had a significantly better nights sleep, though still awake for the majority trying to work out whether I was burning up or freezing, I really didn't care about anything. I only had one more marathon to do, and there was no Portland, or Weymouth to run through, the view would be spectacular all the way round and provided I made it to CP3 I would finish, actually provided I made it to the start I would finish! After all whats one more marathon in the great scheme of things, I'd just run two, and was still standing. Admittedly running was going to be difficult, but that bridge we would cross when we came to it.

Not even bothering with a shower, I hocked up a lump of flem the size of a small horse that was preventing me from talking, then set off for breakfast. Good news, porridge was hot. Whilst eating the briefing for group one was taking place and I learnt, among other things, that a large portion of the coast path was in the sea and we would have to make a minor detour, adding a few miles onto our route, on the bright side the last couple of miles was along a nudist beach, and we were assured the cold weather would bring them out, so like I said spectacular views!

Piling onto the minibuses for the ride back to Lulworth, things seemed rather quieter than they did on Fri, apparently everyone else was as broken as I was.

On arrival I threw my dry bag into the bus for the end and after a little more fiddling, things would happen slower today, I dibbed in and set off at a hobbly, walky wobble, after a few hundred meters we hit a huge hill, fine by me, means I can walk. Taking time to admire the view I start to notice that a few of the runners aren't caked in mud, in fact some seem to have a positive spring in their step, I then realise that these must be one day-ers and still fresh and keen for the onslaught still to come. Feeling a slight air of superiority, I think to myself, "yeh lets see you look that sprightly after two days of this!".

Now this would be a good point to explain why the pictures stopped, I could have taken some wonderful pictures, massive great hills with little strings of runners meandering up them like little hi-vis ants foraging for food. But, rather like pushing a car, once I got going to stop would be fatal, and all I had the energy to do was think how wonderful a picture it would have made then get my head down and grind on up the picturesque, massive, bloody awful thing!

Passing through the military firing range, and I shout out "Tanks there are tanks!", delighted at the sight of big metal machines, plugged into my I-Pod and generally not really with it I forget there are other people around that couldn't care less about tanks. Looking at me like I'm a bit odd, the girl in front gradually loses speed to get away from the tank loving weirdo. Not at all bothered I try and work out the best way to come back here and have a proper nosey about, or more to the point how to convince Kath it's worthwhile going up the massive hill to get here, perhaps there are some birds knocking around as well, that would work.

Time loses all meaning when you run, and no more so than this day, it took me two hours to get to CP1, I didn't really care though I was rather enjoying myself, not even the horrifying thought that taking two hours between each check point would mean I'd be out for eight hours bothered me much. A strange sense of acceptance, I would finish and it would take a while, and that was that.

The eating at check points had become ridiculous, I stuffed my face with anything and everything, pizza, cheese and pickle sandwiches, fig roles, jaffa cakes, chocolate coated honeycomb and snickers all washed down with a brew. Then off I went again at my funny walky, hobbly, shuffle.

The diversion came and went, as did CP2. I felt for the staff at CP2, they were at probably the most exposed spot possible, wind ripping through the Gatorade bottles.

Arriving at CP3, we're informed of a brand new diversion, not sure it added significantly to the journey mind. I also see Max at CP3, and we tag through Swanage together, this time I really can't keep up his pace and we soon split.

Still no dark times as yet, but getting to the top of Bowleys Down, I think that was what it was called any way, the wind cuts into me like a knife, and for the first time I am flipping freezing whilst running. Normally you warm up to a comfortable working temperature whatever the inclement weather conditions, but this was bad, whether it was because of the previous two days sapping my energy, or my snail like pace, I was seriously cold.

Coming to the end of Bowleys Down and I could see the finish, or nearly the finish any way, I was going to make it whatever!
Dropping down onto the beach for the final leg I get as close to the water as possible to find firm ground, the goings good but the wind is fearsome, and in your face.

This beach seems to go on for miles, like the false peak effect when climbing a mountain the finish just never appeared, and to top it off we had to cross a bloody great river and get wet feet 500 yards or so from the end. But I did it, it wasn't quick, and it certainly wasn't pretty, but it was done, three marathons in three days, oh and my first ultra, day three was just over 30 miles thanks to the diversions!

Sitting on the mini bus I had a strange moment, I'd just been running for three days, it had been my world, every waking moment, and some sleeping had been devoted to getting from here to there, or getting ready to get from here to there, or recovering from getting from there to here, and now it was over, what was I going to do? A strange sense of elation and loss.

My time for day three 7:49:27 65th out of 154. Happy!

Overall time for the three days 19:34:57 39th out of 126. Oh so Happy!

I'd like to give a massive big up to the Votwo events team, not that they'll see this but hey ho, I was incredibly well looked after before, during and after the event and would highly recommend this event to anyone, whilst siting on the bus at the end of day three, one of the team even took an order for soup and brews meaning we didn't have to get up, absolute hero. I'll see you in Oct for the Atlantic Coast Challenge.

I'd also like to thank Max and Sacha for looking after me and generally giving me guidance throughout this event, much appreciated thank you.

This event was a massive learning curve on my road to MDS, it was as different from running a marathon as running a 5k is from a full marathon, I suppose I just dipped my toe into ultra running, I loved it!

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Thursday 11 April 2013

Jurassic Coast Challenge - Day 2

Buzzing after Day One I struggled to sleep, I couldn't work out whether I was hot or cold, apparently something to do with my liver working over time. When I do wake up I feel absolutely awful! Head hurts, feel a bit sick, massive flemmy cough, generally just don't want to be anywhere doing anything!

For this reason I opt to go with the later runners group, to give me some time to get my head sorted. Going down to HQ for kit check I'm not a happy bunny! Getting a number two scrawled over the number one from yesterday I can't face breakfast and head back to the van. I manage an emergency pot of porridge I brought with me, and a brew and start to feel a little more positive. Getting myself together I head down for the briefing, less wind today only 20 odd MPH. No minibus ride, we start from HQ. I sling my dry kit on the minibus for the end, dib in and set off.

The first half of the day is around Portland, as it happens a vaguely interesting place, that apparently has a reputation for being a bit odd. CP1 is at the light house, I stuff a bit of pizza down my neck and head on. By this point I'm struggling big time, the words "I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here" keep looping in my head, every now the then I need to cough up a ball of flem the size of a small dog, which does nothing for the burning, tearing ripping sensation in my throat/chest!

CP2 and I'm questioning how the hell I'm going to finish this. It doesn't help that CP2 is back at HQ and the van is 5 minutes walk away! Spotting Max, my van mate, I hobble over with a new find on my long runs, a cup of tea. I find him also struggling and I take solace in the fact that I'm not the only one having a bad day. After another brew and some H2Pro electrolyte drink, I set off with Max. The next leg is through Weymouth, if it weren't for Max this would have been a lot harder, as it was I just got my head down and trudged along beside, having to do no navigation through the streets of Weymouth. Setting a blistering pace of about 10-11 min/mile, trust me by now that was like light speed, we pounded through Weymouth and out the other side, back onto the mud. Which for me was a relief, the relentless pounding of tarmac and monotony of streets did nothing for the loop in my head of "I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here".

Once back on the muddy stuff I slow and Max disappears into the distance. By CP3 I'm done, I get myself a brew and adopt the famous peeing in the street Paula Radcliffe look, in a vein attempt to stretch out my calves, which are by now so tight you could play a tune off them. The CP staff look at me worried and check if I'm carrying on or not, I reply rather foolishly with "yes, I'm just not sure how yet". Knowing full well how far I've got I ask how much further to go, not feeling at all reassured by someone else telling me its only 12 k or so to go, I set off at a hobble. Spotting a finger post saying 6 miles to Lulworth, bizarrely does the trick and I start to feel a bit more positive. The next 6 miles is known as the roller coaster, and it is up and down somewhat, still at least it's prettier than the last 20 miles!

A bizarre thing happens towards the end, I develop a new style of walking, apparently it's known as fell walking, a bit like normal walking just really giving it some. This pays me in good stead and a mile or so from the finish I set my sights on number 29, the loop of "I don't want to be here" is replaced with "I'm guna get you 29". Putting my newly discovered technique into operation I gain on a long uphill section, overtaking him just before the brow I see steps, not just any steps, steps going down hill, with a Votwo flag at the bottom, finishing with a flourish I actually run down them at an astonishing pace, even for fresh legs I'd have been pleased with it!

Crossing the line I find Max and Sacha recently finished, forgot to mention but Sacha really struggled on Day 1 and was questioning Day 2, so to finish was great. All now on a high we piled on the bus and headed for home. I did however still have a nagging thought in my head, how the hell was I going to do tomorrow?

Back at the van and I was starting to feel cold, fortunately we had two showers, one being an en-suite, which apparently worked. Looking forward to not having to play silly buggers with the shower I was bitterly disappointed when this too was cold. That was it, me at my lowest. I went to bed and called Kath my girlfriend for, at the very least, a hug down the phone!

After a touch more moping and feeling sorry for myself we eventually got the shower working and I was a happy man once again, and to top it off roast dinner for tea.

That night I went to bed early feeling positively ill, to put it politely.

My time for day two 6:26:36 61st out of 197. Poorly!

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