South Downs Way 100 – Race Report

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I was expecting to find you hunched over your poles, headphones in, grinding through the dark miles with gritted teeth.

Are you sure you’ve just run 85 miles?  I don’t think you’re supposed to be smiling.

This was my greeting from Olly as I came into the Southease checkpoint to find him tucking into the huge buffet laid out on the trestle tables.  As is now usual I didn’t hang around and within 2 minutes we were hiking up the next steep ascent to pick up the now familiar rolling trails of the South Downs way.

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I would have been smiling if I knew I was in Cocking

Apart from the blistering heat, and a recurring, searing, breathtaking pain in my left knee, it had been a nice and easy day.  Plenty of friendly people to chat to, some cyclists to banter with (I kept overtaking the same ones on every uphill), and lots of well stocked aid stations to break up the miles.

It wasn’t as hot as it had been on the Thames Path, but there were still plenty of people falling by the vomit streaked wayside.  There was less shade perhaps, the bulk of the route follows a high ridge without much tree cover. Also we weren’t far off the longest day of the year so the delicious cool of the night took an age to finally arrive.

Even then it wasn’t actually cold, apart from a brief chilly moment when I changed my vest for a t-shirt, and that was mostly because I’d been walking for a while as a concession to my complaining knee.

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Just making it harder by keeping my eyes shut

I’d never had a pacer before, and this was Ollys first time pacing someone, so I think both of us were a little bit apprehensive about how it would work out.  There was always work to fall back on; he recruits data scientists for a living, I am an aspiring one. So we could always bluff about how much statistics we knew and trade mutual acquaintance related gossip.

Thank goodness it didn’t come to that.

The nicest thing about having someone join me for the last 20 odd miles, was that I could pretty much turn my brain off and let them navigate and remind me to eat and drink.  Also having someone to talk to was great.  I might be a bit quiet at work sometimes (it’s called being focused, actually), but stick a pair of running shoes on me and I’ll talk the arse off a donkey (not that that’s a thing, but you get my point).

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This was Ollys first proper night run too, so it was actually a proper adventure for him, not just an exercise in keeping me moving fast enough so he didn’t get too cold.

My knee pain was a mystery, it really had come out of nowhere and was ridiculously painful.  Not the deep, sharp stabs of the red-hot needle of a stress fracture, nor the instantly disabling agony of a torn muscle.

I’d kept it under control for 15 hours with a mixture of friendly and understanding chatter and easy walking when it really made a fuss.

The talking aspect was bolstering my budding theory that one can strengthen the neural pathways involved in sorting out attention-seeking body parts without cadging drugs off strangers (how could I think that was a good idea?).

No, I reckon that by just thinking hard about the sore parts, and speaking to them out loud, you can encourage your brain to send whatever the rights things are needed to sort things out.

It certainly provides a form of distraction and can pass for a twisted sort of entertainment on very long runs.

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Having a deep conversation with myself

I was patiently explaining this to Olly while we were on another pain induced walking break, when he just looked at me with his head tilted sideways (as anyone would look at a dusty simpleton, in a field, in the middle of the night) and interrupted with:

Mate, stop talking bollocks.

Your hamstring is tight, and it’s pulling that stretchy thing on the side of your leg, and that’s pulling some other thing which is making some knee bone-but-not-bone pieces rub together.

Which hurt like hell.

Stop and stretch, you’ll be fine, I promise you.

(It may have been more anatomically accurate, but that’s how I remember it).

No no no, I patiently admonished, you’re missing the point, it can’t be my hamstring, because…

Actually, he was right, of course he was right.

I might have found a way of dulling the pain to ignorable levels, but the cause was indeed my hamstring.  I was too sleep deprived to be anything other than sheepishly grateful, and after a really long stretch at Alfriston (91 miles) we picked up the pace and flew along, banging out 11 minute miles to the finish line (they felt like 7 minute miles in my defence).

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“Flying”

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Done!

In terms of kit and food, I’m very happy with splashing out on a very fancy Salomon rucksack (“It’s not a bag, it’s a carrying solution”), which was really comfortable, could fit loads of food in the front pockets and after some initial fiddly faffing had easily refillable soft flasks.

Again, like the Thames Path 100, I didn’t eat very much, and again nothing from the aid stations apart from the hot food at the half way point.  I’d rather carry more weight than risk eating what was on someones hands while they’d rummaged through the crisps, but then again I can be a bit OCD about that sort of thing.

I did get a bit bored of saucisson and flapjacks, so finding a bag of crunchy M&Ms in my final drop bag probably made my race.

Massive shout out to the Centurion crew for superb organisation, there were a lot of runners out on the trails, and keeping everyone safe and on course for (just under!) a hundred miles is a truly impressive achievement.

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Champions!

https://www.strava.com/activities/1628930636

 

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Can I sit down now?

The Spine Race 2018 – Post Race Notes

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These are the notes I wrote on the train home from Yorkshire after dropping out of the race at Hawes, after 110 miles and 39 hours.  They’re unedited and pretty … honest.

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Spine 2018 Problems

Getting what felt like severe DOMS in my quads after Sunday night was definitely due to getting cold and wet, but the medic said not eating enough can also contribute. They do feel slightly better after a rest but still can’t sit down without support. The pain was constant and much much worse on downhills. I could have gritted it out, but the thought of 4 more days was too much. Wonder whether running the downhills contributed to this too?

Really bad chafing of bum cheeks and upper thighs. Never been this bad before. Lots of blood when I stopped at Gargrave, put more body glide on but the pain came back quickly. It pretty much hurt all the way from Horton to Hawes, and serious pain too, I was sharply exhaling (baby contractions style) for hours. Torture. Wonder if this happened because I’ve put on a lot of weight? This alone was painful enough to drop out, because it was an almost constant sharp pain. Occasionally I managed to put it in the background but it didn’t stay there for long. Wonder whether being so wet for so long also exacerbated this, the top part of my leggings were wet when I took them off at Hawes.

Too many sweet things and not enough nice things to eat, also often felt sick at the thought of eating. The pizza wasn’t that nice, and when I ate shot blox they felt horrible on my teeth. John gave me some jelly fruit things which were soft and very easy to eat. Didn’t like the tribe bar I ate, why didn’t I test them? Didn’t like the pizza pocket things at all. Should have eaten more when I had a chance, especially the dehydrated food, could even eat on the move. Taking tea in my stove pot worked really well, saved time and helped warm up after stopping.

New mittens were rubbish when wet. Thought they were waterproof but no. Also had a fleecy lining which retained water, had to turn them inside out and wring them out! Why didn’t I test them?! Meant my hands were often cold and had very limited chances to dry everything out. With my sealskinz ones they were breathable which meant my hands would dry out, like my legs. When I got to Horton my hands looked like I’d been in the bath for hours.

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Hacking cough set in very early, just after Horton. So bad thought I was going to be sick.

Brown and pink pee. The medics thought it was just dehydration, but I drank lots between Horton and Hawes and went for multiple pees, and it was still brown at Hawes. Fine after more fluid and a lie down, but still pretty worrying, and another negative thing that starts eating away.

Feet didn’t get particularly cold so think the wool injinji and winter drymax combo worked, but they seemed wetter than when I’ve used sealskinz. Wore the big inov8 shoes and they were super comfy and feet didn’t hurt at all (apart from toes, obviously).

Didn’t pick up the second map as thought the first one went almost to Hawes, but it stopped just after Horton. Didn’t have enough extra batteries for GPS and they ran out at the top of Cam Road. If I hadn’t been with John would have struggled, and definitely missed the left turn at the top as it wasn’t signed. Why didn’t I check the map properly and check how many batteries my Garmin needed?

It was almost impossible to wake up my Garmin to see my position with the new mittens, so very hard to do a quick check. Again, why didn’t I test? This meant every time I wanted to look at it I’d get frustrated and annoyed, which didn’t help the overall mindset.

The run/walk combo was great, meant I covered a lot of ground, and coupled with low faffing meant very good progress. Just need to make sure get enough to eat.

New hat was good, but needed a buff when it got very cold to keep it close to my ears. Also it was thin enough to dry out when my hood was up and it stopped raining.

I felt like I was fighting the mud and rain, rather than going with it and picking a good path. When I got my head in the right place I just flowed along, but it kept going really negative. Was particularly fed up at Gargrave when I spoke to Zoe, long night of being cold and wet, was totally pissed off about my mittens.

Didn’t take my iPhone from CP1, figured I didn’t need the weight, but that meant when I started getting low I couldn’t listen to the playlist I’d sorted out. Kicking myself at the time. Also meant I couldn’t take the call from Phil. If I’d had music to distract me I think things could have been a lot less miserable on that last leg (and maybe beyond).

The top part of my Garmin holder broke off which annoyed me as it’s much more secure and easy to get at than the pouch. Fixable but I should really have made it more secure or found a different place for it.

Lack of training didn’t help. 9 months of 20-30 miles a week (slowly) isn’t ideal.

It’s very much like sailing. You need to make sure everything is completely ship shape Bristol fashion or when the weather etc kicks in everything falls off.

It’s really fucking hard and deserves a significant amount of planning and preparation. A small issue can rapidly get worse and can completely derail everything.

I seriously thought about all the blogs I’ve read about people who DNF and then regret it within a few days, and took that into consideration. I’m aware that in the moment everything is truly awful but that as soon as you stop it starts fading, so I really needed to concentrate hard and distinguish between normal pain and stop pain. Also whether I thought that the stop pain would fade after a rest (the medic said it would likely get worse). Losing all my toenails and having painful toes whenever they knocked into something is normal, but every step shouldn’t be horrible.

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I’m really glad I pushed on for another 5 hours to Hawes and didn’t make the call until I’d had a sleep. It meant I kept my options open (though I was definitely leaning towards stopping).

Pain aside, all my kit issues were doing my head in and I wasn’t cognitively able to resolve them, Zoe said she’d muster the troops but it just seemed like way too much effort, I honestly couldn’t be arsed. Basically by that point my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t want it (the finish) enough.

When I told the race staff I was “done”, they tried to talk me out of it, when I said every step was agony they sympathised.

So, what have I learnt?

Test new kit. Better planning , especially around the details.

Beware overconfidence, it doesn’t take much to derail things.

Figure out food. The cake and flapjacks were spot on.

Test food and kit in a run or if possible race situation.

Even though I didn’t get to listen to any, I really think music would really help to lift me out of low points.

Don’t forget how much this stuff hurts, 100 miles on a track is a very different thing.

Thoughts for Centurion 100 mile Grand Slam

Run/walk combo is definitely the way, practice this so that all the right muscles are strong.

Test food. Maybe rely a lot on super starch as it seems to really work. Supplement with cake?

Figure out the chafing, lose weight then do some long run/walks and see if it’s ok.

Do some more testing with my head torch and figure out how to get longer battery life. It was plenty bright enough but didn’t last very long at all, possibly as it got cold.

Don’t be complacent. These are still 100 mile trail races and will hurt, so do everything possible to minimise this. Do research, train, test things.

Micro-goals are a really good motivator, my bit of paper with landmarks and distance between really helped. Also lets you calibrate speed in terms of mph. Just had a simple watch and worked it out, really good. Definitely consider putting gps watch in pack not on wrist.

Buy an iPod shuffle or similar, small and long battery life so don’t need my heavy phone.

Carry as little weight as possible, and don’t stop unless really need to.

Get strong, get fitter and practice run/walk for long distances.

The Spine Race 2018 (DNF) – Race Report

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Started well. Faltered. Stumbled. Stopped. Didn’t finish.

Did Not Finish. DNF. My first (proper) one.

I’ve run enough races and read enough race reports that bailing out before the finish line was not something I took lightly. I’ve got enough buried regrets without adding to the pile, especially when doing something so inherently selfish.

On my way home from Yorkshire (I at least managed the fun run distance of 110 miles) I wrote down what was in my head, knowing full well that time always softens memories, especially bad ones. My notes are pretty fresh and raw so I’ll add them in a separate post. They still make me wince now, 5 months later.

It really wasn’t all bad, in fact quite the opposite. The first day was actually rather a jolly affair; motoring quickly along and making remarkably good time. I didn’t really talk to anyone, or rather nobody really wanted to chat (to me at least), and somehow the race seemed different to the one I ran 2 years ago.

There were a lot more people for one thing, and for some reason they all had various stuffed animals hanging off their rucksacks. One chap was wearing a velvet top hat (the technical version presumably).

For a supposedly brutal race this all seemed very frivolous, but maybe I was just even grumpier than usual. Having to ditch a load of stuff from my drop bag on race morning may have had something to do with that.

The marshals were a lot stricter than before (actually weighing bags) and I felt much more of a number than a person, which is always a big turn off for me in any kind of event. I do understand why they needed to be less lenient with weight, twice the number of runners means a lot more effort behind the scenes.

Once we were off it was all good, like it always is, nothing like some fresh air in the lungs and a few miles in the legs to get your head back in the right place.

I sang songs and smiled at anyone I saw. It was a good day.

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Normal service had been resumed all round, with super friendly people at road crossings and checkpoints. I was even intercepted by a friends sister Lucy, who walked with me for a while and gave me chance to have a nice chat over a bag of haribos.

I got to the first checkpoint feeling really good and didn’t plan to spend much time there: quick kit change, some food and off. Which is exactly what I did, as well as making a small silly mistake which was to have a huge impact about 12 hours later.

On the face of it, chucking my iPhone in my drop bag seemed perfectly reasonable. I had my small Nokia for emergencies and why carry all that extra weight?

Erm, because it’s got that awesome playlist on it. The one that you knew you’d need when you felt really miserable in the cold and dark. The music that you’d spent hours and hours choosing to be as uplifting as possible.

Oh yeah. That’s why I was supposed to keep it in my pack.

Oops.

Fast forward 12 hours and I was indeed very miserable. The euphoria of the first day had quite literally been wrung out of me by continuous lashing rain and howling wind.

Oh and I think my jacket needs reproofing.

I was properly wet, and very cold. My sense of humour had long since seeped into the omnipresent mire, leaving me barking helplessly into the wind.

At one point I caught myself swearing loudly at a particularly large muddy puddle.

“Oh come on! You have got to be FUCKING joking! FUCKS SAKE YOU COCK FUCKING MUD. Fucking FUCK BAG! SHIT PISS CUNTHOLES!”

It was so ridiculous (and such rubbish swearing) that I almost smiled, shame I didn’t have a nice piece by Paul Simon to take the edge off things. Or a good 90s power ballad.

Instead I gritted my teeth and marched onwards, obsessively projecting pace and timing to the next point where I could legitimately stop for a brief distracting moment to eat and drink something, preferably hot.

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Long events have ups and downs, events that span multiple days with severe sleep deprivation have many highs and lows. It’s all part of the fun.

Actually it’s all part of the challenge, and how you manage both of these emotional states is a large factor in the eventual outcome.

It’s very easy to get carried away and go too hard when you’re riding a high. You can inadvertently damage muscles and/or cause hot spots. Both of which are easily missed beneath the delicious endorphins sloshing around your system.

It’s equally easy to slip into a self reinforcing downwards spiral when everything isn’t quite going to plan.

If you don’t manage your mind properly it can fester on the smallest pain or problem, blowing it out of proportion and crowding out all other thoughts. Sometimes it can even cycle through a load of these, and the overwhelming feeling becomes one of despair and hopelessness in the face of such insurmountable barriers.

You can know all that, and still fall foul of them. I didn’t really notice I was going too hard on the first day (though being in the top 20 was a bit of a giveaway), but I was fully aware of what a depressing pit of doom I’d sunk into.

I just didn’t seem to be able to pull myself out, and I tried. A lot.

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It didn’t help that some more things went wrong, mostly due to overconfident planning, and mostly avoidable (or at least a backup plan should have been ready to kick in).

Ultimately I chose to stop, some might say refused to continue. I know I could have finished, I had before after all, so knew it was physically possible. The spark from the first day had gone out, and the prospect of dragging my painful arse (literally) to Scotland with gritted teeth just wasn’t something I was prepared to do.

So I failed to complete the whole thing, but interesting it didn’t, and doesn’t, feel like a failure.

The jolt to my complacency, and realisation that my body needs a lot more attention than it’s been getting has really changed my attitude.

I’ve been reflecting on my notes, which cover various aspects of both race preparation and the race itself. Physical and mental.

It’s been very beneficial and I honestly feel like I’ve learnt a lot more about myself and ultra distances than I expected to.

The lessons have already manifested themselves in positive ways, the Thames Path 100 went exceedingly well (more on that another time). I’m looking forward to the South Downs Way 100 in two weeks and I’ve entered my first triathlon.

Fingers crossed!

My notes from immediately after the race.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1361810393

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Tooting 24h Track Race – 2017

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It turns out that just as there are different kinds of pain, there are different kinds of listening too.

There’s a silly joke that somehow managed to become my overriding training motivator:

If I listened to my body, I’d never get out of bed

No wonder I kept getting injured.

I’m standing at the starting line on the 400 meter track in Tooting Bec, waiting along with 46 others for the signal to start our journey to self transcendence (hopefully) by running, walking or crawling as many laps as we can over the following 24 hours.

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Not for the first time I reflect that I really have no business being here, I haven’t been able to train properly for 5 months (3 of those didn’t involve any running whatsoever) and should have given up my place to someone more deserving.

I didn’t though, the need to be part of an event is like the irresistible lure of a narcotic, an itch that hasn’t been scratched for over a year. This isn’t just any old event either, encapsulating nearly everything I love about long distance running, especially the small field and quirky mix of runners and supporters. Most ultra runners think 24h track racing is weird, let alone the general population, and that suits me just fine, presumably because I feel comfortable in the mix.

People are drawn to this race (and type of event) for various reasons; curiosity to how far they can run without the distractions of navigating (or distractions of any kind!), attempting to qualify for national teams, or maybe just to see what the fuss is all about.

I’m glad I did turn up. I ended up having the best race I’ve ever had, and I wasn’t even racing.

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No PB, no great epiphanies, no new friendships forged from grinding out painful mile after mile together. I ran and walked 101.7 miles, and nothing really hurt very much. I was happy and calm (most of the time), tested different food than I normally eat (partial win), experimented with a very controlled caffeine intake (fail – fell asleep for an hour!) but above all I listened to my body.

A few months ago I saw a therapist to help me give up smoking (hardly a useful habit, even if you don’t have aspirations of being called an athlete), mostly using hypnosis to allow me to think clearly and calmly, without distractions.

The session worked and over the course of it a couple of, ahem, “matters requiring attention” broke free from their shackles, and now out in the open couldn’t really be ignored for much longer.  I booked myself back in for some follow up discussions.

We’ve all got issues, and they affect us in different ways. I learnt a lot about myself over the subsequent months, but importantly we didn’t dwell on what caused those destructive tangled pathways and instead were very focused on the future. Considering how to apply the lessons I’d learned, looking ahead with a slightly raised chin, that little bit better equipped mentally, and a feeling of being a smidge more in control of my destiny.

You can hear noises without listening to their meaning or content, the sound waves pass through your passive body, or the signals from nerves dissipate without triggering any response.

Automatons and reflexes manage to cover the bulk of events that manage to break though the first barrier, and even if some thought is required, you’re often in autopilot mode. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: we don’t have the time or capacity to employ deep thinking for everything that comes along.

There are some things, and some times, when a good listen is the only appropriate action, when ignoring it could lead to your relationship breaking up, or irreversible health deterioration, or something else you really don’t want to happen. The big stuff, or the big life changing outcomes at any rate.

It’s easy to gloss over lots of things in your life that seem to be the norm, an innate and unchangeable part of your personality, but sitting in a quiet room, wrapped in a warm blanket with nothing else to do for an hour, with a non judgemental, objective listener, who was asking good questions, has a way of allowing you to question some of those.

For example I hadn’t considered the relationship between my mind and my body. (I’ll spare you the other revelations).

“Relationship” sounds daft, but of course they’re related, and both can affect the other. Generally it seems that the mind decides and the body obeys. Certainly in my case anyway, and most of the time my body does what it’s told, until it just stops and refuses to play any more.

When I dug deeper, it became clear that over the last year or so I’d become angry and upset with my misbehaving physical parts.  I’d begun doling out punishment in the form of withheld rest, booze and gruelling workouts in return for the disappointment of injury which was thwarting my grandiose plans of running successes.

When prompted to remember times when I was in a better place, two races came to mind immediately. One was the Crawley 12h track race, when I felt that I was gliding effortlessly along above the ground, in a very happy place. The other was surprisingly the Spine Race: I remember being in complete awe of my legs, I kept eating and they just kept moving, for days and days, with no complaints.

I need more of those kinds of memories.

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As I gently trundled around the Tooting track a large chunk of my attention was constantly assessing pain levels. Nothing unusual about that, but I was very clear that I’d stop if anything hurt too much, something I’ve never allowed myself to think before.

I had some secret and not so secret mileage goals, but for the first time wasn’t all that bothered whether I hit them or not, they were further down the priority list than finishing in one piece.

My race plan had been to start slowly and slow down, but I hadn’t anticipated being behind the 83 year old for over 7 hours! Thankfully he slowed down a bit and let me save some face.

I knew better than to chase the “sprinters”, some inevitability burnt themselves out, but a few kept up an amazing pace for the entire race. Norbert Mihalik ran 161 miles, that’s 6 back to back 4 hour marathons… mind blowing.

A few friendly faces turned up at different times and provided a bit of distraction, not that I was particularly bored, but it was nice to see Debbie and Martin, who have been very involved in my running ups and downs, as well as giving me food experimentation ideas (and incredibly useful nutrition and training plans).

Marissa popped in for a while for some nice chats and to drop off some more food and water, all very much appreciated, as was my now very neatly organised table.

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James and Ben swung by on their way to the pub, then decided to stick around and cheer me on for a couple of hours instead. They provided some good entertainment but I was very tempted to stop for a can of beer and some pizza!

Ben even came back the next morning on his long run, ostensibly to make sure I was ok but I suspect to take photos of the mess he anticipated finding. He took the disappointment well and did some kit maintenance chores for me.

Anna B was lap counting during the night, and her whooping and cheering really helped me to keep smiling, even though by that point I was staggering all over the place like a drunk. I think it was due to lack of caffeine but it could be lack of practice too – training your child to make their own breakfast at the weekend is so worth it.

My family and in laws turned up for the last hour, which was just the best thing ever. The shouts of “come on daddy, run!” even got me out of my ultra shuffle for a few laps.

Even though I covered a lot of miles without any training – which I think demonstrates that a strong base fitness and endurance level does last a long time – I definitely suffered in other aspects. My feet hurt a lot, and I didn’t make it through the night without sleeping, neither of which are typically a problem in a relatively short race like this. Also I was incredibly tired and hungry for the next week, so my recovery was a bit slower than normal.

I’m still unrealistically ambitious, but I’ve got a new angle now. Lots of attention to what I actually need, from better core strength to more sleep and less time exercising (really!).

I want to be able to run as I get older, at any speed, much more than I want to win any races.  

Listen to those niggles, they need just as much attention as a hungry belly, and get that foam roller out of the cupboard, it’s your new best mate.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1189585698

 

Relax. Eat. Drink. Keep moving.

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Relax. Eat. Drink. Keep moving.
I’ve gone from about as fit as I’ve ever been to not feeling very fit at all over the last 6 months.  The fitness/freshness chart below sums it up better than I can:


So what makes me think I have any business getting ready for the Tooting 24h race tomorrow?
If I’m totally honest it’s mostly curiosity.
I know I can grit my teeth and grind out mile after mile, that’s the main reason for the last two injuries after all, but I wonder how much endurance and stamina remains after week upon week of no training, bad food and wine.
Six months ago I was running 80 miles a week, I’ve been happy with 30 recently, at a glacial pace. Any longer or faster just makes my still-not-right hamstring flare up.
It’s an experiment, starting tomorrow at midday.
Wish me luck!

Mind over matter, or mind over mind?

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I don’t know exactly when it happened, in fact I’m not sure there was an actual “it”, but I do know when I started to realise that I’d been running on the wrong side of the line for too long.

I’ll just get to the end of this week, ignore the pain, next week is much lower milage, then holiday the week after.  Then I can rest.

I should know better by now.

Eight months ago, I was in a good place.  The stress fracture in my hip had healed, and a couple of brutal ultras had been notched up.  Legs were happy, I’d lost weight, and the Crawley 24h track race, 7 months away, was beckoning.  I hadn’t overcommitted myself, and had set in motion a long but balanced training programme designed to pitch me onto that 400m loop in peak condition.

What could go wrong?

The line, do you know it?  It’s a thin strip of nothingness, existing in the far corners of your mind, when you’re fit and healthy that is.  When you don’t allow your body to rest enough, to recover from the punishment you’re dealing out, it turns into a very real physical barrier, only now you’re on the wrong side.

It’s that fine line between peak fitness, and debilitating injury, and the trick is to stay as close as possible to it, without straying into the darkness beyond.

The problem is, often you don’t realise you’re on the wrong side until it’s too late.

With experience you can learn to recognise those little niggles, and ease off the training.  Spend some money on a sports massage or two, buy a bag of magnesium salt and take some long baths.  Buy a foam roller, and use it.

In fact you can do all those things, and more, but if you don’t rest, if you don’t let your body adapt to the training stress, then it will sabotage everything.  It has to, to protect itself.

I often joke that if I listened to my body, I wouldn’t get out of bed.  It’s probably impossible to run an ultra without ignoring the screaming pain from each and every body part, and the thing is, the problem that I’ve only just realised existed, is that there are different kinds of pain.

Not the difference between bone pain and a bit of an achy leg, but the difference between pain that is a warning, a precursor to something much worse, and the pain of being on your feet for hours or days at a time.

They both feel similar, but the more long races you do, the higher your upper threshold moves.  What might have once been a 9 on the pain scale, is a mere 3, after you’ve gritted your teeth through a hundred mile race.  The more you put yourself through, the higher that threshold goes.

So when your hamstring gives a little yelp for help midway through a 6 mile commute, it feels as trivial as a slightly sore neck after a bad nights sleep.  You’re aware of it of course, but it doesn’t deserve all that much attention, other than perhaps a slightly extra long stretch.

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Two months ago I was running 60-100+ miles a week, I’d put in two long training runs, at 70 and 45 miles each.  I’d been going to the gym 3 times a week, working on leg and core strength.  I rested too (a bit), and did all the other things you’re supposed to do.

Now I have an extra 10-12 hours a week, more if you count the time saved showering and changing clothes several times a day.  Even more if you count the time spent obsessing about the training plan and when I might be able to squeeze in an extra few miles.

It’s not all bad, I’m writing a bit, drinking more wine, spending more time at work (which is needed), and spending more time with my family (needed even more).

I still feel like a fool. I should have known better, I’ve run myself into the ground before, and I thought I’d learnt a proper lesson.

What went wrong?  It’s not complicated.

I ignored the pain, I ran when it hurt and I kept running, until it was too late.

No stress fracture this time, just a spot of tendonitis.  Just everywhere on my hips and hamstrings.  Just all my bones out of line, so much so that my chiropractor couldn’t believe a person could appear so chipper with the pain I was supposedly in.

It didn’t really hurt all that much though, not until it hurt so much I could barely walk.  Only then did I take painkillers, so it wasn’t even that I’d masked it with drugs.

I need a better pain barometer.

Failing that I need to purposely allow sufficient rest in my training schedule.  I need to master my own mind, in a way that allows me to realise when I’m getting too close to the line.  To step away, to hell with the plan.

Rest.

Listen to your body, no matter how small the problem is.  Listen to your inner mind, that small feeble voice at the back.

That feeble voice is the real master, it knows the matter always wins.

 

 

 

 

Country to Capital 2017 – Race Report

race

“Daddy, pretend that bear is happy”
“Ok”

“Go on then”

“I am pretending”

“No daddy, you have to say it too”

The Country to Capital 45 mile race marks the start of the UK ultra season, and (I think) this was the tenth year it’s been staged.

Starting at the Wendover Red Lion pub in one of the shires, it follows muddy footpaths through some lovely countryside before picking up the Grand Union canal at roughly the half way mark.

Finishing in Little Venice near Paddington means getting home is a doddle (if you live in London anyway).
It’s extremely well organised. Registration was a breeze, and the frequent aid stations were well stocked with friendly smiles and heaps of cake.

They even delayed the 8:30 start slightly to allow people arriving off the 8:15 train from Marylebone to register and drop their bags off.

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Turbo in good spirits

This was to be my final tune up race before Crawley, a chance to test my pace and fuelling plan.

The plan. There’s always a plan.

Mine was to avoid bonking by eating frequently, stopping as little as possible and finish somewhere near the sharp end without doing myself any more damage.

The Thursday before the race, I’d left work to trot the usual 10k home and went straight out into a filthy snow and sleet storm.

Despite wearing skimpy shorts and no gloves, I thought I’d soon warm up and tucking my chin in bravely barged my way into the wall of frozen sky.

I didn’t warm up. At all. In fact I was frozen in no time, and a miserable 50 minutes later limped the final few meters with ridiculously sore legs.

Not being a doctor or in any way professionally qualified to comment on the optimal operating and recovery temperature of muscle cells, I do have anecdotal evidence from a few years of running.

They seem to work better when they’re warm.

A cold bath can reduce soreness after a long run, but icy cold during exercise just means poorly functioning body parts, that don’t recover quickly.

My legs still didn’t feel right, in fact they hurt horribly throughout the race.
The canal section called for gritted teeth and the “just give it up and walk” part of myself needing a stern talking to.

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When strava meets reality, nice to meet you Brynn

The first half was really nice though, crispy frosty fields and picking up 24h race tips from the affable James Elson, even if he did accidentally make me sad.

I was working pretty hard, but could still hold a conversation, James was clearly just out for a Saturday morning jog, and remarked that this was his 24 hour pace.

My 6 hour pace was his 24 hour pace. Good lord.

Better eat something.

The cake went down very well, but sadly I had too little food overall and pretty much ignored the eating part of my strategy.

Apart from breakfast, I covered 45 miles in just over 6 hours on: 2 snickers, 500ml of mountain fuel and 3 small squares of fruitcake. Nowhere near enough and I paid the price with a decreasing pace and prolonged recovery.

I wasn’t even that hungry at the end, I think my stomach had given up on me. A hot cup of tea did go down very well.

I was very pleased with my time, finishing just behind the first lady, but it required a lot more fighting than I was hoping for.

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Nice sit down at the end

The lesson? It’s all very well having a plan, but if you don’t follow it you may as well be pretending.

To quote my 6 year old:

It doesn’t count if it’s just in your head, you have to do it too

Obligatory strava link

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Happy bears, silly voices optional

An ultra distance London trail adventure?

Long run

It’s 4am and I’m scaling yet another 6 foot fence somewhere in South East London.  I land gently on the pavement and look up into the wide eyed stare of two lads sitting in a parked car.  We all silently contemplate the unlikely situation, before I turn, run over the road,  climb the padlocked gate into the next park and run into a dark forest.  Laughing.

This is the longest training run I’ve ever embarked on.  It wasn’t planned to be a solo effort but I wasn’t going to squander the opportunity.

taking a break in highgate woods

The full Capital Ring is around 77 miles.  A (mostly) signposted route that links together various trails and paths, encompassing inner and central London.  It was first discussed in 1990 by the London Walking Forum, and was completed in 2005 (wikipedia).

I first noticed bits of the route on an easy run along the Greenchain Walk one weekend.  I kept seeing the distinctive signs alongside the Greenchain ones, and after a bit of research found the idea both daunting and strangely compelling.

The usual way to complete the full route is over two days or more.  TFL (Transport for London) have an excellent guide with printable maps and directions to and from local trains and tubes.

someone has a sense of humour

Taking a map is a good idea, some boroughs take signage more importantly than others, Harrow and Richmond being very thorough, while Newham was distinctly lacking.

My training plan had called for a 12 hour run, but I couldn’t find a weekend free in the family calendar, so I took the completely logical step of getting up at 1am on a Saturday morning.  An hour to wake up and fill myself with food and coffee, 12 hours of running, with a 2 hour buffer for food and faffage.

I had to be home before 5pm to have enough time to de-grime myself, put the child to bed and help prepare for supper guests arriving at 8.

Apparently that isn’t normal person behaviour, but I’m so far into this long distance running malarkey, that my reality filter is completely twisted.

Actually you don’t need to look too hard or far to find similar examples of how people fit lots of running into an already full life.

I’m not comparing myself to Ricky Lightfoot, but he’s a great example of juggling a full time job, family and huge amounts of training.

Debbie Martin-Consani is another person to aspire to, there was a great quote in a recent trail running magazine:

…to improve your running stamina, you need to run.  As they say you can’t plant potatoes and harvest carrots!

From a practical perspective, doing the whole route in one go is feasible, as long as you don’t mind jumping over lots of fences (or finding the long way round) in the dark.  Having said that I did this in early December when it’s dark nearly all the time.  A more reasonable early start in the summer would probably get you round before parks start being locked.

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I reckon that 70% of the route is on trail, which is pretty amazing for inner London!  There are a few opportunities to buy food and water, but not that many.  I spotted a 24 hour shop on Prince Regent Lane (the greenway crosses this on the way to Stratford) where I filled up my water bottles, but this was the first one I’d seen since starting 25 miles ago.

There are other shops, probably just enough to get you round.  The highlight was a little coffee van just outside East Finchley station.  The coffee man even had a few croissants warmed up, what a treat.

DIY aid station

Do take a map though, or at least a readily accessible GPS unit to keep you on track.  There are sections with hardly any signs, some have fallen over, others twisted 90 degrees sending you in completely the wrong direction.

I’d relied on having the route on my watch, but had forgotten how much that drains the battery.  In the end I managed to get google maps working on my phone and just ran with it in my hand.  Annoying, but not as annoying as constantly backtracking.

I got as far as the A3 by Richmond Park before running out of time and getting a cab.  70 miles with 12 hours of moving time wasn’t too bad, but shows how much faffing around I’d done.

Ok, so I’m not so bonkers to suggest that everyone should lace up their shoes up and set off on a 75 mile run around London, but the fact that you don’t need to plan a whole weekend away, or even to travel at all, to see a different side to something otherwise familiar is something worth thinking about.

Maybe you don’t live near the Capital Ring, but I bet there are some local trails or walks that can be joined up and made into a loop, or maybe hop on a train after work and run home along a canal?

If you look hard enough, there is adventure just round the corner.

Oh and the dinner party went well, I even managed to stay awake until after pudding.

Of course it’s on strava