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Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Whilst this post seems like it’s going to be a never ending bag of ‘isn’t my running life shit’ I hope the ending for those of you who get there is worth it. This post was written in three sections over the last 3 weeks. And apologies for the moaning tone.

Day 1 of writing this post
My physiotherapist has been very generous and kind, she did all she could to keep me on the road until the end of my 2014 race calendar but with each medal won she gave me a gentle reminder that these races and in fact each run was making things worse. She advised me that while I was continuing to do long distance running I wasn’t giving my body the required amount of rest and therefore wouldn’t be injury free. Now though I’ve reached the end of my 2014 race calendar and she’s not being quite so nice.

Sat on her table at 1.30pm on a Sunday afternoon is quite a scary prospect. She listened as I explained about the explosion of pain at my last ultra, she listened as I highlighted the various points that have been troubling me and she grimaced as I went through the length of time I have been struggling with these things.

She told me the following; I’m not allowed to run for several months and that if I don’t want to be in pain for the rest of my days I need to sort myself out. She spoke to me in just the way I needed and deserved – like I’ve been being a child. She did say if I work hard I’ll get back to running – IF I work hard at it.

She’s known, as well I have, that this day was always coming and for me it wasn’t until she got really stern that I finally just went ‘ok’ and aort of just broke down. That was a week or so back and it’s been just over 10 days or so since I was halted in agony at my last ultra and I’ve been working like there’s no tomorrow to try and fix this but I’m not even sure why.

I feel more like giving up than making a comeback.

Stretching, core, strengthening, core, more core, more fecking core, did I mention fecking core? I’m told I’m not allowed to pass the point of pain because I’m pretty ruined and pain is bad in this instance. The only pain I’m allowed is when I jam either a tennis ball or the GingaNinjas elbow in my glutes (then I cry). I’m doing what I’m told but more because I’m being told and not because I want to. Have I lost my mojo or is this just how you feel post DNF?

Day 2 of writing this post
My motivation is zero to do other exercise and that’s now perhaps the worst thing, I can’t be bothered. I look at my epic amount of running kit I own and see nothing but failure, perhaps what I see is a great big eBay sale but ultimately I’m scared I’ll never run again, scared I’ll never run a Centurion hundred mile race, mostly I’m scared that I’m a failure. A chap I know (reportedly, I didn’t hear it directly) took great pleasure in announcing my failure at my last race, that hurt a lot because my aim has never been to say ‘I’m better than you’ it’s always been to say ‘look at what you can do too, let’s go’. So while my physiotherapist helps me put my body back together how do I put my head into the right space?

My partner has refused to let me cancel any of next years races, she says they are my targets and she’s insisting I enter the CCC when the ballot opens because she believes the lure of a big race will create in me the fight needed to break my lethargy. Maybe she’s right, maybe she isn’t. But right now I’m going through the motions to try and find some mojo, some anything if truth be told.

Day 3 of writing this post
18 months of stupidity have potentially ruined my favourite activity but last night as I lay down with UltraBaby in one arm and my iPad in the other watching Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor heading through France in the excellent ‘Long Way Down’ I saw the mountain that originally inspired my love of ultra distances – the Mont Blanc – and although my desire to run that race has waned a little I felt all the desire to race to the top of it, through it, along it, around it. Even this morning as I feel the aching pain and sharpness running through my pelvis and right down into my foot I can hold on to that positive image of running once again up bitchingly steep elevations. As you can see I needed something and my glimmer of hope came from a most unexpected source at a most unexpected time and even if the end result is that I’ll never run properly again at least I’ll have tried which is a far cry from how I felt just a couple of weeks ago. Young Amy a wannabee ultra runner (SDW50 2015 entrant) told me only yesterday that time is a great healer – it seems she’s got a point.

On a final note I’ve been the recipient of some brilliant support. I’m not sure I appreciated it at the time as I was looking far too inward but I’m grateful and thankful for being a runner because we do support each other when things go wrong – so thank you.

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2014 has for me brought a lot of exciting challenges, lots of races where I’ve come away and thought ‘I fancy that again’ or ‘I know I can do better and next year I’ll prove it’. With a week before the Winter100 I’d opted to have a final significant run at the Fowlmead Challenge both in the hope of a new medal and more importantly an opportunity to see how far from fit my hamstring was. I’d heard a few bits about the organisers and how hugely friendly and intimate these events could be – and this was very much paramount in my thinking when I was looking for an event of this type.

Before I go into full race review you might want to check them out at saxon-shore.com – especially if you’re Kentish way, but even if you’re not these might be just what you’re looking for.

6.00am UltraBaby has slept for more than 7hrs, this is bad – we needed her up an hour ago to get her into the right zone for the day.

6.06am The GingaNinja dealt with our super powered offspring and I hastily threw on my Hoka, my new Salomon compression shorts and teamed them with my beautiful soft touch tech shirt from the Snowdonia marathon and a classic Ronhill top. I’d already applied what felt like a good slathering of Vaseline around my ‘downstairs madam’ and my nipples where feeling greasier than a Friday night kebab but this was all good.

6.24am Breakfast for three, for me it was a hearty ibuprofen, cuppa, yoghurt and a fun size twix – not the stuff of champions but it was being that type of morning.

7.30am I’m now ready… but I’m running round grabbing baby things, the GingaNinja still has her ‘on the tit’ and I’m now in that pre race nausea that I so often suffer with.

7.52am
Pre-race nerves have now evacuated the building via the toilet, thank god I didn’t have the hot burrito last night. That was perhaps the only benefit of not getting home from work until after 10pm.

8.03am
GingaNinja slides stealthily into the shower, I lock UltraBaby into the car seat, grab dogs extendable lead, grab dog, load car

8.14am Vroom, we’re off – but garmin says go the route that’s closed so we follow iPhone route instead.

9.06am The GingaNinja is getting a little tetchy because we could well be late, she doesn’t know where she’s going and she’s worried the baby is hungry – actually just 23minutes later we arrived and everything was okay. Proof positive that it is possible to run marathons even when you’ve got a five week old baby!

Anyway enough baby chat, we arrived at Fowlmead Country Park and its both excellent and ample parking, the start line and lap point were at the top of the hilly entrance overlooking the very pleasant cafe (and hose) with children’s play area, activity trails and awesome looking bike rides.

I rolled up to be greeted by the guys from the event and from the moment I gave in my name I felt like part of a family – they’d never met me before but it was just so friendly.

I grabbed my number and trundled back to car. The GingaNinja had now prepared UltraBaby for her first taste of bigger distance races, soak up some atmosphere – I did ask if the course was suitable to do a lap with the buggy but the RD suggested it wasn’t and he was very right (conditions were challenging from the off).

The race briefing started a few minutes later and was casual but surprisingly informative. Traviss, our RD was laid back and continued the friendly theme that seemed to be the hallmark of these events. Post briefing we were given a little while to steady nerves (or create them) and then, as the bell tolled, we were off!

The Loop
The course was about 2.7miles of undulating trail – this description doesn’t do it justice. The route started out on gravel track for a couple of hundred metres to be swiftly replaced by ‘proper trail’ with puddles, mud and all the filth you’d expect from a country park founded on an old coal pit. The quick wet descent was replaced by a stretch of path and then up some mildly rocky hills before back into the depths of mud fuelled fun! As the laps wore on and the ground became more cut up this section became heavy going but nothing a reasonable pair of trail shoes wouldn’t be able to handle. As you swung a hard left back onto the track the course became a bit more technical on rocky paths and the descent needed a little care before you reached the hill of despair where you climbed at pace if possible. Now, with about 1 mile of the loop left to go the course went back to a fine gravel track but this was beset by oodles of deep, dark and awesome puddles – I went through every single one (testing the new drymax socks!), this was probably the mentally toughest bit of the course, especially as the laps wore on as it didn’t have the visual interest of the rest of the route but it’s never ending corner worked well to build mental strength. With the final 400 metres upon us there was a fast uphill and you’d completed a lap.

UltraBoy Ran…
I sadly ended up completing only 10 laps, not the 11 I had been aiming for… this is what happened. I went out too quick – my aim had been 4.75mph, nothing too silly but I started with closer to 8mph for the first hour and that with my hamstring effectively killed the run as a race but what it did do was allow me to have a sense of how I’ll feel later this week as I push on during the Winter100. By lap 4 I could really feel my body warning me against pushing any further and I did contemplate giving up at half marathon distance but then I fell upon a plan – I’ll take the dog to distract me because I wanted that next marathon distance for my assault on the 100 marathon club. So after completing lap 5 I grabbed my beloved Spaniel and we headed out – only one of us was allowed jelly babies and it wasn’t him. The fifth through eighth lap felt incredibly hard and my hamstring pulled with every move, the hound was also feeling it and again I felt like stopping but as I charged up for lap 9 there was a bit of a second wind and I improved my lap time a little. Each of the hills, each rock, every puddle felt that bit lighter knowing that I wasn’t going to see them again soon and so we pressed on until I could see the finish line and my final lap. With 400metres to go the hound and I decided that our running pride was on the line and so we belted out our longest stride and flew towards our medal! I was spluttering over the many delicious treats available but as I reached for the bell and I was simply grateful I’d done it.

Traviss passed out my medal and placed it gently around my neck – which was handy as it weighs about 10kg!

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But what you wang to know is would I recommend this to you? The answer is simply ‘cor blimey yes’, this is my favourite marathon I’ve run and as a laps challenge it is such a hugely entertaining event.

The things to look for as ever (for me) are the following;

Organisation and information
First rate, regular communications via email and Facebook and a very good website. On the day the event was handled with a deft touch, the RD and his team look like people who a) love running b) care about runners and c) care about their event. This section scores 10/10 and its richly deserved, when the race result and thank you email came in about 4hrs after the event you know this is a great race team!

Aid Station
Quality Street, homemade cakes, snickers, squash, water and lots of other stuff – this was an aid station to die for and it was stocked to bursting point. 9.5/10 (could’ve killed for a sausage roll by lap 8)

The Route
I enjoyed the route and if you’re a trail runner you’d have a great time bombing round the course (and in fairness the park). Despite being a nature reserve and extensively used as an extreme mountain bike venue, we were never bothered by other park users. The guys marked out a challenging but manageable course that tested our mettle. 10/10

Small and Beautiful
You can go and run London if you like but this challenge had about 50, maybe 60 runners, there was no ego, it was a really good feeling and we all supported each other – this kind of experience is becoming harder to find in the sponsored, corporate world of ‘Big Racing’. Traviss has crafted an event (a series of events) that you’d go back to time and again. 10/10 for a great time and atmosphere

The Bling?
Sometimes in life you get a bit of a shock – when I saw the medal hanging off the neck of one of my fellow runners I knew this was special. It harks back to the heritage of the run location and it feels like a medal should – other race directors take note please. 10/10

Value for money?
As regular readers know ‘value for money’ is something I’m always on the lookout for – especially in races. So how much was this? £35. That’s right, cheaper than most half marathons with half the bling, it’s cheaper than almost any OCR race and you could see that the cost was invested in the race and the runners. The aid station, the food, the medal, the communication, the donation to the country park, the organisation – this was a bargain. 10/10.

Conclusion
A great race, run by great people – please visit http://www.saxon-shore.com or find them on Facebook. I’ll be going back to Fowlmead and I’ll be joining them for their Tolkien Run next year as well as several others, sadly my physiotherapist has barred me from the Saxon Shore marathon saying that the W100 has to be my last until new year, but otherwise I’d already be entered. And if you’re looking for another reason to sign up to one of these extraordinary events then check out that awesome goody bag below. Sign up, you really can’t go wrong and you certainly will never forget it!

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The end of 2014 and the first eight months of 2015 look like it’s going to be race busy – not as hectic as 2014 has been for racing and hopefully not as injury filled but as I head into my fourth year of running I’m hoping to learn some lessons and adopt a quality over quantity approach to racing.

However, I’m hoping to add St Peter’s Way (February), CCC or TRA Ridgeway (August), the Saxon Shore Marathon (November 2014), possibly the Winter100 or T184 (October) and one of the Ramscombe Challenges, probably the summer one (July). That would then be about one long race per month – which should have been my 2014 schedule but havoc was caused by the inclusion of events I couldn’t turn down – no such problems for this coming year – I’m focused.

So what’s on your list for 2015? What have you got booked in and what have you missed out on? More importantly which races that I’m not considering should I think about?

See you out there.

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Each leg of my new work commute is about 10.6km long, it starts on the Embankment and it finishes just beyond Hammersmith – it’s a ride filled with some pretty cool London stuff. I ride past Nelson, the Big Blue Cock, The Mall, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, the Royal Albert Hall, St James Park and lots of other really cool stuff. It’s not very hilly – I haven’t measured the gradients but despite it going up and down its alright, my little folding bike copes admirably. Today though I’m going to focus on an element of my journey I find terrifying and that’s the roundabout at Hyde Park Corner – this is where this post becomes a little London centric so my apologies if you don’t live here or have no idea what I’m on about.

We shall be focusing here on my return leg, because that’s where this shit gets problematic.

There are two ways to get across the roundabout – the first is the pedestrian and cycle route, let’s talk about that. So you zoom up to crossing 1 but they’re on red, fine, you stop and wait but in the meantime crossing 2 is crossing, you get the go signal on crossing 1 but as you approach crossing 2 it’s all STOP! Red light means danger, thanks Billy Ocean, we know! You’re now sat at crossing 2, minutes tick away and I mean minutes, as soon as you get the good to go you hit the afterburner but then you’re greeted by about a hundred other pedestrians and cyclists all desperate not to have to wait at crossing 1. This ‘Dance of a Thousand Bikes’ means you’ve all but ruined your chances of making crossing 3 – no matter how quickly you sprint to the line you’ll always be beaten by the computer – you can’t really outthink it on this. You finally make crossing 3, you travel slowly, creeping towards the edge of the pavement and then just when you see that tiny break in the traffic you race forwards and onwards to Buckingham Palace. By this point I’m usually grim faced and rather annoyed as I know this travelling has caused me to miss the 6pm train.

But what about option 2?

This is what I call ‘The Shitbucket Just Got Real’. So you’ve just got to crossing 1 but rather than head to the second one you join the road – ahead of both the pedestrians and the cars (you need a head start). If memory serves there’s a series of about 4 or 5 lanes, splitting off in differing directions (Park Lane, Piccadilly, The Mall, Victoria and Knightsbridge the main options). I’m aiming for the tangent that is The Mall. So, as Crossing 2 turns to red for the traffic I join the roundabout and peg it.

Let’s not forget that the folding bike isn’t really built for speed but I throw every last ounce of energy I have into it and I grab a lane hoping that I’m not holding up traffic.

All around you there are vehicles of all shapes and sizes, most moving at pace as the traffic lights are ‘with them’ – my aim is to hit my tangent before the traffic catches me or before the traffic flowing in from Piccadilly catches me. It’s terrifying, hence why I need a ‘Shitbucket’ strategically placed at the bottom of my shorts. The benefit of this is that I do make the earlier train, the downfall is that at some point I’m going to get clipped or worse. As I’ve stated before I’m not a great cyclist and this isn’t helping my nervousness!

Any tips on how to avoid this? Well I suppose the tube… but that defeats the purpose of cycling!

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I originally got into ultra running because of my second rejection notification from the London Marathon, I’ve said this before, but what kept me going was the dream that I’d run the UTMB, but today (trapped on a train) that’s not my dream anymore – far from it. The UTMB (and MdS) as we all know is one of those ‘big name’ races, a bit like the London Marathon and it was the RD at Challenge Running who reminded me that you’ve basically got to run three big distance other ultras to qualify for the UTMB – it was then that I saw the logic of looking round for other ultras and not just qualifiers. For me my ultra running adventure is evolving, it’s become about seeing bits of the world and the UK that I otherwise might never, it’s about a quality piece of metal to hang round my neck and it’s about knowing I can do it.

Now it’s true that I’m going to enter the CCC but the criteria seem more forgiving and the distance more fun for a first mountain race. But the truth is if I don’t get in I really want to run both the TRA Ridgeway 84 miler and the Ring of Fire both of which would mean I couldn’t run the UTMB or the CCC. There’s also the Saintelyon which I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years and I’ve been inspired by Cat Simpson and her Atacama Crossing and fancy one of the big desert races, but probably not MdS.

I’m going to be applying my shorter race logic to the longer races – find those little golden nuggets of races because in them you’ll find glorious experiences. Obviously I’m still running qualifiers for Western States, UTMB and all the other ones you need to qualify for but I’m not so sure it’s a given that I’ll do them even if I get in.

Even my marathon running is adopting a similar strategy – I’ve just discovered saxon-shore.com and there you’ll find lots of lovely looping marathons on trails around Kent. They are inexpensive and I suspect (ask me again after this weekend) brilliant. I’m planning on using these marathons as a way to put a serious dent in my assault on the 100 marathons, now there is a dream I haven’t given up on 🙂

So why do you ultra? And has the change in qualification put you off the UTMB? Or would you rather race the smaller more intimate runs? What’s your reason for ultraing?

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I’ve played this game before where I plan out my playlist for an ultra and then post it here and then don’t listen to it but this time I’m going to have four playlists. Why? Well one for each leg of the out and back.

I go through phases with songs but there are a few classics that will probably make all four legs ‘for once in my life’ and ‘signed, sealed, delivered’ by Stevie Wonder will be two of those, melancholy songs such as ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ will be restricted to leg one because you don’t need to start looking inward as your counting down those last few miles.

I’ll probably start with ‘Everything is awesome’ from the lego movie and then drift straight into an hour of 70s classics with the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy – there’s some hum dingers in there such as ‘Escape (Piña Colada)’ ‘Want you back’ and ‘Spirit in the sky’ – that will hopefully set my mood quite nicely for trundling along at the back of the pack.

The Moulin Rouge soundtrack will feature during the darker sections of the route as I enjoy the tempo and the generally romantic and comedic story. There will be some stuff from James Blunt too, songs like ‘Stay the Night’ and ‘Bonfire Heart’ always give me a huge lift – now I realise my song choices are reading like I’m some sort of wet blanket but it’s simply that I enjoy running to up tempo music. And given that all the indicators suggest the Winter100 is a bruising and potentially miserable run then I’m going to need to hang onto the big gun disco tunes.

But there will have to be some big rock songs from the Foo Fighters, most of the Soundcity album and even some feel good Daft Punk and Chemical Brothers – it won’t all be inspired by Glee 🙂 the other big change will be that I’ll take some podcasts like Desert Island Discs, the News Quiz and even a bit of Andy Hamilton’s ‘Old Harry’s Game’. Hearing coherent human voices in conversation I’ve discovered helps to keep the night terrors away.

So all in all I’ve got a plan, it’s a musical plan and hopefully I can choreograph some nifty footwork to match as I prance round the 100 miles of Ridgeway and Thames Path!

Now the question is ‘what will you be listening to?’

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I’ve decided to add a more story telling element to my blogging but I don’t feel that my running stories contain the required level of humour or diversity but my experiences of cycling the roads of Zone 1 and 2 in little old London should prove an excellent foraging ground for tales of woe, despair and probably poo.

However, this week has heralded several new experiences, none of them even remotely pleasant. The first was ‘rain’ – living in the UK I should be used to it and actually I normally really enjoy the rain. But it was that really fine shit rain, the stuff that gets your body really wet. The kind of wet that if you were in the Pacific Ocean you’d think it was a wholesome and full kind of wet.

But for me as I sat astride my BFold 7 it was a fine wet that punctured every pore of my work clothing and soaked my trousers so they stuck lovingly like a second skin to me. It was the kind of fine rain that caused me to big blink – you know where you shut your eyes and hope the elements will just go away – but they didn’t. I’m not even sure closing your eyes as you cycle round Hyde Park Corner is a good idea, but that’s what happened.

It was plain unpleasant and probably dangerous.

I arrived at work – sodden but thankfully my bag, two laptops, two laptops worth of accessories and a whole heap of other stuff survived unscathed. So the lesson here is don’t cycle to work, no, get someone to stuff you in an OMM 25l and ride you across London – and don’t wear your work clothing as you cycle!

My series of terrifying things kicks off with a ‘hit and run’. Picture the scene, it’s rush hour just outside Kensington High Street and facing Urban Outfittters, UltraBoy is racing at pace to get through the traffic, the traffic has been halted by an oversized vehicle trying to turn in the road so UltraBoy takes advantage – a smug grin of satisfaction takes over his face and he saunters beyond the queue of BMW and Audi drivers.

Then in a flash out step two fucking stupid elderly tourists!

Not stepping out from the pavement, no, nothing sensible like that, no these fuckers came out from behind a white van that was trapped in the traffic. I was going full pelt and it was only at the last second I saw them and I managed to slam on both brakes! I could feel the rising of my back wheel from the force I had applied to my front brake. Post screech I heard the deafening sound of a thud as my bike connected with the victim. Thankfully the thud was dull and it was wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been as I hit their rather lurid luggage. I growled at them the phrase ‘watch where you’re going, arseholes’ and rode on. I turned to look as I motored on to check on them and they appeared fine as they flagged down a taxi but my nerves were feeling pretty fragile.

I’m not a great rider but I am pretty road conscious and this was just horrible, I didn’t much feel like riding on but ho hum!

My third experience was almost laughable – it starts like this ‘Oi, yes you, you stupid fuck, you just pulled out in front of me, I might’ve killed you’.

Having just pulled up at the traffic lights and to be greeted by this I was rather offended and took the opportunity to say, ‘I don’t think…’ But before I could get my sentence out the man stopped me dead.

‘Not you wet wipe, her. Oi, you need to take more fucking care’. He was raging now and the middle aged woman he was being abusive toward simply ignored him and even before the lights had changed simply rode on. In fairness to him he’d clearly had a shock and she did have an air of the arsehole about her, but still, I nearly shat myself when I thought he was going to get out of his oversized Mercedes and punch me.

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I could continue but instead I’m going to go back to staring out of the train window and admiring the bouncing rain and feeling the dropping temperatures on my bare legs. I suspect more crappy things are going to happen during my bike riding and I fully intend to bore the living daylights out of you all with my recounting of them! Adios cycle commuters!

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