Thursday 31 December 2009

Happy New Beer

Joy to the world and all that stuff. I'm in a reflective mood so some resolutions:

1. I've decided to live a bit healthier next year, in many ways I took a backwards step, more veg, more good protein, less chocolate and sugary carbs next year.
2. Less or no binge drinking. E.g. get to 5 and have a few soft drinks, fed up of losing mornings. Weddings, parties excluded naturally.
3. Not strictly relevent to running blog but - Try and progress my training and learning at work a bit. Too much time firefighting this year, I'll start saying no a bit more, let a few burn, make more time for progression.

Anyway, last race of year today. As with previous three years I ran the Auld Lang Syne fell race in "wild" Bronte Country near Haworth. Weather varies by year, usually cold (sometimes very), often windy (cold, cold, wind), sometimes snow. This year the route was changed due to some icey paths and instead a more traditional fell run route was followed (e.g. less solid path, more mud n stuff). This meant, after initial runnable paths it was a few miles up to top of moor through a combo of churned mud, churned snow and some water. As per usual this race was popular and the best path was crowded, so I spent the first hald mostly seeking overtaking opportunities, which often meant risking hitting deep mud by cutting a bend. Mostly succesful, but this steady then surge type of running is hard work!

At top of the moor there was quite a long run through crisp and often deep undisturbed snow. In places you could run onto a drift and it was iced up and would support your weight. In other places your foot would sink in a foot. Best bet was to keep to path churned up by the 150'odd runners ahead of me, which didn't allow much of a rythm to be built up. I stopped overtaking and was begging for the "Stoop" stone and the opportunity to head back off the moor. When this came I found myself trading places with the strong downhillers and weak uphillers at various points. I still found a few opportunities to overtake in the overall downhill second half, sometimes taking a nippy surge off main path through some of the snow covered bracken. Though at one time I nearly had serious brown trousers time as a foot plant hit rock and threw my balance off leaving me staggering forward at speed. The next few seconds were slow motion as I placed feet down with as much precision as I could between hazards on this rocky section, desperately trying to regain balance and avoid falling on rocks and cracking something! I got through this bit ok and due to momentum actually passed somebody :¬)

I trudged back up Penistone Hill in 54 mins. Fairly good show I think. Just a whisker behind the leaders ;¬) Ok, ok..... but was well in top half, which is good in this race. For the record Alistair Brownlee (world triathlon champ) won, about 30 secs up on "fell legend" Ian Holmes in 39 something, I think Andi Jones - last years winner - was 4th. I reckon the changed course played into the hands of the out-and-out fell runners like Ian today, so Alistair did great.

Got my bottle of beer for competing and planning to drink it in the next hour as I await my taxi to whisk me away for a night of revelry.

Happy New Year!

Saturday 26 December 2009

Lies, damned lies and statistics

According to Wikipedia - "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions.

However I do like a good stat, though I understand it may mean nothing to others. But a few here and there do summarise a good year. I'll add some more fun notes in here about favourite runs, events, lowlights and highlights too. In a hope to perhaps persuade any interested others that there is fun to be had "out in tham, thar, hills!".

Year - Time running - Mileage - Av min/mile pace - Av week miles
2008   204:07:08          1369.25    08:57                        26.3
2009   276:20:15          1766.06    09:23                        32.1 far

At first glance, I've done more, but got slower. This is totally a consequence of the type of running I've been doing. Many more long, off-road events where fast pace isn't possible or sensible. So the stats don't tell the full story. Two recent events probably do; Rudolph's Romp and the Langdale End XC. Different ends of the off-road racing spectrum, 24.5m and 5.5m. Conditions were a little better in both this year, though still muddy at the Rudolph and filthy muddy at Langdale in the North York Moors. But conditions weren't improved enough to justify a 39min and 5min+ improvements, respectively. On the road I've done less, to an extent where I' recording significantly more trail shoe mileage than in road shoes. Howeverm, I've still squeezed out a small 10k PB, a sub 20min 5k and nearly 6mins off my half marathon as part of a general improvement from the higher mileage.

A few highlights/honourable mentions:

Event I'd recommend to any runner - Trollers Trot, nr. Skipton, North Yorks. Excellent LDWA challenge, very runnable but with great variety and scenery. Not to mention usual good food choice and marshalling.

Event I'd recommend to a nutter - Burnsall Classic fell race, nr.Skipton, North Yorks. Nearly 900ft up, same down, all in just over 1.5m. The steepest part of the ascent was exhilerating and quite scary. Feels amazing to have done something like that.

Eye opener - Sedbergh Hills, Cumbria, day after Burnsall. Massive grassy hills, foul weather. AL Fell race, and not one of the easier ones I'd have thought. The first climb is a monster that is mostly walked, the first descent is leg-mashingly steep, from there on the pattern repeats nearly throughout. I fell several times on the wet grassy descents where I couldn't control my speed an daren't let loose due to risk of injury.

Best event of the Year - Trollers runs it close, but I'd have to say the Exterminator, nr. Sheffield. It's classed as AL fell race like Sedbergh, but in truth is nothing like as mean. Great variety with some long runnable sections, steep climbs, fast woodland descents, boulder scrambles and great views.

Toughest LDWA challenge - Moors the Merrier, Mytholmroyd, West Yorks. Killer tussocks, mud, open moorland navigation meaning some people racked up several extra miles. It broke my trail shoe! Do it though, you'll love it, great food throughout and a varied, scenic route.

Toughest trail marathon - Atlantic Coast challenge, day 3, Cornwall. After two days of undulating runnable trails. This day the course got really ragged in places and packed in nearly twice the undulation of day 2. Here was me thinking tough moorland running only existed in the hills of the North, Scotland, Wales and Dartmoor. Try it on its own for a great challenge, do all three days if you dare.

Best road race - Ok, I'm not totally down on road racing. Throw in some scenery and challenge like at Snowdonia and I'll be back year on year.

Personal lowlight - London marathon. I persisted at 3:30 pace for over 20 miles before every muscle in my leg started to cramp. I persisted well between cramps to manage 3:39, but I was gutted. The pounding and effect of cramps meant I didn't run well again for months. I think the whole experiance has made me realise what I really want to be doing in trainers.

Oddest occurance - I split my shoe at about 7m on the Moors the Merrier, something felt wrong but I didn't relise one shoe has split on instep from not far off toe to heel. I kept going in a strange gait to try and stop my foot slipping out of shoe, periodically clearing out pieces of grit to complete the 20.5m course. Made me realise how tough barefoot runners must be.

Best day out - Osmotherley Phoenix, North Yorks. After 33 miles of hilly trails on a scorching day what could be better than laying on a grass verge at a lively village show before visiting the  three lively village pubs 9a stones throw apartr), fish and chips, various competitions. Even a womens drinking competition.

Sunday 20 December 2009

All that was old is new again

And the "new" isn't in glorious technicolour, its a reinvention of black and white, which I'm not going to compromise by mentioning shades of grey. Some people, even freer-minded runners, seem to hate the snow. I'm not one of those, I see it more as a rare privelage to be enjoyed for its short stay, a bit like the expensive restaraunt you only visit once a year on your birthday.

So yesterday afternoon, after a nightout induced lay in I got wrapped up in so much gear I remember feeling cosy running away from my house despite the minus something degrees temperature. It was nearly 4.30pm and dark so I had my teadtorch stashed in my waistbelt, but then I hadn't discovered the glorious secret of snow at night. I hit the country park for some undulating trail, edging nervously down the 50 or so steps to what used to be the foot of a quarry - now a tree-lined country park which the exploration of thrilled me as a child. As I hit the fore shore the last of the red-sky was giving way to night and I expected I'd need artificial light soon. Looking ahead though, the hard packed trail-path along the shore to Ferriby glowed as a narrowing ribbon of white as far as I could see against the blackness of the foliage and stoney beach on either side.

Even passing through the village of Ferriby on hard paths in trail shoes was bearable. The grips securing me on the hard-packed snow and digging in on the softer bits with that satisfying "crunch" you get. I felt a bit of runners smugness - look at me coping with and enjoying the elements. As I hit the trailpath up the hill into the plantation I noted the lack of any lights in this direction and figured I'd soon be pulling the headtotrch out. Wrong again if anything the snow radiated a white light here more than ever, in a wide strip between the dark, almost texture-less tree's. At the top of this small climb there is a little log cabin used as facilities for campers. With the snow hanging off th roof and sitting in the trees above it was all very alpine.

I about turned just after this, heading back to home to get ready for a saturday night out with friends. As often before in my running travels I felt privelaged to have discovered how two of the inconveniences of most people - darkness and snow - could work together to make a regular old route of mine into something I could enjoy in a whole new..... light..... ok, I'll get my coat.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Running smart in 2009

As people may have deduced from some of my almost "sermon"-like posts I think this year I've started to enjoy running - not racing - on a new, back-to-basics, smell the roses, one man and his dog, level. The seed was always there but I've learnt how to sow it and we all know seeds
won't grow into nowt when scattered on the road ;¬)

I also seem to at last have got smarter about pacing myself, which has seen improvements in off-road racing as well as in long slow running. Today at Langdale End - the third fixture in the East Yorks Cross Country league - I've again had a very satisfying run. I was pleased with last weekends 24.5m Rudolph's Romp so to do well today in an even muddier and quite different event was immensely satisfying. Today was a tough little 5.5m race on a technically difficult course, more like trail... sometimes fell running than XC really. Despite only one big climb and matching descent I figured this was all about attacking the hills - as these hills are hands-on-knee jobs. Something which I've come to relish.

The sun was out, just a few heavy but short showers (this is the moors after all) beforehand. The area wasn't too drenched which is good as the course seems to be permanently saturated at this time of year anyway. I managed to break my garmin strap on the first gate so lost dozens of positions and about a minute fixing just a few minutes in. This meant I had to run the muddy, stone and tree-root strewn riverside path pretty hard depsite the looming hill. I made up positions quite well and hit about my standard field position after wading across part of the Derwent and starting up the muddy hillside. My plan, as stated before but in more detail, was to run more uphill than others around me, hard work, but my lack of speed and light frame makes this my ace card. I certainly couldn't run all the steep climb, just too muddy in places to get good purchase, even in mudclaws.

I felt like I was dieing at the top of the hill near Langdale Rigg, but I'd overtook steadily and got up with a couple of runners who usually hammer me on the road. I bust the garmin strap again on a stile so I pocketed it for the remainder. I wasn't checking it anyway and time isn't important as long as I know I've run hard as I can (or want to). A fast guy behind me from another club kept my pace up along the moor/ridge top. Afterall, XC is a team competion so I try to beat as many guys not in purple shirts as I can. So after a sustained effort across fairly level, if saturated, fields and trails I surged as I hit the bigger downhill towards the end. I got passed 4 people and held them off despite nearly being run down over the final half mile flat bit. I won't know exactly till I see results, but about a 5 minute improvement on last year (when it was slightly boggier and I was slightly steadier and walked more of hill).

So thats nearly it for 2009, there'll be more boozing than running now. As per my updated hit list I just need to apply myself one more time on New Years Eve at the Auld Lang Syne fell race. After such a good year I won't be letting myself not run a course best.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Gingerbread Latte, new shoes and Cross Country

My work cafe have a wonderful Christmas special called a Gingerbread latte. Very moreish and getting me through the last few days as we try and cram in loads of stuff before Christmas. Not sure what's in it (maybe cinnamon?) but I reckon it could be a good pre-run energy boost. Its a bit more expensive than my regular daytime tipple, but worth it for 85p a fraction of coffee shop prices.

I've still got loads of Christmas shopping to cram in, but the important thing is my Internet order of Roclite 320's arrived today. I'm perhaps a bit obsessed with Inov8 shoes - also have mudclaws, f-lites and roclite 315s - but supposedly these are a tad more cushioned than 315's so thought I'd try. I think I can justify this as I rack up miles quicker in these shoes than my road shoes with regular 20+ mile outings. Merry Christmas to me :¬0

I've missed the first two East Yorkshire Cross Country league fixtures, but I'm now looking forward to Sundays 3rd fixture. A real treat, we travel to Scarboroughs fixture (in North Yorks) to Langdale End in the North York Moors (I know... also not in East Yorkshire). Well worth the trip up, a gloriously muddy river valley run followed by crossing the (probably raging with recent rain) stream and then heading hands-on-knees up a muddy hillside in two stages. This is all finished off by a run over the top of a hill ridge with great views either side before a muddy descent to the (usually flooded) finishing field. A perfect 5.5 miler! More trail/fell racing than XC, but thats the way we like it.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

A walk on the dark side

I found myself in an old haunt today. Warnings of an accident on my commute route home made me decide to pop around the corner from the office to the local Wetherspoon pub. Avoiding the dodgy "alcho" pub on the corner, which often offers daytime amusement from the office window as well as very bad kareoke on a Wednesday evening from 5pm. Anyway this Wethers pub has been the site of a start of many a night out in my early twenties.

I sat there with a pint of carlsberg, thinking about nights gone by, staggering out of here half cut on the way to a livelier if more expensive "boozer". Part of me wanted to revisit this, call my friends, get them out, have a laugh and suffer a horrendoes hangover the next day whilst not working very hard (I always work hard these days).

I got out after one, part because I was driving - "have another leave the car...." said the demon - but mostly because I've changed, I think for the better. It seems almost another lifetime, I don't go out as much now. Partly due to mortagage and other commitments but mostly beacuse its not compatible with the running really... I can run the day after a skinful but I don't usually enjoy it that much.

A darker thought occured as I passed the other bar again, could I have ended up there? shuffling in at 8am half cut already, staggering out mid afternoon to go do god-knows-what those guys do with the rest of the day. I have seen some right states leaving there at about 10:30am before. How far was I from that? A few more years of the work, night out cycle?. Could I have been "that"? I enjoyed a few nights out a week, some months all my money seemed to disappear on the "razz". I have always been a happy drunk, but once or twice leant on it if a bit down, in between all the good times I enjoyed on the town. Maybe the running is the escape I needed from the stress of work and life and a healthier release than a few (too many) pints. I'm fairly sure I'm addicted to the running and the forum thing, but there could be worse things eh.

Anyhow I'll no doubt have a few heavy nights out over xmas, but not too many, after all with all these days off it would be a shame not to feed my true addiction.

On the first day of Christmas....

Ok its not the first day of Christmas, but as a gift to myself I did East Yorkshires own LDWA challenge, Rudolph's Romp. Having done this last year I know its a decpetive course, giving you a few teasing climbs at the start, then mile upon mile of flatter stuff, followed by longer steady climbs beyond halfway and razor sharp littel climbs mixed in beyond the 20m mark. One might almost call it cruel. I'm sure if it were a half marathon the speedy, race-winning, PB-hunting, talented type would avoid it. Or do it once and moan about the hills at the end when they missed there target time by 5 minutes.

I digress - anyway it was a sunny and rather pleasent, calm December morning. Which was just one ingreadient in making my day. Having done a few hilly LDWA events of late I feel I'm mostly recovered from the Atlantic Coast challenge / Snowdonia marathon tag-team so I stuck to my plan to try and crack 4 hours today. Looking at last years 4.27 this may seem ambitious, but last year I don't think I was 100%, suffering from 12m which I rarely do in a longer event these days. Also, the aforementioned weather this year, it was pretty muddy in places, but I think this is preferable to last years colder conditions which meant ice in places (especially roads) and ice covered snow remnants which can be dangerous. I also knew the route this time.

I was scarily task focused in some ways. I knew it was 24.5m from last year so set the ol' faithful 305 to give me lap splits at 6m intervals. My focus perhaps failed me in other ways, I forgot my pre-mixed energy drink so had to totally rely on CP water or cordial. Nearly worse I dropped my Rombalds plastic mug a few miles in so could have been cupless and I didn't see any plastic cups at CP. Luckily I was on road when it happened so it made a clatter.

Before the start I chatted with the large City of Hull AC crowd assembled for this "unnofficial" club event/day out. I then preceded to get carried away running the first mile or so at about 8min/mile pace as the speed bunny's and racing snakes dragged me along. This starts with a road section to thin the eventers a bit, then the first soon the first short steep climb, I walked this, others around my position didn't, with recent experiance I felt like saying to them "chill out, there's a long way to go" and running on a muddy slope at this angle is barely faster than walking. But, I minded my own business and soon passed these guys again ;¬)

A few climbs and drops later and time for the most prolonged flat section of any LDWA challenge I've done. Not to say its boring though, fields, a food stop, acountry estate, woodland tracks dodging monster puddles and then the welcoming site of a church spire. This is usually the first tell-tale sign of an oncoming village in LDWA challenge-land. As I arrived I saw Chris Brown, who I'd briefly chatted with earlier, leaving the barn CP. I topped up on liquid (as much as I could get in cup), sweet goodies and walked on nibbling and supping.

The challenge now kicked in. The false sense of security was reaping its vengeance all around me. People walking, slowing down, having a breather, this bit got me last year but I wasn't stopping today. The "lumpy" grass/mud path soon gave way to a long and steepening slog up Arras Wold. We turned into the wind along a road briefly and then reentered muddy trails on and off, up and down for a few miles. Including the much appreciated sandwich CP - sandwiches have become my top up food of choice for these things. My pace was good and I was starting to catch people up regularly. My pace had barely dropped in the second half upto 3/4 distance, any difference being down to the hills. Hitting the roads again near the High Hunsley beacon was reassuring, I can never quite figure why this is the highest point in the area as I hadn't seem to gain much height after loosing a lot from about 16m off Arras Wold.

Then came the sting in the tale, dropping into Drewton Wood was briefly quite steep and muddy = hard work. Then followed a long woodland drag before the penultimate section of climb, drop and checkpoint near South Cave. I'd planned around walking this muddy climb but found enough grip and energy to jog most of the way up (without being inefficiently slow). The climb from South Cave takes in a bit of tarmac drive before "Devils staircase", a muddy, rocky, steep climb enclosed by skeletal trees and criss-crossed by there routes. I mostly walked this as the combo of 23 miles in legs, steep incline and rough path made running overly hard work. Back at the top of Mt Airey and then that brief drop before the last climb through pretty (muddy) Woo Dale. Off the last climb I even tried to race in the runners ahead of me along the road into Brantingham village, didn't quite get em ;¬)

I completed a very satisfying, hard-worked performance in a better than expected 3 hours 48. Most people I talked to afterwards seemed pretty happy and had enjoyed the event even if they'd not met an aspirational target. A few tea's and some hot soup later I headed off to relax on a sofa for the rest of the day, very contented. If only the Tigers could have won!

Sunday 29 November 2009

2010 - A year of great challenges!

I look around a few blogs on here and see great plans being prepared. To name but one I've just read about, Ultra Running Collie and his "man-servant" heading for the coast to coast. So as a rallying call to myself and others out there, lets really push the boat out, reach for the stars and leave no stone unturned in a quest to explore the potential of the everyman (and woman). I'll keep my big plan secret for 2010 for now as it still seems unachievable. But I will say - pending the delivery of a new chequebook - I'm entering my first 50. Not even 50, but 55 for the premier of the Hardmoors 55, which isn't that far off so I really need to get my (muddy) boots on.

Too early to summarise 2009, but I've made steady progress and some good leaps, from ultra to multi-marathon, with numerous marathons along the way to take my marathon or over distance count from 5 to about 15.

For now I'm kind of ticking over with LDWA challenges in last few weeks and another 17m today. A really muddy affair after the East Yorkshire area has suffered a mini-deluge in the last few hours - though an East Yorks deluge is probably business as usual for those in the Lakes, Peaks, Dales, mountains. Good undulating fun with the club running from the black mill at Beverley Westwood to the black mill at Hessle foreshore.

So any tips training for a 50? Most people just say lots of 4-6 hour runs. Great stuff! I enjoyed my prep for the three marathons doing lots of 3-5 hour runs. Lots more LDWA challenges and fell races..... wish I could do this for a living.

Monday 23 November 2009

The week and the Wedge

I seem to have got the cold out of the system - ok man-flu - which I guess was my pennance for months and months of continuous running with no breaks. Good week last week. Short hill reps Monday, part trail run Wednesday in the light (what a privelage mid-week at this time of year. Thursday Speed sesh with club - as car less I had an extra 3/4m on start and end to get to meet up. Then the WU and CD were over a mile and we did two laps of the speed loop at easy pace as extra WU. Throw in 8 x ~900m laps, 300m recs and it was quite a mad sesh. Ran consistently (3.13 fastest, 3.26 slowest) then pulled out a 3.08 at the end. I finally seem to have figured how to run a speed sesh without blowing up, more about stamina than speed I reckon for 800's. About 11.5m altogether so I rested up till Sunday

Then a cracking booze up Friday night with club. I only just recovered to be washed up, breakfasted, and out of the door for 5:15 on Sunday to head for the Wensleydale Wedge. I think a 4:30 rise for a run is a new PB for me! 115m later and having dodged or driven nervously through the odd flood I arrived to a nice empty car park. Nice and early, relaxing cup of tea and chat with others in Askrigg village hall and off at 8am. Ran with Mark again, we both seemed to be a bit more energetic than last week at Burley Bridge hike, still a bit off 100% I reckon though.

First 8m seemed all uphill and plenty of evidence that the Yorkshire dales had got the tailend of the weather from neighbouring Cumbria. There were floods around here but villages and towns are scarce so its mostly flooded fields, overspilling rivers or resovoirs and slightly damp sheep and cows. It started to lash down at 8m or so, into a headwind, then into our side, even a bit sleety and slight hail. I stopped, got the gloves an hat on just in time as fingers became a bit numb. Thankfully we turned to be wind assisted and then the rain stopped and a long downhill. Then the best CP I've ever had at an LDWA event - though I'm still a relative novice at these and I here wonderous tales of the extravagant food stops at the Fellsman from Mark. Numerous sandwiches, pork pies, homemade flapjack, cookies, hot drinks, to crown it all it was indoors in a village hall so we got warmed up. Got even better when we learned we were at halfway.

Onwards and really enjoing this, very much like the terrain at Trollers Trot and Wharfdale marathon not far away - lots of what I call "well manicured trails", very grassy and "spongy" due to the no doubt frequent rain. Not too much harsh stuff. There was the odd waterlogged bit, but not too bad really. Next was Aysgarth falls and a treat as the taps were really turned on full. Roaring white water was great to see and it seems due to trhe weather the tourists were staying home. Shame for them as hardly any rain apart from that bit earlier. So green and the dales seemed to have been scrubbed clean.

We pushed on to Bolton castle, walking the odd bit in castle approach. Another good fuel stop and usual selfless and cheery LDWA organisers. Then onwards for last 7m or so back to Askrigg. This was beautiful again, running the ridge north of Wensleydale with the swollen Ure far below. But.... it did seem uphill a lot of the way. We were glad to finally ascend back into Askrigg.

4:26 and felt good most of the way, not stiffening till beyond 20. We reckoned it just a bit over 23m, and amazingly didn't get lost once! (though we did stop and ask directions from the navigationally-more-konowledgable a few times). Not got the stats so not sure how hilly it worked out. Pleasently not half as hilly or grim as I feared. Above the high standard and value offered by all LDWA events, so I can see why this one filled up with a few days to spare.

Rudolph's Romp next... I'm up for a swift one there.

Sunday 15 November 2009

Time bandit

Had a day down in London last week. I was one of the bemused outsiders who costs the "rushing locals" thirty seconds as I try and suss out the ticket machine - northern time bandit. I always kept to the right on escalators though. I sometimes think I rush around too much but I could never live life like that, I wondered if this is a north/south divide thing ... correction a London/rest of country divide. It must make a weekend chillout that bit more special. If I were a doctor I'd prescribe regular LDWA challenges or fell runs to slow down!  No offence intended - Intrigued to hear from "That London"-ers on this. I bet a few of those people who race up left side of the long escalators could be, pretty handy, hill runners.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Under starters orders.....

I kind of feel I'm back at the start of something again. The last 6 months have been fantastic and have delivered me back after a wild, circular ride, hopefully at a higher base fitness than I started with. I did "kind of" a schedule to prepare for the 3in3 and Snowdonia, but it was all good fun, LDWA events and fell races for long runs. Thursday speedwork with club, not caring what I did just wanting to keep my finger in and enjoy the banter. The other runs are just a blur, some weeks I probably only ran 4 sessions but was doing 30-50 miles. I've run new parts of the country, met new and interesting people, had some of the best carb-reloads ever and now its all over....

Targets met.....
what now?.....
Sit around, get fat, work too hard?
Nooooo..... though I have piled on a few pounds this week whilst layed off due to an aggressive cold. Lets call it winter layering.
So?....... what?

I may be short, slow and untalented, but otherwise I'm just like Usain Bolt. Right now I'm just loosening up, doing strides along the first few yards of the track, thinking about the next race, my target, then its in the blocks and I'll go for it. Not 100m mind you, comparison ends there, but it will be bigger, better, maybe faster than the last. How else would I be satisfied?

I'll get around to updating my Hit list soon and hope to catchup with many a member of the off-road community this winter. Afterall, we don't take winter breaks do we? I'll be doing Rudolph's Romp, a speedy little LDWA event in my nearby, this December. Then I'll see if I can improve last years mark in the formula 1 event of the English Fell racing scene, the Auld Lang Syne, hopfully sharp from regular cross country races. Then a rare excursion back onto the roads for the Brass Monkey Half in January. Is a PB (92mins) now beyond me or can I build speed on my solid endurance foundation? Then its back to endurance and I want to really push it in the first few months. I have eyes on the Woldsman as my first 50. However, even before that I quite fancy the Hardmoors 55 - look it up, sounds great. If I don't do that I'll probably do the Jurassic Coast Challenge - another 3 mara in 3 days. One thing I defiantely want to do is the Yorkshire 3 peaks race. I've wanted to do that since before I even ran! Its a great feeling that the qualification of to long A/B cat fell races (or med A) that scared me more than the race I bagged in a few short months this summer.... and enjoyed them enough to do more.

Snowdonia? I think you mean Rain-down-ere :¬)

I vowed after this years FLM not to bother with marathons on the road for a while. 6 miles of cramp, legs taking week to recover from the hammering on tarmac, crowds. Don't get me wrong, FLM is a great spectacle, just not a good race for the "everyman". Anyway, I digress, Snowdonia was my exception, mostly road, but smaller field and supposedly stunning surroundings.

I stayed in Llandudno the night before at my Uncles guesthouse. Its proper comfy, and a good discount for family members. Though judging by the Runners world Snowdonia Forum I should have got organised, laid out some notes and stayed in Llanberis so I could enjoy Petes Eats and the re-hydration Apres-Run. My arrival on the day was a bit late meaning I got the furthest away - but cheapest - car park. I was just in time for a soaking as I walked to registration. met up with Claire who had decided to tough it out and have a go at running the marathon despite very little training due to injury. See how far she could get. Can't help thinking I wouldn't do that, I'm only tough when I'm trained up and confident.

With my windproof jacket and leg cover already letting water through to the running kit I decided to walk to the race start. Better that then stand around in the race and get cold. On the way one joker walking the other way said to somebody in front of me it had been cancelled, but added after the shocked reaction that it hadn't really, but it was likely to be delayed. Ho ho, I don't think so when I'm wet and windswept. This wasn't a bad thing though as it allowed me time to change to my dry - for now at least - reserve running top. About 15-20 mins late, we were off into the wind and rain.

The opening miles are perhaps deceptively easy, your gradually climbing from step 1 and by about 3 miles its slightly more than gradual. After about one mile a strong gust gave us some of that hard rain that almost feels like hail. Eyes squinting, leaning into the wind, like the other 1000 or so I plowed on. It wasn't long before the rain slackened and then stopped. This weather may not be abnormal in the area, judging by the torrids of white water cascading down the mountainsides either side of the Llanberis pass and the rapid river next to the road at points. The landscape was already stunning but the best was yet to come. Only the last part of the initial 800' climb felt even a bit challenging, which inspired confidence.

Just after the 4m mark the climb was over, passing through some loud crowds, a water station and small settlement we hit an initially quite fast downhill. Loads of people flew by but I held off a bit, just going with gravity without applying effort. The route made a left turn to reveal my personal highlight. A gorgeous greener-than-green valley far below, between hills on the left and the foothills of what I guess was Snowdon on the right. My lack of local knowledge means I can't confirm if Snowdon was there. Neither could my vision as the clouds sat just above the top of the Llanberis pass hiding the peaks above.

The drop down to the valley bottom progressed in stages over quite a few miles. Lots of people passed me, many who I saw again later. I maintained a decent pace down but felt a slight stiffening in the legs as I'm not used to steady downhills of this length - who is... right? Next stop Beddgelert and a small climb to halfway. A nice change and confidence inspiring to go uphill, which always seems a bit less uncomfortable when the legs start to suffer from the repeated foot strikes on hard roads.

Try as I might I couldn't seem to get far below 9-min/miling on the flat - I suppose this is fast compared to many of the off-roaders I have done and the road pace has probably suffered a bit due to this. I could have probably forced a fast pace, But I'm sure I would have suffered. I already had various stiff sore bits on my legs including right knee which felt sharp at times.

On the long road to Waunfawr I was looking forward to the climb. I was fairly sure I could get up there mostly running due to my training this year, I was also sure many others wouldn't. Not that it would be easy, but I knew if I could get up there at more than a walk I had a good chance of my sub-4 target.

The support at Waunfawr was great and I felt good to run up the first hill through town. Like at the Llanberis pass many miles earlier I had the feeling it must get more difficult. I wasn't disappointed. Around the corner and got one of the chocolate goodeis on offer at the feed station. I'd already taken a big swig of energy drink, but I'm no slave to one form of energy provider and the stomach felt alright. The narrow road became more of a track and ot felt like any one of many moorland climbs I'd one in the last 6 months of long off-road LDWA, fell runs, etc. Call it cruel but I drew confidence from running up this, even when it was barely faster than a walk whilst so many others were walking at a variety of paces. This is the terrain I can do well and I guess many of the competitors weren't so used to this kind of climb.

As it levelled out the track became rockier and the weather descended again, strong side winds almost blowing the runners sideways. Combined with the rain which had restarted on the way up it felt cold again. Then came the descent, at some stages just a path. At first I meandered along and lost a few places. Then the off-road conditioning kicked in and a I thought "this is steep, but I've done worse" and the old classic "brain off, brakes off" and down I went skipping down, jumping, windmilling the arms, hoping to inspire others to enjoy the moment - catch me if you can! I was kind of disappointed to hit hard road again as each footstep hurt that bit more.

The loop around Waunfawr dragged and the motivation dipped a bit as some of my - as of yet unexperianced today - road marathon leg cramps started to make things akward. I cursed and got going again. As I passed 800m to go I kicked a bit as people started to run passed me and the competitive bit decided I would lose no more places. Pumped the arms to drive the legs, gaze straight forward and gun for the line. Then it was there, I had to duck around somebody on the line as I drove through.

Under my target of four hours, at halfway I thought I'd be well under. But I think its safe to say this isn't a course for a negative split, what with the climb after Waunfawr coming at the most difficult time. In many ways the descent that followed was just as tough, certainly more painful.

I grabbed my hard earned coaster and foil blanket, I thought I'd overheard talk of forum near line so I headed over. Had a quick chat with a few other forumites anfd then headed off to get some warm clothing. I hung around for an hour to see Claire in and contemplated the planned forum meet-ups for food and booze. Though in the end I was so chilled by the winds I headed back to Llandudno to get a warm shower.

I really enjoyed that and will be back for another go. As you might have guessed the temptation of the mountain race is too much so I'll no doubt do that too in the meantime. 

Friday 16 October 2009

Effects of all the Mara-FUN

In prep for the ACC I ignored various niggles and have had a pleasent injury-free spell going back to 2008. I certainly think the generally softer off road surfaces and slower paces have helped this, as well as the greater variety of muscles engaged on the more variable inclines. Having Snowdon Marathon to prepare for has kept me going but I'm starting to suffer some "wear and tear".

A sore spot under my left foot I first felt the day after the ACC has returned, maybe not a bone-bruise after all. I've also started to suffer all kinds of right leg problems in my last three runs, with sore top-outside of knee being joined by a sore calve yesterday making the last mile of 11 a bit of a pathetic limp. I'm a bit paranoid that the majority of my runs in the last 3 weeks have been on hard surfaces - mostly due to the shortening days - so I'll return to off-road for this weekend. Damage limitation up until Snowdon. Then I'll rest awhile.....

..... who am I kidding the next zany event will be just around the corner! I am Danny and I am a running addict ;¬)

Saturday 10 October 2009

2 weeks recovery, 2 weeks taper

I've reached the stage of being nearly two weeks recovered which means less than two weeks until Snowdonia. Quite sensibly for me I didn't run until Thursday after the event - 4 days rest - and then didn't do anything at a strenuous pace until this Wednesday. That's still probably too early but I figure I'm pretty well trained and recover quickly by now.

I'm still on a bit of a high and enjoying each run despite sometimes less panoramic locations than the South West coast path. Here's an untypical week and a bit in my MIUAYGA - Make It Up As You Go Along - schedule...

Thu 01/10 - 8m club run, down the humber path into Hull. Solid trail along side of A63 at first (bit grim) but with an almost glassy, calm, Humber a few yards the other way, reflecting a multitude of yellows, reds and oranges as the sun set. The next section is all path, passing a retail park, skeltons of dock buildings and then the highlight; a raised walkway over the dock warehouses which is very surreal. Its was dark going back and the A63 provided a useful function as the roadlights and headlights lit the trail. Felt like a medium effort, but quite a slow pace.

Sun 04/10 - Sandstone Trail race - A very nice event in part through Delaware forest in Cheshire. Met up with Claire for a steady-paced run; as she is in injury recovery and I was being sensible. Very nice trail, flat at first and then deceptively undulating at the end, nothing that required a walk though. A very nice off-road introduction event with very runnable paths. We did the 10.5m route, but the 17m apparently has an undulating and scenic ridge run to get you a sweat on before joining the 10.5milers - one for next year.

Mon 05/10 - Hessle hills training - Up and down the small hills on roads in my hometown, which adds up to a fun challenge I might have once considered hilly. Again pace was steadier than I thought.

Wed 07/10 - Club 4 x 400m champs - Exactly the sort of thing I probably shouldn't be doing, but they do say a change is as good as a rest. B******s, but a memorable quote. I was B leg in my team (A's being faster, C's and D's - you get the picture) and ran pretty well. On first attempt, made up the few yards to other team through first 200, sat on him till 300 and then kicked home. Felt great and dead chuffed with 69 seconds. I didn't disgrace myself in other two legs of races either, no one got past, and despite putting more in could only manage 72 and 73 seconds. Happy with that after recent lack of focus on speed.

Thu 08/10 - Club hard session - Ran to the meet up point carrying a pack of hobnob's as my turn to bring biccies - must have looked slightly odd. 1m+ warmup and then 5 x 2k - and a bit - undulating road laps at nearly 10k effort with just 100m recovery. Really one to pace well as thats a lot of fast stuff and little recovery. Did something right as my laps got slightly faster each time ending up 21 seconds faster on last than first. With cooldown ended up being over 10m - a session with it all.

Sat 10/10 - Run around Hessle, < 3.5m mostly flat on roads, but with some solid trail and a decent climb out of the quarry via ~ 100 steps (I'd guess). It'd been a sedentary day so I hit a good effort of nearly 7 min/miling.

Tomorrow will be my practice run. Too late for a productive long run so I'm going to run a few 5m laps with a long climb and descent. Remind the legs what Snowdonia demands.

Eating really well and can't sleep enough.. which reminds me (YAWN)...

Monday 5 October 2009

ACC Day 3 - Lelant to the end of the Isle

I awoke on Sunday with still functional limbs so I guessed it was time to get the final run done and dusted. I seemed to be famished as I'd not really eaten enough the previous day. So I had plenty of porridge, bread + jam and then a banana not long brefore the race. This just succeeded in giving me an upset stomach by race time. Camp was quiet immeadiately before the briefing as many runners had started with the walkers, fearing the worst in the last days offering or needing to make a train/plane back to the real world? There was a bit of gallows humour on the minibus which lifted the mood slightly from the standard aura of the tired, nervous, and, following the brieifing, probably fearful passengers.

The slightly reduced runners gathered on masse on a village green near a church, some like myself watered the flowers. No complaints from the congregation who hopefully prayed for our mortal souls. We were soon off and it was quite a sedate start. Paths, alleys and quiet streets winding towards Carbis bay and then St Ives. I recall thinking that St Ives is somewhere I'd like to spend more time. Pleasent looking pubs, cafs and little shops. I must be getting old as I would have probably thought that of Newquay at one time.

Of the RW forum members I'd shared prep for this event with; Stuart was off up ahead on the way to a superb performance, Tommy I had just met and ran the first few miles with and then we met up with Gareth almost by accident. Nice to put faces to names and hear a bit about how this was going for them. Lots of solid surface and reasonably flat streets meant for a faster start than day 2. On the other hand it wasn't like day 1 where I purposefully had my foot on the brakes for 13miles. A small group of runners had bunched around me and kept me in line when I tried to go the wrong way after climbing the headland beyond the harbour - it was a short cut.. honest ;¬)

After another climb out of St Ives things soon got rough. My early confidence and pace would soon be knocked for six, but for now I was ascending and descending ok and managing to skip over the stones, boulders, twigs of heather and keep in line on the twisty and undulating paths. The trails here were a sign of things to come, fun at first, concentrating on keeping balance and rythm when there were a hundred-and-one obstacles in every one hundred strides. Gone were the straight, flat, and good surfaced paths that made up much of the previous days. This was more like crossing rough moorland somewhere like Calderdale or the western Yorkshire Dales.

By the time the path diverted inland to Zennor - following the return of a section of path near Zennor head to the sea - the cracks were forming in my will and endurance. Running the road into the town I seemed to be in slow motion almost like being towed by the guy in front. I felt like I had at 22 on day 1 or twenty on day 2, no longer confidently catching those in front, now just a passenger on an unpredictable ride. The sun was also out and I was sweating buckets as I often seem to do in the least hint of warm weather. The stomach was neither here northere at CP1 so I guzzled coke and water and ate some chocolate which seemed to agree. Then it was off again in slow motion, slightly bouyed by the very late arrival of CP1, probably more like 10m than 10k'ish, which is a good incentive that I'm near halfway.

A few runners passed me on the way back to the coast and the roughest section of terrain of the whole 3 days. Picking up where we had left off before Zennor it was wild, rocky, moorland, zig-zagging up and down the coast as it sloped towards the jagged cliffs. I was keeping up with those in front - who I was sure were ahead of me the previous day - until I hit the rounding of Porthmeor Cove. Then I just had to walk a bit as the path zigged up hill through more rock-strewn foliage. I let a few runners passed and decided to walk to the next flat bit. As I topped out I passed a girl I had the few previous days, also struggling, who on both occasions previously had then undertook me as I faded. As I approached a hill top the path became unclear, head was almost spinning and I couldn't see the, surely close, CP2 to pull me on. I became more ungainly, short of breath and unstable. A few minutes of this and a small fall made me realise I couldn't get to CP2 without action. I grabbed my emergency gel to get in some energy and electrolytes quick. I then reagained my direction and pushed on at a march. I passed "MdS" Mike who had gone out with the walkers, like myself he was unsure of the true path t this confusing section of the coast "path"?!. He had some of those walking poles, I could have done with some as the downhills were rabbit-punching my trashed quads.

The, panoramic, event signature, CP2, perched high on Trevean cliff, was a welcome sight as I waddled in. As scenic as this was it was not ideal as there was standing room only and the crowd were sheltering me from getting easy access to food and drink. So I only got a bit of water and coke and went on with no food for my "grumbling tum". The footing on the paths improved after CP2. A small blessing almost lost on me as I could barely run the slightest incline and any small obstacle halted me. The names of place I passed were now lost on me, there was some old mining remnents which distracted me for a while. Everything seemed to be uphill, even if only a tiny gradient. This was somewhat not an illusion, as when we got to CP3 were were far above the Atlantic. That was still a way off though. Any last remnents of energy I had were soon left slightly off the side of the coastal path. I inadvertantly strayed to a lower path which soon rounded a headland in almost scrambling style as I had to engage my hands to climb up and down boulders whilst keeping a safe distance away from the crumbling edges. I rejoned the true path, probably having not suffered a distance penalty, but a time and energy one.

Cape Cornwall appeared to the south and a long way below the high approach past a small castle and cairn. Thud, thud, thud,  went the hammer to my quads and soles of feet as I padded down the hill ungainly. I felt proper rough at this CP and drank at least 5 cups of water and coke. I then took a cheese and pickle sandwich and lay on my side in the grass verge behind the "grub van". I lay there for a while, eating in mousebites, trying to psyche myself up for the next.... last section. just about 6 miles, how could I consider giving up now. People came and went, any competive instinct I had was drained, I just needed to drag myself to the end. After 10-15 minutes I was back on my feet and plodding out of the carpark. The next section was comparibly good footing, some tricky stones implanted in paths and the odd big stone to clamber over, but for the fresh trail runner this would have been rather fun. It was a really dipper of a route though, traipsing up and down over whatever hills could be found. More runners passed and others appeared ahead, obviously suffering a bit like myself. I focused on trying to catch up with somebody! I ran downhills, level bits and did what I could on the uphill and tricky bits. I wasn't walking all of it as this would just prolong this experiance... not in a good way. Despite this I was only averaging about 17 minute/miles.

After an impossibly long 3 miles a beach appeared - Whitesand Bay, the last beach before the finish. I passed some walkers and then some runners, I ground almost to a halt on some soft sandy sections and then into a town. Sennen Cove, a nice little place and a flat, concrete path to run along. Despite this luxury I still had to take a walk break halfway through town. A sign said "Lands End 1 1/4m" :¬0 - but pointed uphill :¬(

Then I was hallucinating, "Holy batman and robin...", the caped crusader and his squeeky-voiced assitant passed me. No.... it was actually happening, whatever wonders the crime fighters had in their utility belts it had them running a storming finish, despite the costumes that must have been baking them. I regained my focus, just a few hundred metres now. Me and another guy even broke into a fast finish, despite the ludicricity - is that a word - of getting there a few seconds faster in what had turned into over a seven hour, 28.5 mile run! Winners did just under 5!! Amazing, but consider the difficulty of this last days course when I remind you they'd been sub 3:30 yesterday.

I was there, the line, I stopped for a picture, received my rather cracking laser patterned glass trophy and was directed over to the food. I didn't dwell on the frankly anti-climactic Lands End (Cape Cornwall was more impressive). Water, water, water, was the first order of business. I've never appreaciated water, undiluted by anything calorific, more. The budget cola on offer had become a close second. After a few moments rest I grabbed my hard-earned pasty and headed off to the food table. I didn't feel hungry so availed myself of a "For goodness shake" which I've always found rather pleasent and effective. Thank the lord a "meat wagon" had just pulled up and I joined the other coastline casualties in crawling in for the luxury of automated transport. I couldn't resist nibbling the warm pasty - it was good - but unfortunately my parched throat couldn't drink enough to let me digest it all so I had to leave half till I got back to camp.

It was pretty much dark as I arrived back at the holiday park. Daryl - of the MdS suvivors team was already back at mine and Mikes chalet. He'd sucumbed to a painful foot injury and was able to complete the last day, but not in time for his train connection, even having gone off with the walkers. Made me realise that despite my bodily failures I was lucky to be seemingly uninjured. I tried a hot bath, I felt I'd give the ice bath a miss today, I'd punished my body enough. That took the edge off despite several acrobatics to try get properly washed up in the worlds smallest bath. Not long after Mike arrived back after a long day out, finishing just before sunset. The three of us dedided curry would be just reward and got a lift with one of the votwo guys into Hayle - some of them were still ferrying back tail-enders, well after dark. Those still out there were real heroes, they must have spent nearly half the last 24 hours on foot.

The curry was heavenly, the the cobra beer nectar. I remember once having a strong curry thats name was supposed to translate to "medicine for the sick man". If this is true todays Chilli Chicken Masala must do something similar for the man with very tired legs. A true reward - but I didn't need a reward, completion had been enough, the pasty the prize, the smile on my face didn't fade all the next day. I figured I was the happiest person spending 9 hours on a train the next day - though I may not have had much competition.

Its been over a week now, I'm back in the real world, the rat race, I've probably piled on the reckoned half stone I worked off on a parallel world where the sea was just a few footsteps to my right and a short drop away. It was life changing; though I'm no better or worse afterwards, probably no happier, or sadder, but I've taken on a challenge that was enormous to me and risen to it. Whats left to do now, but to look onwards and upwards and reset my expectations and think about what to do next. What challenge I can rise to meet, and prepare hard for to give me a focus to drive me on past the mundanities of life, the real stuff, getting in my hours, paying the bills.

4:39 - 4:43 - 7:12 - 79miles - 23rd of 127.

Drunken-Euphoria will return in a yet unknown adventure.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

ACC Day 2 - Perranporth to Hayle

Saturday dawned, again I was up and wide awake well before the alarm. Porridge and toast for breakfast and due to short sleep I was almost dozing again by the time the bus had shipped us back to Perranporth. I fancied hiding under a few of the other runners bags, waiting while the other runners and VO2 team were distracted and then sneaking in to one of the many pubs I'd noticed here at the finish the day before.

But I didn't... I was at the line and off - very slowly - up the hill out of Perranporth. At this point I first met Stuart, who was one of the guys I'd been talking to on the forum about this the last few months. He seemed energetic and was well out of site by time I'd stopped to pee and take a few pictures - No! not of the pee, of the lovely scenery down this coast. I hadn't stopped to take pics the day before, but figured my legs could do with the odd break today. The picture to left is Perranporth, looking from top of hill back over the long beach we'd run the length of at the end of day 1. It was quite an up-and-down first few miles, lots of steps or trail descents and then ascents out of small bays. I quite enjoyed this as I was still going well both up and down, not as tentative as some down and willing to run more uphills than others. It was soon down to Trevaunance Cove and the first CP of the day - yeh!

Found some flapjack, gulped water and coke as this had hydrated me on day one well enough. Onwards and downwards, through Porthtowan. Feeling good and the average pace had dropped below 12's after the slow start, there was then a reasonably level section towards Portreath and CP2. Sandwich time, randomly grabbed a peanut butter which was a bit hardgoing and on to the beach under a high cliff before a shortish but steep climb back up onto the cliffs.
The sun was out now following the typical weather pattern of the weekend with overcast start and slow boil in the afternoon. Quite a long and flatish run now along higher cliffs with the odd twist to liven things up. I found myself playing random songs in my head - a good sign? Radio Gaga was good but I was surprised that "Jake the Peg" (Rolf Harris) was also in there, guess it suited the slow rythm of my plodding.  maybe I was distracting myself as the aches mainfested beyond halfway. The next CP at Godrevy head was a long time in coming. When I got there I was slowing, hot and had to walk awhile down into St Ives bay.
I caught up with a few other runners in the dunes as the path became multiple paths and four of us eventually abandoned the slow and hard dune navigation and headed for the solid sands of the 3 mile beach towards Hayle. This went on for a long time, my comfortable run pace now over tens even on the flat. The effects were different to the previous day, more stiffness, less energy, but no feeling of hitting the wall. Eventually the beach was left and the cliff climbed to head back on ourselves through Hayle Towans and towards Phillack. There was an extra CP here - ther to make sure we didn't cut through the dunes a mile back to the "back door" enterance of the holiday park. Like we would?

Running on the hard paths and roads through Phillack wasn't fun but at least the end was close, just up a small hill, a left turn into the camp, a steep drive I coul barely run up and then down the steps and the finish right at the holiday camp. A brief stagger to drinks, soup, food and massage if we wanted. This day was a bit short - ~24.5m - and I was slightly slower than the day before having never quite recaptured yesterdays pace after the steady start. 4:43, so 4 minutes down, but actually 2 positions higher in the standings. 20th for the day of well over 100 who had ran and walked these first few days. I was tired, but happy that all those long runs around the beautiful Yorkshire Moors, Dales and Peak district in the last few months hadn't just been a useless distraction. The 2 leaders had dipped inside yesterdays time of 3:37, to run sub 3:30.

So far so good, day two was probably harder than day one, higher cliffs meaning bigger drops and climbs when a bay or inlet was crossed, generally more rugged. It was also prettier and more scenic, more remote, no Newquay to cross ;¬) Certainly not as difficult as bleak Calderdale moorland, the muddy south derbyshire dales. Not in the same league as the higher parts of peak district, the Western Yorkshire dales, Sedbergh Hills or Lakes.

After a short massage I hoped would help I hit the sack for a few hours in a vain attempt to relax into a late afternoon nap. My legs were pulsing and twitching, trying to pump bllod around, clean out waste products, wanting to cramp, and did a few times later. I nibbled on snacks, took Ibuprofen, Glucosamine, dark chocolate - cos I like it, but did I heck have any cramp tablets in my medical bag of tricks.... grrr!

BBQ time, I seemed to arrive everytime they were waiting for more food to cook so only got one burger, lamb chop, breadbun and veg kebab. At least I got a chocolate banana and forced down a few beers. Most of us were all tucked up in bed by 11.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

ACC Day 1 - Padstow to Perranporth

So, after a journey longer than any of the marathons would take on Thursday I arrived at the quiet Hayle station and was picked up straight away by one of the votwo guys. I got to the site, got checked in and learnt my chalet partner for the next four days was already here. Got to the chalet and met Mike and three other guys who'd met at this years Marathon des Sables and kept in touch after enjoying there tent banter. I declined the kind offer of joining them for a journey into Hayle for a restaraunt meal as I already had a voucher for a meal on site. Votwo food was good and quite substantial, tasty, yet healthy and I chatted to a guy called Don who was there with his wife and daughter, all planning on running and/or walking the event. A completley different end of the experiance spectrum to Mike and the MdS survivors I'd just met. This pattern of extremes was repeated throughout the weekend, with marathon novices doing all three marathons, often, pretty respectably fast, then there was a guy in his early 20's who holds the 10 marathon in 10 days record contested the last few years at the Windermere Marathon and the guy who did the final two days to tick off marathon numbers 599 and 600 - gulp!

Come Friday morning I was up before the alarm, fitful and restless sleep so I got down to the catering tent for porridge, honey and some nutella on bread. I'd prepared my hydration backpack the night before with all the kit requirements. Not exhaustive compared to some events but still plenty to remember. Checked everything and got my post-run warm gear together and headed down for reg and kit check. The check was quite thorough and applied to everybody and I felt fairly pleased that I had a smaller backpack than the majority of people. We had our briefing and then a long trip in the mini-bus convoy up to near Padstow. The trip was over an hour so we didn't start till early afternoon and there was a hilarious moment as nearly every bloke headed to the cliff edge to pee over it, a few yards apart like some kind of small army. I'm sure the ladies also found somewhere to lighten the load, but were more subtle about it.

12:10 and we were off, but not very fast as we herded at the stile. With over 100 runners - the walkers which took our number to roughly 200 had set off two hours earlier - the queue was long so many of use jumped the fence. I spoke to an MdS trainee for the first few miles as he told me the anecdote that Hugh Grant owned one of the big, remote, white houses overlooking Constantine beach we were passing. The first few miles were great, easy trails, grass, short sandy beach crossings and not much challenge. Very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security about this "challenge". I steadied my fresh-legged pace from 10's to nearer 11's, anything slower would have been too easy. Cliffs were generally low and the undulations small at first, this changed throughout day one and escalated over the following days.

There were a few beach sections and stream crossings on day one. The first was at Porthcothan beach. There were mutters from those in road trainers around me and I felt slightly smug in my f-lites, knowing if my feet got wet they would be dry again before I could dwell on it. The contours the path followed tightened a bit for a few miles culminating in a decent drop down to the beach at Mawgan Porth. On the beach I suddenley got the sensation of a wet arm, I looked around, nobody with water pistols, no rain clouds, didn't look or smell like seagull "output". Then something fell off my bag into the sand. I retrieved the plastic valve from my hydration pack tube, which had loosened until it had dropped off, brushed the sand off it as best I could. I'm useless in any kind of warm weather without plenty of fluid so loosing the valve could have been a nightmare at such an early stage.

8m down and on to CP1, mini mars bar, cola, water and off, no sense in hanging around whilst fresh. Off down the coast along Watergate bay, Newquay bound. It wasn't far to the next CP but definately harder going than the opening 10k. A variety of routes over and around Port beach were taken. I'm just glad I followed the right people and got to CP2. We passed several others later who had missed this in the maze of Newquay and lost loads of time doubling back.

CP2 of each day was the first sandwich stop. I sunck some water and grabbed a random sandwich. Cheese and pickle :¬) , always seems to help, can be dry, but I'm sure a change from sugary carbs helps. Off into Newquay, I tried valiantly to follow South West Coast path signs but this got difficult as they were just tiny stickers on lamp posts amongst a litter of street signs on bustling resort streets. Briefly I was alone, but then rejoined a group through downtown Newquay. I nearly took a wrong turn, but thankful to be called back. The path became evident again as we passed the grand looking hotel featured in the film version of "The Witches" and alongside the famous surfer mecca that is Fistral Beach.

One more headland and down to Crantock beach. Depending on tide crossing the river here can be a swim, but today we were thankful the tide was low and the bridge was usable. CP3, I had some kind of cereal bar, more water and coke and got off again. 16m down and there was now a bit of dune crosssing before a few undulating headland tours on towards the challenging section of the day. After some narrow, lumpy paths it was down dunes again to Hollywell beach. Route options here, you could go up a cliff or across a stream at the back of the beach and stick to the path. I kicked myself later, just a little, for taking the longer - slower - option. This climbed us up and around more rugged headland terrain past abandoned mines and a "danger area" - perhaps military? I was tiring now, my run around Ligger point to the vast Perran beach was slow and I stopped catching up with people.

Down the dunes and on the beach I followed a few hundred yards behind the next two runners, who seemed to pull away. 22m+ now and my stomach tightened and breath seemed harder, I always assumed this is a sign of walling so backed off the pace more as I tried to follow the nice, springy mid-beach sand on the near 5k beach section. I'd feared this bit but it turned out to be very runnable on a wide, flat beach at low tide. Perranporth took an age to grow at the far end of beach but eventually I was there. A short run around the small promenade passed less active daytrippers and that was it for the day. 4:39, quite happy with that

I never feel hungry at the end of a long run, but I gulped some liquid and put away a cup of nice veg soup and breadroll. I was worryingly stiff and tired and wondered if I could restore my energy supplies ok for tomorrow or if it would be painful fat burning much of the way? I've done two long runs in a row before, but this was three and my worry didn't ease till the food I'd ate kicked in and picked-me-up a bit. There was a big dinner back at the holiday park, I sure needed it. My roommate Mike turned up a bit later having been out quite a while - he hadn't trained much since MdS - and having to wait for the last finishers to get to the last minibus. Night finished with a few of the complimentary beers from organisers, sponsors and chilling in front of some TV comedy - Rock and Roll?.... nope definately more Soup and Roll.

With hindsight this was the easiest day, also my fastest, whether I should have held back more I don't know. If the next two days were anything to go by then yes. Other factors like eating and sleep may have been wrong also - not enough of either all weekend, neither by choice. I didn't force myself to eat when full and kept waking early.

September catchup

Work and prep for the Atlantic Coast Challenge have robbed me of blogging time the last few weeks. For instance I did the Good Shepperd classic fell race the Saturday before last. A challenging race with some big climbs and difficult underfoot, but also enough runnable bits and scenery to keep you enjoying it and looking forward. Its a bit distant now for me to report, but from a personal point of view I had a good run after burning up a bit too much energy at the start. Try this one, runs from Mytholmroyd, about 13.5m and 2450' up and down.

This last - long - weekend was my big challenge of the year. Started with a 9 hour train journey down to Hayle in Cornwall (near St Ives). Amongst other distractions I read a good chunk of Feet in the Clouds for a second time. Great book and worth reading for any who haven't yet. Some amazing feats of endurance described in there, but also some brilliant descriptions of the hardship of personal challenges in hilly and ill-weathered parts of the country. Anyway I was down there for the Atlantic Coast Challenge, organised by votwo (VO2). Big report to come, but to summarise...

This event follows the South west Coast path from Padstow to Lands End in three daily sections which roughly equal 78.6 - 3 marathons - mostly off-road, sometimes on very difficult trails.

Day 1 - Padstow to Perranporth - ~26m - 2700'
Day 2 - Perranporth to Hayle - ~24.5m - 2750'
Day 3 - Lelant to Lands End - ~28.5m - 4100'

Took me roughly 16:37 for the three days running, all challenging runs and day 3 would challenge the hardiest runner. Not just the increased distance, climbs and descents but also much rougher paths as challenging as nearly anything we have in the hills up north due to vegetation and stones/boulders being strewn everywhere for long stretches.

Thursday 17 September 2009

One week to go

This time next week I'll hopefully be all tucked up for my last recharging sleep before the Atlantic Coast Challenge (ACC). I'm quite excited, but have quite a busy week beforehand at work and getting prepared for this. Since doing 39m two weekends ago I've been cutting the mileage slightly, low 40's last week and probably this. Last 20+ last weekend over the wolds and just 15m on the Saturday plan this week and a token effort on Sunday.

My weekly mileage hasn't been mega, but certainly big for me and often concentrated around a long and a medium run at the weekend. Last 5 weeks have all been forties, fifties and one excursion into the high 60's which is a best for me. I've only done two runs this week (Tue=9, Thu=10), but weekend should get me to high thirties at least.

I find the mid to long runs at this stage a bit boring/tedious as I just want to be doing my big run next week.... now. So I've decided to enter one last race of 15m, ideal length and in Calderdale so will be hilly and muddy. I'm also not breaking the 20 so not depleting the energy stores completley - I hope. I'll give your the filthy details when I'm done.

Regarding ACC prep, I'm about ready bar the packing. There is a short required kit list but I'm hoping I can get it all in the new Inov8 race Elite 3 pack I've ordered. I can always nab a few velcro pockets off another pack. This is assuming it ever turns up - great time for a 5-7 working day delivery to actually take that long and a postal strike! Really hoping I get this tomorrow so I can use it on Saturday as sort of "dress rehearsal". I'm also undecided on shoes so I'll be taking road, mild trail and harsher trail shoes - leaving nothing to chance. If its like coastal paths in my area then the trails will be quite solid, but if its more like Calderdale or parts of peak district then it could be pretty muddy all year around. I've also started reading Feet in the Clouds again to keep the inspiration topped up. Food wise there is breakfast and dinner provided if you want it. On the run there is water, cordial drinks, and flat cola (latter of these I'll only experiment with if thoroughly sick of other two). I'll be taking one bottle of my own energy drink each day too, to assure I get all the electrolytes, etc... There are also supposed to be sandwiches at some CP, which is always nice and I'm quite partial to a cheese and pickle on the run. I haven't found it causes me stomach problems. At the end of each raceday we can also get soup and For Goodness Shakes. Both of which I believe will be useful to restock various drained resources. I've tried the shakes after a long run and often run well the next day. They may not be the reason but could well be a piece of the jigsaw.

Enough of that, I'm babbling on. I'll report again when  have something to report.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Standing in the footsteps of giants (well one!)

With no event or race to do this weekend for the first time since god only knows, I came up with the plan of doing a stage of the Wolds Way starting out in the countryside and finishing a mile from my door. I'd done this before in training for my first ultra in 2007 and figured it would be a pleasent way of getting some weekend miles in. I had a huge curry on Friday night which I hope would energise me and hopefully wouldn't give me "delhi" belly or killer wind.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step

My shorter journey was no different. I had to get up and on a bus from Hessle to Beverley and then a second bus to Market Weighton. I had one false start with my "one step" as I slept in till nearly 9, the next bus being at 10.15 would mean a late start by time I'd done the bus thing twice. My first, second, third, fourth and many after were then in vane as I arrived on time at the bus stop only to see it heading off up the road... british transport... early!!

I made the next bus an hour later. I was pretty much the youngest person on there by 35 years. Had I stepped on a national express tourbus by accident? After a slow and round the houses 1hr10 mins journey for the 10 or so miles to Beverley. I just had enough time to use the facilities and grab a coffee and flapjack before getting on the next bus to Market Weighton.

Bellies gonna get ya

The longer journey to Market Weighton took a much more acceptably less-than-20 minutes. Here I got off and set about finidng the road to Goodmanham and my entry to the Wolds Way. To elaborate on the post title, a bit of history, Market Weighton was the home in the 18th/19th Century of "Giant" Bradley - 7'9", 27 stone, the Yorkshire Giant - rumours of eating Lancastrians for breafast are totally unfounded.

 I recalled last time finidng a public conveniences on the way and revisited as the belly took its 4th stab of the day of "clearing out" - to no avail, still got cracking wind now. This is obviously what happens when I deviate from the safety of a Jalfrezi or stronger and go for a mild, creamy curry, combine with peshwari nan, bombay aloo (spicy potatoes), mixed rice, cobra beer.... the list goes on. I spent a minute or two clearing the pipes and reading the bizarre story of somebodies first "manly love" encounter with their sports coach to get a fiver, on back of the door. Very elaborate and I won't take this story any further.

I finally started running just after 1pm, gradual climb out of the town and towards Godmanham. Here again there is history. Here in AD627 a Christian Missionary persuaded  the Pagan king of Saxon Northumbria to convert to Christianity. With the shade temperature probably now in the 20s and there not being much shade, any wind or any clouds I was considering converting from my running paganising as the god of weather had given me a "bum deal" today.

I soon hit the trail as it followed a narrow tarmac road through a pleasent wooded valley. This soon led me to the first proper trail - e.g. not road - as I climbed up onto the wold tops. Not a particularly inspiring section of run backdrop, more farmers fields, but it was plesenatly undulating and nicely even and reponsive underfoot. I was also happier as I had also gone topless at this point to cool down, stashing the shirt in the backpack and hoping the straps weren't going to rub my pale skin.

"Are you completely mental"

More history on these moortops, passing the site of a Roman Ampitheatre, which I will have to take the guides word for (I'm fed up of linking, click the previous link and scroll up if your really interested). I passed a few walkers out "enjoying" the weather, getting some fresh air and usually looking a bit hot and bothered. I passed two, curvy, girls, who'd also gone topless for their walk - calm down they still had bra's on. Being a gentleman, as always, I said "Hello". The immeadiate response from one being "Are you completely mental?" . Damn my lack of quick wit... I couldn't think of a witty retort so kept going, trying to think of one I can then forget to use when asked this question in future.

More fields and a drop into a deeper shallow sided valley the route crosses. The TV mast was visible across the valley at the next high point, the high hunsley beacon, but this was deceptive and still a good 4 miles away. There was first the grassy and quite pretty and undisturbed Swin Dale.

Man vs Sheep

As I said above, Swindale is a quiet place, but is home to a flock of well fed sheep. On one stretch the path is a narrow one between foliage and and electric fence to keep the four-legged ones on-site. As I ran along this a sheep that had somehow got over or around this fence was charging at me, it got to within a few feet and tried to stare me out. I'm no huge-menacing figure, but I think the sheep soon realised who was boss and did an about turn back up the narrow path, away from me at a speed I would have struggled to emulate for long today. I had been victorious in this encounter but had the sheep been brave I'm sure he had the physique to easily run right through me. As I approached the end of this path the sheep was heading back at me. Obviously still not figuring how to get back through/over the fence it had got to the gate and headed back my way. Sensing this could drag on I stood in the foliage and the sheep reluctantly passed. Good result for all involved. I do wonder if that sheep ever got back over the fence?

Anyway, back on track now, as the dale curled south again I climbed out, passing the beacon and mast and soon found myself descending into woodlands as the route got more interesting again. I'd done barely 10m and the energy levels weren't great, heat taking its toll. At least the woods provided 10 minutes of shelter. Then the hard work started again, across the valley where the now defunct Hull - Barnsley railway once ran and a big climb out of the valley, before another short woodland section and a descent to the edge of South Cave. If the first section was high ground and longer steady undulations these were now short and often steep. You'd really have to be going for it to run every step of the next of the next few miles after having done 10n already. I stopped to chew an energy bar as I climbed up Mount Airey and then dropped up and down for the next few miles through woodland and along roads.

Dick Turpin

I passed through Welton within site of the splendid - in that it sell beer on hot days that I should have been drinking rather than this lunacy - Green Dragon. It also has historic relevance (quite the tour guide today aren't I? ;¬)

Here in 1739 a John Palmer was arrested, drunk, after stealing some horses in Lincolnshire and trying to sell them on the other side of the Humber. He turned out to be none other than the legendary and infamous highwayman Dick Turpin.

I was flagging a bit now, I'd detoured from Wolds Way several miles back as it took a round about route to my next location, North Ferriby, and would have made todays run pretty much a marathon. I'd reshirted as now in an area with more people around, also I was getting a sore on my back where the pack was rubbing. I rejoined the trail just outside Ferriby as it heads into the plantation running down to the humber. Hard trails with sharp stones encased weren't much fun. There was also the lottery of whether I'd get to the river and have to turn back and add a loop if the tide were high.

I was lucky, there was a bit of beach to run on. But some conservation work meant it was all churned up with muddy, sinking sand like stuff. So I had to dance over the rocks making up the tidal defence for Ferriby for a while. Passing Ferriby I got a decent path again for the last stretch of W/Way. More history - your so lucky - 4000 thousand year old Bronze Age boats were found here. I think they were oldest discovered in Europe or something like that...

End in site, now the twin towers of the Humber Bridge and end of trail loomed quite large. Problem with large things though, they look big a long way off, but it takes an age to actually get there. The hard trail is nice on fresh feet but my feet were feeling it a bit, I tried to distract myself looking at the almost millpond like river and thinking about what I could eat when I arrived home. After over 2m of following estuary coast-line I finally got to the bridge and soon after I was pushing up the hill for the final mile to home.

~23m, 3 hours 51mins. Probably my fastest prep run for the - now looming - Atlantic Coast Challenge. Not intentional, just an easy and overall downhill route compared to most of my off-road ventures of late. In some ways this meant it was hard work, less stop-start, rough terrain, but more of the solid hard trails which probably give the legs a similar beating to the road runs you'd do for a marathon. Regardless, thats my last 20+mile prep run done, the big day is less than 2 weeks away now. 

Wednesday 9 September 2009

What goes up....

Being that my last few posts have been relentlessly positive I thought it only fair that I have a moan about a bad run and a slightly worrying evening.

With nothing particularly planned I headed out to the club run. It was a warm night, still over 20c approaching 7pm so I went out in a vest. I don't do the slower club pack run on a Tuesday that often, preferring to do my own thing and then do the club hard run on Thursdays. On this occasion I felt an easy runout would be a good thing after the weekend.

Legs feeling suprisingly good at start almost like I hadn't just run a 39m weekend and 67m week (both "bests" for me). I was turning over nicely at below 9 min/miling having a chat to a few people. A few miles in it started to drizzle and eventually properly rain, I was getting quite cool with only the vest and the run ended up as 10.5m with regroups, making it a 1hr20+ outing. I started to tire near end and quite stiff upper legs when finished. I'd also further cooled as we chatted at the end. temp had dropped to just above 10c by time I got back to car.

I got home, feeling cold and some loss of coordination/feeling in hands - surely I couldn't be hypothermic in summer? I knocked up a quick spicy, tomatoe-y pasta and washed it down with a warm ale. I still felt crap, lethargic, and achey and a hot shower didn't help much. Last thing I want is a cold a few weeks before the Atlantic Coast Challenge!

In bed I started overheating like I had a fever and I had a "stressful" dream night. Woke up in early hours, sweaty as hell with a headache. Took an ibuprofen which seemed to help as I woke up for work feeling a bit tired but generally ok. Got through the day with strong caffiene and feeling just about right now.

So, I'd love to know what was that all about? cold, fever, then gone within 12 hours. Had getting wet and cold bashed my immune system so I fell pray to a virus? If so, nice of it to pass so quickly. Anybody else had a quick onset and recovery like that?