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!