Sunday 31 January 2010

The Tortoise, the Hare and the Ultra-runner - and other musings during an Ultra

My approach to ultra training may appear chaotic to some, running a different location every weekend, eating large takeaways to refuel - come to think of it thats probably not unusual. But, I think I'm doing the right thing by me - and what is not chaotic about running a long, unconventional distance on varied and unpredictable terrain? So I'll keep doing random things, satisfied that if I'm doing good miles then the body will figure out what its meant to do and the mind will sort the rest. 

So far this year I've run 23 miles on fresh snow and ice from my doorstep into the short sharp hills of the East Yorkshire Wolds. I've done nearly twenty miles on moorland around ilkley including snowdrifts, hands on knees climbs and toe-freezing meltwater. Then last week I did nearly twenty again on Marsden Moor, less snow cover than Ilkley but some of the drifts were mounstrous, and this was on the paths!

So what this weekend? Well, several old forum buddies and I decided it was time for one or our regular Canal runs. This is where a few of the northern contingent in Marathon training meet up early doors in Leeds and take the Skipton train. Handily, this train follows close to the Leeds-Liverpool canal creating a great point-to-point, nearly flat, LSR route. Its also a nice change of scenery for me. Being an "Ultra-ist" rather than "marathonist" right now I decided to make the most of this flat, easy, route, and joined mark in taking the train all the way to Skipton. Several others took a later train and got off a bit earlier in Keighley. The loosely formed plan was that we would catch them up on route for a bit of a saturday morning chinwag.

For the unitiated in Yorkshire waterways the Skipton to Leeds navigation is 29.2 miles. By road it is probably less, but where's the fun?? The towpath is mostly flat, cinder-path, occasionally muddy, ocassionally hard-packed mud with stoney bits, and irregularly concrete or stone. Also being a canal, its only major descents are short and somewhat steep at the lockgates. There are no ascents at all in this direction. The route out of Skipton is pleasent enough, following Airedale, initially on higher ground than the river. Views of green fields, countryside, occasionally a golf course and lots of interestingly named narrow boats and some premium real-estate on the canal with little jetties out back. What with conversation taking some weird tangents during a long, long run - at one point Mark suggested if he lived out here he'd make a few quid with BBQ in his back yard to entice the narrow boaters who tootle past. Somehow the talk got onto bars and I suggested I would convert my narrow boat - which I don't really intend to buy - so it had a long bar running the length of the boat and plenty of stools along for thirsty boaters.

After a sandwich stop I phoned up the shorter run gang - 19.5 from Keighley being there poison. Despite the fact we were catching them up, it seemed I'd miscalculated and we probably wouldn't be up with them by time we finished... DOH!! We'd set off 30mins earlier on train, but journey was longer and we had nearly ten extra miles - not sure how I'd figured we'd catch them at the slow pace 29-miles makes necessary. Oh well, on with the show.

So we all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. But in 2010 an ultrarunner challenged them both along the Leeds-Liverpool canal. As predicted the hare bolted off but soon realised the difference between a marathon and a sprint and had to stop to rest. Being a bit ahead of the plodding tortoise and ultra-ist and being a hare, he also took some time to have some fun with a few of the local lady hares. After the business was done, he was out like a light, leaving the ultraist and tortoise to battle it out.......

Well no, not really, the ultra runner had picked up the tortoise pretty early doors and placed him back down shell-first. Tortoise was defeated by his inability to self-right. So the clever human ultra-ist had won the day, even having time to stop for ham sandwiches along the way.

The above never really happened, this was just something that crept into my mind sometime beyond 20m. Conversation wasn't quite as stimulating or regular at this point, due to the accumulated hours of effort, so the imagination takes over a bit I guess. Since leaving Skipton we had passed the most scenic bits towards Silsden where Airedale is wide and the sides quite tall, creating a scenic patchwork of farms, small settlements and the river. From Keighley onwards it got a bit more industrial; not bad industrial though, with the grand old mill and factory buildings standing majestically amongst modern buildings, obviously scrubbed clean of soot and the like. At Bingley we had 5 and 3 gate locks giving us a near 100ft drop in quick sucession. On from here, some more countryside, more industrial buildings all leading to Leeds. Later on the canal runs parallel to the river making for some interesting bits as you "aquaduct" over the river and then a chance to observe the rower-types doing their saturday morning workouts.

At about 11m to Leeds I'd called Keighley team, they were closing in on 6 to go. So we stopped worrying about catching them and took a drink/food break, breaking into some 50p Golden Syrup cake from Somerfield - bargain carbs, ideal for a runners backpack, if a little bulky for a road marathonist  to carry (there loss, maybe they too will see the light one day). I think both of Skipton team had a bad patch at twenty or just beyond, but the carbs kicked in and the closing miles went easily enough, still tootling along at about 9:30 pace, through the more gloomy outskirts of Leeds. Mark commented these bits were like a cleaned up version of the early miles of Round Rotherham 50 - doesn't say much for that one.

We shuffled into Leeds centre hitting the steeps off the canal near the car park at 13:15 - 4:35 - 29.2m - just below 9:30 pace, pretty pleased with ourselves. All that was left to do was to observe the important post-long run ritual of a pint. What goes well with a print?... A pie of course, being in central Leeds, Greggs was on hand to supply. How's that for a professional refuelling strategy? Well works for me and I'm not exactly slacking up

Saturday 30 January 2010

The Good Snow guide - part 2

Just catching up. This was last weekends "action".

Saturday 23rd - How not to get lost like I did previous week, Marsden Moor, 9:30 10am

I again met up with Claire, with an almost foolproof plan to run the Marsden Moor Meander LDWA challenge route with a few miles of shortcuts. Claire needed some convincing I knew my way this time and I wasn't going to run us off onto the middle of a snow-covered and featureless moor. So I had GPS, map and route description to hand! No MIUAYGA today, but could nature throw a metaphorical spanner in the works.

We were late to start as Claire was stuck in dense fog on route and then our starting point, a little town hall-type place down an almost single-track road in the centre of the Sleepy pennine town of Marsden, was blocked by a dozen construction workers and a large crane reconstructing an old stone bridge. We eventually met up a few hundred yards away after navigating a few streets and were soon off - spanner deflected!

More of a walk at first as we doubled our height climbing out of the town onto the moor. We soon came up to the first of many sections of the route blocked by snowdrifts. Often deep snow drifts, lost count how many times I said something like "snow not too deep here" or "snow supporting my weight ok" to Clairster, only for me to plunge in past my knees. I was often a "crash test dummy" until we found another runners footprints on our path later on and just stepped in footprints of his/hers that weren't too deep - "local knowledge". Some of the drifts on footpaths were obviously a few feet deep as the snow was stacked up nearly as high as the stone wall. Great fun though -  raining spanners now!

The route undulated north past many a half frozen resovoir and then we dropped down and crossed the M62 near its highest point where the road splits around those farm buildings. Fantastic views were enjoyed for awhile as we climbed out of the valley north of the motorway. From the moor you could see the cloud chanelling through the valley below and level with us - but not much higher - so we were in glorious sunshine............. for about 30 minutes, after which we plunged into fog/cloud for nearly the remainder of the trek.

Then followed the climb up to the Windy Hill mast, where it was oddly windless which was probably why we were enveloped in fog/low cloud. More snow -covered paths followed as we worked in and out of valleys towards Standedge Edge north of Saddleworth Moor. When I did the event in the summer the wind was blowing me over up here. However, as with Windy Hill we were still fog bound so I had to try and describe the "great views down over Lancashire" from this last standpoint of Yarkshaa, to Claire.

We were soon onto our second shortcut of the day, cutting off a corner and taking us back towards Marsden. If I do say so myself I navigated par excellence, which I justify as "we lived to run another day". The shortcuts worked out and we didn't vear off-route when the trail ahead was covered in snow as far as the eye could see in the fog. Anything I missed Claire picked up on - what a team - and we hit nearly bang on my estimated distance.

Ironically the sky cleared as we approached Marsden, what a tease that mother nature is. 19.6m, over 150ft up and down per mile. After the final steep descent to Marsden, Clairster headed off to a reward of chips, chips and more chips in Harrogate; and I headed off to indulge in a large pizza.

Sunday 24th - Just when I thought I'd forgotten how to run on a road, York Knavesmire Racecourse, 10am

For something completly different I ran the Brass Monkey half marathon. With no chance of hitting a PB; fearing a tired and hard run I started back of the field rather than cramming in the enclosure. It was chip timed so figured I'd be no worse off weaving though back-packers as the field spread outn tahn starting in the "sheep pen". No warmup so I started with an 8min/mile as the stiffness worked out. Next few were sub 7:30 and by halfway I was closer to 7's. Steady start meant that by 10 I was still speeding up and to my suprise passing people like they were barely moving, running a 6:30 in last mile and under 6 pace for the extra. I managed 1:34:59 (the second being important) line to line, which is second best HM I've done by a stretch, though 2.5mins off best when I prepared and didn't run silly mileage the week before. An unexpected result and makes me wonder if a PB was on with a faster first half? I'll have to do a HM with proper taper soon .......

Nahhh, gimme them, thar, hills

Sunday 24 January 2010

The Good Snow guide

January 2010 will probably be a memorable one. Pretty challenging at times in the UK, but for many the snow is already forgotten. Its traces in Hull, gone for over a week. But its still there, and the connoisseur trail runner can sniff it out.

Sunday 17th - MIUAYGA Gold, Ilkley Moor B'tat, 9:25am

For the unitiated, MIUAYGA is the art of Making It Up As You Go Along this was a gift imparted to me by a runner of great wisdom but poor direction. I'll set the scene, bored of off-road events being cancelled due to icy car parks, a disparate band of runners negotiated there way to the jewel in West Yorkshires crown, Ilkley. Nestled between two high moors, neither of which we knew much beyond the tourist trails, this seemed like a perfect place for MIUAYGA - and MIUAYGA = happiness and nourishment for a restless soul.

With a crack team of what average Joe might consider to be crazy people we set off from Ilkley station, wrapped up in underlayers, windproof tops, hats gloves and with backpacks full of water and other goodies to fuel our pursuits. Mark led the way more often than not, which was ok for us as it meant we didn't follow him if he found a hole to fall down, I drifted around somewhere behind, often enjoying a fall of my own and never crying - not once. Claire was reliably more sure footed and sensibly let us do the falling. Claire had also brough Andy - who is quite a handy road runner with fell experiance - for his initiation on Ilkley moor.

We started up the north moor, trying to follow the Ilkley trail race route. This went well at first with Mark and I knowing the route through the woods and along the roads and trails uphill. Once we were up there, it was just white, white and more white, with occasional evidence of tundra poking out. So we plowed through a few miles of snow upto and occasionally beyond knees.

Scenic moment of the day was seeing sunbeams breaking through the low clouds over Rombalds moor, making an ice-covered path appear as a winding golden stairway to the heavens. Heavenly views aside, we were soon lost, following what we though might be paths as they were straight, snowy lines undisturbed by vegetation. These often turned out to be streams. Several comedy falls followed, at one stage I lost my entire left leg in a snow drift on top of a stream. Not easy to pull yourself out of a snow drift as your other limbs just sink in too as you apply pressure. Needless to say nobody followed me that way. After a while we cut our losses and hurled ourselves cross moor in a south-westerly direction to get somewhere more runnable away from this wild place.

We negotiated minor roads, paths and field edges for a while attempting to head south to the river Wharf, cross it and head up the southern moor, or collection of moors - including Ikley moor, collectively known as Rombalds Moor (I believe). This naturally meant we headed up going north again for a while! At one stage we hit a road of sheet ice and I did a cartoon style, both feet from under me slip on sheet ice, briefly airborne before landing on back and elbows.

When back on track I treated the others to aged Jelly babies (possibly from FLM 2009), so pretty much Jelly toddlers. I snacked on buttered malt loaf which is much better than a cereal bar, but Marked trumped me revealing a large pasty from his tardis-like backpack. No doubt the energy from the running had an oven-like effect to warm it nicely.

We passed through Addingham and headed up onto Moor v2. Claire was looking at the farms in envy around dinner time wondering if anyone would like 4 snow/mud covered runners to join them. Onwards and upwards Claire and I nearly fell into a snow obscured mini-crevasse whilst we clambered hand on knees over boulders onto the ridge of Rombalds Moor. I guess this is why most people use the less direct paths to climb the ~600ft up from river level. But once up the top we were on paths made familiar to us from previous LDWA event exploits including the Rombalds Stride and Burley Bridge Hike.

Several people's toes were near freezing on a long, snow, ice, and freezing melt-water soaked path from Windgate Nick masts to Twelve Apostles (Druidical-stone circle) on the top of the moor. Then, again great fun near the end as a few of us slid down the heathery-hillside mostly on our arses to avoid the iced-over steps down towards "rocky-valley". It just started raining as we got inside for Copper Dragon and guiness in the pub afterwards

About 19.5m and over 5 hours on feet. Oh and hundreds of sheep, should sleep well tonight. Mighty God of MIUAYGA.... has accepted our sacrifice and smiles down upon us.

Sunday 10 January 2010

The running world according to Drunken Euphoria

Chilling with an old friend I met on a run

"You hanging around Snowy?"
"Maybe longer than usual Euph"


Welton dale, my spirtual home running ground, which I hated so during School XC but have grown to really love.

My backyard from the air, no brown moorland-type bits, but there are some nice sharp hills in amongst the patchwork of fields.
The run shown on here was a 23m there and back with a few variations. Running along the foreshore path from Hessle (note Humber Bridge), then through ferriby and a few plantations until running up the hills south of the large quarry (big white thing). It also takes in the wooded Welton Dale, the steep-sided Brantingham dale, amd between these the underrated and quiet Elloughton Dale. Running through these and up and down out of them gives me the best hill training I can get in an area where the highest hills are less than 600ft, but there are 100-300ft climbs in mostly in less than a mile, sometimes half.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Running in Heels

You learn some useful things through running, about your body, which gear is best for particular conditions, what to eat and when to fuel and refuel. An example of the above, I know when getting up early to breakfast and travel for a long event or race I'll get a bowel movement 20-25mins after breakfast...... so I can factor this into my alarm time. No good getting a rumbling gut when your already on the road. More than you needed to know about me maybe, but I bet you know your own "post-breakfast crap window" too :¬0

Away from the bodyshock - today I learned something about a brand of road shoes I'm surprised doesn't constitute a design flaw. Mizuno shoes I've owned seem to have that groove underneath the heel. The disadvantage is big stones get stuck in. However, they are light, comfy and responsive so I tend to keep buying them. Today I turned up for a club run, ran about 400yards through fresh snow and had the feeling of large stones stuck in the grooves of both shoes, felt so big that I was running on the stones rather than the shoes. I stopped and checked it out and snow had been compacted in the groove, filled it up beyond the bottom of the grip to form a hard, annoying, mini cuban-heel. Has this ever bothered anybody else? Thankfully I soon got over this, hardened the f**ck up, but ..... where am I going with this, don't know, but its a strange flaw for a big sportswear manufacturer who supposedly test these things...... except obviously in fresh snow. Back to trail shoes in snow from now on. Wonder if there is good money in independent design consultation.

Friday 1 January 2010

Review of 2009

A slightly self-indulgent post here. I've already summarised mileage, progress, etc, in another post. I'd started this post previously, but never completed. Figured I'd post it anyway, might help to explain somewhat my move away from road running and its competitive grasp which ruined enjoyment. I'm not talented enough to be competitive so it seems constructive to focus on challenging myself in other ways, with a healthy dose of enjoyment in there too.

After a "solid" 2007 PBing every distance, 2008 was somewhat disappointing. My targets beforehand were probably a 40min 10k (which I didn't come close to) and a 1500 mile year, which, thinking about it now, is a bit of a useless, throwaway target which doesn't tell anybody much. Mid-summer, at the end of a near 30 mile hilly bike ride on the edge of the dales, my running year came crashing down. I was already biking more due to a knee injury. Then, and I still don't quite know why I came crashing over my handlebars under breaking, so fast I couldn't stop my face hitting the floor with my hands. Long story short, it could have been worse had I not been wearing a helmet but I still broke my jaw on impact, and the broken bone had penetrated through into my ear canal. It's pretty scary when you start bleeding out of your ear after a head blow, so the cause was somewhat relieving. Anyway the healing of the jaw and even more painful chest and rib bruising meant very little running the next month or so. When I returned I was slower and comparitively unfit. I was also an almost "skeletal" 9 stone - friends were a bit concerned - due to the fact I'd fallen at the end of a long ride, not been able to eat for many hours after due to the possilbility of an operation to steel plate my jaw :¬( That didn't happen but my jaw was banded nearly shut so I was on a liquid diet for weeks and there aren't many calories in soup! So 2008 was nearly a write off though in late November in my local and quite hilly/undulating (for a 10k race) I managed a PB by seconds -  41:49. I was also fit enough to have a go at my local LDWA event - Rudolph's Romp - and enjoyed it despite suffering through a lack of fitness and endurance. I like to think this was a catalyst for 2009 - I'd done a few LDWA challenges before, but it was now that I started entering more.

So 2009 - during preperation for a London Marathon where I hoped to run under 3:30 I fit in several LDWA challenges of over 20 miles - Scarborough Rock (25.5m), Rombalds Stride (22m), Trollers Trot (24.5m). I also did some more conventional prep too, doing longer road runs including the famous prep race, the East Hull 20. I also ran a big PB of near 1:32 in the suprisingly scenic Wilmslow half marathon in March. My other 20m+ runs were in a group along the Leeds Liverpool canal towpath, as easy an off-road course as possible. Come the day, I found London hot and claustrophobic, after 20m I suffered a variety of worsening cramps in both legs. I persisted to a 3:39, but was gutted I didn't do better. I didn't run well again for weeks, maybe months. I think the cramp and hard street combination had really battered my calves. I had been hoping for a run of fast 10k's after this, the HM time in March had suggested I was progressing. In reality the best I managed was a 44:33 two weeks later, a 42:39 on a really flat course a week and a half after this. After another disappointing, hot weather 43:39 I decided to take a break from the road and concentrate on preparing for the Osmotherly Phoenix 33.

I enjoyed a steady saunter around the Wharfedale Off-Road marathon with Claire (Clairster) and forumite Nurse Gladys and a couple of shorter road/trail summer league races. I also ran an ultra of 29m in training, along the canal from Skipton to Leeds, helped along in the last few hard miles by Mark Dalton who has been a great person to run events with this last year. I think sharing my outlook on not taking it too seriously and having a good feed along the way. Come Osmotherley it was a scorching day. As at London I cramped in the closing miles, but I got around and 6:54 was a big improvement on my first attempt at this two years earlier. I stayed around for the village show, fish and chips and a few beers. A whole day event, so much more fun than the cut-and-thrust, 40-45mins of pain in a 10k. From this point onwards I didn't enter another road race for a few months.

On a flat course I did PB at a 10k I'd already entered a week and a half later. That was about it though. A few days later after a boozy night out I did the Moors the Merrier the next day in Calderdale. Despite curtailing my drinking I wasn't 100% that day, I dropped down to the 20 from the 26 mile route. It was hard going in places, lots of tussocks and mud. I also ripped my trail shoe open and did about 13m with my foot nearly slipping out the hole. Despite this I loved it, took pictures, talked about it for weeks. I remember afterwards talking to a few different runners about the event, the hard going, getting lost, etc.. If I recall I think this included Chris Brown, who finished the 20m streets ahead of me and Nick Ham who scorched up the 26m route (though I never got his name and haven't met since, so can't be sure).

About this time I entered the Atlantic Coast Challenge of 3 off-road marathons in three days, on the cornish coast. So I wholeheartedly threw myeself into long off-road runs and races to prepare. This was a real joy, no real need to run off-road and most weekends I'd be in my car off to the peaks, moors, dales, pennnes to run a nice variety of events. Including amongst others my first AS class fell race, 1.5m total, 900ft up and then down, all I can say is "exhillerating". I also did my first few AL fell races, including the 14.5m Sedbergh Hills race, which made me realise that I'd really only dipped my toe in with previous fell races, this was epic, scary, beautiful and wild on a level above what I' previously done. I even doubled up with an LDWA challenge and 16.5m fell race one weekend, another big highlight. Not just for the running but for the beers on Saturday afternoon watching England in the pub in Bradwell, big curry on the night and somehow running a corker on Sunday after feeling as stiff as a board at the start.

I completed the ACC, truly only really suffering until the last day. So glad to have done it and it has only made my targets more lofty. I also broke my road racing ban, loving the beautiful Snowdonia marathon course, but feeling the pain in my legs from all that tarmac. I have since let myself recover a bit, having steady runs in LDWA challenges around Yorkshire, but still smashed my previous year's time at Rudolph's Romp (24.5m). Taking off nearly 40mins, but still feeling good most of the way and enjoying myself overall. As I write I'm just recovering from New Year and the traditional Auld Lang Syne Race. Due to ice the route was moved to the "Auld" Auld lang Syne course. Really hard going, but no dangerous ice at least. I haven't seen the full results yet but I think I was well inside the top 200 and top half, which is progress.