Welcome to the weird (and scary) world that is INSIDE MY HEAD!! If you want to know how to train for an ultra – or how to run a marathon – then may I direct you swiftly AWAY from this blog?? If, however, you’d like a list of ‘what not to do’, then … put the kettle on!!
So here we are again – Brighton Marathon time. I really REALLY want a PB. I want a particular number that will excuse from marathons guilt-free for the rest of my life! That’s not to say that I won’t run longer or shorter – but I just don’t particularly like this distance! So I want to see a ‘4’. If you’ve been following this blog you should know by now that when I say ‘4’ that’d be 4:59:59. That’ll do.
What have I done to train for that? Em … let’s see. Four weeks ago I ran the New Forest 50k. That’ll be my over-distancing, then lol My legs were great after that – or so I thought. I was ever so happy. A decent run and the only thing that got in the way was my headspace. And then? Can you believe that suddenly, five days AFTER the race and for no apparent reason at all, my IT-band started screaming at me, with my Plantar Fasciitis quickly joining in? So … training was quickly changed from ‘just keep the miles going, no need to taper’ to ‘Sweet F.A.’
It was hard to get psyched up for a run with a niggling injury so I put in place a Plan B. Plan DNF should perhaps have been an option but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to accept those letters yet, so Plan B was going to have to do. As I voiced said plan to my best buddy, I could hear Talk Ultra’s Mark Laithwaite’s voice in my ear … Episode 22 the Talk Training section. I could almost see him banging his head on his desk in disbelief. He’s laughing away, telling stories of people who’ve set their half-marathon and 10k PBs in a marathon! ‘Well, how does that work?’ he remarks (somewhat indignantly). I must add that although I’m jumping up and down on the couch yelling ‘Oh yeah, Mark, look over here, I’ve done that, too’ … it’s fascinating to then listen to his explanation of, indeed, ‘how it works’. I say ‘fascinating’, because it is. Encouraging, it’s not. But hey ho, I’m one of those people currently ‘stuck’ in the battle of contact v. cadence v. core v. coordination and if YOU are relatively new to running, then you need to listen to Episodes 21 and 22 of the above-mentioned Talk Ultra podcast! So it was with muted apologies to Mark, that I actually ‘planned’ to run a reasonably decent (for me) half-marathon and then reassess. If at that point I could feel that persevering further was only going to lead to unnecessary injury, then I would consider accepting the dreaded DNF – but at least with a half-marathon PB!! *cue Mark Laithwaite* ‘If you race shorter, you can run faster and harder.’ Well, in a way, I was racing shorter, wasn’t I? Hmmm. Besides, I’ve never actually run a half-marathon as a race in its own right, so there! Lol
So … now you know exactly what NOT to do – EVER – let’s just skip to the start line! Was I ready? No. Was my knee hurting? Yes. Was I going to pull out? No. My wonderful physio Jamie Webb constantly reminds me that if I tell myself something’s going to hurt, it will! So I start the race quashing any ITB complaints, mentally sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting LA-LA-LA-LA-LA at the first sign of any moaning from that region of my leg. It kind of works. I say ‘kind of’. Around Mile 7 or 8 there’s quite a decent downhill and whereas I’d been hoping to pick up a few seconds with the help of the slope, that was probably the most painful section of the course. I was forced to stop and stretch. It didn’t bode well so early on but I picked up, stuck with my plan and ran for the halfway mark and a PB it was. Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t really count, I know – but it’s good for the soul.
It wasn’t fast by any standards. I don’t do fast (yet!!) #everhopeful But if I’d been able to sustain that pace (roughly 10.30/mile) for the rest of the race I’d have been ecstatic. Unfortunately, an unforeseen toilet break brought me to a standstill for almost ten minutes!! I’ve never had to stop before but just didn’t have an option (at least when you’re trail running there are TREES and no queues!!!!). I took advantage and stretched and this was probably helpful but my pace – mentally and physically – took a massive dive after this. Note to self: This is something I’ve REALLY got to work on – this pace drop mid race – no matter what the distance! Hmmmm! The death-defyingly dull and ugly course that is Brighton marathon didn’t help, either. However, I had a man in a red tee-shirt with HEAVY LOAD written on the back – a wee bit in front of me. I spent the time making sure he didn’t get away from me. Once I came out of the power station and onto the home stretch I did a better job of sucking it up and getting the job done. In fact, I was really pleased with my own personal performance over the final 4-5 miles. Too little too late, perhaps, but I finished feeling good about those final miles. I set off on my little ‘seek and destroy’ mission and reeled in the ‘Heavy Load’ man – followed by another targeted ‘pair’. I passed a LOT of people on those four miles and, even better, I stayed in front of them!! My final target for the race was a pair of yellow tee-shirts who I’d chased for MILES!! (I’d picked them up at mile 15!) I caught them in the final 800 metres – my day was made!
Even the sun came out – HEAVEN!!
I’m happy. I didn’t see my ‘4’. Dammit! Got to do another one now I did, however, still see a PB. 5:11 over last year’s 5:17.
Next time I’ll see a ‘4’.
THE STAIRLY BEARS
In every multi-storeyed home
Across the globe, Beware!
Under the stairs there surely lives
A family of bears.
‘Cause bears live under the stairs, you know,
Yes, under the stairs are bears,
Behind the umbrella, beside the broom,
They rummaged around and made some room,
Yes, under the stairs are bears.
And Aunty Fi, she laughs at me,
And says ‘What nonsense! Bears, indeed!’
And Uncle Stu, he hasn’t a clue,
But I don’t care, I know it’s true
That under the stairs are bears.
And bears play under the stairs, you know,
Yes, under the stairs they play,
From hide and seek to Peek-a-boo,
Think leapfrog, tag – and skipping, too,
Yes, bears play under the stairs.
From What’s the Time Now, Mr Prowls?
To ‘Grizzly Says’ and Musical Growls,
Don’t open the door till after 3,
(They’d love a six-year-old for tea!),
Yes, bears play under the stairs.
And bears eat under the stairs, you know,
Yes, under the stairs they eat,
While waiting for a child to munch,
They help themselves to bugs for lunch,
Yes, under the stairs they eat.
The time they’re hungriest is 8,
So get to bed and don’t be late,
Don’t pass close by the cupboard door,
Small feet make treats for Baby Roar,
Yes, under the stairs they eat.
And bears jog under the stairs, you know,
Yes, under the stairs they jog,
It’s vital for their health, you see,
To be as fit as they can be,
(I think they’ve even got a Wii),
Yes, under the stairs they jog.
As soon as breakfast’s cleared away?
Bear-obics! Half an hour a day,
And then 10k – (and that’s for fun?
That’s more than even Dad can run!)
Yes, under the stairs they jog.
And bears sing under the stairs, you know,
Yes, under the stairs they sing,
I heard them once, quite late at night,
They got their harmonies just right,
Yes, under the stairs they sing.
From jazz to folk to opera,
I think they know the lot-tera,
The dad sings bass, the mum sings top,
The rest sing till they’re told to stop,
Yes, bears sing under the stairs.
And Bears sleep under the stairs, you know,
Yes, under the stairs they sleep,
So if you’re asked to tidy toys,
Or hang your coat, just don’t make noise,
‘Cause bears sleep under the stairs.
Take all the time you need and more,
Best wait until you hear them snore,
I’m told the best time’s nine fifteen,
Or ten – or sometime in between,
(And if you whistle you won’t be seen),
Yes, bears sleep under the stairs.
In every multi-storeyed home
Across the globe, Beware!
Under the stairs there surely lives
A family of bears.
Pssssst! Have you checked for bears today?
Just listen up! You’ll be okay!
Tip 1: First thing, turn on the light;
Tip 2: They don’t come out at night!
Tip 3: Don’t show them you’re afraid.
Tip 4: They’re fond of lemonade!
Now smile, relax, no need to run
‘Cause stairly bears are just for fun!
It’s St Patrick’s Day. Please help me. I’m … well, I’m not too tall, but I’m dark and handsome, I wear a very fetching cream-coloured hat and, let’s face it, I’m really quite delectable. But I’m constantly abused. People treat me like a birthday cake – something to be played with and decorated. At other times I feel like a fairground attraction. I’m not! I’m quite wonderful just the way I am and I’m begging you to help inform the public that I don’t like being mucked around with. I give far more pleasure au naturel – if you get my meaning. Now, will you help save me? Yes? Here’s what you need to do:
• I wasn’t born to be cold. Do you put your clothes into the fridge before you put them on? No? Then please don’t do it to me. I don’t like cold. For the best taste, I need a nice warm glass with nice warm whisky. Thank you.
• I don’t like it when I’m wearing my stylish cream hat around my knees, so to speak! Hats, after all, are supposed to stay on top. Besides, I look so much more elegant. If my hat is anywhere else, then you’re not drinking a real Irish Coffee any more. The pleasure is in drinking the whisky and coffee through the cream. If my hat is swirling elsewhere, either you’ve forgotten to put sugar in the whisky, you haven’t stirred the coffee before adding the cream or you’ve stirred the cream after pouring it. Shame on you! I’m insulted.
• As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not that tall! Please don’t serve me in a tall glass and certainly *shudders* NO STRAWS! Eugh! Tall glasses are for tall drinks. Straws are for cocktails. I’m neither.
• Did I mention cocktail? Since when was I a cocktail? Besides, I despise umbrellas unless, of course, you’re savouring my delights in the rain! Then you, by all means, may have an umbrella, but kindly keep it away from me!
• Do you like things being thrown at you? No, I thought not. So why, oh why, do you insist on throwing that disgusting, powdery, sneeze-inducing and utterly insulting cocoa powder on top of me. I mean, what’s next? Chocolate sprinkles? Gosh – perhaps you’d like different flavours. Strawberry, perhaps? Or why not Hundreds and Thousands? Do I look like a child? If I want to taste like hot chocolate and cognac (yum, by the way!)then I’ll call myself ‘hot chocolate and cognac’. Besides, it simply makes my hat look grubby and dirty and it’s quite unbecoming for a drink of my class, so please …
2013 sounds like the perfect year to save the Irish Coffee. Please help me!
Real Irish Coffee: Warm whisky and glass over a flame. Add a teasp or two of brown sugar to whisky. Pour in the coffee. Whip cream until slightly thickened. Stir coffee and while liquid is still moving pour cream (helps to pour it over the back of a teaspoon). Relax and enjoy. Then have another!
10 March 2013
A 9 a.m. start gun for the New Forest Running Festival 50 km trail race (http://nakedstrength.co.uk/events/the-new-forest-running-festival-2014/) meant a 4.30 a.m. start from Brighton but spirits were pretty high in the car. I was thrilled that my art of persuasion had resulted in Amanda Jackson joining me, intent on racing the half-marathon later in the day. It was the first time I’d ever had a friend with me on the way to an ultra start line – usually I’m just one among strangers. Having company made a huge difference to the general ‘spirit’ of the day.
Never having been near the New Forest before, I always thought ‘spotting’ the wild ponies would be a bit like going on safari – a lot of searching and a lot of luck involved in ‘finding’ a herd. I was so wrong. They could take over the planet, there were so many of them and it was oddly exhilarating to be among them and sense their ‘freedom’ in the relative wilderness of this little corner of England.
There was just enough unhurried time to collect my race bib, reassess the number of layers of running kit I had planned and make umpteen pointless trips to the loo before it was time for lap one of the three that would make up the 50 km. I’m starting to come to terms with how ridiculously slow I am and I had a realistic goal of 5 miles an hour for the first 20 miles or so. I knew I was going to have to give myself a little leeway for the final 10. A finish around the 6-hour mark would be somewhat miraculous but anything close to 7 and I’d made a promise to myself to be proud.
The course was pretty amazing. Nature was showing off, the scenery was glorious and unusual (I’d expected more green than brown, more trees than ‘bush’) and running amongst all those ponies (and a reasonable number of strangely beautiful cows) was an added bonus. Mother Nature was also having a small tantrum, however – and took it out on us in the form of zero degree temperatures and gale force winds. These were most noticeable on the toughest few miles of the course – toughest under foot across marsh/bog land (which I found quite difficult) and straight into a head wind. Emerging out of this stage we were faced with a short stretch of road which barely had an incline but which by lap 3 felt like a mountain! At the end of this road, though, it was Heaven for the few miles home by way of glorious winding and undulating woodland paths that were a pleasure even, I must admit, on the final lap.
Lap 1 was great. I even had company for some of it, keeping ‘my own pace’ alongside one or two lovely ladies. It wasn’t long before I was running on my own, though – a usual state of affairs for anyone unable to keep up with any kind of group. However, any fears I had of getting lost (see The Pilgrim Challenge!) were very quickly laid to rest. There were huge signs and ‘real human beings’ (as the RD called them) at every turn/crossing/intersection or anywhere there could be the remotest confusion. Not only that but all the humans were chatty, supportive, smiling and simply amazing. A massive THANK YOU here to all those humans/marshals who were lovely on lap 1, brilliant on lap 2 and, in my case, who went beyond the call of duty in lap 3. Since lap 2 was reasonably uneventful I shall skip quickly to lap 3 …
What happened in that final lap? I don’t know. Final ten miles and I thought I was going pretty well, then I rounded the corner heading towards the bog from hell (ok, it wasn’t that bad, but that’s how it felt at that moment) and I fell to pieces. It was so frustrating. I stopped running and wasted at least 40 minutes on a screaming match with an inner voice that had absolutely nothing positive to say. What a complete shambles – hence the bog became the bog from hell. Granted, it was now bloody cold out there, the wind had picked up and the bog was definitely boggier and marshier than ever, making it so much more difficult to cross. This just didn’t help matters at all, but those ‘humans’ made all the difference. The human at the second water station (bless you) took one look at me and instead of laughing at my misery he actually showed real concern, suggesting I try getting down some glucose/gels/anything – as I still had a ways to go and yes, I’d already been out there quite a long time. There was a marshal a little further on who left his post and walked up the hill with me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that. And then, would you believe, there was a marshal who greeted me at a key turn-off towards the third WS – who had driven there with the sole purpose of warning me that the water station had blown down and been abandoned so he’d caught up with me to bring me a Cliff Bar to make sure I had food to get me to the end!! What a blessing these people were.
I finally dug myself out of the depths of my ridiculous self-pity and although it was too little too late I managed to do what I hadn’t been able to do in my previous race – actually ‘run’ rather than ‘shuffle’ to the finish line. I’m still learning how to manage these races and although I do appear to have only one gear, this time I found something much more akin to a ‘running’ gear for that last stage and that was a personal psychological victory – nothing to do with physical ability. I’ll be filing away that conquest to relive it in my next race, I hope. That was this month’s real learning curve … I CAN not only find a way around, through or over the wall but I can also kick my bum into a running gear rather than a total geriatric shuffle. Success!
The finish line was most definitely my happiest moment – and my happiest finish line!! I actually remembered to savour the moment and to celebrate crossing it – rather than wallowing in regrets of ‘could’ve done betters’. I thoroughly enjoyed that finish and I also knew that although I was last by a long, long way, I had come close enough to my own personal target. I really and truly rejoiced crossing that line. I tweeted afterwards that you’d think I’d won some massive victory like Western States or something – rather than actually being last. It occurred to me how crazy it must seem to runners at the top of the field how one can possibly bask in the glory of taking 7 hours to run a 4-hour race (if that) and to cross the line 2 ½ hours after the 2nd-to-last runner!! I guess it must simply be a whole different kind of joy – but much as in my dreams I would love to be reborn and experience that joy of ‘winning’, you, the elites, will only ever in your dreams experience ‘my’ kind of joy. It’s a very special joy to be last in the field and still be able to truly celebrate. Yes, this running lark is definitely good for the soul!!
Of course, the problem with not being an elite athlete is that when you cross the finish line after 7 hours, freezing and screaming for some comfort … the hot drinks tent has been packed up and gone!! Oh well.
Congratulations, too, to my friend Mandy, who finished her first trail half-marathon in her own target time. Double victory for the Amandas today!!
Finally, I would thoroughly recommend this race to anyone! And once again, many MANY thanks to the Naked Strength organisers of this New Forest Running Festival (http://nakedstrength.co.uk/). The event was faultless.
p.s. Did I mention that I came 1st in category? Females 50-59?
p.p.s. Did I mention that there were no other females in my category? Haha
Oi!! Don’t be rude! That’s as close to a win as I’m ever going to get! J
Your mind will quit a thousand times before your body will! - Yup! It’s true!
PILGRIM’S (LACK OF) PROGRESS
A TRAGI-COMEDY IN TWO ACTS
Setting: The North Downs Way
I had a feeling I might be making a mistake when I pressed that ENTER button sometime late November 2012. It was going to be a big ask to prepare in ten weeks for a 66-mile race, but one of my 50 goals for 50 years was to take part in a multi-day event and just as I was thinking about it up popped The Pilgrim Challenge invite – organised by XNRG. A two-day race – 33 miles per day out and back between Farnham and Merstham. I pressed ENTER. I was right. Mistake.
ACT ONE – TRAGEDY
7 a.m. Farnham
And we’re off. My route card said to follow North Downs Way arrows or pictures of acorns – both painted on pillars and neither sign much larger than … well … an acorn. Already I’m worried but everyone else seems to know where they’re going so I’ll just follow them. Weather’s perfect – chilly but dry. I feel rested and legs feel good, nutrition’s been spot on … so why I am so anxious? I know why. Because 33 miles in itself is a bit of an ask for me – particularly in ten weeks – and this is my first time trying to do it twice in two days. I realise that even as I start off I’m thinking about having to do this again tomorrow and I need to focus on today. JUST on today. I’m keeping pace with a local couple who are running together. It’s obvious they’re really good friends and it sounds like they’re catching up on news. It’s also obvious that they don’t want anyone to join them (I tried – a little company would’ve been nice for a while) so I run past and stay just ahead but this doesn’t really work because I haven’t quite got the gist of these signs yet. I know I am particularly stupid when it comes to this – but we passed acorns and I couldn’t figure out why we were ignoring some of them, following others …. It might seem totally ridiculous, yes, but by the end of Day Two I’d actually learned how to follow the blasted trail so this was in fact a great lesson! While still figuring it out, though, I stressed about getting lost if I got separated from this couple so I decided to stick behind them and stayed there for the first 20 miles. All was good although the pace was maybe a little too much for me. I should’ve pulled back just a little, should’ve relaxed and tried to stop stressing. Instead, I expended a lot of energy keeping up and my focus was on keeping this couple in sight instead of concentrating on my own race. The result was that I forgot about other things … minor stuff like water!! When I got to Checkpoint 2 at Mile 20 I realised my bottle was still full. Lack of experience got the better of me at that point. Instead of just rectifying the situation and ‘dealing’ with this minor problem I panicked. How stupid was that! Such a simple, easily-solved problem … but because for some reason I was not allowing myself to enjoy this whole day, I reacted adversely and allowed everything to spiral out of control. In retrospect this was another fantastic lesson. I can actually ‘see’ where I went wrong and it’s been a precious discovery just how quickly everything can go from great to disastrous if you let your head sneak up and take over. And boy did I let it do that, swiftly and without even noticing!! So yes, I spiralled. The rest of Day One can be summed up in one word – CATASTROPHE! Once my head had decided it was going to be awful, that was it.
I left Checkpoint 2 overly anxious and panicking about silly stuff instead of stopping to regroup, relax and change my mindset. To add insult to injury, the two locals had leapt on the opportunity to disappear. Oh, fair dues, they were keeping a great pace and had no obligation to pay any attention to me – this was just another example of my head inventing things to be annoyed about! When I look back on it I cringe! Really.
Thirsty, demoralised, agitated, tired … (all in the mind and exactly where I didn’t want to be) … I rounded the corner and faced Boxhill and her 260+ steps. Oh joy. Needless to say I clapped my hands with glee and skipped to the top. Ha!
Back to reality lol. By the time I got to the top and had rounded the fifth corner of endless hills I was almost in tears and I’d run out of water. Some walkers were coming down the other way and bless them they stopped. I think they thought I was dying. I think I thought I was, too LOL Three litre-bottles of water appeared in front of me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated their help. I accepted one and continued on – wasting more energy cursing inclines that would on another day not have been a problem. It was so frustrating – and fascinating. I mean, I don’t mind hills – certainly not inclines like this. It wasn’t any kind of mountain and I’m STRONG on uphills. It’s the bloomin’ downhills that I can’t seem to master so the whole thing was doing my head in. You’ve just got to laugh. It was that bad that I actually turned around and went up one section backwards – just so I wouldn’t have to look at it!!! That should give you a good glimpse of my mental state at the time! Honestly, I just shouldn’t be allowed out on my own haha
I finished – finally. Isn’t it testament to how badly I managed this entire experience that I can’t even put any comedy in here? There was simply nothing funny. I had a shower, a massage, then I found a quiet hidden doorway in the school corridor and sat down and cried!!!
I need to say a couple of thank yous at this point. THANK YOU for the most incredible support that was going on on Facebook. When I scrolled through at that point I felt totally humbled – I was so undeserving of the most amazing comments and thoughts and personal messages … and SO MANY! I truly truly appreciated every one of them.
The other thank you goes to Ian Corless of Talk Ultra ( http://iancorless.org/ ). On my last interview I asked what may have seemed a silly question – about how to deal with mud. Thanks, Ian, for taking so much time giving a really full answer because I can honestly say it was probably my saving grace. In fact it was probably the one thing all day that I DIDN’T stress over – because I was thoroughly confident that what I was doing was right!! What may have seemed a ridiculous question to a seasoned trail runner made a huge difference to me. Fab.
Thanks, too, to the gentlemen who entertained me over dinner with all sorts of anecdotes and silliness. I was glad to be able to contribute to the entertainment by proving once again that the 6 degrees of separation theory is quite reliable LOL After a few stories it became apparent that the man sitting opposite me was related to one of my brother’s best friends in Ireland J
DAY TWO – THE COMEDY
7 a.m. Merstham
Amazed I even made it to the start line. I had decided enough was enough and that this two-day mullarkey was definitely not for me (well, you can’t know till you’ve tried, right?). However, although I am a wimp, I’m also a stubborn wimp. I hate not finishing what I’ve started, so overnight I’d come up with a new plan – to seek and destroy Checkpoint 1 at the very least. After that, I would reassess and draw up a new plan – possibly involving Checkpoint 2.
The walkers (me included) set off at a galloping pace (me not included). I appeared to be the only walker who was walking. Suffice to say that my headspace was in no better condition than the previous evening. I was still in a world of negativity and still hadn’t managed to take on any fuel. Since midday Saturday I hadn’t actually managed to get anything as far as my stomach. I tried a forkful of pasta and managed one teaspoon of apple crumble. Once again, Ian Corless had more or less saved whatever chance I had by reminding me to get some protein in as soon as I crossed the finish line and with this in mind I’d packed a protein shake as well as a couple of bars. The shake had been good but that was the sum total of my nutrition. Breakfast had not happened either. Body simply said No! For that reason I had decided to try and be kind to myself at least up to Checkpoint 1 and start off walking – in the hope of saving a few running miles for later on. But since ever other walker started off at a gallop that meant I was instantly right at the back and on my own. Cue Invaluable Lesson No. 3: when attempting to follow a trail it’s not good just ‘wandering along’ – or even ‘running along’. You actually have to keep focussed and alert for signs – which brings me to my first comedy moment of Day Two: I got lost TWICE before I’d even left the school grounds!!!!! Yup! That’s how bad it was/I was. I couldn’t even find the bloody trail (‘scuse language but I was just a teensy bit frustrated LOL). I’m going to cut this very short. I eventually found Checkpoint 1 and had an ‘If-you-stop-here-you’ll-never-continue’ moment, so I walked straight through and carried on. I use the term ‘carried on’ very loosely!! It was more like going backwards, going sideways, going every effing way you can think of except the ‘right way’!!! It took me a total of FIVE HOURS to cover TWELVE MILES!!! This was due to the simple and indisputable fact that I got lost SIX TIMES. How many extra miles I added, I do not know. Did I mention that my watch stopped working?????? Go on! Laugh! I dare you!!
Checkpoint 2 was my make-or-break decision checkpoint. It was 10 miles to Checkpoint 3 and I’d already wasted half a damn day being an idiot. I had another ‘moment’, this time a ‘get-your-f***ing-act-together’ kind of a moment. (Nice language was no longer working!) I re-grouped, took a Nurofen for my head, peeled off a layer of clothing in the hope that this would encourage me to move faster to keep warm, forced down a couple of fruit & fibre biscuits which I found in my bag, took the advice of the man at the checkpoint who suggested I try a slug of Ribena (be this right or wrong, who knows) and I set off. Better! I started to win a few battles. I realised that walking had become a habit, not a necessity. I found that discovery quite fascinating – it’s the kind of thing that interests me a lot. The discovery meant that I could do something about it. There was no real reason why I shouldn’t be running, so I started running. Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3 was the only highlight of my day. Not easy but satisfying because of those few battle conquests. Big thank you to the lovely man at Checkpoint 3 who more or less walked into my path and gave me a huge hug upon arrival. Beyond the call of duty, I’d say. He was fab. I have no idea who he was but he obviously ‘got it’ because he didn’t faff around. He just gave me a hug and then ‘told’ me what to do. It was brilliant. No questions, no question marks, no grey areas … ‘I’ll just take your bottle and refill it. Take a drink. Drink this and then this. Have some cheese. Put your hat and gloves back on. Six miles to the next checkpoint … ‘ Absolute bloody magic!! Thank you – whoever you are/were.
I got lost again soon after that but by then I was going to finish if I had to crawl so there was no messing around. I’d had it with the messing around. Soon as I realised, I phoned the emergency number and asked where I needed to go. It was already dusk and no time to be wandering around looking for signs. Worked perfectly. I was back on track within five minutes and had a straight run through to the final checkpoint.
Checkpoint 4 done and dusted … and the comedy began in earnest. Oh Good God the cameras should’ve been out in full force. I cried and I laughed. Just when I thought this challenge could throw nothing else at me … IT GOT DARK!! Not just dark – PITCH BLACK! And I couldn’t find my way in broad daylight? What hope did I have? Oh Lord!
So I laughed. Out loud. Well, there was no-one around to hear my hysteria so what the hell? I laughed – and I started singing! I was singing to keep the North Downs bears away – ‘cause you’re supposed to sing aren’t you? And we all know how dangerous the bears can be on the Downs.
You thought I was kidding about the hysteria, didn’t you? Ha! But there’s more. You see, since I had no intentions of running at night (I mean, who takes 12 hours to cover 30 miles!!!!!) I had not gone over-budget with my head torch. Hmmmm. The light barely hit the ground. It certainly didn’t show up any trees (wide angle was not a strong point) and I was guilty of many an inadvertent tree hug. Not seeing the ground was the worst, though. I could make out a track but not the terrain and this was ever-changing from mud to grass to water to stone. I couldn’t see any camber, either, so spent most of the time bashing my feet and tripping over bumps and tree roots and experiencing that awful sensation when you think there’s one more step and there isn’t and you just fall over LOL Candid Camera definitely missed a lot of opportunities.
So I was falling over and bumping into trees, I was singing my loudest with music blaring in my ears to ensure there was absolutely no chance of hearing any night-time wildlife rustling in the woods – Argh! And, of course, nothing but NOTHING would entice me to lift my head an inch for fear of spotting a pair of eyes staring back at me. It’s one thing knowing you’re surrounded by vampire badgers, were-rabbits, giant flesh-eating squirrels, Surrey panthers and, of course coyotes … but coming face to face with one was not something I could actually contemplate! Somebody on Facebook made a comment about my plight and wondered at the safety aspect of roaming the North Downs alone, miles from civilisation, because ‘who knows who could be out there!’ Ha! Who? WHO? My focus, I assure you, was entirely on WHAT! The who’s would not have stood a &%*ing chance! Any would-be axe-murderer or rapist in my path right then would have been churned up, spat out and turned into an instant footbridge for the next mud section – right after I’d borrowed an arm to use as bait to distract lurking panthers!!
And meanwhile, my playlist was finding a way to take the piss. Really!
Alone again (naturally)?
I think I’m going back?
If I knew then what I know now?
And a couple of personal favourites …
Cause if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time and
Fool if you think it’s over …
Oh dear! Oh well. What more to say? 12 hours later I saw the most beautiful sight in the world …. A green glowstick!
15 minutes after that some beautiful woman came racing down the field towards me shouting ‘You’re here, come on, you’re here, run, I’m going to run you in ……’ and 12 hours 15 minutes after starting the second day (yes – just the second day) I crossed the finish.
Ho Hum. Not one of my finer moments – but hey – no DNF!!! I’ll take any positives that I can get and this is definitely one of them!
On that note, ‘finer moments’ haven’t seemed to feature much in my ultra-running career – certainly not in my blog!! But hey, nothing’s ever been achieved by giving up and it’s only February!! One should always have at least one dream that’s just out of reach and for now that dream remains, entitled ‘a finer moment’. Maybe I’ll be able to put this as the title of my next race blog. Ah, there’s always hope.
10th March. That’s the next one. 50km trail in the New Forest. Multi-day? Not a bloomin’ chance. I think I’m about done with multi-days for 2013. Oh – and I think I might take a bit of coaching advice on my 100km race in June … I’m wondering if I should stick to 50s for a bit …
Meanwhile, I’m off to listen to the latest Talk Ultra podcast – http://www.marathontalk.com/talk_ultra/episode_28_geoff_roes_emelie_forsberg.php – and right after that I’m going to re-think my running playlist!!
It’s some ridiculously small single-figure number of weeks until Pilgrim Challenge so yes, panic is setting in but it’s not all bad news, it’s just bedlam. Last time I wrote I’d just discovered I had ten weeks to get from 0 to 60 miles. Seven weeks left and this is just silly but two things are certain: (1) I WILL get to the start line; and (2) I’ll do everything I can to get there safely!!
You know me … I never do anything without a plan. There’s no point telling me to ‘just train’ or ‘do a few hills and you’ll be fine’. It doesn’t work for me. When it comes to my training I’m like a little child. I need it all written down in front of me – strictly in black and white. No grey areas! Then I’ll follow what’s written to the letter – as best I can. I’m sure lots of people will probably think that this strategy takes all the fun out of running, but actually it doesn’t. In fact, I think it makes it easier because I can go out and concentrate just on the distance or the time or the intervals and all that ‘thinking’ bit has already been done for me so I can more or less switch off and simply enjoy whatever challenge is ahead.
The training plan I’m following is courtesy of Trail Running magazine (Oct/Nov 2012) – Mark Hartell’s 13 Weeks to Run a 40-Mile Race. Of course, since I’ve left myself way too short of time I’ve had to adjust and adapt so I’ve re-written it to cater for my lack of weeks in the year. Have I done it right? Who knows? This is all new to me, but I’m not a complete idiot (feel free to disagree). Yes, I left it too late to start training but nothing I can do about that other than stop moaning about it and get on with it. No time to waste. I’ve checked the original plan and there seem to be three or four weeks of mileage ‘building’ and then an easier week, so I’ve incorporated that strategy (my ‘build’ has simply had to be a little faster). This, of course, is not good thinking when you’re looking after already-dodgy knees but thanks to the most brilliant sports therapist/physio on the planet (Jamie Webb) and the discovery of the best shoes in the universe (Hoka Evo Stinson) my knees are holding up and this past week I’ve felt a real turn-around and have spent at least a couple of runs feeling positively elated because I’ve noticed I’ve been able to run completely pain-free. It’s so liberating and wonderful and exhilaration has been the word of the week!
Except for Wednesday, that is. Do you remember Wednesday? Wednesday was that day last week when it poured … and poured … and poured … and then it poured again. Tuesday and Thursday? Sun, sun, sun! But my long run was in the diary for Wednesday (there’s a surprise, eh?)! And you know what? I even got a text mid-morning from my daughter … ‘Mum. Just looking at the rain. I bet you’re running!’ Yes, that’s how jinxed I am when it comes to the weather and my running!
Never mind. It gave me a great opportunity to really test my new gaiters from http://www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com/ – one of my favourite shops for anything and everything running at really competitive prices. I have to say as a newbie to running I’d never even heard of gaiters before I saw an ad for these ‘accessories’ on Facebook, but I love them (although I’ve been told by my kids I need to buy ‘older/more serious’ ones haha – seemingly the ‘skulls’ design is not appropriate for an ancient mother!!). I’d worn them just once before and thought they were brilliant. Wednesday, however, would have required a lot more than dirty girl gaiters to keep me dry/mud-free … my first long run (15 miles – yes, that’s long for me!) … and I was saturated from head to toe and frozen. I had to ask a passer-by to open my car door for me because my hands wouldn’t work!! Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!! But despite frozen fingers I was still smiling when I finally finished because my knees felt great and with my new Hoka Stinson Evos even my Plantar Fasciitis was bearable! (http://www.hokaoneone.com/en/d/stinson-evo-unisex_103.html - and quickly available in the UK from http://www.likeys.com/cgi-bin/ss000001.pl?page=search&SS=hoka&PR=-1&TB=A&search.x=0&search.y=0) I wonder how these shoes will look with my festive little black dress? They are so kind to my poor feet that I just can’t imagine wearing anything else! The cushioning and support in these shoes is incomparable to any other trainer I’ve tried on. If you’ve got dodgy joints I’m going to make no apology for harping on about them because they are pure magic!
That’s it, then. I’ve done my first 40-mile week. All I have to do now is be able to run the whole lot in a single day. Ah well, nothing like a challenge. Hey, 0 to 40 miles/week is not bad for me and my knees in three weeks so I am a happy bunny. Mustn’t overdo it now, though. Another couple of 40 mile weeks with a few 15-mile runs thrown in and I’ll start feeling confident about this. There’s just one problem …. CHRISTMAS IS IN THE WAY! I see many dark, dark, dark and cold morning outings ahead, but I suppose that’s only going to be good training for Pilgrim?
Still … I hate the dark mornings … scary people … dogs that rip holes in your clothes (yesterday) … people who throw cans of Guinness at you (Sunday) … and hardly much point in having a personal alarm if there’s no-one around to hear it, eh?
In the words of a famour bear … ‘Bother!’
So my first week back to any semblance of running has been interesting, to say the least. As described in an earlier post, during one session I had to throw in a surprise sprint interval in order to catch the thief who I spotted disappearing down a path with all my gear – hat, gloves, phone, car keys, windbreaker … Two days ago I had a surprise strength session thrown in as I was obliged to climb over the doors of the public toilets having somehow locked myself in!! And no, there was no point in yelling for help. It was chucking it down outside, the wind was howling and nobody in their right mind was on the seafront – apart from me, of course
So it was with a little trepidation that I set out this morning. What would be in store for me this time? Well, I am happy to report that this morning’s session was one of those magical ones when everything more or less went to plan. How often does that happen? Not very often in my book!
I knew the minute I started out that I was being treated to an early Christmas present of nearly-new running legs! After three months or so of pains, aches and niggles my reconstruction strategy appears to once again be working for me. Early days, but ever the optimist! It’s been a cautious week back and I’ve been very tentative but a 40-mile week will do just fine. It’s looking-after-No-1’s-knees time and I’m not going to jeopardize that too soon.
Today it was time to step up to the 10-mile mark. I was on the road by 7 a.m. and on the Downs by 7.30. Gorgeous. Not a cloud in sight and the lack of wind somewhat made up for the chilly temperatures. Over the Downs, across the race course and back along the seafront – perfect! Of course, there was walking involved but I will happily ignore all the rolled eyes and raised eyebrows from other runners and stick with my own plan. And I DID have a plan. Today I was working on an aspect of running that was completely new to me: CADENCE! See, now I’m showing my true ignorance, aren’t I? I love it! I love that I’ve discovered this new insanity called ultra and with it has come a whole new life of learning!
Cadence! From my triathlon days I know about cadence on the bike, but I have never thought about linking that word to running. Silly, really, but – and I’m hoping I’m making typical beginner errors here and not being totally and utterly stupid (??) – I always thought of running in terms of strides and pace/speed. I thought about ‘running faster’ but usually more in terms of lengthening stride. And if I’m going to be totally honest I might as well reveal just how much of an idiot I’ve been … lengthening stride really aggravates my knees quite a lot so in my head that meant I would just have to run slowly all the time – with short strides!! It never occurred to me that maybe if I just turned my legs over more quickly ……… D’OH!!
Thanks to Ian Corless’s fantastic Talk Ultra podcast - http://iancorless.org/podcast/ I had a fun session this morning noting, for the first time ever, what my natural cadence is and then trying to bring that up to a more acceptable 85+/minute. Fascinating! It didn’t take that long for me to relax into that slightly faster cadence and I already feel that this is going to help my running a lot. Yes, it was too easy to slip back into the cadence that I’ve been running/jogging/crawling at for the last two years, but once I consciously switched to watching my cadence again I found I could naturally hit a very steady 87/minute for several consecutive minutes without much effort. The aim will be to improve on this. It’s exciting finding something new to work on.
Thanks to another Talk Ultra programme I’m also going to start working on my running confidence. I realise I’ve talked myself into accepting that I’m the slowest runner on the planet but I need to fight for some more PBs on shorter distances. The programme was talking about beginner runners hitting PBs as ‘part of’ a longer race (e.g. hitting a half-marathon PB during a marathon race!). The reason? Because, like me, they have just one running pace and, like me (guilty!!), they don’t dare to run faster in the shorter races!!!
So … that’s the new plan! I’m going to try and dig up a little more faith in myself on shorter races, go out a little harder and see what happens (that is SUCH a scary thought)! And I’m going to work on … Cadence!
NINE WEEKS TILL THE PILGRIM CHALLENGE – $#&%!!!!
It is time to catch up, get a grip, suck it up and do whatever it takes. The Pilgrim Challenge is, in training terms, just around the corner. I think this might be an early mistake of mine for the new year. I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I’ve just realised it is merely TEN WEEKS AWAY and I’m struggling to run 5km. This does not bode well but miracles can happen. Nah, scratch that. Miracles WILL happen. If I discovered ultra-running in 2012, well 2013 is going to be my year of ultra-exploration (within my own limits, of course).
Now, I haven’t been sitting on the couch ALL the time these last couple of months. Since the Paras 10 I’ve taken time out and I’m now attempting to crawl back to something resembling running. I’ve done loads of cross-training and strength work so my problem isn’t going to be fitness. My problem is just my bloomin’ knees – but that’s about to change. I have now donned my SUCK IT UP hat and we are MOVING!! Besides, I need to be running these days. Stress! What do you do when you’re stressed? Well, run, of course! And when you’re sad/confused/pissed off? Run! And when you get up in the morning and have a crick in your neck? Why that’s easy …… Run! I guess I’m not the right person to ask if there’s something wrong and you’re looking for a quick fix because running is sort of my cure-all for everything. These days I’m even hoping maybe it’ll turn me into a better parent LOL Three solid weeks of being told every single morning that you’re the worst mother in the world and that your child hates you is not good for the soul At this stage, I’m almost starting to believe it, but at least I know how to escape from it – RUN!
No point rambling on with details. I did an easy 7 miles the other day. Started fine, Mr ITB came to visit quite quickly though and really pissed me off. That’s when I put on my SIU hat. Out again this morning – another 7. Enough with this rehab stuff. The strength is there, everything’s there and I think at this stage that many of my ITB woes are in my head!! I could be wrong, of course, but we’ll see. This morning I went back to old tactics – I did a run/walk. Right now I’m interested in time on feet and getting a wee bit of distance in on at least a regular basis. 7 miles will do for now and knee feels GOOD!! The walk/run strategy seems to work for me so I’m going to stick with it, increase the distance and gradually drop away the walking bits – rather than the other way around. Feels good to have a plan!
Meanwhile, had a great session with fellow runner Keith Jackson on Brighton’s Jacob’s Ladder – one of my favourite ‘alternative’ outdoor playgrounds Ten times up and down the 153 steps makes for a great glute-firing workout. It can be death-defyingly boring on your own but doable all the same. The trick, of course, is to add an ‘element’ to every second ascent – so pace and strategy are varied. Yes, yes, I know, to the Killian Jornet’s of this world this wee set of steps is akin to climbing to the top of your kitchen stool, but for us mortals it’s quite a challenge and 3000 steps makes for a great leg blast. Of course, neither Keith nor I were expecting an impromptu sprint interval in the middle of our session. There’s nothing like surprise to add fire to your workout and when you spot a gentleman 153 steps below you disappearing into the middle distance WITH ALL YOUR GEAR, it’s time to step up the pace a smidge!!! *Note to self: Don’t leave backpack at the bottom of the steps* You might well say ‘serves you right’ – but those steps are hard enough without carrying extra. Besides, we were the only people there apart from this man who, I might add, passed us on the steps on his way down and even said Good Morning and made a comment about our efforts!!! What, you think it was too hard to put two and two together? You really believe he saw all our stuff and didn’t for a second think it might belong to the two people he’d just passed??
Well, anyway … takes all sorts, I guess, but jeez I took my life in my hands coming down those bloody steps. We’d spent the first couple of descents trying to push a lot of the wet leaves to the side, half the steps are broken, they were all wet (it was raining – is it ever not raining?), so the entire flight was pretty scary. Anyway, I flew (how could I not? I was in my Hokas!!!!! Attn. www.hokaoneone.co.uk) and then I sprinted and all I could think was ‘Shit! I don’t have a plan! Shit! I don’t have a plan!’ … I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I caught him – only that I was definitely going to catch him.
To cut a long story short, catch him I did, grabbed my jacket, my backpack (complete with phone, car keys etc. etc.), hurled a few non-too-complimentary words in his direction and went back to complete the workout! Couldn’t be arsed with any more involvement. Need to save my energy for another two flights …
Why is there always a drama when I’m out and about? I think I’m jinxed.
Did I mention that on this morning’s run I got locked in the public toilets? And since it was chucking it down outside do you think there was anyone within miles to come to my rescue? #hadtoclimbovertopofdoor
‘Run with your eyes closed.’ So says Kilian Jornet (article in Trail Running magazine – Oct/Nov 2012). Come on. Really? That made me truly laugh out loud. I mean, what planet is he living on? Well, certainly not mine. Jeez, doesn’t he realise that most of us have enough trouble running with our eyes open? Complete nutter!! He goes on to suggest one should try running for 5m blind. Erm … I’m hoping that’s not 5 miles! Oh – and let’s not forget that he’s talking about running downhill and, of course, one must remain ‘relaxed’. PAHAHAHA It’s articles like that – and quotes like that – that confirm just how brilliant these elite runners are at what they do, not to mention completely crazy. Mostly, though, they’re just fantastically inspirational. I love reading about runners really ‘running’. It constantly reminds me that what I do barely stretches to be called running. And when I read how far the ‘real’ runners push themselves to achieve what they want to achieve, it definitely motivates me to try just a little bit harder – even if that means, in ‘my’ world, running to the next telegraph pole instead of collapsing at this one!
But enough about the elites. You don’t have to be an elite runner to impress me. I’m motivated every day reading facebook posts about people I know (or about friends of people I know) who are running HMs and marathons, 50k, 100k and 100-mile races every other weekend. Does it make me want to give up because I discovered this passion far too late in life and I’m so far behind? Like hell it does! I LOVE reading of their successes, their hiccups, their training … Their triumphs – YOUR triumphs – simply make me want to run another few kilometres tomorrow – and run them I will, be that 5k, 10k or a little more. I guess the world really is full of crazy people – and some are definitely a little (or a lot) crazier than others.
Today I managed my first 5k in a while. In my bid to hold back on the running and rebuild my knees, I’ve been avoiding anything to do with running. I’ve managed a few Run 60 secs/Walk 60 secs sessions to ‘test’ my grumbling joints. Not as niggle-free as I’d hope, but easy does it. This morning, though, in fine drizzle and my new Hokas http://www.hokaoneone.com/en/catalog.html. I couldn’t resist. I decided to do a wee lap and just go with it and see what happened – and I flew!! I have to say they do just what they say on the box, these Hokas! Definitely my new ‘go-faster’ shoes (bearing in mind that most people walking backwards could overtake me – I’m that slow!!). I flew along (it’s all relative, all relative haha), chanting ‘Follow the Hoka One trail … Follow the Hoka One trail …’. I wish I was clever enough to play with photoshop and the image I have in my head of those Hokas on Dorothy’s feet … But seriously, for someone plagued, as I am, with unrelenting PF which has moved from just a ‘morning’ thing to all bloody day (!) … my new trainers are a godsend. Yes, I’m converted and will be looking to get my hands on some trail ones very soon *thinks ’Christmas is coming’!*
Otherwise, on the training front I’m really pleased that to the sweet sounds of Amy MacDonald I had the first run that I’ve actually enjoyed since the High Peaks 40. ‘Enjoying’ a run, for me, means that I suddenly realise I’ve been running for 10+ minutes without being aware of niggles in my knees. Yes, they started to bother me a little in the last couple of hundred metres and some might say I should’ve stopped immediately – but how the hell do you stop 200 metres from a finish line??? I still puzzle over that. I still can’t believe that man with the walking poles in front of me at the High Peaks 40 … climbed the gorge just ahead of me, reached the final checkpoint together and … with 3 km to go he pulled out. Of course, he must’ve been gutted and had all sorts of reasons – but I only have what I heard to go on. I’m sure there was plenty more, but the argument with his friends – who were urging him to get those 3km done to the finish – was that he was ‘too tired’. Yes, yes, I know – that’s probably harsh and I’ll go to hell for saying it but
‘Dear God, could you please grant me just one race where I can simply say close to the finish that I’m ‘too tired’ – without having to refer to ITB, PF, pulled muscles, cuts, bruises, throwing up blah blah blah blah? I’d be ever so grateful.’
Meanwhile, I shall just have to defer to my current favourite quote (not sure who said it):
I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.
Brighton Beach. I’ve just finished a session with a client further up the beach, but hey, since I’m here, why not do a mini-session to consolidate my glute-blasting session of the other day. I haven’t got a plan. My legs are still feeling the effects of Wednesday’s workouts combined with yesterday morning’s swim session followed by kickboxing (so much for taking a day off lol). I’m keeping to a gentle Walk 60 secs/Jog 60 secs with no intention of anything too strenuous. I refuse to be cajoled into ‘running’ before my knees are ready. But wait! Benches – there are plenty of benches. I’ll start from The Meeting Place Cafe and do some kind of resistance exercise on each one. Keep it up for half an hour or so and that’ll be plenty.
Change of plan … need a random number … ok, count to 10 then look up. The number of seagulls I spot will be my number. I count, I look up. Three it is, then. ‘Phew’, I’m thinking. I’ve decided I’m going to do some box jumps on each bench and now I know how many.
I round the corner, jog past The Meeting Place to the first bench. Whoa! Hold on a minute!! The Council have been busy. BUSY ADDING BENCHES TO THE BEACH! They’ve all got ‘messages’ on them … all the new ones, that is. The give me something to read at least … but hang on one bloody minute … HOW MANY???
Sixteen! NINE BRAND NEW BENCHES! #notimpressed.com But, well, I made a plan and plans need to be followed. Sixteen benches it is, then x 3 box jumps on each. Sixteen on the way there … and sixteen on the way back. Yup. NINETY-SIX BOX JUMPS! Not bad for a day off, I guess.
But wait because the best is yet to come; a little piece of pure magic. I’m jogging back to my all-too-regular finishing point – Brighton’s Beach Hut Cafe http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beach-Hut-Cafe/7649159887 . Grey sky, drizzle, windy, chilly … I can see that the cafe is closed – not much point opening on a day like this when you have no indoor area … but then … THEN … Oh Look!! In the middle of the terrace there is just one table set out, with one chair facing the sea, and on the table one steaming mug of tea … with the Beach Hut owner waving me towards it! How fantastic is that! I was so happy and I’m still grinning from ear to ear. Ah, the little things, the small gestures, the magical surprises that turn a grey day into something ever so special.