Tag: Pilgrim Challenge

PILGRIM CHALLENGE THE RETURN (2015)

31 January/1 February

Reading on fabulosity scale: 10

Level of awesomeness feelingness: 10

Muddiness: 10

Conqueredliness: 10

Meltdowns: ZERO

State of feet: Pass

Did I mention that I had quite a good Saturday??

But it wasn’t all marvellous. The photos were shit lol Mind you, I always look shit in running photos. Just when I think I’ve lost weight and am looking ok, here comes another pic of me mid-race and OMG – words fail me. I’m thinking of suing. They must’ve photo-shopped some of that, surely! Surely??

Moving on ………

It was a shaky start. In fact, I can quite honestly say that I almost didn’t start at all. Due to some rubbish planning on my part we had visitors the night before. They very kindly left before midnight but when it’s a 5 a.m. start that makes midnight quite late. And it was at least 1 before I wound down and managed to sleep. And then there was the Garmin fiasco. Garmin Connect, I official dislike you lots and lots. Could I upload/download/whichever …. my maps to my watch? No!! I even had Karim working on that one for an hour and he couldn’t get it to work, either. Boo!

And then of course there was the drive there – without any maps!! My GPS decided on a timely malfunction which left me driving aimlessly around Farnham for a good half an hour as I watched the ‘Race Briefing’ time slip by …

In short, I arrived, parked, grabbed race number and timing chip and … kept my overnight bag OFF the truck because I honestly did NOT want to start. I had four and a half minutes before the start gun. I decided that no decisions should be made while one needed to pee. So that’s what I did. With one minute to go, I flung my bag onto the truck and made it to the start with my race number still in my hand and my hydration vest over one shoulder!!

Well … from then on, things could only get better – and they did! Yes, there was mud. There was NO escaping the knee-deep mud. There was also snow (gorgeous), hail (not so gorgeous), rain (wet), cloud (dull) but … but … but … I COULD SEE RUNNERS!! Yes. Me. Runners ahead of me and some behind me and …………. this is unheard of for me. I was keeping up (kind of). Of course, the real importance of this was that THEY knew where they were going. It meant that I wouldn’t get lost. Do you know, I lost sight of those runners for about half an hour mid-race – and you would not believe it, but I came up to fast-racing, icy river with stepping stones across it (under the water). I crossed the stones and came back onto the track with more runners – and you know what? Later on, when I checked the route map, what did it say? Go through the car park and take the left fork. DO NOT CROSS THE STEPPING STONES!!! I swear I cannot be left alone!!!
The trail was every bit as beautiful as I remembered from two years previously – lots and lots of woodland and fields and glorious views. Having done a few races now, though, I still marvelled at how molly-coddled roadrunners are in terms of aid stations etc. There were no water stations every 5k here. Brilliantly organised, fabulously detailed ‘route cards’ provided (for those who actually read them properly lol) … but the first water station was 8 miles in, the second one at Mile 18! You do not want to run out of water in between – and this time I made sure I didn’t!! As usual, nothing was too much trouble for the marshalls at these aid stations. Many were sponsored athletes and bottles were whipped out of vests and refilled almost before we’d ground to a halt; food pushed into hands and nobody got through those stations ‘unfed’ without some very pointed questions: ‘Are you sure?’ ‘What have you eaten so far?’ ‘What’s in your pack?’

I had just a few we targets for myself for this race. I wanted to beat the 8 hours 55 from my previous Day 1 when I had completely lost the plot at one point. I wanted to get up those Boxhill steps without collapsing and having to finish them ‘backwards’. I wanted to get up the following huge incline without crying (tall order) and I wanted to finish feeling proud of myself.

In my own particular way – with MY goals, not anybody else’s – I aced it. I got up the 268 steps without stopping once! I then did the same on that darned hill – no stopping, pausing and definitely no crying (although there was swearing!!). And after that I ran again. Slowly as always, but I ran. I ran the last 5 miles and I was just so chuffed.

They say you should never decide to DNF at an aid station – and neither should you do it the night BEFORE Day 2 of the Challenge (best wait until morning)! But I broke the rule. I decided in those final five miles that I was going to celebrate this 50k, relax and enjoy the evening, the talks, the meal … and NOT race Day 2. And I have to say that although I had a few small regrets the next morning, I was completely happy with this decision.

(a) I clocked 6:40 ‘moving time’ on my Garmin – but total time was 7:40 (I still can’t work this out as I didn’t stop for more than 5 minutes at any water station?) – Anyway, that aside, it STILL gives me a PB of 75 minutes – that’ll do!
(b) For the first time ever I had runners around me for a WHOLE RACE!
(c) I conquered the 268 steps AND the hill.
(d) I did everything I set out to do.
(e) I finished in daylight! (Wow!)
(f) Hilariously, and also for the FIRST TIME EVER (and probably the last) … I made the Day 2 start time in the FASTER RUNNER slot!!!! That made me laugh out loud when I saw it posted – I snuck in with five minutes to spare but I did giggle a lot!

With that in mind, I simply had nothing to prove to myself by racing Day 2. I knew if I started that I would finish, but I also knew it’d be slow. My shins were threatening shin splints (I could feel them being ‘challenged’!) and my ITB was VERY tight. Another 50k would do nothing other than increase my chances of injury and with such a big goal in 20 weeks’ time I really did NOT want to risk any time off (I can’t afford even a few days’ rest at this stage). I could’ve walked it, of course – but then neither did I fancy 8-9 hours on the trails, being on my own for a lot of it, possibly getting lost again …. and for what?

Ironman! June! This is my focus. Pilgrim was not by any means my ‘A’ race. What would I have achieved Day 2? Nothing really (other than a lovely medal).

Completely happy with my decision and totally and utterly chuffed with a great time (for me) on that course. End of.

Learning points

Two elites gave talks on the Saturday nights. Both very interesting. I took away three key points …

1. An oldie but goodie – NEVER train without purpose. If there’s a race in the offing, then ‘I’ll just do a gentle ten miles today’ is useless. It’s ok to do a gentle ten miles but make sure there’s a purpose (recovery run? ‘learning’ to run more slowly/hold back?’) In short, if there isn’t a purpose to it, either don’t bother or make one up. Either way, decide.
2. When something goes wrong in a race and you’re recapping … it’s not enough to just say ‘I ran out of fuel at 15 miles and that’s where it went wrong’. Sit down and back-track all the way. Why did you run out of fuel? Did you forget to fill up or did you drink more? Why did you need more? When did that start? You might find you can track these ‘causes’ all the way back to a night/week/month before (something that happened in training? Something that didn’t work? Wrong strategy?) … Go back until you can go no further. Only then can you see ‘where’ and ‘when’ things started to go wrong.
3. Cold weather running (long distances). If you’re drinking and drinking and peeing and peeing your body is going to shut down from cold!! Constant ‘peeing’ means your body is trying to get rid of that bloomin’ cold water you keep chucking down – because with the torrent of cold water it CANNOT WARM UP!! It’s desperately trying to get rid of the water so it can concentrate on warming up your core! Eventually, it will shut down from the cold unless you rectify this. Stop drinking cold water. Get hold of a warm drink pronto!!

That’s it from me! Thanks for listening. Gotta go now …. Ironman training awaits. And yes, that IS my ‘A’ race!!

 

PILGRIM’S (LACK OF) PROGRESS

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

Prologue

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!

Bad day?

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!!

TIME TO BEAT:  DAY ONE: 08:55:09 (Position 188); DAY TWO: Any time before cut-off would be marvellous 🙂

Of Pilgrims and Plans …

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!’

MY RUNNING LEGS HAVE ARRIVED – WAHAY!

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 – $#&%!!!!

Donning my SIU hat – 10 weeks to Pilgrim

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

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