Ultra-tiring, ultra-long, ultra-windy, ultra-amazing.

Things like this don’t sink in with me for days so trying to write up how I feel at the minute will be hard. On Sunday I ran just over 33 miles. I like to envisage miles in journeys to certain places, so on Sunday I ran the distance from my house to my office in Manchester or to my parents house and back and that doesn’t compute with me just yet.

In the run up to the weekend I’d gone through every emotion but the biggest one was fear, not fearing one particular thing, just a sense of fear. I was camping up in Keswick and that added it’s own concerns with regards to the weather and my ability to both sleep and get my self race ready at 5am in the dark.

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The camp site was lovely though, good clean toilets and excellent hot showers, the views from my tent were of Skiddaw one way and Catbells the other (both fells I have climbed and love). The Festival Village was a pleasant 15 minute walk through a wood down to the edge of Derwentwater.

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I spent the Friday night huddled away from the rain in the Beer Tipi only nipping out briefly to watch Badly Drawn Boy and marvel at the surroundings, which even in this weather looked stunning. As the weather took an even more ominous turn for the worse I decided to retire to my tent, wrap myself up in my 2 sleeping bags, throw a quilt over myself and sleep.

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The Saturday was another cold and windy day and was spent down in the Festival village watching a fellow club runner competing in the Triathlon. My respect for these guys has multiplied immensely after seeing them in that freezing water it looked an awful way to spend a Saturday morning. Apparently the water temperature was hovering around the 11 degree mark and was extremely choppy, add to that a cold blustery day and some mammoth hills to cycle and run up and you’ve got a pretty intense race.

I spent the afternoon taking in the various stalls and tents at the festival and then later taking in piles of fish and chips at The Old Keswickian (best chippy in the Lakes by far). Once again due to the cold I retired early to my tent, worried and apprehensive about what tomorrow would bring.

I woke at 5am to a blustery but dry morning, made myself some coffee and porridge and got myself dressed into my gear that I’d neatly placed out the night before

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I was feeling fresh and well rested and even had time to take down my tent and pack away my gear into the car before heading down to the start.

It was reassuring that the usual pre-race problems of paying for parking and queueing for toilets was no different than a 10k, what was different though was the early and almost unceremonious start, I’d only just arrived at the start and we were off, no horns whistles or bells, just “….and Go”

I was going to be running with friends and fellow South Cheshire Harriers, Tracey, Andy and Pete, all of those have done marathon distance before but none have attempted an Ultra distance. I was definitely the amateur of the group not even having done a marathon. The start was a nice and pleasant introduction through Cockshot Wood along the edge of Derwentwater up to Castlehead Wood and past the camp site to Springs Wood. It was here where the first climbs started as we headed up around the Walla Crags area. At 7am this was the wake up call my legs didn’t really expect but I was glad to see even the front runners were taking it easy and walking up the steeper climbs. The views from the back end of Derwentwater were worth the effort though.

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At this point we started a number of smaller ups and downs as we headed towards the first water station at Rosthwaite and the first check point at Honister slate mine at mile 9. As we got to mile 7 I started to feel a little sick and light headed and this worried me a lot. If I was feeling this bad now how would I feel in another 23 miles!

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The check point came at just the right time for me and I have never experienced the true healing and restorative powers of the simple banana like I did then. Two pieces of ice cold banana and a quick donning of my waterproof and gloves and I was a new man…..well I was until we started the climb up Honister. This was the highest of the climbs we would have to do peaking at just over 1800ft, with the wind was blowing directly in our faces and the nature of the surface underfoot (jagged slate) this took some effort.

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When we got to the top the views over Buttermere were stunning, unfortunately the terrain was still jagged slate so our anticipated free running descent was a lot slower and more precarious than we hoped, but we agreed that once we got to the shores of Buttermere and Crummock we could make up lost time on the trails there.

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Again this course had other plans, the track was annoyingly undulating and had lots of large trip hazards and the field sections very boggy. You really had to concentrate where you were putting your feet at all times which meant you either missed a lot of the stunning views or risked a tumble.

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I was feeling ok at this point too, I was being sensible fuel-wise drinking lots, refilling both water and isotonic bottles at aid stations and eating lots of malt loaf, beef jerky and Shot bloks.

As we headed back along the far side of Crummock towards the second CP we passed through stunning carpets of bluebells that had attracted a lot of tourists so for the first time in 10-12 miles we had well wishers and pleasant words of support which helped push along into the Newlands Valley and the next (last) big climb of the day upto 1000ft, down a bit then back up to 1600ft.

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The race notes warned us that this would be the most remote part of the course and they weren’t wrong…the wind was howling through the massive valleys and looking around you made you feel extremely small and dizzy in places, there were no roads, houses or any sign of civilisation for miles and the paths we were running on were at a camber that made it tough going on the ankles.

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It was on the descent from the last climb that I noticed we were close the magic 26.2 mile mark, having never done this distance before I had to stop and take a quick #marathonface selfie…not looking the best by this point but I was still fuelling right and apart from my legs starting to complain I was feeling OK.

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We were now on the home stretch, we could make out the outline of Catbells and started see more houses as we approached Little Town and at the last check point we were told there was only 7km left and it was mainly road.

After about 500 yards the road ended and we were directed up on the fells again and through a valley down towards Derwentwater. After another 4-5km we came across another water station where we joined up with the runners from the 5km, 10km and 25km trail runners.

To our dismay and surprise we also came upon a sign indicating 5km to go, surely this wasn’t meant for us, we’d already done 30 miles and we only had one to go. This signalled defeat for my legs as another 2 miles would surely be too much for me, Andy slowed to a walk and if it wasn’t for Tracey shouting back at us both we’d still be sitting on a bridge near the Pencil Museum.

As we came into the field and the finishing stretch Tracey grabbed my hand and pulled me like a disobedient child towards the finish and over the line. I’d done it. I had a medal thrust into my hand and big handshake from Tracey’s partner Dave, (who had finished in 6:24) and I sat squat on the floor taking in what I’d just done.

I was out running for just over 8 hours and had covered over 33 miles, to me that is unthinkable. I’d followed a plan for 16 weeks and it had worked. I can say I’m an Ultra runner and after all my doubting for the weeks and months running up to it that hasn’t sunk in.

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We finished the day off with more fish and chips at The Old Keswickian before heading home for a long sleep in my own bed and to dream of the next adventure to go on.

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What’s worse than Maranoia? Ultra Maranoia!

Last week wasn’t a good week for me, my body or my state of mind, In fact it was probably my worst week since the start of the year when it comes to training.

As  you know I follow a lot of runners on social media and these runners give me an untold wealth of knowledge, support and inspiration. They also introduce me to a vast amount of new words to describe the effects training and running has on both the mind and body, runger, hangry, StravaWanker, solefie and the one I experienced this week…maranoia.

Maranoia – Definition: mental anxiety found, pre marathon, in runners who become convinced something is going to happen to stop them from making the start line.

As I’m not running a Marathon, my situation is much worse, I’m suffering from Ultra Maranoia!

All last week I felt very heavy legged, even the easiest of my runs (5 miles, flat fields) have felt like gargantuan feats of endurance. The Tuesday night off-road run with the club took in lovely views over of Macclesfield forest from Teggs Nose up to White Nancy and although only 6.5 miles I felt like sitting down and crying most of the way, the hills were agony both up and down!

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I also ran the second leg of the Spring Treble at Milford, the imaginatively titled Milford Murder really did live up to it name and although I wasn’t pushing very hard at all I was struggling all the way around.

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I only managed 21 miles all through the week, but convinced myself that I would make up the miles at the weekend and everything would be good with the World. This didn’t happen,  Friday and Saturday I just didn’t have the inclination to put on my shoes, I was experiencing aches and pains that didn’t seem natural and I was convinced that everyone was an injury waiting to blow up on me.

From the feet up I felt pain in my toes, ankles, shin, right knee, left hamstring, right groin, left hip and left shoulder, I wrote Friday and Saturday off and pinned all my hopes on a Sunday afternoon long run. After a morning watching the inspiring thousands running the London Marathon I knew I’d be unstoppable, I would whoosh out of the door, big smile and knock off my missing miles without a second thought.

The reality was I shuffled out of the door, my arms shredded and tired from taking a few hundred weight of bricks to the tip, my hip hurting from sitting in a crouched position all morning watching TV, out over the fields. My expectation of 20+ miles soon reduced to 15 miles down to 10 miles, eventually bottoming out at 9.5 miles.

I dragged myself dejectedly back home to find that not only had my week ending with a damp squib of a run, but my New Balance Leadvilles had developed a rip in the front and my Garmin seemed to be stuck in a ever lasting “Transferring Data” loop.

That was the last straw, I threw everything down and sat miserable with a cold beer.

After a good nights sleep I vowed to put the week behind me, write it off as a blip in what has been in the majority a very good training phase and put all my effort into what will be my last hard week before my taper begins.

Fingers crossed it’ll all be forgotten after today’s lunchtime amble over the fields.

Loving the Lakes, long runs and light nights

If, like me, you follow a lot of runners on social media you know that we are into Marathon season and more importantly Taper season. This is odd for me as my Ultra is still 5 weeks away and whilst all around me are talking about easy runs, carb loading and feeling happy that the hard work is done, I’ve just finished my longest and toughest 10  days of my training plan.

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This started on Good Friday when I travelled to the Lakes with a couple of friends to recce part of the course. We decided to take on the section from Seatoller to Buttermere which included the 2nd highest climb on the course, an 1800ft climb up from Honister Slate mine.

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As you can see from the picture the views from this height weren’t great on the day, cloud was low and even though light the rain was in for the day too. The ascent was difficult but I know realise what I’ll be facing and I know that I can walk up these inclines a lot faster than I can run up them. The descent from here was something special, very technical and narrow in places but when dry underfoot I’m sure you could throw yourself down them at some speed and make up the time you lost on the ascent.

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After reaching the bottom the path around Buttermere is lovely and flat with stunning views. At this point the 50km course carries on along Crummock Water but we decided to head back along the other side of Buttermere. At this point we stopped for a bacon bap before a run back up the Honister pass and back along to Seatoller.

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A long, long day completed (3 hours drive there, 5 hours running, 3 hours drive back) I was elated that I finally made it up there and more elated that my legs held up pretty well.

After a couple of days recovery (in which I did a bit marshalling at our Club 10k) I got stuck into what was going to be a 62 mile peak week. I ran 7 days in a row and felt happy, healthy and strong every day. The light nights are making it a lot easier for me to get out and about after work as well, the S.A.D. that seems to affect us all seems to be passing and spring is on its way.

Everything seems to be falling into place and like I’ve said previously, the fact I’m sticking to a proper plan seems to be paying massive dividends for me. I even managed a double long run on Saturday with another climb up the Killer Mile which is totally worth it for the view over Cheshire and Wales alone.

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The next few weeks will be much the same, with less mileage and more “research” into fuelling on the day. Bring on the Pop Tarts and Pepperami!

“Just in Case”

As far back as I can remember I’ve always been someone who packs too much when it comes to travelling; I was the guy who had everything we needed on a lads holiday, I take anything that will possibly fit into the car when holidaying with the family in this country and when the children and my wife leave the house I’m the one who gathers up coats and hats and puts them in the car “just in case”.

This is starting to cross over into my running life now, it seems the longer my runs become the more time I spend packing my pockets or rucksack with extra little things that I know I won’t need for 13 miler (or even an ultra) but they are there “just in case”.

Lovely sunny day? Surely I don’t need gloves and an extra Buff? oh well “just in case”. 10 miles? 2 gels max, I’ll pack 4 “just in case”. Going out for 2 hours? I’ll pack an extra phone battery “just in case”.

This mind set is becoming a problem as the length of my runs increase so does my preparation time, gone are the days of just putting on my gear, shoes and Garmin and heading out of the door. I’m checking weather reports, battery levels, ground softness and I’m spending more and more time choosing the correct playlist, album or podcast to accompany my epic 5 mile run around the fields behind my house. My preparation is becoming something like Shackleton would have done for an Arctic expedition, when the reality is I can see my house for 90% of the time!

For the moment I’ve drawn the line at checklists (I have one of those for my Glastonbury packing) but my race day bag is becoming ridiculous, multiple outfits, first aid kits, 3 to 4 pairs of shoes, water, cereal bars the list goes on.

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Although this may sound like a cry for help, when it comes down to it, I love it…I love messing around with my kit as much as I do my camping gear, there is something immensely satisfying about having everything in it’s place and feeling that you’ve got all eventualities covered no matter what is thrown at you.

This was proven to be the case yesterday when I attempted my longest run to date. 20 miles may not be a major milestone to seasoned Marathon runners and a drop in the ocean to most Ultra runners but it’s been a distance I’ve always wanted to reach and yesterday I finally ticked it off my list and my preparation was justified in this case as the weather threw everything it had at me. Rain.Hail.Sun.Repeat. Me being me I had wool hat, baseball caps, 2 types of gloves, 2 types or jacket and enough snacks to host a small picnic.

But it worked, I completed the run…I felt good at the end and am now looking forward to longer runs now I know I can complete this distance with a lot to spare. I’ll probably have to start getting ready now though!

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How I planned to follow a plan and the plan went as planned

Following a training plan works…who knew!

I’m over six weeks into my training plan for the Keswick Mountain Festival 50km and I’m surprised and very happy with the way it’s going. I’ve never been one to follow a plan, something always comes up to make me deviate from it (usually injury), but this time I’ve stuck to it and I’m not feeling  massive benefits from it.

The first thing I’ve noticed is hunger, as my mileage is pushing upwards of 45-50 miles per week my body is constantly screaming for food. I’ve experienced “runger” before but only in the proceeding hours after a long run, now I seem to be hungry all the time and my body is telling me what it needs, Pizza, sugar, peanut butter, fruit, I’ve never experienced my body demanding such defined nutrients before, I’ve also redeveloped a liking for beer, not washy lager but ale, dark, thick, hoppy, malty ale. Something in it satiates my appetite like never before. The best thing about all of this is as I’m doing so many miles my weight isn’t shifting. It’s proven to me that no “over the counter” diet is the answer, your body (my body) is demanding certain food groups and I’m obliging it willingly.

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I’ve also learned to run by myself during these initial weeks, at first solo running was tough. I’ve always done runs by myself but the repetition of dragging myself out 6 days a week by myself was taking its toll, a major factor in the turn around has been my discovery of the introduction of stand up comedy on Spotify. I can now stick on Eddie Izzard, Louis CK, Billy Connelly live and laugh and smile  my way around a run and if I can laugh without doubling over or stopping I know my pace is good too!

I’m lucky in the fact that I live in an area that lends itself to trail and off road running, my house backs on to miles of undulating fields and being in Cheshire I’m only 40 minutes away from the Peak District, the Sandstone trail and Wrekin, 30 minutes more and I can be in the Welsh hills, so with the support of a good running club I’ve been managing to base the majority of my runs on similar trails to what I’ll be racing on. The only negative is the amount of washing that is required running 6 days a week over muddy fields.

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So up to now my plan is working, I feel stronger, I’m enjoying my running and I’m gathering the kit I need (more on that in later posts) to become a trainee #UltraWanker. My biggest need now is to increase the length of double long runs over the weekends but as things are working well at the minute I’m not looking at those with trepidation any more.

 

Welsh hills, Cheshire streets and nerves

Race nervousness confuses me. Over the past 2 weekends I have run in two races, two very different races for various reasons. One which was over 100 miles away in Wales, is up there with one of the toughest half marathons in the country, containing big hills, testing descents and unforgiving terrain. The other started less than a mile away from my front door and was a short, flat course on roads that I run almost everyday of my life.

Out of the two it’s obvious which I would be more nervous about…or so I thought.

The Run Wales Winter Trail Half is a beast of a run, the hills are plentiful, the footing is technical both up and down hill and given that the course record is 20-25 minutes slower than most Half Marathon course records I got the feeling I was going to be out there in the woods for a while. Despite all of this race nerves never hit that day, leaving home at 6:30am for a two hour drive was daunting for sure but once we arrived at Coed y Brenin Visitors Centre and saw all the other South Cheshire Harriers who had made the journey, along side the stunning views of the sun breaking through the trees I know it was going to be a good day.

I had already convinced myself that I was not going to race today and was treating as a training run for my Ultra in May, but I also knew if people started to come past me I was going to push myself along and not fall too far behind.

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I started off at a fairly pedestrian pace, I had to, the first 2 miles was a continuous uphill slog that really took all the energy out of my legs, when I reached the top of the climb I meandered slowly down the slope on the other side. After seeing a few friendly faces bomb past me it steeled my reserve somewhat so I dug in and picked up the pace for the remaining 9 miles, passing those who’d passed me.

Not once during this race did I encounter nerves though, the stunning scenery and excellent support and setting of the race meant that negative thoughts never entered my head. I am already looking forward to next years incarnation of this race.

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The following Sunday was a different matter altogether. The Alsager 5 mile road race was my first race I completed in 2013, this is a fast race. Although the corners are tight, there is no elevation to speak of and elite athletes from all over the country come over to race it. (Helen Clitheroe has won the last 2 years and Gemma Steel before her).

The course is around the streets of Alsager, the streets where I run every day, where I walk the dog, where my children go to school. So I shouldn’t feel any nerves in my home town surely?

After the lovely run the week previously I told myself I would give it go this week and go for another PB and try and break the 35 minute mark. This, along with the added pressure of it being the first in the North Staffs Road Race league, the fact that another 67 South Cheshire Harriers were racing and the prospect of numerous friends and locals would be pointing their cameras at me at every corner added to my increasing nervousness.

The race itself was horrible. Too fast and hard to slip into a zone where you could enjoy it, every step felt tough. Nerves had made me tense and this made every muscle ache more than it should, more than once I thought I was just going to stop, seeing many others who did stop didn’t help. I wasn’t enjoying it.

I did manage to get my sub 35 I desperately wanted, but at the end I more or less convinced myself that I didn’t want to run these kind of races any more. The previous week I ran more than double this distance with a smile on my face, from now on that would be my goal.

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I let nerves get to me and it nearly ruined what should have been a great day in my own town, I now know that it’s not worth it. Next year I’ll run in Wales happy and spend the following weekend on a corner with my camera.

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My New “Plan” Resolutions

This Monday saw the start of my 16 week plan that is leading to the Keswick Mountain Festival 50km Ultra, this will be my first run over marathon distance so kind of a big deal to me.

After scouring web pages and books and social media, I decided on Hal Koerner’s 50km training plan from his excellent book “Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon, from 50K to 100 Miles and Beyond“. This plan, as with most of the Ultra plans I saw, focuses on double long runs over the weekend and keeps the mileage to a sensible volume during the week, it also throws in a few double run days which I’m a fan of as I said here.

Before I started my plan I knew I had to make some changes to the way I approached my training and I came up with 3 resolutions which at first glance seem highly inappropriate to someone training to run 31 miles in one go.

1. Eat more

2. Sleep more

3. Sit back and stretch more

I’ve never been one to make New Years resolutions and I’ve never been one to buy into the guilt of body image and gym-hysteria for the first four weeks of the year, but I knew that having to put in the miles needed  for this plan I needed to make sure I was doing it correctly and also making sure I remained happy and on track, so these 3 resolutions are the ones I chose.

Eat More. Every Ultra book I’ve picked up and every person I’ve ever known who has run an ultra advocates the massive amount of calorie intake needed to complete them, the cake, sausage rolls, pretzels, crisps…it’s almost feels that the only reason people run these things is to eat more! I try to maintain a healthy diet but that isn’t always eating enough for the amount of running I do, and certainly won’t be enough for the miles in this plan…I vow to eat more of the right stuff to see me through this.

Sleep More. I am a terrible sleeper, I am a light sleeper…the slightest noise and movement wakes me up to the point where I sleep with a fan by the side of my bed in order to drown out some of the other external noises. Sleep to a runner is more important than anything else. This great post by TinyRunner says it all really. I need to get to bed early and I need to somehow increase the amount of deep sleep I’m getting in order for my body to repair itself.

Sit Back and Stretch More. If there is one thing that I skim over when it comes to running it’s stretching. I half-heartedly do a pigeon pose to stop my re-occurring piriformis problems and stretch my calf and glutes out but nothing that I would call a full body stretch. In order for me to remain fit enough and not solidify after all these miles I will need to incorporate a decent stretching routine and weekly yoga/pilates routine into this plan, I’m sure it doable. I spend evenings in front of the TV so that is the perfect time to do this.

I’ve got 16 weeks of hard work in front of me and these things are more important now than ever. I’m not a new year, new me kind of person but I want to stick to these resolutions for longer than 4 weeks and prove to myself that I’ve not made a massive mistake come May.