My dirty little secret.

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‘No-one ever said it was going to be easy.’

The opening line of Inspiral Carpets 1994 top 20 single ‘I Want You’. But also relevant to anyone out there aspiring to achieve things in their life. Obviously, I am talking about physical achievements here, but if you want to relate it to something dull and boring (like just about any job in the world) then feel free to do so!

Much to my surprise and incredulity, I find these days that I am often asked for hints, tips, advice etc about all things running. I still feel like a beginner to be honest so I only offer advice with the double caveat that firstly I’m no expert/coach and secondly everyone is different anyway. Certainly in the case of running, what works for one person (me) will not necessarily be the magic formula for someone else (you!).

But one thing that is true in running is this; if you are wanting to improve your performance, don’t expect an easy ride. Do expect to have to work for it. I get a bit fed-up (OK I get really p***ed off) when people say “Oh it’s alright for you, you’re a good runner.” Well yes, I suppose you could say that I am half decent now, but I didn’t used to be – it has taken, and still takes, a bit of effort and sacrifice.

‘If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!’

I’m an OK runner now because I work hard at it. Just like everyone else, I began with that fear of even putting my trainers on and the utter exhaustion that followed trying to simply trot round a 3 mile loop from my house. And I’m not talking long ago either. I’m 44 now (yikes!) but I was 38 when I finally made a conscious decision to stop being an unfit layabout and get myself a bit fitter.

Is it easy? NO!

There’s nothing easy about setting your alarm for 5.45am on a Saturday so you can get a long run in without ruining the family day. There’s nothing easy about going out at 10pm after a day at work having not eaten yet because you have too much work to do and you want to read a story with the kids and put them in bed and your wife also has too much work to do and you haven’t ironed tomorrow’s clothes and the kitchen needs cleaning and the little ‘un needs a fancy dress outfit for the morning and you need to pop to the shop ‘cos you’re nearly out of milk again and oh look there’s a couch and a TV and there’s Facebook and Twitter to browse.

What I’m basically saying is –

  1. Don’t stand there and tell me you’d like to do it but you haven’t got time. I HAVEN’T GOT TIME! Teaching these days is such a relentless, all-consuming, life-swallowing, happiness-killing, family-life ruining occupation that I could sit in the house every minute of every day (and night) working (I sometimes do) and I still wouldn’t be even in the slightest bit up-to-date with anything. And that’s before I even stop to consider the needs of my poor neglected family.
  2. Don’t enter a race (or tell me you’re entering a race) without accepting whatever preparing for that race entails. Guess what? You won’t get fit for it by reading about it. You won’t get fit for it by talking about it. You won’t get fit for it by buying all the kit for it! (I know loads of people who do all three of these things!) You have to actually go outside and train for it too! No excuses. You don’t have to follow some of those ridiculous training plans out there on the t’interweb but you do actually need to go out and train – whatever the weather, whatever the other things are that you have to do. If you don’t want to train for it, fair enough – DON’T ENTER IT!
  3. Don’t tell me I’m ‘addicted to running’ or some other similar crap. “It’s easier for you to go out running because you love it!” Er, no… Here it comes, my dirty little secret…..

I DON’T LOVE RUNNING – I HATE IT!

OK, maybe hate is a little strong. Let me explain myself here.

  • Nine days out of ten I would much rather be sat on my arse eating crisps and cake and bacon butties and beer. That would be easier. In many cases it would be nicer. Often I would be happier.
  • I get really hacked off looking through photos in running magazines at models beaming away as they skip up a mountain / along a river bank / down a back alley / across a beach etc. It’s a totally bollocks false image of what most of us feel when out running. For once, I would love it if they showed proper pictures of proper runners showing proper feelings while doing proper running. Here’s a good example:-
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This is Mike from our club (Wigan Harriers). He’s a very good runner. There is no pleasure in this face. He isn’t ‘enjoying running’. He isn’t skipping through a field with the wind rustling his hair. He is just relieved that he hasn’t died a horrible, grizzly death at the National Cross Country Championships. He isn’t happy. He won’t be happy for some time afterwards. His wife won’t be happy when she sees the state of the bathroom afterwards, either. (And if you think he’s an exception, take a look at the face of the guy behind him!)

 

  • There is a ridiculously fine line between fit me and 17 stone, lard-arse me. It’s determination, not love of running, that’s the difference between my two-selves. Determination, and the knowledge that I am just a whisker away from being a totally lazy, miserable sod! (And the amount of cake I eat, I’d have to add ‘fat’ into that sentence too!)
  • I don’t skip out of bed at 6am on a Saturday shouting “Yippee, it’s horrible out there! Let’s go running!” I don’t charge in from work screaming “I am so excited about that 10 miler I have planned!” I would rather not do it. It would be much easier not to do it.
  • The fact that I am half decent at it doesn’t make it easier. In fact, in many cases it makes it harder. I probably COULD skip that run and, if anything, the rest might actually do me some good. But most of the time I still go out if I’ve planned to.
  • I suppose what I am trying to say is – if you feel these things about running (or swimming, the gym, cycling – whatever) I am no different. I’m not trying to put you off here. In fact I’m trying to show some solidarity. I feel the same things as you. What I am trying to say is that getting fit and healthy doesn’t happen by magic. (Or especially not by reading about it, talking about it and/or purchasing kit and equipment for it!) Ultimately, whether you are literally taking your first running steps on a ‘Couch to 5K’ plan or trying to run a marathon PB or complete your first Ultra, effort is required.

The only person who can put that effort in is YOU. The only thing stopping you is YOU. Excuses are exactly that – excuses. (We all have them.)

Blimey, I’m grumpy today! Sorry everyone, I just had to get that out of my system.

Let’s get positive here! You don’t want problems, you want solutions! Let’s spin this depressing tale of woe on it’s head!

Sooooooo, without further ado, I present……. (da, da, daaaaaa!)

Sticks’ Super Hints And Tips To Get Your Butt Out Of The Door Even Though You Might Not Want To And I’ve Just Spent The First Fifteen Paragraphs Telling You Why It’s Rubbish But Now I Want You All To Forget About Everything I’ve Just Said And Read This Bit And Then Get All Positive And Dust Off Your Plimsoles And Go And Give It  A Whirl!

I can’t make you put your trainers/lycra/swim stuff/gym kit on. I have no magic wand (even though my daughters clearly think I do). All I can give you are the motivational tools that get me out of the door on a regular basis. So, in no particular order:

1 – Don’t think about it – just do it! (Hmm, ‘Just Do It’ – catchy. Might use that. Could catch on.)

Don’t ever think. Thinking is massively over-rated. I have got a long way in life (well, I suppose that is debatable) by basing all my major life decisions on knee-jerk reactions. I would never have gone to Uni if I’d thought about it (and, therefore, never have met Leanne). I would never have accepted that first teaching job in Liverpool (thus meaning I wasn’t going back home to Bradford) if I’d thought about it. I would not have moved schools since as application forms are hard work and interviews are scary, we wouldn’t be living in Wigan, we wouldn’t have taken the kids skiing (certainly not as babies!) and we DEFINITELY wouldn’t be having a third child if we’d thought about it!!!

But, for the purposes of this blog, I would NEVER go out running if I thought about it.

A million things would stop me: Work, weather, a big hill, getting muddy, my poor children, my even poorer wife, I’m hungry, I know it’s going to hurt, it seems such a long way, I’m too tired, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too wet, it’s too windy, it’s too frosty, I’ll go later, I’ll just do that first, I’ll go tomorrow, I’ll rest until the weekend.

NNNNOOOOOO!!!! DON’T THINK.

Just put your stuff on and step outside. Don’t even think about where you’re going to go if you don’t want to. Just set off. And if you absolutely HAVE TO think about something, think about number 2 on the list…

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The Northern Cross Country Championships, Knowsley Safari Park, January, 2017. A brutal mudfest. (Just look at that mud! THE WHOLE WAY! I PROMISE YOU!) I would never enter this race if I thought about it. An hour of torture every year. Never again. (Until next year when I don’t think about it and enter again.)

2 – Think about how good you will feel AFTER you’ve done it!

This is it. My NUMBER 1 motivational tool. That’s why I put it at number 2 on my list. (See? Not thinking.)

Often, the only thing that gets me out of the door is thinking how pleased I will be when I get back. Early Saturday morning get-ups are torture; I’m so tired. I literally dread the thought of 20+miles and getting muddy most weeks. But if I can just make it outside, I know I’ll see at least one lovely thing while I’m out: sunrise, deer, assorted other wildlife, view, other dedicated souls doing the same thing. And I know that, come 10am, when a lot of people I know may just be waking up, I’ll already have achieved something that most people can’t do and my bacon butty will taste just that little bit sweeter.

Above: See, if you do get up early you might, just occasionally, be rewarded with views like these.

3 – Run first.

If you have loads of stuff to do, run first. Remember, I’m not talking hours here. A 20 minute walk/trot in the fresh air actually does make all the stresses of work/home more tolerable. As a general rule, I’m more productive when I get back.

In the holidays I get up and run straight away (don’t think about it!) if it’s at all possible. This works for me because I feel better about the entire rest of the day knowing I’ve already ‘done’ my healthy bit for the day. If I have already ‘achieved’ and it’s not even 9am yet, I have the rest of the day to achieve loads more. If I do anything else first, the whole “I’ll do it later” cycle kicks in WITH EVERYTHING – not just the run!

Personally, running before a work day isn’t something I’ve managed. I’m determined to explore it a bit this summer, mostly because I need to up my mileage for this year’s big ultra run. All my work day running has always been in the evenings – but it’s even harder then, so I doff my cap to all you early morning runners! I’m going to try!

Obviously it’s not a miracle – running to escape stress doesn’t make the stresses go away. But it often reminds me that, really, the things I’m stressed about are all bollocks, aren’t they? (ie work!) If I died tomorrow no-one would say “What a great bit of marking that was!” or “What a beautiful lesson plan that is!” If I knew I was going to die tomorrow I wouldn’t get my marking up-to-date, I’d spend time with my family. Going out for a trot reminds you that most of those stresses are irrelevant. The sun will still rise, (OK maybe not in Wigan, but the sky will turn from dark grey to light grey), those trees, that hill, your house for goodness sake, will still be there regardless of what you do in the next 30 minutes, so you might as well enjoy these things while you can. Which leads me nicely to my next point….

4 – Whenever possible, run in the countryside / try trail running.

I think my rant at the top of the blog showed I do not love running. But I love what it does for me: the fitness I feel, the sense of achievement, that fleeting moment of peace and quiet, that 30 minutes to get my brain in order, solitude.

I definitely cannot say anything positive about street running, apart from the fact that it might be safer, especially in the dark. (Although that depends on the street!) Road running is largely miserable and thankless. Ask anyone training for a marathon if they enjoy 20 milers up and down some duel carriageway ‘cos it’s the flattest bit of land they can find and if even one of them says they enjoy it I’ll join them in my mankini. (Paul Platt and Chris Green need not respond to this…)

I can only speak personally but one of the joys of where I live is the abundance of footpaths and country lanes at my disposal. It’s the reason we moved here in the first place. As a general rule I prefer winter running to summer running as I’m not as good in the heat, but one of the bonuses of summer is the daylight hours meaning evening runs can again be switched to country lanes. You have to be a bit traffic savvy sometimes, but I nearly always enjoy a run if it takes me past fields of bleating sheep, farmhouses (not farm dogs, I hasten to add), birdsong and the general tranquility of the countryside. I could run around forever just looking at the views, feeling relaxed and refreshed.

Contrast that with running on a main road: stopping for traffic, checking your pace, dodging the scallies outside the shop, thinking about how much your feet/calves/quads/shins hurt, counting the junctions back to your road etc – it really is no contest.

Road running – think about negative things; Countryside – think about positive things.

You can then double these positive thoughts if you actually head out onto trails and footpaths to run.

Now you have all the positives of the countryside with added extras; you’re thinking even less about pain because you’re watching where to put your feet. You’re training with added benefits because you’re working harder running on the softer surface whilst at the same time giving your feet in-particular a more gentle workout. It’s very liberating stopping avoiding the puddles and actually deliberately targeting them – once you’re wet, you’re wet so do it straight away and get on with it! There is no pace-pressure because you are definitely slower so you don’t have to worry about it, but you’re working harder, so you get more bang for your buck anyway. Miles will slip by more easily without you noticing because you genuinely aren’t thinking about that, you’re thinking about where your next footstep will be.

It’s just more relaxed and relaxing, OK?! Take my word for it because, for once, I’m definitely right!

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See, try running through THAT and thinking about the stresses of the daily grind! (OK this is a little extreme, the canal towpath will do just fine! Thanks to Trail Running Mag for the #Run1000Miles ruff, btw.)

5 – Turn being a beginner into a positive.

This is for the newbies, or potential newbies out there. I know how easy it is to think ‘I’m not good enough, it’s embarrassing’ so not starting. But just start. Just walk. Walk on a treadmill or cross trainer at a gym. But just start. Build it into your weekly routine. If you know that you do exercise on a Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday then you’re more likely to stick to it.

Turn starting out into a positive. The progress you make is so much more accelerated at first that you will feel the benefit straight away. Remember it doesn’t necessarily translate to faster times/pace straight away, that takes time and, most importantly, consistency. Think in longer periods of time. For example, look back on where you started after 3 months (or even 6 months).

I think some people think if they are not quicker or finding it easier after a fortnight then it’s not for them – it’s not working. Like I have said many times already, this isn’t a magic wand or a quick fix. What you are achieving at first is a life choice; a lifestyle change. The mental benefits will be immediate. You WILL feel better about yourself. The actual physical benefits take longer and, importantly, take consistency. (Remember, NO EXCUSES.)

6 – Join a local running club.

This is a little bit rich coming from me, I know. I’m a solo runner at heart. I run to get away from people, not to join them! But I tell you now joining Wigan Harriers is the best thing I’ve ever done in terms of running.

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Wigan Harriers photo-call before the Wigan Run Festival 5k and half marathon, March 2017. Footnote: missing from the photo are the many club members who were on duty marshaling that day. Great people giving up their time (and their own race) so that the rest of us can run ours.

Just look at us all in this photo! I ask you, do we look like an intimidating band of elite athletes?! (I heard you then – we don’t look that bad!)

Again, I know people don’t like to join a club because they think they aren’t good enough – I didn’t join myself because I thought I wasn’t good enough! But I promise you, whatever your ability, you will be catered for and welcomed with open arms wherever you live. There will be members there of your ability, whatever that may be. And, if you are the competitive type, there will definitely also be runners there just that little bit quicker than you to aim at!

You don’t have to commit your life to a club either, just pop down to training once in a while. As a general rule there is no financial commitment at first, and the joining fees if you do decide to commit are so minimal for what you get that it really is a no-brainer. (£38 per annum at the Harriers, including English Athletic Association fees – probably less than your monthly gym membership?)

There are added perks to joining a club too. The main reason I eventually joined was so that I could run in the local cross-country leagues. THEY ARE FREE! Yup, free! Some buffoons out there spend £100 entering ‘Tough Mudder’ races and the like! Well, you’ll never believe it but for, ooohh, £100 less you can run 6/8/10 races a year. AND, as a general rule, they are muddier than a tough mudder! Oh, and they are DEFINITELY tougher than a tough mudder! (Did I mention they are free?!)

You can keep your burning hay bails! You can stick your cargo nets! If you can run for an hour in the kind of mud presented to us annually at the Northern Cross Country Championships and keep your facilties and sanity in tact – AND score points for the team in the process – then you have my eternal admiration!

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Possibly my favourite running picture to date. As with Mike’s pic earlier, this is from the National Cross Country Championships, Nottingham, Feb 2017. The course wasn’t actually as hard or muddy as the Northern Championships but the mud that was there was so spectacularly messy that the pictures are infinitely more satisfying!

6b – Join a social running club.

If that real, grown-up running club really is a step too far, there are loads of social, recreational run groups springing up all over the place these days. I can only speak for the Wigan area but you are spoiled for choice round here. Downhill Runners, Penny Flashers to name but two are fantastic for joining up with like-minded souls and exploring the local area in the comfort, safety and friendship of a group. In my experience they are led by amazing, enthusiastic, kind people who are there to help any runner of any ability. Check your social media feed for details near you!

7 – Get your kit ready before you go to bed / go to work.

This tip has saved many a Saturday morning for me. Lay your kit out before you go to bed. Then when you roll out of bed put it straight on. You’ll be out of the door before your brain realises what’s happened! I can pretty much guarantee that if I started fumbling around in the dark trying to find some kit first thing in the morning I would give it up as a bad job and get back in bed again.

I apply the same rule at night. If I want to do bedtime stories with the girls, I put my kit on to read the stories. If I do this it is 95% certain the run will happen. If I do the bedtime story in comfy clothes there is a 95% chance that I will be asleep before the kids!

Same rule for after work runs. Leave your kit out on your bed, then you will be much more likely to put it on when you return.

8 – Exploring your new holiday destination.

This is my new favourite rule! You know you have achieved that lifestyle change – and can call yourself a runner – when you pack for a holiday and the FIRST thing that goes in the suitcase is your running kit! These days I often don’t have space for very much else!

The reason I love holiday running is it allows you to explore your new destination and find your way around without having to drag your poor kids around with you. In fact, the kids are always impressed when, despite only arriving at a resort the night before, by the next morning you know where the best beach, playground, pub, restaurant is located and you probably know 3 different routes to get there!

At this point it is important to stress that I’m not suggesting you turn your relaxing holiday into some sort of boot camp, (although I know people who do!) No, what I am saying at this point is that Rule 3 from above applies doubly to holidays; if I have a run first thing in the morning, not only will I enjoy running with a change of scenery (and possibly climate, depending on where you go) but I will have done something healthy by 9am, leaving the rest of the day to concentrate on the unhealthy things (ie food and drink) that are so important to our happiness on holiday! I can relax with the peace of mind that I am not being lazy, I can play with the kids knowing I have already had my ‘me-time’, I can even look after everyone else’s children whilst others go off and do something for themselves too.

Holiday running is now my absolute favourite type of running exactly because I associate that happy, relaxed feeling with running and can (try to) replicate it when not on holiday.

9 – Enter a race. (WITH A HEALTH WARNING!)

There is nothing more motivating than entering a race a month or two down the line to get you out training.

BUT… please refer to my earlier point – if you enter a race which is way too challenging and/or you are not sure you can commit the time to properly prepare for it, DON’T ENTER IT. Then it becomes a demotivating factor: ‘Oh no, I’m not ready, I’m never going to be ready. This training run is futile because it’s not going to do any good anyway. I’ll never finish’ etc.

Enter a race you know you can realistically succeed in, dependent on your training goals/time available and your current ability. Then you’ll be motivated. Then you’ll train. Then you’ll smash the race. Then you’ll be motivated to try something more challenging (or do the same thing again, but quicker!)

I am not saying don’t ever enter something challenging and scary – I just have! What I am saying is challenging is great IF YOU ACTUALLY HAVE THE TIME/ABILITY/MOTIVATION TO BE READY FOR THE EVENT ON THE DAY. If you have any one of these three aspects missing, you will not be ready, you won’t feel ready, and the whole spiral of demotivation will begin.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s supposed to be fun!

L to R: “Look, it’s fun!”, “Medic!”, “This is going to be great!”, “What the #@£& was I thinking?”

10 – Think of the benefits! (Last one, honest!)

Finally, if all else fails, just remember it’s (probably) doing you good. It might hurt a bit, it might be an effort, it might not come naturally at first, but every time you go out your body will be a tiny bit happier than last time you went. And, as it becomes part of your lifestyle, you will notice it being that little bit easier, you will find you improve your pace, you will notice your body change shape. And the longer you maintain that lifestyle change, the more likely your body will stick to it’s new regime and new shape.

I am two and a half stones lighter than when I started. I don’t do it for weight loss (if I did, I’d actually start watching what I ate!) but my new body shape and size is now my regular body shape and size. I used to get down to this weight, run a race and then put it all back on again. Why bother doing that?

I said it at the start, but I’ll say it again. There’s only one person who can do it for you. It’s easy to say it. It’s easy to read about it. (You just have!) It’s even easy to buy all the gear for it. Just don’t forget to go and actually do it.

 

There you go. Today’s sermon is finished. I hope I have perhaps motivated you a little bit. (If I’ve totally naffed you off, accept my apologies!)

Happy Springtime! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the teenagers are trashing the local playground. Stick your trainers on, eh? Gooooo on, you’ll love it – like me!

GBSticks

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Running in for 36th place at the inaugural Wigan Half Marathon, March 2017.

To follow sometime soon – January, February and March race reports. (including Burnley XC, Northern XC Champs, National XC Champs, Wigan Half Marathon, Kielder Forest Dark Skies Trail Marathon.)

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2016 – the year of the PB. (Just don’t mention the resolutions!)

Well heelllllooooooooo!

Long time no see!

I direct you to 2016 New Year Resolution no7 – I will keep my blog more up-to-date.

Epic fail 1! Utterly hopeless. This end-of-year round-up will, in fact, be my THIRD – that’s right, just my third post of the year. A shambles. Especially considering that many of the events I will now have to sum up in a paragraph probably deserved entries in their own right. Oh well, that’s one New Year Resolution in the bag for 2017. Please click the links down the side of this post to read previous efforts, (or just don’t bother!)

So, while I am highlighting my inadequacies, here is a brief review of my other 2016 Resolutions:

1 – beat 1200 miles and 143 training events.

Phew! Well at least I can look one Resolution in the eye. I have utterly slaughtered this one. As it stands (29th December) I’m going to fall a few miles short of 1800 for 2016 (about 1760) and this morning was my 175th outing of the year, (see frosty pics below.) Very happy with that. Will try and beat it next year, but it gets harder every year.

2 – run Lakeland Trails 110k again (faster!)

Well, half achieved, in that I completed again. Not faster though! More detail in a moment.

3 – run a 100 mile race.

This was always going to be more of a 2017 target than 2016, and hopefully something I will achieve in May 2017.

4 – run a half marathon PB.

In actual fact, I only really had to enter a race to do this. My PB stood at 1hr 33 mins from about 4 years ago. I managed to get into the Leicester half marathon in October and duly ran 1h23m59s. So I now have a reasonable half PB to attack in future.

So that’s 4 of 6 targets achieved so far.

5 – incorporate cross training and core exercises into my training.

Right, now it’s going to start to get messy. The problem is, if I’m fit and I have a choice between the cross trainer in our conservatory or running outside, I’m going to pick outdoors everytime. The cross trainer only gets dusted off when I’m injured. And, thankfully, I have had an injury free year to date. Therefore, I’ve run a lot of miles and left the core training until ‘tomorrow’. I really need to improve on this next year.

6 – improve my diet.

Oh sweet Lord what was I thinking?! I think one of the only draw-backs of my increasing mileage is the fact that my brain is now utterly convinced that I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. And, whilst the scales may indicate this is largely true, it MUST also be true that, if I could only stop eating pizza, chinese, cake and biscuits as the four staple corners of my diet, I would SURELY be able to run both further and faster! MUST DO BETTER!!!

7 – keep my blog up-to-date.

Next year, Sticks, next year.

8 – raise money for Child Death Helpline.

Details in a moment, but proud and delighted with the amount raised again.

OK, that wasn’t quite as bad as I thought. 2017 running resolutions to follow at the end of this post, but first, let’s round up what I got up to from June until December. Make yourself a brew or crack open the wine, let’s do this!

June 2016.

My last blast of high mileage output before tapering from the 110k came in half term week at the start of June. I logged 110 miles in 8 days, a huge amount for me, rounding it off with the Lakeland Trails Marathon at Coniston on Sunday 5th June.

Race day itself was absolutely roasting – probably the highest temperature I have ever run in. Due to having over 80 miles in my legs that week, Rob (Conti Lightning/Thunder buddy and 110k partner) and I decided to treat it as a training trot as opposed to a race. Thank goodness we did. The oppressive conditions put a lot of runners in distress, even Rob had a moment a couple of miles from home. I came home in 4hrs 27mins – 14 minutes slower than the previous year. Anyone who raced it and survived – kudos. That was tough!

 

Saturday 2nd July – Lakeland Trails Ultimate Trails 110k.

First things first, it was an honour to run in memory of Iestyn Keir (12) just as it had been to run in memory of Alisha Bartolini (18) the year before. I am so proud of the money raised for both Meningitis Now (£2500) and Child Death Helpline (£1000). Thank you so much from myself and the families involved.

I did say, in my final blog of 2015, that I would need good luck to beat my 2015 time of 17hrs 37 minutes, and so it proved. I genuinely feel that I was fitter, faster, better prepared and had trained more sensibly for 2016. The weather ultimately had a massive impact on my run but, in all honesty, I think I sowed my own seeds of failure in the week leading up to the event. (It’s all relative btw, I don’t see the race as a failure. I finished in adversity, something I am, if anything, more proud of. But I thought I would be quicker, and I wasn’t!)

Let’s just compare my pre-race preparations from 2015 and 2016:

2015 week build-up: early nights.

2016 week build-up: report writing until midnight/1am.

2015 race day prep: half day at work, afternoon nap in cottage, pile of pasta, evening nap still in comfy bed in a comfy cottage.

2016 race day prep: finish work at 3.30, pick-up kids, load car with camping stuff, get stuck in traffic, put up tent, register for race, cook pasta, fail to fall asleep at all as too pumped up for race to drop off at 9pm for a midnight start!

2015 weather: perfect.

2016 weather: p***ed it down most of day.

2015 race: skipped round, took photos, made a film for chuff’s sake! Had a couple of wobbles but generally skipped round in 17hrs 37mins.

2016 race: felt really sleepy in night hours, recovered, got soaked through, conditions underfoot sapped energy – especially stage 7 over moors, took 3 pics all day. Staggered (literally) home in 18hrs 44mins. First ever visit to a medical tent, narrowly avoided passing out!

Firstly I need to say thanks to my running mate, Rob Lister. I think we are both undecided on whether it is a good thing or not to plan to run a race like this together. I’m pretty certain I prefer the solitude and the personal suffering route, to please myself and go at whatever pace I feel or rest when I want. But I think we can both say that, when the going got really tough in those last 15 miles and we both felt like packing it all in, having someone there to gee you up and chat to was invaluable. I’m pretty certain Rob could have gone quicker on the day but, in the end, we just about dragged each other to the finish! Cheers Rob!

Secondly, I’m making it all sound bad, but we (mostly) had a great day out! The race organisers, Graham Patten and his Lakeland Trails team, pulled out all the stops. The food was incredible and plentiful! The marshals stood outside in foul conditions all day were amazing. To everyone – thanks. We had a cracking run for the most part. Once you’re wet, you’re wet; it wasn’t freezing or anything so the rain didn’t unduly bother us. I knew I was more comfortable and moving better for the majority of the day. I just got more and more baffled as we slipped further and further behind my target times at each checkpoint! I can only really put it down to how slippy it was during any descent – and the need for sleep. We would still have been quicker than 2015 had we been capable of running in from Stake Pass. But Rob and I both looked at each other at that point, and subconsciously knew we were spent. I am pretty proud of how we held it together that last 3 hours or so.

Finally, the aftermath! There was no posing for pictures and post race pints this year! I was goosed. Cold and soaked to the skin, the shivers started straight away. ‘Just grab some hot food and get out of the wet clothes,’ I thought. Unfortunately my t-shirt was stuck to my back! I knew my pack was rubbing in the wet over 3 layers and a waterproof, but had underestimated how much.

“You need to get that seen to!” said Leanne. (Once my t-shirt, and therefore skin, had been peeled from my back!)

“No, I need to go to bed!” says me.

Anyway, I lost that argument and, whilst we waited to be seen by the kind medical volunteers, my body decided it had had quite enough thanks. I sat down quickly as I felt myself going, which certainly grabbed the medics attention. She wasn’t impressed with the state of my back either and treated me wonderfully, despite my point blank refusal to get in the freezing cold shower! She even sponsored me the next day.

Finally I was patched up and went straight to bed (in the tent!) where I slept like a log for absolutely ages! Thanks once again to the medical team. You were amazing!

110k lessons learned:

  • I will never underestimate sleep deprivation again. I need to make sure I am properly rested sleep-wise for future Ultras as I am not good when tiredness (the sleep variety) kicks in. (Anyone who knows me will tell you I can nap on a washing line, so it’s hardly surprising!)
  • On the positive side, if Ultras really are 90% mental perseverance, I have learned again that I do not give in easily. Just keep putting one foot in-front of the other, and repeat to the finish. Any other information is expendable. It would have to be something pretty serious: injury, medical advice, missed time deadline etc for me to drop out.
  • Conditions WILL affect your race. Comparisons of the same race in different years are largely futile as, the further you run, the more conditions underfoot and overhead will mean that it is essentially a different race – especially when comparing hard-baked footpaths to muddy trails. There were plenty of people who went faster in 2016 than 2015, some considerably so, therefore I still feel that my tiredness affected my performance more than the weather.
  • It took me a bit of time to come to terms with being ‘slower’ the 2nd time. I’ve been pretty lucky running PBs with each race recently. But 110k in the Lakes is 110k in the Lakes. Pro-athletes don’t have to do a week at work, be a parent and rock up at a race after putting up a family tent! Finishing is finishing and now, if anything, I’m prouder of my 2016 performance, (nearly!)

(nb. If you want to watch the film of the my 2015 debut, follow the link below. Remember, I broke every You Tube copyright law in the book, so you cannot watch it on mobile devices (phone, iPad). Watch it on a proper computer, or put You Tube on your Smart TV and search for ‘#110kforAlisha’. Make sure you enjoy the music – I’m a fugitive!)

#110kforAlisha – my film of the 2015 Lakeland Trails Ultimate Trail.

July & August 2016.

July was mostly spent resting and finishing off the school term. This was a little more time consuming than usual as I was leaving Lowton West after 13 years and moving to a new job at St. Catharine’s in Scholes. Exciting times, but sad too – saying goodbye to the families I have taught over the years and the close friends I made while teaching there. It has to be said that social media makes that kind of thing much easier these days, as I feel I see more of them all now than I did when I worked there!

I spent a bit of time (a bit too much!) in my new school sorting things out, but I am fortunate to be now working with a staff just as kind and friendly. I/we have plans to inspire the families to get fit in the coming months as well as the deeply unfortunate need to raise more money for another tragic cause. (More later.)

At the end of July I was again invited to be part of the Continental tyres sponsors team for the annual 24 hour Conti Thunder Run. I love this event and love the people I get to run with – a truly great bunch, one-and-all. Instead of busting a gut to win (which we couldn’t anyway!) we run hard but enjoy the social catch-up that 30 hours in a field brings! Thanks to Felix, Karolina, Christoph and Hayley from Continental, and to Rob, Pedro and Brad for all being such good company.

This year’s summer holiday was a couple of weeks in the tent near Barmouth in Wales; a place we know well and the kids love. It also means Leanne and I are pretty familiar with the running routes around as we began to prepare for Autumn 10ks, half marathons and marathons. We even hired bikes and had our first family bike ride with our friends, the Bonds! Poor little Nancy (aged 5) cycled 13 miles on her tiny bike, turning about 300 reps a minute while we all cruised along using gears!

 

The day I ran 84 miles by accident! (Or, supporting Ian Yates at the UGB200!)

One of the joys of joining a running club is the different people you meet who, whilst all of differing abilities, all share the same passion. A great example of this is Ian Yates.

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Ian Yates – Ultra Runner. Proper Runner.

I’d only really met and spoken to him once, but Leanne came home from a training session saying she’d spoken to this bloke who was running a race from Southport to Hull, 200 miles along the Trans-Pennine Way, in memory of his Dad. He had a few people planning to meet him in the initial stages but, once he crossed the Pennines, he would be on his own. We contacted him to offer our support.

Thus it was that we drove over to Bradford on a wet (very wet) Sunday evening, dropped the kids off at my parents, then moved on towards Doncaster to pick up the Trans-Pennine route and join Ian. Leanne was going to support in the car whilst I accompanied Ian through the night. I thought I might be able to support him towards Hull – maybe 30-35 miles.

If ANY person this year deserves a write-up of their own, it’s Ian’s performance that followed in the next day or so. Massive kudos also to Cat D’Ascendis, also from Wigan, who also finished. I didn’t know her at the time – I do now!

Only 25 hardly souls started the race, and after the soaking they got that first night and next day on the Pennines, they were starting to drop. Ian had been steadily plodding away at the back (we were watching on the live tracker!) but by the time we met up he had caught a decent number of others. To a man/woman they all dived into sleeping bags at the next rest station! But Ian had met us and had woken up! “Let’s do the next stage and see how it goes!” he said. So off we went on the 14 miles to a little hamlet called Sykehouse. Just by staying awake, Ian had jumped up into 3rd place!

That night it rained and rained. I was fresh but Ian was on his 2nd night without sleep. He was amazing – even more so when we reached the next feed station and Ian simply got changed and ploughed on! By then we had closed right in on the 2nd place guy and, using the live tracker, we could see exactly where our opposition was!

Food was eaten on the move, running repairs to clothing, feet, watches and phones etc was also on the move. Leanne did an amazing job of providing for us so that we could just keep moving.

By the time we reached Blacktoft on the banks of the Humber, Ian had completed 169 miles and myself 46. This was where I planned to leave him initially, but by this stage Leanne and I were fully invested in the mission to support Ian. “If you two are staying, I’m going to the end tonight!” he confidently predicted – bravely too, considering it was well over 30 miles away! I felt great – I was going with him!

(Above: Ian repairs his feet, my feet after nearly 50 miles, Rich arrives to carry us!)

We were joined for the next stage by a friend of Ian’s, Rich Harrison, as we set off towards the Humber Bridge, our next target, 16 miles away. Rich’s enthusiasm was so infectious – just what we needed at the time. Ian’s strength was remarkable. He just knocked off a mile at a time and refused to stop. By this stage he was nearing 60 hours on his feet…

We reached the Humber Bridge at about 7pm and by now, with 17 miles left, there was no doubt we were going to finish this. Leanne brilliantly arrived with Domino’s which we demolished and even shared with some of the organisers, who by this stage hadn’t slept for 3 days themselves!

We left the Bridge at sunset to run (walk!) to the Hull waterfront before taking the last leg of the Trans-Pennine Trail over to the coast at Hornsea. Nothing could stop Ian now – we thought…!

We were in high spirits and fair charging towards Hull. The views were spectacular across the river at sunset – who would have thought Hull could look so good? Next we were surprised by yet more of Ian’s running friends – Mark and Kristina, who were so inspired by Ian’s efforts that they wanted to come and guide him through town. Little did we all know how vital this would be.

We hit the riverfront and passed retail parks and assorted other buildings. As darkness fell we could see the recently renovated quay sliding ever closer – marking the point that we would leave the river. Then it all started to unravel…

We reached the end of a Pier – but the bridge to the other side was shut! We back-tracked half a mile or so to the retail park where Kristina and Mark plotted an alternative route to the waterfront. It was a bit of a long way round and the enthusiasm drained from Ian and I like a smashed bottle. Kristina and Mark were not that happy to be walking through some of the less salubrious districts of Hull themselves! It took a miserable hour to reach the beautiful quayside where Leanne was waiting for us again.

The next kick to our waning enthusiasm was the Trans-Pennine Trail signpost. ‘HORNSEA – 15 miles’! We couldn’t believe it! It was only supposed to be 17 miles from the bridge and we’d already walked nearly 7 miles from there!

I slumped on a bench. I couldn’t think about Ian anymore. I’d done nearly 70 miles myself now. I just wanted to get in the car and drive home with Leanne. Poor Mark and Kristina too – they were giving up their own time at approaching 11 o’clock on a Sunday night and were being rewarded by having to cheerlead us to our feet to get us going again. I honestly have no idea where Ian was finding his strength as I had only been going 24 hours and I felt beaten – he’d now been going for 64 hours and just under 200 miles!!!

Anyway, somehow, get going we did. Mark and Kristina guided us through even dodgier parts of Hull (how was that even possible?!) and out onto the last stretch of path. We now had 13 miles on a disused railway line, in an arrow straight line, all the way to Hornsea and the finish.

I don’t even have pictures of Mark and Kristina to show – I was too tired to take them. But it was only their kindness and guidance that got us through Hull. I have no idea what would have happened without them! THANK YOU!!!

That last 13 miles was the hardest thing I have ever done, I think. (it’s difficult to remember it!) We were hillucinating all kinds of weird and wonderful things in the trees: stormtroopers, babies bundled up, lions, lots of ghosts. I swear I fell asleep walking at one point, just staring at the light from my headtorch. Ian tried to curl up and go to sleep on a footbridge!

Another friend of Ian’s, Lainey, came and met us 5 miles from the end in the middle of nowhere. It perked Ian up but I just spent the whole conversation trying to find somewhere to lie down. Fortunately there was nowhere.

And so, at about 3.30am, we staggered over the finish line. I’d done 84 miles in 27 hours. Sounds good until you see what Ian did – 215 miles, just under 70 hours! Truly incredible!

He even had energy for photos and interviews! Not me, I was straight into our car and asleep before Leanne even turned the engine on!

Ian, your performance that day was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. He still tells everyone he meets that he’s not really a runner! Then he tells me to enter this race next year as he thinks I might win it – he doesn’t seem to remember that I only joined him for the last 80 miles last year and couldn’t keep up with HIM! Single-minded, determined, brave, driven – I could go on forever. But if I ever feel tired running now I think of Ian and remember that I don’t actually know what tired is! Well done again, mate – you are every bit a runner!

Right, sorry. Went on for ages there – Ian earned it though. But now, back to important matters – me!

September & October 2016 – PB season.

Sunday 5th September – Wigan 10k. New PB of 36m50s.

I headed to the Wigan 10k less than two weeks later not feeling confident. I’d barely put my trainers on after the 84 mile epic above. If I could just get close to my PB of 38m13s I would be delighted. Leanne was running too and it was amazing to be part of the Wigan Harriers. Suddenly, everywhere we turned were people we knew! I felt a bit of pressure though; usually, I was just running for myself and only I would know. This time, everyone at the club would know how everyone ran. Gulp!

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The calm before the storm! (In more ways than one!)

It’s a fast first mile, so I set off like a train just thinking that I would simply see how long I could last. By the time we were round the stadium at halfway I was pretty tired but I knew I was in front of schedule.

After that I never looked at my watch again. I just tried to run to the next km marker as fast as I could. Up the hill towards the park I was all in, but was still catching the guy in front. There weren’t that many other runners around either. By the time I hit the home straight I could see the clock; the seconds were ticking. 33, 34, 35… If I could just make it in before 59 I would break 38 minutes.

The clock ticked through 50 seconds as I went over the line. I was so tired! It’s funny how the level of exhaustion feels greater after a 10k than an Ultra; a different type of pain, a ‘Don’t ever do that to me again, please!’ type of pain!

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Ouch! That hurt!

It was only a few seconds later that I actually saw the time on my watch – not 37.50, but 36.50! I was stunned. I thought it was wrong! I asked another runner what time they had! But, once recovered, I was thrilled. I was even happier later to find that I’d finished 19th overall in a field of 3100 and was first Vet40. Plus, Harriers won the team comp too!

The girls were with grandparents, so Leanne and I had a rare child-free afternoon to spend in the pub with our fellow Harriers! Leanne was shattered though so she went home and left me to it. (The next day we discovered that she was pregnant with our third child, which explained a lot!)

Sunday 9th October – PlusNet Yorkshire Marathon, York. New PB of 3h11m34s.

5 weeks later I was on the startline at York. I was pretty confident of beating my 3.15.55 PB as long as I didn’t blow up. But training had gone a bit off track when I could only really run at weekends for a couple of weeks. I’d got the long runs in but knew in my heart-of-hearts I wasn’t quite ready to go to the low 3 hour times of which I am probably capable.

Paul Platt from the club was also running and also hoping to go sub 3.15 so we set off together. We weren’t together long but it settled us both down. It was great running through the City in the first mile – Leanne and the girls were waiting as I passed the Minster about a mile in.

I went through halfway in 1hr 32mins and, aerobically felt good, but my legs were missing those fast 10 milers I should have done in training and I knew I would have to reign in the pace. The second half was tougher but Mum and Dad were there at 17, 19 and 23 miles to give me a much need boost and I finished reasonably strongly in a PB of 3hrs 11mins and 34secs.

It’s a good marker and a good target for future. It’s also a good for age Vet 40 time which means I qualify for the London Marathon in 2017. I think I could go close to sub 3 hours so need to train properly for that one.

An added extra was meeting stand-up comedian and keen runner Paul Tonkinson in the finish area. I’d seen him the first time I ever went to the Comedy Store and read his monthly article in Runner’s World. He was a really nice guy and happily chatted about our respective races – and the fact that we were all interlopers from the other side of t’ills! (I don’t think I should really count in that as a Yorkshireman!)

Two PBs down, one to go…

Sunday 23rd October – Leicester Half Marathon; New PB of 1hr 23mins 59secs.

One second under 1.24, but I’ll take that second thanks! I enjoyed the race, I enjoyed the day. Again, I didn’t train much between the marathon and the half, just stayed loose. I just tried to run as quickly as I could without getting too tired, settled at around 6m30 pace and just waited to see what happened.

I was pleased that, suddenly, inside the last 3 miles, the runners I’d been behind for 10 miles began to fall back towards me. Suddenly I was flying. The race winds through town at the end before climbing for a mile to the finish. I was catching people all the way and loved the hill – there were so many spectators there. I was too fast for Leanne and the girls as well – they never saw me finish!

Again, this is another good PB to aim for in future as I know I can go quicker, but I was very pleased with the run. I was also very pleased for our friend Leanne Bond, who completed her first half marathon in good shape too! Well done, Leanne!

(Above: me before, Leanne Bond after!)

November & December 2016 – Chill-out time.

Since then I’ve just been ticking over really. I’ve done a few club cross-countries, but not really performed to potential in any of them. I enjoy them, and I try to turn up for the team whenever possible. But my legs haven’t been as keen as I have! I logged under 100 miles in November for the first month in ages! December was as frenetic at school as ever so I’ve only nudged over 100 by running 24 miles with my brother one Saturday morning and doing 40 miles in the last 4 days now the Christmas rush is over!

(Above: relaxed running – with the club, with the girls on bikes, with my brother.)

My mojo will be good to go by 2017 though, so here’s the goals for next year…

2017 Running Resolutions.

1 – Beat this year’s mileage (go over 1800 miles) and outings. This will definitely be tough next year. I need to stay injury free for a start! But if I do, the first half of the year should see me well on the way.

2 – Run a 100 mile race. Thanks to GB Ultras (The guys who organise the UGB200) I am running my first 50 mile race in April, from Liverpool to Manchester. Then, providing everything is OK with the baby, I will be joining them to run it there and back in the 100 mile version. This will be for charity too; details will follow in the New Year. (#legitforLogan)

3 – Marshal at a race. I am planning on contacting Graham Patten of Lakeland Trails to offer my services at a couple of events next year. (Again, pending the baby being healthy.) I am planning on missing the 110k this year to try other things, but my brother is entered for his debut ultra, so helping out would be a great way to say thanks for everything Lakeland Trails have done for my running. (If you are reading this Graham, then I will be in touch!)

4 – Take Hannah and Nancy to Parkrun. Trickier than it sounds, as I really love going out early on my long runs on a Saturday. But the girls are currently quite keen so I need to strike now before they stop being keen!

5- Get St Catharine’s running! The new term will be quite emotional at school I suspect due to some tragic news received over the holidays. (They say these things happen in threes – if so, this is the third such tragedy I have experienced in three years so I sincerely hope it’s the last.) Anyway, we were already planning a running club at school to lead up to the new Wigan half marathon, 5k and 1 mile family run on March 19th. Now I suspect lots of people will be motivated to have a go at whichever distance they feel they can achieve and raise some money for a worthwhile cause into the bargain. Some negatives cannot be turned into positives, but if any little thing can help then I for one will have a go. Let’s go St Cats! #legitforLogan

6 – Try and PB at 100 miles, 50 miles, marathon, half, 10k and 5k. Some are easily done, others not. 100 and 50 miles will be OK as, so long as I finish, I will PB! The same with a 5k, as I’ve only run one before and just broke 20 minutes. I can beat the marathon too, but I may not enter one next year! The half should be achievable, especially if I choose my race carefully. It’s the 10k that will be hard – I can’t see how I can ever run that well again!

7 – Update the blog regularly! Need I say more? Resolution no7 remains the same!

8 – Baby buggy running! This is a fitting last resolution. To say the baby news was a shock to Leanne and I is an understatement! But we are all excited now, especially the girls, and we will definitely be purchasing a proper running buggy to help Leanne get fit after the pregnancy and for me to be able to run while helping out with the baby at the same time! Look out local Parkruns and pavements – the Morgan-Hillam’s are coming and they will have wheels!!!

So there we go, another year whizzes by. Some things were expected, others not so. Most of the year has been exceptionally happy; but tragedy has again reared it’s head. I can only repeat what I have said before – life is way too short, much shorter than we imagine, as we rarely have much warning of tragedy round the corner. So get out there, do amazing things; do wonderful things for other people, but do wonderful things for yourself too. Challenge yourself. Attempt something you’re not sure you can do. Drag a loved one or friend along to try it with you. The sense of achievement will drive you on – and you may inspire someone else while you do it. Do things that make you happy; pack in things that make you sad.

2017 – go and get it!

Happy New Year everyone!

#legitforLogan

Ultra Time Again (and 4 months of other stuff)

Well, my New Year Resolution of keeping my blog more up-to-date went well didn’t it? I know you non-teacher folks get fed up of us bleating, but this year workloads have reached a new low (honest). Add in the fact that currently, as of June 1st, I have run nearly 750 miles (over 250 more than I have ever run by this time of year) and there simply hasn’t been time to blog.

But it’s the school hols (right, NOW you can start moaning about teachers!) so I have a minute – just! So, what’s to report? Well, I’m going to start with the here and now, because that is what is consuming my time and my thoughts at the minute. It’s Ultra-time again!

Ultimate Trails 110k 2015 (#110kforAlisha) – closing business.

You may recall that last year I entered this race as an Ultra debutant. Infact, this entire blog was set up just to record my progress from ‘bang-average’ runner to ‘Ultra-God’ (I’ll let you know when I make it there.)

Anyhow, I was honoured to run in the memory of our friend, the lovely Alisha Bartolini (18), who tragically died of Meningitis the previous year. Innocently setting up a Just Giving account and asking some kind folks to Facebook it for me, I was truly astounded to raise £2500 for Meningitis Now. I also completed the race, about as successfully as I dared hope, in 17hrs 37mins.

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@jumpyjames (aka official Lakeland Trails photographer, James Kirby), actually doing an amazing job of making me look just a little bit like a proper Ultra runner. (Thus proving what an amazing photographer he is.)

If you are keen enough to want to read my review of the race, then make a brew (I go on a bit) and click on the link below:

#110kforAlisha – Ultimate Trails 110k race, 27th June, 2015.

Thanks for clicking that link, (it took about 10 minutes to work out how to do it) and for reading the entire article – it really means a lot to me.

You didn’t click it did you?

Right, as punishment here comes another link.

This year I finally got round to editing the footage I shot of the race on my friend’s GoPro camera. (Great bit of kit; must buy one.) I then innocently published my film on YouTube. Now, I am (was) a YouTube virgin, so was utterly innocent to the laws of copyright. Laws which quickly became painfully apparent. I could have re-made the film but, if you watch it, you will see why the music was an integral part. I now understand the basic laws of copyright, and YouTube are kind enough to leave the film on-line for your perusal. The punishment for my innocent actions is that you cannot view the film on any mobile devices.

So….. (if you didn’t click the last link you are NEVER going to click this one) if you would like to watch my film of last years 110k ultra… put on your smart TV or your old fashioned home computer (the one with an actual keyboard, covered in dusk and paper in the unused corner of your office/study/basement/bedroom/shed), make yourself a brew (I go on a bit) and click the link below! (PPLLEEAASSEE – first of all because I really actually want someone to see it, but mostly ‘cos this link is going to take about half an hour to sort.) If the link is unsuccessful, go onto YouTube and search ‘#110kforAlisha’ – remember, TV or desktop computer only!

My super awesome, (and slightly illegal) fairly long (nearly the whole 17hrs) film of the Ultimate Trails 110k race, 2015!

How good was that?

I know – amazing!

You didn’t click that link either did you?

I know you didn’t, because the clicker hasn’t moved on my YouTube channel.

Also because, if you had watched it, you wouldn’t have said ‘Amazing’, you would have said ‘Well it went on a bit’ or ‘There’s 50 minutes of my life I’ll never get back’.

I suppose I’ll just move on…

Ultimate Trails 110k Race 2016 – #110kforIestyn.

So I re-entered this year’s race. Just for fun. Then fate raised it’s evil head above the parapet again.

Last October a past pupil of our school, a lovely lad called Iestyn Keir, tragically died aged just 12. He had only just left Primary School but was still part of our everyday lives as his Mum, Carrie, is a TA at school. Iestyn was a mad keen cyclist but otherwise just a delightful, polite young man.

I hope to have time to write more about him in the build-up to this year’s race, but for now PLEASE click on the link below and read a little bit more about him. I certainly don’t expect you to sponsor me, there are enough such requests floating around in cyberspace these days, but if you do – thank you so much, from both myself and Iestyn’s family.

Just Giving – #110kforIestyn

The charity I am supporting is called ‘Child Death Helpline’. The premise behind the helpline is pretty self-explanatory. It was set up as a joint venture by Alder Hey Children’s hospital in Liverpool and the Great Ormand Street hospital in London, who were both running separate such helplines prior to joining forces. I know the helpline has been particularly helpful to Iestyn’s family at this most traumatic of possible times, so anything I/we can do to help is tiny in comparison to the amazing work they do.

CDH

If you would like to know more about them, here’s a link to their website.

http://childdeathhelpline.org.uk/

Iestyn, this year’s race is for you. I’m going to power up those hill climbs like you did on your bike. And if you could help me out with the descending a bit, that would be much appreciated. I descend like Sir Bradley on a wet Giro mountain stage. (Apologies if you don’t get that joke -Iestyn does.)

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Iestyn Keir – mini Cav.

And now onto my running year to date. (I’ll probably go on a bit – feel free to stop reading completely at this point.)

Wigan Harriers Endurance Group.

The club continues to grow on a weekly basis, it seems. I wear my vest with pride to all races now and always, at some point on a course, someone will pipe up “Come on Wigin!” It is a pleasure to spend time with a lovely bunch of people. My better half has joined and enjoys it just as much, despite claiming to be a total fun-runner, (a false claim, I hasten to add) but never-the-less backing up the oft-repeated phrase that running clubs are available to all, not just ‘fast-uns’.

The cross country season ended on a bit of a damp squib – literally. We finally managed to put out something close to a full strength Men’s team at the penultimate race of the season, held at Cleveleys, near Blackpool. This jumped us up the tables in all league categories and set us up for the grand finale nicely. The grand finale never happened though – waterlogged course. Ironic given how cross country is supposed to be just that. To be fair though, we did have a LOT of rain in February, and localised flooding was a problem.

If we can put out a team like this, however, for more races next year, we will have a very strong line-up!

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Wigan Harriers Men’s Team – Cleveleys, Feb 2016.

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“If you’re smiling in cross country, you’re not working hard enough!” (In my defence, I think it’s lap 1!)

The National Cross Country Championships. Donington Park, Sat 27th Feb.

You may remember, the last time I blogged was in the immediate aftermath of the Northern Cross Country Championships at Witton Park, Blackburn. The most brutal hour of running of my entire life. (Another link alert!)

Toughest. Race. Ever. The Northern Cross Country Championships. Witton Park, Blackburn. Saturday 30th January, 2016.

Well only three of us hardy souls dare venture to the Nationals after that! I was joined by Mike Harris (Club statto) and Steve Nicholls (team manager – don’t laugh.)

I always suspected that this event would be anticlimactic after the Northerns and so it was. Don’t get me wrong, I loved taking part. The cavalry charge of hundreds of decent runners stampeding for the first corner was a joy to be part of. Knowing you’re lining up against the best of the best was both inspiring and a privilege. (How many sports do you get to do that in?)

It’s just that we all knew in our heart of hearts that, this year at least, the Nationals would be a damn sight easier than the Northerns!!!

And so it was. Not as hilly. Not as muddy. Not as cold. Not as windy. Not as rainy. No hail. I’m sure that in most years ‘the National’ is the pinnacle of the cross country year; but not this year. I repeat my last blog – if you completed the Northern Championships this year my cap is tipped in your direction.

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Oh no no no. High fives? I’m just not taking this running lark seriously at all, am I?! Dave Collins will have me kicked out of the club!

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And then there were three. Mike (left) and myself (right) apprehend Steve for looking like a baddie from a Home Alone movie. Or for crimes against vest/shorts colour combos.

Revenge at last on the Lakeland Trails!

As usual the Lakeland Trails events have been the focal point of our family days out. They have been made even better this year by the fact that Leanne now runs the 10k race in the morning, the kids race is at dinnertime, and I run in the 17(ish)k race in the afternoon. Also we have been joined by various families who have made the days out even more enjoyable – and also that we know so many people at the races now! We barely have time to run these days for catching up with people we only see at Lakeland Trails events! (Not least Graham Patten, the organiser, and his family who are such inspirations to us all.)

Both Leanne and I entered the full series of Spring races. I have been flying in training all year and then what happens, two days before the Cartmel opening race? I twinge my knee. At the time I thought I had properly made a mess of it. Fortunately I think I just overdid it the week before and this was my body’s way of saying “Calm down, son!”

At least I can proudly tell you I was sensible and didn’t attempt to run on it; meaning I was back running normally within a couple of weeks. It’s just that this seemed to be happening a lot before Lakeland Trails events – I was beginning to think I was jinxed! I counted back and realised that, of the 9 LT events I’d entered, I’d missed 3 to injury – and actually got one of the injuries in one of the races I did enter!

Anyway, Cartmel was a terrific event, despite my non-runner status. Leanne and her friend Donna, making her trail debut, had a great time…

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Leanne (left) and Donna (right) both in Meningitis Now vests, search for dry land on the Lakeland Trails (photo courtesy of @jumpyjames)

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As you can see, I offered fully enthusiastic support despite my depressed, injured status.

 

So I had to take it easy for a couple of weeks, especially with a family ski holiday on the horizon. I didn’t run before the holiday specifically so that I could run where I usually ran and test my knee out. So I got my early morning hangover run completed en-route to the Swiss Alps in the lovely French town of Besancon…

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Dawn on the river in Besancon. (Not a person called Dawn, I mean the time of day, obviously.)

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Same river, same town. Just without Dawn.

Confidence in knee restored, I then skied happily with the girls for a few days before going for broke and completing an evening run up the mountain to one of the lift stations in Saas Fee, Switzerland. Another stunning evening – made harder this year by the much greater quantities of snow on the trail than previous years. A proper workout!

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Swiss Alpine Toblerone scenery.

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Lakeland trails buff makes it from Saas Fee village (1800m) to Hannig lift station (2350m)

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Looking back down to the village. Shall I stick to the trail or take the direct route?!

Before we knew it the holiday was over (probably a good job or Barclaycard would be hunting us down). Then it was straight back to the Lakeland Trails! This time at Hawkshead. I got injured on one of the descents last year so formulated a plan to take it easy descending, but give it some hammer on the climbs and flats. As it happened I paced myself really well,catching a couple of guys on the dreaded coffin climb to finish in 12th place. I was pretty pleased considering this was my first run at full-speed in over a month, but was now frustrated at having finished 11th once, 12th twice and 14th and 15th too. Top 10 was the target for Staveley.

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The @jumpyjames Hawkshead pictures are always iconic. Have a look on Strava/Garmin/Facebook etc and see how many runners use it as their profile pic!

And so to Staveley. And, to cut a very long story very short, I hammered it from the gun. (Or drums in the case of Staveley!) I was trying to pace myself up the first hill when I heard a shout of “Come on Wigin!” from a couple of members of our club who just happened to be walking in the area! Accelerator immediately pressed to show-off, I found myself in a bewildering 6th place at the first drinks station, but knowing in my heart of hearts, that I may have gone off too quickly.

I managed to maintain some sort of pace, despite losing a couple of places, and recovered on the final climb and descent (the Sting in the Tail!) to finish in a highly satisfying position of 8th. I was naturally delighted with this, once I’d recovered! I did remark to Leanne later in the evening that I much preferred running the LT races when I could trot in a carefree fashion around the courses in those early trail running days, as opposed to racing full-gas as I seemed to be doing now! Still, at least the curse of the Lakeland Trails seems to have been put to rest!

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Stunning scenery, looking down towards Kentmere. I look a bit knackered because I am, in fact, knackered.

Being a proper Ultra runner and recceing the 110k Ultra course!

A good pal of mine from other running circles (see next sub-heading) has also entered the Ultimate Trails 110k race. Rob is a very good runner at both long and short distances. He is very quick over 10k trail routes but also has a couple of Hadrien’s Wall ultras under his belt, as well as a self-organised crossing of Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast footpath.

He fancied a bit of a recce of the route, so I put together a 30(ish) mile plan together involving a circular route from Ambleside taking in much of the first half of the route proper.

However, the Lake District weather was having none of that, and despite our date of 12th March coming after some pleasant early spring weather, the snow duly arrived scuppering any plans we might have of crossing summits. (I was going to use High Street and Fairfield.)

So a swift plan B was formulated, involving the first two stages of the Ultra on an out-and-back basis. This would give us masses of climbing and descending, but hopefully keep us just about below the snowline. (My hiking days forbid me from venturing onto high ground without being fully prepared. Lightweight running gear and rusty navigation skills classed as ‘unprepared’ in my opinion!)

However, I think this plan worked out best. The first two stages of the race are completed in the dark of night. Rob and I now know these stages very well. I knew stage 2 was hard but had pretty much forgotten how hard stage 1 is! We will be much better off for completing these 28 miles (14 out, 14 back) come Ultra night!

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Rob: “This definitely counts as a snow run now, doesn’t it?!”

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Nan Bield Pass, right on the snowline. It had better not look like this in July!!!

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Out of the cloud and snow, descending to Mardale Head, before retracing our steps back to Ambleside.

(Conti) Lightning DOES strike twice!

You may recall I won the Conti Lightning Run a couple of years ago with a Men’s Running team, then kept in touch with them and ran as part of the Conti Grip running team at last year’s Thunder Run. (I’m not going to add any more links to past posts – just take my word for it!)

Well I was lucky enough to accept a late invitation to join the Conti Grip team for this year’s Lightning Run with my Choir Boy team buddies. They are a great bunch of like-minded souls; all decent runners who relish the opportunity to challenge for victory in a quite prestigious race.

The Conti Lightning Run is a 12 hour endurance race run as either a solo, a pair, or a team of five, over a 10k cross country course in Catton Park near Burton-on-Trent. The premise is simple – run as many laps as you can in 12 hours.

We knew we were the second best team there and, as such, we hoped to finish second at worst. We kept the lead team honest all day – they never got more than 10 minutes ahead of us. And every so often, we would have a better lap than them and cut the lead slightly. This went on until the 8 hour mark when Alex Money threw in a 35 minute lap for us! Wow! His 3rd XC 10k in 7 hours – 35 minutes! We suddenly found ourselves neck-and-neck for the lead! This was getting exciting!

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2nd 10k of the day knocked off. Sprinting (sort of) into the relay transition zone.

And so it continued until the 10.5 hour mark when Alex again launched a killer lap – 36 minutes! (Bear in mind that everyone on the two teams were running sub 45 minute laps for the entire day, so these laps were brutal after 9/10 hours!)

We suddenly had 2 laps to go and were somehow in the lead! It was now survival of the fittest. I’m not the fastest on our team by any standards, but I tend to maintain my times and so I found myself heading out on the last lap of a 12 hour relay race defending a lead! I don’t think I have ever been so nervous; you never really know what your body is going to do to you on a 4th 10k in less than 10 hours! Fortunately I held it together and, despite a few nervous glances over my shoulder, maintained our lead for victory! A sweet, sweet moment for all of us. Winning comfortably, as we had done the previous two years, is all very nice, but it is nothing compared to a hard-earned, and unexpected, victory against the odds. We were thrilled. (And in my case, relieved!)

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Start as a team, end as a team. Crossing the line together! (I’m spent!)

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Conti Lightning Champions, the Conti Speed team (aka Choir Boys!) L to R: Alex, Brad, myself, Pedro and Rob.

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The podium shot. I’ll let you work out the re-arranged order!

So, that just about wraps things up. I could bore you with all sorts of training run info, but I would be doing just that – boring you (as if I haven’t already.)

I have had a monster half-term training week to date, and will complete that on tired legs at the Lakeland Trails Coniston marathon (with Rob, above) on Sunday. Then it is just four weeks to go to Ultra time again.

Training has gone well and, with a little help from a few special souls above, I hope to be able to report on some more successes soon.

Get out there and have a go yourself. You might be surprised.

Thanks for reading. (If you’ve made it this far, I should be offering prizes.)

Mark

#110kforIestyn

Toughest. Race. Ever. The Northern Cross Country Championships. Witton Park, Blackburn. Saturday 30th January, 2016.

Here is my review of yesterday’s Northern Cross Country Championships, which I have written for the Wigan Harriers website. I was going to re-write it for the blog, but I’m sure you can spare me that chore and forgive me if you do not know the people involved. Hopefully it will at least give you an insight into why I am enjoying being part of a team so much.

 

Before I begin this write up I feel the need to justify myself a little. Firstly, I LOVE cross-country. I am not one of those soft road runners who cries every time they see a hill or, more importantly, a puddle! I love to run on trails, I generally enjoy running uphill (although I will happily admit to hating descents) and, most importantly, I love a bit of mud! It makes you fitter, stronger, faster in the long run. I am not telling you this to show off. I am telling you this so that when I tell you that this cross-country was the hardest hour of running in my life; that the conditions were so bad I wanted to drop-out with every fibre of my being; you know I am not exaggerating! To anyone, of any age or gender, who finished their race today, I salute you!

Saturday 30th January, 2016. Witton Park, Blackburn. The venue and date may be forever etched deep into my soul. When I eventually arrive at the Pearly Gates and some angel is tasked with viewing my life in a timeline of emotions before deciding whether I can enter, they might just glance down my life as a line graph before looking up and asking; “Jesus, what happened in January, 2016?!”

It’s lap 2 of a 4 lap race. Yes folks, FOUR laps. That was sticking the knife in for a start. I have only run a few club cross-countries but my body is already trained to deal with three laps. The first lap is for finding a good pace and learning the route, the second lap is consolidation and adapting your pace now you know where you’re going, the third lap is to expend any remaining energy. What the hell is the fourth lap for???

Anyway, I am already digressing, it’s lap 2 of FOUR laps. The hill is steep, the mud torturous, the wind (into your face, obviously) is bitingly cold, the hail is being driven sideways into every available piece of flesh on show. For the first time in my running life, I am genuinely wondering what the **** I am doing being out in this – for fun. I want to cry. I could get away with crying too. No-one would know; the hail sliding down my cheeks would hide the tears. But mostly, I want to stop running, get indoors and get some clothes on. This has never happened before. And there are two more ****ing laps left – after I get round this one!

Looking back, I am pretty certain that I would have carried on anyway, I am pretty stubborn in these situations, but, at the time, the only thing keeping me going was the team. And this is the beauty of running for a club and not as an individual – the ethic that you cannot let your teammates down drives you on. Both the men’s and women’s teams had exactly the right numbers. One drop out – no team. So on we all went, through the mud, up the hill, into the maelstrom…

The Course.

Longer standing members may know the Witton Park venue. Apparently the usual Red Rose league route involves a similar lap of the flat field at the bottom of the course and the climb behind the Pavilion cafe. However, with this being the Northern Championships, an extra climb was added, also behind the cafe. The route was now, in my opinion, the perfect cross-country route – a 1.6 mile lap, half through flat fields, the other half a double shark fin of climbing and descending. The first climb (the additional one not on the league route) was particularly tough; steep and unrelenting on an adverse camber meaning you couldn’t even aim straight up it without being sent slithering off course again, before a hilarious vertical descent in shin deep mud down a bank that would make the most graceful of runners look like a Wildebeest during a lion attack!

So, all sounds good so far, what’s to moan about? Well, it is very difficult to describe the conditions underfoot without being accused of exaggerating. But I can tell you, hand on heart, that the entire course was mud. The best conditions were ankle deep mud. The worst conditions were shin deep and, for some people, knee deep mud! For the entire route! There was no ‘ideal line’ to be had. Believe me, I did four laps and never ran the same line twice! It made no difference. Pile straight through it was the only option because the other options were merely a longer route in the same conditions!

In the changing rooms afterwards, more experienced runners than I discussed if these were the worst conditions ever experienced. The only event comparable, they decided, was a Northern Championships at Knowsley in similar mud and heavy snow. This was, however, largely dismissed as (and I was not there to confirm this) apparently at Knowsley there were some sections of the route solid enough for actual running to take place. This certainly was not the case at Witton Park!

Oh, and one added bonus – this was the Northern Championships, so it’s longer than usual! For the women: a lap of the field section, then three full laps – 8.8km. For the men: the same with the bonus fourth lap (have I mentioned the fourth lap?!) – 11.5km.

The Build-Up.

The first thing that cannot go unmentioned was the team ‘carb-loading’ session the night before the race! Thanks to our Social Committee of Nina, Mel and Becky for a great night at the Christmas/NY bash! However, this may not have been the best preparation for the following day…(!)

Mike and I arrived nice and early and soon found Jayne and Dave huddled behind a large tree! Almost immediately the first squall of biting wind and hail came in. The weather pattern would remain consistent throughout the day – 15 minutes where the sun would appear and it would seem to be a reasonable winter’s day. Then 15 minutes where the wind would blow, the hail would bite, and the temperature would feel to drop about five degrees. Initial disappointment at the absence of our team tent soon disappeared – many teams have the same one as us; most of them were blown down during one or all of the squalls which blew through!

One by one the team arrived and all began the same mathematical equations in their heads; ie. ’Until exactly what time can I leave every item of clothing on my body without actually missing the start of the race?!’

The Women’s Race.

I could only look on with sympathy as the women finally had to don their race gear whilst I remained in my six layers of clothing. Off they soldiered towards the start line; framed from our vantage point by the next menacing black cloud looming over the hill.

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Sideways hail. Just before the women’s race.

The much larger number of runners is certainly an impressive sight and, after a lap of the field, the women swept past us, round the bend and off towards the first climb of the race. It is always worth attending these larger events just to watch the front-runners. They are so impressive – a different breed. (More on this later!)

Then the hail came.

I tried to stay out and support them! I really did. Honestly! I saw Jayne come round again the first time, then Shona. Every runner’s face bore the same haunted look – it was like a scene from Platoon! And this was the first lap! But the hail was driving and it hurt your face to look up, so the entire men’s team took the soft, unanimous option and decided that we needed to prepare for our own race – in the changing rooms!

I therefore cannot comment further on the women’s performances, other than to reiterate that anyone who finished that race, in whatever time, deserves respect. The women undoubtedly copped for the longest, most prolonged hailstorm of the day. Brutal.

The Men’s Race.

We got changed slowly. No point going outside unnecessarily. We had a team selfie – inside, (that took up a couple more minutes.) We went to the doorway. We stood in the doorway looking out for a bit. You get the picture. We weren’t keen.

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The men, hiding in the changing rooms: (left to right) Steve, Dave, Tony, Gary (centre), myself (back), Mike (sideways).

Eventually, there was no alternative. The run from the changing room to the start line was our warm-up. And even then Dave and Tony nearly managed to miss the start! The start line was the best bit. Being huddled in a large crowd was the only time I was warm all day.

Then we were off. My general strategy is to bolt off a bit at the start and try and find some space. “Bloody hell, Mark’s buggered off already!” was the last thing I heard Mike say from behind! (He was upset at leaving his Garmin at home, so I’d told him just to run next to me and I’d record it for him.) However, this was a large field, a fast field, so there wasn’t going to be any space. It also became very quickly apparent that the nice, flat lap of the field to get your legs moving was going to be nothing of the sort. Already we were up to our ankles. ‘It’ll settle down in a bit!” Nope. Ankle or shin deep mud every bit of the way to the tented area. Less than one mile down – the four laps only now commencing. Jesus. No wonder the women looked so traumatised. My legs and lungs were already burning and we hadn’t technically started the laps yet!

Up the first climb we slipped. Two steps up, one slide right, course bearing left. Into the wind. Adrenaline already waning. Down the bank desperately trying to remain upright. My shiny new 15mm spikes no match for this terrain. (“Never mind 15mm spikes, you needed javelins in your soles!” Steve afterwards!)

Up the second climb. Slightly less room, absolutely no ideal line. Onto the second descent, described as the ‘muddy field’ by those in the know pre-race! So yes, shin and knee deep mud all the way – but at least the gradient was more gentle, so this part of the course was actually quite enjoyable. At the bottom there is a gate where you emerged back into the lower field and a large crowd was assembled here. I know why they were there! There was a particularly deep bog right at the bottom on a camber. There must have been some hilarious full-body-bog-dives there! For anyone out-of-control, tired, going too fast or simply not picking their feet up there could only be one outcome! On the four occasions I went through there were audible groans from the crowd when I emerged unscathed!

Round the field. This should be the easy bit. But it’s not. It’s torture. Now you feel like you should be running properly but you just can’t get going.

Onto lap two.

Up to that point us gents had got off lightly weather wise.

Then the hail came again…

I have already described my emotions as I began climbing again. Insanity. What were we doing out here? Get your head down, try and keep moving.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Field. Repeat.

Lap three. By now the top of the first climb is like the Somme. As with the women’s race, I have no idea how many dropped out of our race, but I have never seen so many runners walking back down the course in the wrong direction or simply stood at the side of the course with their families. I am now starting to lap a lot of people. Usually, by this stage, you have an idea of the guys around you, the ones you are vying for position with. But not today. It’s impossible to tell who’s on your lap and who isn’t.

Gary said it was at this point that (his words) “I did one of those burps where you’re sick in your own mouth!” He wasn’t sure if it was the party beer, his morning bacon and sausage butties, or a combination of the two…

Into the field and heading for the finish area to begin my last lap. Funnily enough, as if to prove the point that running is as much in the head as the legs, I am undergoing a recovery of sorts. I feel pretty good. I’m starting to revel in what, after-all, should be my kind of conditions. But really I’m just delighted that there is only one more lap to go!

Then it happens.

It’s the vociferous shouting of the crowd that alerts me to it first. Then it’s the sound. It’s like galloping horses hooves! S*** – I’m going to get lapped!!! Into the final straight I turn, right where the finish funnel splits from the course proper. But there he goes in my peripheral vision; a blur of Sale Harrier green. Then the second place guy. I never saw the third place bloke but he must have been right there as the crowd were shouting three different names!

As I said before, one of the amazing things about these big races is seeing the elites in action. The other Harriers said it was amazing to watch these guys appearing not to touch the ground at all, even in these conditions. I was stunned. But, mostly, I was just jealous that they could stop running and I had to go round again!

Lap four – the unnecessary lap!

The top of that penultimate climb was only bearable because I didn’t have to do it again. Most were walking up. I maintained the pretence of running only because I was determined to be able to say afterwards “I didn’t walk!” – not because I was actually travelling any faster than those who were walking!

The last climb – oh the joy of cresting it! I pretty much laughed all the way down the ‘muddy field’ and attempted a finishing spurt of sorts round the field.

The finish line. Thank **** for that. It was one of those finish lines where there was a marshal specifically charged with the job of making runners move away from the finish line and through the finish area. To a man every runner crossed the line and stopped dead, there and then.

Mike was the next Harrier in, narrowly seeing off Dave (again!) in their personal battle! Steve, Gary and Tony soon followed and finally it was over!

Coffee and cakes have never been so deserved!

 

For the record, I ran the 7.14 miles in 57mins 14 secs. I was 261st of 719 finishers.

 

2015 – The Year of the Gear.

nb – apologies for the lack of pictures to make my boring writing more interesting. For some reason I am unable to add any media to this post due to (apparently) an annoying HTTP error(?) If I resolve this issue, I will add some images later. Sorry!

December 30th, 2015. I suppose the purpose of this blog is to round up the running year that was 2015. It’s not really about the kit as such, although I keep threatening to write about that, it was more that ‘gear’ rhymed with ‘year’ and sounded more snappy than ‘2015 review’. (So, pretty much a lie just for the sake of hoping you might carry on reading.)

Anyway, as usual, it is over two months since my last post so, before rounding off my year, a brief running update is required.

I have finally gone into ‘end-of-year-taper’ mode after a fairly full on 12 months. By mid-October I was suffering pretty much constant pain in my right heel and foot from planter fasciitis, caused by not replacing my longer mileage training shoe and therefore doing all my running in my Adidas Boston Boost – a superb race trainer but simply not built for everyday use by a heel-striking flat-footer like myself.  I should have rested earlier, but had two races penned in for late October/early November so persevered with the training until then. (Clearly, this is NOT the advisable course of action – treat this as a cautionary tale rather than an injury advice training plan!) The two races were, however, hugely successful personally, highlighting my level of fitness at that time.

The Standish Hall Trail Race – Saturday 31st October.

This is my most local of local races. A twice yearly event held only a mile up the road on farm tracks and muddy woodland trails. The course is almost exactly 10km long and is an approximate figure of 8 up-and-down a steepish hillside. I have entered the race on several previous occasions and therefore can use it as an accurate barometer of my current level of performance. My previous best was 42 minutes which, at the time, was good enough for 10th place. The field is never more than 250 runners, often less, which gives a really intimate atmosphere to proceedings.

I wrote a review of the race for the Wigan Harriers website, so rather than totally re-write the same thing again, please click on the link below to read my report:

https://wiganharriersendurance.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/standish-hall-trail-race-3/

You are forgiven if you couldn’t be bothered clicking that! To summarise, I ran into a really satisfying (and fairly surprising!) 4th place. Only 78 raced on the day; a local parkrun had had its inaugural event that morning, reducing the field for this race, but I was still delighted with 4th. Logging 40mins 13secs for a hilly, muddy 10K was also pleasing.

The only thing to add to my public recount above is to add a personal footnote:

The race date of 31st October was quite an emotive one.

Firstly, it was the one year anniversary of tragically losing Alisha Bartolini at 18 years of age to Meningitis. (Please see all my previous blogs for more details / fundraising etc.)

Secondly, I had received further tragic news just the day before. Iestyn Keir, a 12 year-old former pupil of my school and child of a work colleague, had suddenly and tragically died just hours after a cycling event the previous weekend. To say this was a shock was an understatement. Iestyn was such a great lad who, unusually for a child of his age, shared my passion for endurance sporting persuits. I loved listening to his cycling news and would share in-depth, analytical  discussions of any cycling Grand Tours taking place at the time.

My mind was therefore awash with thoughts on the start line of the tragedy of young lives cut short, the never-ending pain this causes to the families concerned and, personally, a renewed determination to live life to the full at each and every opportunity.

With these tragedies at the forefront of my mind, I had therefore pre-determined that I was going to absolutely flog myself into the ground on this run and attack from the start. My normal conservative race start went out of the window and no-doubt contributed to finding myself in the leading pack. Everytime I felt my effort levels waning or my pace drop, I thought of Iestyn hammering up a climb on his bike (his favourite cycling discipline) and put the hammer down as hard as I was physically capable.

I crossed the line absolutely spent. If Alisha had pushed me round 110K in June, then Iestyn certainly dragged me round this course. I hope they were both watching.

One positive outcome of racing so well was my first ever running prize! I was 2nd Vet & 2nd Vet40 in the race but, as the leading Vet was the actual race winner, I was promoted to 1st place Vet and won £20 of vouchers for the local running shop ‘The Endurance Store’ – result!

Lakeland Trails Helvellyn Race, Glenridding – Saturday 7th November.

The following Saturday saw us travel to the Lake District for our final Lakeland Trails series event of the year. We were particularly excited to return to Glenridding as it held such fond memories for us from the summer Ultra. The girls, my parents and in-laws had surprised me in the village by coming to support me at the breakfast feed station.

To say the weather conditions were slightly different is an understatement! In summer we had enjoyed beautiful early morning sunshine with temperatures already on the rise; in November the forecast was apocalyptic rain. (A forecast that would become all too common for the entire month which followed, projecting Glenridding to national prominence just a month later, when flash floods wreaked havoc.)

The forecast was such that we considered not attending – not so much for Leanne and myself, who were more than prepared to confront the conditions. More for Hannah and Nancy (aged 8 and 4) who, we thought, might not be too keen on standing in a field for a whole day in dreadful conditions. However, we delved deep into our rucksacks in the loft and found full waterproofs that fit both girls  – so off we set. (Hannah may disagree that the full-sized adult waterproofs fit her, but it was nothing that a bit of rolling-up at waist and ankles didn’t sort!)

We were glad we made the effort as, despite the weather, we enjoyed an absolutely fantastic day out. The girls absolutely loved being given free license to jump in every puddle available, (there were many!) Leanne loved the liberating experience of heading into the hills in conditions where you would normally retire to the hotel bar for the day, and I ran another blinder to finish in 12th place despite again performing my ‘Bambi-on-Ice’ impression on every slippery descent!

We then retired to the shelter of the event marquee to enjoy our final Pete Lashley gig of the year – he even played Hannah’s request of Jacob’s Creek for her! We thanked the event director Graham Patten and his team; the events are such a focal point of our family life now and obviously played a major role in our year. We wished him luck for the final event the following day which we couldn’t attend – again in Glenridding. As it turned out, he would need that luck as the weather was even worse the next day! The planned Ullswater ferry crossings had to be cancelled meaning a cleverly arranged back-up route had to be set up on the morning!

Once again I send my thanks and seasonal greetings to Graham and the entire Lakeland Trails team – we already cannot wait for Cartmel in March!

Perhaps more importantly though, we send our best wishes to everyone in the Lakes, and indeed much closer to home in Lancashire and Yorkshire, who have suffered so terribly in the recent rains and ensuing floods. To see places so close to our hearts suffer such devastation has been really upsetting. Of the six Lakeland Trail venues in the year, three (Staveley, Keswick and Glenridding) have suffered such damage that sections of the actual race routes are currently impassable. These will possibly be repaired by the time we visit in the New Year, but the damage to people’s homes and livelihoods will continue long into the future. Good luck to everyone involved; our thoughts are with you.

Mid-Lancs Cross Country League, Sefton Park, Liverpool – Saturday 28th November.

As there were three weeks between Glenridding and Liverpool, I took two weeks completely off running to rest my sore foot. I resumed some light running in the week leading up to the Sefton Park event. Although a Mid-Lancs league event for our club, this race was much bigger than that. Both the Men’s and Women’s races were also U23 European Championship qualifiers, meaning that there was a National element to the field (at U23 level at least!) and a couple of other local leagues also in attendance at the event, swelling not only numbers of participants but also increasing the quality of the competition.

I arrived at Sefton Park on another wet and windy afternoon. I know the area well having lived on the nearby Penny Lane for three years during my student days. I was greeted by large crowds, lots of super-fit, sleek looking national standard athletes and commentary on the races booming across the park from well known BBC athletics commentator Paul Dickenson. (I hope I’ve got the right commentator there, it was over a month ago – it was the guy who normally does the field events for BBC at the big championships!) It took quite a while just to find the Wigan Harriers tent and my team mates!

This was the first race when I was at a genuine disadvantage not yet possessing cross country spikes. By the time the Men’s race began, large sections of the course had been reduced to slippery, slushy mud. I skated down the start hill and only really regained my footing for the uphill sections. Ploughing through the deep mud was not a problem – everyone slips in that! It was the treacherous surface mud which was the problem, forcing me to the outside of most bends of the course in search of traction. The effort of this constant slipping and sliding reduced my legs to jelly by the third lap and I was clinging on for dear life as the finish straight was finally reached.

I was totally stunned to find I completed the 6.15 miles in 39 minutes 53 seconds! If you had asked me on crossing the line I would have said that it felt around 43/44 minute pace. It certainly felt like I had been running a long time! Still, the watch and the final results don’t lie, so I was more than happy with that – and a top-half placing of 278th in a high-quality field of 577 finishers was also pleasing.

December…

Even after a good 17 days off it was clear my foot was no better than it was before, so I resigned myself to having the final month of the year off. By mid December I was feeling some improvement so I used my Endurance Store vouchers to purchase a new pair of more cushioned distance trainers. I have only worn my Brooks Glycerin four times to date but the fact that my foot feels better for running in them than it did before tells me that I have made a good choice.

Thanks, as ever, to the staff at the Endurance Store, and Tim Pilkington at Wigan Harriers, for support and advice during purchase, (including quite a bit of time on their tread mill in different shoes.) If you live anywhere near Appley Bridge, Wigan, get down to the Endurance Store – they will point you in the right direction and won’t try to sell you a product they don’t believe in.

There is time for one last little running outing tomorrow but I have surpassed my goals for 2015. Yesterday’s run took me over the 1200 mile mark for this year. I wanted to exceed a 100 miles-per-month average and, considering I have missed over 8 weeks of the year with injury or enforced rest, I am delighted to do so. I will have trained in some form on 143 occasions – over 3 times a week for the time I have been fit to train in. I will still be aiming to beat both these totals in 2016, though! Obviously the main aim was to complete the Ultra, but to do it unscathed and unscarred was especially satisfying.

So what’s changed in 2015?

  1. Well, my shoerack for a start! – At the start of the year I possessed two pairs of trainers; one road, one trail. I now possess four pairs of trainers, (all purchased this year, the original two pairs are long gone!) I have two pairs of road shoes – Brooks Glycerin for everyday training and longer distances, Adidas Boston Boost for races and short, sharp stuff. I also own two pairs of trail shoes – Hoka One Ones, the super-cushioned long distance comfort shoe for long runs on firmer ground, and Adidas Adizero Raven Boost for muddier trail conditions and shorter, faster work. Ridiculously I really need to purchase some cross country spikes too which would push my footwear count to five. But sanity (and finances!) dictate that I may try and blag my way through this winter and pick those up next year!
  2. My kit drawer! – Where once my running drawer would be opened to find clothing consisting of nothing more than a couple of pairs of shorts, a pair of Ron Hill bottoms and a couple of t-shirts – now there are long sleeves, shorts sleeves, compression tops, fully waterproof jackets, running tights, waterproof bottoms, Injinji socks with toes in (try them, you’d be surprised!), running specific caps, buffs, sunglasses, two-layered running shorts… and on and on and on. That’s not including the running backpack, headtorches (2), various water bottles, survival bag, energy gels etc. It cost a bit, but I use it all – a lot! It all works too, (thanks again Endurance Store!) so I haven’t wasted any money on pointless, poor performing rubbish or things that I don’t need. Oh, and I had to move my stuff into a much bigger drawer!
  3. My base level of fitness – I have looked back at my starting point of January 2015 and the routes I was running. 10/11 mile trail runs around Ashurst Beacon and Parbold Hill were considered major expeditions 12 months ago. Now they are bog standard trot outs used as recovery runs or hill climbing practice. I am starting 2016 out in a position of such strength in comparison.
  4. Wigan Harriers – This was certainly an unexpected development in 2015! I had no intention of joining a club and, if I had considered it, it wouldn’t have been Harriers. I have at least two little clubs on my doorstep that I could reach without the need of a car. However, opportunity knocked after the Wigan 10k, and I received the gentle shove I needed to get involved. (Thanks, Mike!) Unfortunately time commitments, personal race commitments and, finally, injury niggles have meant that I haven’t really been able to properly throw myself in yet – I have probably only managed to train with them five or six times! However, I really enjoy it, have met some lovely people and plan to get involved far more next year.
  5. PBs – I expected to thrash my marathon PB and did so, despite not quite breaking 3.15. (I will sort those 54 seconds out sometime in the future!) I was not expecting to run 38.13 in the 10k and this was a genuine shock to me. The thought of going under 38 minutes was something I would have considered super-human a couple of years ago but is now a genuine target.
  6. Fundraising social-media style – Having never raised money for charity before, it was stunning just how easy social-media makes it these days. I hate asking for money so just never did it. But it was fantastic to be able to raise £2500 pounds for Meningitis Now and I am so grateful to people for their support and generosity.
  7. Becoming ULTRA – Obviously, this was the aim of the year and I was delighted with the way it panned out. I learned so much and was grateful that any slight misfortune I suffered occurred during training and not the race! Even the Lake District weather, so poor on both the day before and after the race, was absolutely perfect! A magical day!

2016 and beyond.

So what next? Well, I have a few things booked in and a few general ideas!

  1. Beat 1200 miles and 143 training sessions – You’ve always got to try and be better than the year before!
  2. Lakeland Trails 110k Ultra – I’ve entered again. I’d like to go faster! Clearly though, there is a lot of luck involved. First I need to be fit enough to be faster, so I need to avoid injury. Secondly, and more importantly, I will need good conditions on race day again; never a given in the Lakes! The course could be 3K longer if route permission is given on stage 4, where we had to cut a corner to avoid a farm this year. But I have a plan of attack, and it would be great to go under 17 hours! A friend of mine from the Thunder Run team has entered and we hope to get up to the Lakes a couple of times to run some of the course beforehand.
  3. 100 miles? – It’s the next natural progression after the Lakes 110k. I need to properly research the events to find one suitable for a debut at such a distance, and that may mean I have already missed entry deadlines for the 2016 events. So this target is more of a two year thing, but something I am going to have to attempt in the future.
  4. Half marathon PB – I haven’t run an official half marathon for three years so I know I can absolutely slaughter my current PB of 1.33. I’d be looking to knock a good six minutes off, so need to find a good course in early 2016.
  5. Cross Trainer & Core Exercises – We have a cross trainer in our conservatory. A pretty good one too. Most of the time it’s used for drying wet running gear. When I have injuries I use it as the starting point to getting out running again. I also use core strength exercises when injured. However, as soon as I am fit enough to go out and run again, these go out of the window. Yet I fully understand and appreciate the benefits of both cross and core training, so 2016 is the year that I make them a regular part of my training program and try not to just obsess about miles covered.
  6. Diet – Surely I can eat a bit more sensibly than I currently do? I dine out (literally!) on the premise that I can eat what I want because I burn it off, (my current weight and body shape would prove that this is largely true!) However, could there be marginal gains to be had in eating better to refuel and repair properly? No doubt there could. I need to at least try. (I won’t be turning Vegan though, despite just about every Ultra legend in the world doing it!)
  7. Blog – Try and post more regularly. Get this bloomin’ picture problem sorted. Learn how you can leave messages at the bottom of posts. Learn how to use possessive apostrophes properly! (Very embarrassing for a teacher!)
  8. Charity – Unfortunately, due to another unwanted tragedy, there is now another charity that I would quite like to support. Iestyn’s family have been raising money for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and you can find information at the following site dedicated to Iestyn:

http://iestyn.keir.muchloved.com/

I don’t know what I will do yet, but it would be nice to support in some way. I will also continue to support Meningitis Now; information on this charity can be found on the site dedicated to the memory of Alisha:

http://alisha-bartolini.muchloved.com/

 So that just about wraps up this year. Thanks for reading this post and any others you may have read through the year. Thanks if you contributed financially to the fund-raising. Thanks if you have supported my running in any way this year, (an exhaustive list of these people can be found in my last post!)

Finally, I hope you all have a fantastic 2016. Whatever it is you were thinking of doing ‘sometime’ in the future; be it physical activity, a holiday, visiting friends, taking up a hobby or just planning on spending more time outdoors whatever the weather (this would be a good one – do this one!) start planning to do it immediately!

Get out there and live life! Do it now! Quick!!!

Me? I’m going to pop out for a quick run…

footnote – as I proofread this post, the radio has just reported that the road between Pooley Bridge and Glenridding is closed again as Storm Frank blows over. Stay safe out there, and best wishes to those battling yet more floods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Ultra Runner to Club Runner – how did that happen?!

Time continues to fly. I continue to spectacularly fail to keep my blog even remotely up-to-date. School work continues to get in the way – of the blogging, I hasten to add, not the running which, through as much luck than management has, if anything, been taken to a new level since the ultra; rather than the general tapering off which I envisaged.

So what’s being going on? I hear you (probably not) ask. Well, since you so kindly (probably didn’t) ask, I’ll tell you.

The 24 hour Adidas Thunder Run.

I did enjoy a couple of gentle running weeks after the ultra, but had generally emerged unscathed from the experience. So, when a running pal asked me if I fancied helping out his Adidas Thunder Run team, I jumped at the chance.

If you have read my previous blogs, you will recall that I was lucky enough to win the 12 hour Conti Lightning Run with the Men’s Running magazine team in 2014. Well the 24 hour Adidas Thunder Run is the Lightning Run’s (very) big brother. I have kept in touch with all my team mates from that event due to their inspirational qualities and one of them, Pedro, had also maintained contact with the race sponsors. (Useful stuff – must remember to get better at this networking lark!)

And so it was that I became a member of the ‘ContiGrip’ Adidas Thunder Run 24 hour team! I’d heard the event was something of a ‘Trail Runners Mecca’ and I wasn’t to be disappointed. ‘Glastonbury for Runners’ was a phrase regularly banded about. If I was more organised, this event would have a blog all of its own, but for now I am grateful to Pedro for letting me borrow his write-up for the Conti Running facebook page – see link below. (Nice that he describes me as a ‘veteran ultra runner’! I assume he means veteran in age, not because of my vast ultra experience!)

https://www.facebook.com/contirunning/posts/879884642092131:0

My ContiGrip Adidas Thunder Run teammates. (the before shot)

My ContiGrip Adidas Thunder Run teammates. (The before shot.)

Glastonbury for Runners.

Glastonbury for Runners.

The ContiGrip team 'after' shot! (We look pretty good for about 3 hours kip and 4 cross country 10ks in 24 hours.)

The ContiGrip team ‘after’ shot! (We look pretty good for about 3 hours kip and 4 cross country 10ks in 24 hours.)

Pedro’s review neatly sums up a fantastic experience. I arrived knowing only Pedro and Felix, from Continental, of my seven teammates but left with five more new friends who it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with. Great memories. My sides hurt from laughing as much as my legs hurt from running. Happy days.

The Fuerteventura Training Camp (or all-inclusive-fortnight-feed-and-booze-up)

The first thing I packed was my running stuff. The first thing my wife packed was her running stuff. Then we packed the kids stuff. Then, if there was any luggage allowance left, we packed some real clothes.

I think the above is probably the first sign that you have taken your running to another level of commitment. People look at us like we’re mad for getting up at half six while on holiday to go running. But we both love it. And it is an amazingly simple way to get to know your way around an unknown place. Throw in the peace and tranquility of holiday resorts at 7am, as well as the beautiful sunrises, and I, for one, wouldn’t swap it for all the fuzzy headed hangovers in the world. Not only that, but you can then laze around the pool or beach all day knowing you have already done something worthwhile for yourself and ‘earned’ your downtime and food/drink treats!

Off before sunrise - beating the heat in Fuerteventura.

Off before sunrise – beating the heat in Fuerteventura.

'Morning has broken!' Sunrise above Corralejo.

‘Morning has broken!’ Sunrise above Corralejo.

Why wouldn't you want to get up for this?

Why wouldn’t you want to get up for this?

Due to the girls being young, Leanne and I alternate mornings to get up and go out, meaning our running has zero impact on the girl’s holiday. It does create an amusing situation at nights (especially on all-inclusive!) where my running morning leads to a night when I can enjoy a few drinks knowing I’m not up running the next morning. However, this pattern is exactly the opposite for Leanne, so my drink night becomes her ‘dry’ night and vice versa!

However, all this is a choice – we might enjoy running but we’re not monks! Holidays are meant to be enjoyed. We did both have our date with the October Chester marathon in the backs of our minds, but these runs were very much of the ‘ticking-over’ variety. The farthest I ran was 11 miles and that was only once. It was much more of a ‘sightseeing-photo-opportunity’ running program than a serious workout!

We did have one lovely day though, when the rest of the family kindly whisked the girls off to the beach allowing Leanne and I the rare opportunity to go out running together. We resisted the opportunity to turn it into a bar crawl and instead hugged the coast from port to beach to join our family once again. I must admit, charging straight into the sea instead of taking a shower was just about the most refreshing thing I have ever done after a run!

A rare 'Team Morgan-Hillam' photo opportunity! Corralejo jetty end.

A rare ‘Team Morgan-Hillam’ photo opportunity! Corralejo jetty end.

Leanne negotiates the town beach (and a bare bottom...)

Leanne negotiates the town beach and a bare bottom… (not hers, I hasten to add.)

Magazine front cover shot (if you photoshop the face.)

Magazine front cover shot (if you photoshop the face.)

Magazine front cover shot 2 (no photoshop required...)

Magazine front cover shot 2 (no photoshop required…)

Leanne's Marathon des Sables training coming on a treat.

Leanne’s Marathon des Sables training coming on a treat.

Home to Marathon Training.

I have to be honest at this point and say, even in a blog dedicated to espousing the joys of running, that I didn’t really enjoy the marathon training. I was committed to it from a long time ago or else I simply wouldn’t have done it. I am far more interested in trail running now and so continued to use trails for the majority of my long runs. I don’t mind road running for shorter distances; say up to half marathon distance, but anything longer and the body was willing but the mind was numbed.

I was very motivated for Leanne. She was making her marathon debut and it was definitely a leap into the unknown for her. Her training took priority as she had so kindly passed over six months of weekends to my ultra training schedule. I was only running because;

a) I told a friend I would if he did, and

b) my brother entered and got injured. I lost £50 in similar circumstances last year and so I transferred his number so that he got his money back.

I don’t know if it was this slight lack of motivation that meant my training runs felt sluggish or what, but I was revising my 3 hour 15 minute target further and further towards just beating my PB (3h29m58s).

The Wigan 10k – the race that changed everything?

It does feel ironic indeed that, in a year when my entire focus was on becoming an ultra runner, it was my homely little local 10k that was actually the race that changed my running life!

In the first week of September, exactly a month before the marathon, The Wigan 10k was as much a chance to shirk out of a long weekend run than it was an actual race. It is a truly brilliant event though – the best 10k I have ever done, (no bias!) There is a food market, beer stalls and kids entertainment in the town before, during and after the race, turning it into a day out – not just a run. Spectators have just as good a time as the runners, (or better?!) I was injured last year and had gone to support Leanne. It is the only time I have supported her and been genuinely jealous of not running; such was the pull of my ‘home’ race. So this year, marathon or no marathon, I was going to run.

As mentioned above though, my sluggish training times meant that, rather than hoping to beat my PB of 39.25 (same course, 2013) I was merely hoping to run sub 40 minutes and get close to the PB.

I don’t know what happened that morning. Was it the perfect conditions? The flat course? (All my training runs are, by necessity, on hills.) Whatever, within the first km I suddenly fancied my chances.

I spent the first 5k trying to keep a lid on my pace, just making sure I was sub 4mins per km to keep on target. The 6th km is a bit of a soul destroyer, into the wind in the only crowd-less part of the course. The real clincher though, is the last 2km. A slight rise (the only one) followed by a bit of annoying zig-zagging through a park. (The zig-zagging path is annoying, but the atmosphere in the park is incredible – so it sort of evens itself up!)

Having burned out in the last 2k two years ago, I saved a bit this time. I absolutely flew home to crush my PB and run an astonishing (for me) 38mins 13secs. 35th place of 3000 runners. I have no idea where that came from. Given that 3 years ago I thought sub40 was superhuman, this was a turn-up.

Sprint finish to 35th place at the Wigan 10k. (PB of 38m13s)

Sprint finish to 35th place at the Wigan 10k. (PB of 38m13s)

So how did this change everything? Well, I had been tentatively using twitter to follow a few local running clubs, individual runners etc. I do understand the benefits of being part of a club but have always been a lone runner by nature. I think I also felt a bit chivalrous turning up to races as an ‘independent’ and taking on the might of the club running vests all by myself! Maybe it was also the distant memory of a bad running club experience 30 years ago in my childhood that put me off. Either way, I told Leanne on a fairly regular basis that, when the girls were a bit older, I would join a running club ‘one day’.

So I suppose I should be grateful to one of the afore-mentioned local runners, Mike Harris, (@Mchbiker) who spotted me in a picture, then in the results, and gently tweeted to ask “So what club do you run for?”

“None,” I replied. “I am a heroic, chivalrous independent, bravely fighting the evil forces of Clubvestdom!” (I didn’t say this at all, but I was probably thinking it.)

“Right, get your arse down to the DW stadium at 7pm on Thursday night then!” he insisted.

“Oh, OK.” I replied, totally caving in to the powers of Clubvestdom at the first possible opportunity. (Long suffering friends will tell you that standing up to peer pressure is not one of my strong points.)

And so it was that, on Thursday 10th September 2015, approximately 30 years after the last time, I became a club runner again.

Wigan Harriers debut.

One training session was all it took to convince me I was doing the right thing. As everyone will tell you, running clubs are invariably friendly places whatever your level of ability. It is simply overcoming that fear of attending the first time which puts people off. I know it was for me – I was just waiting for someone to push me into it.

Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I have so far only managed three training sessions and two cross country races. I hope this will settle down and I will be a more regular attendee from now on. But straight away I enjoy the banter of meeting up with like minded souls and the gentle ribbing I am already being given for a variety of (well deserved) reasons.

The main reason I wanted to join was the winter cross country leagues. I have read so much about the step up in quality of these races compared to your average trail race that I was really keen to test myself. I have been pleased with my first two efforts, getting into the top 25% of the field, and hopefully more quality training with the club will improve this over time.

The Harriers website kindly published my report of the first race, click the link below to read on;

https://wiganharriersendurance.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/mid-lancs-cross-country-astley-park/

Proudly wearing my Wigan Harriers vest. Pennington, Leigh.

Proudly wearing my Wigan Harriers vest. Pennington, Leigh.

On my way to 45th of 229 runners.

On my way to 45th of 229 runners.

The push for home. (note: I'm lapping the guy behind, not just saving a sprint for the camera!)

The push for home. (note: I’m lapping the guy behind, not just saving a sprint for the camera!)

This would be a good time to say thanks to everyone at Wigan Harriers for making me feel so welcome. If anyone out there is thinking of joining a club, go and have a go – I’m sure you won’t regret it. And if you are one of those people in the WIgan area, get your arse down to the DW on Tuesdays or Thursdays!!!

So, finally onto…

The Chester Marathon.

Needless to say, running 38mins for 10k meant my target time needed re-evaluating for the marathon. 3.15 was now very much back on! Indeed, most websites (and new club mates) were informing me regularly that my 10k time equated to more like a 3hour flat marathon! I was way too scared to aim for such lofty heights but decided, if conditions were fair, I would certainly be trying to break 3.15 – a time which would qualify as ‘good for age’ in my Vet40 category. (Still can’t believe I’m a Vet – in my head I’m still in my 20s!)

Conditions were perfect as we left Chester Racecourse. My pace was comfortably on target. I’m not going to bore you with the details but, with a half completed in 1h35m I knew i had a chance to break 3.15. Eventually I was to fall 54 seconds over my self-imposed time limit. A couple of stomach cramps probably put paid to my chances as I felt OK the whole way. My legs did get tired a little bit (probably those missed long runs when I ran the Wigan 10k and a club cross country instead of 18/20 milers!) but I was pleased not to hit the wall in any way. Another slight annoyance was joining up with the metric marathon field at about the 21 mile mark. It’s not ideal when you are trying to maintain your pace after that distance to be joined by the slow, back end of a different event on a small country lane. (No disrespect intended to those runners – 16.3 miles is an epic achievement; I just mean that when two races join where the participants are running totally different speeds, it is not a good thing. Hopefully the organisers will look at this again for future years.)

So the slight tinge of disappointment at 3h15m54s was more than offset by knowing I’d knocked another 14 minutes off my PB and had run the two half marathons of the race in 1.35 and 1.40 – 1hr39 was my half marathon PB 3 years ago!!!

Top of the biggest hill on the beautiful, otherwise fairly flat Chester marathon route. Farndon. Approx 18 miles.

Top of the biggest hill on the beautiful, otherwise fairly flat Chester marathon route. Farndon. Approx 18 miles.

The main success stories of Chester marathon 2015 were not mine. And that is where the joy and wonder of the shared running experience comes into such striking play. My mate Gaz, on his marathon debut, ran a superb 3h38m. He learned so much about his training and himself that he is certain to be back to smash that time out of sight in the future.

But pride of place goes to my long suffering running-widow, Leanne, who ran amazingly to break 5 hours! And the crazy thing is – she loved every minute of it! She planned her training and race in such detail that she knew exactly what she wanted to do and executed her plan to perfection. Amazing. I was hobbling round the house and work, like you do, for the best part of a week afterwards. You genuinely couldn’t tell Leanne had done anything! Brilliant.

How can you be this cheerful after 26 miles?! Leanne on her way to the finish line at Chester Racecourse.

How can you be this cheerful after 26 miles?! Leanne on her way to the finish line at Chester Racecourse.

Myself, Leanne and Gaz. Stiff, smelly, but happy.

Myself, Leanne and Gaz. Stiff, smelly, but happy.

2015 – what a year. I will be forever ultra. Leanne will be forever a marathon runner. And, to my great surprise, I will always be a Wigan Harrier.

#110kforAlisha. Becoming Ultra. Memories and conclusions drawn from the Lakeland Trails 110K Ultimate Trail.

It is now almost two months since I successfully completed the Lakeland Trails 110k Ultra and, in my eyes at least, officially became an ultra runner. Given that this was the entire purpose of this blog, I feel slightly sheepish and embarrassed that it has taken me this long to pen my review of the event. There are a few genuine excuses; school work inevitably had to take a front seat for a few weeks, a fortnight abroad followed soon afterwards and, before you know it, time has passed! I read some excellent blogs by other competitors** but still couldn’t rouse myself from post race slumber to actually write my own! Eventually, this week, I cobbled together my family’s pictures of the event, along with my own video footage (I borrowed a friend’s GoPro – what a bit of kit!) and it finally spurred me on to write about it. I think the two months have certainly wiped the pain from my mind, leaving just joyous memories. I will try and recount as honestly as possible, before leaving you with some things I have learned on my journey and maybe persuade you – yes, YOU – that it is possible to become an ultra runner yourself.

** Please visit the Ultimate Trails facebook page and follow the links to other race reviews. All well worth a read, especially if you are considering having a go yourself.

https://www.facebook.com/UltimateTrails

Saturday 27th June, 2015. 00.15hrs.

Headtorch check 157 with Mrs Sticks looking equally apprehensive! (All official photographs courtesy of James Kirby @jumpyjames)

How many times can you check a headtorch? At he start with Mrs Sticks looking equally apprehensive! (All official photographs courtesy of James Kirby @jumpyjames)

The startline.

It’s finally here. I feel as if I am in a strange parallel universe. In all honesty, I have been thinking about this moment almost exclusively for six solid months – it seems surreal in the extreme to actually be here.

I’m definitely apprehensive. A subtle difference to nervous. I’m not scared, but the fear of the unknown is trying to drag me towards the latter. This wasn’t really helped at the pre-race safety briefing. I suddenly felt totally out of my depth. Everyone there looked so…. well, ultra. All chiselled cheekbones and not an ounce of body fat to spare.

“Relax, you look like one of them!” said Mrs Sticks reassuringly. Hmn, I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t feel like one of them.

Still, the thing keeping me calm was that this was what I had wanted. I wanted to enter something to focus my mind, something truly challenging, something – yes, scary. So I could at least console myself with knowing that, whatever happened in the next 24 hours, I had at least achieved that aspect successfully!

As cool as a cucumber. A nervous cucumber.

As cool as a cucumber. A nervous cucumber.

12.15. Start delayed by 15 minutes so as not to baffle the German timing systems with a 00.00 start! The countdown begins. In whispered form so as not to disturb the locals. And we’re off. That’s enough worrying. Time to run 110k in one go. In the Lake District. And to start with at least, in the dark!

Stage 1 – Ambleside to Kentmere.
12.4km (12.4km), 7.7mls (7.7mls)
Troutbeck climb (250m).
Garburn Pass (447m).

A gentle start through Ambleside to encouraging shouts from supporters and locals leaving the pubs (so much for keeping the noise down!) An extra boost for me as the route leaves town passing the cottage that my family have hired as, ‘Supporters’ Base Camp,’ for the weekend. They were all having a great time with beer, wine and bolognaise while I tried to catch the last few winks of sleep a couple of hours earlier and I couldn’t help thinking that they were going to have a great weekend while I flogged myself up fells in the night!

Within minutes we were off tarmac and onto trail, climbing above Windermere with stunning views of the lake below; reflecting silhouettes of the surrounding hills and the beautiful star and moon filled sky above.

It had rained heavily on Friday until about 4pm. It was to rain heavily for most of Sunday. However, we had perfect conditions – as guaranteed by Graham Patten, race director!

Ultra running, I have learned, is the art of energy conservation. I needn’t have worried about setting off too fast. As the snake-like trail of headtorches reached the narrowing paths and first inclines, your pace is dictated by those immediately in front. With each steeper section of path, the runners in front would slow to walk, meaning you would too. When you heard the footsteps in front break into a trot again, you knew the climb was over. Unless someone was running in the wrong group of runners pace-wise, no overtaking was necessary. Everyone found their pace and their natural position in the pack.

The only thing I hadn’t practiced properly was night running. I’d had a go on roads but never done it on trails. I loved it. You have to run at a pace slightly slower and more cautious than you may do otherwise. And that is perfect for the opening stage of an ultra.

We climbed gently before dropping more steeply into Troutbeck. Then we climbed again, this time with a bit more altitude gain towards the Garburn Pass heading for the first food station at Kentmere. The first proper descent was a good test – I was a bit apprehensive in the dark given my recent ankle issues, balancing on the high soled Hokas. But before I knew it we could see the welcome lights of our first food station at Kentmere. 1 hour 30 minutes. Perfectly paced. All was good. (So was the tea and flapjack!)

Stage 2 – Kentmere to Mardale Head, Haweswater.
9.82km (22.22km), 6.1mls (13.8mls)
Nan Bield Pass (approx 600m).

And so to the first proper challenge. Nan Bield Pass is steep and technical whichever direction you take it, but especially the way we were to descend it. But first, the climb! The view on the way up was simply stunning – one of the highlights of the whole event. Walking up the switchbacks afforded us brilliant views back down the valley. A mist had built at village height, meaning we now looked down on cloud. For over a mile behind us, and on the snaking path below us, all that could be seen was a procession of headtorches. I wish my camera had been good enough to pick up the image – it was spellbinding.

I had really come to understand the benefits of power walking the climbs training on the cliffs of Devon, and it paid dividends here. Before I knew it I could hear cow bells and the enthusiastic greeting of the summit race marshals. (More about these amazing people to follow.)

At the top we were greeted with another stunning view. It was about 2.45am and the first glow of morning light was becoming visible in the sky. Seemingly miles below us was the black of the descent, only made visible by the reflection of the sky on the surface of Small Water half way down and Haweswater at the bottom. Breathtaking.

The path is rocky, uneven and technical in daylight, so this was very knarly at night in race conditions. I overheard other competitors discussing broken legs at previous events in this area and it is fair to say that everyone was being ultra-cautious. They must have been, because my descending is rubbish and I overtook a good number of people in this section. Reaching the more comfortable path on the lower slopes was a blessed relief and I reached the second food station at Mardale Head in good nick, ahead of schedule after 2hrs 45mins.

Stage 3 – Mardale Head to Bampton.
12.96km (35.18km), 8mls (21.85mls)
Full length of Haweswater.

Stage three was a flatter one, but one I was a little apprehensive of. Basically it was a run along the full length of Haweswater. I had walked this before on the Coast-to-Coast with my brother and we had endured a boiling hot, dehydrated slog along an uneven path in very hot conditions. (Granted, we had got absolutely bladdered in Glenridding the night before, so you could say it was self-inflicted!)

Apprehension soon gave way to enjoyment though. The path was mostly flat and runable, a blessed relief after concentrating fully on the illuminated circle of light 2 metres in front of me for the best part of 3 hours. Visibility was improving with every five minutes that passed. And I suddenly found myself in total isolation. In fact, I would not see a single runner for the entire hour it took to run the reservoir.

Early morning light at approximately 3.30am around Haweswater.

Early morning light at approximately 3.30am around Haweswater.

I cruised this section, pleased with how good I was feeling, trying not to get carried away. I did have a little energy wobble approaching Bampton, but I think that was more of a mental thing as I was looking forward to a proper sit down, cup of tea and, most importantly, a bacon butty! All these things I enjoyed, taking about a 15 minute breather, leaving food station three at 5am – 4hrs 45mins race time.

Stage 4 – Bampton to Howtown.
14.95km (50.13km), 9.3mls (31.1mls)
Askham Moor – Stone Circle (325m).

The longest stage of the run, but another flattish one. There would be no more ‘flat’ stages until the last one – stage nine. In actual fact a route diversion (thanks to an unsupportive farmer who didn’t understand the 24 hour clock) meant that this stage was in fact approximately 3kms shorter than advertised, and now had a bit of tarmac bashing.

Still, this meant quicker progress and, after a brief climb up onto the moor, we could all enjoy a long, steady descent on good running trail all the way to the next food station at Howtown. The early morning views were again stunning. This time it was the full length of Ullswater appearing below us. Pooley Bridge at the near end; Glenridding, an eventual destination, way away at the far end of the lake.

Ullswater, approximately 5.30am.

Ullswater, approximately 5.30am.

I passed marathon distance for the first time ever somewhere on the descent. I don’t know exactly where – my old Garmin 405 watch hasn’t the battery life for this kind of thing, (another expensive investment required for future ultras!) But I still felt pretty good arriving in Howtown. The food station was a magical little building so I had another brew and some porridge to spur me on. A big chunk of time gained on my 7.30 estimation (partly because of the shorter route). 6hrs 15 mins.

Stage 5 – Howtown to Glenridding.
9.93km (60.06km), 6.2mls (37.3mls)
Boredale Hause (399m).

Glenridding was billed as ‘Half-way House’ but it was actually 60k in, therefore over halfway. Quite a bonus. Even more of a bonus as it was where Mrs Sticks and my parents were going to meet me. I certainly hoped they had risen early, as I was going to be a couple of hours quicker than the time I estimated! The legs were showing the first signs of weariness here, but there was a flat path into the climb of Boredale Hause, so I figured on a trot to the foot of the climb as I would definitely be walking up that! It was now a beautiful, sunny morning and the scenery was spectacular. Unfortunately this meant we had a clear view of the impending climb as we neared the end of the valley! I was now learning that there is a blissful ignorance to nighttime running when you can’t see the climb ahead!

Sorry fellow Ultra-athlete, but I don't know who you are! But I had quite a laugh with this lad and his mate as we huffed and puffed our way towards Boredale Hause!

Sorry fellow ultra-athlete, but I don’t know who you are! I had quite a laugh with this lad and his mate as we huffed and puffed our way towards Boredale Hause!

The climb was a brute but, as earlier mentioned, it is amazing how quickly you climb. 20 minutes of pain is usually enough to get you within sight of the summit and, sure enough, before I knew it, I was staring down on Patterdale and Glenridding as I began the descent down another well-known section of path. The descent is tricky but not overly steep and technical and I was soon heading into Side Farm – well-known to walkers as a popular bacon butty/tea bar to begin a day in the fells.

I was surprised there wasn’t a race sign taking us left at this point on the well trodden path to Glenridding but decided to follow the runners in-front of me going straight on. I knew Lakeland Trails run an autumn event here (I haven’t attended that one yet) so assumed they must use another path that I didn’t know of. However, after a couple of minutes, I began to have doubts. So did the lads in-front, who were now peering over a wall. None of us could see another path, so we all decided to back-track and use the path we knew. A good decision, as it turns out as the sign had been ‘removed’ at Side Farm by some unkind soul – several runners didn’t realise this and unwittingly added on quite substantial needless miles. We lost maybe five minutes. A little frustrating, all the people I overtook on the climb were now in front again, but not a disaster.

And so into Glenridding I pottered. Tired legs, but amazed at the smoothness of my progress. 8 hours dead for the first 60ks (well, 57!) And an extra bonus – everyone had got up to come and meet me! Leanne with our girls, Hannah and Nancy, my parents and my parent-in-laws all lined the street! A lovely surprise. I enjoyed a sociable half hour changing into fresh running kit, eating and drinking, re-applying plasters and vaseline, putting on sun-cream (it was only 8am but it was hot) and generally relaxing. Maybe relaxing too much, as the next stage nearly finished me off!

Up and off early! My fantastic support team on their way to Glenridding!

Up and off early! My fantastic support team on their way to Glenridding!

The girls, proudly clad in their Meningitis Now t-shirts, patiently wait for my arrival.

The girls, proudly clad in their Meningitis Now t-shirts, patiently wait for my arrival.

Fresh kit (slightly wonky!) ready for the 3 killer stages! Just time for another bit of flapjack first...

60k down, 50k to go. Fresh kit (slightly wonky!) ready for the 3 killer stages! Just time for another bit of flapjack first…

Stage 6 – Glenridding to Dunmail Raise.
11.75km (71.81km), 7.3mls (44.6mls)
Grisedale Hause (approx 600m).

This was the make-or-break stage. I knew the route well. Or rather I thought I did. What I actually knew was the ascent section. I didn’t know the descent – I do now!

The climb to Grisedale Hause is one well-known to me through the Coast-to-Coast and lots of walking in a popular corner (well, centre) of the lakes. Most of my experiences of this bit of path involve descending from the high fells on my way back to a parked car in Glenridding. And I associate it with being knackered. Every time. And that was going downhill! So I was mentally prepared for the climb upwards to be no fun.

After a steep little pull from Glenridding itself, the views were lovely. It felt so hot, and I had been up so long, that my mind was playing tricks on me. It was just after half past eight but it felt like midday! Fortunately it was much cooler the higher we climbed so the heat didn’t play too much of a factor.

Despite thinking I’d eaten a lot, my legs felt hollow by now, so I decided that I was going to walk the whole climb, even the flattish valley path to the foot of the climbing proper. This probably paid dividends later on, but at the time I felt quite sluggish and a few runners passed me here.

I was still enjoying the climbs though and caught a few of them back up again once the path reared properly upwards and forced everyone to walking pace. Once again, after a hard-working half-hour or so, Grisedale Tarn appeared over the horizon and my heart skipped a little beat, knowing I had knocked-off a section I was worried about.

Premature…

Grisedale Tarn - cracked it! (Or so I thought...)

Grisedale Tarn, with the destination of Grisedale Hause just above – cracked it! (Or so I thought…)

I wanted to run along the top path but it was actually quite tricky underfoot. ‘Just walk it and run the descent’. I knew the contours were tightly packed on the map for the descent but just didn’t realise the path would literally go straight down. And I mean straight. Underfoot was so tricky, like a scramble or down-climb in many sections. That’s what it felt like to me, nearly 70k in, at least.

My legs went to jelly, and instead of skipping down a descent, I suddenly found that my legs didn’t want to bend to the steepness of the path. Different muscles would cramp up with each over stride, each downward step was such a huge effort and the road at Dunmail Raise seemed miles below me. I was passed several times and even ramblers coming up the other way looked as if they felt sorry for me. I felt sorry for me. It had totally taken me by surprise.

At the bottom there was about a kilometer of flat path to the food station but I could only manage a slow walk. My mind and body were temporarily shot. I was still way ahead of my 20 hour schedule but was having my first doubts about the distance. Especially knowing that the next two stages were equally as difficult. I sat at the food station downing flapjack, jelly babies – anything I could get my hands on. I needed an energy boost. Flat coke? Who would have known it would taste so good?! The other runners obviously agreed; it was in short supply at all the food stations! Crucially, I also ate every piece of Soreen malt loaf in my pack here too. Malt loaf had been my running food of choice during training. I reckon my well-being on the next stage was down to you, malt loaf!

I had a ten minute sit-down and generally gave myself a good talking to. I was doing very well and had simply had my first blip. 71k, approx 10hrs 45mins. Pull yourself together, Sticks!

Stage 7 – Dunmail Raise to Rosthwaite.
10.91km (82.72km), 6.8mls (51.4mls)
Blea Tarn/Watendlath Fell (530m).

This was a step into the unknown. The only stage I had never stepped any foot on before. Descibed as ‘the boggy bit’ in most recce notes, I knew it involved a steep up and down with a moorland, Pennine type section in the middle. I walked into the climb, still re-enthusing myself, and attacked the uphill in my now familiar route-march fashion. It was steep and pretty relentless, although at least the terrain changed. Bracken, tarn side paths, woodland tracks – I wasn’t particularly seeing the beauty at this point! I did recover uphill though and began to catch the specks in front of me. Once over the summit there was another spectacular view – right down Bassenthwaite Lake in the North, with Skiddaw and Blencathra gazing over from the distance.

By the top I had recovered enough to have a little run. The soft, peat-like moorland underfoot certainly helped and, fortunately, there wasn’t as much ‘bog-hopping’ as I’d expected. A steep drop down towards Watendlath Tarn followed. There were loads of groups of teenage outward bound students in the area. At least 7/8 groups of up to 10 at a time. I have to say each cheery ‘Hello!’, ‘Keep it up!’ and ‘Well done!’ were a huge pick-me-up. I heard a few snidey grumblings about ramblers and day-trippers during my weekend in ultra-land but I have to say that, practically without exception, the general walking/day-trip public that I ran into were massively supportive.

Mum and Dad had warned me about the sharp little climb at Watendlath Tarn before dropping into Rosthwaite and I’m glad they did. I was ready for it. Psychologically it could have been a killer.

I ran the descent and tottered into the food station feeling tired but much happier with life. This was temporarily crushed when the advertised pizza had run out! I figured that, as one of the later runners, it was only to be expected. Only later did I realise that was inside the top third of runners! I consoled myself by eating every other available item… 82kms down (over 50 miles). Approx 13hrs 15mins.

Stage 8 – Rosthwaite to Stickle Barn.
13.72km (96.44km), 8.5mls (59.9mls)
Stake Pass – safety check point (480m).

The other stage I’d dreaded. Although it wasn’t the whole stage I dreaded – just Stake Pass. A proper beast of a pass, steep in either direction. Another path I associate with feeling absolutely knackered at the end of a day’s walking. However, there were positives – it was the last major climb; break this and it’s downhill (sort of!) all the way to Ambleside! Plus there was the bonus of the final food station – the Sticklebarn Tavern! A welcome sight on any day of the year. The last food station would stock everything a weary runner could possibly require – and they definitely wouldn’t run out of coke! Coupled with the fact that all my family were going to be there again, and possibly the family of Alisha Bartolini too (see previous blog) and I generally couldn’t wait to get there!

But first – Stake Pass…

It was a long path to get to the valley head which Stake Pass climbs from and, as it was pretty warm, I decided I was going to walk to it regardless of running energy. Walk this bit, then hopefully run all the last stage at a decent pace.

This I did. Tired legs, but comfortable enough. All the time though, Stake Pass began to loom ever closer. A relatively new path has been built from this side. I began counting switchbacks on the approach and got way past 20 – it was like a mini Alpe d’Huez!!!

I crossed the stream at the bottom and steeled myself. ’30 minutes, 30 minutes, just 30 minutes’ I chanted to myself, over and over. (Making sure I did it in my head when passing anyone.)

The zig-zags of mini Alpe d'Huez, aka Stake Pass, from about half way up. Just what your legs need after 90ks!!!

The zig-zags of mini Alpe d’Huez, aka Stake Pass, from about half way up. Just what your legs need after 90ks!!!

Following the pattern of the rest of the day, I found going uphill OK. Sure, I was blowing out of my arse. It was so steep you just put your head down and kept going, stopping every couple of bends to admire the ever more beautiful view – and take in oxygen! But, as I knew it would, after about 20 minutes the crest of the ridge was in sight.

There was a little bit of respite at the top before one last knee-crunching descent. Not as bad a Dunmail Raise, or Nan Bield for that matter, but knackering none-the-less. Despite that, I could barely conceal my grin at this point. I now had a wonderful view down the end of the Langdale valley, one of my favourite places in the world, I knew the pub wasn’t too far round the corner where family and friends were waiting, and I also knew that, whatever happened from now, I was definitely going to complete my first ultra.

As I neared the bottom I could make out my Mum and Dad who had walked up the valley to meet me. Another welcome boost. Little did I know they were on their second lap and had been part way up Stake Pass once already themselves. They even spent a bit of time with the official photographer, James Kirby, and bagged themselves a little bonus treat…

My mum and dad halfway up Stake Pass, the stunning Langdale valley behind. Thanks @jumpyjames!

My Mum and Dad halfway up Stake Pass, the stunning Langdale valley behind. Thanks @jumpyjames!

My legs felt hollow again at the bottom so, despite it being a mile or so to the pub on flat, good tracks, I decided I was going to walk it. I was in good time and knew that, with a decent run on the last stage, I would have a good chance of breaking 18 hours – a time that I considered would be very successful during the months of training.

It was pretty warm and I was generally drained but, with the thought of the pub keeping me going, I finally spotted a few orange t-shirts in the next field! Leanne had to run alongside me as I marched straight past – the thought of food and flat coke spurring me on!

Aahhh, The Sticklebarn! I wasn’t going to be able to make myself as comfortable as I usually did in there, but I would enjoy it none-the-less! There was the bonus of Michaela, Sean, Sonny and the rest of the Bartolini/Bradley family there to greet me which really made my day. I’d broken the back of the race – now I was determined to actually finish in style! 96k done, 15hrs 45mins.

Han and Nan outside the Sticklebarn - the orange Meningitis Now t-shirts got a lot of attention. Oh, and Hannah was chased by a sheep, which amused the entire pub!

Han and Nan outside the Sticklebarn – the orange Meningitis Now t-shirts got a lot of attention. Oh, and Hannah was chased by a sheep, which amused the entire pub!

My fantastic family - support is everything.

My fantastic family outside The Sticklebarn Tavern in the wonderful Langdale valley – not many better places on earth.

Stage 9 – Stickle Barn to Ambleside.
11.73km (108.17km), 7.3mls (67.2mls)
Nr Loughrigg Fell (190m).

12k to go. And a lovely 12k at that. I knew the route, with one little diversion. Flat or rolling, a little climb at the end, then one last descent into the finish. I wanted to stay at the Sticklebarn longer. I wanted to chat to everyone who’d given their time to come and support. But… I was getting finish line fever. The last 3 stages had taken longer than I estimated due to all the walking I’d done, but I felt good and I was still well inside the 20hour timetable I’d set. It was approaching 5.15pm, so I had 2 hours to run the last stage to break 18 hours.

I had some soup and sandwiches, a lot of coke, a cup of tea and I then began apologising to people, telling them I wasn’t hanging around!

The atmosphere at the pub was amazing. It was a glorious afternoon, the terrace of both the pub and the hotel were heaving and there was a fantastic marshal with a cow bell practically announcing each runner down the lane to huge applause! It was like being a famous athlete for a fleeting moment! Definitely another highlight of the day!

Suddenly I was re-invigorated. It just goes to show what a mind game this ultra lark is, but I knew I was going to run this entire stage. James Kirby was hidden in some bracken round a corner to capture the moment…

Another great @jumpyjames shot. Maybe Leanne was right at the briefing, I do look at least a little bit 'Ultra'. I didn't even recognise myself on the photo when looking through them initially.

Another great @jumpyjames shot. Maybe Leanne was right at the briefing, I do look at least a little bit ‘Ultra’. I didn’t even recognise myself on the photo initially.

It was such a joy to run through Langdale. Partly because it was the first ‘flat’ in quite a while, partly because it was a beautiful day. Mostly I think it was the pressure lifted knowing the next stop was the actual end. There was one moment of confusion when the 55k route crossed the 110k route in the opposite direction. Fortunately, knowing the area pretty well, I knew I was on the right path.

It was a lot busier in the valley but clearly the tourists had got used to runners passing and there was still lots of encouragement from bystanders. Past the Wainwright’s pub and then the Brittannia Inn at Elterwater (more places I like to ‘rest’ in!) before the race director, Graham Patten, delivered one last kick in the pants!

There is a path straight towards Loughrigg and Ambleside at this point, but no – we had to run straight up the hillside one last time, just to get a nice view of Loughrigg Tarn! Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against Loughrigg Tarn, but at that particular moment I had seen enough gorgeous views to last me the year and would rather just have run on the path to Ambleside! Still, we’d have had to climb at some point, so no big deal…

Up and round Loughrigg Tarn we went. Then a gentle, flat section and one last raise before the drop to Ambleside. And one last treat for me, too. An old work colleague, who retired to the area a couple of years ago, had heard about the run and was sat on the pathside waiting with water and a piece of lemon drizzle cake! (She’s a great baker!) Water and cake were devoured in seconds! A brief chat – for which I felt very guilty as she’d been there a couple of hours – but I really wanted to finish now. I was off.

One last ridge to climb, then a very steep descent. Strange how they don’t hurt anymore with just 1km left isn’t it?! By now I could hear the drummers at the finish line and the commentary, which also quickened the pulse. Then footsteps behind? How come? I’m flying here, there’s no way I’m being overtaken now! It turned out it was the winner of the 55k race, overtaking me at the bottom of the last hill! That made me mad! Should have eaten that lemon drizzle quicker!!!

Finally into Rothay Park and a sprint finish of sorts, accompanied by Hannah and, eventually, Nancy.

I had made it. Officially ultra. 17hrs 37mins 50secs. 67th place on 194 finishers. 380 entered so I have no idea what happened to half the field. I was pleased with the time, obviously, but mostly I was pleased to have managed the race well so that I could actually ‘enjoy’ practically all of it. Immediately after the race I said that, although I did enjoy it, I probably wouldn’t do another one. But that feeling was long gone by the next day. I know I will. After all, I’m an ultra runner now. (And I’ve spent a fortune on kit…)

Is that it?!

Is that it?!

“Will you stop going out running all the time now, Dad?”

Footnote/Video Footage – Trek & Run.

I mentioned the filming I did during the race previously. I will get round to editing it soon and will post it. However, during my epic sprint finish (!) I overtook a guy called Dave Wise who makes the ‘Trek and Run’ films. Mad really, cos his films inspired me to borrow my friend’s GoPro! So I filmed him filming me! You can view his great effort here…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fciaLx_e3ak

I am in it 3 times. Briefly just after Glenridding, running infront, then I am in the Sticklebarn getting stuck into the buffet as he enters, then finally he captures my finish! Good job, Dave! Congratulations on your run. His film does give a great insight into the race, what it looks like and how it feels. Please check out his many films on You Tube!

What Have I Learned?

First, the technical running stuff…

1 – Train properly!

Have a plan over 6 months, build up gradually, take your time with injuries (better to miss a few weeks than months – or miss the race), mix up distances as per any training plan, put in hills – if you are entering this specific ultra, LOTS of hills! Practice descents the same as ascents. Go to places with terrain similar to that of your course, some do course recces – invaluable. My week in Devon made my race – lots of miles more than usual on hills much steeper than usual – invaluable practice for the race. I never ran over marathon distance once. You don’t have to. Quality training will win over quantity but don’t use that as an excuse to shirk out. Every bit of training is invaluable. CORE WORK – I must include more core work!

2 – Respect the distance

Walking is my new running! Conserve energy wherever possible in the race! I trained by running up hills. In the race I walked practically all of them. There’s no point burning out your legs running up a hill in 10 minutes that you can walk up in 20. Walk up, get down as best you can, run the in-betweens. Obviously this advice depends upon your level of expertise! Kim Collison, the winner, finished in 10hrs 48mins!!! Obscene! I bet he didn’t walk much! How the hell did he manage the descents, never mind the ascents?! My Mum and Dad watched some of the leaders descending Stake Pass and said they were lunatics!

Here I am at Sunday's presentation with the winner, Kim Collison. He looks scared doesn't he? He knows I'll beat him next year...

Here I am at Sunday’s presentation with the winner, Kim Collison. He looks scared doesn’t he? He knows I’ll beat him next year… Photo courtesy of @jumpyjames

3 – Get the right kit.

You cannot short change on this one. Or you can, but it will just be more uncomfortable. Shoes are crucial. I used Hokas but they’re not for everyone. Back pack is vital, they can rub terribly. Mine was recommended and is great – Ultimate Direction (kit blog to follow). I bought kit over a period of months to spread the cost, but it was all well used before the event. The trainers and bag are useful for the long training runs so get them first. Clothing, waterproofs etc can be picked up later.

4 – Know the route.

I don’t necessarily mean recce, although it is useful. The more you know, the less surprises. I was lucky to have perfect conditions on a waymarked route. There was only 3 occasions when I wasn’t quite sure if I was right or wrong. But I’d studied the route and, at worst, I knew where I was even if I wasn’t sure of the exact path. However, if the cloud had been down on Watendlath, for example, I bet spotting the next marker would have been very tricky. Psychologically, knowing which bits are going to be difficult and where you can have a ‘breather’ is very helpful.

5 – Don’t take descents for granted.

It may be a personal thing, but I am much happier going uphill than down. The descents really got me – especially Dunmail Raise. Partly because I didn’t know the terrain (see point 4!) But descending batters tired legs, and I bet they’re where most injuries occur. Go steady!

6 – Try to remember to enjoy it!

It’s hard work. It wears you down. You’re tired, obviously. Reading other people’s accounts, some get into a right state – either by bad luck or bad planning! But I was lucky enough to always be able to look around and enjoy the scenery. It’s a day out in a beautiful place. Try and remember that! (Much easier said than done!) You are doing something amazing that you will remember for the rest of your life. You’re doing something that will make other people’s legs hurt thinking about it! So give yourself a little self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back and get on with it!

Now for the peripheral stuff around the running…

7 – The support of your family (and friends)

No-one can make you do it. The training is long, hard and, mostly, utterly thankless. Things that you need to do in other areas of your life simply won’t get done. The one thing that has surprised me more than anything else is how totally ‘all consuming’ this event was. It was in the back of my mind for six months. For the last month it was pretty much all I thought about. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Every conversation I had seemed to be about it. I was boring myself. Have I got the right kit? Am I eating properly? How will this run affect that run? When can I run? How will that feel? How are we getting there? On and on…

I cannot say ‘Thank You’ enough to Leanne, Hannah and Nancy who have supported me every step of the way. No-one can make you do it. But I tell you something for definite family could easily stop you from doing it. They support you clearing off running every given hour, they don’t mind you hijacking family holidays to turn them into training camps, they let you off for not sitting down to meals with them because it’s not convenient for the running to eat at tea-time – I could go on forever. I am very lucky that I have that support because I know a lot of people don’t. Leanne will be sick of me ‘supporting’ her marathon debut this October, just to try and repay her a little bit. Love you guys!

8 – The Lakeland Trails Team

I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time chatting to the event director, Graham Patten, and his family/friends/support team over the weekend. What a military operation it is! And all from a band of amazing, willing volunteers. Truly incredible. Thanks to all of you. Without exception the marshals were supportive and cheerful. The food station people did an amazing job and were also rays of sunshine when required! There were loads of other people behind the scenes but, on behalf of everyone who ran – thank you to you all! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at Sunday’s presentation – it may have been sleep deprivation, beer, or both. Congratulations, Graham!

Yes, there was the odd teething problem. But what can you do if some ###### nicks a sign? I’m sure there will be coke lorries arriving like the Christmas adverts for next year’s event and Graham had better share the pizza out next time too! Feedback has been asked for, and responded to, and I’m sure that next year will be even better again! And the weather is guaranteed!!!

9 – Could I go faster?

Short answer, yes. I could definitely spend less time in the food stations eating for a start. I know you need to refuel, but I think I got a bit carried away! Also, if I just ran in the valley to the Grisedale climb, the valley to the Stake Pass climb, and ran from Stake Pass to Sticklebarn it would make a big difference. I was being conservative there. But I wanted to finish and enjoy it – and I did. There’s every chance next time I’ll try to go quicker, but blow up and end up slower. You need a bit of luck in ultras I reckon. I would do the first half (to Glenridding) exactly the same, then try and improve the second half.

10 – Charity

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I’ve never run for charity before. I may never run for charity again. But this time I had a cause I believed in. It was truly an honour to run in Alisha’s name. The support it generated from people who wouldn’t normally have been interested meant that I definitely had extra motivation – especially when training early mornings when the weather wasn’t great. Knowing all those people were asking how I was doing was huge. When I felt a bit down at Dunmail Raise the thought of Alisha laughing at me actually made me laugh out loud! I wish Alisha was still here. But the awareness being raised this summer as teenagers go to university – knowing there is a vaccine out there for free for all students, is a small consolation. Please support this charity where possible and if you know anyone heading off to university in the next few weeks, let them know too.

Thanks to Michaela and the extended Bartolini family for allowing me to run in her memory and thanks so much for actually coming to support – especially given the journey you made that day! It was great to see you all.

If you are interested in raising money/awareness then please follow the link below;

http://alisha-bartolini.muchloved.com/

11 – Last, but not least, YOU could do it!

Yes, you! It doesn’t have to be this race or this distance, but you could. Set yourself a challenge and go for it. It may be only 5/10k. It might be a walk or a mad expedition. It might be something for charity. I don’t know. But you could do it. Others could stop you, you might have a million excuses. So write the excuses down, knock them off one-by-one, because you could do it. You have to want it. You have to dedicate some time and effort to it. But you could do it, you know…

#110kforAlisha