DNF debut – failing to become a #lakelandlegend on the Lakeland 100.

(nb – by way of polite information for any non-runner friends, DNF stands for ‘Did Not Finish’.)

Before I begin, a short public service announcement. This blog is all about my failure to complete the recent Lakeland 100. I have seen how these things go on social media – they are often a cry for help and are followed by loads of supportive messages like ‘You are still a legend in my eyes!’ or something similar. Whilst this is very nice, that is not the point of this blog.

I am not tearing myself apart with angst over the events I am about to describe. It was not a disaster. I have not suffered crippling personal heartache or personal tragedy (or even injury!). In life I am a very happy person; indeed, a very lucky person. There are people out in the wide world today (some of them my friends) who have to deal with real tragedies and life issues at the moment – failure to finish a running race does not constitute such an issue. I am happy with the decision I made on the day and, whilst obviously not happy that I didn’t finish what I set out to do, I am certainly not beating myself up about it.

What follows is an honest account of what happened (or what I think I remember!) and then a critical analysis of what went wrong. Because it did go wrong – I didn’t finish. Please don’t tell me I’m ‘still a legend’ because there are countless blogs out there from the true legends who battled through exactly the same conditions and problems as me and didn’t give up – because ultimately that is what happened; for whatever reason, I gave up. Not injured, not timed out – just gave up. Battling against everything thrown at you and coming out of the other side is precisely what makes a true #lakelandlegend and that is EXACTLY what separates people like them from people like me. (Look up Sal Seeney or Christopher Kay on Facebook and read the accounts of their races if you want to know about grit and determination and being a proper #lakelandlegend!)

I’m going to be very self critical because ultra running is ultimately a never ending learning curve. I learned so much in the build-up to this race, I learned a lot during it and I think I have learned an even greater amount by reflecting upon it. Being critical of a failure is how you move on to try and correct that failure. (Spoiler alert right there – I’m hoping there will be a next time!)

Right, glad I got that off my chest. If you are still reading, thank you for not just thinking I am an egotistical ****head and clicking the little cross at the top! What follows is my recount of the race, a review of the event as a whole, then the analysis and conclusions I have drawn during a wonderful fortnight in Cornwall with my amazingly supportive and loving family. Enjoy…

The 2018 Lakeland 100.

Date with the Dementors – Mardale Head (75.6 miles, 24 hours.)

Finally Mardale Head came into view through the sideways bullets of rain driven by a spiteful wind. My watch beeped a mile for a 75th time as my stopwatch ticked towards the 24 hour mark. The semi-apocalyptic weather matched my mood entirely. I was suddenly re-cast back into a whirlwind of sleepy, tired depression.

This was in stark contrast to an hour earlier. The hail (yes, hail) had stopped as I continued round Haweswater and the sun was making a concerted effort to peep through. I was in the ultra zone: pain, yes, but I had my positive vibe back. I was moving well and looking up towards the Gatescarth Pass climb knowing that, on all my recce runs, I’d considered the top of that pass as my gateway to the finish line. The route isn’t all downhill from there by any means but, as far as I was concerned, it was certainly pretty straight-forward from there, (if still 30 miles away)!

But now the wind and rain were back in force. It was so dark, so wild, so wet, so bitterly cold – utterly ridiculous to think that we’d started the race at 6pm the day before in sunshine and heat so intense that I spent the entire day hiding away in whatever shade was available.

The next day a running friend of mine described Mardale Head as ‘The Azkaban of the Lake District’ (credit to Warren Moorfield – thanks!) and I think that sums up the situation perfectly. Haweswater isn’t even a ****ing lake! When they flooded that valley and destroyed the village they took away it’s soul – and now I truly felt like a Dementor was sucking the last reserves from my running being. (How ironic that the summer had been so utterly glorious to that point that the ruins of Mardale Village were actually visible?!)

Across the water I could make out a silver VW Touran in the car park. How I wished it was Leanne come to rescue me out of this hell-hole. But I knew it wouldn’t be. I’d shown her the race booklet and it specifically said not to come to Mardale Head – I knew she wouldn’t jeopardise a disqualification for me to come here. There is absolutely no phone signal at Mardale Head so at least I could not retire from the race here. But I was definitely going to ring Leanne when the signal returned (usually at the top of Gatescarth Pass!) and get her to pick me up from Kentmere, less than 7 miles away. I was spent. Done. Finished. Wet. Miserable. And I really wanted a nap!

The 50 mile event runners were passing thick and fast and, to a man/woman, they were unbelievably supportive. As I rounded the waters edge towards the car park a really nice girl, running with a couple of friends, asked how I was going. I told her I wanted to pack it in. She said I was moving far too well to stop and should have a quick cup of soup and definitely not stop at the checkpoint. She actually hung back from her friends and I could tell she was going to make sure I got some food onboard and then drag me out towards the pass herself!

I wasn’t sure how the Checkpoint gazebo in the car park was remaining upright in the maelstrom but, as I dibbed in, I could see why. It was packed with runners all sheltering from the elements – none of them looked like they intended to leave anytime soon! Oh, and the superb, wonderful marshals, many of whom were literally holding the tent in place to stop it disappearing towards the Pennines!

And there, in amongst the steaming, soaking throng, was Rob. Last time I saw him he was running out of the previous checkpoint at Howtown as I was going in. Despite the utter monsoon conditions at Howtown, Rob finally looked to be going well and I was hoping not to see him again, in terms of hoping he was going well enough to finally run away from me. But here he was. The 50 mile race girl who was going to bully me into keeping going looked very disappointed. She could see how this conversation was going to go. (Thank you whoever you are, if you happen to read this!)

“How’re you feeling mate?” Rob asked with a clearly sunken tone to his voice.

“Utterly ****!” was my reply.

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

I told him of my plan to get some soup, wait for the rain to pass, then set off on the next stage to Kentmere and ring Leanne as soon as there was a signal so that she would pick me up from there.

Rob was injured though, plus he had struggled from the start with stomach issues meaning he couldn’t really eat. He wasn’t fuelled, the injury had flared and he was dropping out there and then.

“So what are you going to do?” he asked again.

“Mate, I’m not waiting ’til half ten for the pick-up bus. There’s no signal here to ring Leanne to come and get us.”

“That guy over there has a satellite phone. We can ring now for someone to pick us up.”

“Really? OK then, I’m out too.”

And that was it. As simple as that. DNF.

The brilliant, ever-supportive marshal cut off our timing chips and removed checkpoint dabbers, snacks and warm drinks were provided while we dozed in the drop-out bus and waited for Leanne to arrive. Consolation was gained from the fact that, in the 90 minutes we sat at Azkaban waiting for Leanne, the biblical wind and rain did not let up once.

Hot showers, hot food and a warm, comfy bed were provided for us in our cozy base-camp cottage back at Coniston by our fantastic wives and children when, by rights, we should have been outside battling the elements in the second night on the fells with the other legends.

But we weren’t.

The legends were…

In The Night Garden – Coniston to Braithwaite (0 – 33 miles)

We departed the John Ruskin School in Coniston at 6pm the previous evening, at the end of a breathless, sweltering day typical of this summer. The aim: 105 miles in a circular tour of the entire Lake District, finishing back where we started within a 40 hour cut-off period. To say the start of the race was an experience is somewhat of an understatement: massed ranks of runners, even greater numbers of supporters, Nessun Dorma live, a countdown led by brave little Jacob Willett, then finally the run through the supporter lined village was like nothing I have experienced before – the UTLD is truly like the UTMB!

 

Rob and I had a loose plan to stick together to Braithwaite (33 miles) at least. That would get us both through the first night, get us past a couple of tricky navigation spots in the dark and also get us through the toughest stages of the race (excusing Fusedale).

The plan pretty much worked too. There were numerous highlights during that first night: the cooler conditons, the support of the volunteers at each and every checkpoint, spending a good bit of time with Chris Kay (who we would generally overtake uphill before he sprang back past us like a newly born lamb on the descents!), the first clicking on of the headtorches as we headed for the descent into Wasdale, the incredible string of lights we could see as we climbed Black Sail Pass and looked back beyond Wasdale. The weather also played it’s part to a certain extent; there were numerous short, sharp showers but it remained largely pleasant temperature wise and the only slight frustration was the putting on and removing of waterproof jackets – they were needed in the showers but it was way too warm to run in them when it wasn’t raining. We climbed strongly, descended sensibly, navigated perfectly and could generally be very pleased with our start.

On the negative side, Rob’s digestive system had decided it wasn’t going to play at ultra running this weekend and he soon found himself making mad dashes for toilets or, more regularly, secluded spots off the trail to try and alleviate the issue (ahem). I will elaborate on the pros and cons of running with a good friend later, so for the time being this will sound selfish – it gets you down a bit when you feel great and are loving the experience to listen to someone else go on about what a miserable time they are having! (See, I told you it would sound selfish!)

However, we duly arrived at Braithwaite over an hour ahead of my rough schedule and feeling strong. I duly stuffed myself with just about every type of food available in the village hall while Rob sat in a little room nearby trying to empty his stomach (again!).

Summer? What Summer? – Braithwaite to Dalemain Estate (33 – 59 miles)

We departed for the middle third of the route feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. It was still dark for a start which meant we were doing better than expected. Unfortunately the route out of Braithwaite follows the main A66 road, only for a couple of miles but, having just filled my face so comprehensively, my body reacted in the way it often does after a feed – it was nap time! Before I knew it I was falling asleep mid-stride. As the path left the road and hit a wooded section, Rob’s rhythmic steps ahead in my head torch light had the same effect as sheep jumping over a gate. If Rob’s achilles heel is his bowels, then mine is my total inability to remain conscious at important moments!

As we completed the climb into Latrigg car park and the light of a new day finally broke, I was reaching a mini crisis point. The path at that point affords a beautiful view as it winds round the valley head, but I was falling off the path as I continually dropped to sleep. Desperate measures were called for – it was time for me to take some PETs – Performance Enhancing Tunes! I will elaborate more on this later but, suffice to say, they had the desired effect and I was soon fully rejuvenated and running again. In fact, I clean ran away from Rob at this point (unheard of!) and fairly skipped into the Blencathra checkpoint. Rob soon arrived and made full use of the facilities (his stomach still not settled) and we were soon on our way again.

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A rare photo en route, looking down towards Derwent Water from above the Blencathra Centre checkpoint (approx 40 miles into the race). Fuelled by my PET’s!

At this point (about 6am) the conditions were absolutely perfect. The forecast morning rains had not come and the weather was overcast and cool – perfect for the job in hand. Unfortunately this was not to last…

As we climbed onto the Old Coach Road, Rob and I were together again. I was sleepy tired but strong, my only issue being an increasingly severe bit of nappy rash caused by wet shorts from the night rain. Rob was managing his difficulties and moving well despite total lack of fuel intake. The sky was darkening by the minute when my watch beeped to let me know it was running short of battery.

I tell this next story just to give you an idea of how my sleep deprivation issue manifests itself. Bear in mind I’d only missed one night’s sleep – no great deal in the general scheme of things. All I needed to do was fix my watch to it’s charge lead and fix the lead to my little battery pack. No problem. The problem was I did this with my running backpack off and then, when I put my pack back on, I found myself completely tangled up. Bugger. Untangle myself and start again. But could I work out how to attach everything without tying myself in knots? Hell no! It must have taken ten frustrating minutes of watching Rob disappear into the distance and a steady stream of runners trickle past before I finally found myself fully dressed with watch charging.

So what happened straight away after this debacle? The heavens absolutely opened. Now I had to remove my back pack again and get out the waterproof jacket and put it on, working out how to fit the watch lead through my sleeve to prevent it getting wet, linked to the battery pack in my back pack. This was a task too far for my tired brain and I was nearly crying by the time I finally sorted myself out. I don’t know how much time I wasted but I suspect you could at least double the ten minutes I’d wasted the first time around. I didn’t see Rob for the best part of 10 miles from here and I was moving better than him at that point as his struggles continued. Fortunately Chris Kay caught me up during my battery lead struggles and I think that distracted me from another potential mental low point as we chatted about the route and the weather.

The checkpoint at Dockray (49 miles) is a little gazebo affair and it didn’t take many runners to fill it to sweaty bursting point in such atrocious weather conditions. However, in stark contrast to Mardale Head later on, I used this as a positive. All the runners looked shattered and fed up, so why waste my time here where it’s so uncomfortable? So I grabbed a couple of quick cups of soup, a handful of sandwiches, and headed straight back out into the wild weather, very content with myself for overtaking all those gazebo bound runners in one fell swoop!

And the good vibes continued as the weather worsened. It was absolutely hammering down now but still reasonably warm once off the exposed Coach Road. I was moving really well and knew I was going to reach Dalemain well before the 50 runners set off – a main objective of mine. It was a shame that the weather spoiled the magnificent views of Ullswater at this point but I was too focused on making progress to care – I’d done my view gazing on the recce run. It just shows how much of ultra running is in the mind that a stage that I thought I would find tough was one that I was cruising on, despite horrible weather.

I caught Rob again with about four miles to Dalemain. The weather pendulum swung again and suddenly it was warm and sunny. As we hit the road to Dalemain, quick phone calls to wives were made to confirm that they were indeed at Dalemain to see us. We were both tired but happy with how it was going. It was amazing to think we had been moving 17 hours – it didn’t feel like it. But I think we both felt, prematurely, that the race was there for the taking. (Certainly, if you’d told me at that point that neither of us would finish, I would have laughed at you.)

Entering Dalemain at 11.15am was another amazing highlight of the race. With all the 50 competitors preparing to start, along with all their supporters, we genuinely felt like famous athletes as we were given a huge ovation passing through the estate. The incredible support of the 50 runners would become a feature of the rest of the day. Unfortunately our families missed our entrance! They were at Dalemain but the Leannes (Rob’s wife is also a Leanne!) were still organising getting all the children out of the cars in the car park – we thought they were there and waiting for us! I only mention this as it may go some way to explaining the bizarre next 45 minutes or so…

The Wheels Fall Spectacularly Off – Dalemain Estate CP (59 miles)

Pre-race, I had planned to make a little laminated list of jobs I had to do at Dalemain so that I wouldn’t forget any or have to worry about it when I was tired. How I regretted not doing this now as, in the checkpoint, my race suddenly began to unravel.

The weather was lovely at this point, but there was quite a breeze blowing through the marquee. As soon as I stopped moving I felt cold. All the seats were taken so I wandered aimlessly for a few minutes. The main thing occupying my brain though was Leanne and the kids. She said they were there; why hadn’t I seen them? When they arrived outside the tent and we realised what had happened, I was irrationally gutted. The girls would have been so proud seeing their Dad come through the estate to such a rousing reception – I couldn’t believe they’d missed it.

Then there was the ‘no outside support’ rule issue. I didn’t want help, but I did want to sit with the family and chat. Instead I felt like I was stuck inside the CP and they were stuck outside. They’d driven for an hour to watch me sit in a tent.

I knew I needed to change into my dry kit but I’d got the shivers and didn’t want to take off the clothes I had on. I had a couple of cups of tea to try and warm me up but I suddenly couldn’t be bothered to eat (not an issue I ever usually experience in my life!) I desperately tried to remember what jobs I needed to do (eg. charge my watch and phone, replace gels and snacks, replace electrolyte tablets etc.) Leanne peered round the tent, clearly looking concerned, and gave me exactly the pep talk I needed.

“Get your stuff sorted. You need to get back out there.”

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“Where are my wheels? They appear to have come off?!” Trying to mentally sort myself out in the CP at Dalemain.

One moment of genius I had had on Friday was to pack a thermal, long-sleeved base layer in my dropbag. It seemed ridiculous to pack a winter base layer in the sauna like conditions of Friday; it didn’t seem much more sensible to decide to wear it in the Dalemain sunshine but, not long after, it proved utterly invaluable.

I received blatant outside assistance in getting Leanne to hold a towel round me while I changed my shorts! (If this does indeed break the rules, I will just get my chafed nuts and bolts out for the masses next year!) I made another mistake here which also required outside assistance. My nappy rash was pretty intense at this point (I must buy some of that body glide for future races) so I applied masses of Vaseline which I hoped, with dry shorts, would at least help for a little bit. (I had some proper chafing cream but it had made absolutely no difference.) The only problem was I then promptly left the Vaseline on the chair and Leanne had to deliver it to me in a mercy dash to Pooley Bridge later!

Getting changed felt so difficult. At that moment everything felt difficult. Rob had sorted himself and hit the trail. Chris Kay had checked in and out again. The 50 race had begun, four mile Dalemain loop completed, and now the runners were steaming back past the CP on their fit, fresh way! All my friends taking part in that race, who I hoped would be able to give me some energy as they passed me in the afternoon, were already passing me while I stood there! I put my head on Leanne’s shoulder and told her I wanted to get in the car with her and the kids.

How had it come to this?! Less than an hour ago I had skipped into Dalemain on the crest of a wave, utterly confident and feeling strong. 45 minutes later I was still there and wanting to pack it all in?

Leanne was utterly amazing at this point. Sympathetic wife to the rescue? Absolutely not! A good old fashioned b******ing was required, and that is what I got!

“There is no way you have trained so hard and planned all this to jump in the car now and just give up. So get your **** together and get out down that path right now before I kick you down it myself!”

She was absolutely right, obviously. I didn’t agree with her at the time, but somewhere deep in my soul something stirred, and within a couple of minutes I was waddling, John Wayne stylee, on my way to Pooley Bridge and Howtown.

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Putting on a brave face (and a winter long sleeved base layer in the sun!) after being given a good telling off by the missus! (Notice the 50 runners streaming past in the background!) On my way to Pooley Bridge…

Back On The Horse, Into The Broom Wagon – Dalemain Estate to Mardale Head (59 – 75 miles)

I must have cut a forlorn figure as I waddled, at a ridiculously slow pace, out of Dalemain roughly an hour after I arrived. I genuinely thought my bottom was going to rip apart it was so sore, (is that enough information for you?!) Straight away though, the 50 runners provided a source of energy and inspiration. I know some 100ers tire of the ‘keep going’ comments from the other runners, but I am not one of them. Thank you to everyone who passed me and either showed concern or just told me to dig in, I really appreciated them all.

But, and this is what I need to drill into my consciousness for next year (or any other event for that matter), those feelings of desolation pass. By the time I reached Pooley Bridge (which did take quite a while, granted) I was fully back on the horse. Your brain admits defeat and just decides to stop sending the pain messages from bottom and/or legs:

(Subconscious brain chatter) ‘OK rest of body, I can clearly see you are not going to listen to any of my messages of sanity, so I’m just going to sit up here in your head and say nothing until such a moment as you decide to start behaving like a rational, sensible human body again.’

As soon as the path struck uphill out of Pooley Bridge, I began to re-pass some of the 50 runners who had overtaken me on the flatlands below. I climbed reasonably well to the crest of Askham Fell and had some pleasant conversations with several runners (including one in depth Wolverhampton Wanderers chat in honour of my in-laws with an accent I recognised!)

My newly recovered positivity, and that of all the fresh faced 50ers too, was about to receive its sternest challenge to date though. The weather was about to come to play, and this time it wasn’t going to mess about.

The rain had started climbing out of Pooley Bridge, but nothing too serious. But descending to the Howtown CP it got darker and darker; the rain fell heavier and heavier. By the time I hit tarmac and turned steeply downhill for the checkpoint, it was an absolute deluge.

It was at this point that Rob and I crossed paths again – him climbing up out of Howtown as I dropped in. As mentioned earlier, he was looking better than he’d looked at any point in the race. He is naturally much quicker than me, so he checked on me (initially mistaking my wave for an ‘I’m out of here’ surrender signal!) and I wished him good luck as I genuinely did not expect to see him again until the finish line.

I dropped into my favourite CP venue in any Lake District race, the Howtown Bobbin Mill. (If I’d had a kayak at this point, I’d have got in even quicker!) It is a fantastic little building; packed with olde-worlde Lakeland character. I love it in there. On this occasion it provided a momentary break from the monsoon. Again though, in stark contrast as to what was to come at Mardale Head, I used a potential negative moment to my advantage. (ie. it’s terrible weather outside, everyone in here looks miserable, I will too if I stay too long, so I’m going to grab a hot drink, a quick snack, and get back out of here before I get comfy and never leave myself!)

Another boost here was seeing Julie Lavery who was on CP dibber duty. Seeing her stood still in those conditions actually made me realise that she had a worse job than me! At least I got to move about to keep warm! Unfortunately she told me that her husband, Matthew, had had to retire injured earlier in the day meaning I was the only Shevington Vale Primary School parent now out on course – so I definitely had to finish!

Again, it was just the little pep talk I needed and I struck out into the wild, determined to knock off the infamous Fusedale climb.

To give you some indication of the wind and rain at this point, as I climbed into the valley bottom and the initial part of the climb came into view, there were several competitors making their way back off the course and back down to the checkpoint! And not just one or two either – quite a lot! I don’t think I have ever seen that before in any race. Fusedale has acquired a bit of a fearsome reputation on this race, granted, but I was still taken aback and to be honest, selfishly, it gave me a little boost. (‘All these people turning round while I tough it out – what a #legend I am!’ Pride before a fall and all that…)

Conditions were appalling, but I was still in the zone. Plus I was definitely feeling the benefit of the winter base layer, without which I think I would have been freezing. I can’t honestly say I felt positive, it was too miserable, but I was resigned to my fate and was determined to slog out the climb. Just keep moving and keep positive. And that is what happened. The wind and rain did not let up for one second, but at least the wind was predominantly behind us! An hour later I crested the summit with a satisfied, self-congratulatory pat on the back and even managed to run most of the grassy descent to the little trig point which marks the beginning of the steeper, more technical descent to Haweswater. (Including a slap-stick, Benny Hill moment with a poor fellow 100 running female competitor desperately trying to find a quiet spot for a wee!)

The descent was tricky; in parts very thin and hidden by bracken. But I made it onto the Haweswater path in one piece. This section of path is not my favourite. The contours on the map indicate that it should be a decent running path but, in reality, it is quite undulating and very technical in places, meaning you just can’t get into your stride.

I was in a really good place though. Sure, everything hurt by now, and a brief hailstorm tried to dampen my positive vibe, but soon after, unbelievably, the sun came out! Yes, it really did! It is amazing what a difference it makes! I actually stopped and took my rain jacket off as, in my long sleeved top, I was quickly overheating.

I was constantly doing little mental checklists between chats with the stream of 50 runners: yes my legs were aching but that was to be expected after 70 odd miles. I was moving strongly, my feet were perfect – not a blister feeling to be had, my chafing was bad but tolerable.

In summary (and I distinctly remember thinking this) if I could have pre-booked feeling this good at this stage of the race before it began, I would definitely have taken it.

I could now see Gatescarth Pass up ahead – my mental gateway to the finish line. Unlike many other runners I spoke to, I like the climb; it’s a decent path with a consistent (if steep) gradient, meaning you can get into a rhythm and just churn it out. Probably only 30 minutes or so of effort with the great reward of a long descent off the other side.

The huge clap of thunder was the first harbinger of doom.

I only heard one clap of thunder all day (the storm was forecast so I was nervously looking out for it) but it was so loud and so prolonged that it seemed to shake the mountainside. (Runners up ahead told of one lightning strike hitting very close to the path.) Suddenly the wind began to howl, into our faces at this point, and everything got very dark and very wet very quickly. Waterproof back on; suddenly it was like we were in a different world. Azkaban indeed…

You know the rest. I think it took less than half an hour to mentally break down from ‘I have totally got this’ to ‘Here’s how I’m going to drop out’. There was no injury (for me), no illness, no blister disasters, no genuine, singular excuse. I was just done.

Post Race Conclusions.

It’s three weeks to the day since the race and I’ve carried a notebook around with me ever since, noting odd thoughts as they have come to me. It’s important to point out that these are not excuses; as I have already stated, everyone else experienced the same conditions and discomfort. What I am trying to do is pinpoint what made this race so different for me to my other races – why did that iron will to finish evaporate?

So, in no particular order…

1 – I’m not as mentally strong as I thought I was. For the first time ever, I actually WANTED to drop out.

I’ve said it many times in many blogs, ultra running is mostly in your head. With the exception of actual physical injury, everyone reaches a certain point in an ultra race where you are really tired and hurting. Obviously, this point comes at different stages dependent on your ability, but what I am saying is that, once you reach that point, what keeps you going is your mental fitness. If you can remain positive as things start to unravel, and retain that steely resolve to complete the job in hand, you will finish. If you think about the pain and suffering, or the magnitude of what you are doing, then you will be quickly overwhelmed.

If I look back at other races where I have hit crisis point, never once did I consider dropping out as an option. In the Robin Hood 100, I comatosely staggered the last 16 miles in the dark, in the Ultimate Trails 110k of 2016 I walked in the last 15 miles when I realised I was spent. But I never wanted to stop.

Even in this actual race, I had a few points where it would have been easy to stop. At both the Dockray and Howtown CPs there were a lot of sorry sights but, if anything, they spurred me on. I wasn’t going to be one of them. But twice – at both Dalemain and, ultimately, at Mardale Head, I wanted to stop with every fibre of my being. I was mentally ready for the fight – what I wasn’t mentally ready for was the fight being against myself.

If Leanne had been at Mardale I don’t think there is any chance she would have let me retire, and a good talking to from her would have worked too. Infact, she drove to Mardale to tell me to carry on and was quite disappointed to learn we had already handed in our trackers and dibbers!

In future, I definitely need to try and remember Dalemain – how I felt like stopping but how, once I got going again, I felt fine(ish)! I am not as mentally strong as I thought, so I need to work on that more.

2 – I never seriously expected to not finish – I’m a statistic!

“Be a #legend, not a statistic!”

So said one of the 50 runners passing me when I told them I was sulking! What a great phrase it is!

In my pre-race blog, I told you all about how, mathematically, I shouldn’t finish the race. There is a 45% drop out race across the 10 year history of the event. I told you how I didn’t feel I was in the top 55% of the entry field and how, therefore, I would have to beat the odds to finish.

Did this knowledge make a DNF more acceptable to me in my subconscious, because I knew it was going to be so hard? In all honesty I genuinely do not know the answer. What I can say is that, when I typed it, I told you it not because I thought I wouldn’t finish, I told you it to make sure you knew how hard the race was!

I totally expected to finish. There were a lot of scenarios in my head pre-race for what might happen, but not one of them involved a DNF. It would take an injury or getting timed out to stop me, I said.

But, in actual fact, the opposite happened.

Just for the record, the completion rate for this year was 51%! One of the lowest ever! So I certainly wasn’t alone in failing. In fact, the stats show that I was actually going really well when I dropped out and was having a good race in general. Most people who retired dropped out before Mardale and the largest drop out point was, in fact, Mardale. The majority of people who left Mardale reached the finish. So I certainly was not alone in the way the race transpired and can be reasonably pleased with my efforts – but only to the point of acceptance that I still failed.

I think the fact that so many people did retire at Mardale leads nicely to my next point.

3 – The Weather!

This is not an excuse! You cannot enter a race in the Lake District and not expect variable weather conditions! If you don’t want to get wet, don’t go to Cumbria!

But was the weather a factor? Yes it was. In fact I can say pretty much with hand-on-heart that, if the sun had remained out round Haweswater, as it was an hour before I retired, I would have finished. It was the combo of wind and rain that was the final straw mentally, along with the latent threat of lightning.

But which weather is worse – hot or cold? Wet or dry? If the race had been run on the Friday it would have been murder in that heat. I could barely go outside on Friday, never mind run 105 miles! So the wind and rain was grim, but be careful what you wish for!

I’ll enter many Lake District races in the future, including this one (I hope). Weather comes with the territory. Next year the weather conditions may be perfect, but if it has been wet in the build-up then the footpaths will be immeasurably wetter. I have read lots of blogs and all comment on how easy the going was underfoot this year. I also heard many tales of trench foot from previous years in the wet, boggy conditions! This year the trail conditions were perfect, so I certainly cannot complain about the weather conditions. After all, the true #legends dealt with it.

4 – There’s no shame in a DNF, but should I be angrier?!

DNF – did nothing foolish.

I have heard a few such comments and certainly the one above rang a little bell for me. I could feel the wheels coming off, I was starting to worry about what finishing this race may cost me physically, I was certainly concerned about the threat of lightning if I headed up Gatescarth. So ultimately I have been comfortable with my decision to retire and have not beaten myself up too much about it.

Most other runners who DNF do beat themselves up though, Rob certainly has. Hence our joint decision to hit the internet on the 1st September and try to enter again!

So, should I feel more angry about my lack of resolve? Should I be beating myself up more? Should I be using that anger and disappointment to fuel a concerted bid to succeed next year?

I am genuinely quite perplexed that I’m not too disappointed. I think, by nature, I tend not to dwell on things. That is how I manage to retain a positive outlook on life. I don’t let negatives get me down and I look forward rather than back. I’ve made myself critically analyse this race not out of anger, but just to try and improve myself. I think in general this attitude stands me in good stead in life.

So am I angry or frustrated beyond belief at not finishing? No. If anything, it’s the opposite; a small part of me is angry that I’m not angrier! Shouldn’t I be angry about failure??!!

5 – Being a parent makes you soft!

Wow, family was definitely a factor in this one. Usually it is in the positive sense, as in how pleased and proud Leanne and the girls will be to see me run well. I was certainly really upset that they missed our entrance into Dalemain. I’m not sure what happened at Dalemain after that; I’m usually so pleased to see them that it gives me a real boost. This time, however, when I went into my slump I think I was worried that the girls might be worried about me.

Fortunately, Leanne was there to save the day and I think I left Dalemain without the children really noticing that I’d been in a bit of distress.

However, when things started to unravel around Haweswater, I was definitely thinking about Leanne and the girls. What if I was the unlucky sod who got struck by lightning? What if I got in a real hyperthermic mess on the hills and got carted off to hospital? What if I finished in such a terrible state that I was unable to go home and pack the camping stuff in the next couple of days, meaning the children miss the start of their holiday?

All this is nonsense really, but it was definitely on my mind. If I get in the race next year we will definitely make sure there is a full week before any holiday is booked so that my stupid running hobby does not impact on potential holidays for the children!

6 – I’m still rubbish if I miss sleep!

I don’t know how many naps I have had in our 2 week holiday in Cornwall, but it must average out at more than one a day! I could definitely be Spanish – I’m more than happy to get up early, stay up late but have a siesta in the middle! Unfortunately, this is not much use once the ultra event of choice includes a night section.

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love night running; it’s my favourite part of any event in which it is included. It’s just I get really sleepy once I hit the 24 hours awake mark. I expected to get tired in the LL100, but I didn’t expect it to be at dawn after the first night! Maybe the roasting hot Friday played a part – it was certainly difficult to relax in the heat.

If the race was a 6am start and not 6pm, I would be in a much stronger position. Two days and one night would suit me much better than two nights and one day. But obviously that isn’t the case in this event so I have to try and adapt better and, whilst I can’t alter the fact that I get sleepy, hopefully I can minimise the effect.

Leanne and I have already decided that, should I get in the race next year, we will get up there on Thursday to allow as much time for sleep in the 24 hours prior to the race as possible.

7 – Think one stage at a time, not about the finish line. (Basic, simple ultra running rule no1!)

Yes, it’s obvious. But I definitely dropped the baton in this regard when things finally went pear shaped around Haweswater. I would say, to that point, I had never thought about the finish line and had very strictly worked on the ‘get to the next checkpoint’ mantra.

So why did I stop doing that at Mardale? The answer seems pretty obvious to me now. Throughout the training/recce phase I always said that, if I got to Mardale Head, there is no way I wasn’t going to finish. Get some fuel on board, get up Gatescarth, then get to the finish. Once the wind and rain came down near the checkpoint, I couldn’t think past the fact that I still had 30 miles to go, it was going to get dark in about three hours, the weather was horrible and I was going to die either of hyperthermia or lightning strike!!!

If I had just thought, ‘Walk up Gatescarth and coast downhill to Kentmere, it’s only 10k away’ it might have eased my mental state. Let’s not forget that I thought I was going to have to do it anyway, as I had no idea about Rob and I had no intention of dropping out at Mardale Head. But I was thinking way past Kentmere, hence my distorted ‘must drop out asap’ mentality.

Unfortunately, I used the exact correct mental strategy at Dockray and Howtown but wasn’t able to replicate it at Mardale, predominantly because of weather conditions but also due to thinking too much about the end game. Lesson learned.

8 – Running with someone else – easier or harder?

This is a contentious one as Rob is clearly a good friend of mine and I really enjoy both training together and racing together with him. Plus our families are a great support team for each other and us!

I think we had a pretty decent plan this year and, once we’d got to Braithwaite, didn’t necessarily stick together like glue. The problem basically lies in the fact that, if we are running together, that is not a good thing for Rob, as it generally means he is not having a good race! He is quicker than me and so, all things being equal, he should be ahead of me. I am more than happy not to see him in a race as it means he is going really well and, as a result, I can focus on me and be inspired to get as close to his time as possible.

In the case of this race, things were going well for me and badly for him and it was difficult to keep my positive vibe going when he was in the pits of despair. As before, this sounds selfish, but you cannot afford to have anyone putting negative thoughts into your head – it’s hard enough when it’s going well!

Then there is the thorny issue of the end game. Personally I don’t blame Rob for me dropping out at all; I was more than ready to drop out and was very happy and relieved to do so. But I wouldn’t have dropped out at Mardale as I didn’t think we could, so I would definitely have gone to Kentmere where, who knows, I may have got a second wind.

Conversely, I’m pretty much certain Rob wouldn’t have dropped out if I hadn’t arrived when I did and said I was spent. If I had turned up at Mardale and told Rob I felt great, he admits that pride would have forced him to carry on. If I hadn’t arrived at all I think he would have carried on out of sheer bloody mindedness – he wouldn’t have wanted to drop out thinking that I may be carrying on!

In summary, we both made it very easy for both of us to drop out! There was comfort in knowing we’d both achieved the same thing and could look each other in the eye. If either one of us was capable of saying to the other ‘Get your arse in gear and let’s get going!’ then the situation would have been very different. As it transpired, we both gave each other the easy option and accepted it with open arms!!!

One year, I would love to do the event as an actual pairs team with Rob. As I said before, I really enjoy running with him and I think we would work well as a real team. But first we have to prove to ourselves that we can actually complete the event as individuals. In a perfect scenario I don’t see Rob in a race at all, because he is up the road going really well!!!

9 – I don’t need to beat myself up about training! Train sensibly, train smart, train on course whenever possible. But get to the event fit and injury free.

I touched on this in my pre-race blog. Due to family and work circumstances, I have done less miles this calendar year than in any of the previous three years – since I began ultra running, in fact. I have still not quite reached 1000 miles for 2018, for example. This was a constant source of worry and frustration to me, as I felt mentally like I had to be fitter and faster than ever to compete in LL100 and that I should have done more miles than ever before.

Ultimately this wasn’t the case at all. Of all the problems I encountered on race day, fitness was not one of them. Aside from chafing, I had no injuries, no blisters and my legs were still moving me along just fine when I dropped out. I did not do huge mileage, but we recced the course really well and got some really good long runs (and races) in during the build-up.

Baby Lottie is getting older and both Leanne and I have a change of role at school next year (both becoming Deputy Headteachers at our respective schools). Whilst the pressure of work will undoubtedly ramp up, I am hoping I can manage my time better (in terms of work/life balance) in the coming 12 months. I do not intend to massively ramp up my running as that would be hugely unfair on Leanne (more later) but I can definitely do better and I can DEFINITELY introduce core training!!!

10 – I’m not scared of the course anymore. I know I have the capability to complete the route.

This sounds a little silly/arrogant coming from someone who has just failed to do exactly that! But what I mean is, before race day, I was scared of even making it to Braithwaite!!! Our recce run from Coniston to Braithwaite on bank holiday weekend was so epically long, hard and hot that I couldn’t really conceive any idea of how we could possibly get further than there!

But obviously, when it is race day (or night for that section) you are thinking of the long game and getting to Braithwaite seemed little more than the opening warm-up to the big event. This calmed me massively and, as I have mentioned, for most of the race day I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I didn’t finish.

I think I learned that I am in that group of runners who can/will complete a Lakeland 100, but I probably need that little bit of luck to break the seal – as opposed to the top level ultra folk who complete all these things whatever conditions/scenarios are thrown at them.

11 – Would looking at my phone have helped? (#lovelivetracker!)

In the build-up to the race I put the link for the tracker on Facebook and Twitter and told family and friends about it. I have a special hashtag that I use when watching other people via live trackers (#lovelivetracker) but really, in my heart of hearts, I knew it was just for nerds.

Or so I thought….!

In the days after the race I was completely blown away by the number of people who told me they’d been following the tracker. Indeed, they’d been absolutely engrossed with it! (Just as I am now watching lots of friends cross Scotland tonight on the UGB200 race!)

The number of messages posted on social media during the event was totally unbelievable. I didn’t really think anyone other than my nearest and dearest would give a monkey’s how I was doing. I had no idea during the race as, having felt I spent a bit too much time during ultra races on my phone in previous years, I have made a conscious decision not to use my phone at all during races this year.

But the question has to be asked: had I known just how many people were watching and cheering me on during the event in real time, would it have spurred me on to not give up quite so easily? Would the sheer will power of family and friends, plus that little shove of peer pressure, been enough to get me out of Mardale Head car park?

I think it probably would have been! I think sheer vanity might have driven me on! I’m not saying I plan on hitting social media again in future ultras because, to be honest, I have done much better in nearly all my races this year by focusing on the job in hand and not wondering where I might do my next Facebook Live! But, maybe getting out my phone and reading a few messages in CPs from now on might just spur me on a bit in times of crisis. We’ll see.

12 – Music truly is a PED! (ie cheating!)

In terms of running I am, at heart, an old fuddy-duddy. I’m a cross-country, short shorts kind of guy. As such, I don’t like the headphone brigade. I don’t mean for training or just ‘popping out for a run’. If it’s music that gets you out of the door and gets you fitter then I’m all for it. That being said, I don’t like Leanne going out for a run wearing headphones because I think your hearing is quite an important sense in terms of personal safety and self preservation when out running the streets.

Personally, I started running to literally escape from noise. Classrooms are claustrophobic places to work in and, once you add children to your household, home life can sometimes feel the same. I have always enjoyed the peace and solitude of running in the countryside and actively seek quiet places to run so that I can enjoy the sound of nature around me. It reminds me that the stresses of the daily grind aren’t always as important as you think they are and that nature is, and will always, be there. (Unless you think The Lorax is a true story, obviously.)

But, in terms of races, I’m dead against headphones. For safety, for organisation, and because, in my heart-of-hearts, I think it’s cheating. Running should be you against the road/trail/elements. If you feel tired – good, that’s the idea. Dig deep and find the will to win. Sticking ‘Eye of the Tiger’ on your playlist to get you going is outside assistance. If you need ‘Eye of the Tiger’ to get you going, just start singing it to yourself!

However………………… every-bloody-body seems to do it these days, and I have long wondered if my ‘music on the run’ theory was old-fuddy-duddy stuff or if there was some truth to it. So, literally the week of the race, I purchased my first ever pair of wireless sports headphones, just a cheap pair, synched them to my iPod and stuck them both in my bag for the race, just incase the opportunity presented itself.

And as the more observant of you will remember (from about 500 paragraphs ago) the opportunity did present itself. Morning had broken above Keswick, breakfast consumed, eyes suddenly not open enough to see where I was going, quiet footpath with no-one around (except Rob; he doesn’t count): let’s see if music can wake me up?!

And bloody hell, did it ever! I’ve no idea what songs I listened to; I had a 100 mile playlist pre-made but I put it on shuffle deliberately. But the effect was instant! Within five minutes I was wide awake, alert, and running again whilst singing away to myself.

This confirmed two things to me immediately:

  1. Music is definitely cheating! Anything that makes you feel that good, that quick, should not be allowed in a race!
  2. I will DEFINITELY be using this again in future ultras to pick me up in times of need!

I still don’t think I would listen to music from the start as others do. I think I will keep it for times of need as I think it will have the most impact for me that way.

For the more observant of you one more obvious question may have been raised: if it made me feel so good why didn’t I use music around Haweswater? Well, the simple answer is that the weather was so bad at that point that I didn’t want to start fishing around in my bag for electrical equipment! By then my phone, iPod, charge packs etc were in about 5 sandwich bags surrounded by my other kit to keep them dry! I will have to check if my earphones are water resistant before my next race!

Thank You Lakeland Family!

Before I look to my running future and close out another epically long blog (sorry!) it would be entirely remiss of me not to say thank you to every single person in the self-styled ‘Lakeland family’. From the point of entry to my point of withdrawal, it was the most professional, minutiously organised event I have ever participated in.

At first I found the rules a little prescriptive, but I grew to love it and most races I do could learn a lot from it: no excuses, no shortcuts, no exceptions – these are our rules. If you don’t like it, don’t enter and don’t turn up!

I loved ringleader (see what I did there?!) Marc Laithwaite’s honest and, at times, caustic, response to rules enquiries. I even fell foul of it myself once when I inadvertently opened the ‘two cups’ can of worms debate on Facebook and he threatened (jokingly – I think!) to throw me out of the race!!!

I loved the roadbook and the map. What a great idea! Don’t mark the course for people, it’s time consuming and then some ****end goes and nicks the signs/tape anyway. Give everyone a book of written route details (loads easier to follow than a map – and I love maps!), make it free to download, and let everyone find their own way! Brilliant!

But the beauty of clear and concise rules and instruction is you know exactly what you are going to get on raceday. And what we got was exactly what we were told we would get. An unbelievable Race Headquarters, superb, dedicated and enthusiastic marshals and a feeling of camaraderie that made what is a very big race feel like a very small race.

The 100 and 50 events fitted together seamlessly and neither race was made to feel bigger or smaller than the other one. Everyone was in it together. The support I got from the 50 runners was amazing and I did my best, energy permitting, to reciprocate.

I tried to do my bit for the Lakeland family when a lad from Cornwall posted on Facebook to say he’d forgotten to pick up his drop bag before his journey home. I got in touch with him as we were travelling to Cornwall that week, and exactly a week after we started the race, we met on Pentewan Beach to hand the stinking bag of rotting clothes and trainers back to him! (Maybe we should have opened it and washed his stuff first, but we were busy packing the camping gear!)

In fact, my only gripe about the whole thing is the finishers t-shirt! I bloody loved that t-shirt and I would bloody love to have one! I never considered them as finishers t-shirts before as I have always finished! But I never really comprehended that you would only get a t-shirt if you crossed the finish line until the day after – when I didn’t cross the finish line!

But hey-ho, them’s the rules and, as Marc himself said, if you don’t like the rules – don’t enter (or just make sure you finish the bloody race!)

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And here’s what I could have won! What a bloody great t-shirt! I bet that, if I ever do finish the race, it will be a really crap colour and not a brilliant one like this!

Finally (Phew!) What’s Next?

To be honest, I don’t really know. I’m at a bit of a running crossroads to be honest. My pace has gone west with the endurance training so I’m going to work on that a little bit, although I’m still not really interested in entering a road race.

One thing I can say with certainty is that there will be no more ultras until 2019. Leanne deserves to have me not clearing off out of the house for 4 hours, or an entire weekend, at a time, for at least the time being. I’ll probably help out at the Wigan 10k on a water station, I’m definitely helping out at GB Ultras Snowdon Ultra event, and I’m actually the 50 minute pacer for the English Half Marathon 10k event in Warrington in a few weeks. I’ve never paced before and I’m really looking forward to it. In fact, I’ll need to do a little bit of speedwork to ensure I can get the pacing right!

We have entered the Lakeland Trails Autumn series as a family so will enjoy our days out there. Ironically the very path on which I tried out my earphones for the first time is the exact same path as the Lakeland Trails Keswick 15k route! (Albeit in the other direction!)

I’ll probably do a few club cross countries in the autumn and winter too. I’m not sure whether I will renew my club membership or not next year at the moment; I haven’t been for ages and I haven’t missed it to be honest. The best time for us (as a family) for me to train are either on the way home from work or much later at night. But if I enjoy the cross-countries (they’re the reason I joined in the first place) then I probably will, even if I train by myself.

And what about a Lakeland 100 return, I hear you (not) ask?! Well, my notes in my notebook say it all:

Sunday (24 hours after the race) – Nope. Never again. I said once and I meant once.

Monday (48 hours after the race, sat in our Coniston cottage window, looking down on a now empty John Ruskin field) – That was an epic event, I can see why people return year on year. Not me though.

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John Ruskin Playing Field. Monday morning. (From our cottage window) Did I just dream that event? Where has everyone gone?! Marquee just visible through the trees. (nb notice how lovely the weather is…!)

Tuesday (speaking to Rob for the first time since the event) – I think we have to go back and do it again… (Rob said that btw, I just listened intently…!)

Friday (1 week later, on Pentewan beach) If I had the chance to set off again right now, I’d take it!

Blog writing 3 weeks later – OK let’s do this! Family, if you would please mind not using the wifi for 30 minutes from 9am on 1st September that would be really helpful!

FINALLY FINALLY!

Once again I am totally indebted to my number 1 support crew, my amazing wife Leanne. I genuinely have no idea how she puts up with me at times. If it’s stressful for me it must be stressful for her. And I’ve said many times that it’s more difficult looking after the kids than it is doing the running.

But in this event she was even more than that. I would have kicked myself forever if I’d dropped out at Dalemain. There was nowt wrong with me except for being a bit sleepy! Leanne knew it and knew exactly what to say to get me going again. If she’d been at Mardale there is no way she would have let me drop out and if she’d met me at every CP thereafter finishing would not have been in question. She was/is amazing and I am very lucky to have her there when I need her, (even if she does bully me back out onto the trail!)

Relaxing with my no1 team around Coniston the day after the race.

Right, that is actually that. Thanks for reading. You could probably run the Lakeland 100 yourself in a quicker time than it’s taken you to read that!

See you around – happy running!

Mark (GB Sticks to most of you!)

 

 

 

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Aiming to become a #legend on the Lakeland 100.

In three days time I will be starting out on my Ultra Running Holy Grail – the Lakeland 100. I have had this race on a pedestal from the day I first heard of it. In my mind I have long considered it to be the pinnacle of single day (ish!) ultra/trail running in this country, (without taking on crazy scrambles like the Skyline series or multi-day events like The Spine or The Dragon’s Back). Training has been injury free (glass half-full) but inconsistent and erratic (glass half-empty). However, as it has been OVER FIFTEEN MONTHS since I wrote a blog, there is a need to go back to the start to fill in some blanks…

Welcome to the World, Lottie!

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Happy family! (Or the calm before the storm!)

Daughter number 3 (was it ever in doubt?) arrived on 19th April, 2017. Lottie Mary was born on a lovely spring day and, it has to be said, has pretty much been a little bundle of joy ever since. Clearly she is going to be my excuse for everything that has gone wrong with my running since that date but, hey, I live in a house full of girls now so I should be allowed to whinge every now and then!

Clearly, as I have not blogged since, she is now 15 months old and looks like this:

 

Time flies. Literally. I have no idea where this 15 months has gone. I am aware of some of the things that have happened. Other things… not a clue. But what I can say definitively, whatever I may be about to tell you in terms of my running, is that our lives are better with Lottie in them. Our little band of five feels complete (it had bloody better be!)

The 2017 Resolutions.

Mainly shambolic. But for the purposes of honesty and integrity here is a brief review:

1 – Beat the 2017 mileage (1800 miles) – er, no. I was just about on target in April – until Lottie was born. (Baby excuse 1.)

2 – Run a 100 mile race – YES! Yes I did! Details later.

3 – Marshal at a race – YES! Yes, we did! (Leanne and I). We achieved this one with distinction too. Details later.

4 – Take Hannah and Nancy to Parkrun – well technically we did, but I’m only going to claim a 50% pass on this one. We went once in Leicester while visiting friends because they go a lot. But, to be fair, whenever we go to races and there is a kiddies race the girls happily take part, so I do at least feel like I am inspiring them, even if I could do a lot more.

5 – Get St Catharine’s running – no, not really. Need to try harder with this next year.

6 – PB at 100 miles, 50 miles, marathon, half marathon, 10k and 5k – nope. I did the 100 and 50 PBs by virtue of running those distances for the first time! But I have only done one road race in 18 months now, the Wigan half, and that is a hilly course where a PB is not going to happen anyway. I’m disengaged and uninspired by road running at the moment and, even if I wasn’t, the PB pace, fitness and form is way off over some distant horizon.

7 – Update the blog regularly – no answer required. Utter shambles.

8 – Baby buggy run! Yeah baby! Went a little bit belly up in the end, but I did it. Details to follow.

2018 Resolution.

In light of recent failures, I revised my Resolution Strategy for 2018; this year there was only ever going to be one:

1 – Complete the Lakeland 100

LL100

 

So, with reference to some of the above, let’s take a look at a few highlights since I last bored you with the details. In no real chronological order:

Holiday Running

Holidays continue to be the time I enjoy running the most. Exploring new places and getting up and out there really give me a lift. There were a few new places to try out this year; Lottie has been truly blessed to travel to so many different places for mini-breaks in her first year. In no particular order: Woolacombe (Jeez the cliff up to that caravan park!), Anglesey, London, Yorkshire (Pennine Barrier 50 [2017 & 2018]), French Alps, Snowdonia, Porthcawl, Prestatyn, Birmingham (!).

 

The Pram Push Resolution – #DaddyDayCare

Due to the fact that I have an amazing wife, and a very understanding boss, I was extremely fortunate to be able to share maternity leave with Leanne. So, after the Summer holidays 2017, Leanne went back to work, and I stayed at home with Lottie for seven weeks until the October half term. Looking back on it now, I can say that I probably spent too much time at home doing washing, ironing and housework and not enough time getting out and about with the baby but I can still say, hand-on-heart, it was seven of the best weeks of my life.

To actually have time to be a real parent, to know that everything you are doing is for the benefit of your family, to have time to spend with your precious baby – was just the best thing. If we could afford to do it full-time we definitely would. Leanne is at her happiest at work; I am at my happiest at home. We were the perfect team. The girls loved it, (I think!) We had half the children on the estate coming round for breakfast by the time the seven weeks were up, and the rest came to play after school. I could do homework with them. I knew what was going on at school. They didn’t have to get up at 6.45am every morning, so they woke up refreshed and happy. And yes, I did sometimes go out and do coffee with some other fellow human beings!

But you haven’t come here to listen to family planning – you’ve come for the running! So, here’s how it worked: every morning I got up and put my running kit straight on. Then I got the baby up, then I got the girls ready. Then we walked to school. And guess what? At 9am every day I was waving the girls into school with my kit on and the baby strapped in. What are you going to do?!

 

And so the #DaddyDayCarePramPush was born! I became quite a well known figure around the local estates; my fellow parents at the school gate clearly thought I was insane, people would stop me to ask what I was doing, I’d see the same old dears at the same bus stops every morning, I got a bit of social media buzz – I think I could have made a career out of it if I could have afforded to stay off work longer!

The weather tested me – so many showers! I felt like I spent more time putting on the rain cover and taking it off again than running at times. The pavements round here are dire; how Lottie didn’t end up with shaken baby syndrome I do not know. There is so much dog **** around here which just gave me another reason to hate dogs even more than I already do: I loved cleaning those deep buggy tyre treads dog owners – thanks very much. And, oh my word, the hills round here get hillier when you are pushing a buggy up them!

Still, we persevered through all these things until the straw which broke the camels back – Autumn. Things started falling off tress. Sharp things. And sharp things puncture buggy tyres. EVERY TIME. After a couple of weeks of non-stop punctures and buying new inner tubes, I gave it up. Cycling will never be for me – I get far too irrational when things (mechanical things) out of my control stop me doing what I want to do.

But it was good while it lasted. The #DaddyDayCarePramPush got a bit of a dusting off this Easter when we travelled to the French Alps for a family ski holiday. We took it in turns to stay off the slopes and look after Lottie while the girls were at ski school. Might as well be productive, eh?! I can now officially tell you that pushing prams up hills in a foot of fresh powder at 2200metres above sea level is even harder than doing it around Wigan!

 

 

The Marshalling Resolution – the Official Wigan Harriers Checkpoint of the UGB200 2017!

Oh my, have Leanne and I found a new fun pastime?! We both think it might be better than actually running! We always suspected that it would be great to help out – and it is. We’ve marshalled a couple of Wigan 10k Trail Races now and love it. I also took the girls to give out bottles at the water aid station at the Wigan 10k and loved that too. But none of these compared to organising the Sykehouse checkpoint, 143 miles into the 200 mile UGB200 race, last summer.

I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say that obviously, after 143 miles, the competitors are very spread out and in varying degrees of distress! Thus, work really started on a Sunday lunchtime at about midday, getting ready to welcome the leading runners who had covered the distance to date in a little over 30 hours! And we didn’t stop working until the last of the runners left the CP on Tuesday morning – nearly 48 hours after we had started! It sounds terrible, but it was utterly amazing!

Some runners were in and out quickly, some stopped for a sleep, some wanted pampering, some wanted leaving alone, some couldn’t eat, others couldn’t stop eating! But it was a pleasure to help them all. It was incredible how well you felt you knew people who only flashed into your life for 30 minutes at a time. We were watching the tracker and plotting their progress towards us; much of the time their families would arrive before them to cheer them in, so we felt like we knew everyone before they even got to us!

I cannot possibly name check everyone who we met – but many of you will be reading this now. We made friends for life with people we met for less than an hour. It was inspiring to be part of, regardless of whether those runners eventually reached the end of the course or not. Congratulations to each and every one of you – it was 48 hours Leanne and I will never forget.

Finally, a big shout out to the team at GB Ultras – what a team of heroes they are! You don’t have to do 200 miles – they have other, shorter events as well! Many are ideal for the debut ultra runner, if you are thinking about it! Check out their events on the link below:

www.gbultras.com

 

 

The 100 mile race resolution – The Robin Hood 100.

If you have read between the lines so far you will have worked out that, as soon as Lottie was born, running took a back seat. Not through any conscious decision, just that there simply wasn’t enough hours in a day anymore (this is still largely the case – Baby excuse 2) But I had reached a stage where I was finding the 50-60 mile ultras a bit ‘easy’ – this obviously isn’t the case but, mentally at least, I had switched off from them.

I needed something to occupy my mind and I found it –  after 3 years I felt that The Lakeland 100 was finally an attainable goal.

I decided that, given the difficulty of the terrain, I didn’t want the LL100 to be my first 100 mile race; I needed to mentally and physically conquer the distance over easier terrain. By chance I stumbled across the Robin Hood 100 in the t’internet, taking place mid-September, and phase 1 of my battle plan was sorted.

The battle plan was a little unusual though! I didn’t want to dedicate my summer to training – so I didn’t! We went to Anglesey and I ran most days, but nothing oppressive – I think the longest I did was 12 miles. I was just ticking over. I did one long run of 21 miles, out and back on the canal at home, as there was a long stretch of canal on the Robin Hood 100. Other than that, training was minimal in the extreme.

The reason for this ‘lax’ attitude? Well, I figured that, no matter how fit I was, the LL100 would be beyond physical; a complete mental battle. So I figured running a ‘flat’ 100 miler at less than peak fitness might provide the same mental battle as the LL100.

See? A valid reason for not really training!!!

Anyway, again I won’t bore you with an extended race report of the Robin Hood 100, too much time has passed. But I loved every minute of it – or at least the first 85 miles!

I got the mental battle I wanted after 84 miles. From there it was homeward bound on a canal towpath in the night, my achilles heel of sleep deprivation properly kicking in – plus I realised it was going to be 103 miles and not 100, which knocked me for six at the time! My only goal had been to break 24 hours, which I was well inside, but the extra 3 miles would make it closer. But finishing was never in doubt. I went through 100 miles in approx 22h45 and finished the race in 23h40. I think I was asleep within 5 minutes of crossing the line!20170917_085647

Lakeland 100 – the Recce Runs.

And so into 2018. The determined plan to be at my absolute peak of physical fitness simply hasn’t happened. In fact, in terms of pace, this is the slowest I have been for four or five years. It hasn’t been a complete disaster by any means but, as previously mentioned, just way too inconsistent. Great training week has been followed by a poor one. Mega mileage week followed by 10 days of not running at all. Life has certainly got in the way (Baby excuse 3) but sometimes you simply have to have other priorities in your life and, ultimately, being a parent is one of them. (The most important one, I hasten to add!)

But, taking my usual ‘glass-half-full’ approach, there have been definite training highlights and positives. I haven’t been injured all year for a start, that’s a definite positive of training less! I have generally managed to keep the ‘long’ training runs going at weekends, it’s been the midweek quick-fire stuff that has been often missing. Consequently, I do feel that my ‘ultra-fitness’ is there – I’m just lacking fast twitch muscles fibres at the moment!

But unquestionably the highlight of training has been the real emphasis on visits to the Lake District to recce the Lakeland 100 route. Along with Rob Lister, my trusty teammate (and also a father of 3!), we made a conscious decision that we had to train smart for this one. There really only is one way to train to race in the Lake District – that is to train in the Lake District!

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Rob and I overlooking Windermere on the Lakeland 100 route into Ambleside on a typically sweltering 2018 day!

I ran from Ambleside to Coniston and back (31 miles) by myself in April; a combination of very well known spots (Langdale) and some lesser known corners of the Lake District (Tilberthwaite). Rob and I ran 20 miles in May, including the Mardale Head to Ambleside section. So that was legs 11 to 15 sorted.

Then Rob and I spent the May bank holiday weekend running the 59 miles from Coniston to Dalemain, split over two days. If we thought the first two recce visits were warm, it was nothing compared to the Bank Holiday! Scorchio! We both suffered from wobbles at some point but we were massively under-fuelled compared to what we will be on race day, (bearing in mind that we had to carry all our provisions, whereas in the race we will be fed and watered at checkpoints!) So that knocked off legs 1 to 8.

Finally, we took advantage of a spare day before the Lakeland Trails 55k race to recce Fusedale and the descent to Haweswater from leg 10. So the only leg we have missed is leg 9 and we have used that path before in other races.

 Rob and I counting off the checkpoints during our roasting Bank Holiday recce runs. I’ll leave it to the experts to name the CP venues! (Legs 1 to 8!)

As the race day approaches we both feel that, without these recce runs, our chances of finishing the race would be practically zero. As it is, we have given ourselves a chance.

The 2018 Ultra Races.

GB Ultras Chester 50 miles (10th March – 9hrs, 5 mins. 21st place)

It’s very hard to remember that, in this Summer to beat all Summers, we actually had dire weather all the way into April! The entire Winter, and a good chunk of Spring, were spent running through muddy sludge. This race certainly encapsulated that! After a gentle-ish 20 miles on mainly firm towpath, we hit the mud! And mud was all we saw for the majority of the next 30 miles! I was so glad I took it easy at the start as I actually finished quite strongly whilst many wallowed around sinking to their doom! No-one who ran it will forget it, that is for certain! A great event, and a course that I really enjoyed and would do again. I should certainly smash my time given slightly firmer conditions!

GB Ultras Pennine Barrier 50 (23rd June, 9hr 52mins, 20th place.)

Delighted with this run. I suspect I will look back on this race as being my peak of fitness for 2018. Cooler conditions than the inferno of 2017; reflected in the time. 2hrs 25mins faster in fact! I took it steady and, consequently, pretty much held my pace all the way round. I enjoyed route marching the hills and consciously tried to go slower descending (definitely something I have learned this year.) Improved positioning of checkpoints and slight route amendments for the better from the excellent GB Ultras team meant a smooth day out. The Yorkshire Three Peaks were absolutely heaving (I was quite lucky to pass them early, being one of the quicker runners on the day) and, to be honest, I’ve seen enough of that route now to probably pass on the event next year, but it was a great day out and highly recommended for those looking for the perfect blend of hill climbing/descending and smooth running.

Lakeland Trails UT55k (8th July, 7hrs 15mins, 54th place)

Our last long run, 3 weeks before the big one, was the UT55k. We’d completed the 110k previously but that was no longer an event and, to be honest, I’d long wanted to try the 55k route. It was worth the wait. It is a terrific course which requires quite a bit of thought. Attack early and you will definitely come a cropper later. As it was, the muggy conditions meant that, after a really good start, we both decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Leaving the Grasmere CP at 20 miles in 32nd and 33rd place, we could both feel the conditions taking their toll. Neither of us wanted to blow up just 3 weeks before our ‘A’ race, so we settled down and enjoyed the scenery a bit. To be honest, I think if I had pushed on I would have suffered later, so it was nice to wander round and enjoy it, despite having to reign in competitive instincts as runners passed by. I was pretty bushed by the last checkpoint – it really was one of those days when it was difficult to get enough fluids on board. Still, we had a good weekend including the recce the day before. Have we done enough? Time will tell.

IT’S TIME……. THE LAKELAND 100

So this is it. In 72 hours time I’ll be on course. The Lakeland 100 is a 105 mile race (of course it is 105 miles, how long did you think a 100 mile race is?!) in a clockwise loop. Starting at 6pm on Friday 27th July in Coniston, the route takes in places like Wasdale, Buttermere, Braithwaite, Pooley Bridge, Mardale Head, Kentmere, Ambleside and Langdale before finishing (hopefully) back where we began, in Coniston, within the 40 hour cut-off on Sunday morning.

How hard is it? Well the number that has been ringing round my head for 10 months is 45%. What is 45%? That is the percentage of competitors who do not finish (DNF), on average, every year. That sounds bad enough until you realise that this is not a race for beginners; there is a pretty rigid qualifying criteria – I was relieved to be accepted into the race, that is the level we are talking about. Put another way, I am definitely not in the top 55% of runners in this field meaning that, statistically, I shouldn’t really finish the race.

Conditions will play a massive part and, to a certain extent, I believe we are in a lucky spot. The Summer has been so long and dry that many of the well known boggy sections of the route are entirely dry. Whilst that makes hard packed trails very unforgiving on the feet, the lack of boggy ground should at least help the legs. The obvious downside of this is that the weather is likely to be warm again, which brings with it a different set of problems. (At the moment the forecast appears kind – fingers crossed!)

I am not in my best shape physically but I feel I am in my best shape mentally. This should count for a lot because, as I learned on the Robin Hood 100, there is a point when you can’t get anymore physically tired than you already are and that’s when your mental state kicks in!

I have learned so much in the last six months, which surprised me because I thought I was a pretty competent ultra runner before that! Slowing down my pace has meant faster race times, preparing for checkpoints before I reach them and having a plan for those breaks has massively reduced my time spent stood still.

And here’s an amazing thing I’ve only really grasped recently – drinking water is really not a good idea! Doubly so in this heatwave. Keeping hydrated with electrolytes is something I have done for a while but I hadn’t really grasped how vital it was! Sweating out salt and only replacing it with water just means diluting your salt levels. If you do this over and over in an ultra you are going to end up in a mess. Now I absolutely make sure I finish my electrolyte drink before I reach every checkpoint so I can refill and go again. Sounds simple but it’s so important.

I only have two targets for the race; the first is to finish and, ultimately, that is the be-all and end-all. The other is that I would love to reach Dalemain Estate (59 miles) before 11.30am on Saturday. The Lakeland 50 event starts then and I know so many people taking part that I think it would be a huge mental boost to see them all and then be overtaken by them all in the afternoon! Friendly faces go a long way when you are in the hurt locker!

So…… it’s time. If you are interested enough you can follow my progress on a live tracker through the weekend, the link to which is below. I am number 309 and my little dot will be on the move from 6pm on Friday, (I hope!)

Follow little red dot 309 by clicking here!

My twitter feed will automatically update every time I reach a checkpoint – you can follow me at @GBSticks11 (or use the link to the right of this blog).

Apologies for not setting up my charity for this year – I may have mentioned I’ve been busy? (Baby excuse 4.)

All that remains is to say thanks for reading, special mega huge thanks to Leanne, Hannah, Nancy and Lottie who have again let me go out and do things that reasonable families would have every right to complain about, thanks to running buddy Rob Lister – we have both needed support at times this year and it is invaluable to have someone there going through the same things, thanks to the organisers of all these amazing events – so much goes on behind the scenes that the vast majority of runners don’t even know about and, finally, thanks to all those fellow crazy fools out there in the ultra running world who I share these adventures with – there have been too many people in the last 15 months to name check but everyone we meet at both GB Ultras and Lakeland Trails in particular are great people, (you are probably one of them if you are still reading at this point!)

Good luck to the organisers of the Lakeland 100 and 50 events at the weekend, I hope you have a stress free and successful event. Good luck to my fellow 100 and 50 runners aiming to become #Lakelandlegends over the weekend – I hope to catch-up with you all at some point!

LET’S DO THIS PEOPLE!

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Thanks again Jemma Coleman!

 

 

 

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.)

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.

IMG_20160131_091903

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.