It’s been over a month since my last post (thanks for all the messages about that one, BTW – must try to work out how to keep the responses on-screen!) and, as expected, mad work season plus the resumption of training (thank goodness!) has meant there simply hasn’t been time to keep my blog up-to-date. So tonight comes a double-header, (hopefully!) School reports can wait another night…
This first section will detail the running. The second section will profile the reason for the running – or at least the reason for the charity I am supporting for the fast-approaching ultra.
Saturday 18th April – Saturday 9th May
So, last thing you knew, I was spraining my ankle at Hawkshead. Bit of a nightmare with exactly 10 weeks to go and my mega-mileage weeks lined up. The first week was spent hobbling round trying to ensure I didn’t make things worse – not easy when working in a primary school. A trip to the physio the second week at least confirmed nothing worse than a sprain. He was able to give it a bit of a thrashing about without too much discomfort; so at least I knew it was getting better! He also gave me the green light to have a go on our cross trainer, (the machine we use to gather dust and hang wet running kit on in the corner of our conservatory,) as long as I didn’t feel any pain doing it. This I did – no pain. So the third week was spent absolutely thrashing the life out of the previously life-less cross trainer as I vented my frustrations on it! I also turned the rest of the conservatory into a mini-gym of sorts and set myself a core strengthening program in order to maximise the time spent off actually running.
I was very pleased with this week of training and remember making a mental note to myself to ensure I still incorporated this training into my routine once back on the roads… (Hmn, not happened…)
I can’t say there were any highlights to this 3 weeks off running, but there was a moment I am, looking back, extremely proud of.
Saturday 9th May. Exactly 3 weeks after the unfortunate injury. Lakeland Trails, Staveley, ‘Sting in the Tail’ race day. Mrs Sticks entered in the 10k in the morning. Myself, by way of the series entry I paid in January, entered in the afternoon’s 17k event. I had hammered the cross trainer for the week and knew my ankle was ready. So the four of us packed the car up and off we went to the race. And I didn’t even take my kit with me. That’s right. Left it at home. On purpose. I know the route, you see. Done it twice. Mostly dead simple running. Quite a bit of tarmac actually. Loads of flat farm tracks too. But I also knew there were two pretty tricky descents. The rain hammered down the night before. I knew my ankle was ready to run, but I also knew that one slip would cost me another 3 weeks of training and, therefore, probably my ultra debut with it. So I didn’t take my kit. Because I knew that, once we got there, I would be so swept up with the atmosphere that I would definitely run. And I was glad I didn’t, because I definitely would have!
Sunday 10th May – Saturday 23rd May
I stuck to my plan to do my first week of running on the safely flat tarmac, where an ankle re-injury was at least less likely. The next day, Sunday 10th May, 7 weeks from race day, I was back out on the road. I planned 3 miles and ran nearly 7, mostly through the sheer excitement of being out again. In fact, I only went home because I knew Mrs Sticks would be panicking thinking I’d broken my ankle somewhere!
I was intentionally careful during this fortnight and had to constantly fight the urge not to do too much – to try and ‘make-up’ the mileage I’d lost during the layoff. I was lucky that we had a family break planned in Devon over half-term (thank you in-laws!) so I knew, if I just got back on a firm footing before then, the South West Coastal footpath would be the perfect ultra-training ground.
My first trail run was a nice, safe, flat 12 mile towpath run and I backed it up the next day by hitting the more uneven hills at a careful pace with Mrs Sticks. We took advantage of family staying over by having a rare run together up Ashurst Beacon and, thanks to her enthusiasm, even tagging on my favourite training footpath – the steep one from the canal bridge between Appley Bridge and Parbold straight up to the Miller & Carter Steakhouse at the top of Parbold Hill. There are few finer running pleasures around here than descending through Fairy Glen and it was great to get to share it with Mrs Sticks – herself now a fully converted trail runner!
The ankle was fine. The strapping was gone. 6 weeks to race day. Now it was time to get serious.
Sunday 24th May – Friday 29th May (half-term week)
Thanks to the kindness of my in-laws, we spent half-term week on a quiet little caravan site in the slightly unusual setting of Westward Ho! (I could write a whole blog just about that place! We had a great week, but what a peculiar town it is!) What a perfect setting for running though, with the South West Coastal footpath within view from the caravan window! To the North (or East) the footpath is a reasonably flat affair, but to the South (West) the cliffs begin to ramp up, and this is where I intended to test myself. The weather threw a little bit of everything in to the mix too, meaning I got to try out my full range of newly purchased kit, (which will be the feature of a future blog for you running anoraks.)
In the first 4 days I ran a total of 65 miles; 16-16-7-26.
Day 1 was a wet, hilly run South (West) on the footpath. After a couple of flattish warm up miles the cliffs rise and fall with greater altitude at each turn. There was also a pleasant, rolling woodland section just before my turn around point after a vertigo inducing drop into Buck’s Mills. My watch recorded 2500ft of ascent in those 16 miles so the training could not have been more testing! The only scars I had to show for it were quite blistered feet where the constant soaking had reduced my feet to putty – something I must be careful of on race day if the weather is wet.
Day 2 was a far more relaxing 16 miler North (East) to Bideford. The path is much more gentle and, again, myself and Mrs Sticks were able to enjoy the first 4 miles together into the delightful village of Appledore. (Fantastic place, great pub [the Beaver!] way off the beaten track, you must visit one day!) Mrs Sticks turned back for home at this point and I continued to follow the River Torridge to Bideford – passing underneath the impressive new road bridge to enjoy my ‘Malt-Loaf-break’ at the similarly impressive old town bridge.
After two 3 hour plus days, day 3 was a conventional 7 mile road recovery run, all-be-it with a steep climb chucked in, before my epic training day was upon me – not without incident though…
Tuesday evening was spent in the local pub. I was being monk-like and not drinking; I was eyeing up a marathon length run on the crazy up-and-down cliffs with a 5am start. So we headed home at 10pm, the kids scootering on ahead. As we approached the caravan though, we heard a scooter hit the deck and our eldest, 8 year-old daughter cry out. “Ssshhhhh! You’ll wake everyone up!” was our general soothing response! Or at least it was until we turned a light on in the caravan to see said daughter covered in blood with a dirty great chip missing from one of her front teeth! After a mop up job and a bit of TLC, we headed out to the local A&E, roughly 15 miles away in Barnstaple. We returned to the caravan at about 1am, none the worse for wear aside from a missing bit of tooth and an extremely fat lip! On the plus side, thank goodness she picked the night I didn’t have a drink – I never expected ultra training to come in useful in this manner!!!
Anyhow, 5am was out of the window. Not just because I hadn’t had enough sleep; even I wasn’t selfish enough to clear off without making sure Miss Sticks wasn’t OK first! However, once playing with her cousin’s it became apparent she was fine. The weather was also genuinely hot for the first time, so a lazy beach day was lined up, meaning I had the green light to go out running for the day!
So-it-was that I set off at the less than ideal time of 11.30 in the midday heat. The plan was to head South (West) passing Buck’s Mills and stopping for a late lunch at Clovelly, some 13 up-and-downy cliff miles away before retracing my route back to Westward Ho!
If there was one thing I learned this week it was this: walking slowly in the short-term means running faster in the long-term. I utilised my Ultra run plan of walking anything remotely steep uphill regardless of whether I felt like I could run it. On this hottest of days I definitely felt this paid off. You will simply have to take my word for it that parts of this path are seriously steep! The fact that I felt relatively fresh on returning to Westward Ho! after 26 miles some 6 hours later is testament to the fact that I didn’t push it at all on the hills. I must remember this on Ultra day. “No point trying to be a hero up this climb, no-one is watching. They’ll only see you at the end.” I must have chanted it a hundred times up those hills. And anyway, the fact remains that I probably walked up them quicker than I could run up them anyway!
Unfortunately, I will never quite know how far I ran. I wanted to run just 27 miles, enough to take me beyond the magical marathon distance of 26.2 miles and therefore into ultra territory. Unfortunately my old, battered phone which I was using for the attached Instagram pics and for Strava decided that this was the day it was going to officially pack up! (It had, in fairness, been held together with selotape since before Christmas!) So cross was I with this, that after one snack break, I forgot to restart the Garmin watch as well! I reckon I restarted it after about .25/.5 a mile and my watch recorded 25.3 miles so I would have been close. however, with 5250 feet of climbing, I reckoned the distance became pretty irrelevant. This was a mighty good training run. 5hrs 20mins running, probably about 6hrs 30mins in total. The time and climbing was more important than the distance.
A perfect run was capped off when, approaching Westward Ho! with about 2 miles to go, I realised that the orange speck in the distance was actually Mrs Sticks running out to meet me! I was so pleased to see her that we had a proper ‘running-towards-eachother-arms-outstretched’ moment!!!
Quickly followed by a ‘Christ-that-was-embarrassing-there’s-no-one-around-is-there?’ moment!!!
A well-earned day off (and a few beers) followed before rounding off the week with another gentle 7 mile recovery run. I thought about running further but the weather was atrocious that morning and, as daughter no1 was beginning to remind me, “You’ve spent quite enough of this family holiday out running!” Never-the-less, the half term ‘training camp’ could not have gone any more successfully. I was beginning to feel prepared…
June 1st – present day (Lakeland Trails Coniston Marathon)
It is a sign of my fitness now that 10-13 mile runs, whether road or trail, I now regarded as easy, run of the mill stuff. I keep chucking in the steep hills like the Parbold Hill footpath and the newly discovered Stoney Lane (climbing from Parbold to High Moor) to make sure I am testing myself.
Only one serious training run remained – a return to the Lakeland Trails and the Coniston Marathon. I had initially not entered this race; I felt Sunday 7th June (3 weeks before Ultra day) was a little too close to be running a hilly marathon. However, having lost so many training miles to injury, I felt it was now a must in terms of mileage, equipment testing and, probably most importantly, experience of Lakeland terrain.
I had read so much about what a great event it was and, trusting the organisers as I do, I knew a tough challenge was in store. Initial plans to camp at the venue the night before the event were scuppered by selfish daughter no2 and her selfish idea of having a 4th birthday the day before. (Selfish.) Therefore, my alarm pointlessly went off at 4am the following day. (Pointless because I had been awake since 3am making sure I didn’t miss the 4am alarm.)
There was no point us all setting off at that un-Godly hour, so I set off alone with the stereo turned up loud for some serious singing en-route to the Lakes. The family were coming up later to watch me finish. (Actually, I think they were just coming for the Pete Lashley gig, but i would be finishing too at some point.)
The run itself went very smoothly and, I have to say, without incident. The first thing to say is that the route is every bit as beautiful as advertised and, for the first 18 miles at least, the footing is sure enough to be able to take in those views without breaking stride too much.
I planned to take it at ultra pace and include snack stops. However, when I first stopped to walk on about 9 miles above Tarn Hows, I was soon being overtaken by runners I had just climbed past. “Sod that, I’m racing!”
I cruised round 20 miles in around 2hrs 50mins. I even tried to call Mrs Sticks to tell her she’d better get to the finish on time ‘cos I was going to be a lot quicker than the 5 hours I told her I’d planned! (No signal!)
However, after the last climb, the descent that I thought I’d cruise down turned out to be the first genuinely technical ground of the run. Most of the time it was proper walking pace either navigating around bogs or negotiating rocky outcrops. The brave guys/girls were steaming straight through these, but I was now thinking of my ankle and how stupid I would feel if I injured myself on a ‘training run'(!)
Still, I was slightly surprised and pleased to be cheered into the finishing loop by Team Sticks (the 3 of whom had only just arrived!) after 4hrs 13mins of relative cruising. As I suspected, the Devon training route had actually consisted of double the climbing of the Lakeland route; the bonus of which was that I found the latter to be a relatively comfortable run. Whether this will count for anything when I have to run two-and-a-half marathons in a row on even hillier terrain is anyone’s guess – but, for now at least, I’m clinging to that small crumb of comfort!
So there you have it. Up-to-date, fit(ish) considering the injury, and raring to go. I’m now into every runners favourite part of training, the taper, where you try to remember to do a bit of running and not eat too many pizzas or too much cake.
There will be another blog to come in the next day or two with details of my charity and the reason for the orange vest. Please share it around. Thanks for reading!