Clinging on to the hope of becoming a #lakelandlegend in 2019. (And the ethics of a deliberate DNF.)

Well, where do I start in order to pick up from my last blog? It was written on March 23rd, nearly three months ago, as I contemplated comeback number 4 from the not-so-little-calf-niggle that I experienced on February 10th. It covered the 11 mental stages of injury as I had experienced them in that six weeks. If you want to read it, click the link below:

The 11 mental stages of an injured runner.

At the time we were three weeks from a family holiday in Snowdonia with my ultra running buddy Rob and the Lister family.

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Good times, baby! (Stone Roses reference just for Rob.) The Lister and Morgan-Hillam families outside their favourite holiday home!

I had an ultra-cautious cross-train, run/walk, regular physio visit regime in place to get me to Snowdonia fit to utilise the spectacular scenery. It was booked nearly a year ago specifically with Lakeland 100 training in mind. To cut a very long story short; the plan worked and I made it to Snowdonia ready to ‘do a bit’. I say ‘do a bit’ because I was still on the comeback trail so was still planning walk/run strategies and rest days in order to achieve a starting point from Snowdonia, rather than hammering up and down hills for a week and emerging from it firing on all cylinders, which was the original plan.

Day one of the holiday (14th April) was a pleasant surprise. I was able to walk the steep mile uphill and then jog the mile downhill into the next valley. I jog/walked the roughly 5k loop of Llyn Crafnant before walking the mile climb and jogging gleefully back down to our cottage retreat. Over 7 miles of sensible hill work. Being back out in on the trails in fresh, exciting scenery was so invigorating. We walked a similar route in the afternoon with the children; I carried Lottie in the backpack and felt fine. The comeback was on!

The comeback lasted 24 hours.

In hindsight, I should have realised that, after two months off running, I should have had a rest day. Also in hindsight, carrying Lottie for a couple of hours on hilly terrain after my morning run was probably also overdoing it. Anyway, I went out the next morning, walked the hill again (so I wasn’t being reckless or anything, but still…) and jogged down into the valley. I had a pre-planned run/walk strategy and, as I neared the next little climb which would signify the next planned walk section, I remember glancing up at the view and thinking ‘Wow! This is great! I’m actually running again!’

‘Twang!’ went the calf.

I was literally ten steps from where I would have walked again.

I admit I nearly cried there and then. At that point I thought the Lakeland 100 was over. With three and a half months left to the race and being back at square one injury wise, there seemed little hope, or point, in trying anymore.

I trudged back to the cottage and fully planned to e-mail Marc Laithwaite (Lakeland 100 Race Director) there and then to pull out and offer to volunteer to help on race weekend.

So why didn’t I pull out?

Well, I admit there is a little bit of a tight-Yorkshireman element to this! Not necessarily in order of importance, the reasons I didn’t pull out were as follows:

  • In the back of my mind, I still felt like this injury was just a niggle that I was managing badly. What if I pulled out (at any point – I nearly did it lots of times!) and then found myself running freely again three weeks later?! How upset would I be in Coniston watching the start if I felt, deep down, that I could have been fit to start the race?! [Why would I be at Coniston for a race I wasn’t in, I hear you ask? Well…]
  • We have forked out £1000 for a cottage for the weekend!!! I told you there was a tight-Yorkshireman element to my decision! Leanne said from the start, after last years failure, that we were going to do it properly this time. We had a cottage booked within 30 minutes of me gaining entry to the event. Again, we’ll be sharing with team Lister. It’s not fair on the Listers to not turn up and leave them stuck with the full bill just because I wasn’t racing – the girls would be furious at missing out on a holiday with the Listers as well! So we will be there regardless of my participation.
  • If there is the slightest chance to get this race boxed off in 2019 I need to try and take it. I really don’t want to spend next year focusing on training so much, it isn’t fair on the family. I can enter more road races and shorter trail races without needing to commit so much time to training. Without sounding complacent, I can knock off 50 mile ultras to a reasonable standard without upping my training too much. But a race of this magnitude demands attention, it demands commitment, it demands reccying of the course – or at least visits to venues with similar terrain, ascent and descent. You cannot enter this race and not commit to it. Even in this year of injury I have spent an unhealthy percentage of my waking hours thinking about it. In times of injury doubt, this is hugely mentally draining.
  • Coupled to the above impact on the family is the timing of the race on the last weekend of July. Perfect in terms of running the race – I can rest up for a week after breaking up from school before hitting the start line. However, this is not ideal for family holidays. We can’t book to go away early in the holidays and we can’t really book the week after the race either as we can’t be certain what physical state I might be in after the race! (You’ll remember last year, a factor in me dropping out was my panic that I was going to be too ill after the race to go on holiday when the weather deteriorated.)
  • I’ve saved the most important one until last – if one thought has reached prominence in my mind these last few weeks it’s this: don’t just assume that you are going to get loads of chances to do something. If you have chance, do it now! I have spent most of this year knowing that I’m not going to be anywhere near peak fitness for the LL100. Many times I’ve thought, ‘I should drop out and just wait until the year after.’ But what if this is the fittest I will ever be from now on? What if I never get another chance to run it? Can I guarantee that I will get another chance? Life has taught me this year that the unequivocal answer to this is – no! I keep hearing horror stories of people my age having major health issues and what have you, and it scares me daily. (I think I talked about my daily ailments in my last blog!) But there is absolutely no guarantee that I’ll get another chance, so I’m clinging to this one as long as I can, regardless of whether I am ultimately successful or not!

In summary, there was just enough to keep me from sending the dreaded race-resignation e-mail until it was a physical certainty that I couldn’t race.

Saturday 11th May – a date with destiny. (Well, a date with Jeff McCarthy – he’s not the Grim Reaper or anything.)

Fast forward another three weeks. Another three weeks of cross training, walking and lightly jogging wondering when I’m going to feel that next twang of the calf muscle. False starts, false hopes, nervous abandoned sessions etc.

Early in the year, before the injury malarky, I had promised to take Lakeland Trails friend and general life inspiration Jeff McCarthy on a recce of Fusedale, the most formidable and iconic section of both the Lakeland 100 and it’s twin event, the Lakeland 50.

In Jeff’s case, I don’t use the work ‘inspiration’ lightly. I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself this year. The mental battle with this injury for the last three months has felt like three years. But – and here’s the important bit I have to remind myself of – it will end at some point.

Jeff mentally (and physically) battles Lymes Disease every day of his life. This battle won’t end – ever. But, instead of feeling sorry for himself, Jeff refuses to give up on his passions (like running) despite the obvious barriers presented. He may be a #Lakelandlegend in waiting, but he is already a fully fledged #lifelegend in my eyes – and he has an award winning blog to boot! It is a consistently brilliant read, with interviews and witty race reports but, perhaps most importantly, a no-holds-barred honest approach to writing about the massive impact Lymes Disease has on his daily life, family life and mental health. The link below is not to his homepage (but you can click the link at the top of the blog after you’ve read it!), it’s the write-up he did for Lymes Disease UK (LDUK) charting his battles. Please give it a read here:

Jeff’s amazing blog about his battle with Lymes Disease

Jeff also did a cracking job of writing up the day out which I am about to recount to you on his own website. If you want to read about it from his point of view, click here:

Jeff’s review of our day out in the lakes

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With the #lifelegend Jeff McCarthy, climbing into Fusedale with our starting point, Howtown on Ullswater, slipping away in the distance. Can we book the same conditions for race day, please?!

So, why was this a date with destiny for me?

Well, It was now well under three months to race day and I still couldn’t/hadn’t completed any run over 2 miles. I had run/walked 6 miles once and 5 miles another time, but these were a week apart and with zero confidence that a full on run would result in anything other than injury.

In summary, I fully expected my injury to flare up in the Lakes with Jeff and then I would drop out of the Lakeland 100 officially.

Why was I going if I thought injury was inevitable?

Well firstly, I was fed up of the battle. Two mile walk/run sessions are not what I am about, and are not going to cut it as preparation for the Lakeland 100. It was time to test if there was any chance of my calf surviving a bit of work.

Secondly, I desperately wanted to keep my promise to Jeff. This is such a big event for him and I knew that reccying the important parts of the route would be invaluable for him – as it was for Rob and I last year.

If I can’t start the race this year, it would be great to help someone else finish it.

Finally, I was just dying to go to the Lake District again! If there’s one thing I have learned about ultra running whilst preparing for Lakeland 100 these last two years, it’s that races come and go, but the days out in beautiful scenery preparing for the races are the ones you actually enjoy and remember!

So off we went to the lakes! We utilised cars so that we could run point-to-point like the actual race day. We met at Kentmere, left Jeff’s car, drove to Howtown and ran back over Fusedale, along Haweswater, over the Gatesgarth Pass into Longsleddale, then over to Kentmere. Not the Pooley Bridge to Ambleside 20 odd miler I had originally planned, but a solid 16 miles with 4000 feet of elevation! And the calf survived – bugger, I had to carry on now!

 

In many ways I had been looking forward to the closure of dropping out of my races. I was genuinely surprised that I got through the recce with Jeff. I now had to formulate a new plan. Obviously, this year my plans have changed on an almost daily basis. But here are the general plans I had at the start of the year in terms of racing – and bear in mind that I wasn’t/am not bothered about my performance in any of these races, they were all stepping stones to LL100.

Plan A

The usual weekend long runs and a series of recce visits with Rob – with the following races to break it up:

  1. GB Ultras Chester 50 – early March
  2. Various Cross Country races, including the National Champs in February
  3. GB Ultras Chester 100 – May 18th. (This was if I was feeling great – and also needed the blessing of eldest daughter Hannah, as it was her birthday!)
  4. Lakeland Trails Marathon – June 2nd
  5. Lakeland Trails 100k – June 29th
  6. Lakeland 100 – July 26th

When I initially got injured, I thanked my lucky (financial) stars I hadn’t entered the GB events, as these were gone.

Plan B (pre half-term holiday)

Now I had survived the recce with Jeff, I planned to gently train for the three weeks (including the half-term holiday) before resuming my plan with the Lakeland Trails marathon as the next stepping stone fitness test.

  1. Gentle build up to half term – no long runs,
  2. Steady week on holiday in Portcawl – front load a long run as the LT marathon was the final Sunday of the holiday
  3. Lakeland Trails marathon – June 2nd
  4. The first 5 stages of Lakeland Trails 100k – June 26th
  5. Lakeland 100k

However, Andy McGlynn, who has been doing some excellent physio work for me (check out his facebook page here – Sport and Injury Therapy facebook page ) strongly recommended I didn’t do the marathon. He said I’d be better off doing 10 miles followed by rest day (then repeat) for the entire holiday week and coming out of the half-term break fitter, rather than risking the injury. I wasn’t convinced at first, but he’d planted the seed of doubt, and I knew I would feel like a prize plank if I got injured when a physio told me not to do it! So…

Plan C – the current plan!!!

We had a lovely family week with the Morgan crew in Porthcawl, South Wales. I was actually even more cautious than I thought I would be.

Day 1 was 7.5 miles, but all flat and split into three lovely sections (in horrible weather!). The first 1.75 miles was with a brave, and soaking, Nancy!

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Nancy putting on a brave face in the squall!

The next 2 miles were with an equally brave and soaking Leanne!

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Insanity setting in! Literally the only time Leanne smiled in 2 miles! (She does like her new jacket though!)

I then tagged on another 3.75 miles myself to the end of the breakwater, (nearly got blown off…)

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Good old British summertime!

Ironically, given the weather conditions, this run was exactly a year to the day that Rob and I nearly died of heat exposure (I might be exaggerating a little bit) running 33 miles from Coniston to Braithwaite! I would also say the two runs are fully accurate reflections of where my fitness was/is. A year ago I could knock-off a huge day in incinerating heat and do 26 equally tough miles the next day. This year I tiptoed round 7.5 miles on the flat and kept my fingers crossed I made it back to the caravan in one piece!

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The same day last year! Rob and I losing our marbles 26 miles into an epically hot day in Buttermere. Check out my face shape last year to this for a direct comparison to the shape I am currently in fitness wise!

Holiday day 2 run was better. A slow, but sunny, 10 miles – the first two with Leanne, incorporating a nice bit of coastal trail around the perimeter of Royal Porthcawl Golf Club. Whilst it definitely game me a bit of confidence, in that I ran the whole way with no walking sections, I also felt I was definitely in need of a rest afterwards.

As a result of this, in the next two days I accumulated a grand total of 2.75 miles! I went for a recovery trot the day after and was sure I felt a twinge. No way was I taking a chance, so I called it a day and the day after, when the weather came back in to soak us again, I never bothered going out at all! There is a fine line between caution and outright laziness and I was flirting with the latter!

The weather the next morning was no better, so I persuaded Leanne to don her nice new rain jacket again and explore the beach in the opposite direction, westwards, for a change. Inadvertently, the accidental adventure that came from this decision became, perhaps, the turning point in my year.

Off we toddled along the coastal path which quickly dwindled away leaving us floundering on the beach in soft sand. Normally, I might relish this kind of extra-intensity training but, on this day, I just felt I was putting undue pressure on a gammy calf trying to push through soft sand – just not sensible.

Originally, Leanne was only going to do two miles out with me and then turn back. However, now I changed my plan (thank you OS maps – that app is bloody brilliant on your phone to save you taking the paper map out in the rain with you!) and decided to cut inland through the dunes and pick up what I hoped would be a more solid path back home.

Leanne asked if I would mind if she tagged along as she didn’t fancy the soft sand either. Of course I didn’t – this run was not about pace, it was time on feet and, anyway, I was only going to do about 5 miles. (WRONG!!!)

So we followed a path into the dunes. But, good grief, it was a maze in there! Again, OS maps to the rescue! We were never truly ‘lost’ – we knew where we were, but having that little dot show on the map was very reassuring when one sand dune looks exactly like another and you have gone full circle by accident!

Eventually we emerged into the car park I had aimed for before immediately taking on a monster sand dune – and it wasn’t even in the right direction! Finally we located the real path but, with 5 miles already in the bag and an hour on the clock we knew this was going to be a lot more than the quick trot we had told Leanne’s parents we were doing!

We ended up doing only 7.5 miles but were out for 100 minutes! A sign of the terrain covered. But what a great morning we had – the time passed in a flash and the path home was so lovely, rolling up and down in and out of woods and into the dunes that I used it out and back the next day for a long run.

The adventure with Leanne was completed without the hint of a twinge and, given that I had by now made up my mind not to travel to the Lakes on Sunday for the marathon, I needed to get some sort of long run in and try and find some lumps among the flatlands.

The final day of the holiday was much better weather wise and I finally set an alarm to get up and off early doors. I ran 16 miles and searched out every tight knot of contour lines I could. I ultra-walked the steep bits and ran the rest. It was comfortable, it was enjoyable, and it eased my mind that I had done the right thing to miss the marathon on Sunday.

We travelled home on the Saturday and, on the Sunday, I took to our local trails for 6 miles in what I described on Strava as my first ‘proper’ run in three months – in that I purposefully ran a couple of miles at 7.30ish pace – the first time I had done anything other than an ultra trot or walk in that time period. This meant I had done exactly 50 miles in the 8 days of half term. Not a massive amount but, as physio Andy said, I came out of the holiday period fitter than I went in, confidence building, and looking forward to the next two months – the sensible attitude and correct decisions made, it was time to plan the next month up to Lakeland Trails 100k.

June – the story so far.

Without really realising it, I have run 68 miles in the first 14 days of June. And that does not include the long weekend run that is about to take place as I type! Again, not a massive amount, but huge in terms of what I achieved in May, (108 miles – and 16 of them were on the last day on the run described above!)

This has been a pleasant surprise as I haven’t consciously built-up, it’s just happened by being careful and cautious. Obviously, at this stage, pace is out of the window. I still panic if I speed up too much but, ultimately, it’s not worth the risk. Time on feet and endurance training is the priority now. I am fully aware of the importance of speed work to aid endurance training, but I simply don’t have confidence in my calf to push it and, 6 weeks from the big day, I have zero room for any more niggles. So every run is taken at either ultra trot pace or, at fastest, gentle recovery run pace. But, without realising it, I’m not walking anywhere anymore! My running events are just that – running. Now don’t get me wrong, if I am in doubt at all on any of my runs I slow right down and will walk if necessary, as I said I have zero wiggle room here. But, for the first time since early February, sometimes now I will be out running and will actually stop thinking about my leg. Not all the time – on Tuesday in yet another rain sodden run, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the thought that it was going to go at any moment. Confidence is so fragile from run to run. But I CAN run. So what next?

Lakeland Trails 100k (28th June) – the dilemma.

On the face of it, it makes no sense to do any of this run. (I certainly know what physio Andy would say.) There are three options:

  1. Don’t do any of it!
  2. Do some of it!
  3. Do all of it!

Let’s break down the pros and cons:

Don’t do any of it – pros:

  • I won’t get injured,
  • I could do a different long run appropriate to my current fitness at a time and venue of my choosing.
  • Given that, if I go, we might camp as a family or, at the very least, spend quite a bit of time in Ambleside, I’ll probably save some spending money by not going!
  • I don’t have the hassle of sorting all my kit out.

Don’t do any of it – cons:

  • I have to get some hills in at some point. I have to do 105 miles in the Lake District in six weeks, for goodness sake!
  • IT COST ME £115 TO ENTER! (Tight Yorkshireman kicking in again – especially as it cost me £48 to NOT run the Lakeland Trails marathon!)

Start it AND try to finish it – pros:

  • Imagine the confidence boost if I knocked it off?! I’d know I was fit to go to LL100 and give it a good shot.
  • The two other times I have completed this race, (the LT110k in 2015 and 2016) everyone I spoke to seemed to be using it as a last training run for the LL100, so it must be a sensible plan if lots of other people do it, right?
  • I can’t think of another positive – I genuinely think I would be stupid to try and complete this race just four weeks before LL100. I was never that convinced when I entered it in the first place and thought I would be super fit by now. I was going to enter the 55k (I wish I had now) but I got bullied by Rob (he’s mean.)

Start it AND try to finish it – cons:

  • In my opinion, if I went all out to finish this race, I will either get injured trying or will be that battered after it that I can’t rest and recover enough in four weeks to be fit for LL100 anyway. And the whole point of this race is prep for my main objective. That’s the only negative I have, but it’s pretty conclusive I think.

Which brings me back to the potential sensible option I now have to take, which I referenced in my title for the entire blog…

Am I really going to turn up for a big race like Lakeland Trails 100k with a deliberate, pre-determined plan to DNF?

It’s one thing to go to a race that is not your ‘A’ race for the year and go steady, treating it like a training run. Last year, I used this strategy brilliantly. I could barely get out for training runs at all last year, but used a carefully scaffolded set of races as preparation and long run training to get myself in a good place for the LL100. In fact, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, this relaxed, carefree attitude to my ‘B’ races actually produced some of my best ever actual race results! Thus proving that, in ultra racing, often going deliberately slower and steadier can actually result in faster overall performances!

But it is another matter altogether to stand on a start line, look around at the many organisers/volunteers and your fellow runners and know that you are going to drop out of it on purpose, as part of a pre-determined plan.

So let’s again break down the benefits and potential pit-falls:

Why bother starting and then deliberately dropping out?

  • Well first of all, as already mentioned – I’ve paid £115 to enter!!! (Are you spotting a pattern here?!) I won’t get the t-shirt, or the pride of crossing the finish line, but I will get some sort of value for the money!
  • It’s a midnight start. This is a big one; if you know anything of my ultra running history, or my daily life, you will know I get sleepy! You will also know that my low tolerance for dealing with sleep deprivation was the over-riding factor in me dropping out of LL100 in 2018. This race is the perfect opportunity to go out running at midnight after a full week at work and get used to dealing with my incredible grumpiness levels when I want a nap!
  • Night running is the greatest thing! Ask anyone. Once you have experienced an ultra running event which takes you through the night, you will tell everyone what a magical experience it is. The excitement as dusk turns to darkness and the headtorches are switched on; the thrill of looking over your shoulder on a hill and seeing a never ending stream of headtorch lights following you is truly mind-blowing. The incredible energy boost you feel when you realise the night sky is beginning to brighten the next morning is amazing. Running through Ambleside at midnight, as the drunks stagger out of the pubs to cheer you on, (or abuse you – it’s a fine line!) is great in it’s own right.
  • The Glenridding CP is at approximately 37 miles and comes after quite a difficult part of the course. For me, 35 miles is about the recce distance I would be looking for as a long run four weeks before the main event. I think I can physically recover and carry on training a bit by doing that much. Ideally, I would like to continue to Grasmere as that would include the big climb up to Grisedale Hause, but that would take me to 45 miles and I fear that may be too much to recover from, or at least increase the chances of injury enough to make it not worthwhile.
  • I’ve done the last part of the route around Langdale and Little Langdale absolutely loads of times AND it’s on the LL100 route too! There is nothing to be gained and I have nothing to prove by running (staggering) through Langdale again – I can save that experience for six weeks time!
  • I will have all the kit I am going to use for LL100, so a 35(ish) miler around the Lakes is a good final opportunity to run a proper kit check and iron out packing issues and or chafing/rubbing hot-spots using the exact kit I will wear on LL100 day.
  • There genuinely is no substitute for training for a Lake District event than being in the Lake District.
  • If I didn’t go to the race, I would only be running my own recce anyway. I might as well take advantage of the feed stations and practice nutrition too! (And have I mentioned I’ve paid £115???!!!)

Are there any reasons why I should NOT deliberately DNF a race that I am only using for training?

  • Well, ethically I would have to leave that to the Race Directors that I know. Marc Laithwaite, Graham Patten, Wayne Drinkwater, Ronnie Staton to name but a few, would all have opinions I am sure – and I’m genuinely unsure what those opinions would be. In my opinion, I’m fairly sure that they would say that, if I’ve paid my money and I’m not endangering fellow competitors or inconveniencing volunteers, it is my choice. (Marc would definitely call me a complete wuss – although he might be tempted to leave it due to the fact that it is his race that I am aiming to complete!)
  • ‘You’re making life difficult for the organisers and volunteers’ – If I thought this was the case I definitely wouldn’t start. Obviously, I don’t want to take up the time of race officials or volunteers, or make life difficult for them. Wherever I drop out will be pre-planned with Leanne to pick me up (I’m not stupid enough to expect a lift from someone!) and I would be sure to report to both CP marshals and also return to the finish line to ensure that officials know I have dropped out and am safe and well.
  • ‘You’re taking the place of someone else who could race it and finish’ – Well, no in this case. In both the LT100k and the LL100 there is no refund and no transfer of places. This is totally fair as it protects the Race Directors from losing all their money by people entering, not training and then asking for their money back! I would never ask for the entry fee back anyway as both races do loads for the Lake District itself in terms of local charity contributions, Mountain Rescue donations etc. So my place wouldn’t go to a ‘reserve list’ and I wouldn’t ask or expect money back. There is still a possibility that I will not be able to take part in either race – the fact that I have paid nearly £300 to enter LT marathon, LT100k and LL100 is the risk you take when you enter them in the first place!

So that is where I am at the moment. (Well, at this exact moment I am sat typing this cos it’s raining outside and I really can’t be bothered getting soaked again this week even though I need to go and run up some hills!)

I’d be interested to know what the opinion of my fellow ultra-running friends are on the should I start/deliberately DNF/ try to finish the LT100k quandary. Please don’t be abusive though – constructive comments only!

Conclusions from the last 3 months.

It’s been a funny old spell. As with any period of time where things don’t go your way, I do tend to discover that you find out more about yourself dealing with adversity than when things are sailing along smoothly, so here are some general comments, again in no particular order, to round off another blog:

  • don’t assume you are going to get lots of chances to do something – do it while you can! Could also be titled ‘live in the moment’. In modern life this is still very hard to do. It’s impossible not to wish life away to get to events you are looking forward to. But Leanne and I feel like we are surrounded by events which remind us that people our age keep dying unexpectedly! (A bit morbid, I know, but true!) I barely seem to flick twitter on these days without being told of the shock death of and ex-footballer, pop star, or even teachers at local schools or family members linked to our schools, dying in their 40s. It never gets less shocking. The only positive I can take from this is it has helped keep my injury in perspective. But I am certainly still trying to take in surroundings and experiences and not take life for granted.
  • things change quickly! This has certainly been the case this year! Leanne and I have both had new roles this year which have been enjoyable and challenging at various times. But just be sure of one thing – the status quo will never be the status quo for long! The rug will be pulled from under your feet! Similar to the above, appreciate what you have because it might change quicker than you think!
  • Did I miss running, or the freedom of running? I think it was the latter. I have written at length about running being hard, and fitting running into daily life being difficult. But I don’t think I have dealt too well with not being able to run. I think it was the ability just to climb out of the rat race for thirty minutes that I missed. Running certainly helps you to clear your mind, especially on a peaceful, quiet trail. There is absolutely no doubt of the link between exercise and mental health. The two go hand-in-hand, and I have definitely been more irritable and grouchy (or at least felt that way if I didn’t show it) as a result of not running.
  • The pressure of LL100 can be overbearing. Linked to the above, I think if I hadn’t had LL100 hanging over me I could have just let my injury heal and sit out a few weeks. But I started the year so well, I knew time and fitness was slipping away. I so wanted to be fitter than ever this July, and it was/is/has slipped away. Hence putting pressure on myself to get out there. I still don’t deal well with things that I have planned not coming to fruition!
  • Search for inspiring people to lift you. My problems are minuscule. Some people have real problems. That day out with Jeff McCarthy was like a therapy session for me. Jeff has a genuine physical illness which restricts his ability to train and race. But you wouldn’t know it. The more I listened to his story, the more I realised I’d better shut my whinging up and crack on with it! Just this week, Nancy has been trying to nail a round-off to back handspring at her gymnastics sessions. The mental commitment required to throw your head and body unnaturally backwards is easy to underestimate until you watch someone try to do it! She landed it at gym on Tuesday, and since then has been trying to nail it at home on her birthday present – a 4 metre air track (our house is slowly being turned into a gymnasium, or so it feels!) Watching Nancy try over and over, constantly landing on her head, shoulders and back, was both scary and inspirational at once! If she can keep trying that, why the hell should I give up on a little race just because I’m a bit under-prepared?
  • It’s a good job I run, or I’d be 18 stone! And I don’t even drink – at least not much! I don’t weigh myself religiously or even regularly, but I know my healthy, active weight is around the 13st 3lb mark. Last year I was hovering around the 13stone dead mark, and sometimes slightly below, due to lots of long, slow, mostly under-fuelled runs completed in the intense heat and humidity of last summer. A couple of months off this year and I am straight up to the 13s 12lb area and, due to not running at high intensity or for great lengths of time, and the weather being unseasonably wet and cold, the excess is not shifting quickly or easily. Obviously, I could just stop eating cake and biscuits for a bit – BUT I DON’T WANT TO!!! I might need a little crash diet in the next few weeks, but I would rather keep my calorie intake up and work it off naturally. Either way, I can definitely feel the difference that three-quarters of a stone makes to my running.
  • If I don’t complete the LL100 this year, I’d definitely be back! It might not necessarily be next year, that would be for a discussion with Leanne and potential family holidays next summer would take priority. But I would definitely be back at some point. In fact, if I scraped a finish this year, I’d still be back at some point. Last year, I never was really that upset about DNFing. I gave it my best shot, a couple of things took me by surprise a little, but I was comfortable with my decisions and the end result because everything I did last year was on terms of my own choosing. This year, my fitness has been out of my control (to the extent that I picked up an injury in the first place) and I will definitely feel this year, if I don’t finish (or start!) that I will not have given the best account of myself. Just one year, I want to be stood on that start line in the absolute best condition I can be in, and give it a proper good go. Even if I make the start line this year, it will be with the attitude of sneaking round rather than knocking it out of the park. (A few mixed metaphors there, I think!) And should the amazing happen, and I reach the finish line, that would be incredible but probably not the best I am capable of.

I’m going to stop now as I am waffling on again. Thanks for reading. Feedback is welcome, and hopefully see you all out and about sometime. Whatever your life goal is, go and get it now. Don’t wait until later, because later doesn’t always happen! (How’s that for a cheery message to leave you with??!!)

Over and out!

GBSticks #traineelegend

x

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The 11 mental stages of an injured runner.

Today – right now in fact – I should be halfway up Fusedale in the Lake District with my good running buddy Rob Lister, part way through our second private recce day on the road to redemption towards the 2019 edition of the Lakeland 100.

But I’m not. I’m sat here in the office contemplating my longest injury layoff to date in the eight years since I realised that I wasn’t just messing about trying to get fit, I was actually something equating to a proper, regular runner.

Tomorrow will be seven weeks since I felt a little tweak in my right calf which I initially misdiagnosed as a bit of cramp. This led to me continuing for another eight miles through the mud when, had I stopped there and then, I would probably have not gone through the whole injury process at all.

It has been an extremely annoying and frustrating time. I mean, honestly – I actually tore my calf muscle seven years ago and I was back running quicker than this! But that was part of the problem, this niggle has been minor enough to trick me into thinking I was fine to get going again on more than one occasion: three times, in fact, I have set out on a comeback run only to break down again immediately.

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Rob and I viewing Fusedale for the first time, last July.

So, as I near Comeback 4 – The Final Return, I was thinking about the stages of mental torture I have been through in the last seven weeks. Stages that all runners will be miserably familiar with.

This is not a scientific journey – there will be an official Sports Psychology paper published somewhere. This is a personal journey. I may have inadvertently missed some stages out; please do message me to let me know.

Here, in my humble opinion, are the 11 stages of mental anguish you will pass through – from the moment the pain strikes to (hopefully) that joyous moment when you realise you are back on your feet and in your smelly trainers. Some stages are repeated on a loop within the process, some you will definitely only experience once. Obviously, this being my blog and I am prone to waffle, I will elaborate below…

1 – Panic

2 – Relief 

(You may be eligible to skip straight to 10 at this point.)

3 – Denial

4 – Depression

(You may well repeat stages 3 & 4 many times before ultimately reaching 5.)

5 – Clarity (Also known as the ‘Oh bugger’  moment.)

6 – Resignation

7 – Relief

8 – The Runners Bug

9 – Fear

10 – The Comeback

(Unfortunately there is the possibility of returning right back to 1 at this point.)

11 – Elation!

I’m guessing some of you are already recognising this pattern. Some of you may currently be part way through this process. For the record, I am at stage 9, contemplating stage 10. Some of you may be laughing at how much time you spend bouncing around stages 3 and 4 before you finally reach 5! (This is a common runner problem!)

So, what do they all mean in detail? (Here comes the waffle bit!)

Stage 1 – Panic.

You’re out running, minding your own business. Or racing, and therefore probably paying too much attention to other people’s business. Worse still, you’re not even running, or even exercising, it might be something as mundane as going downstairs or getting out of bed.

Then, out of the blue, comes the pain.

Whatever the situation, you immediately know something doesn’t feel right. If you’re anything like me you are immediately consumed with what this might mean to your current training schedule, or upcoming races and events.

I’m not a meticulous training schedule person. Our hectic family life means schedules can quickly be rendered irrelevant. It’s rarely written down. I hate those ‘1 mile at 50%, 3 miles at 75%, 1 mile at 100%, 1 mile at 50%’ style regimes. That’s why I naturally drift towards trail running and ultra racing – pace and schedule do not play as important a role and certainly do not define whether your run was a successful one or not. That being said, I DO have a plan for the week in my head, and I always know when and where the long, hilly training runs are taking place, (eg. TODAY!)

For most runners, deviation from ‘THE PLAN’ (however that manifests itself) will result in one thing – panic!

Stage 2 – Relief!

This is a slightly unusual one; perhaps contentious. Or maybe it should be called 1a?

But I think this is definitely a stage in it’s own right, particularly for us Vet category runners!

You see, I am of an age where funny pains are a daily occurrence. Rare is the 24 hour period where I don’t think that I’m having:

  • a heart attack,
  • a stroke,
  • a slipped disk,
  • a severe blood clot to the brain,
  • DVT,
  • A funny tingling feeling in my fingers and/or toes,
  • I’m losing my vision,
  • I’m losing my marbles,
  • Everyone around me is losing their marbles.

Therefore, I would hazard a guess that I hardly ever have a run where I don’t experience a fleeting pulse of pain where I momentarily think that I have picked up an injury of some sort.

I am also of an age where simply getting out of bed is painful. My back aches, my neck aches, my legs can’t get going etc. Indeed, if Lottie cries out in the middle of the night and I jump out of bed quickly (Leanne will tell you this never happens) then the temporary complete loss of balance usually results in me falling over anyway – and Leanne still has to go and see to the baby.

Why am I telling you all this? Because Stage 2 – Relief! is a real thing – 99 times out of 100 I am not injured at all. My next run is absolutely fine; that twinge I felt turns out to be nothing and I am good to go, either by ‘running it off’ (eg stiffness/cramp) or just that there really was nothing there in the first place.

Unfortunately, the above statistical likelihood, (which I have just mathematically calculated at 99% above – can you tell I’m doing Y6 maths this year?) results in Stage 3….

Stage 3 – Denial.

The singular stage which every runner will cling on to for dear life.

This is also the most dangerous stage as it often results in exacerbating the initial injury, (as my current situation proves!)

I bet if I turned up to my running club this week (“As if that’s going to happen!” shout my club mates!) out of the 100 runners who will be there I hazard a guess that 25% at least will be in some form of denial about an injury they have.

Runners at the denial stage are ridiculously easy to identify too. They will invariably be saying things like this:

“It doesn’t really hurt.”

“The pain wears off after a mile.”

“I can run it off.”

“I’m pretty certain it’s not going to drop off.”

“I googled it and it just said to go easy for a couple of weeks.”

“I’ve been training for this ****ing race for 15 ****ing weeks and I’m not ****ing dropping out now!”

Denial is dangerous and is really just an escalation of Stage 1 – Panic in which you cling to the last vestiges of possibility that there really is nothing wrong and your normal schedule can continue.

This inevitably leads to…

Stage 4 – Depression.

Obviously I don’t mean proper depression, I mean the kind of depression that runners feel when they have that nagging feeling that this isn’t going to end well. It’s not a nice feeling and, I suppose, for those who do suffer with mental illness and anxiety, it’s even worse.

This is the stage where you have that sinking feeling that all your plans, routine and organisation for the weeks ahead are about to come crashing around your ears. This is why people cling to Stage 3 – Denial – it’s a lot more tolerable to feel like it might be OK rather than confront what is becoming increasingly inevitable. (“I’ll just give it one more try…”)

As previously mentioned, I flitted between stage 3 & 4 three times before finally landing at stage 5. Each time I felt the niggle it would be gone within three days. First I waited five days before running, then eight days, then I cross-trained and did a little tester run with no ill-effects during an eleven day break. But each time the end result was the same. The third time, a wet Tuesday night three weeks ago, I genuinely thought I’d fixed it. I ran gently for two miles and began to feel that happy glow of what I thought was Stage 11 – Elation. But half a mile later the little nagging pain was back and I knew immediately that I was moving onto Stage 5…..

Stage 5 – Clarity (aka the ‘Oh Bugger’ moment.)

When realisation finally hits home, it doesn’t so much dawn on you gently, more like smacks you full in the face with a wet dishcloth.

Clarity. This stage probably only lasts an hour. In many ways it feels like the low point but, in reality, it’s probably one of the high points because you know you have reached the point of no return. “Oh bugger. I really am injured and I absolutely need to stop messing around and get it sorted.”

In my case, I knew I had totally wasted the last three weeks trying to dodge the issue when, had I stopped straight away, I would probably be running again. To be fair to me, the third time I thought I had done everything right by gently cross-training and throwing in a little tester run, but in my heart of hearts I think I knew that I was masking the issue rather than dealing with it. I had had such a good start to the year and had a pretty solid plan in place for the next two months – I desperately wanted to stick to it.

You only experience Stage 5 – Clarity once. And once you do, you cannot go back to stage 3 & 4 after that. If you do, you never reached stage 5 in the first place, you were still messing about in stage 4! Clarity is the point where you resolve to move on and solve the problem. But there are a couple of tricky stages to negotiate first…

Stage 6 – Resignation.

Maybe this should be stage 5b, it happens quickly on the back of stage 5. But I associate Stage 5 – Clarity with that angry feeling of injustice, Stage 6 – Resignation is more about plotting your next course of action, no matter what that might entail. It may involve time (and money) on physio, it might entail not participating in that race or event you really wanted to take part in as you know it won’t help, it will usually almost certainly mean an entire stop on all forms of physical exercise – at the very least completely resting the body part in question.

I used the word ‘resignation’ deliberately though, as opposed to slipping back to ‘depressed’ because, although the above list is full of bad news for the runner, you at least now appreciate that you are doing these things for your own good – stopping doing the thing you love is the quickest way to get back to doing the thing you love!

You have finally accepted your fate and are now formulating a new plan. It doesn’t feel great at this point but you have drawn yourself a new line in the sand and, initially at least, might even be a little bit motivated to do everything in your power to accelerate the process.

The only problem with this is that the next stage can become very nice indeed!

Stage 7 – Relief.

This is another contentious one but, for me at least, it’s the most dangerous stage of the lot. I know loads of runners and many of them will point blank refuse to accept that this phase exists at all. They’re the annoying ones who tell you that running is some other-wordly utopia where they experience inner peace and zen-like happiness – the running-magazine-front-cover land where every training session is like skipping through a sunny field of gently waving wheat to the bleat of new born lambs.

Bollocks.

Running is hard.

Not running, however, is easy!

Here are just a couple of reasons why NOT running is great.

  • No pressure to get out there and run – this is the whole point of Stage 7 – Relief. You can relax; there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.
  • Less time constraints – it’s amazing how many more hours I seem to have in a day when I’m not trying to crow-bar a run into our busy schedule. School work is more likely to get done, housework is more likely to get done. Blogs are more likely to get written!!!
  • Quality time with the family – I’m not disappearing for a quick five miler at bedtime, I’m reading stories with the kids or doing bathtime. I’m not too tired on a Saturday to actually organise something else.
  • Weekend lie-ins – Saturday or Sunday is more than likely to start with a nice brew in bed. And it certainly isn’t going to involve an alarm clock! (Well, a little human one perhaps, but even that is preferable to the 6am run alarm with rain pounding against the window.)
  • The washing basket is 50% less full, and 95% less smelly – enough said!

I could go on – NOT RUNNING IS EASY!

Running is hard. If it was the other way around everyone would be doing it!

Hence, Stage 7 – Relief is potentially fatal for your running career. I can name runners who have slipped into this stage of injury and have never even bothered to re-emerge! What’s the point? It’s loads nicer drinking beer and eating crisps!

Once you enter stage 7, you’d better make sure you retain your focus. If you don’t, your only hope is that there is some sort of event to snap you out of the other side and into stage 8…

Stage 8 – The Runner’s Bug. (aka ‘Itchy Feet’!)

Once the pain has subsided and a suitable period of rest has been endured (or enjoyed!) hopefully your mind is going to start telling you that you want to get back out there. Sometimes that happens naturally, sometimes you need something to jolt your memory and remind you that you enjoy it.

In my case, the motivation to complete the Lakeland 100 has been enough to keep my mind occupied and keen to get going again. But other things help too, like last Sunday, when I volunteered to marshal at the Wigan Run Festival half marathon.

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Ready to greet the Wigan Run Festival half marathon runners at mile 9 (and mile 11!) in Haigh Hall, with my fellow Harriers friends Wendy, Stuart, Diane and Sarah.

There are few things I now enjoy more than helping out at a running event. It is great to be able to give people a little shout of motivation or, in this case, hand out gels just at the point that people really needed them! (Mile 8 to 10 of the Wigan half is a seriously tough climb up to local landmark Haigh Hall.)

Plus, seeing other people achieve things they are proud of certainly inspires you to go out and get stuck in yourself. Well done to the organisers, and all the runners who took part in the Wigan Run Festival last weekend, whichever distance you ran! I hope you had an enjoyable day.

Stage 9 – Fear.

I mentioned at the start that I feel this is my current point on the progress chart. So why fear?

Well, I am approaching three weeks since my last failed run. It must be well over a week since I last felt any pain whatsoever. So there is no reason why this comeback shouldn’t be a success – is there?

I’ve been sensible and stayed away from all forms of training. I was desperate to go to the Lakes today – I cherish every visit – but I knew it was ridiculous to push my body to try and do something which would do more damage. In short, I feel I’ve done everything right.

But what if it goes again? What if I start running and, 2.5 miles in, like the last three false starts, the pain returns? Do I have to wait more than three weeks? On top of what I have already missed?

Throughout this process, I have been consoled by my (our – including Rob) long-term plan. Rob and I (and the families) have a cottage booked in Snowdonia for the second week of the Easter. We can spend a whole week running in the mountains and relaxing. It’s exactly three months before the Lakeland 100. In other words, it would be the perfect starting point in order to peak at the end of July.

It wasn’t supposed to be a starting point. I was supposed to be super-fit by then to maximise the hill time. But I have to look on the bright side. If I can get a bit of running in my legs in the next three weeks, I can go to Snowdonia and really get stuck into some proper hill running and kick start 2019.

But…… Stage 9 – Fear; what if I break down again? That means a longer lay-off and I am in danger of not having time to train properly for such a big event. What if the injury just re-occurs and re-occurs?

I’m sort of pleased I have ‘The Fear’ as it is certainly holding me back from trying too much, too soon. But I am definitely a bit scared; and I am sure I will be extremely nervous when I resume training, however gently.

Stage 10 – The Comeback.

This time it’s going to be ultra-gentle. It’s going to involve lots of slow, short one and two milers and a lot of cross-training. I have to build-up gently. I have to be patient. So far I think I’ve been very patient, but that will unravel quickly if I feel any discomfort in those early comeback runs. (Hence I’m still at Stage 9 – Fear!)

Stage 11 – Elation!

I’m not entirely sure when I will first feel this. I thought I had it on the first three comeback runs when I seemed to be travelling smoothly. So I suspect I won’t feel properly elated unless I reach the Snowdonia training camp week feeling fully fit and ready to go.

Obviously, we will have a great week away with the Lister family in our little cottage, but it was booked for one reason only – to train for Lakeland 100. The hills are brutal, the running and training opportunities limitless, and we will all have a great time into the bargain.

But I can’t begin to imagine how I might feel if we go there and I can’t run. It would be a week long reminder of my uselessness. So I have to be fit for it; hence ‘The Fear’.

 

Soooooooooo, there you have it. Stage 10 – The Comeback will probably begin with some cross-training tomorrow, or maybe even a little one mile run. It can’t be anymore; I can’t cock-up Comeback 4! I know I am forever telling you I will blog more, I just don’t want lack of running to be the reason I am blogging!

Onwards and upwards, 18 weeks to go to the Lakeland 100! That sounds terrifyingly close, my margin for error is narrowing. Here’s hoping my next blog is full of pictures of hills and countryside!

Get out there and see it everyone!

Cheers for now!

Mark!

@GBSticks11

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“How many miles of the Lakeland 100 left now, Rob?” “103, Mark.” “But we’ve just done 2 miles?! How can there be 103 left?!” “Cos it’s 105 miles, Mark. That’s how long a 100 mile race is.”

2019 – Altering Mental Perceptions and Preparing for Sleepiness!

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Rain? What rain? (Photo courtesy of ‘Jumpy’ James Kirby, Lakeland Trails Helvellyn, Nov 2018)

Discomfort. For most runners, whether fast or slow, running long distances or short sprints, peak performance is all about your tolerance of discomfort, or at the very least your ability to ignore it.

This is obviously a choice, or a state of mind. It is quite possible to run, even perform well, in training and in races, without experiencing too much discomfort. Gnarly, old-school club runners would accuse you of coasting and not pushing yourself but I certainly wouldn’t. If that’s what you enjoy and it keeps you fit and active, go for it.

However, most runners are generally trying to push the envelope at whatever level they are operating at, and to do that you have to manage discomfort.

I know many a very fast runner who would consider discomfort anything over the 10k mark and think anything over half marathon to be the domain of utter psychopaths and lunatics! Personally I am the opposite; I’m increasingly scared of pushing myself to the limits in training or 5k/10k races but am more willing to push the envelope in terms of time, distance or terrain.

But something I am still learning, as I become more experienced, is that discomfort is a lot more in the mind than you may think – or at least that you can train your mind to manage that discomfort at the time you need to overcome it.

Why am I telling you this? Well, mostly because, as I continued to think about my experiences on last years Lakeland 100 and read the feedback from my blog last August, a couple of points made by fellow runners really stuck in my mind. I will come to these later, but first, a little 2018 race recap…

September – December 2018 – back to the short stuff.

The pressure of training for a big ultra can be overbearing, just as it can be for a marathon or a debut half marathon. The enjoyment of running can quickly be lost as you feel the pressure to ‘have to’ go out for a run, rather that going because you want to.

I wanted to relieve myself of that pressure to end the year so I literally just went out when I wanted to. I binned all the long runs and just ran for fun. I did, however, make a conscious effort to train faster and smarter. By necessity the first half of the year had been to run far and slow whenever I could. The end of the year would be short and as fast as possible.

Parkrun Debuts!

I’d never done Parkrun before until this summer! But camping near to the Eden Project gave us a great opportunity as, not only is it an amazing place to take the family for a little run, you also get FREE entrance to the Eden Project itself if you take part! (I must have mentioned this to everyone I’ve met since!) So we went on both Saturdays of our holidays.

The course is quite a challenging one as far as Parkruns go, as you spend the entire 5k running up and down the hillside paths round hairpin bends. It’s certainly a good challenge though! The first time I ran round with the girls for fun but the second week Leanne gave me the green light to run alone and see what I could do. I was pretty pleased with 19m11s in the circumstances of the course and as it was only a couple of weeks after the LL100.

Leanne and I went to the Wolves Parkrun at West Park in early November and I ran 19m06s. I was hoping for sub19 really but I enjoyed the challenge none-the-less. It certainly backed up my introduction comments that I find a ‘full-gas’ 5k harder than most ultras!

 Keswick Lakeland Trails 15k, Saturday 1st September 2018

I’m not sure if my view of this race is distorted by the fact that, after the summer holidays, I often arrive at this race on the first week of September not at peak fitness! But I find this the hardest race on the Lakeland Trails calendar. At least I was mentally ready this time – I knew from the year before that the opening woodland section which has replaced the old railway line start is infinitely harder. Last year I was burned out in the first two miles – this year I took it easy until the climb begins in earnest and was able to finish stronger. I was only 45 seconds faster than 12 months previously but I felt a lot better about my run. I was still spent though – that steep descent into Keswick really does not agree with me! Oh, and as the picture below shows, I was nearly knocked off the path by a killer Labrador…

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Look at the killer instinct in that dog’s eyes. How brave am I? (Photo again courtesy of ‘Jumpy’ James Kirby, Lakeland Trails.)

Endurance Store MacMillan Coffee Morning Run, Saturday 29th September, 2018.

1st place! All-be-it in very fortunate circumstances. But “A win is a win!” as Marc Laithwaithe, the organiser, said so, given that it is probably the only individual running race which I will ever win, I’ll claim it!

Pretty much a straight shoot up and down Parbold Hill from a school near my house, I set off in 2nd place and knew that is where I would remain as local lad and St Helens Strider Kane Green disappeared into the distance. As I huffed and puffed my way to the half-way point around the Beacon at the top, the marshal shouted “Well done lad, it’s your race to lose now!”

“I’m not even winning!” I replied.

“Well your the first runner to get here,” he replied!

So I set off on the return leg which, being an out and back, affords you a view of the competition in persuit. With no Kane Green in sight and the other runners a decent way back, I knew I could enjoy the return leg to the finish line. It turned out Kane missed a turn just before the summit, hence my ‘win’ being more than a little fortuitous.

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From worst to first! A slight improvement in result from the last Marc Laithwaite organised event I entered! (He also Race Directs the LL100!)

Rainford 10k, Sunday 7th October, 2018.

This was the big one for me really. I mentioned in the introduction about how I am more intimidated by 10k than ultra. Ever since I ran 36m50s, mostly in surprise, at the 2016 Wigan 10k, I have never run a 10k since. Mostly because I just don’t do many road races but at least partly because, as I had always previously beaten my PBs, I knew I couldn’t beat that one. I was genuinely apprehensive of laying it all out for 40 minutes and how that would feel.

So I deliberately chose a race that was reasonably small and that I was pretty sure no-one I knew would be attending. I didn’t want to be distracted by anyone else’s pace, just to give it absolutely everything I had and, if I completely blew up, it didn’t really matter. In my head, if I could go sub 40 and maybe get close to 39, I would be delighted.

It was a perfect morning for running and I absolutely went for it from the start. I went through half way in 19m15 – it was the only time I looked at my watch! I was totally gassed by 6k and by 8k I could have crawled into the road gutter and cried!

As I mentioned in the introduction, discomfort management is the key in these short and (for me at least) painful races. I told my brain that every corner in the course was the finish line. When I got there, I told my brain it was the next corner. And so on. It really is the only way I find to keep myself going at maximum pace.

The last few kms have a bit of trail involved which inevitably took a slight edge off my pace. But I was pretty delighted to finish in 7th place in a time of 38m44s. It was more than I dared hope for and, I could certainly say with hand on heart, was the absolute best I could achieve on the day.

I can also now scientifically say that I am exactly two minutes slower than I was two years ago!

Lakeland Trails Dirty Double Weekender, Helvellyn/Ullswater, 13th/14th October 2018.

The picture at the top of the blog is of the Saturday race – enough said. An utter monsoon! I spent more of the race on my arse than my feet as I quickly realised that the dry summer trails had removed the grip from my Inov8s!

A few glasses of wine followed again at the hotel on Saturday night with good company before the Sunday dawned. Again, for the umpteenth time, the boats were cancelled. However, in all honesty I now prefer the Lakeland Trails back-up route more – it’s definitely more challenging – and I ran OK on the Sunday without mishap.

This weekend is way more about the social than the running though and Leanne and I had a great time with our friends.

Standish Hall Trail Race, Saturday 2oth October, 2018.

More scientific proof that I am exactly two minutes slower than my previous best! I hadn’t realised that I hadn’t run this race for 3 years, when I finished 4th in the race. Mostly I have cheered Leanne on here since. So it was nice to get back out there and see what I could do.

I ran pretty well to finish in 13th place. The course is bang on 10k and I finished in 42 minutes which wasn’t bad. The conditions were pretty dry really so it was another good gauge of pace.

It was nice to be back amongst Wigan Harriers friends and we claimed the team prize again thanks to a good team effort.

League Cross Country Fixtures: Sefton Park, Liverpool and Hyndsford, nr Accrington.

Sefton Park is a biggie, tied into the National U23 Champs, so you get to run against some young good ‘uns! I’ve done this one a few times before so it was a bit of a surprise at first to find I was over a minute faster than I’d ever been! But then I quickly realised that this event is usually a mud fest and this year it was extremely firm underfoot, which fully explained the average pace.

Hyndsford was probably my favourite XC course to date. Mostly because it is more like a trail race than a cross country. The weather was absolutely foul which certainly gave it more of an authentic cross country feel! Our team tent barely survived the wind and rain onslaught but our actual runners stood up to the test much better and performed really well.

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Wind, rain, mud banks – a proper XC experience at Hyndsford.

And so to 2019…… the return to The Lakeland 100.

I had planned to write this blog a couple of weeks ago before the end of January. If I had I would be telling you all about my best ever start to a year (mileage-wise at least) and how positive I am going to be this year.

However, I am now sat here on the first day of the half-term holidays injured and slightly apprehensive about the next few weeks. What I thought was cramp in my right calf during last weeks muddy trail run is now appearing to be more of a calf strain so I am desperately trying to remain patient and let it heel whilst all the time watching my excellent start to the year disappear over the horizon!

Obviously, having successfully re-entered the 2019 edition of the Lakeland 100, I have only one aim and one focus for the year. I have entered some other races but they are all preparatory training runs building up to the big one. In running terms, nothing else matters and everything I do running wise will be focused on one (and a half!) days in July.

So, linking to my introduction, what do I think I have ultimately learned from my 2018 Lakeland 100 experience?

Firstly, thanks to everyone who read my race report. I received all kinds of feedback from all kinds of people – runners offering support and advice; non-runners wondering what the hell I am thinking in the first place.

Some advice was good, some (in my opinion) not so:

Pop the Pills!

It never ceases to amaze me how many runners get by fuelled on drugs! More than one person suggested a regular intake of painkillers and/or Pro-Plus to stop me getting sleepy. Each to their own and all that, but I cannot believe this is how some people choose to run. I am no doctor but I’m pretty certain this is not a healthy way to operate and, in more extreme cases, must border on dangerous.

Pain is ultimately your body telling you something is amiss. Obviously a race of this magnitude is going to hurt so I am definitely going to go down the line of embracing the pain rather than masking it. If it really hurts that much then, from a health point of view, it is probably better to stop. I may be being totally naive here, or not ‘professional’ enough, but personally I am not willing to risk my future health to finish a running race. It’s not that important.

How are you going to practice getting better at sleep deprivation?

This is a great question as, ultimately, I don’t think I can. I just love a nap! Even when fully rested I can always sneak an afternoon nap if time permits. That’s just the way it is. But what I can do is be more aware of the potential for negative thinking when I get sleepy.

This was brought home to me on December the 23rd this year. Leanne and I had done some Christmas wrapping and were just going to bed at about 1am when we inadvertently disturbed Lottie. NFL was on TV so I did the ‘dedicated Daddy’ bit and took Lottie downstairs. BIG MISTAKE! She now thought it was morning! For the next 5 hours she played like it was proper morning and absolutely refused to accept that it was actually the middle of the night!

By about 5am I was beside myself! I was so angry and frustrated – I couldn’t think of anything except getting in bed! It was at this point that I realised this was my mood exactly at Mardale Head last year when I dropped out – ‘Just let me get in that nice warm minibus and have a sleep!’

So, what can I do to improve this? Nothing really, in my opinion, although I have entered a night ultra to get used to that grumpy feeling and run through it. But that is what I hope I’ve learned – I can’t get better at it, but I can get better at RECOGNISING it. If I can recognise it, I can tell my brain that it’s nothing to do with not being able to run anymore, it’s simply sleepiness. And I’ve got lots of time to sleep after the race! I still remain convinced that physically I was in good shape to finish the race in 2018 but I let the sleepiness beat me.

How do you plan to develop your mental strength?

This is ultimately the crux of my 2019 effort. And this is where I think I have the answer for next year.

As with sleep deprivation, you can’t really get better at it, but you can get used to it and be better prepared for the negative thoughts that are inevitable in these races.

Firstly, I already know that there are peaks and troughs in a race. I had a low point at Dalemain last year and recovered. I need to remember that.

Secondly, I avoided low points at Dockray and Howtown. I could have sulked about the terrible weather at both those checkpoints but I actually used it to my advantage and just kept going with a minimal break – I didn’t allow time for my mind to wander towards stopping. Both times I emerged from the checkpoint feeling great! I’ll remember this next year.

Thirdly, Rob and I have talked at length about our ‘team decision’ to drop out! I can pretty much guarantee that that situation will not arise this year! Rob is still fuming about his DNF so there is no way we’ll be asking each other if we’re going to stop this year!

But fourthly, and this is the biggie….

I re-read my pre-race blog and race report and was a little taken aback by the negative mind-set that underpinned those blogs. I was very quick to tell you that only 60% of runners ever finish the race on average. Last year only 50% finished. Both of these are indisputable facts, so why are they negative?

Well, I realise now that I was building myself an escape hatch! By constantly telling you all how hard the race is, I feel I was building it up to be more than it is whilst at the same time allowing an avenue for me later to tell you that ‘It’s OK that I didn’t finish because it’s really hard.’

I completely convinced myself that I was out of my depth and it would be amazing if I finished. I’d done well just to qualify for the race so not finishing was no disaster.

This will not be the mindset for 2019.

The course no longer intimidates me. I know it well and will have run most of it three or four times by the time of the 2019 race. Of course it’s a challenge but I don’t need to be afraid of it. Just work from checkpoint to checkpoint and don’t think about the long game. I know I can run round the course comfortably in the time limit; I just need to manage my mindset, be prepared for the sleepiness and deal with the external factors (like conditions underfoot and weather) as they present themselves.

Rob and I returned to Mardale Head to run the last 30 miles of the race route to Coniston a couple of weeks ago. We thought it was appropriate to begin our 2019 training by completing the circle from 2018.

Again the lakes threw a weather bomb at us but we absolutely cruised along. 12 months ago I would have considered this a major day out. This year we had just run three-fifths of the Lakeland 50 as a comfortable little warm-up jaunt. And that is all down to mindset. If you think it’s going to be easy, it probably will be. If you think it’s going to be impossibly hard…

So there you have it. Up-to-date and up for it. I am just having my own little mini-mindset crisis – trying not to totally lose the plot over this injury and the lost miles this half term. But the plan is solid. Easter is going to be massive – Rob and I are spending a week in Snowdonia hitting the hills, and again have a race schedule to build us up to the main event.

I recently looked back over my running from the last couple of years and have targeted areas where I can make sizeable improvements to my training for this year. (Ironically, one of them was February half-term! I lost 2017 half term to illness and 2018 to injury. Oh well, 2019 has followed the pattern!)

Rob is absolutely flying along though. We can’t control the weather or the conditions but we can control everything else. Let’s see where it gets us.

Oh, and I’m going to blog more too…(!)

Hopefully see you all on the trails in 2019. Belated happy new year to all of you. Don’t waste it, life is too short.

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!)

 

 

 

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

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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