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.”

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Aiming to become a #legend on the Lakeland 100.

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

Welcome to the World, Lottie!

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

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

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

 

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

The 2017 Resolutions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Resolution.

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

1 – Complete the Lakeland 100

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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!

 

 

 

Alisha Bartolini / Meningitis Now

Friday night. 11pm. In exactly a week it’ll be last minute preparations, kit checks and safety briefings before a midnight departure onto the fells to start the best part of a full day running. So it’s long overdue that I tell you a bit about the person who has inspired, if not the running itself, then certainly the publicising of it. I have looked forward to, and dreaded, writing this blog almost as must as I have looked forward to, and dreaded, the race. But the story must be told, because special people like Alisha do not come around too often, so we owe it to each other to make sure we remember what it was that made her so memorable in the first place. And for those of us lucky enough to know Alisha, they are memories to be cherished.

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“Hi! Who are you?!”

“Er, hi. I’m Mark,” I stammered, taken aback. “And who are you?”

“I’m Alisha. My Mum works in reception!”

“Oh, right. Hi Alisha! Nice to meet you.”

Summer 2003. The first week of the school holidays. Which, for those of you who may be non-teachers immediately passing ‘teacher-holiday’ comments, is the week when most of us go to work for the week to tidy up. However, in my case, I was just about to start work at a new school, Lowton West. This was my first visit there, in fact. I was in the old computer room. I hadn’t met a soul that morning and, moments before the interruption, I had been engaged in that time-honoured teacher tradition of trying to get a printer, any printer, to print something – anything.

Next second, the door behind me had swung open and, bold as brass, I was suddenly being interrogated, in the nicest possible way, by a beaming, bouncy haired six(ish) year old girl who clearly thought I was trespassing on her private summer playground.

It turned out I had actually met her mum before. Her mum was the third member of the three person interview panel when I got the job. (The other two interviewers being the Headteacher and the Chair of Governors.) Alisha’s mum was the one sat in the corner giggling while I desperately flailed around failing to answer one the Governor’s questions in three separate attempts! (It’s the only interview in which I have ever uttered the immortal words “I think we all know I am not going to answer this question satisfactorily, so shall we move on?!”)

Anyway, I digress. (As usual.) I recall my first meeting with Alisha so vividly because;

a – she really was the first person I met at Lowton West, and

b – because, even in that first instance, it was quite clear that, in Alisha’s eyes, this was not a conversation between an adult and a six year old, this was a conversation between two adults.

The same can be said of any conversation with Alisha at any age of her tragically short life. This wasn’t an act of bravado or cockiness on her part, quite simply that any friend of her mum was a friend of hers – on equal terms. If Michaela was having a ‘get-together’ at her house for friends, or the school crowd, Alisha was severely dischuffed not to be in attendance!

Alisha was well known around school. From the youngest of ages she would attend all school functions; Christmas plays, Christmas Fairs – any special event that required assistance, she was there. She attended two school ski trips as a pupil although, in reality, it was much more like having an extra member of staff.

Lowton West Ski Trip, Easter 2007: Alisha the pupil.

Lowton West Ski Trip, Easter 2007: Alisha the pupil.

Lowton West Ski Trip, Easter 2009 - Alisha the teacher! (Miss Reynolds, Miss Bartolini(2), Miss Lea)

Lowton West Ski Trip, Easter 2009 – Alisha the teacher! (Miss Reynolds, Miss Bartolini(2) and Miss Lea lead the disco dancing!)

In her middle teens, Alisha came on our GB Ski Team group holidays. (Not that GB Ski team!) She fitted in like a glove. Again, this wasn’t a kid tagging on, this was another adult on the trip. (Although she wasn’t keen on Jagermeister, which some people did find strange – especially for a teenager!) By this stage it was becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to think of Michaela and Alisha as mother and daughter – to all intents and purposes they were sisters!

February 2010: Alisha (and Zoe) the fully fledged Apres-skiers!

GB Ski Team, Kitzbuhel, February 2010: Alisha (and Zoe) the fully fledged Apres-skiers!

You knew where you stood with Alisha. One withering look could reduce you from confident, trend-setter to crushed has-been in seconds! I don’t know where teenagers go to learn that disparaging “What are you on about?” look, but Alisha had not only read the book, I think she may have contributed to its writing!

I can’t remember if it was Alisha who actually told me about this ‘Sean’ bloke who secretly appeared on the scene. If it wasn’t, I can certainly remember her response when I asked what he was like! “He’s alright!” she nodded approvingly, which must have felt like the ultimate seal of approval for Sean! Us blokes think that going to meet a new girlfriend’s parents is the scariest thing you can do – well I certainly wouldn’t have liked to have been in Sean’s shoes the day he was presented to Alisha! But one thing was for certain, if Alisha was telling me he was alright, then that was good enough for me! (And, as events have shown since, she was right.)

We were therefore delighted when the three of them moved in just down the road. (Pre-Sonny!) Alisha had already been up once or twice to look after Hannah. One day, when Hannah was only just one year old, Leanne had gone away for a few days. I decided to surprise her by doing some Daddy DIY around the house. (Disastrous mistake!) I picked Alisha up and she did an amazing job of looking after Hannah all day while I toiled. I came downstairs once to find them both asleep on the couch, exhausted! Alisha took one amazing photograph of Hannah that was so good, we had it turned into a canvas and hung it in our front room!

August, 2008: Alisha and Hannah chilling after a hard days entertainment!

August, 2008: Alisha and Hannah chilling after a hard days entertainment!

The picture of Hannah, taken by Alisha, which we had printed on canvas for our front room!

The picture of Hannah, taken by Alisha, which we had printed on canvas for our front room!

Alisha didn’t babysit for us nearly as much as we would have liked. Partly because she was usually busy studying for exams or holding down her jobs at The Wayfarer or Slater’s Uniform shop in town; but mostly because Leanne and I have no social life whatsoever!

She just happened to be round our house on my 40th birthday. Typically, both Leanne and I had had meetings at school and Alisha had helped us with the girls.

“Do you need to dash home?” I asked.

“Not really.”

“Oh great, do you mind if I pop out for a quick run?”

“What?” (Cue disparaging teenager look.) “On your birthday? Running? You’re off your head.”

Hannah always looked forward to seeing Alisha. Nancy was a much tougher crowd! “I no want it, Alisha!” was the stock 2 year-old phrase. But she was no match for a force of nature like Alisha, who would stride into the house and sweep Nancy off her feet. Inevitably, Nancy would have to cave in to her sheer force of personality! The girls would always wake excitedly the next day to tell us of funny things they had done with Alisha – usually with fancy hairstyles in place!

September 2012: multitasking as only a true teenager can! Nancy tamed; update facebook...

September 2012: multitasking as only a true teenager can! Nancy tamed; update facebook…

Having a cuppa with Alisha after she had looked after the girls would usually, for Leanne and I, be the highlight of the night – better than the actual night-out bit. She would have us properly belly laughing; sometimes because of what she’d done with the girls, but usually filling us in on the exploits of her mum returning home from nights out! She would roll her eyes with ‘shame’ (pride!) telling us how Michaela had bounced off walls trying to get upstairs! If we ever have a staff night out, invariably Michaela and I are the last two in the taxi, and we would spend the last leg of the journey laughing at how Alisha would be at the door in curlers and a dressing gown ready to tell Michaela off for coming home drunk again!

However, Alisha was not a typical teenager. She loved a party and a good time, but I have never heard anyone speak about knowing where the line should be sensibly drawn with as much clarity as Alisha did. We used to tell Alisha that, when our girls were in their teens, it was Alisha we were going to get to talk to them about what to get up to and not to get up to. She would have done it brilliantly.

She sat and talked one night about whether she should move out to go to university or stay at home and study. We both told her she should definitely move out – she would have such a good time. She may not have been there long, but the response of her college mates since proves that she clearly made as big an impact in their lives as she has done in all of ours.

In the days leading up to Halloween last year a couple of strange things happened. During the half term Hannah asked, out of the blue, when Alisha could come and sit again. “She lives in Liverpool now,” I told her, “but when Mummy comes back from London we’ll send her a message on facebook. She might come round at Christmas.” I must text her, I thought to myself, being a non-facebooker.

On the Saturday morning Leanne and Hannah went off to Slater’s to buy Brownie uniform. “I love going to Slater’s, Alisha sneaks us into the queue!” said Hannah. “No, Alisha won’t be there, she lives in Liverpool now,” we reminded her again. They went off to Slater’s, I went out for a run. Passing the end of their street I thought, I must text Alisha when I get back and tell her what Hannah has been saying. The girls were home when I got back. “It’s really boring there without Alisha.” I never did text.

To hear the terrible news the next day was so crushing and such a shock that I still can’t quite believe it. I think, in my head, she’s still in Liverpool and that’s how I deal with it. Goodness only knows how her close family and friends deal with it – but that is where Meningitis Now come in. They do such an amazing job of supporting the families affected. If raising money for them can, in some small way, help, then I for one am going to do all I can to support them.

Alisha was a truly wonderful person. It is so sad that she is not still with us. But at least we can comfort ourselves with the memories we have of her because, without exception, every time I remember Alisha it makes me smile.


It’s now 1.45am on Saturday morning. This time next week I will be on the fells in the pitch black. And in Alisha’s words, “I must be off my head.”

If you would like to sponsor me, then please follow the Just Giving link below;

https://www.justgiving.com/GBSticks11

If you would like to know more about other fundraising events taking place in memory of Alisha, then please visit;

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

If you want to follow my progress next week, I will try to keep twitter as updated as possible, (phone signal permitting). Follow me on;

@GBSticks11

or search the hashtag;

#110kforAlisha

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Thanks for reading.

Welcome to my World! (Title shamelessly lifted from Martin L Gore – am I going to run into copyright issues on my first post?)

Hi there!

First of all, thank you for even opening whatever link you have (maybe accidentally) pressed to end up where you are! Hopefully, by the time you read this, there will be so much information, photography, links to various blogs from friends, twitter feeds, links to Garmin and Strava training data etc. that you will be happily occupied for hours. (At least if you genuinely have nothing better to do with your life, which surely cannot be the case!)

However, as I have only just learned how to open a blog at all, these wild flights of fantasy feel a long way away. So let me simply introduce myself.

My name is Mark Morgan-Hillam, a 42-year-old primary school teacher, happily married (to the best of my knowledge) to a very understanding wife of nearly 10 years, also a full-time primary school teacher. We are proud parents of two beautiful daughters approaching their 8th and 4th birthdays.

The reason for this blog? I suppose, to chart my ‘rise’ from bit-part, part-time, do-a-bit-when-I-feel-like-it road runner to a fully fledged 100km in 24 hours ultra-trail runner.

The deadline for this miraculous transformation: Saturday 27th June, 2015.

The event: The Lakeland Trails Ultimate Trails 110km Race, start (and finish – hopefully) in Ambleside. 24 hour deadline.

I had intended to open this blog at the beginning of the year, when my training schedule began in earnest. However, as mentioned above I am a full-time teacher, so spare time for writing is not a commodity I have in abundance. Especially when you throw in the work commitments of my aforementioned wonder-wife, who also tries to run a bit, and the demands of our two delightful, but much ignored, daughters. So unfortunately the blog is already 2 months behind schedule.

Fortunately, the same is not the case for the training which, to date, has passed very satisfactorily.

All the above will be elaborated on in later posts, (once I have worked out how to publish this one, more-to-the-point.) I hope to tell you a bit about my running ‘career’ (!), training tips and strategies, (especially for anybody out there who has ever uttered the phrase “I haven’t got time to go out running” to which my immediate, knee jerk reaction will always be a polite, yet slightly forceful “Bollocks.”) I will also try to review any races and events I attend either as competitor or supporter of loved ones, tell you more about the Ultimate Trails 110k race I have selected and, perhaps most importantly, tell you a bit about my chosen charity and the life of a wonderful teenage girl who, tragically, is the reason for that chosen charity.

I will try to work out how to add links to my blog homepage as I go, but for now please manually find me on;

Twitter: @GBSticks11 (#110kforAlisha)

Just Giving: https://www.justgiving.com/GBSticks11

Garmin Connect: sticks11

Strava: Mark Morgan-Hillam

Alternatively go and look at the blogs of two of my friends who I would like to blog like when I grow up:

Laraine Wyn-Jones

http://www.wyn-jones.co.uk/laraine/

A must read, especially for anyone requiring motivation to get out there and do ‘stuff’, whatever that ‘stuff’ may be! Laraine has already tried, or is intending to try, most of that ‘stuff’. It doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes it’s idyllic, sometimes it’s heroic, sometimes it’s calamitous, but it’s always an enjoyable read. (Thanks to Laraine for giving me some of the hints/tips required to get my blogging underway – a future post will inevitably be the story of how Laraine and I came to be friends in the first place!)

Jonny Muir

http://heightsofmadness.com/

I hope Jonny doesn’t mind me saying this, but he’s my secret man crush. (A bit of a bombshell for my first post, I know.) He runs better than me (better than most, actually!), he writes better than me (proper books too, about proper adventures, like I’d like to do in my dream life!), and he’s a great guy to boot. As with Laraine, a future blog will tell of how we met, but Jonny was kind enough to hand me my blogging debut when he published a piece of mine on his own page – an honour indeed as he is a proper writer wiv proper books and everyfink (Have I already mentioned that?) So go and check out his brilliant work on the above link (or just go there to read my piece!!!)

Right, I’m off now, I’ve got school tomorrow…

Mark

4th March 2015 (my 42nd birthday – presents by way of sports store vouchers please, I have an ultra kit bag to pack.)