Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Best laid plans go up in pain

It rained. All the way to Wales from Hampshire. Miraculously it stopped enough for me to take in the feel of the mountains again. I was up in North Wales to try a plan I have had for a little while now. A variation of the Paddy Buckley Round over 2 days. The PBR is a fell runners dream goal. A target of running the classic mountains in North Wales in under 24hours. It's 60+mile circular route, takes in a staggering 47 peaks and 28,000ft of elevation. I was not ready for this, yet. Plus I wanted to enjoy my mountain running and this mainly means running in daylight. My variation would take in some other summits but miss out on others keeping it a little more compact and splitting the day up to 30miles and 25 miles.

Arriving at the campsite north of Beddgelert in the small village of Rhydd Du. The setting was idyllic, surrounded by mountains and penned in with a forest on one side and a lake the other. Perfect if not for the dark clouds and the ever present rain. With the tent pitched I headed of to the local pub to dry off and enjoy a couple of welsh beers.
Overnight the howling wind bringing with it downpours of rain sobered my mind. I fell asleep praying for better weather and the morning brought grey skies but nothing too threatening in Gods country thankfully. After a pub cooked breakfast I drove to Capel Curig for the first leg of my plan. I would be heading North west in an anti clockwise direction into the Carnedds, then southwards back to the campsite over the Glyders and Snowdon ranges.
Once I got going the excitement set in, this truly did feel like an adventure. It was a pity I would not be sharing this experience with anyone but sometimes you are better alone. Your own pace, your own thoughts and your own decisions.

Fast walking up to the first summit of Pen Llithrig I soon worked up a sweat and was able to remove my base layer and just run in a tech tee shirt, meaning although it looked grim it was far from cold. The views down the Ogwen valley were motivating, it all looked so close but knowing that it would all take patient time to reach. Passing the impressive Cowlynd Resevoir I was out of the muddy marshlands and onto steep terrain to the top. Route finding was tricky to say the least. I couldn't see any trodden paths, the ones I choose became clear that they were used by the sheep community rather than humans but all I had to do is keep climbing until I couldn't go any higher. Then it was a case of following the rollarcoaster ridgeline.
A run down to the saddle and then up to the summit of Helgi Du. Nearing the top scrambling skills were needed which were enjoyed and I looked forward to later in the day when I would be doing more longer scrambling sections in the ranges. I had, for a long time, been looking forward to this sight. I have wanted to climb Craig yr Ysfa and its classic long multi pitch routes for an age. Although I would not be climbing this today it did wet my appetite to return and climb here soon. The joys of the views were interrupted with the squeak of distress as I came across the smallest of baby foxes crying out for its mother. Not wanting too startle it I waited while he tentatively crept away from the path and found shelter within some rocks. He was the cutest thing and with luck I could hear its mother calling and so knew as soon as I disappeared she would come to his rescue.

After another steeper scrambling section it was onto a well trodden path to Carnedd Llewelyn. Approaching the top a change in the weather was visible, a cloud front was hugging the westward side of the mountains, the strong winds willing the clouds over the peaks only to dissipate once sheltered on the leeward side.
Coming down from the top I acknowledged another runner. We did a double take and greeted each other knowing that we knew each other from somewhere, but where? Then he had it it was Andy who I had run with for most of the Longmynd Hike last year. It was good seeing him and we chatted about past and future plans, most of mine on the back burner but Andy was looking forward to his challenges included the 80km Mt Blanc Ultra next month. I now wished I had signed up for this. We said our goodbyes and travelled in opposite directions. Me into the turbulent clouds to Carnedd Dafydd. The weather was certainly deteriorating, the viz went from intermittent views to zero by the time I reached Pen Yr Ole.

I had been on the go now for 2hrs45 and had covered less than 10miles. I decided with time limiting and wanting to try and run more than fast walk I went against my original plan of climbing Tryfan and Bristley ridge and headed straight down, the quickest way down, right. Mistake! The descent took over an hour to descend. With zero visibility I went on the wrong path? that took me too far to the right and after boulder hopping the path all but disappeared and it was left to my instincts on taking the best of the worst way down. I felt a little battered by the bottom having slipped and stumbled my way down 600+ metres of steep terrain, numerous slips sending a jolting pain through my lower back reducing my pace to a painstakingly cautious approach.

Finally at the bottom and enjoying a lamb burger and having a good stretch with the sun making an appearance.I took stock of my situation, with 4 hours now gone and not wanting to waste any more time and I set off running up the main path up Idwal and feeling great. The sun was glistening of the great slabs with climbers sporadically hanging from this classic rock wall. I questioned to myself what to do. I was happy to go up Devils kitchen but then which way? Left would take me over Glyder Fawr and Fach. I could then traverse down to Pen y Pass and take the direct route to Snowdon via Crib Goch or, I could go right and take in Y garn around to Eldir Fawr, down to Nant Peris and route find my way up Cwm Glas and the north ridge of Crib Goch and on to Snowdon. 
My choice was taken away from me from a searing pain ripping through my lower back, my feet buckling under the spasms. I did well not to go down but with 2 guys nearby I didn't want to start wimping out and so put on a brave face and limped past. Staggering around the corner I came to an intense halt and tore off my rucksac. I didn't know what to do. The pain disabled me into any type of movement, so I just stood gripping a rock hoping the spasms would disappear. I saw a rock bridge 20 yards further on which looked good to lay on and maybe I could try and stretch and crack out my back to ‘make it all good again’. 10 minutes of futile stretching where I examined myself and finding that bending over I could only just touch my thigh above the knees confirmed I was in a bad way.

In hindsight I should of just turned around and taken the lower path back to Capil Curig but, I was sure that I could walk it off, not knowing that the next 8 miles would take me 5 hours.
Departing the lake in solemn mood I trudged up into the Devils Kitchen. The going was slow especially when having to take 2 or 3 movements instead of the usual 1 on the larger boulder steps taking me to the shoulder and the Cwn lake then onto the endless scree slope up to Glyder Fawr, this was a brutal 600m ascent in under a mile. But, the decision had been made to take the easier route option! Hoping I could shake this off I still had 2 options open to me. Call it a day and get to the car or veer off at the castles and go for Snowdon.

I always hate the summit of Glyder Fawr. Not sure I have ever been up here in good weather and route finding over the boulders gets me ever time. I always seem to get to far over to the left. The cliffs seemingly barring your way to go anywhere. So skirting around these the summit expanse soon opens up and after another scramble its down the ridge to the Glyder castles. A mass of rock outcrops pointing to the heavens. It was here I meet up with Stu and Jo, some other Ultra runners training for the mighty Andorran Ronda Del Sims and its 13000m of ascent over 170km. The guys looked strong and had already taken in nearly 3000m and wanted another 1000m before calling it a day.

I, on the other hand was feeling bust and decided here to get to the car, my weekend of adventure was over. My back was no better and I knew would not get any better. Better to call it a day and get home to rest on the couch rather than feeling sorry for myself in a tent.
Feeling a little defeated I scrambled on to Glyder fach and climbed the unique cantilever taking in the spectacular views all alone on this popular summit. The descent off proved my decision correct. The mass of rocks made passage tricky each tumble causing a searing pain through my back. On the flatter sections an attempt to run brought abject failure and an over reliance on my poles for support. These poles were life savers, I relied on these constantly and without them my struggles would of been ten fold.

My thoughts turned to this last section and how perfectly runnable the terrain was, though I could only hobble up to the summit of Foel Goch. Not wanting to end the day, with the views and the warmth of the evening sun making me feel better I marched up the final hill rather than skirt around in a more direct, quicker route. The ground was mainly rough weathered grass, undulating smoothly for good ascents and descents. In front of me stood Moel Siabod and the valley forests hiding Betws Coed. Over one shoulder the Snowdon range was silhouetted in evening glow. On the other the stunning Carnedds, the horizon highlighting the ridge line I had taken all those hours ago. Behind me the Glyders, Fach and Fawr hidden by high cloud but Tryfan, my favourite welsh mountain, glowed in the golden sunlight, showcasing it's endless climbing lines.

Seeing the end in sight I called Lou to take my mind off the never ending stroll and to share in my anguish. Only to plod straight into a bog whilst my mind was elsewhere. It did deviate my thoughts off my back and into my cold wet shoes. Bugger.

It was a good feeling to be back at the car, the only problem was I could not get in. I lay on the ground and tried to stretch again, all to no avail. The thought of just getting it over with and having a few, no a lot of beers spurred me to tolerate the hurtful drive back to the pub and campsite.

Under 20miles (+/-2,500m) in 9hrs!! Hard painful work. I will have to return and complete.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

LDWA Ridgeway 40

You can't enjoy every Ultra you run but each brings their own rewards ensuring you return for the experiences again and again. My legs were already telling me that this was gonna be a tough day and within 10 miles they were hurting. Hurting bad. I was not enjoying this at all.

I was doing the Ridgeway 40 LDWA challenge event. This is the first section of the Ridgeway National trail on the Wessex Downs. On modern footwear we were to travel through ancient landscapes used by prehistoric travellers.

Arriving early in Streatley the morning promised good weather, although the forecast was for worse to come so I packed my waterproofs in my already overloaded bag. Unsure of what exactly each Check Point would supply us with I opted to take enough to feed me entirely for the route. I then made my way to the Youth Hostel where large groups of walkers and runners were mingling, whilst we waited for the coaches to transport us to the start. I had a quick introduction and chat with Paul Ali of Ultra Tales and wished him luck on his training run and upcoming GUCR, a 145mile Ultra taking place in just a couple of weeks. I then got talking to Pete as the coaches arrived and we had a good chat about his fell running in the Peak District and I talked about the lack of decent hills in Hampshire.
Arriving at the start we got off the coach and were told to start immediately which threw a few of us. Taking my time I went through my overloaded bag knowing that I could not discard anything but, as it was cold and windy, I could at least put on my waterproof top and get rid of some weight that way! Once I had sorted out the rest of my stuff, put on watch, mp3, buff, sun cream, etc I was on my way, slogging it up Avebury Down. Reaching the top of the first incline I was sweating profusely so off came the waterproof. Then not long after my t-shirt, eventually coming to a comfortable temperature with just my base layer on.

During the first few miles everyone was jockeying for position as runners were finding their pace as well as moving through the mass of walkers taking on this fine challenge. It was not long past Barbury Castle and into the heartland of the Marlborough Downs that the pack really thinned out and you felt alone, unable to see anyone in front or behind for long periods. I did pass a lady around here pulling a tyre!! Huge respect. (I have since found out it's TyreGirl who runs to highlight Eco issues. Great stuff).
I knew, at some point, the route took a northwards approach but at the specific junction I was a little confused as to where I was and as luck would have it a couple of approaching runners assured me this was the place to go north. It was at this point I realised my day was going to be a struggle. As they eased their way away from me, my legs had nothing. I had to walk the smallest of slopes and running was painful.  My thighs weren't just tired they were in pain. I can only think that this was due to biking 100 miles over the bank holiday and that my under trained cycling muscles were not fully recovered and boy,were they letting me know about it now.

Over the next few miles of undulating terrain I would pass some runners only to be re-passed when I slowed to a walk.  This process would repeat itself until suddenly I wasn't get overtaken any more and the people I had been intermittently speaking to had disappeared. This felt strange as I was increasingly taking more walking breaks. I think we all must have been suffering by this point. My legs were screaming at me and my mind was telling me to throw in the towel, play it safe and don't injure yourself. But for reasons unknown we all persevere and at the end of the day I could always walk it in.

The day was interspersed with light rain and threats of sunshine. What was a constant though was the wind. Pretty breezy but at least it was a westerly wind and we were running in an easterly direction.
Around this point I was looking forward to seeing the White Horse of Uffington. It didn't help not knowing where I was, my concentration was fading, and I had lost all awareness of my location. When I arrived at CP5 I was sure I had done 28 miles only to discover in fact it was 23 and that I had missed the White Horse!

My pace was diminishing badly I ended up trying to run five minutes and walk for one. I could only manage a fraction of that and shuffled along for a minute or two and then walked a helluva lot more. Only the sight of walkers up ahead had a motivating affect on me to run for longer than I wanted to.
The miles were slowly ebbing away and what, for an age, looked like faraway chimney pots were now the large eyesores of Didcot power station.

I enjoyed, yes enjoyed, a sit down and a cuppa at CP6 with the wonderful cheery volunteers. The sun was out and we were protected from the wind. Somewhat refreshed I told myself to get in some longer running stretches from here on out. Playing the mental game I considered how I could carry on at a better pace. One thing that worked was to imagine this was a training run for a longer ultra where you would be running on tired sore legs but still have a distance to go. This will happen in the future so why not get use to that feeling, accept it and shuffle on.

Around CP7 I began to pass the walkers from the 20 mile challenge. This helped as it enabled me to have brief chats while taking a walk and hearing the encouragement when running spurred me on to work harder and 'take the pain'. At CP8 I was feeling ecstatic thinking I only had 4 miles left, only to be corrected that we actually had over 5 to go. Bugger. A little deflated but fortunately my mindset was in a far better place than a few hours ago. Talking to a lady on the next hill, who had local knowledge, I heard the welcoming news that it was all downhill from the top and I promised myself to run it in from there.

It was tough, and pretty excruciating, but I managed it and with the sun shining I arrived at the YHA and hobbled up the steep incline to finish. Not quite ALL downhill then!

Overall it was a rewarding day but a different, more drawn out experience compared to what I am used to. Physically I was not up to this Ultra but mental will power pulled me through which can only improve my confidence of running these distances in the future.

Stats : 40miles +/- 850m in 7hrs40mins.

(note to self : Don't take so much food)

Friday, 10 May 2013

Devon C2C Mini Adventure

Timings were to be a theme for the weekend and whether we were just plain damn lucky, or the precision planning by Rob, it made for a smooth no waiting weekend, albeit, not easy on my ticker at times.
Rob picked me up at 7am on the Saturday and we headed west down to Exeter via Sherborne to pick up Greg. To keep me pre-occupied from Rob's rally race to Exeter train station I took on the Badger watch challenge which unfortunately got into the tens of poor badgers not making it across the road.
Arriving in Exeter the station was, typically, on the other side of town and we had 15 minutes and no chance, we thought, of making our train.  Fortunately Rob was still on the case and triumphantly not only got us to the station and onto the train with 2 minutes to spare, but managed to remember to take a photo of the parking number to call in. Although he did forget his arm warmers and hat! A small price to pay to save us from waiting an hour for the next train.
A smooth journey to Barnstaple and we were set to start our Coast to Coast mini adventure. A 100 mile bike ride from North Devon to South mainly along an old disused train track or quiet country lanes.
We set off on the Tarka trail going west out of Barnstaple to Bideford. We decided to miss out on the Illfracombe section due to us not starting out till midday and we thought we had enough on our plates already. We were here to take on a challenge but, more importantly, enjoy it.
The weather was beautiful but the wind on our faces was fierce. It was a good start though, making our way along the River Taw looking out to the breath taking scenery and the mouth watering salted lambs enjoying their last summer. The miles ticked by sedately. So much so, we stopped for a cheeky beer at Instow to celebrate the start of our trip, mmMM Sharps Doombar!
Rested, we saddled up for the next section down the River Torridge only to be stopped in our tracks just a short while later by a disused train carriage serving cake near Bideford. Rude not to try some we thought. The happy cafe owners told us about a small music festival which was on our route and we promised to check it out.
The going so far had been pleasant, only having to contend with the biting wind. But we had decided to stop in Great Torrington to pick up supplies for the night and this resulted in us taking on some tough hills. We struggled up to town then went for the direct route back to the trail, ignoring the warning contour signs on the map, and so went steeply down to a valley bottom only to have to struggle up the opposite hill top and then finally down to the trail. We had our wine though.
It was then cruising mode to East Yarde where we fell upon the music festival. What a find.  A small gathering of people enjoying the multi talented musicians playing easy listening tunes whilst we enjoyed a few fine ales in the afternoon sun. With time drifting we reluctantly pulled ourselves away. We still had a camp site to find. The plan was to set up in a wooded area a few miles away. When we got there though, we realised that the planted forest was just too dense and continuing on we could not find any potential openings! Persevering, things started to open out and exploring an old disused track up a hill we eventually found an acceptable pitch and settled down to camp life. Clearing an area, Rob starting the food, Greg poured the wine and I went foraging for firewood. Very soon we were all chilled out and relaxing after a very enjoyable first days riding, eating a scrumptious supper of chorizo and pasta.
(D1 stats :  30miles +/-600m)

Some people just get up too early (especially if they go too bed early Greg). Rob and I, on the other hand, had enjoyed the evening with a little too much wine. Greg was up and raring to go at it.  Donning his lycra gear. Thankfully he slowed just a little and made us a much welcomed, wakening brew with a bacon and poached egg roll. Lovely.
With heavy head and legs, the camp was cleared and we set off for part 2 of the journey. This would be a monster of a day and so the early start was, in hindsight, a good thing. The morning brought a few short, sharp hills which only emphasised that I had drunk too much. I was struggling whilst Greg was easing up these hills, or could it have been the streamlined lycra he was wearing? This part of the route was on dead quiet country lanes all the way to Okehampton and the visible Tors of Dartmoor.
Once in town we restocked with food and water and set off up the thigh aching slopes to the railway line, quarry pits and Meldon. The views out onto the moors and surroundings areas from up on the viaducts were astounding and highlighted the limitless possibilities to explore. We soon descended away from the moors and took a welcomed break in a pub we happened upon. A comfortable lunch was washed down with a fine Otter ale. All too soon we dragged ourselves away before ordering any more ale and pushed on to Lydford where I (we) got our only puncture of the trip. A quick change with a fresh inner and a, soon to be broken, promise to fix the puncture that night and we were on our way again.
In the quiet sleepy village we came across a small medieval castle and stopped for a spot of sight seeing around this little piece of history. On exiting we decided to take the summer route. Good for me, not so good for Greg and his road bike as this was the first proper stretch of off roading. Once past this section we had our first dilemma. We had planned to stock up on much needed wine at Mary Tavy but it being a Sunday the shop was closed. What to do? Go to a bigger town of course! Like a man on a mission, Rob went flying down to Tavistock while Greg and I descended at a more leisurely pace with the thought that this descent had to be ascended again at some point. In Tavistock we failed to find the 'Flying Andrews' but before Greg could profane any more we finally met up again. Rob loaded up with our precious cargo.
Due to missing out on the Illfracombe top section we had decided if timings were right we would detour off the route and up into Dartmoor for the night. With the day still young we took on a 400m ascent into the National Park. Not wanting to make this too easy we first went the wrong way out of town just to get in an extra couple of miles! The hill was tough, it included taking a needed to stop, rest and scoff down as many sweets as possible to try and get some sugars back in the system. But the thought of camping on the moors, and the pub at the top, drove us on.
Unfortunately, a perfect bank holiday weekend and the pub was closed!! We waiting around for half hour for it to open but when we found out it wasn't to open for another one and half hours we resigned ourselves to just having some wine once we found a camp spot. We went for the biggest Tor around, of course, the views would be the best. This was a struggle and was close to being one hill too many for Greg. Patience was fraying but, before the toys came out the pram and he started demanding to sleep where we stood, a swap to pushing a lighter bike and an energy gel was enough of a boost to make it to the top of Great Staple Tor. And boy, it was worth it. Magnificent, stunning panorama views topped off with a perfect camping spot. Hopefully the pictures can do it justice :

Having taken stock of where we were we climbed on to a high rock and enjoyed a mug of wine feeling very content after a full on day. We then settled into our standard routine quickly, with Rob looking after dinner, Greg keeping us supplied with wine and me, hmm, there's no fire wood up here! With no wood around I took a stroll around the surrounding Tors.  What a place.  Promising myself to return soon and maybe tackle a long run, linking in as many Tors as I can manage in a day or so.

Back in camp and food was ready. These meals are so good. This time it was chicken, chorizo and cous cous. With full bellies and our mugs full we lay back and relaxed as the sun settled over the horizon. Perfection was narrowly missed due the lack of a fire and the moist air, ensuring a feeling of cold dampness.

(D2 stats : 45miles +/-1400m).

Morning dawned and the warmth of the day started to flow into our cold, tired bodies. Another brew, another cooked breakfast and unfortunately time came when we had to leave. There is always a feeling of sadness when having to leave a wild camp. Taking on small risks, small challenges, unknowns and enjoying good company in the outdoor environment all amounts to a satisfying adventure.
A body shaking fun descent moved us down off the Tor to a bridleway path we had decided to take (we saw a car use it the previous day). The first kilometre was fine on a rocky, old road but then this gave way to a track of dried mud and rocks which was good fun for Rob and I but resulted in Greg having to walk this section out. With a lack of drinking water we pit stopped to refill in a stream we passed on the way. Soon the tough path was replaced by worn tarmac and we peddled our way out through the valley on country lanes down to Walkhampton and finally back onto the C2C trail running parallel with the River Meavy merging with the Plym at Dewerstone.
This was a fascinating section. All downhill on an easy trail passing through tunnels, crossing bridges, in between cut out rock faces for the old railway line, all in a deep wooded vale, surrounded by the colours of spring. Just beautiful and it was shame to all of a sudden then to be within the city limits of Plymouth where beauty was replaced with the trash of poor living, old industry and traffic congested roads. We quickly made our way through the mass of tourists, uneasy with the sudden influx of crowds and noise.We made our way down to the Waterfront bar, a fitting end to our mini adventure, and enjoyed cold beers and pub grub. At some point Rob, realising the time, got us on our feet for a quick exit and a sprint through town to arrive at the train station with minutes to spare. Bikes stored away it was not long before we were all sleeping soundly until we got back to Exeter. With the car fully loaded we made our way home after a very rewarding weekend.
(D3 stats: 25miles +/-800m).

A super route for all bike types and nothing too taxing (if you stay on route) so we could enjoy the tour and take our time to take in all that Devon has to offer. I'm looking forward to the next adventure. Cheers Rob and Greg for being fantastic micro companions and for the organising and logistics.

Overall stats : 3 days, 100miles,  +/-2800m elevation, 10 beers, 6 litres of wine and plenty of food.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Virgin London Marathon

The hardest thing is starting. Are you ready? Can you finish? Self doubt or self belief. Everyone standing around in their own inner thoughts had all been through their own personal dilemmas and questions. My build up was not ideal, an injury and an illness but, 5 years of ballots, raising money for Prostate Cancer UK and for Boston ensured I got to the start line.

It was a perfect spring morning and a perfect place to race, London, but I was feeling far from perfect. Over the previous couple of days my cold had steadily gotten worse although when I was too busy to feel sorry for myself it never felt bad enough to defer my place. Registering for the race and wandering around the stalls at the Excel was a good distraction during the day and an evening out in the West End watching The Book of Mormons had me in fits of laughter instead coughing fits which settled me in for a reasonable nights sleep.

Waking up early but still feeling under the weather I was unable to force much breakfast down.  I loaded up on paracetamol and caffeine and headed to the start line. The train was packed with other runners and the  sounds of the gathering crowds grew as we drew closer to Greenwich. Exiting the train en mass it was an inspiring sight to see so many people making their way up to the park and begin their race preparations.

This was my first road marathon so I had no expectations. I had only really started training specifically for this race in the last month. However, I was now injury free and had no doubt that I could complete this distance in a good time. I believed I could run better than 3.15 and after talking to UltraStu at the previous weeks Torq trail running camp I decided I would try and use some of his philosophy and run hard and fast for as long as you can. There was even talk of a beer or two if I could achieve certain goals. What more motivation do you need?  This was all before I picked up a cold though...would my aching head and sore chest ruin everything?

I was running from the Blue start and once there I had plenty of time to figure out what I would take on the run. I should now consider myself as an experienced long distance runner but whether it was the short training build up, running a road race with expectations of running faster and taking no walking breaks, or just not thinking through things and believing it wouldn't happen to me, I broke the golden rule of not doing things for the first time on race day. My faithful old road running shoes, comfy for 10 mile runs but not really tested on longer distances, would turn out to be too small, my feet having grown since buying them all those years ago. This didn't really slow me down but it's given me some ugly toenails to protect! No, my issue mainly came from either using gels, taking on too much water or taking paracetamol. Maybe a combination of factors, but already feeling weak from my cold I certainly did not help matters by putting untried products into my stomach on race day. My lesson to take away will be to practise a little more on the sponsored nutrition goods or leave the science and stick to the normal foods I always take.

Back at the race start I had filled my pockets with a few gels and some Clif shots, my usual sweets (which I basically ignored for the entire race), phone and ipod (unused due to the noise levels making the music redundant).  I handed in my bag and took a final long gulp of water which inevitably leads to finding the end of the toilet queue! It was incredible how many people were in the line but better to go now than during the race. I made my way to my starting pen and met up with Ben from Trail Ferret whom I met last weekend at the Torq event in Shropshire. It was good to have a chat with someone who had run the London marathon before and kept my mind off anticipating all the things that could go wrong. Stay positive.

30 seconds of silence was followed by all as a mark of remembrance to those affected by the incomprehensible events in Boston.

49 seconds and 50 metres to the start line and we were off. ...only another 26.2 miles to go. The first few miles go quick, things are fresh, the pace is set by the runners crowded around. It feels good though, manageable, and I was running hard. Every time the running pack started to thin out another group merges into the masses. The pace stays steady with low 7 minute miles. I have lost Ben and there's too much going on to worry about a running companion, especially as I no longer feel like talking to anyone. Concentration is the name of the game. I try to focus on how I can pick up the pace. I feel in good spirits, the sun is out, I am high five-ing all the kids lining the streets with their hands out. Their smiles and cheers are infectious. The noise of the crowd willing us all on to accomplish our hard earned goals was deafening and felt very special. The drum bands, singers, techno music and dancing girls were a constant uplift.  Particularly the dancing girls. It was hard not to smile and soak up this atmosphere.

I knew I was not on my A game today but run hard and fast and see what happens was the plan so needing the loo 10miles in was a frustrating delay. I am not sure if it was after this or beforehand but my guts started playing up and so for the rest of the race I had to contend with nausea and unmovable stitches either side of my body. Not what I need!!

Crossing over Tower Bridge was very special. The crowds were amazing, the runners all pushing themselves into the heat of the day, even if they were just wearing a mankini. I was overtaken by 2 of them! I was just happy that Mr Tickle didn't finish ahead of me.  Although a man carrying a 40lbs back pack managed to - unbelievable stamina. Once over the bridge we were treated to the front of men's elite fighting it out in the latter part of their race. I was halfway and these guys were nearing mile 22!!  By this point I was determined to keep with the 3.15 pacer and any chance of a better time was all but given up on.

As the miles ebbed away slowly, and the pacer increasingly crept away from me, I had absolutely nothing left to give and so my times kept sliding. By this time I had also given up on putting anything else in my stomach and took on only a little water at each station with the rest of the bottle going over my head to keep me cool and focused. Staying positive at this point was a hard place to find. My smile was fading, my head throbbing, and my mile 17 turned out to be mile 16 so still 10 more to go. When I actually made it to mile 17 I noticed that this was my normal training time for running 18 miles.

With plenty going wrong I was forced to dig deep. I was still running and every now and again I would get that pick me up we all need. These especially happened when passing my Prostate Cancer UK cheering teams. The noise was deafening with shouts of encouragement, whistles, rattlers etc. By waving and applauding these volunteers and supporters helped push me on that little more.

The final parts of the race was hard and I was fast running out of energy. Soreness was creeping into my body now and my times were now a far distance from the 7 min miles I was registering early on and were now into the 9's but by running slower at least I would be sure of  making it to the end. Many would not and all around me runners were getting as far as they could and having to stop. Worryingly some were being carried away on stretchers having collapsed, others staggered off to the side on their own. There was a great presence of paramedics around to help those in need but I just had to keep going. It felt that I was going backwards, it felt like all around were passing me with ease but to give up now would be heartbreaking and not an option. In fact, in the last 7kms only 338 people overtook me but, believe me, it felt more like 3338. Although 114 runners were finding it harder than me as I somehow passed them.

Seeing Big Ben was a relief. The end was near. I had had enough and was desperate to finish. The roar of the crowds and the thought that Lou might be there on the embankment ready to take my picture prevented me from walking as I rounded the corner and down into Birdcage, willing everything I had to push on for that final section. Turning into Buckingham Palace and the finish was a little surreal. I think I was just so happy to not have to concentrate any more, having run the entire course and not walking any of it or having to stagger into an aid station for help. There had been so much doubt over the preceding dismal days when my cold had been at it's worst.

With ecstatic people all around me a medal was draped over my neck, the chip cut away from my battered old 'never to be worn' again trainers, a goody bag pressed into my hand,a quick picture taken and then off to drop bag collection all in a whirlwind minute whilst the legs adjusted to that feeling of walking again. A quiet moment then to reflect on achieving something special in a sombre week that made us all run for Boston.
Unable to contact anyone on my mobile I made my way to the Horseguards parade meeting point.  Coming off The Mall I saw a Prostate Cancer UK group and introduced myself and said I would be back once I had found my girlfriend, not even noticing that she was standing there with them smiling and waving at me. I eventually heard them all screaming after me as I walked away and I sheepishly walked back. What can I say, I was a bit tired! We were taken to the post race reception, the organiser apologising profusely for the fact that there were so many stairs to get to the venue. It was still relatively quiet when we arrived and I was greeted with warm congratulations, food and drink plus and a much welcomed sports massage.

Crossing the line gives you that unique moment of satisfaction. You have completed a challenge set long ago, that felt like an age away only to come along all too soon. the day passes in a flash but the memories will stay forever with the medal reminding you off a proud day, sun shining and crowds all united with the running community. I cannot say if I will run another road marathon but I am happy to have participated in the 2013 London marathon. It is a special day.


Stats : 26.2 miles in 3hrs28mins
Mile splits
7.56 7.46 6.53 7.38 7.40 7.21 7.31 7.20 7.23 7.28 7.58 7.20 7.36 7.30 7.40 7.50 7.53 7.40
8.06 8.22 8.27 8.36 9.03 8.39 9.21 9.01

Monday, 8 April 2013

Purbecks run

Training for a road marathon just is not my thing. I have never run a road marathon and from my commitment to go training on the roads I will hazard a guess and say that I will not be doing another. Still it is London and the point is to raise a little money for charity and to get that one time feeling of a big city marathon.
Since December I have had a foot injury - torn or stretched tendon on the underside of my foot - and although I was capable of running it was a painful niggle and I would of hated myself if the niggle turned to a serious injury. So I took it easy in January, no better. Had February off, foot still sore but I had started a constant regime of compression and ice on the foot. In March I bought some rocktape after listening to TalkUltra and I will tell you what things seemed to improve immediately. Happy days. A month on and I am still using it, I definitely still feel a tightness without it and so I will continue to use it until I run out and then probably buy some more.
Old Harry
I am slightly digressing here. But, clocking up some good road miles in March and with the weather turning (a little) I was itching to get out on a proper run so, with a 18 and 14 mile road run done I decided to finish off the week with a circular circuit of Corfe castle to finish me off.
I headed quickly down on a bright but cloudy day and parked up by the castle and strode up to the top of the Nine Barrow Down ridge line.  Once on top the wind appeared cold and sharp and hitting me hard and so I had to resort to putting on some gloves and a buff to cover my ears!! Atop of the ridge way the views were humbling. In front, the valley floor running all the way to Swanage, over to my left Poole harbour stretched out from Wareham to Sandbanks.
A tough descent then ascent to Ballard Down I circled over to Harrys Rock via Studland. I was trying to get as many hills in as possible as this is one thing that I have definitely been neglecting of late. At Old Harry's Rock I slowed and took some photos I walked the cliffs edge a little but turned back near the end due to the wind unnerving me with 50+ft vertical drops either side. I shook off the wind with another slow ascent up to Ballard point and then a relaxing drop into Swanage. With it being easter I thought the town would be rammed, instead it was extremely quiet and deserted although I did have to queue and wait 10mins for my burger.
even the cows didn't like the wind
Venue for my next wild camp
After my scrumptious lunch I headed up the steep hill to Durston Head, this is a pretty area combining forested wild gardens with the famous climber friendly sea cliffs. No climbing for me this time but, an exhilarating run by the cliffs all the way to St Albans Head. There was blue in the sky and the coastal path was protected by the high ridge enabling me to warm up a little.Thankfully there were a few gullies allowing a cooling wind to refresh me and reminding me of past wild camping adventures and ones to include very soon.
After this most glorious stretch of coastline, for me, it only gets better. I like nothing more than with tired legs passing the lookout station and just enjoying the ever bettering views leading into Chapmans pool and the toughest decent/ascent/descent over Houns tout. The sea becomes green at his point and you can see the kimmeridge ledges jutting out to sea for an eternity.
no time to relax but, take it all in
At this point. To get another hill in. I veered of and hiked up to Swyre Head with body tiring and amazing views I was hard pressed to keep going especially as it was back into the ever present freezing winds. From here it was a long downhill and I felt I was freewheeling to Kimmeridge. I then zig zagged through some farmlands (getting lost due to the newly ploughed fields hiding any hope off seeing long used pathways). I couldn't get truly lost though as I was heading for the Ridgeway hill. After a few fence hops I was surmounting the final ridge line to Corfe.
Corfe Castle
By now I had been on the go for hours and so was pleasing to know that I only had a couple of miles left. The sun was out and even the wind had turned to a breeze as I took the final slope down overlooking the majestic ruins of Corfe Castle.
A great run (aren't they all). My first ultra of the year and my foot felt good. legs were tired which will make me apprehensive for the goals ahead but it's a good start. I will get the london marathon out of the way and then I can fully focus and long hill training up until the start of June when I hope I will be feeling a whole lot more positive about my 75miler with 6000m+elevation to do.

Stats: 27miles +/-1500m taking around 5hr45mins.
(2litres of water, burger & battered sausage, 2 brekkie bars, 1 gel, kitkat, pocketful of sweets, 3 x elete tabs).