On the road again / Goin’ places that I’ve never been [Da-da-de-duh-da-de-de-de-de]

I’ve been lucky. The abdominal injury I’ve had seems to be under control and (touch wood) going away, yay! I’ve been a good boy and done my exercises, day and night, and was back out the door running again only 7 days after speaking with the physio. That was a relief after my injury at the beginning of last year when I had nearly a month out and then a long, slow build back up to ‘proper’ running. There were lots of weeks where I could only run for an hour or so and a few set backs on the way, which was frustrating. This time though the fix seemed to have an immediate and increasing effect and the few weeks I had to have off were probably needed anyway, to get over all the racing I had squeezed into too short a time. (Note to self – running too hard, too often, is risky) I’ve also managed not to put on weight, by not eating like a bear before hibernation as I did when last injured, which has helped too.

My first few runs back were short, and a bit painful still, but then when we were seeing our friends Jo and Neil up in Ipswich I ran for an hour, helping pace the last 7 miles of Jo’s final long run before the Brighton Marathon (Go Jo!). It was a nice relaxed, trail run around a lake and was a nice way to get back out there. (It was less relaxed for Jo obviously, she had done two laps of the lake before I joined her so was 14 odd miles in already. My babbling and inept pacing technique, and poor drink’s bottle etiquette, probably made it tougher still…).

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In the Mexican quarter of Ipswich

 

With that I felt confident that things were on the mend, so I kept up the ab exercises (bored now) and increased the miles. I wouldn’t be me though without doing something silly, so the next weekend me and Claire ran our local parkrun at Great Lines in Gillingham, to keep our ‘one parkrun in every month of 2017’ extravaganza going. I was thinking I’d run a fast-ish effort, but when we set off I hoofed round in strong winds for just under 19 and half minutes (just a few seconds short of my home course record). Thankfully my stomach didn’t protest at the fast pace or my idiocy and I was pleased to get so close to my best time, especially with the interruption to my training. It gave me confidence I hadn’t lost all the hard won fitness from my training in December through to February.

Last week was another increase in mileage (I’d gone from 15 miles the first week back, to 19 the week after, to 26 miles last week). I struggled a bit to run at a relaxed pace however, and kept trying to push the pace a few times and locked in to too hard an effort. I was out of the groove of running at an efficient aerobic pace, which for me is a heart rate of around 150 bpm. It didn’t help that my Garmin is showing its age and the wrist based heart rate monitor has got a bit cranky, i.e. it lies to me. I’m experienced enough now to use my breathing to judge my effort however, so I was just doing a bad job of it! I went a bit too quick a few times but managed to slow down some and be closer to a useful, sustainable pace with each jaunt back out.

Last Saturday, Claire and I were going to run at Malling parkrun with our friend Sarah, to make up for the run we had to cancel with her for her birthday a couple of months ago. Unfortunately that had to be cancelled again (we will do it eventually!) so we decided to go back to Great Lines again, as they were running the course backwards in honour of April Fool’s Day (and also so I could wear my lovely apricot coloured parkrun t-shirt for the first time at my home course). We jogged up to Great Lines as a warm up and met a huge crowd of nearly 450 runners – clearly the reverse route was a popular idea.

After saying hello to a few people, and milling about to stay warm, we wandered to the start but facing up the long hill to the war memorial, rather than down to loop round the football pitches as normal. After a strong run last week, I wanted to get under 20 minutes again, but didn’t want to go as hard and be stupid again… Guess what? Yep after a few hundred yards, and with runners in front pulling away and the sound of runners behind me, I was at full 5K race pace and pinning my ears back. Muppet.

This was a problem, beyond risking damage, as the start of the reversed course was now a half mile up the long drag through the park (into the wind) and I was immediately working too hard. After looping the war memorial we thankfully were going downhill, which was a relief. As was going down round the football pitched which is normally a bit of a git with all the slopes involved. I was very much on my own by this point however, the runner way ahead in third was a hundred metres in front and there was no one close behind (that I could hear).  Oh and joy of joys, it was now the long hill back to the top of the park, with the wind in my face. It was going to be a long second half…AA@GL

I tried to maintain some speed but could feel myself slowing, my breathing get erratic and my legs start to do odd things. I went past Claire at this point and all I could manage was the smallest of waves and to stick out my tongue to indicate my distress. Finally after what felt like an hour I was back on flatter ground and I could recover a bit. As I tried to take in all the air in Medway a marshal at one of the turns told me ‘You can catch him’ about the guy in third. As I gazed at him disappearing off in to the distance that seemed improbable, without a rifle or moped to hand. On the downhill stretch I recovered a bit more and tried to pick up the pace. I was tired though and was having to go around and off of the path to pass some of the slower parkrunners I was catching up with.

With the wind behind me and a gentle slope helping me I tried to pick things up a bit round the football pitches as I started praying for the finish to appear. It took a lot of energy to make the turns here, especially the last one which threw you onto the slope up to the finish funnel. Where was the nice downhill finish we were used to?! I thought I heard another runner hunting me down so I tried to increase my stride and push on, but the pitter-patter behind grew louder! I went into a sprint which only actually increased my pace a tiny bit, and broke one my cardinal rules and had a frantic peak behind to see my hunter coming for me; there was no-one there.

I was close to the finish anyway but slowed down a bit with relief – I must have been hearing my buff or t-shirt flapping in the wind! The phantom runner strikes again… With the tiredness (and fear) I hadn’t looked at my watch since the end of the 2nd mile and now saw I had crossed the line for fourth in around 19:05 (I found out later my official time was actually 19:03). A new parkrun and 5K PB, whoop! I was pleasantly surprised (after a few minutes of desperately trying not to puke my guts up) and deployed full smug grin.

Clearly my cardiovascular fitness is good (for me), it’s just my weak, spindly body letting me down. I need to work on that… I also need to take notice of what time I’m running towards the end of a race; if I had known how close I was to sub-19 I may have been able to sneak a 18-odd 5K to my name, which would have been awesome (not that I’m unhappy with the time so soon after coming back, I’m not that greedy). After a few minutes recovery I spoke with a few people who I knew through Strava, but who I’d only ever said hello to previously. It was nice to catch up and hear what other people’s plans were race wise, and then to see Claire come home for a storming finish. All in all, a good parkrun and a good way to start a Saturday.

My plan now is to get back up to 30 odd miles a week for a month or so, whilst keeping all my limbs attached and in good working order. The key thing is consistency and limiting hard running, according to Sage Canaday anyway whose YouTube videos I have been watching recently. To be fair that’s what I already knew from reading Dr Phil Maffetone some time ago, albeit in a different form. With this recent injury scare however I’m more inclined to actually heed it. I want to then increase my mileage gradually, up to the magical 50 miles per week figure which seems to really boost fitness and results. Which I might need for my first multi-day ultramarathon which I’ve just signed up for! :S

I’ve heard about the Saltmarsh75 from a couple of different sources, and was pushed into signing up to get the early bird discount (as I’m a tight git). It looks like a well organised race with a picturesque route around the coast of Essex, and at 38 miles on the Saturday and then 37 on the Sunday in early October a manageable step up from the marathons and ‘short’ ultras I’ve managed already. I’m well aware it’s a tough off-road course however and at much further than I’ve ever run before, two days in a row!, I have to treat it with respect. With that and my running my nemesis, the Stort30, again at the end of October I need to get the mileage in and time on my feet to be ready.

Then there’s the 24 hour relay race we have in July and two marathons scheduled for August, plus the odd shorter race to fit in here and there. Oh and all the random places I want to visit on ‘adventure’ runs. I need to start building a good base of training for all that, and make sure I do it a controlled and thought out way. Not necessarily my strong point but it will be worth the effort. Now where did I put that spreadsheet…

Thanks for reading and enjoy your running. Adam 🙂

 

 

 

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‘The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials’*

* ‘Once a Runner’ by John L. Parker (A great book, read it!)

Post-Brighton Half has been a frustrating time. I managed to exacerbate an injury I had been nursing for a few weeks, which I think  occurred at the Bowiethon marathon I ran in mid February just two weeks before. I made what was a dull ache post-marathon into a stabbing pain during an interval workout a week later. I should have stopped and it should have been part of easier, shorter runs anyway to recover properly and fully. I can only blame myself really.

I saw sense and rested for four days before Brighton when the pain intensified but then went for it; I had a really great race, ran a huge personal best, and paid the price immediately after with an almost crippling pain in my lower abdomen which made just walking painful. Thankfully after a few days rest, and some anti-inflammatories, I could get around without any unsettling deep breathing, but jogging let alone running caused pain. I did some cross training on our exercise bike instead and waited a massive five whole days before trying to run again, which I managed with a very light three mile jog with Claire. But it still didn’t feel right during the run and when I tried to run on the Sunday it was painful again and I had to turn back after less than half a mile.

I took more pills and in my naivety/stubbornness/stupidity tried to run again on Monday night and was back, in less than 5 minutes. I was now half convinced I had either a sports hernia or a stress fracture of my pelvis (I blame the internet). I got the proper strop on and wasted an evening, and one of Claire’s, feeling sorry for myself and thinking about all the running I was going to miss, the fitness I would lose, the weight I’d put on etc. etc. It didn’t help that my last run had been such a good one, a kind of breakthrough even with a slew of personal bests, and now I couldn’t crack on and aim for the next goal. All the gains I’d made were going to slip away… ((cue overblown orchestral music and faint sobbing noises))

Luckily a nights sleep and some gentle encouragement from Claire (she’s a saint) made me start thinking of what I could do to actually fix things rather than mope. I had picked up a knee/IT band/hip issue at the end of 2015 and had used my work’s health cover to get a physio assessment and support which had solved the problem. I decided to swallow my morals again (yuck) and use private healthcare to try and get things sorted. That was a bit more difficult this time however, as it wasn’t a straight forward musculoskeletal injury so I had to see a GP first (to ensure it wasn’t anything to do with my internal organs or other health issue ). A quick visit to work’s private GP (I’m going to hell), some questions and a couple of prods and I was referred.

The next day I had a phone consultation with a physio and after a very involved chat about all my symptoms (and a lot of puzzled sounding ‘right’s and ‘ok’s) he seemed to think he’d worked it out. With all my running and racing recently (a hilly, trail marathon; a full-on parkrun; a fairly hilly marathon; and then a fast [for me] half marathon in just over 5 weeks) I had overloading my lower abdominal muscles And strained them (I didn’t know I had any). The cure; a rest from running and building those muscles back up so they could take the strain.

The rest part means I can’t do the Dartford marathon this weekend, which is a shame but the organisers where very nice about it and let me defer my entry (at no extra cost) to 2018. The building the muscles up has meant twice daily doses of leg lowering exercises to strengthen my lower abs (or just find them…). I was warned by the physio that they would be hard on their on, let alone with the injury, and he wasn’t wrong! They are painful and tough but that’s probably why I need to do them, my core isn’t strong enough to withstand all the running I’ve put it through.

I’m happy to say though it’s only been 3 days and I’ve noticed a marked and swift improvement. The general pain has subsided a lot and only occurs with extreme movements. Also the odd quick jog I’ve had to do (to avoid murderous traffic and catch the train you understand) has caused discomfort rather than pain. I’m going to keep smashing out the exercises religiously and top that off with some cycling and hope things keep improving.

You can remind me of this giddy optimism when I am crying to you in a few weeks time, but for the moment I feel guardedly optimistic and hope this is just a blip rather than prolonged lay off. I just need to ‘Be Cool’ and not get ahead of myself and push things so they break again. Easy to say, but I find hard to do… Here’s hoping.

Thanks for listening Adam 🙂

Brighton Half Marathon 2017

As is becoming a habit, I felt unprepared for this race. I’d run at the Bowiethon Challenge just two weeks before and was pretty knackered afterwards. As well as the usual sore bits after a marathon I’d developed a pain in my lower abdomen that wouldn’t shift – joy. I’d taken things easy the week after to get myself back together (as I would anyway) and then delayed the one interval workout I was going to do. I moved it from the weekend between races, to a few days later, to let things settle down some more. It hadn’t really worked though; I’d got through the session but the pain had intensified through the reps. I should have stopped, but didn’t as I’m a idiot. I tried to rectify that though with some rest, and managed to not run for 4 whole days (my longest break without running for some time) before Brighton in the hope it would help…

We decided to treat ourselves to a night away in Brighton on the Saturday so we had minimal travel on the Sunday morning and Claire had pulled a blinder; she found a lovely apartment right on the seafront and, more importantly, literally 5 minutes walk from the start. Our host with Airbnb was lovely too and very accommodating. She said we could check out late the next day so we could use the flat after the run to have a shower and general tidy up. Result. We were running the race for the charity Scope, as our friend Sarah was running for them (with her friend Jenni) and talked us into running with them too. We got a place, for just the £40 entry fee and a modest fundraising target, when all the general entry places had all long been snapped up.

After a leisurely Saturday morning Claire drove us down to Brighton, and we arrived at lunchtime and dropped our bags off before hitting the town and the Lanes, and had a very carb-y lunch. The weather wasn’t great (wet and windy – not unusual in February by the coast to be fair) but it wasn’t too cold and a bit later we hit Brighton Pier with Sarah and Jenni. As dusk descended we risked life and limb on the Waltzer. It started off ok but by the time it got going both me and Claire where pinned to our seats and the screams were very real! Suitably shaken up we retreated to the warm embrace of Wetherspoons for a restorative beverage, and on to another carb-y meal of the Italian variety.

One early night later and we awoke to a grim view from our apartment. The weather had got worse and the seafront was covered in a foggy blanket, with the odd rain shower and some gusting wind thrown in for flavour. I’m not sure if it was nerves about the weather or the impending race (or the mountain of carbs I’d eaten the day before) but my digestive system did its normal pre-race routine of freaking out entirely (if not more so). Pushing through (ahem) I got myself in order and tried to remember all the stuff needed for a smooth race and post-race comfort. We left it as late as possible to wander to the start line so we wouldn’t be out in the elements for longer than need be.

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The sea is somewhere out there…

This is the biggest race I’ve run at for some time, since I ran the British 10k in 2013 (I think) and was definitely the biggest race for Claire so far. There was around 10,000 people signed up for this race (although only just over 8,000 actually ran – the scaredy cats) and it took a bit of shuffling and pushing to get to the baggage drop points and then find shelter from the rain. It was in marked contrast to the SVN events we have been doing recently, where 150-odd people running at Bowiethon felt a bit crowded!16997670_10158104371180012_5560598982769133999_n

We faffed about for a while (I did a token warm up of 150 metres) and then decided to brave the crowds to get to our relevant pens for the start. I kissed Claire goodbye and good luck, and slowly made my way through the sea of vibrant clad runners to the 1:30-1:44 section. I hadn’t run a half marathon race for ages, since March 2015 at Brands Hatch where I set my half PB of 1:33-odd, so wasn’t sure what to expect or what time to go for. I was a little worried about how my stomach would hold up (and how my legs would be just two weeks after a marathon) but I wanted to get a new best time. Despite the weather it was a flat course and I knew I was pretty fit (if slightly broken).16997707_10158104371250012_7707738576377580859_n

I saw the 1:30 pacer at the front of our pen and I decided to try and keep him in sight if I could. But my plan was not to worry about him too much and instead concentrate on getting near to 7:00 minute pace, in the knowledge that would get me a PB and a quick time. After the usual wait (and starting to shiver a bit) we finally got set on our way. I didn’t actually cross the line for a minute or so though, as all the runners ahead had to squeeze through the start gantry first. I started my Garmin as we crossed the start line but the first half a mile or so was a frustrating jog/run trying to get round people and find space to get going. With a bit of elbowing and the widening of the route, the crowd gradually thinned to more manageable numbers and I could get going properly. The first mile still took nearly 7:20 however, and I was behind time and the 1:30 pacer was a good few hundred metres up the road already. Poo.

My stomach was a little sore but apart from the odd twinge I didn’t really notice it after that first mile. Now on the flat and open seafront road I felt comfortable picking up the pace a bit. Without much effort I ran 6:50 for the second mile and was making good progress, picking off people slowly but surely. The crowds were out despite the overly moist air and offering encouragement, and mile three was more of the same (and at the same 6:50-ish pace). At the beginning of the fourth mile (I think) we went past a band of drummers who were making a welcome racket and decked out in cool top hat and suit outfits. A little further on the elites and quick club runners went past on the other side of the road in rapid succession on their way to speedy glory.

We turned back on ourselves near Ovingdean and the beginning of mile 5 and we were suddenly running into the wind. We were that bit more exposed as we were on the side of the road closest to the sea and, although it was definitely tougher going, I felt ok and just kept trying to go past people and not get stuck fighting the wind by myself. I got a much needed boost at around this point, when I managed to pick out Claire in the crowd of runners on the opposite side of the road for a ‘keep going’ and a wave. It amazing how that little bit of contact can gee you up. I pushed on again.

I went past the second drinks point and snagged a Lucozade Sport to top up my sugar and fluid levels. Just as I went to take a slug I saw Sarah and Jenni opposite; their hearty shouts of encouragement nearly made me throw the bottle over my shoulder in surprise, and I only just got a reply out. Either with the adrenaline from the shock, or the sugar that was hitting my system, I felt pretty good. I was reeling off sub 7 minute miles with relative ease and now finally caught up with the 90 minute pacer and the crowd of runners clumped around him. Just past the halfway point I nestled into the pack and used the power of the runners around me to keep moving me forward. I settled into a rhythm and even relaxed a little bit in the cover of the crowd.

Things were going well and I tried to relax and just concentrated on not tripping myself (or anyone else) up, and enjoying the shouts of the crowd and the Scope ‘cheer point’ we went past at about seven and a half miles. I had a bit of a dilemma though; with less than half the race to go, but still a fair few miles to cover, did I try and crack on and leave the safety of the 1:30 group? My breathing was fine and my legs felt ok… There were no more hills left to worry about… I’d be able to take on more fluid and carbs at the last drink point… Should I stay, or should I go?

After a minute’s indecision I decided I didn’t want to settle for the safety of the pack and a sprint finish to ensure a sub 90 minute finish. I might have to brave the elements a bit more on my own but I done that in the first 5 or 6 miles anyway, and I needed to take advantage of feeling so good to get the best time possible and risk slowing down towards the end if things went wrong. So at the beginning of the ninth mile I began to drift off the front of the 1:30 pack and started picking off the runners in front of me. I was conscious of not suddenly just accelerating and burning out, so I let my pace increase steadily until I found the same rhythm that had got me on to the sub-90 minute pack in the first place.

With the freedom to run as I wanted I immediately felt better than when wedged in the pack, more in sync somehow. I had a stream of runners to focus on and I kept latching on to the next runner as a target and was making good progress. I had half been looking to see the front runners turn back for the finish but hadn’t seen them and wasn’t sure if I had misremembered the route. But after a slight bend I saw we were actually turning left off the road onto the seafront path and that’s why we hadn’t seen them coming back past on the main road. At the turn we did a nice comfortable looping turn back for home and went past the final drinks point. I snagged another bottle of Lucozade, took a few swigs before chucking it away (wasteful, I know).

Now there was just 3 miles to go, 5k at most, and we were running on the path by Brighton’s pebbly beach. Luckily the wind had died down and the cloud had lifted, so we didn’t have to fight the weather anymore. I found myself in step with what looked like a local club runner (he had a vest on despite the weather) just after the turn and we were maintaining exactly the same pace. We gradually went past more runners (include someone dressed as a cow, much to spectator’s delight) and after a few hundred metres I think there was a mutual agreement we would work together. I was grateful to have someone to help maintain the pace to the finish, so although we went our separate ways to go round the runners in front we kept coming back together as our own little pack.

I was finally feeling the effort now and although my breathing was only increasing slightly, my legs were definitely getting heavier and I was regretting wearing a long sleeve top and a cap. My new running partner seemed to be upping the pace though and coupled with other runners slowing down meant we still had a few people to go round. I concentrated on not getting caught behind anyone and sticking close to my impromptu pacer. As we went round a clump of four runners I had to follow behind him to get by. I saw my pacing pal looking for me and came back alongside with a strangled ‘I’m back again’.  He said something encouraging I didn’t catch; our partnership was sealed.

We kept on keeping on and I heard my Garmin beep to signal we had completed the twelfth mile in 6:20; no wonder I was feeling a bit knackered. The crowds were increasing as we got closer to the start/finish point and people were clapping and a few kind souls even shouted my name (which I had written on my fetchingly purple Scope running vest). We went past a mile sign saying 12 miles, but that was definitely wrong as I had 12.25 miles on my Garmin by this point (and thought that was short). I could see the other guy looking at his watch and reassured him that the sign was wrong and we were further along. I then proclaimed from nowhere ‘let’s see how many people we can catch before the end’ – I felt strong and thought we probably only had a kilometre or so to go. I wanted to get all my effort out of me before the finish.

We began to push the pace again and I tried to hold on; I couldn’t talk big and then not put the effort in. There were still a few people ahead to get around but there was fewer now, and the crowd lining the route was growing and offering louder encouragement as we tried to speed up. I was feeling tired and a bit winded but I concentrated on sticking beside my pacer. We took the slight bend in the road by the pier and we could see the finish gantry, which was a relief. We both sped up further although for me it was just to get things over with as quickly as possible, as I knew I was beginning to redline. I tried to sprint and was surprised when I actually sped up a bit! The line couldn’t come quickly enough though and I desperately tried to hold my form as my body finally gave up and my stride went all over the place. As if by magic though we crossed the line, at the exact same time.

I was gone, gasping, hands on knees. But I was very happy. I managed not to slump to the floor, or lose my breakfast banana, and stumbled on to thank my running mate. It turned out his name was Vesa, and he had just got under 90 minutes for the first time too. We had a little chat after we claimed our medal and walked through the finish area collecting all the goodies on offer (a plethora of food and drink). Vesa really pulled me along that last 3 miles and I’m very grateful for his help. I felt better pretty quickly and the long walk of half a mile or so to the baggage area helped get some life back into my legs. I claimed my bag and the result had already been text to my phone; 1:26:46! I was (still am!) over the moon with that time, and taking 6 and half minutes off my previous best. When I got back to the flat later I found I’d run a PB not only for a half marathon, but also bests for 10 miles and 10k (and 15k and 20k). I must like the sea air 🙂

After I had thrown some clothes on I wandered back to the finish area to try and catch Claire as she finished. I was pretty buzzing from my result and fairly skipped back there (it might have also been due to all the sugar I had dumped into my body). I managed to find a spot on a curb to see down the finishing straight and watched the finishers coming in (while eating some crisps and a protein gel). I saw the 2:15 pacer come in and saw they were quite a bit behind the gun time on the finish gantry due to the delay crossing the start, so tried to work out roughly where Claire would be. As I waited I began to get a bit nervous about whether she would get inside her target of 2:30. Well I shouldn’t have been! The tension mounted as I saw the 2:30 pacer flag in the distance, but just after I saw Claire safely ahead of them. I felt myself roaring her name and scaring everyone within 50 foot of me, and caught her eye for a split second. She was going to do it! 16864445_10158104371355012_257689891870072304_n

The finish was a hundred or so metres further on behind hoardings so I didn’t actually see her finish, but knew she was ahead of her target. Go Claire! I then made the mistake of trying to jog to the finish area to join her; ow! My stomach was now in agony and I almost couldn’t walk, let alone run. Mercifully it eased as I hobbled on and the pain subsided to a more manageable level, but it still stung. I stopped being a tart and managed to get alongside Claire as she walked through the finish area and exchange a long distance well done. We were 2 for 2 in terms of PBs run and targets hit! And that was added to later when we caught up with Sarah and Jenni to find they have crushed their personal bests too, and got well under their target times as well. 4 for 4!16864257_10158104372010012_1586845410860708780_n

I think the race was a bit of a breakthrough for me. I’m aware I was a good 3 miles behind the winner and finished behind a couple of hundred other runners (so don’t worry, I haven’t lost all perspective!) but it was very quick by my standards. If Strava is to be believed (oh go on) I ran just 20 seconds off my 5k PB to the finish (after 10 miles of hard effort) and overall ran faster than my previous 10k best pace, for over double the distance. That’s a speed I didn’t think I was capable of and has immediately got me thinking of new goals to aim for (sub-19 minutes for 5k, sub 40 for 10k, sub 1:25 for the half…).

Thankfully my stomach issue has kept me nice and grounded! It has become much less painful in the last few days with rest and a break from running, so hopefully it is just a pull or strain rather than anything too sinister (I made the mistake of googling the symptoms and now am a bit scared it might be a tear or hernia… :S). I’m being patient (surprisingly so) and will see if I can run without pain at the weekend, if not though I may have to seek some medical advice. (I may be paying the price for racing 2 marathons, a half and an all-out parkrun in just over a month). If things don’t improve I may have to pull out of the Dartford Half which is on the 12th, which would be a shame but I’m not going to be stupid and properly break myself, particularly when my running is going so well. So in summary it’s a high followed by a low really, but overall an upward surge (I hope). Why did I go on so much then…

I will of course bore you silly with more of my petty trevails soon. Thanks for listening and all the best with your running.

Adam 🙂

Music Legends Challenge – Bowiethon

In preparation for this race I had taken it easy the week before (doing just a couple of small, easy runs) and then watched the David Bowie documentary ‘The Last Five Years’ the night before to ensure I was suitably inspired by the great himself. My legs felt ok but I could still feel the trail marathon I’d run at Ranscombe a few weeks ago and the parkrun I’d done flat out the week before. It might have been a figment of my imagination (Claire thought it was, a product of tapering madness) but I woke up on Saturday with a bit of a cold and sore throat. Normally this would be me getting my excuses in early but as I woke on Sunday morning I was determined to be as focused as possible and not give myself reasons to not do my best.

I made sure to have some hydration fluid and a proper breakfast (and caffeine) so I would be properly fuelled for the morning’s running. I’d sorted my gear, drinks and energy bars the night before and with a very civilised start time of 9:30 we didn’t need to get up too early or faff about too much. Claire unfortunately couldn’t get a place on the race, but she kindly gave me a lift anyway and would use Gravesend Cyclopark as a base for her own training run out to Jeskyns Country Park and around Gravesend.

It was only a 20 minute drive there and we got parked up in good time to collect my runner number and lap counting card, and then admire all the Bowie costumes and t-shirts on display. I had considered going for a Bowie outfit myself but thought it might send me mad having to deal with it over 26 miles, so I settled on a tribute t-shirt instead. Others though had gone for wigs, face paint, inflatable guitars, the full works, including our friend Beccy who looked the bizz in full Bowie get up. Our friend Jon had gone all out too and actually won the prize for the best outfit – a prize winner before he had even started! And this was to be his second marathon in a row, of the 4 he was going to do in 4 days for a ‘quad’… Lunatic!

I also saw Jake, another running friend I’d met through SVN events. He was also doing the 4 in 4 challenge, and kindly talked my through the course and what to expect. The ‘Bowiethon’ (as it was dubbed) was originally going to be run over a 3.74 mile lap, but then when we got the pre-race briefing email this had shifted to a 5.25 mile lap instead. So I was now aiming for 5 rather than 7 laps, which wasn’t an issue (it was the same distance – near enough!) but I needed to think about nutrition as it would be that bit further between pit stops and sustenance.

Jake told me that the first mile and a half was mostly up an incline but then you turned round and got to enjoy that same stretch downhill and then on for another mile or so past race HQ.  You then turned round again to go uphill back to race HQ to complete a lap, and get your card punched and grab any goodies you had to hand. Jake was certain it was a fast course and said with the downhills I could push into sub-8 minute mile pace, which would be PB territory for me. With that in mind I decided to go for the marathon and a crack at a fast time, rather than going for 6 laps and my first 50k run which I’d half had in mind (on the basis that my legs might not have the speed, but I could slow down and aim for further instead). The weather on Sunday was also conducive to a faster time being cold but dry(ish) and calm, much better than the day before where Jake and Jon had had to contend with snow storms and freezing temperatures!

Despite already using the facilities I had to run back to the main building at the Cyclopark to use the loo before things started – not ideal! I managed to do the necessary and get back in time to check everything was ready with the supplies I stowed on a tarp at Race HQ and put an energy bar in my back pocket. Claire stayed with me while we listened to Traviss of SVN give the pre-race briefing and congratulate people on lots of milestones (including someone’s 100th marathon, someone elses’ 99th [they got a flake!] and Jon getting his prize for best outfit). We took the now traditional pre-race selfie and I took closer order to the least formal race start line in the world (a traffic cone with some tape on it).16602995_10158037508550012_7492290529487823251_n

Off we went and I felt nice and relaxed from the off. I was near the front with a handful of other runners and I checked to make sure I wasn’t being silly, but my legs felt fine and my breathing was controlled so I just rolled up the hill. I let the quicker people get on with it and tried to settle in. By the time I turned round at the top of the lap I was in step with a guy called Lance, and that was me sorted for company and conversation for the next few laps! Lance was on something like his 90th marathon and proceeded to talk me through his and his partner’s favourite races, his running club down in Devon and all kinds of marathon and running related topics.

We came back past Claire, who kindly stopped to take the photo below, before she headed off up the A2 towards Jeskyns and her own adventure and we used the downhill to pick up the pace down past the Cyclopark without having to use any additional effort. Lance was chatting away and I was responding but I was keen not to waste too much energy (and oxygen) chatting, so I’m afraid I wasn’t holding up my share of the conversation. Lance didn’t seem to mind too much however. I also kept slowing down on any inclines to conserve energy and he kindly slowed too so as not to leave me behind, and we continued in this manor for the first lap.16684178_10158037509030012_1931599126395002589_n

With the chatting and the quickish pace on the down hills, the first lap flew by in less than 45 minutes and at around 8:05 pace, and crucially inside the 8:13 I needed to beat my PB (of 3:35:51). We went through the muddy carpark and got our lap counters punched and I took the opportunity to change my woolly hat for a cooler running cap, dump my gloves and pick up a hand bottle of hydration fluid. I did that fairly quickly and on starting Lap 2 thought I’d left Lance behind, but he caught up with me and we started the drag up the hill together again. Looking at the pace we had started with I was worried I was going off too quickly, putting to much effort into the hills and trying to make up time on the way down. My experience of going off too quickly and dying in the last few miles at the Stort30 last year (my first ultra) was firmly in my mind at this point.

On Lap 2 I tried to keep to a more consistent pace and stuck to just over 8 minute pace and tried not to get caught up trying to run at Lance’s speed. I kept an eye out for Beccy, Jake and Jon and said hello as we passed each other, sipped some hydration fluid and opened an energy bar halfway through the lap. I felt cautiously ok, apart from my hands which had been sweaty in my gloves but had now cooled quickly with them off. They steadily became frozen in the wind (and holding the hand bottle) until they became very painful and I began to lose the feeling in them. It was a relief to get to end of the second lap, dump the empty bottle and be able to put my gloves back on and try and warm them up.

It was also good to get to Lap 3 and closer to halfway. There was a bit of drama at this point as Lance’s partner had unfortunately hurt her foot (she was on something like her 194th marathon!) and he was understandably concerned and wanted to speed up to lap her so he could help her get to the finish. At the same time I needed to use the facilities, again. My need wasn’t going to derail my race but I wanted to go to the Cyclopark’s main building at the halfway point of the lap, as it would be quicker to get to the loo’s there than go from Race HQ at the end of the lap. So halfway round the third lap (and at around the half marathon point) we wished each other good luck and Lance speed on while I ducked in to use the toilets. I run through reception to the gent’s, quickly did my business (while nearly dropping my gloves in a urinal) and then ran out again. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a blessed relief and only cost me about a minute or so.

With that though I was on my own. I finished lap 3, took on a large swig of fluid and grabbed another energy bar and was out on lap 4 as quickly as I could. I felt more comfortable now, as I could run at exactly the pace I wanted and crucially at a consistent effort on the rolling course. It might have been the boost of the sugar I’d taken on, ridding myself of the extra weight or the temperature warming up a bit but I began to pick up the pace without seemingly more effort. I floated up to the top of the hill and on the way back down I got another boost with the return of Claire, back from her own adventure, offering encouragement as I went past her.16730374_10158037509295012_2192881408541767088_n

By now I was feeling pretty good. Apart from some pain in my lower abdomen and a slightly tight right calf my body felt ok, and my breathing felt strong. In miles 19 and 20 I picked up the pace without much extra effort to around 7 minute 30 pace on the downhills, and felt good for it. This is normally the point things start to go a bit wrong; legs start to get heavy, form starts to collapse and it’s a battle to just maintain my speed. Now though I was picking up the pace and my body was responding well. I came to the end of lap 4, picked up another bar and got a kiss off Claire for my efforts before heading off again.

Now I felt confident giving it some on the way up the hill for the last time, and although my legs were a bit sore they felt strong. I was going past quite a few people at this point as I gathered pace and lots of people offered encouragement. SVN seems to attract a lovely crowd of runners; I’d been exchanging ‘well done’s and ‘keep going’s with lots of runners, those I knew and didn’t, and I really appreciated it now as I tried to push on. On the way back down the hill this time I let myself really pick up the pace. As I was feeling so good and my legs so strong I half thought about digging in for an extra lap and the ultra, but with the pace I was getting to I decided to commit to the marathon and hopefully a PB.

As I went past race HQ at the halfway point for the lap I threw my cap and gloves at poor Claire and stole some water from her as I kept going, before chucking the bottle on the floor with a strangled ‘thank you’ and ploughed on. I was now shifting (for me) at under 7 minutes a mile, which I would be happy with at the end of a half let alone a full marathon. It was a bit of blur to be honest, I just concentrated on maintaining my form and using the runners ahead as targets to pull me onwards. At the turn round point, with about mile and half to go, I realised the course was going to run a little long on my Garmin. I knew I was going to beat my PB but my brain was struggling to work out by how much.

Luckily the maths for a sub 3:30 marathon is fairly straight forward and I had worked that out before hand; average 8 minutes a mile or less and you’ll make it. My Garmin helpfully informed me I was now under that at 7:50-odd. I was having to go back uphill at this point however and, although there was only a mile and a half or so to go, I was beginning to finally fade. My legs started to tighten and my breathing and heart rate began to increase. Now the familiar fatigue and pain came, but I was getting closer and closer to the finish. I tried to remember the words to Bowie songs to give me something else to focus on and hopefully inspire me, but I couldn’t get past the opening few lines of my favourite songs (as Claire can attest, I’m rubbish at lyrics and mostly make them up).

I kept pushing myself on and actually passed the marathon mark on my watch at about 3:27. There was still a way to go, including the turn up and through the car park to the finish, but I was determined to get an ‘official’ sub-3:30 time so tried to keep moving. My breathing was coming in sobs now and I could feel my form going to pieces as I desperately tried to speed up. I splashed my way through the car park and heard shouts of encouragement from Claire and the volunteers and runners at Race HQ, who must have guessed I was trying to get under 3:30. I distinctly remember trying to keep my head and knees up to maintain some kind of speed but everything else was a blurry whirl.16684262_10158037509610012_7449324078300827528_n

Straining and gasping, I fell across the end of the lap; I’d made it! I may have let out an embarrassing roar as I heard my time of 3:29:37 get read out, I’m not entirely sure. I do know I had to hold on to the desk and my own knees to not topple over as I rang the bell to officially finish my race. Luckily Claire was there to grab hold of me and stop me making an absolute plonker of myself by falling over, to complete the spectacle I’d already made of myself. But sub-3:30! I was over the moon (if covered in my own spit and bogey – sexy).

Traviss kindly gave my medal to Claire (and what a lovely one it was too) while I recovered. After a minute’s concentrated breathing I was ok. I was a bit sore, but nothing was screaming at me. I think I was too buzzing to feel the pain. I donned a hat and coat and wandered with Claire to the café at the Cyclopark for a nice seat down and a protein gel. Claire’s mum had kindly come to see me finish so we had a chat, while I grinned inanely and downed a cup of tea and a bacon roll. Lovely stuff. After half an hour I felt ok, quite good even and was still wearing a smug grin. We wandered back to the car and said thank you to Traviss and Rachel and the rest of the SVN volunteers and marshals again. I even got to see Jake before he left, who had completed the 2nd of his four marathons in a row, to thank him for the advice and encouragement. (I’m happy to say he completed his fourth in four days as I was typing this yesterday. As did Jon. And then Jake went and booked his fifth, for 5 in 5, for today! I know some strange people… 😉 ) 16708614_10158037509710012_8861267180191477933_n

After I’d got home, had a bath and way too many crisps, I sat around in my pants and recovery socks (sorry for that haunting image) and admired my well-earned medal for my seventh marathon. I was really pleased with the run, and the time. I’d learnt my lesson from Stort and hadn’t gone out too hard, and then been patient and waited until the 20th mile to start attacking when I was already inside my target time. A part of me was thinking with the speed I finished with I could have worked harder at the beginning (particularly the 2nd lap), to have gone even quicker overall but who knows; I might have run the finish out of myself. And I need something to aim for next time!

I’ve been taking it easy the last few days to recover but need to get myself ready for my next two races, which will come round quickly. I’ve got the Brighton Half on Sunday 26th February and then the Dartford Half on Sunday 12th March so may need to sneak in some speed work if my legs can cope. No rest for the wicked… I’m doing both with Claire and friends so they should be fun. I’m also hoping to have a crack at my half marathon PB, well why not?, but will try not to get carried away and will remember to enjoy myself.

Right, I’m off – thanks for listening and enjoy your running. Adam 🙂

Gold (gold)! Always believe in your soul…

Thanks for that Mr Hadley. Sorry to blather on so soon after my last post, and to start with a shouty, 80’s power ballad lyric no less, but please bear with me. Hopefully it will be worth it…

At the start of the year, Claire and I decided we’d try and get to a different parkrun each month in 2017. We’d run Shorne Woods in January, and a trip to Malling for February was going to coincide with our friend’s birthday and a celebratory brunch afterwards. Sadly that didn’t happen in the end, but me and Claire went along to Malling on Saturday anyway in honour of our friend. I even donned my new parkrun t-shirt, in all its lovely apricot glory, so I’d look the part (aka a corporate git).

We’d been to the venue before at Leybourne Lakes last summer to have a walk around, it’s  lovely fyi, so we had an idea of the run route (which is twice around the main lake) and how to get there. It was only a twenty minute drive from our house and we arrived in good time to get parked (only a pound for four hours), have a stretch and a warm up jog, which was needed as it was a bit damp and chilly first thing. The route is nearly all on compacted gravel path, with the odd muddy bit, but with the recent rain there were lots of puddles on the path to watch out for and I was glad I wore my old trusty pair of Adidas Boosts (which have a bit of grip and seem to enjoy being dunked in mud).

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Traditional pre-race selfie

I’d had an easy week to recover from my marathon at Ranscombe and my legs had felt ok, so I added a bit of faster running and an interval session at the beginning of the week in preparation. I’d got a parkrun and 5k PB on Christmas Eve, and a third place finish and close to my new pb at my last parkrun at Shorne Woods at the beginning of January, so I was looking to get another fast time on a flat course. In the days before though I was torn between going for glory and saving myself for the Bowiethon Marathon this weekend (and not breaking something; I’m still quite nervous after my injury issues at the beginning of last year). In the end though as we warmed up, I felt quite good so I decided to go for it and make the most of the opportunity.

A comparatively small field (compared to my home parkrun at Great Lines, or especially my old one at Bromley) congregated at the start and I wished Claire good luck as I wandered closer to the front. We were let go and immediately I found myself at the front, trailing two other runners. We picked our way through the worst of the puddles and I tried to settle in to a fast but sustainable pace. The two leading runners (a young one of about 15 and another older runner in a fetching 50 run milestone t-shirt) got a few yards further ahead, but they were going too quick for me at under 6 minute a mile pace. I also wanted to cheekily use them as guides for the first lap so I knew where I was going, so I tucked in a bit while trying not to let them get too far away.

The going was pretty much flat and the only thing to watch out for was the odd deep puddle, the occasional walker with dog(s), and intermittent narrow sections of path. About a mile into the one and a half mile opening lap I sensed the two runners ahead begin to slow down and drift back to me. I tried to ignore them and stick to my even pace but as they were ahead of me, two abreast, I had to slow slightly so as not to run through them! As we neared the end of the lap there is a tight turn (the only one on the course) to take you on to the start/finish area and as things opened up I slipped into the lead (!).

I’ve never won a race, let alone led one, so it was a novel feeling to be out at the front. I could hear the young runner a few yards behind me, but I tried to ignore him and stick to what I was doing and not freak out. He was breathing quite hard at this point so I knew he was working hard, while I felt quite controlled so I just tried to maintain pace and focus on where I was going and stepping. I abandoned trying to avoid puddles now and just went with the best racing line. I still felt ok and sensed the second place runner falling further behind. As I went along I tried not to think of anything but maintaining my effort, and not falling over or running into anyone/thing.

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Mud art

About halfway round the second lap I was pretty much on my own. I began to think about winning and I had to try really hard to focus and not get carried away. At the same time I felt vulnerable out in the lead, with everything to lose! I was desperately trying to hear the runners behind me and if they were gaining on me, above my own footsteps and breathing. I know it was only a parkrun, but I was desperate to win. As I got to about half a mile to go I began to tire and my breathing got heavier. This coincided with going past the tail runner and having to start going round some of the slower runners. This was tiring enough but it added to my stress, as I couldn’t tell if the steps behind me were from lapped runners or the young whipper-snapper trying to burst back into the lead.

The penultimate 400m were really hard work and my legs began to feel very heavy, not just from the pace but also the Ranscombe run coming back to haunt me. I gritted my teeth whilst at the same time trying not to tense up (not really possible) and I plodded on. I got to an empty bit of the lap at this point however and the quiet reassured me I wasn’t about to be overtaken imminently and I relaxed a bit. I got myself ready for a big finish as I made the final turn and tried not to lose too much speed there. I did accelerate a bit towards the finish funnel, but I was gone at this point and didn’t really get much quicker. It didn’t matter though, I got a first place token with a bit to spare; I’d won!

I celebrated by trying not to lose my breakfast at the end of the finish funnel. I was still hands on knees and gasping for air as I saw I’d finished in under 19:15, for a slightly long parkrun of 3.15 miles, and a lovely new PB!  (I think it came up long as there are no tight bends to throw my Garmin’s GPS off – Strava actually gave my a 5k PB time of 18:59 but think I’ll have to settle for the official time of 19:14). After I’d got my breath back I had a chat with the other runners and the first four of us were lined up to have pictures of the artful mud splashes we had accumulated on our way round. I needed to recover a bit though, so I jogged half mile or so to try and get my breathing and legs back as I waited for Claire to finish.

She finished a few minutes later in a really good time and inside her target, and was even happier than me when I told her I’d won. We wandered around a bit to recover some more and say thank you to the volunteers and I made sure to soak up the win, it may never happen again!

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Traditional post-race selfie (apologies for smug facial expression)

To put the win and time into context, the field was small at just 125 runners and the course was very flat. My time would have only got me 8th at Great Lines, with the winner’s time being over 2 and half minutes ahead of me (on a hilly course) – so I didn’t set the world on fire. But I did win! And I got a new PB and ran pretty much a perfect race; I could only have run a few seconds quicker, with a bit more effort in that middle mile and at the finish. I’m proud of the run and it gives me confidence that my training is going well and I’m improving. I might even get my picture in the local paper…

I ran a half marathon in training the next day to top up my fitness ready for Bowiethon on Sunday, which went well considering I was quite tired from the parkrun. This week I will do a few light runs to taper and be as rested as possible for Sunday. I’m hoping to get under 3:50 for the marathon there, but trying not to get cocky so will run to how I feel and see what happens. If things don’t go well speed wise, I might slow things down and try and go longer instead and do another 3.74 mile lap for an ultra and try and get a ‘distance-covered’ PB. We shall see and I will let you know how I go.

Thanks for reading. Adam 🙂

Ranscombe Winter Challenge 2017 (and a catch up on the end of 2016)

Sorry, it’s been a while. Hope you’re all well? It’s been over 2 and a half months since my last confession post, which was after my first ultramarathon at the Stort30. I’ll try and give you the highlights of what’s been happening quickly so we can catch up and get on with the important task, of me boring you with my latest race report from Ranscombe.

After Stort in late October I was a broken man. I fell apart in the final few miles, due to poor pacing and nutrition, and had to slog my way to the end causing a fair bit of damage. Rather than rest and recuperate fully though I thought the best thing to do was to try a new low carb diet…  Combining that with a bout of lurgy that stayed with me for 2 weeks (and may well have been a result of the new diet, or pushing so hard at Stort thinking about it) I felt fairly poo for a while. I only ran lightly (and slowly) for most of November and took quite a few days off to let my body recover and adapt to burning fat rather than sugar and/or starch. It was hard work not eating sugar (I even stopped it in my coffee) and all those lovely carbs I usually built my meals around, but my body slowly came around and I got used to it. I even began enjoying salad!

After a month I’d lost nearly a stone (14 pounds for those familiar with imperial units) and my legs and running were back at around the same level as before Stort. I ran a parkrun to test myself out in late November and ran fairly comfortably (and without looking at my watch, 20th century style. Although I still wore it to record for Strava!). I finished just outside 20 minutes for 5k, which is a good time for me, without having to give 100%. Whether it was a benefit of the lost weight, or moving to fat burning, I was feeling better and this continued in December. I allowed myself to run harder and not worry about sticking to MAF Miles (a form of heart rate training I’ve used for a while) all the time and occasionally picked a fast-ish pace and just went with it.

15672485_10157789472410012_8649670842506231893_nI ran consistently at around 30 miles a week for a few weeks and added in some long runs again of 10, 13, 15 miles etc. Things were back on track and on Christmas Eve I ran a 12 second parkrun PB of 19:23 in windy conditions dressed in (a less than aerodynamic!) Christmas jumper and hat, and also the day after a quick (for me) half marathon training run. I was really pleased with this and rewarded myself with lots of beer and mince pies… for about a week.

But I also used the time off over Christmas to rack up lots of miles and completed a long run of just under 23 miles with a big lap around Medway. That was at under 8 minute mile pace, which would have beaten my current marathon PB time of 3:35 odd by around 7 minutes if I’d have managed to keep going at that pace. I was tempted to, but my hip and knee had been sore for a good hour or so and I was worried about pushing too far and breaking something. I had done the same almost to the day a year ago and I didn’t fancy being unable to run for nearly 2 months again.strava-capture

…Where am I in this quick recap? Right, yes, so I did that long run which saw me cover 47 miles that week (a record for me). I then followed that up with a few more weeks of consistent running, with some longish runs at the weekend. In the first week of that period Claire and I went to Shorne Woods parkrun for it’s 200th event (we are going to try and run at a different course each month in 2017) and I managed to get on the podium! Well I came third, on a lightly attended day and the winner and second place finisher were a minute and half and 50 seconds in front of me; but still I medalled! (No actual medal was received) I’ve been trying to do that for ages after a couple of 4th place finishes at Great Lines, so I was pleased (probably disproportionately) with my time on what was a muddy and twisty course.

So think that’s all the catching up done (and showing off)… Which gets us to the Ranscombe Winter Challenge which me and Claire had signed up to on the basis of it’s awesome medal and the fun we had at the Spring Edition last year. I had tapered the week before but the rest was slightly undone by the disturbed sleep I endured the night before, with a pitched battle erupting on our road for 10 minutes at midnight (no idea what that was about) and some overhydrated students singing at half 3 in the chuffing morning. So we were both a bit bleary eyed when we slumped out of a our warm bed to face a very cold and dark start at 6:30 on the Saturday.

But by the time we had applied hot water, food (and some caffeine for me) and scrapped the car of its thick frost we were feeling a bit more invigorated. It was only a 15 or so minute drive and we got to Ranscombe Nature Reserve, with the sun still not quite up yet. We were treated then to a glorious sunrise of oranges, pinks and purples on the mile walk from the car to the start area, which meant we were suitably inspired by the time were collected our race numbers and got out kit ready (you can kind of get a sense of it from the blurry picture I took below).20170121_073807

Things were still very frosty and bitterly cold as we milled about waiting for the off. Last time I ran here in April 2016 it started wet, got very wet and ended up saturated (and muddy) as we went round on the 4.4 mile laps. I was just coming back from injury and was lacking fitness, so I settled for 3 laps for a half marathon and an aching knee in 2:14-ish. This time I was looking to complete 6 laps and the full marathon, and at a faster average pace of between 9:30 and 10 minute miles for a time of 4:10/4:20. That’s short of my best time, and the pace I set in my recent long run, but this course has some severe climbs to deal with as well as all the mud, gates and hole punching of lap counters after every loop to contend with so I was trying to be realistic and not push and burn.

16002893_10157927328095012_4617580905760273796_nWith one last kiss for Claire (who bless her was waiting to use the facilities still – I could just nip into the woods!) we gathered on the road leading to the trail proper and were set loose. I really enjoyed my last run here, with the continuing changes in scenery and terrain as you looped around the reserve. The route didn’t disappoint here, and as we trundled round to the first big dip and climb back up the view out across the frosty landscape was fantastic. I tried to maintain a consistent effort and not worry to much about my pace, and made sure that I walked when I needed to on the hillier bits (of which there were plenty) and to be careful on the steep downhill sections to avoid falling over (which I nearly did a couple of times a few laps later).

Once you got through the first 2 miles of the lap the going was fairly flat and then got nice and downhill for a good mile and a half, as you followed the path through the woods to the edge of the reserve and you followed the train line back to race HQ (where you could see HS1 and Eurostar hurtling along). As the laps were fairly short I opted to just have hand bottles and energy bars at the ready, rather than wear a racing pack, so at the end of the lap I picked up the bottle of hydration fluid and opened a SIS bar I had at the ready. I kept that up for the rest of the race and added in some gulps of water at the end of each lap to make sure I was hydrated.16143029_10157927331250012_4641969843551604139_n

I settled into a rhythm fairly quickly and just tried to remember not to launch myself up any hills and waste energy, and that I would get the time back on the second half of the lap where the going was much easier. I kept an eye out for people I knew from other SVN events and made sure to say hello and made an effort to keep looking and appreciating my surroundings (where I wouldn’t fall and get in the way and make a plonker of myself).

As the day wore on the sun rose and the chill went from the air and whilst it never got warm it definitely got warmer, meaning some layers could be shed. I was running with gaiters for the first time in a race and although I didn’t need them early on (as everything was frozen solid), as the ground thawed and became muddier they were worth wearing to keep the mud and stones out of my trainers – even if my feet got a bit sweaty towards the end. I was also glad I wore my more rugged trail shoes, as again the ground was hard to start with but began to soften and get trickier as things melted in the winter sun and I was glad of the extra grip.

I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time but looking back now I finished the third lap in 1:56, nearly 20 minutes faster than 9 months before and well ahead of schedule to get in under 4:10. I must have been aware of that on some level however because I celebrated with a run-selfie with Claire, a toilet break and a new energy bar. I felt strong and was enjoying being out in such a pretty place and testing myself on a tough course.

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Note the strategically placed photo bomber

Despite the challenging and diverse course things did get a bit Groundhog Day in laps 4 and 5. That was partly as I was getting tired but also the course was getting tougher as a 100 or so people had run on it a number of times and things were getting muddy and slippery. It was taking more effort to keep to the same pace and gentle rises now became hills and the steep bits felt mountainous. I nearly stacked it on a number of occasion, particularly on the downhill bit at the beginning and end of the lap, as my trainers were retaining mud and I had to use the walk breaks to try and clear off what I could to back some grip. I didn’t have the energy to take in the views as much now.

16174968_10157927331680012_2289791153160567972_nI kept drinking and eating to try and ward off the fatigue I could feel setting in and before I knew it lap 5 was done and had just one more to go. I got to see Claire (who had finished her run with three laps for the half marathon, a good 12 minutes quicker than her time last year!) and pick up some Lucozade Sport to get some sugar in me. As I set off one last time, I could see that my watch hadn’t tracked my run fully and was about a third of a mile down on where I should have been. It didn’t really matter in terms of the result, but it did mean I had to work out where I was in terms of pacing in my head which is difficult at the best of the times, let alone when knackered.

The last lap didn’t start well as I got very close to falling on the steep downhill at the beginning of the lap. As I fought to stay upright I managed to pull my calf and groin a bit and make my thigh cramp up (and scream in a less than manly manner; luckily no-one was about to hear me) which was a nice addition to the experience. Fortunately I had the walk up the steep downhill to compose myself and my legs settled down a bit, but I was feeling quite beat up from then on. I was walking more and not covering the difficult sections anywhere near as fast as I had been. There wasn’t much to do though except keep taking on some liquid sugar and carry on.

About halfway round the lap I was desperately trying to work out if I was going to get in under four hours, but I couldn’t reconcile the distance on my watch to the distance I knew I had actually run and the time that had elapsed. I gave up eventually (although I appreciated the distraction) and resolved to just keep plodding along and hope it was enough. On the downhill section I even gritted my teeth, and ignoring the protests of my legs and hips, picked up the pace again. I managed to not kill myself on the now treacherous final downhill stretch next to the train line and was in the final wooded section for the last half a mile home.

At this point I was joined by another runner who I had been toing and froing with (but mostly following, apart from on the final lap). We’d been offering encouragement to each other as we went along and as he came alongside me he checked if I too was on my sixth lap and was running the marathon distance. I had half had it mind to got for  an ultra but the last lap had extinguished any grandiose ideas I may have had. I said yes and he did in return and all of a sudden I was in a race to the finish; bugger!

He began to speed up after a few hundred yards and I kept with him. My legs felt like they were going to cramp but my breathing was fine, so I decided to just keep pace and see what he had left. I didn’t want to risk accelerating hard and my legs giving up on me. We came out of the woods onto the lovely flat, tarmacked road back to race HQ and I sped up a bit more and felt him begin to falter, which was a relief. I kept going to the finish and towards Claire who was shouting me on (as usual) and I crossed the line and rang the bell to signal the end of my run. After 26.4 miles and 3 hours and 52 minutes and 25 seconds I nicked 2nd place in the marathon by a second! (Disclaimer some people did more laps for ultras)

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The pain and the glory

I was done in after that and had just enough energy to get my medal and goody bag, and then tried to get my rubbery legs over to my bag and something to drink and eat. Me and Claire wandered the mile or so back to the car which felt like purgatory at the time, but probably helped keep the blood flowing and remove some of the gunk from my legs. It was a relief to get back to the car for a nice sit down and even more so to get back to a lovely hot bath to celebrate my sixth ever marathon (5 marathons and 1 ultra – thank you pedantic brain).

I felt pretty broken that afternoon, but the goody bag helped and I sat around feeling very pleased with the time and the average pace of just under 8:50 per mile (ok pedantic brain, 8:48!) which was nearly a minute and half quicker than I had managed only 9 months before, and over twice the distance. Admittedly the going was a bit easier than last time (at least for the first half of the run) but it was hard going towards the end and required over 2,500 foot of climb in total. It was a great run and the atmosphere and the organisation from SVN was spot as usual. I would recommend it to anyone. Claire enjoyed it so much she has signed up for the spring, summer and winter versions later in the year and the chance to get one super-medal made up from the 4 earned at each event!

I’ve rested up the week after and just did some steady runs, avoiding anything too quick, and my legs are almost back to normal now. I’ve got another marathon (hopefully – if I manage 7 laps) on the 12th February, at the Music Legend Challenge… Bowiethon in honour of the late great David Bowie. It’s again with SVN, based out of Gravesend Cyclopark. Fancy dress is encouraged so might have to start making some plans… I haven’t run two marathons so close together before so trying to not overdo things or set unrealistic goals, but hopefully on a flatter and drier course I can go that bit quicker and get in under 3:45, or even 3:40. We shall see…

Anyway I’ve gone on long enough, it’s taking me nearly a week to get this together! Thanks for sticking it out to the end if you have got this far and all the best with your running. Cheers, Adam 🙂

 

 

Stort30 2016

Last Sunday was the big one, the Stort30 and my first official ultramarathon. After a foggy drive from Medway to Hertfordshire we arrived in Bishops Stortford just in time to sneak a parking space in one of the sleepy residential streets (and for a power cut, that set off a house alarm and woke up said sleeping streets and it’s inhabitants). The extra hour in bed with the clocks going back had been gratefully taken and I felt fairly awake and relaxed as we wandered to Bishop Stortford’s running club which was serving as race HQ (in spite of the stares from locals who thought we had just committed a burglary…).

Things were a bit less relaxed at the clubhouse as there was lots of people milling about in the dark as the power hadn’t come back on. I registered and got my running number by the light of a mobile phone from one of the race volunteers (21st century tech has it’s more practical uses). The large queue for the loo, again in the dark with lots of milling about and ‘excuse me, can I just…’, was also a bit hectic. But it was over with fairly quickly and I could escape outside to find some space, try and stay relaxed and tick all the things off on my mental checklist.

I was wearing my pack which had over a litre of hydration fluid in it, and three energy bars and a gel. My cap was on, as were my gloves and buff… Erm… Laces were double tied (I wasn’t bothering with gaiters as it was dry and probably too warm for them)… Er… I was finishing a coffee to get some caffeine in my system, and had a largish breakfast despite not being hungry as usual pre-race… And I had even managed to get my running number on with minimal help from Claire, and not stabbed myself in the leg or genitals (big tick)… I’d tapered and done some long, hilly training runs beforehand… I was about as ready as I was going to be.14650284_10157493772135012_3265970712388211914_n

There was a race briefing but I didn’t hear much of it. The power outage meant everyone was called into the clubhouse, which we couldn’t all fit into, and although we opened some windows to try and hear from outside there were no microphone and valiant shouting wasn’t quite going to do it. I had read the briefing notes again and half heard them say about making sure you got your number recorded at CP3 (which was the halfway and turnaround point) so felt like I pretty much knew what was going on. And I planned on just following the signs and runners ahead to stick on course (and the river of course).

14907135_10157493772310012_273299396743301152_nAfter some more waiting and milling about and ogling other runner’s kit and trainers, which is always a good way to pass a few minutes, we were called to order. The start was two laps of the field and then we were to head off to the river Stort and its pathways. I’d had a think about my A, B and C targets for the race and settled on C) finishing and not hurting myself; B) finishing in under 5 hours (i.e. quicker than 10 minute a mile pace); and A) finishing in under 4 and a half hours (i.e. quicker than 9 minute pace). I was trying to be realistic, ambitious but not too gung-ho and try to sustain too quick a pace and explode in a mess on the floor…

The race plan was to take on water at the 5 checkpoints (which were every 5 miles) to top up what I was carrying, eat everything in my pack and more at the CPs if I needed it and grab anything else I needed from Claire at the halfway point (both nutrition and kit). I had factored in running at about 8:45/8:50 pace as much as possible to give me a minute at each checkpoint to take on supplies, fiddle with kit and flick boogies at passing ducks etc. and still get under 4 hours 30. Well that was my gloriously constructed, well-thought out plan; can you guess what actually happened?

With a goodbye kiss to Claire I joined my fellow runners and we were let go. As we rounded the field and I tried to stay relaxed and get into a rhythm. After the two laps of the field we hit pavement for a bit, which was all downhill, and I got caught up with others around me trying to make a quick start and clocked a sub-8 minute mile to start (I’m sighing as I type). I had already ignored my own advice and that of so many others – don’t go off to quick, run your own race etc. etc….

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Half a mile in – already going too quickly

I did manage to slow down slightly as the route flattened out and the field stretched out, and as we got to the river I was moving at around 8 minute and half minute pace. I should have slowed further, but I felt ok and there was lots of green stuff to look at and barges (and even horseys!) and I wanted to get on with it.  Looking at my mile times now I can see I was running at a really consistent pace, it was just the wrong one! It was nice and cool and I was in a little group of runners who I wanted to stay with, so I ran at their pace and I would overtake every so often when it felt like the runner in front was slowing down. (Sighs even louder while typing that bit)

What I needed to do was back off by 20/30 seconds a mile and stick to the plan, but I just… didn’t. Not sure why; adrenaline, optimism, stupidity? Probably a mixture of all of those. When I got to CP1 (closer to 6 miles than the advertised 5) I went off piste again – I went straight past it. Despite having plenty of time in hand to stop I carried on, as I had only just started a energy bar and had only taken a few gulps of fluid and wasn’t thirsty so thought ‘sod it’ and ran on. This is probably more forgivable as I didn’t really need anything at this stage, but was another sign of how far I was willing to chuck the race plan in the river and go rogue. But that’s hindsight for you.

v__eaffBack to the race; I was really enjoying running by the river and getting to see some lovely countryside and wildlife, the barges tottling about and looking all cozy with smoke bellowing from them in the cool air and the occasional walker/cyclist to say ‘Good morning’ to. At mile 8, at Harlow Mill Lock, I managed to meet up with Andy from work who lives nearby for a quick selfie which was a nice boost. It was also a good enforced break to slow me down some, until I ruined it by speeding up a bit afterwards to make up the time… I’m a moron.

The river kept going, so we did too – over grass, mud, concrete and trail and through fields and woods, along riverside trail and past houses, boats and the river’s locks. There was enough going on to keep you entertained and the going wasn’t too rough (for the moment – apart from a fishermen who tried, but thankfully failed, to garrotte me with his poorly timed cast). At around mile 10 we went past CP2 and I saw Claire which is always a welcome boost mid-race. I stopped briefly for a kiss (sorry to be graphic) but didn’t get any supplies from Claire or the checkpoint – I was still only about halfway through my first bar and had plenty of fluid, so I kept plowing on.

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Note terrible heel strike technique…

I was enjoying myself, and loving the route, and got even more carried away at this point; I clocked miles of 8:10/8:20/8:18/8:15 from miles 11 to 14 losing the pacing plot completely(despite a niggle in my right thigh that flared and then slowly faded), culminating in a fifteenth mile of 8:03. I feel like slapping myself for that now, but at the time I just felt like I was making good time and had found a good pace. The end of the fifteenth mile was also memorable for the rave we ran past. We crossed the river again and went past a wooded area and you could hear banging tunes (think that’s the phrase) coming from deep within. Then I started to see people dressed up in Halloween outfits looking dazed, walking around in the trails and on the path by the river. It must have been a hell of a party because it was after 11am at this point. I wasn’t sure who looked more weirded out; us looking at the bleary eyed revellers staggering home, or them looking at the nutters in garish Lycra running around in the cold…

Just as we got over that we went past a go-kart racing track on the otherside of the river, with lots of engine noise as the karts blatted about. It was a bit surreal to have gone from quiet countryside and the gentle roar of the river and muffled rumble of barges, to dodging zombie-fied ravers wandering in packs and kart engines screaming about at full chat but it was certainly an interesting and distracting addition to the course! I then arrived at CP3 and the halfway point. I met Claire (who had not only kindly driven me to the race was also meeting me at the open checkpoints [1/4 wasn’t accessible by car]) and I drank a bottle of pre-mixed, caffeine-laced hydration fluid and put on a non-sweaty buff and had a bit of a stretch. I again didn’t take on any other fluids to take with me as I had just downed a bottle’s worth, or any food as I had only eaten one bar. I should have realised that I was behind on calorie intake at this point but I was caught up in the race and after less than a minute I kissed Claire goodbye again and headed back.

From about mile 13 I had seen runners who had already turned back for home (and said ‘Hello’, ‘Well done’, ‘Stop showing off’ etc.). Now I was running back myself and passing runners and suddenly appreciated how difficult it was. The trail was narrow in places, there were other non-runners on the path walking and cycling and the ground was getting churned up with all the traffic. I was trying to stay at a consistent pace, and achieved it for a few miles, but I definitely was feeling it more. I also then remembered that I was now going upriver and, however subtly, I was going to be going uphill back to Bishops Stortford.

Thankfully after a few miles I started to lower my pace as I realised I needed to conserve my energy (only took me abuot 3 hours to work that out). I could feel my effort levels having to rise to keep up the pace and my legs were getting heavier. The caffeine from the drink didn’t seem to have that great an impact, so I cracked open an energy gel to try and compensate and get some energy back. A mile or so before CP4, at around 20 miles I think but it’s hazy, I saw Claire for the final time for another much needed boost. I didn’t stop for long though and tried to maintain my momentum, I think as I knew things were going to get tougher and soon.

Although I didn’t panic I could feel myself start to slow and my pace drifted towards 9 minute pace in miles 21 and 22.I took on more fluid and started another energy bar but I was beginning to feel rough and my legs heavy and uncoordinated. If it was a marathon I think mentally it would have been easier to deal with, but I had over 7 miles still to go and the creeping ache in my legs was beginning to take hold of my head as much as anything. For the first time since the start a couple of runners slowly went past me as my pace continued to fall. I then made things worse by running right past CP5! I think the damage would have already been done at this point, but why I didn’t stop and try and take on calories/salt/water I can only put down to ‘race brain’ and an urgency to keep going and get the bloody thing over and done with. But it might have saved some pain to have stocked up as best I could and taken a bit of a breather…

Things basically unwound from there; I slowed further in miles 24 and 25 as my legs and hips stiffened and then I started to cramp, firstly in my right thigh at about the 26th mile. It was as bad as at my first marathon (when I ground to a halt in pain) but this time I didn’t panic and just slowed to a hobble until it subsided a bit, and then tried to continue at a slower pace. Every rise and step, which I hadn’t even noticed on the way out, now brought on a wave of pain and fear of my muscles locking up. Cramp then hit my left thigh, then my right groin and then my left calf (it was a pain party of twitching muscles in my lower legs – my body clearly wanted to join the ravers from mile 15). I was now at a much reduced run and having to walk every so often. I’d also run out of fluid (muppet) and couldn’t eat much as I felt ill after every bite (double muppet).

I was mildy dehydrated but more crucially I had gone off too fast and then again in the middle, trashing my legs and then not taken on anywhere near enough calories. These were basic mistakes I have made before and thought I had learnt from, but I clearly hadn’t and was paying the price. As I passed the marathon point I looked at my watch and realised I had run probably my third quickest marathon despite slowing the last few miles and realised how far I had overcooked things (triple muppet with sprinkles on). It didn’t help that the route was now more off-road, with slopes that I hadn’t feel before but now caused my legs to do all kinds of weird things. I felt pretty awful at this point, physically and mentally, and knew the next few miles were going to be painful.

But I didn’t even think about stopping, I slowed to a walk repeatedly but somehow kept breaking back into a jog again. The pain was there but I was determined to keep moving forward to try and get home in under 4 hours 30. I tried to jog for a minute or tenth of a mile at a time and then walk. A couple more runners went past me during this point and I went past others in turn, but I couldn’t care about what anyone else was doing and just concentrated on moving forward and trying (and failing) to eat something. Suddenly at around 28 miles in it was quite lonely; I could see runners heading off in front of me and I didn’t want to turn round and see if anyone was gaining on me (but I couldn’t hear anyone) so I felt quite isolated. The miles at this point felt like they were taking forever and even the lovely surroundings couldn’t snap me out of my self-pity and my average pace kept climbing towards 9 minute miles. Basically I had a right face on.

Still I kept plodding forward, with the odd stumble as another bit of cramp hit, and the miles somehow passed. To my relief just as 29 miles clicked past I was off the river and back onto lovely flat tarmac. For about 100 yards. Then the bloody stuff arced uphill and I began the long climb back to the running club and race HQ. A fellow runner overtook me at this point and he kindly said to me that it was all uphill to the field and to not try and speed up. I had no intention of doing that, but I appreciated the advice and warning. I returned the favour by pointing out the final turn to the finish which he thought we had missed and watched him accelerate away. I tried to keep jogging to try and get home in under the four and half hours but had to walk a couple of steep bits that made my legs scream. Thankfully though the club then came into view.

14906874_10157493773530012_2198800020551782185_nI felt a complete mess as I crested the final git of a hill and came through the car park. But I saw and heard Claire offering me encouragement and tried to speed up a bit and sort my form out. Claire said something about ‘Only one little lap of the field left’ which in that dark hour may have got a quite angry and very sweary response from a tired runner (luckily she didn’t hear me). I could feel my legs even more now and in a detached way I was impressed with the rhythmical pulsing I could feel going through my thighs. If I could harness that on the dance floor I might be on to a winner…

As I started the final lap of the field and went past the small group of people that kindly shouted support I was determined to run that last 400m. I looked at my watch and realised I was going to get under the time I wanted and tried to hurry up a bit, but I don’t think I actually went any quicker – my arms just moved more. As I neared the line I felt a wave of relief and saw Claire was waiting for me. I couldn’t stop myself at the line though and went a few yards past before I eventually came to a halt and then had to just stand there as both my thighs locked up; I must have looked very peculiar. Claire congratulated me in my statue state and after a minute I could hobble about a bit and went back to the finish line to get my medal and a nice blue finishers t-shirt.14915520_10157493773910012_2303911299176304144_n

I was wrecked and an uncoordinated mess for a good few minutes, but I took on some water and tried to wander about a bit to loosen my legs. Bless Claire, she was there, as always, to get me sorted and brought me everything I needed. She got me a tea, food, protein shake and convinced me to have a shower which was a great idea and made me feel almost human (apart from my thighs which were made out of wooden fire and hurt like a bugger). Post shower I sat in the clubhouse and tried to organise myself. I would discover later I had crossed the line in 4:25:53 for 49th place but at the time it was a slight stunned anti-climax. I was just pleased to be finished and sat down.

14568197_10157493774580012_4367035981152931059_nOnce the pain began to dim a bit and I felt more with it though I was a happy chappy. I’d completed my first ultra! Yes I’d tried to scupper myself by being an idiot, but I had made it under 4 hours 30 by a good few minutes and had kept going when the going really had got tough (thank you Billy Ocean) and was proud of that. Looking at the run data later I could see exactly how I’d gone wrong in terms of pacing, as I’ve described above, but on a general level I had run the first half of the race in around 2:05 and then come back in 2:21. I think if I had taken four or five more minutes for the first 15 miles I could have come home for a 4:20 finish and saved a lot of pain in those final miles…. C’est le vie (when you’re an incurable muppet).

To summarise; I really enjoyed the event – it was a great route, had a good atmosphere and was a good first ultra and would recommend the race to newbies and veterans alike. For my part I re-learnt some painful lessons – pace yourself sensibly and look to run a negative split, have a nutrition plan and stick to it and when everything goes wrong grit your teeth and grind it out because you will get to the end eventually. And I also learnt (again) that Claire is bloody awesome and I wouldn’t do half the stuff, or half as well, without her love and support.

I was really sore for a few day after (thank good I had booked the Monday off work!) and am only now walking down stairs like I haven’t got explosives in my hip pockets. I’ve been gentle in my recovery and only done a couple of gentle jogs, and will keep that up for a week or so to make sure I give my body time to heal. I’ve not got a race booked in now until Bowiethon in mid February so I’ve got time to recover and then plan out some training and maybe some more ‘Adventure’ runs around Medway and perhaps in central London along the Thames… I’ll see what my legs say and of course let you know where we get to.

Thanks for reading, sorry to go on. Enjoy your running. Adam 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the hills and far away…

Since my last post I’ve been on holiday to sunny Crete and eaten my weight in mixed grills, but I’m going to bore you with my outing out on the North Downs Way the day before that on a sneaky day off. I booked the Monday off to both get into the holiday spirit early and pack etc. before the off on the Tuesday, but also to complete my final long run in preparation for the Stort30 which I’ve signed up for at the end of this month, my first official ultra.

I wasn’t entirely sure what distance to run; I’d completed the marathon distance at the Roald Dahl Challenge a few weeks before, so knew I was in ok shape (it was a slow time [a personal worst in fact] but it was bloody hot and I somehow managed to come in second in a small field of mid-week runners). I also knew I needed to rest up a bit to recover from that, whilst at the same time getting mileage in my legs to be ready to run further than I’ve ever gone. I had sensibly taken it easy after Roald Dahl and lowered my mileage and intensity to let my legs come back and felt ok, so I figured somewhere in the region of 22-24 miles would be a good enough test to get my body, and mind, ready for Stort. I then added in some miles on the Saturday and Sunday before so I could get used to running on ‘tired legs’ which apparently is good practice.

I decided to run up to the North Downs Way again, which I had visited a couple of months ago and see if I could not get lost this time on the way back. I also thought I should test what to take with me for the race, and get my nutrition/kit/clothes figured out. I was up early to ensure I drank and ate a proper breakfast, lubed up like a Mongolian wrestler and ‘lightened the load’ before I left (an important detail – if not perhaps for sharing in polite conversation… sorry). I went with a couple of layers and a buff as the weather has cooled out here in Medway (at least in the mornings), but also took a cap and sunglasses as the sun was out and the skies were blue. I packed my phone, money and train pass for photos and emergencies and felt quite well prepared for any eventuality (I might be getting the hang of this long run malarkey) and fed into the feeling of an ‘adventure run’.

I was also taking fluid, but rather than using my water bladder I was going to take three hand bottles. A bit of a faff compared to the bladder but I find the slushing around, both in noise and movement, a bit annoying and wearing over the course of several hours (and the hydration fluid I was going take makes mould and stuff grow in the bladder). I could get two bottles snuggly slotted in to my pack so they wouldn’t move too much, and then would swap in the one I was carrying when empty. That would give me just under a litre of fluid which I hoped would be enough (have a guess?). I also had lots of food, i.e. sugar,  including my favourite, a Clif Bar, and some SIS energy bars. I put an energy gel back in the cupboard as I’m not really a fan of them anymore, my stomach prefers solid fuel and so do my teeth, but I should have just bunged it in the bag for emergencies…

I set off from home at 8:30 sharp and then remembered it was a week day (a Monday morning no less) and had to adjust to traffic and people buzzing about; how inconsiderate of them. It was weird running in the hustle and bustle but I managed not to run into anyone or thing on the way through Chatham and Rochester and then scaled the first big hill up to Borstal. It’s only about 150 foot of climb but it’s all in about 200 metres so its sharp enough to get the heart and lungs going. I could then drift through the rest of Borstal and under the M2 bridge and get to the NDW path proper and some greenery.wp_20161003_002

I’m happy to report that the NDW is still there and still a great place to run. Ok there is a whacking great hill that lasts for about 2 miles, but it gives you great views and an excuse to slow down and appreciate them. It also makes a lovely contrast to the hell that is the Monday morning commute and I felt very lucky to be out there rather than stuck on a train or in an office. I carried on to Bluebell Hill and through the village and then ducked down a little track before the bridge over the A229. I’d recced the route again online and saw there was a path that took you parallel to the road and then crossed it to go back up to Bluebell on the other side. It turned out to be a very steep decent on a path enclosed by hedges and a steep drop, which was very atmospheric but would be scary in bad weather or the dark… I survived however and ploughed on and crossed the footbridge over the road (and may have waved at a few motorists).wp_20161003_004

On the other side I then realised I would have to go back up to Bluebell Hill, which is named as such because it on a hill… It was a very narrow track, through the heavily wooded area on the right of the photo above. It was a ‘hands on knees’ plod up, which at one point got so steep I thought I would need to use my hands to pull myself up via the undergrowth. I think it could be safely described as ‘gnarly’ and quite a lot of fun. I was then at the village again and looked at the posh people’s houses and took an impromptu detour around the lovely named Podkin Meadow (which wasn’t really necessary, but I saw a dog so it was worth it) and headed back down the way I’d come.

This time I managed to stick to the actual NDW rather than go the wrong way, down a sheer rock strewn track that nearly broke my knee and set me off on to a country road to dance with oncoming traffic with nowhere to hide but a hedge. It was a more sedate trip back then down to Borstal, and I could admire the views from a different angle. The descent was still pretty hard on the joints, and my dodgy right knee, but nothing fell off or needed WD40 so I kept going back to civilisation. I had covered 17 miles or so by the time I’d made it back to Rochester and decided to hit the coach park toilets and treat myself to a pee and a nose blow (you only live once). Stupidly though I didn’t take on any more water, which would have been a handy as I was down to my last bottle and I was getting quite warm (i.e. sweaty) in the sun. I also only had two thirds of an energy bar’s left, so that gel I had put back would have been useful too. Maybe I’m not so down with the long run prep…

wp_20161003_005I decided to run the Rochester Riverside path back to add some more miles in on the way back home and enjoy a different view. I felt a bit tired but mostly in my legs and was still tootling along at a consistent pace so put another Rudimental album on and settled in. As I hit mile 20 and Dock Road in to Gillingham I needed to make a decision about how far to go; if I went home then I would hit around 21 miles which wasn’t really enough so I went through Chatham Dockyard and to St Marys to add on some miles. I was out of fluid and sugar at this point and felt a bit dehydrated but that’s part of the challenge, so got on with it and concentrated on the views across to Upnor and Hoo and the fact I wasn’t stuck in front of a screen, bored.

As I went round St Marys I knew I was now on to hit just over 24 miles for the day, which was my original goal, but I was already thinking it was only a few more miles to a marathon and I could sneak under 4 hours if I pushed it a bit… The moment I thought that I was pretty much committed to it. I pushed the pace a bit and started to work out what I needed to do; I got home and dumped my bag, shouted to Claire I was going to go out again once I’d re-supplied (she had the day off too), downed a glass of water and grabbed a gel and put some liquid sugar in a hand bottle. With another extravagant nose blow I was back on the street in about a minute and then heading out to the river and the Saxon Shore Way. My legs were complaining a bit more now, especially as I was trying to speed up, but the refuelling helped and the sugar was working. I could see it was going to be close but I kept pushing and actually tried to attack the harder bits by the river – this was supposed to be hard, to test me, so I didn’t want to fanny about and go the easy route. With legs complaining the 26.21 miles clocked up at just a few seconds shy of the 4 hours and I was very happy, as that included a lot of ascent and rough terrain.

But I was still a mile or so from home so I just kept going, it seemed silly to stop. My longest ever run was just over 27 miles at the Battle of Britain Challenge so I decided to beat that. But then when I got closer to that I wanted to beat it by a decent chunk to make it worthwhile, and 27.5 miles didn’t seem like a good number, so I ended up running back along Pier Road to Asda. I went through the car park and round the student flats by the river to get up to 28, which seemed a better, rounder figure… But I then added on .1 of a mile because I was not letting Strava do it’s normal trick of shaving of a tenth of a mile off and giving me the very unsatisfying figure of 27.9. I’m glad I did as it did round it down to 28 miles flat. (I’m aware this is all a bit strange but my brain was addled by dehydration – and my obsessive tendencies and natural weirdness.)

With shot legs I was now in stumbling distance of home and waddled back up the hill to our house. I was very pleased with my morning’s work and rewarded myself with lots of food and a bath and a shower (decadence). Oh and a week in Crete. I was a bit stiff on the plane the next day, but had my compression socks on and the sun and a swim at the other end sorted my out. I did manage two runs from the hotel but it was hot and hilly so it was really light jogs and more dog avoiding exercises. Also the amount of food and beer I was consuming was weighing me down somewhat (seriously, I had 4 mixed grills ). We did go on an 11 mile yomp together with our friend Jo who was out there at the same time, which turned in to a bit of a death march as we only took 2 litres of water and banana between the three of us and ran out of supplies 4 miles up a gorge (#funinthesun) but we survived and I had the coldest, loveliest beer I’ve ever had after (thank you Alfa).14717112_10157421481365012_3755409822220596161_n

Back in good ol’Blighty I’ve been in taper mode ready for Stort which is at the end of the month (and yes I really like the idea of running 30 miles on the 30th!) but have managed to fit in one more shorter run up on the NDW. This was for only two and half hours and I turned round earlier and took off all the extra miles at the end, but I ran it a bit harder and pushed on the ups and downs in the hope it will strengthen my legs. Stort itself will be flat but anything extra I can put in my legs can only be a good thing, I hope… I will of course let you know how I get on.

This blog was started about two weeks ago and I have finally finished it (hurrah!) but has morphed with the passing of time to take in all the stuff that has happened since, so apologies if I’ve rambled on more than normal or the tenses don’t match. My Editor Claire will no doubt let me know of any glaring errors but apologies in the meantime.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your running. Cheers, Adam 🙂

Roald Dahl Challenge

It was a fairly early start last Thursday to get down to Samphire Hoe for the Roald Dahl Challenge (to commemorate 100 years since his birth), but as I wasn’t driving I couldn’t complain too much. I was chauffeur driven by Claire down the A2 in Remy (our aged VW Polo) and all I had to worry about was plying her with water and sweets, and fretting over how hot it was going to get for the run. We’d had a heat wave in the south east and on Tuesday temperatures had hit a faintly ridiculous 32 degrees, the hottest in 50/60/110 years (depending on what news source you used). Thankfully it wasn’t going to be that hot, but it was still going to reach the early twenties however, and more worryingly the humidity was predicted to be at around 90-odd% – lovely.

My last run at Samphire Hoe had been for the Battle of Britain Challenge in August last year, my first marathon, where wind, hills, a lack of fitness and not enough electrolytes had seen me fall apart in the final few miles and miss out on a sub-four hour time (and enjoy the excruciating pain of severe cramp in both legs that left my shuffling like a hung-over zombie). I was a bit worried that windy, and hot and humid conditions would see me do the Mr Crampy dance again.

I was also not quite sure how I was going to cope with the marathon distance run; I managed to just squeak under 4 hours at the Kent Roadrunner Marathon in late May, with hardly any training after injury, but wasn’t sure how I would deal with the tougher course and much harsher conditions. I had completed some long training runs in preparation but my confidence in my knee isn’t great as I’ve had the occasional flare up, and the anxiety about it was at the back of my head…

Anyway we got down there in good time, and enjoyed driving through the scary tunnel to get on to the reserve (well I did, I wasn’t at the wheel and so could pretend I was entering a baddy’s lair in a Bond film). After collecting our runner numbers (Claire was running too) we then spent the time before the off trying to get our runner numbers on straight and visiting and re-visiting the facilities – all normal pre-race behaviour there then.14355036_10157263113605012_4431606186418358787_n

The course was a 3.85 mile out and back lap, the same as when I last ran there, and you had 6 hours to run as many laps as you could/wanted to. After a quick briefing (‘don’t run into the sea or climb over a wall – you’ll be fine’) we shuffled to the start and in nice English fashion we all hesitated and tried not to be at the front of the pack. I kissed Claire good luck and then we were off. Each lap would start, and end, with a small trail-ish section on gravel paths that undulated a bit before heading to the sea and a steep descent to the sea wall and the dead flat, before a steep climb on the way back. After only a few minutes, and at 8:30am the sun not being that high or strong yet, I could feel myself already start to drip with sweat. Nice.

I had entered the race thinking I could get a time under 4 hours and maybe even get close to 3:50/3:45 or so (despite the hill that had to be scaled each lap). With the humidity though I scaled back my ambition almost straight away, and my first mile of 8:50 was as fast as I went and I settled down to mid 9 minute miles in the knowledge that any effort wasted at the beginning would be sorely needed at the end. I tried to maintain a constant, easy effort and not worry too much about my pace and just save my energy for the hours ahead. And I made sure to walk the annoyingly steep hill that you had to face on the return leg of each lap and not do any damage there.

I’m quite proud of that decision because it would have been so easy to go out guns blazing and convince myself I was bottling it but not trying to push the pace, when in fact slowing down for a longer haul was the best way to ensure I got round as quickly (and painlessly) as possible. I took the race element out of my head and fixed on ticking off the miles. I’d worn my running pack so I had access to water and food all the way round, as although the SVN people provide lots of lovely supplies at the race HQ I knew from experience it could be a painful wait for water/sugar/salt if you were trapped out on the course. I diligently kept sipping water every so often to try and stay hydrated, but there was no way I could replenish all the fluid which was pouring off me…

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That’s me, I think…

 

I also wanted to practice carrying my own nutrition as I have taken the plunge and signed up to my first ultra; the Stort30 in late October (gulp). It’s got good reviews and seems like a good ‘starter’ ultra, with just a slight increase in mileage and is on a flat easy-to-navigate route on flat trails by the river, with checkpoints every 5 miles. I had it half in my mind to go for 8 laps at Samphire and try and go ‘Ultra’ early, but ditched that idea as I slowly melted in the sun and just focused on getting a marathon completed and not getting greedy! It amazing how you goals can change over time; just over a year ago I was desperate just to get a marathon done and now it’s just training to go even further…

Anyway I digress (as usual); in terms of the run itself I settled into a comfortable rhythm and took the time to chat with a number of runners. It was great; I always try and say hello and wave etc. as others pass me, but I found myself running with a few different people over the course of the race and had a natter about this and that, a little focused on the magnificence of Crystal Palace football club but the majority was about, you guessed it, running. One guy, whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch despite running with him for 2-3 miles, talked about how he had run 52 marathons last year! He’d run all over the world from New Zealand to Zurich to do it, and was still running marathons to get to his one hundredth. He also mentioned how he had got up at half four that morning and got two buses and a train to get to the race and then talked about the two he wanted to do at the weekend… He’s commitment was amazing, and a bit knackering to even contemplate. It did help while away the miles however and distract from the sweaty heat, especially on the long straight of the seawall where all you had to look at was the sea, some concrete and the odd fishermen.

After about 3 laps I realised that my water bladder, despite holding over a litre at the start, was nearly empty.  As I finished the fourth I went through to race HQ (after getting my lap counter clipped) and dropped my pack and picked up a hand bottle from the cool bag we had readied with supplies. It was good to get rid of the pack and get some air to my sweaty back (what a lovely image) and I trundled out again. Claire was already finished, as she was going to do three laps but settled for two as the heat was a bit too much, and very kindly meet me on the seawall half way through that lap to offer encouragement, and more importantly more fluid as I had gone through the bottle already! I had made up hydration fluid for the bottles, to replenish lost electrolytes (something I hadn’t done last time and paid for) and I was gulping it down but still feeling thirsty. At the end of that lap I ditched my t-shirt for a vest and my sunglasses for a cap, hoping to vent some of the heat whilst keeping the sun of my head, which seemed to help.

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Costume change

 

I think it was at this point as I left race HQ (but I can’t be sure of the chronology, things are a bit hazy…) that I had one of the highlights of the race. I heard a plane engine, and I immediately thought it sounded familiar and scanned the sky. As I crested a small rise I saw a Spitfire flying past in the sky! It was such a shock to see it and it gave me goose bumps then (and now as I type) to see that beautiful machine scythe through the air and to hear its Merlin engine roar along the cliffs and over the reserve – what a treat! Being the nerdy geek I am I shouted out and informed my fellow runners of its presence, quite needlessly, and generally acted like a excitable school boy. It was awesome and a great lift.

After the excitement things settled down for the fifth lap and I trundled on. Claire meet me again to pass on more fluid and encouragement and I tried to stay relaxed and ignore the heaviness in my legs and hip that was beginning to build. I think it was on this lap (again I can’t be sure) that I ran for a while with Jake, who had an awesome Star Wars running t-shirt on. We chatted away and he told me about the runs he had done in America (where he got his t-shirt [fires up eBay…]) and the other runs he had done with SVN including the epic 100 miler that was held at Samphire Hoe. How anyone can run 100 miles, and to do it with 27 laps around Samphire, I have no idea – but he did! (You can read his blog about his running exploits and his Roald Dahl Challenge here)

It was great to have a natter, and kept me to a sustainable speed, and after a mile or so we went off at our own paces again and I was back to skipping along (Ha!) on my tod. At the end of the lap a patch of mist appeared and blotted out the sun, and offered some relieve from its heat, for a bit which was nice but a bit eerie. It came out of nowhere and I thought it was an eclipse at first!

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Running selfie

 

Lap 6 saw me slow a bit further as the heat began to take it’s toll, and I had to walk more (and slower) on the hill and the other rises on the course. But Claire kept me supplied with hydration fluid and Lucozade, and I was poring water over myself at the end of each lap to try and cool down. I kept plugging away and used the opportunity to say hello and encourage fellow runners as a distraction. And then I was on the last lap suddenly (I definitely was NOT going for the eighth and 30 odd miles now!). I slowed some more and my quads were starting to get quite sore (along with my right hip/groin), so I had to take a few walk breaks on the flat to stave off the cramp I could feel building, but I never actually cramped up or felt too bad – result.

14311308_10157386005505696_1277075855671483410_oDue to the lap length I passed the marathon point just as I hit the bloody hill for the last time and strode my way to a personal worst time of 4:18 something. But I didn’t care, and was actually quite pleased with the time considering the conditions. I managed to trot the rest of the lap (mostly) and even sprint (comparatively) the last 400m to finish the 26.9 miles in just over 4:25 and ring the bell to signal the end of my race. It was a relief to stop and a pleasure to admire my awesome medal! SVN always provide good medals, but this one is their best in my opinion. They had built it up by not showing it until you had completed your run and was a great reward for all the hard work. 38 beautiful colours and its impressive heft make it quite the talking point in the office as I shamelessly show it off/bore my colleagues at work…

I wandered about a bit, drank and ate (mostly crisps and chocolate – for the electrolytes you understand), had a bit of a wash up to get rid of all the dried salt (euurgh) and then sat in the shade to cool. After a few minutes and some more walking to get rid of the crap in my legs I felt a bit more human, if stiff, and went over to speak to some of the runners I had chatted with on the course. I was congratulating Jake when he asked me where I finished, as he thought I might have been fourth or fifth. I hadn’t even thought of it but wandered over to ask how I had done, and got told I’d come 2nd! I couldn’t believe it; that’s the best I’ve ever done in a race, my previous bests being a couple of fourths at deserted parkruns.14317462_10157263115655012_4157895681268773848_n

The caveats are lengthy however; the guy who won (who’s part of Centurion Running) beat me by well over an hour in a time of 3:11, so was in another league; the race was pretty lightly attended with only a hundred or so runners as it was mid-week; and it was very hot and most people didn’t have the supplies I had or get the support from Claire who was plying me with fluid, spare clothing etc. to meet my every whim; four people ran an eighth lap so went further to 30.8 miles (albeit in a just under 6 hours and over – I probably could have staggered the last lap and still been ahead). But second place, on the podium! Was/am really pleased with that, and with how I paced myself in the heat to finish relatively strongly and make it to the end. I may have done a small fist pump to celebrate…

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SVN know how to make a goodie bag too

 

I’ve had a week to recover since and I’m starting to recover and my legs are coming back. I’ve tried to be gentle with myself (except one fast mile I threw in and shouldn’t have – I never learn…) and plan on ramping up the mileage in preparation for Stort, and get some long trail runs in as preparation once I’m ready. We’ve got a holiday in Crete booked in just over a week though, so will use that as some R&R for my legs and also to ensure I am fully carbed up and hydrated however… 😉

Right, I’ve gone on for even longer than usual so will sod off now and leave you in peace. Thanks for reading and enjoy your running people. Cheers, Adam

 

Oliver Fisher 10k 2016

We only signed up for the Oliver Fisher 10k a few weeks ago, and mostly to get a qualifying run in for the Maximum Effort 10k medal that Claire had kindly signed us both up to with POW! Virtual Running after watching Deadpool at the cinema. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect; we thought it would be a bit hilly as it was round Capstone Farm Country Park near us but didn’t know if it was going to be tough or a bit of a killer like the Shoreham Woods 10k we did last year (which at points was like scaling mountains with just your feet, hands and a plastic fork). But it was for a good cause and we’d get to see another bit of Medway we didn’t know.

We were a little less than perfectly prepared, having spent most of the day before (and night) round my mum’s for a birthday soiree which we had organised and catered with my sister. Getting to bed at 2am wasn’t great preparation, and in my case imbibing a few beers and Disaronnos (with way too much grub) added to an enjoyable evening but made the alarm call a bit rough. Luckily the race didn’t start until half 10 so we got a bit more sleep than we might have, but I couldn’t face breakfast so settled on the strongest coffee I could make that wouldn’t melt the cup to get myself going.

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The coffee hasn’t kicked in just yet for me…

 

We arrived in good time for the start, but the first clue to what was ahead came as we drove from the entrance to the car park and went up a very steep hill that even Remy (our 18 year old VW Polo) had to take a deep breath in order to scale. Hmm, maybe put plans on a PB tilt back in the box then. We wandered around a bit, jogged to the loo to lighten the load a bit and warm up and generally tried to ignore the usual pre-race nerves. Before we knew it though we were all congregating at the start. I said good luck to Claire as she drifted towards the back and I bumped in to Jon Moreton, the lunatic who is running 12 marathons in 12 months (but whose now upped it to 16 in 12!), and discussed the difficulties of running with a gum shield in and boxing gloves on (his fancy dress from the day before at parkrun). I was so engrossed that I didn’t actually hear the start and hadn’t even got my Garmin on, so had do a bit of light shuffling before we crossed the line to get my watch synced and some space to run in.

Once I had got timing started, and hustled round some of the slower runners ahead of me, I could only see about twenty people in front of me. It was hard to judge who was running the 5 or the 10k, but I wasn’t going silly fast so let myself creep up to a good speed and it took my past some more people. We went round the field at the top of the lap and then entered a downhill bit and I could only then see a dozen or so people in front. I was a bit worried that something was a miss to be so far up, especially having dawdled at the start, but I was going the right way as I could see the direction signs and there were runners going the same way….

The first mile was mostly downhill after the start and was through woods and across fields, with just a few turns and the odd rise to keep things interesting and the need to keep an eye on your footing. I tried to relax a bit and not be too heavy on the downhill bits and tweak my knee or punish my ankles. Mile two was the same, with a bit more trail and a winding path around the park. On a steeper downhill bit I went past a few more runners and then got to a weird section where the camber of the trail was set at a jaunty angle which made me feel like my right leg had grown a few inches longer and I had to really concentrate not to veer off into a hedge… Trail problems.

The third mile saw a nice detour around a pond, and a wave at some ducks, before heading back to the start and past some people who kindly offered encouragement and warnings of a particularly vicious puddle. This meant we went back up the hill we had struggled up in the car earlier – and I struggled to maintain my pace on my own two legs. A fellow runner at this point gasped whether I was running the 5 or 10k race and I croaked out ’10’ which seemed to please him, as he celebrated by slowing to a walk while frantically looking over his shoulder. I soldiered on until I got to the really steep bit and then had to admit defeat too and started to hike up. I felt bad walking in a 10k race but I was breathing hard, my legs were turning to jelly and I was not getting anywhere fast. Walking wouldn’t cost me any time but might stop me from blowing up, so I put my sensible pants on and strutted my way upwards and back on to a flatter section before slowly winding up again.

I went past the start/finish section and glanced longingly at the finish straight but ignored it and headed back up to the field at the start of the lap after failing to take on any water, giving up and just throwing it on my head to cool down a bit. The open field meant I could see who was ahead of me and I tried to gain a bit on the runner ahead, whilst at the same time not going silly with the hill I now knew awaited us at the finish. I went past someone in the wooded bit and then made a better go of the turns and stiles we had to negotiate, as I knew what was coming (and had got my breath back) and kept up a fair clip.

On the weird cambered trail bit I started to gain on another runner, and after a minute or two went past. I didn’t try and increase my pace but was happy to just drift ahead as I was conscious of not working to hard, but he sped up and so stayed with me and then after a bit re-took the lead. For the first time in a running race I was actually racing someone! I wasn’t entirely sure what to do, but as we reached the steeper section of the hill to the finish I found myself accelerating – big mistake. I gapped him but couldn’t sustain the new pace up the climb so began to slow and then was walking as my legs went and my breathing went through the roof. What a plonker. He went past me as the climb began to even out and then was yards ahead. I’d blown it; I should have just stayed behind and saved me effort for the end.

As the route went back to flat however I started to trot again and he wasn’t any further ahead. In fact he seemed to be suffering from his efforts up the hill and the crowd at the finish were shouting encouragement and I could hear Claire shouting my name. I suddenly found myself running and then sprinting towards the line, with every stride eating up the distance and he couldn’t seem to respond. I was properly motoring; I was going to pass him after all! And then 10 yards from the line a little blonde haired boy ran straight across the finish funnel right in front of me! I shouted, checked my stride and missed kneeing him in the head by about 6 inches. I was over the line but behind the other runner. 14141878_10157173480575012_2449569211318871510_n

It happened so fast I didn’t really know what had occurred initially, even as I stood gasping just past the line. Then I was a bit angry that I’d not beaten the guy in front and more importantly almost killed a three year old. I shook hands through gritted teeth with the other runner and swore a little bit to myself (ok and maybe a little out loud for anyone who cared to listen). But then Claire was telling me well done and giving me some water (she had decided to do just the 5k and save the hill for another time) and I had a bit of time to calm down, get my breath back and stop sulking. Some more water, a Jaffa cake and some rain calmed me down even further and I started thinking and (almost) acting like an adult again and feeling quite pleased with my run. I also caught up with Jon again and got to here of his plans for more marathons with the peeps at Saxon, Vikings & Normans Marathons. By the time I’d got to the car I actually smiling.

I would do things differently if/when I do it again (not be hung over/pay attention at the start/start at the front of the field/save my finish for the… er, finish) but I enjoyed the race overall. It was a tough, challenging course and a useful experience of racing on trail. We celebrated like all good athletes afterwards, by getting a new flush handle for our toilet and having an ice cream in B&Q’s car park… and celebrations continued when I found out I’d finished 7th out of over 130 runners! My best result yet, outside of a parkrun, and although it was in a modest 45:15 it was a tough course (especially having to do that hill twice and have a lap to think about it the second time around) so was happy enough.14102618_10157173481435012_8714203683899772700_n

There’s time now for one final long run this weekend and then it’s tapering before hopefully completing another marathon at the Roald Dahl Challenge at Samphire Hoe. Fingers crossed it isn’t as windy as last time though, or it might be a long day… :S

Cheers for reading, Adam 🙂