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 🙂

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