As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bad race > good race

Chester marathon, just like my previous two road marathon went badly! I figured that 6:30 pace would be easy to achieve and the 2hrs 50 mins result would see me finish well up the field. Apart from inexplicably feeling nauseous at 9 -10 miles I was bang on target. But then at 16 something went wrong, I began slowing up and at 19 that damned stitch came back to haunt me. I decided to walk a while and took 10 mins to cover the next mile. Then I jogged at 8 pace until Ste Weston ran past me. I tried running again and realised I could, so I caught him back up and helped him run home to his new PB of 2:59:02. I was a second behind him after the young bugger made us sprint the last 100m or so to try to get a 2:58. It was a grand day out in the sunshine and nice to complete another marathon in a time that many people would love to achieve but never will. For me it wasn't a good time though and I think the time has come to leave the road marathons alone for a while. Without an entry for London next year I've also decided NOT to enter any other road marathons next spring.

Time for a change.

My time on the fells and trails this year has been most productive - winning the Karrimor trail marathon and Lakes 50, best ever finishes at numerous fellraces, completing the 45 mile, 4x 3000ft English peaks and numerous other long days out and monster ascents

So after Chester I decided that offroad was where I want to be. I absolutely love roadrunning still, and will be competing at all my favourite races next year, but just not marathon. (I may enter Berlin in the Autumn as I still want to fulfill my goal of running in all 5 World Marathon Majors).

I'm still running with considerable discomfort in both achilles tendons. After 10 miles fast last week on tarmac I was hobbling for a full day, but a 90 mins fellrun up Blencathra saw it ease off. Another reason to run trails/fells until the problem is sorted. Since the first days of September I haven't really trained with much conviction, and I have missed a lot of days altogether. Not ideal considering I don't cross train at all.

I had entered the 50km trail event at Ennerdale quite a long time ago at the suggestion of Ste Weston. At just 2 weeks after Chester I knew it would be a bit soon really, but when things are going well I tend to feel invincible, like I can do anything I put my mind to.

I visited the valley in the only weekend between Chester and the Ultra to check the course out. Although 15 miles was a bit far to run in the weekend between two big races I'm pleased I went through as I discovered how tough the second half of the lap was (despite the overall descent).

My plan for the race was to run lap 1 nice n easy then on lap 2 run to the Black Sail YHA as hard as I could then hold on as well as possible for the final hour. I also planned that unless someone who I knew in advance was an awful lot better runner than me turned up I would run with the leaders from the start.

On the day it went a bit different to that, but the outcome was perfect.....

We began with a short section around the lake edge. Nice n flat. I ran chatting to Ste Weston in about 6th place. Within a mile or so things had settled out a bit and I was running alone about 100yds behind the first lady. As I caught her up and exchanged chat I was also caught and passed by another fella. I was in about 4th or 5th place I think. Although I hadn't ran with the leaders as planned I was running very easy and felt certain of picking up places as the miles were ticked off.

I reached the YHA at Black Sail and quickly filled my empty water bottle into which Id poured a sachet of Kinetica energy powder before the start. I swigged down a little and looked behind me to see a runner rapidly approaching.  It was my pal Carl Bell who was leading the 25k event. I was a bit gutted to have been caught for 15 minutes in 7 miles but I know Carl would be the best part of 1 minute per mile faster than me on the roads, fells by percentage therefore even more disparity and with him running just half the distance (lightweight) perhaps this was to be expected. Later, I discovered they hadn't started the 25k race a full 15 mins after our race anyway - more like 12.

Carl whizzed past me on the narrow path from the YHA to the bridge that marks the turning point of the lap. He was about 15metres ahead and just crossing the bridge when he slipped on the wooden planking and faceplanted like a sack of spuds. I was right onto him again and the next minutes as I asked if he was hurt I was being held up a little. Carl soon got over it though and was again forging ahead away from me on his way down out of the valley.

I put in very little effort on the long windy forest roads that took me back to the lake, preferring to try to stay relaxed and get some energy drink into me. Still on the forest roads I was pleased to see the course went through the trees at one stage before rejoining the road a few hundred metres later. this cut out a significant little climb which I had included on my recce.

Photo courtesy of
Before long I was through the fields and onto the toughest part of the lap - the rocky, uneven, wet, slimy, root infested semi formed path around the lake leading to Anglers Crag. I caught sight of a runner ahead and realised it must be third place. This spurred me on somewhat and I put in a decent effort to catch and pass him. During a  brief chat he told me he had been leading for a long time but had been forced to make a pit-stop and also that 2nd place wasn't far ahead, but the leader was a long way in front. Indeed, as I neared Anglers Crag I saw 2nd place Paul Watham, who I know, and usually beat, was walking up the short steep bit.

After Anglers Crag is still a bit awkward under foot and I took care not to go silly hard as I felt absolutely certain that I would soon catch and pass Paul for 2nd place.  I did catch Paul, just after the start/finish area. We chatted briefly and he said that the leader was 15 minutes up the road!! I figured that anyone 15 minutes ahead of me in 15 miles was simply a much better runner than me and that I would have to be content with 2nd place today.

By my watch I had taken 2 hours for lap one. 59:58 to the bridge beyond YHA then about 1:00:30 back.

Within a mile of getting onto the 'nice' forest tracks uphill to the YHA I started to feel awful. Really weak, like I was hardly moving. This lasted for 40 minutes. I know looking behind is irrelevant and I should concentrate on my own race and ignore everyone else but once things start to go wrong you also start to do things you shouldn't. Looking behind I noticed the fella I has passed to take 3rd place was catching me back up again and was only 100m or so behind. Then I had 8 minutes of feeling bloody great!! I pressed on really well and doubled my gap to the next runner.

At the YHA I felt ropey again - very thirsty. I gulped down the blackcurrant drink they had on offer and ran off again, knowing the easiest part of the course would soon be reached. The bridge turn point was reached in 1:07:30 - one minute per mile slower than the first lap. that's a massive slowdown and I was worried the likes of Wes would be catcing me back up. So as the track became smooth compacted gravel and downhill, I really stretched out my stride and effort. Id be surprised to learn I didn't go faster along this section than on lap 1. I still felt rubbish and sickly but my legs were good.

Somewhere near the herd of Black cows the drink I had taken at the YHA made the return trip. I had never previously vomited whilst running and have to admit that it was quite and impressive display. The dark liquid emerged to my right side and as I ran on forward was left behind to fall to the ground. I felt a bit better for that and knew the end was in sight. I was still a bit disappointed to be 2nd but had glanced behind me again on some of the longest straights and knew no one was closing on me.

As I neared the longish footbridge I thought I saw a figure run across it. I knew it couldn't possibly be the slowest runner from the 25k so it was either somebody out for a run and nothing to do with the event....... or the leader.....

Soon after was the section where we go through 2 fields. There was a young lad marshaling there and I asked him if the runner ahead was a blue number. He said yes, it was the 50k race leader. I was overjoyed. From feeling rubbish and thinking of jogging home to maintain 2nd place I was now surging across those fields with a race win now very much back on the cards.

Racing done, resting begins. (photo by Grahamo)
Once onto the tricky rocky section my progress up to the leader slowed a little as I now had very tired legs and was stumbling a lot where previously I had been hopping over and between the rocks. I caught him a few minutes before Anglers Crag and asked for confirmation that he was the leader. He said 'yeah, but not any more, well done'. I saw little point in more conversation and pressed on, figuring that every metre of lead I could gain would help if he was a faster runner on the flatter part to end with.

At Anglers Crag on lap 1 I had asked the young girl marshaling there how far ahead she thought the leaders were. On lap 2 I said 'I'm not asking about the leader this time'. I thanked her for helping with the event and struggled down the usually very easy drop over the rocks and ledges on my now cramping legs.

A minute later and onto the better running I glanced behind to see I had a gap large enough that I would not be caught and I finally allowed my thoughts to turn to what it meant to be winning ANOTHER tough long race.....

At Karrimor marathon I was emotional and had filled up in the final hundred metres. The loudspeaker system could be heard as I neared the field and I hadn't won a race for several years. I composed myself, wiped my face and ran into the field, through the race funnel and under the gantry to break the tape. It was the best day I can remember for a long time, with friends present to share the moment.

At the Lakes 50 I had lead for about 5 hours but battled through the last 2 with cramping up and felt sure the final descent into Coniston was gonna see me caught and passed for the victory. Once I got onto the roads I realised I wouldn't be caught and was going to win a very prestigious event. The finish itself that night was something of a letdown. No tape to break, no photos of me winning, and I even had to stop to dib in prior to going under the gantry. Then afterwards, although lots of congratulations, no friends there - just a darkening night and a tired drive home. As I said previously in this blog - the best thing about winning the Lakes 50 was the eight and a half hours I spent winning the Lakes 50.

So how did I feel winning Ennerdale? Well I didn't feel emotional, perhaps because for the first time this year I not only wanted to win it, but also half expected to win it. I had spent 3hrs 45 minutes running along by myself thinking I wasn't going to win before I spotted the long time leader. So in those final couple of hundred metres when I knew for sure I would take victory #3 of 2012 I spontaneously started laughing. Laughing out loud. Why was I laughing? I don't know really, it just happened, just came out. I had endured bad patches - had kept on running when I wanted to walk, or stop. I had pressed on super fast when I was also throwing up. I had doubted myself a little at times but had always pushed on. And now I was being rewarded, again, with a victory.

Lots of friends around for me this time. A great couple of hours chatting, snacking on the excellent traybakes and cups of tea provided. A walk with Scamp who had waited patiently in the van for me to do the race. Then collecting my prize from the organisers who all seemed such genuine folk who were not only giving up their Sunday to help with the race but who seemed to enjoying every minute of it.

Now one day later - my legs are very tired, but not sore. I reckon I will be able to get up Blencathra one last time this week after work before the clocks change and make that impossible. Constant messages and Twitter comments congratulating me. Life is good. Life is great. We continue....

Many thanks to Dave and Laura  @Sportsunday for images

Saturday, October 6, 2012

In a world of pain

Every time I run it hurts.

The problem is my achilles tendons. The right one specifically but also the left one to a smaller degree. The physio says i should train as normal and as long as I do the strengthening exercises all will be well within a few months.

So I'm running, but not with the intensity of usual and to be honest my heart isnt really in it of late, not when it hurts so much. I know I am losing fitness and speed with each passing week but I am not too concerned about this because, although I was planning to throw everything into the pot to run a 55 minute 10 miler at Brampton, I AM still able to run, to run every day, and to be honest although it hurts, it doesn't hurt more afterwards. Sometimes it actually hurts less afterwards.

Plenty o' Helly to come this winter

Up the fells, my achilles pain simply vanishes. Perhaps its the softer underfoot conditions or the stretching of steep tough climbs or the ever varied position of footfalls. Whatever it is, I'm now intent on keeping up fellrunning right through the Autumn/Winter. Hopefully lots of very long days with many thousands of feet of ascent.

Two weeks from now I'm doing the Ennerdale 50k trail race. Then in December the 37 mile Tour de Helvellyn. Next year Im thinking of doing a lot more trail races, the longer the better. I'm doing the L50 again in July and will be aiming to beat 8 hours. I may NOT bother entering a road marathon until Autumn. That would make 2013 the first year since 2003 that hasn't included a long buildup from Christmas towards a Spring road marathon.

Theres a bit of an issue to all this fellrunning over the October-March period though. I prefer nice weather and light days.....   and Cumbria tends to have lots of poor weather and gets dark by 5pm  or sooner for months on end.

The small matter of Chester Marathon is tomorrow morning. My original goal was a low 2:40 or even sub 2:40. Following the injury and subsequent lack of fast determined running/sessions, I don't think the fitness is there to run that fast, and certainly not the belief needed to set off at 6:10 pace. So I'm gonna set off at about 6:30 pace (2:50 result) and see what happens.

Its felltime Champ