Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 & My First Ultra

Phew! What a year!! Another year of immense change and it’s been hard at times, but I’m not complaining because it’s been harder still for the person closest to me. But whilst difficult at times, it’s also been an incredible and amazing year in so many ways!

For starters, I fell in love and set up a new life with the woman I fell in love with. That special someone has given up a lot to be with me and I will be forever grateful for that. She’s currently downstairs getting ready to go out for a run in the pouring rain – a new chapter in her Ironman training about to commence. She’s an inspiration to me every day, an amazing woman. I’m very lucky.

It’s also been the year in which I’ve become totally immersed in running. I got into it last year, but this year running, and trail running in particular, became my passion. I ran my first trail marathon in The Lakes in July, my second at Kielder in October and I last wrote a blog the day before my first Ultra at the end of October, which was back in The Lakes again for the Ennerdale 50k Ultra.

What a journey, a journey that I hope is only just beginning.

So yes, I ran an Ultra, and it was tough! But I think to tell this chapter in my story, I need to go back a bit and talk a lot about my feet!

Firstly, don’t forget that I’m new to all this. I got into trail running this year because having got into running I then simply opened my eyes to all the amazing countryside around me. It has been a voyage of discovery from a point of knowing nothing really. In fact, probably less than nothing!

To begin with I was wearing some fairly cheap hybrid Asics running shoes that I bought from an Outdoors shop in Oldham when I first started in early 2011, but they were falling apart by the time I got into trail running properly this spring. Having just discovered proper off road running and having just read random stuff on line I bought some running shoes that, well … took my fancy. I didn’t go to The Sweatshop or Up and Running and compare shoes for comfort or have my gait measured or to discuss the type of running I’d be doing or the number of miles etc. I didn’t ask for specific advice from anyone on Twitter and I hadn’t yet met the lovely Rx, who knows all about these things. I just fancied some Inov8 and so I bought some off Amazon.

What I didn’t realise was that the Mudclaws that I bought were a very stiff shoe with a very aggressive tread that was geared towards running in the mud (the name should have given it away!) – a shoe built for fell running I suppose. That would have been fine if I was fell running and to be fair I often found myself running in muddy conditions up and down hills over the summer, but most of the time I was running on stony gravely trails up in the Pennine hills or footpaths, tow paths, bridleways etc. down in the valley.

Looking back now I think I was striking the hard ground with my mid-foot (Rx has since observed my running style) in a very stiff shoe and I can only imagine the pounding I was giving my poor feet.
All this was fine up to a point. The first marathon in Coniston was very wet and muddy and I was probably wearing the right kind of footwear for that and really enjoyed the experience, but Kielder was another story. 26.2 miles of man-made gravel paths and this is when I started to realise that I was wearing completely the wrong footwear.  I became really conscious towards the end just how much my feet were slamming down on the ground and my poor feet felt battered by the end of it. So what was I to do? This was two weeks before my first Ultra. Do I go out and buy new shoes or stick with what I’ve got? The textbook answer is that you don’t buy new shoes two weeks before running your first 31-miler, so I stuck with the Mudclaws.

I struggled. There’s no two ways about it. I got ill straight after Kielder. A virus turned into a chest infection and I hardly ran for those 2 weeks and didn’t feel my strongest on the day. The course was exceptionally tough and predominantly made up of stone and gravel paths. I ran most of it with my now good friend and running buddy, The Scotsman, but I couldn’t stay with him to the end, I was struggling too much with my fitness and my feet and to be fair I think he had a great race – well done Johnny! I also got my fuelling wrong during the race, not eating when I should have and only realising when I did.

But hey, I did it! Like a game of football, you don’t always win playing beautiful attractive football, but the win is the most important thing. Alright I didn’t win! I finished in 33rd place out of 56 finishers (64 had started the race) – mid-table mediocrity, but not bad for a first attempt!

Rx did the 25k too and took a lot of great pictures along the way…

Believe it or not, despite everything I’ve said above with regards to the wrong footwear and a difficult race for my first Ultra, and despite the fact that we moved houses in mid-November so life was generally chaos, I went on a bit of a Runstreak following the Ultra – 37 days in all up to the end of November. But then finally my feet started to suffer from the pounding they had been given over the last 6 months.

By this point I was running a lot more on the roads again since the nights had drawn in. For that I’d been wearing some Brooks Green Silence that Rowena bought me. They’ve been great. I then went out and bought some Salamon Crossmax for running the trails at the weekend. I did at least do some research this time and chose them to suit the kind of combination of road and trails I would be doing over the winter. I don’t blame the new shoes though, I think it was the old shoes, the mileage increases over a relatively short period and maybe some poor form.

Since the end of November I’ve been struggling with pain in the sole of my left foot in particular. I went to see a physio a few weeks ago and he diagnosed tendinitis. December has been spent resting and reflecting. I’ve also done a lot of reading. I’ve finally read Born to Run and I’m currently reading Running with the Kenyans. Barefoot running is now starting to come into my thinking and so I want new trail shoes again – more minimalist this time. I now think I made another mistake buying the Salamon shoes. I should have been buying some shoes to match my running style and my feet, not just the terrain I’ll be running on.
Nutrition is also starting to play a big role in my life and I’ve not eaten any meat for the last week, which I’m looking to continue.

So it’s a new year. I have big plans for 2013, but they need to start small. I ran a mile with Rowena on Christmas Day, then 2 miles a few days later. Yesterday I ran 3 miles and so far so good. My foot doesn’t feel completely healed, but no pain or discomfort and so hopefully if I take it slow, it will get there.
I’m concentrating on low mileage, slow pace and good form. And I need to buy some more new running shoes in the new year!!

Happy New Year :-)

And a special thanks to everyone who has supported me this year, the two above in particular, but also those on twitter and thanks to Alison who supported the 3 of us at Ennerdale.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Two Marathons Later…

I’ve not blogged for a hell of a long time. Why is that? Well, life has taken a different route. The main reason I haven’t been blogging or using social media as much is I met someone amazing and we’ve been on a bit of a life journey. That journey started at the beginning of June, although we’d known each other a while before that and got very close. Since June though it’s been a roller coaster of a trip – in a good way.  Of course I’m not going to mention a name here and I’m not going to start gushing all over the world wide inter-web, but thought it worth mentioning :)

Now the running! When I last wrote at the end of May I’d ditched by plans to run a road marathon and was thinking of making Kielder Marathon by next goal. Well, the love of my life (whom I shall call Rx for the purposes of this blog) thought I could run 26.2 sooner. I’d also started to conspire with another fellow trail runner who was also fancying his first marathon and within days of writing my last blog, my friend (The Scotsman) and I had signed up to run Coniston on 1st July – giving us 4 weeks of serious marathon training.

Coniston is part of the fast-growing Lakeland Trails and pitches itself as Britain’s most scenic marathon; and it’s hard to argue when you look at the pictures. It’s hilly of course as it climbs up into the fells (2630ft of ascent) and then circles Coniston whilst taking you up and down some interesting routes to say the least. However (and this is a big however), on this occasion it wasn’t so scenic! I don’t know if you remember what the weather was like in June? – it rained ….a lot!!

There were two races at Coniston – the Marathon Challenge and the main Marathon itself. We decided to enter the Challenge. Exactly the same course, but it started a couple of hours earlier and so we had more time. We needn’t have bothered, but it took the pressure off a bit. That having been said, the runners still looked like a field of serious trail runners to me, even if the big guns were going in the later race.

We arrived at the starting line in pouring rain and with heavy cloud cover. There had been talk of it being called off in the run up with photos of water-logged trails appearing on Twitter. And it rained for the whole marathon. The conditions were quite treacherous in places with trails having turned into streams and the fields having become bogs – but it was all the more fun for it. Sure, I’d liked to have seen that view across Coniston water from the highest point instead of facing a white-out and having to dip my shoulder and head into the wind in order to stop by cap from flying off, but that was exhilarating and to be honest I’m used to running in those conditions in the Pennine hills! I absolutely loved it!

My running companion enjoyed it too. He’s a hardy Scotsman and so the weather was no bother to him either. We had talked about running the whole thing together and certainly finishing together, but the reality was a little different. We discovered very quickly that my strengths lay in the uphill – I’m quite lightly built and the last couple of months training around Dove Stone were paying off and I was finding I could plod by way up most hills at a reasonable pace. My good friend though wanted to save himself early on and so walked a few of the early steep sections. He then flew past me on the down hills! – I learnt a lot about running down hill quickly that day! He was like a runaway train and I started to let go of my caution and run the down hills like him towards the end. Similarly, he was doing well on the up hills.

As a result of our different strengths and weaknesses we ran large parts of the race apart, but we finished strong and finished together in joint 12th place in just under 4 ½ hours. The best feeling and my proudest moment as a runner – fantastic!

Of course we both signed up for Kielder too. We ran that 2 weeks ago and that was another good experience, but for very different reasons for me. I think Coniston made me cocky and I’d heard that Kielder was a little more gentle than Coniston. It’s that kind of loose stone gravel paths you typically see around man-made reservoirs – suitable for bikes, dog-walkers etc. It’s hilly in an undulating kind of way, but nothing too serious, so I wanted to push myself a bit and run a good time.

Rx signed up to do the Run–Bike–Run (the same 26.2 mile course) the day before and so we made a weekend of it. The Scotsman came down on the Saturday to support Rx which gave us plenty of time to chat and think about the next day. Rx did well. She’s fairly new to the bike and this was a bit of a test for her. I think it was harder than we expected, but she came through it. She thought the terrain would not be a test for me running and so even more this made me want to try and run it fast.

Lining up for the marathon the next day, The Scotsman and I talked about seeing if we could do it in under 4 hours, but inside my head I was thinking ‘faster, you can go faster’. I set off feeling good and picked up the pace in no time, weaving through all the bodies and running at a pace of around 8 min/mi or quicker. As the race progressed I kept looking at my watch and asking myself if I could keep this pace up. I decided to try and go for a time of 3.30 and I latched onto somebody young and fast and went for it.

I hit the halfway point with a time of 1.45 exactly! This is quicker than I have ever run a half marathon – and by that I mean on the road, on the flat, even when training on my own!!

I’d pushed too hard and gone too fast though and when I got to the dam at mile 18 I was starting to suffer. My legs were starting to stiffen up and I started to run out of energy. The next 8 miles were quite torturous. My legs all but seized up, I was rationing my Cliff Shot Bloks, which were keeping me moving for about half a mile before I started to run out of juice again. I really had to dig in and drive myself forward with everything I had.

What a relief to see Rx on the finishing line. I’d dropped to 10 or 11 min/mi pace by the end, but I was still pleased with my time of 3:34:37  I regretted running against the clock though. It’s not what I’m about. Kielder is a very nice course, but it doesn’t have the variation in terrain and topography that I like to keep me interested. I think that’s why I focused on time. I guess that’s a learning for me when choosing events in the future.

Which takes me to a little race I’m doing tomorrow……

Ennerdale Trail Run 50k Ultra

I’m doing my first Ultra (squeals with excitement)!!

The thing is, until last night I hadn’t run since Kielder. My legs didn’t work for a couple of days after the marathon. Then I picked up a cold/virus and a sore back! Then the cold turned into a chest  infection and I’m still feeling the after effects of both.

I did 4 miles last night and 3 this morning with Rx and felt OK. I’m going to give it a go tomorrow. Or rather I’m going to give it everything I’ve got to make sure I get through it. I’ll take it easy in terms of pace. This is about going the distance. Do my legs have 31 miles in them? I guess we’ll find out…..

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A different direction

I thought I knew where I wanted to go with this running malarkey…

Chester Marathon was to be my goal this year – ‘unfinished business.’ Then dozens of people on Twitter seemed to create a kind of snowball effect and before I knew it everyone was signing up for it, which was great! Inspired, on my way to bed one night after a couple of glasses of red, I entered!! Then the next morning I put my name in the ballot for VLM 2013 too. Why not? Great. My goals were set, let’s get training…

Rewind a little – last month I moved to a new house in a slightly different area, so on returning from injury at the start of May I started discovering what the area had to offer. In the immediate vicinity, it’s full-on hill-running. To begin with this was a new and interesting challenge, but after a week or so I found myself getting frustrated running on the pavement and I was really struggling to get to any trails by running straight from my front door.

Looking back, when I started running last spring I mostly did trail running – nothing too exciting just bridle paths and canals etc. but always enjoyed it more than pounding the pavements -- but then I only entered road races! It doesn’t really make sense. I think maybe I’ve always thought of trail running (and especially fell running) as too hard-core for little old me. But since coming back from injury last month I’ve been feeling a lot stronger and my confidence has soared. The last few weeks have simply been like an explosion of discovery.

So I started getting in the car and going off to find new and interesting off-road routes in the area. I’ve been discovering all the possible trails in the Saddleworth and Mossley area and then trying to string them together into longer runs. I’ve also started a “run-streak” inspired by others I follow on Twitter. Simply put, I now run every day (today being day 22) and this keeps me focussed and motivated even more. I’m not going to let it become the be all and end all, but at the moment I’m enjoying it.

Then came the ‘Dovestone Diamond’. Mentioned by someone on Twitter who lives not too far from me, it was a midweek 10k multi-terrain race and I decided I had to do it. I’ve been running around Dovestone Reservoir since the start, early last year, but just a short 3 or so miles on the track that runs immediately around the water. This race was completely different, it shot up into the surrounding hills – approx. 500ft of assent right at the start then it was kind of undulating hills for the rest of the run, but tough terrain, lots of rocks, mud, streams etc. The best bit though – the views. The weather was gorgeous and the views running along the tops, through pine trees and out into open stretches of winding paths with views out over more of the Pennine hills and the reservoir down below were simply breath-taking. I really enjoyed it. That was this time last week.

I did it again tonight and it was better still!! From parking my car at the mill in Greenfield until arriving back 6.35 miles later, I hardly saw a soul. On my own, and taking it nice and steady I was able to really take in the surroundings and of course I had the path to myself so I could really enjoy concentrating on my foot placement without having to worry about someone in front or behind.  When I got back to the car, I wanted to carry on. I kind of did. I got in the car and drove down the road a bit, pulled over and shot off down a footpath. There was method in my madness. I wanted to see if I could link the run up with another nearby route and I could. The excitement. At some point it’s now going to be just the start of a really awesome long run.

I’ve given a lot of thought to where I’m going with this running of mine; this week in particular. And I’ve had some fantastic support off one person in particular in deciding what I want to do (you know who you are!).

Chester is off I’m afraid. Sorry Team Chester!

I’ve sent my application form off today to join the local fell-running club and its trail/fell races for me from now on. I still want to do a marathon, but I’m thinking a trail marathon now, maybe Kielder Marathon in October – it’s the same day as Chester! Maybe even something sooner. And an Ultra next year. There, I’ve said it. I want to be an Ultra-runner! But one step at a time – I do have a propensity to get ahead of myself. Right now I’m just loving running the trails and keeping my run-streak going.

Happy days 

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Feeling Good Again!

My plan was to write a blog every couple of weeks to chart my running progress, but it’s been 8 weeks since my last one – I’ve just not felt like writing. I’ve just been a bit too down-in-the-doldrums. Oh yeah, and I’ve not actually been running….

Firstly, I picked up an injury – every runners worst nightmare. I think I over did it, increasing my weekly and long-run mileage too quickly in order to be ready for a half marathon at short notice. My last long run, 2 weeks prior to Wilmslow half on 25th March, I did 15 miles (hardly the right mileage 2 weeks before a Half) and felt a *niggle* in my left groin during the first few miles. The two weeks that followed, I really struggled. I attempted a couple of short runs, but my groin was really troubling me. Then race day:

After 7 days of no running at all, I had hoped I’d be OK and I sort of was. I set off at the back of the pack as I was with a guy doing his first race and he didn’t have the confidence to start further up the field. It was a slow start, so much traffic to get through. I think I spent the first half of the race weaving in and out of people and running up grass verges! I felt really good though and so I kept pushing the pace, leaving my race partner behind. The end was tough, but I finished my third half marathon with a new PB (by about a minute) of 1:52 –I’m sure I could have done better with a better start!

The groin didn’t bother me too much whilst running the race, but as soon as I crossed the finish line I was in trouble. I could hardly put my foot down and certainly I couldn’t put any real weight on my left side, and so it was a long limp back to the car park.

This was the start of 5 ½ weeks of no running. Oh. My. Goodness. I would never have thought not running could be so hard. Now I know what a running junkie I am. It was hell. I’ve only been running properly a year and this was my first injury so I didn’t know what to expect, but now I sympathise with anyone who is out of the game. It’s tough.

But now I’m running again…..and it feels great!

I’ve lost a bit of fitness, and the position of my new house is making running harder, but I think I’ll thrive off it going forward. This morning I did my third run this week and felt completely injury-free J

It was glorious sunshine as I headed out my door and turned left up the hill. It’s about 0.3 miles of lung-busting ascent right from the off, but when it levels off on top of the hill its absolutely sublime! It’s then downhill for a bit, then uphill for a bit, then a long gradual downhill…..I think you get the idea!

Anyway, all new running routes to look forward to. I can’t wait.

So, I’ve done what I said I’d do in my first blog. I’ve entered Chester Marathon – my first full marathon. I entered last year and didn’t make it, so this is unfinished business. There’s dozens of us in Twitterland doing it, so I know the support will be amazing. It will be a tough challenge for me – particularly training in the hills for a marathon on the flat, but as someone said to me recently, put very simply: *hills make you stronger*. That they do. What can I say……..

Bring. It. On!

This blog was brought to you by a Berberana Reserva 2007 Rioja … hic!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Training has officially begun

If you caught my first blog a couple of weeks ago, you will know that I’ve taken my brother’s place at Wilmslow Half Marathon on March 25th, giving myself just 4 weeks of proper training before the event. To be fair, I was doing alright and feeling good about my running or I wouldn’t have offered to take his place, but nonetheless for this last couple of weeks I knew I would have t to make it count.

I decided to run just 3 times a week, but to make the two midweek runs quite long; I figured I would match the 8.5 mile run I’d last done as my long weekend run and then try and go a bit further for the next 2 weekends, say 9 or 10 miles then 11 or 12 miles and then taper for a couple of weeks.

My preparation for the first of the 8.5 mile runs however was not great. I had an awful night’s sleep; 3 or 4 hours maximum, then a difficult day at work. On the train on the way home I was exhausted, a complete space cadet, and was seriously thinking that I needed to somehow reschedule my run. I said so on Twitter and got the slap in the face I deserved! Support comes in all shapes and sizes and sometimes you just need a kick up the backside. It also helps reading about everybody else going running. So I was tired, but what was the worst that could happen? And do you know what, I had a great run that night!

I did the same a couple of days later and then at the weekend I tried a new route that I figured would take me over 9 miles. IT WAS FANTASTIC … a real beauty of a trail run. It started off innocently enough, running along a nice wide footpath, but soon began to climb, and as it did the path got narrower and narrower. Before too long I was up high looking out over the valley and hills of Saddleworth. The path had narrowed so much that my legs were getting trashed by heather bushes either side. To my left was a huge drop down to a railway line and to my right a cliff face. There was mud, rocks, tree routes and paths forking off left, right and centre, and all the time climbing. When I got to the top it was a great feeling and the view was superb. The run in total came in at just over 9 miles, but it was hilly so I was really pleased with the achievement.

This last week I did the same 2x 8.5 mile routes and then took a couple of days off before my long run this morning. Now despite what I’ve said above I’m not big on planning my running. I’m put off by training plans and talk of things like splits just bemuse me (that’s something to do with gymnastics or bananas surely). I just have a route and/or a distance in mind and then go for it - usually. Take this morning, I thought around 11 miles would be about right 2 weeks before a half marathon and having run along the canal a lot last summer I had a pretty good idea that if I ran to a place called Scout Tunnel in Stalybridge and back it would be about 11 miles. The added incentive of turning back when I got to Scout Tunnel was that it is a bit of a nightmare to run through. It’s long, dark (don't let the picture below fool you) and wet with limited headroom.

However, I didn’t stick to this plan for a number of reasons.  Firstly, for the first time in ages I had a decent night’s sleep. Secondly, I spent the first hour of the day reading about Twitter folk running the Silverstone Half and the Bath Half and I wanted to do one. Thirdly, it was a lovely sunny day – perfect running conditions. I decided I wanted to do 13.1 miles like everyone else and figured I could run to Scout Tunnel and then do a bit of a loop on the way back if needed.

Things did not begin well though. For the first 3 or 4 miles, I had a *niggle* in my left groin and my left knee was aching. As I got into it though these aches and pains seem to fall away. I felt good, really good, and I was really enjoying what the Huddersfield Narrow Canal had to offer. When I got to Scout Tunnel there was no way I was turning back. Apart from anything else, that would have been a cop out. Like a mountain, I had to run through it because it was there.

Running through this tunnel is weird because you can’t see the cobbled floor you are running on for the most part and occasionally you splash into a puddle, which takes you by surprise; you can’t see the curved roof that you know you are very close to; and whilst you can see the white posts that make up the hand rail, you can’t see the bars that run horizontally and so you don’t feel protected from falling into the water.

I did manage to keep running (well jogging) through the tunnel though, and then I just kept going – for another couple of miles. The way back was all up-hill (I know, it’s a canal, but this is the Pennines and there are a lot of locks). The  total run was over 15 miles. At least a mile more than I've ever run before!!

I’m chuffed with my run today. I hope I haven’t overdone it. I can feel the niggle in my groin and a little discomfort in my left knee, but hopefully nothing a couple of days off won’t put right.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Full Circle

My first blog is dedicated to the wonderful running community of Twitterland. I’ve been inspired so much recently by you people – not just by the man-machines who run extraordinary distances every day at a ridiculous pace, who I respect enormously, but also by those who have been and are currently facing difficulties, but who keep on running and sharing. Or if they can’t run, they continue to support and inspire others until they are fit again to don trainers and hit the outdoors. This goes out to you – you know who you are!

But this is my story. Or should I say, my *running* story so far, which began with Wilmslow Half Marathon at the end of March 2011. I was a mere spectator at the time. Witnessing my first race in support of my wife who was running her first race, and I was totally hooked from that day. 

Within a week I‘d signed up for two half marathons (Newark in August & ‘Run to the Beat’ in London in September) and Chester Marathon at the beginning of October 2011. I began training in earnest. I ran Newark in August in just under 2 hours, but I made hard work of it. ‘Run to the Beat’ was better and I finished with a *new PB* of about 1:53. Then my knees started troubling me. I visited a physio who thought my knee tendons were just not keeping up with my fitness and prescribed some exercises involving a plank of wood and some stairs! I’ve been doing them ever since. It was too late for the marathon though. I basically ran out of time – I just couldn’t get the mileage up.

November, December and January were then a struggle. I just couldn’t get going again. This month though I’ve really found my running mojo again and this is down to you guys in Twitterland. I know it’s cheesy, but I’m inspired and I’m enjoying it more than ever.

As it happens, my brother was due to run his first half marathon this year and he picked … yep, you guessed it … Wilmslow. He’s injured and so last week he offered me his place. It’s only a month away, but I ran 8 miles off road this morning. I’m really enjoying running again and I think I can do it.

I really feel like I’ve come full circle. I’ve decided that this year is going to be about unfinished business. I’m going to run Wilmslow to get *back in the game* and then all being well, I’m going to aim for Chester Marathon again. With your support Twitterland, I know I can do it.

Hey, entries aren’t closed yet are they….