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.


  1. Great blog Jon! Well done on all you have achieved and it was really great to meet you at TR24!! Wishing you and R all the best for your new life together x

  2. Great reading Jon, nice to catch up with everything that's gone on with you recently.