Four years ago, in mid 2010 and before they invented colour computer screens, I took a photo of myself as part of a 365 Photo Project (for the record I titled it “I come in peace… to eat your pies”). It probably coincided with my weightiest period, around 17 stone, and was a year and a bit before I was to discover that I owned a pair of feet and some running shoes. Yesterday Mrs Bees took another photo of me after the Penshaw Pieces of 8 Half Marathon, and I proclaim myself “pleased” with the resulting time spent running around like a loon…

yy6

 

As you can see, my choice in backgrounds has significantly improved. I’ve also lost a chin along the way. For some inexplicable reason my eyebrows now look straighter…

Apologies if this comes across a bit gloat-y and self indulgent, but I figure I’m allowed a bit of that every now and then.

I think my head may have gotten bigger.

 

Yes, it’s been a while – nearly two months, in fact.

I must have been up to something, right, I mean I wouldn’t just disappear off, would I?

So, in no particular order, the things what I have done are:

  1. A 50 day run streak – this was mint, though difficult to fit around life. Every day, at least a mile, finishing up at the end of July. I think it made a difference in my general fitness, though I’m not sure you’d notice in my times. I saw more wildlife in the woods than you could shake a stick at (I tried, my arm got tired quite quickly) and re-affirmed my belief that you can only get so wet before rain becomes a bit of an academic point.
  2. Swimming – I’ve never been able to swim more than a casual “non-drowning” amount, and even that was debatable. See those dogs you get in rivers that look like they’re regretting jumping in the deep bit? That was me. So I’ve had a lesson or two and can now comfortably call myself “a swimmer”. Not much in the endurance stakes, which is what I need to build up next, but my fabulous swimming teacher pronounced my form to be “very good”, even if my ability to complete a length without attempting to drink half the pool and filter the rest through my ears was pronounced “piss poor”. I now enjoy swimming, who’d have thought? Much like the story of my rise to running mediocrity then…
  3. Cycling – well, not much of this, though I did cycle to work once on my aged mountain bike and am now the proud possessor of a road bike. I’ve been out on it once so far and have discovered they’re not the same muscles as for the running, and I’m even more rubbish at getting up a hill on a bike than I am on me pins. This will change if I ever find the time to cycle more. The plan is to commute one day a week, which will pretty much pay for the bike on cycle-to-work in petrol saved. In theory. Clip-in pedals mildly terrify me, but I’ve managed that terror so far.
  4. Holiday! I went to Corsica and bummed around camping on the beach with Mrs Bees for a week. It was lovely. A fair amount of open-water swimming took place, something I would have never attempted before item 2. on the list. I even own my own goggles and a nose clip so I don’t snort the ocean (which is considered bad form when visiting other people’s countries).

So what next? Well, Sunday is the ‘Pieces of Eight’ half marathon at Penshaw monument, run by the Trail Outlaws. It’s their first event and I’m pretty excited, their podcast is groovy and if you haven’t checked it out you certainly should.

The Jedburgh Ultra is coming at the end of October, a small amount of training may be in order.

I went to see the film of the 2012 Dragon’s Back race across the spine of Wales last night – it was fantastic and made me wonder… I’m rubbish at mountains, so it seems like a really bad plan, but then most of my running is technically beyond my abilities… favourite quote of the film was from Helene Whittaker – “you don’t enter a race because you know you can complete it, you do it for the challenge, to see how far you can go”, now that’s my kind of crazy thinking. :-)

Rock on, and a race review after Sunday.

 

Lambton 10k

Posted: 29/06/2014 in Uncategorized

Whist, lads, haad ya gobs, aal tell yu aal an awful story…

55:29, 270 of 550.

Well, OK, it was the Lambton Estate, not Penshaw Monument, the spot where the Lambton Worm holed up, but it was still a bit of a fairy-tale setting.

The Lambton Estate is private, usually you don’t get to go in – but Sunderland AFC’s Foundation of Light hold a 10k here. I’d signed up on a bit of whim, with a vague recollection of visits to the Lambton Lion Park when I was wee. A vague hope that they’d remembered to move all the lions out was foremost in my mind as I rocked up in the car.

OK, bad bit out the way first – the toilets. All five of them. For several hundred runners. There was a queue when I arrived at 9:15, and I got my turn about 9:50. There was still a couple of stragglers when the race got going at 10:07. Seriously, get some extra lavvies next year, eh?

Other than that the organisation was fabulous, the marshals canny and the route well marked. Through woods and woods and woods, over bridges across the Wear, past old buildings in wee clearings, some of which were used for The Paradise, apparently. The light was ace, the weather was perfect, it literally couldn’t have been better.

If you fancy a PB, my advice would be to get to the front – there’s a bottle-neck on the trail just after the start, and if you can’t see in front of you it’s a bit uneven – I did OK but there were echoes of “ayah”, “y’bugger” and “shite” from a few of the people around me as they found rocks, potholes and unexpected tussocks.

I wasn’t out for a PB, rather more looking for a lovely jaunt around the woods and a bit of discovery. It pretty much felt effortless, the early couple of hills were a mild slow down but nothing major.

I think there’s something about running in the woods that gets me going – not sure what that’s about, maybe it’s the constant plodding around Chopwell, or maybe it’s just the fact that you’ve not idea what’s only a few metres away through the trees?

In the early stages, a quick glance at my watch had revealed a heart of of 184 bpm, which should really come with a huge flashing sign and an attendant ambulance. I wasn’t running hard (and even when I do, I rarely scrape the top end of the 170’s) so I figured I must just be having a very exciting time. Later on a saw a much more reasonable 154bpm, that’s my sort of heart rate.

The seventh kilometre is along the riverside, then back over the bridge and along the other bank to the hill up to the run into the finish. You run past Lambton Castle, which looks lovely (and currently unoccupied due to a legal wrangle over the late Lord Lambton’s estate) and then it’s the hill. It’s a cracking hill – I ran it slowly, a lot of people walked, I only spotted a couple of folk really going for it – then a little jaunt through the woods, back onto the entry road and a canter past the front of Lambton Castle and you’re done.

Lovely. Really lovely.

I was a bit carried away and forgot to stop running at the end – I was physically stopped by a marshal in the finish funnel, to be honest the finish line could have been a little more obvious. The two Sunderland mascots were there, high-fives all round and then off we go – nice tech tee and a bottle of water.

Pow!

Over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered a lovely bit of fun in running. When you receive your number, sometimes, just sometimes, you get a magic number. Now, 1 is clearly a magic number, as is 13 or a nice round figure like 100. However, the Ditch-Number is pay-dirt for an ultra run. But what is a Ditch-Number?

Imagine the scene; you’ve been running for many hours, you’re tired, a bit confused and not as steady on your pins as you would usually be. It’s probably raining, it’s Britain after all, and there’s not a day you can guarantee you won’t get rain. Unless it’s snowing.

You stumble a little, veer to the side and through your misty carb-starved eyes you fail to notice you’re going off the path. Slip, trip, whoops, plump.

You’re in a ditch.

It’s wet.

You’re upside down.

After a certain amount of running this feels like a safe and comfy place to be, so perhaps you need a little snooze.

Eventually another runner or a marshall or the sweeper will find you, and at this point the Ditch-Number comes into its own.

You see, a Ditch-Number is any number that reads the same upside down that it does the right way up. No chance you’ll be mistaken for Mr Scoggins from Wayward Heath* and sent to some la-di-dah private hospital**.

So, the holy litany of Ditch-Numbers is this:

1, 8, 11, 69, 96, 101, 111, 181 and so on***.

I had the pleasure of running The Wall in 2013 with 101, and I’m running the Jedburgh Ultra in 11 this year, then the Jedburgh Half Marathon the day after with number 8.

C’mon, you want a Ditch-Number, don’t you?

I knew it…

*Apologies to Mr Scoggins, you’re likely a good five miles ahead of me, and you probably don’t want people to think you’re the inverted snoozer, do you?

**Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just that when they find out I’m not Mr Scoggins they’ll throw me back in the ditch.

***I may have missed one, five or two hundred in there – I started thinking through the numbers and got a bit tired.

I hadn’t intended to run this race, I thought I was going to be busy, so it was a bit of surprise last Wednesday that I found myself looking at a free evening.

The day started well, a quick message on Facebook showed that there were some places left on the night, so the stage was set. Almost.

The race started at 7:15pm, registration for those last few places began at 6:15pm.

I left work in good time at 4:30pm for the half-hour journey home to get ready and get down there. And then disaster struck.

The motorway was crawling, seriously inches at a time, and it took me a gut-wrenching two hours to get back – only a blast of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” on the iPod stopped me from boiling over, but eventually I got back. A quick change and out we go – the race is only a few miles from the house, so I drove down, rushed in at 6:50pm and discovered there were still three places left in the 200 line-up. Handed over my pennies, grabbed my number and a few safety pins and headed out.

In all the excitement I hadn’t really twigged to the fact that it had been tipping down most of the day, and was still raining now. Now the imminent stress of getting a place had passed I started to wonder what I was up to – a 6 mile run in the wet and the mud. Then I remembered, I’m a hardy northerner, unfazed by precipitation, and mud is something to enjoy. So that’s fine then, just the race, eh?

I bumped into the marvellous Andrew Callcott, member of the PBF Running Club who were organising the event. He’s looking very trim and hill-ready, a proper fell-runner if I ever beheld one. A bit of a chat and I discovered he was running sweeper for the race.

Turned on my GPS, only to see a “low battery” message. Hmm, maybe it’ll last, perhaps I left it turned on after my abortive run the other night?

Announcements, count down and off we go! Pressed ‘start’ and the GPS turned itself off. Good start.

I sped(!) off up the path with the other runners, heading up the beautiful Derwent Valley. The choice of crisps for a mid-afternoon snack started to show itself as a bad one, as I soon developed stabbing pains in my stomach that resolved themselves into an almighty stitch, the like of which I’ve never had before. Still, stitches are stitches, eh, and on you go, the end isn’t going to get any closer.

When I ran this for the first time last year, I was stunned with how lovely it is, just a mile or two from the Metrocentre and hiding away from the main road. Up the old train line that forms part of the Coast-To-Coast cycle path and across the viaduct over that spans part of the valley. The first few front runners came past the other way, with a cyclist in front to clear one side of the lane.

I remembered there was a bit of a hill after this, thin, muddy and I remember holding another runner back last year until I realised then letting her get past as I gasped up. Not so bad this time, though I did walk a bit as I think I’d set off a bit too excitedly, and when I reached the top it was down the other side, a mixture of the fun of running and the stabbing of the crisps working through my gut.

Half-way point and you turn back down the valley – there’s a water station that was belting out music, just as there was last year. As I came up it changed to Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F”, which made me laugh like an idiot – you don’t hear that song much these days, but it was straight back to memories of watching Beverley Hills Cop. :-)

Down, down, down to the floor of the valley and through meadows. Along by the river through puddles and mud and then a turn up another hill.

I wonder how many shorter races include kissing gates? It’s an interesting feature, and while it didn’t bother me so much, I wondered how the front-runners had managed, and whether they’d wasted valuable seconds saying “after you”, “no, no, after you”, “oh, I couldn’t possibly”. It would have been the right thing to do.

Back up onto the track now and after a wee while the stabbing was bad enough that I had to walk a tiny bit and clutch at my sides – a couple of finished runners heading back up enquired if I was OK, which I pretty much was, then off again.

It’s about two miles down the track to the finish, though it feels like longer, round the corner, back into the cricket club and Bob’s you uncle. I checked with a lad who came in at the same time as me and he reckoned about 53 minutes.

Better than that, the results the next day showed 51:48 – slightly slower than the previous year’s 48 minutes, but then I doubt I was stupid enough to eat crisps then, as I was planning on being here that time. I was pretty happy with the result, and wandered back to the car to drive home.

So, we can add crisps to the list of things not to eat while running or in preparation. So far the list contains:

  • Peanut butter
  • Crisps
  • Dried apricots
  • Muesli

Actually, the dried apricots is a simple never, ever eat, they are like tiny hand grenades to my (clearly delicate) digestion and muesli is much the same. If only I had the constitution of the chap eating pork-pies and custard mid-way through the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra I might be fine.

Next up, Blaydon Race. One of my favourites.

Rock on!

…well, one of them.

After years of service, Righty Toe-Nail and I have parted ways. It was an amicable split, he popped off and is heading for pastures new.

I think it was Glasgow to Edinburgh that did it, 55 miles in my company was just a bit too much for him. I can’t say I blame him, I was getting a bit bored of me by the end.

I hope you’ll all join me in wishing him all the best wherever he may end up, and hope that he doesn’t start up a rival blog, as he’s been quite a significant contributor over the years.

Ta-ta Righty, you’ve been a great source of support.

:-)

Soooo, there’s this magazine, Like The Wind, that came out a couple of months ago, you may have seen it. Lots of grand stories about runners and their lives, proper motivational stuff. I bought a copy, I stuck the the post cards up at work, I read it once, then again, and put it back in its envelope to keep it safe.

I wrote them a little e-mail, saying that I liked the magazine. Come to think of it, it may have been on Twitter.

They had a look over here at the blog and said they liked it.

I came up with a couple of ideas for articles and sent them in, they suggested I write one up and send it through.

I did.

Long story shot they put my article in the second issue and it’ll be available around the end of the month.

If you want to get a copy and marvel at the transference of my wonky thought process to the printed medium, you can order one here:

Like The Wind shop

You really ought to get one, it’ll be mint – the other stories alone will make it worthwhile, you might even like mine…

Consider my trumpet well and truly blown.

(I won’t believe it until I actually see it in print, but I can’t pretend I’m not extremely excited.)