#TrailTeam2014

Ooh, there’s a big chunk of excitement in the air at Angrybees Manors. I’ve got a place on the Berghaus Trail Team 2014 try-out day at Helvellyn on 26 April. From this and the London day later on they’ll make the final choice for the 2014 team of die-hard striving athletes.

Gulp.

Looking back at the 2013 team, they all look very sporty indeed, and not the back-of-the-pack bunch that I would usually rub shoulder with. On that basis, it looks as though my “I run funny. You’ll laugh” approach to the application was probably playing to my killer strengths. Saying which, a year of training with support from Berghaus, Torq, LED Lenser not to mention the fine folk at Trail Running Magazine might just turn me into an uber-athlete. Something must.

Here’s hoping they have a slot open for “funny chubby chap” in the 2014 line-up, and that you get points for relentlessness, or maybe one for vegan-minimal-almost-walker. If you get marks for keeping going for silly distances despite being a bit wounded then I could be in with a chance. If anyone wants to write to them and extol the virtues of a fat-lad-made-good and how you’d use their stuff endlessly if they can show what a massive difference it makes to Mr Slowpoke then that can only be to the better.

Here’s hoping I fill a unique niche on the day and they love a tryer. As we say in the north east, “shy bairns get nowt”.

Maybe they’re looking for a surrealist blogger, that could be good too, perhaps I should play to my other strength… :-)

Rock on – the trails look lovely.

Helps if you like canals…

IMG_0072Ooh… where to start?

The morning of 5 April dawned rather murky in Glasgow city centre. I’d travelled up with Jon the afternoon before on the train from Newcastle via Edinburgh to the relative comfort of the Premier Inn on the north side of the river. We figured it to be about a mile from Ruchill Park, the start of the ultra marathon.

Getting up in the morning, we were told to get the train from Charing Cross to Partick which was near the park.

Charing Cross Station - going well at this point

Charing Cross Station – going well at this point

 

This turned out to be dead wrong.

Arriving at Partick station, we asked for directions and we greeted with one of those inward whistles that tells you’re clearly asking something daft. Apparently we’d managed to travel away from our destination. Jumping into a cab, we started a dash across town to the park. Luckily we’d started off a good while before registration started, so we weren’t too pushed just yet.

Into the park, and we stumbled upon the transit van serving as check-in. Quick queue, get numbers, leave drop bags and our bags for transport to the finish and then wander around like slightly surprised, and in my case mildly tubby, gazelles. We formed a wee herd.

The Registration Bus

The Registration Bus

Eventually the start loomed, and we formed up, toeing the invisible line.

The collective noun for ultra-runners? A Daftness.

The collective noun for ultra-runners? A Daftness.

And we were off!

Down the hill, over the bridge, right hand turn and there we are, the Forth & Clyde Canal.

And that’s it – 54 miles more of canal.

Canal. There was a lot of this...

Canal. There was a lot of this…

What? You want more?

OK, well, it all started relatively well, I was feeling pretty frisky. It was drizzling, which was not much fun, I was definitely a bit damp, but never quite enough to put on a waterproof. Temperature was good, and it wasn’t blisteringly sunny, which worked in my favour. Saying which, I still came out of it with a bit of a tan.

Running with Jon was good company, a bit of chat about random things,  as well as with the runners passing us and the occasional one we passed.

Out of the city and the canal became a bit more leafy and there were lots of greenery. For a while we ran with no. 131, Michael Muckian, a marvellous vegan of a man, and spent a while talking about all things veggie and vegan.

Around 18 miles in my left knee started to twinge a bit – not a good sign, we switched to a bit of a run/walk combo, trying for fifteen minutes running to five minutes of walking, which helped a bit, though the 15 minutes started to shrink quite quickly.

At mile 22 we met the Falkirk Wheel, a rather fab bit of engineering that replaced a whole set of locks to join the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Grand Union Canal that leads all the way to the middle of  Edinburgh, our eventual goal.

The Falkirk Wheel!

The Falkirk Wheel!

A quick spot of lunch, and I could barely eat my slightly soggy samosa, even though it was from the M&S. Another runner was eating pork pies dipped in custard – which just goes to prove that ultra-runners are a doggedly practical lot who make no allowance for the outdated rules of popular culture.

After lunch, a trot to the top of the hill to join the Grand Union, and the knee was still feeling a bit wonky.

The top!

The top!

We’d been told pre-race that there was a tunnel to go through with no real lighting and that we should bring a head-torch to navigate through. We found the tunnel at the top and figured it was a bit of an over-reaction, it wasn’t that long and was fairly well lit. Still, better safe than sorry, I suppose.

On the other side of the tunnel and on we went, along and bit and then …hang on… is that another tunnel entrance?

It is.

Into the interior...

Into the interior…

It looks longer and might I say darker.

This then, it the tunnel they were talking about. It was very long, about 0.4 of a mile and the lighting was virtually non-existent. This was the tunnel I’d enticed Jon onto the run with.

It lived up to expectation.

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It’s a bit dark in here…

We opted to stumble through without head torches. It seemed the right thing to do. We nearly died.

On the other side, and on the run towards Linlithgow and me knee wasn’t getting any better. I felt it was only right to let Jon know that I wasn’t sure I’d make it the full distance within the cut-off time of 12 hours and he might want to skip on ahead. It turned out his ankle was wonky, and with an upcoming cycling trip abroad he was thinking about pulling out rather than daftly carry on and properly damage it. Fair point, and probably sensible, and after a bit of chatting we moved to a quick walk to Linlithgow, where Jon took the train back to Edinburgh.

Over a viaduct on the way to Linlithgow

Over a viaduct on the way to Linlithgow (with extra thumb)

After Linlithgow, things went slowly, but steadily – I ran a bit, walked a bit, ran a bit, walked a bit, talked to myself a little bit, walked a little bit more, and so on.  I’d stocked up on gels and snacks again at the Falkirk Wheel, so I perused the sugary treats on offer from my chest-mounted sweetshop to distract myself from the remaining miles.

I began to realise that as well as lots of flat water, there’s one thing you find a lot of by the canal.

Bridges.

Just one of the many, many bridges.

Just one of the many, many bridges.

Seriously, there’s a lot of bridges. I know you need to get over the canal, but how often exactly?

Very often, it turns out.

When I reached Checkpoint 4 at Broxburn, it was looking like I could almost make the cut off. However, as there were only a few runners still out, we were being paired up as the light went. I was paired with a South African runner, who was down to walking at that point, and so the pace slowed a bit. The marshals said that the finish line would be kept open for us, so there was no need to worry about hitting the cutoff.

Off we went, talking and walking. And the light slowly went. The pair of women in front of us, who appeared to be champion power walkers sped off away and we were left alone. We ambled through Checkpoint 5 at Ratho and confirmed we were good to get to the end (another 8 miles).

Soon we hit the edge of Edinburgh and past estates of houses, and the there were suddenly led lights embedded in the sides of the path – it was grand, and as darkness fell it was just enough to light to see by and avoid the water’s edge.

After a while we caught up with another couple of guys, a friend of the South African runner and a Welshman, who had some kingsize blisters going on. We limped on as a group, into the centre of town – much checking of GPS trackers and trying to figure out who’s was on the money and therefore how far there was to go.

Into a more affluent looking area now and there were some bars – we reckoned about half a mile to go, and started looking for the finish. We knew it was at the end of the canal, so there was little chance we were going to miss it.

As with pretty much every race, the end was a little further than advertised, it came in at 55.5 miles. We rounded the final corner and stumbled into the finish, all four together. We crossed the line in a line, joint 123rd finishers and brought the race to a close. We all finished in 13:25:37 a cool hour and twenty-five minutes over the cut-off. T-shirts and medals all round.

And that was it.

You still want more?

OK, I got a cab to the hotel. That was an adventure in itself.

Like a ruined little old man, I creaked into the hotel lobby at snail-like speed. It was a fairly well to do hotel, and the site of a cretin in shorts who’d just run 55 miles and now couldn’t walk caused a bit of a stir amongst the great and the good. I gave my name, got my keycard and took the lift up to the room.

A bit of screaming and whimpering and one shower later and I headed down to the bar. I figured I’d earned one, maybe two beers and a whisky. The restaurant had closed, so some nuts were the only sustenance available other than more beer.

And off to bed.

The next morning I did the ‘can I walk’ test and found I miraculously could. The knee was a bit pants, but I had Jon’s Rocktape from the day before. I watched the video online for a stuffed-up-knee and tried a bit on the ol’ knee and do you know, it worked pretty well.

A few days later and the knee is going pretty well – I assumed I’d be out of action for a couple weeks at least, but I’m now planning to have a wee recovery run in the next day or two.

Rock on. Kintyre comes next at the start of May.

I can only clap loudly in support of the organisers from Resolute Events – they were great. From the start to the checkpoints and keeping the finish open for us, they gave it their all and delivered a sound race. The marshals, those volunteering angels of light that lift the spirits of a knackered runner were as lovely as ever and deserve a medal of their own.  Whether because I enjoyed my short stint living north of the border, or through the warm welcome on the Ultra Dafties Training Group on Facebook, though I suspect as much because they’re just a great group of people, I do like a good Scottish ultra – they have a special atmosphere all of their own and I’d recommend you sign up for one and give it a pop. Also I must give an honourable mention to the bicycle-mounted photographer – he stuck around until the end and cycled back down the path to find us, blind us with a photo-op or two and check we were OK so he could report back. Can’t wait to see the near-finish shot, taken in the pitch black and probably one to scare the in-laws with.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who sponsored Jon and myself. We’ve raised almost twice the £200 we set out to achieve for Age UK North Tyneside. As I say every time, a quid or two at stake really keeps me focused on plodding through to the end.

Aieeee! Only a week to go.

Yippee!

Thanks for all the nice messages I’ve had from folk who’d noticed I’d misplaced my Mojo. After an extended search, I am able to offer the following brief update as to its status:

images-4

FOUND IT!

Not a long run, but it felt good while it lasted. Perhaps not helping in the distance or endurance stakes, but not bad in the finding-my-feet stakes.

Rock on.

Went out today with a plan that said 20 miles, a route of about 30 miles and came back with 3.5 miles. That’s not a good score for the day, is it?

But which one is mine?

But which one is mine?

I felt OK, physically, in fact I was running some pretty good miles. No particular twinges, aches or pains. But something was wrong with the ol’ mind. I just wasn’t into it today – it’s been a long time since I felt like that.

I can only hope it’s a one off and will be better next time, but it was a bit off-putting and I have to admit I’m not especially pleased about it.

In other news, the long run, which was supposed to be my longest run ahead of the Glasgow to Edinburgh, is now planned for next weekend instead.

Fingers crossed.

Osmotherley Trail Half Marathon (Hardmoors 26.2 Series)

Finish time: 02:55:33, position 120/151

I was planning to start this write-up talking about the runners drifting into the village of Osmotherley like a trail of ghosts, early in the morning in the mist before the world was up. I would have waxed lyrically about their wraith-like thin forms meandering up the road like spectres departing the mortal coil.

Nature, however, doesn’t always play ball and, in sharp contrast, the weather was proper lovely, sunny and while not exactly warm, it was the closest we’ve come to spring so far.

I’d hoped to get down to Osmotherley early to see the trail marathon runners off – another member of the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club (VCAC), Paul Kerrison was running in it and it would have been great to meet him and give him a veggie cheer off.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of a malfunction in getting across to the A19 and arrived at the car park at the Saw Mill at around 7:25. The instructions said 5-10 minutes to make it to the Village Hall. It took me more like 10-15, which immediately made me a little worried that I had underestimated the difficulty – if I’m taking a long time to make it to the start, what’s it going to be like when we start running?

I got to the Village Hall and hooked up with my running partner for the day, another VCAC runner, Guy Riddell – all round nice chap and another beard wearer. Since I started growing Mr Beard, I’ve noticed more of them at work, more of them down-in-the-streets and more out running. I’m not claiming this is down to my good influence* but it’s nice to see a bit of beardy brotherhood about the place.

Now for the tricky ritual that is preparation. Register, get your number (231), thank the Safety-Pin Gods that the organiser brought some along because the ones you thoughtfully put in the car this morning are still in the car, affix number to running vest, re-attach to running vest this time making sure not to pin through the back of the vest as well, pick up commemorative t-shirt, check it fits, stuff it into your already stuffed pack, queue for the toilet, keep queueing for the toilet, get a bit sick of queueing for the toilet, eventually get to the toilet, take care of ‘business’, go outside and wait-wait-wait.

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Guy on the left, me on the right – waiting for the start – photo by Paul Riddell

I met Paul, Guy’s brother who was marshalling and some of his running club, Sunderland Strollers and passed the time – I tried to turn the Ant+ HR monitor back on my Garmin, never having thought that trying to do this around lots of other runners who are also emitting HR monitoring goodness is not going to work – it’s the first time I’ve seen the “Multiple HR Monitors Detected” message and I had to slink off to re-sync away from the electronic chatter.

Just after 8:30, the impressive frame of Jon Steele, the Hardmoors Head-man emerged from the hall, gave us the briefing and some sage advice** then counted down from five to Go! and off we went, all chirpy and smily. We both agreed that we were a bit envious of the marathon runners who’d get a longer jaunt around the moors on a perfect day.

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And we’re off! Down Osmotherley High Street – photo by Paul Riddell

Off along Osmotherley High Street and we found ice! Even though the sun was showing his face, it was still early enough there was ice on the Tarmac. For the first couple of miles there were intermittent shouts wafting back from the front, “…ice…Ice…ICE…” then it was your job to pass the message back. I had a fleeting urge to shout “baby!”, as an homage to Vanilla Ice, but held back – I didn’t want anyone to slip while looking out for infant-based obstacles, or worse yet, the dreaded Ice Baby. At one point a car came past and we had a different call going back.

After a short while we made it off the road, onto the trails and hills began. Guy was looking pretty chilled and I was feeling canny, so we tramped up the first incline, but I could feel Mr Tendon waking up for a bit of a moan.

I’m usually a bit of a solitary runner – I train alone, I race on my own usually and I was a slightly worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up a few hours of chat, but it all seemed to go well, it seems a relaxed and grounded running-partner is key. This too could be considered good training for Glasgow to Edinburgh in April where I hope I’ll neither clam up or bore the legs off Mr Ritchie. A good chat about the club, vegetarianism, food, beer, bread recipes and the state of the world (now put to rights) went down well. In time, this would be interspersed with my gasps of “walking!” as we hit the bigger hills and finally on the smaller ones too.

Where I live, I’d describe it as being “hilly”, but I realise now it’s more “not quite flat”. The bigger hills had flagstones laid an age ago and worn by the boots of years gone by. Eventually we reached the moor tops and the view back north was amazing – I would have been tempted to take pictures if I wasn’t concentrating all my energies on keeping moving.

The weather couldn’t have been better, mild sun, virtually no wind and a few happy cloud scuttling across the skies. The usual loveliness of runners in the mid-to-back of the pack was on show as people passed the time of day while they overtook and were overtaken. It honestly brings a bit of a lump to my throat thinking back on it – in my experience the longer the distance, the harder the course the stronger the sense of camaraderie between runners. It’s only at massive events like the Great North Run this has seems not to be the case, and where I came across a chap barging his way through the field, on his mobile phone complaining to someone about the complete waste of time it all was because there were too many people there. I think that’s a minority view, but not something I was very heartened to see at the time.

The half-way point was a staggering out and back up Carlton Bank, stone stairs up a steep hill to the fell top and then a two mile run out to the turn around. As runners passed each other in the opposite direction they said hello and offered encouragement – “nearly there”, ” looking good”, “well done” and so on. Being a slave to non-conformity I added in the occasional “good beard” or “nice hat” where it was due.

To the half way point then, and there was Steve Walker, siting pretty in a bothy made of a tarp and a stick – it looked pretty inviting, I have to say. A quick stop for a photo then back again, with a bit more of a spring in our steps on the way down the hill.

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Into the half-way turnaround – photo by Steve Walker, the mid-point marshall

Back down the stone flags, but in an effort to go a bit quicker, we cut along the mud to the side – it’s properly muddy now, and we achieve our aim of going down a bit quicker by sliding uncontrollably some of the time. Arriving back at the checkpoint that served as the start and end of the out-and-back and another quick hello to Guy’s brother, Paul who was marshalling there.

We took a bit of a wrong turn, but only get a few yards before the runners behind us call out. Better than the score of folk who rushed past us at the half way point who’d followed an over-excited leader and had run an extra couple of miles before realising – when they zipped past us, they asked the mileage – it was about 6.5 at that point, but they were showing around 11. They seemed quite philosophical about it for the most, and you can’t argue that they got their money’s worth***.

There were further hills, that veered from the sublime to the incredulous, and some cyclists, as this is part of the Cleveland Way – through fields and woods and I realised we were running along the side of the moors that you can see as you drive down the A19. Finally onto a track, and a canter down into Osmotherley. A lady we’d passed on the way up Carlton Bank came back up behind us and had a bit more juice in her legs as she passed us and whizzed into the finish in the hall. Guy, I think, was still relatively fresh, and could have finished a good bit further up the field, probably even continued on for a full marathon, but I was a bit pegged, so I was glad to see the village hall.

In the door, give in my number then off to the largest and finest spread of food I’ve seen at the end of a race. Amongst the pies and sausage rolls there was a good bit of cake, biscuits and other veggie-friendly fare as well as muffins, a toaster and tea, coffee, juice and water.

In all it was a stinking good day – a lovely course, fantastic weather and the additional fun of meeting another club member. Harmoors run a set of full, half and 10k events, and I’d recommend them to anyone – they’re a good introduction to the moors and probably act as a good gateway into Jon’s longer events – 30, 55, 60 and 100 miles. I plan to go back and do more as time allows.

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I’m a smiley chap, even when the tendons are aching

* Of course I’m claiming that, I’m just not saying it in public, that would be mad – I am clearly the loss-leader of popular culture, you should watch what I do next, it’ll be awesome…

** ”Don’t get lost”. This, in trail running on the moors, turns out to be about the best advice you can get. Seriously, if you listen to nothing else, listen to this bit, it will do you well. Some people clearly didn’t hear this bit as will become evident later.

*** Jon Steele, the organiser has given two sets of prizes, one based on the conventional time to finish, and another on a pace basis for the people who ran an extra-long course – that’s good customer relations in my book, and another good example of how well the event was organised.

I recently found that a local company had started producing gels. Being a fan of local produce, I ordered a trial pack to give them a go.

CarbgelOUT

They duly arrived (very quickly!) and I opened the box to find three citrus gels, three berry gels and two cola gels (with added caffeine).

Tonight the plan suggested a four mile run, so that seemed like the perfect example to try out step one of what we will call The New Gel Procedure. There are only a couple of steps, but they go like this:

  1. Take gel before short run – this is the barf test. If I can go for a short run and not feel ill, “Go Windy” or feel generally unsettled then they pass phase one and progress to step 2.
  2. Use a few on a longer run and see if they do the job.

You should know straight off that I’m pretty picky about gels. They need to be vegan for one thing, which is always a bit of fun, but I got a very quick response to my question about the ingredients that they were fine. I also like my gels thin. To date I’ve stuck with High 5 gels because they’re easy to neck when you’re running with minimal water. In fact, the only thing that has drawn me away from the High 5 gels are Isogels by the same company, if anything even thinner and properly easy to take without any water at all. On one memorable run where the shops were shut, Isogels saved the day as I had a couple left that got me home when I ran out of water.

So, I chose a citrus gel – everyone makes a citrus gel, so they’re a good test. The tops are nice and easy to open, which is great once you’ve lost your senses on a long round, and the consistency was pretty much on a par with the High 5 gels, which is another big thumbs up. The taste was pretty good – not too sweet, not too tart – pretty much the baby-bear-porridge of gel tastes.

In it went, and off I headed. As I was feeling pretty good I had a bit of a turn of speed (for me, it’s all relative, 9 minute miles counts as speed) and figured this would jounce the contents of my stomach sufficiently to cause any upset of explosion.

To cut a long story short, they worked well, no undue effects, no discomfort, no feeling like I was going to be sick or otherwise jettison. I ran a tasty 9 minute mile, which is pretty good for me in the woods – could this be due to having the gel at the start? Quite possibly – we’ll find out the answer to that at the weekend when I head out for a longer run with a clutch of the blighters to keep me going.

I might even try the caffeine ones – I like a coffee, but I’ve always avoided caffeine gels as I have suspicions they’ll cause an unwanted effect.

So far so good, really happy with the gels. Watch out for the next instalment, the full Road Test.