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Look, you know I’m not a great artist, right, I plug along as I go, mostly just amusing myself. On that basis, what the woods looked like wasn’t at all like the picture above.

But it was kind of like that.

It was raining a little, which is fine, and it was warm, which is also nice.

As I tramped around the woods, feeling like a speedy goblin, I came across a stand of trees where the steam had started to rise from the damp wood and foliage. The nearest trees were wet and dark, as they went further back the mist played amongst the trunks and the trees slowly faded away.

It was beautiful, and another one of those moments when I wished I’d had a camera with me. But I didn’t have a camera, though luckily I’d brought along my eyes and brain.

That would have been fine if I hadn’t then started to think about Lino printing and how I could make a frame to print multiple colours on one print.

You see how your mind started wandering when reading that last bit? Well, that’s what happened to me, so I figured I’d best get a quick sketch down in my notebook before it evaporated entirely.

Some runs pay you back with more than just a nice run… some runs smack you in the face with beautiful sights.

Rock on.

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I don’t want to waffle on for hours about this, as it might stop you from reading all the way to the end, but it could be difficult not to, so bear with me a little. That’s me at the start, by the way, looking like the rainbow love child of Ron Hill and Pan’s People. I quite like this picture of me, it looks like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards and then kidnapped by hippies. That’s the look I aim for on a really long run, I find it scares off any leopards and bears – I have a clean slate in the leopard and bear department. The photo was taken by the remarkably fine Lee Nixon, the Outlaw Photographer.

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That’s the map, well, that’s my map, or drawing I guess, it’s a pretty poor map as maps go, so let’s call it an infographic of the route? That chap in the middle is St Cuthbert, the first British ultra-runner, and some say the person who started the whole ultra-running movement. In-between being pious and fighting vikings, he liked to get out for a bit of a jog. However, he was also a bit of a Forrest Gump character, and found it difficult to stop once he’d found his running mojo. I think we’ve all been there, right?

He set off from his house in Melrose, over the Eildon Hills, hung a left just before reaching Jedburgh and then passed through Kirk Yetholm before heading over the Cheviot Hills (he liked a bit of hill training) to Wooler to re-supply on jelly babies before continuing on to the beach. As luck would have it, he came out at Lindisfarne and skipped over the causeway, discovering that someone had built an abbey there, so he decided to stay for a bit.

Virtually none of that is true, but it’s a grand story that I made up while running St Cuthbert’s Way in the wrong direction. You might ask why the wrong way? Well the thing about causeways is they get a bit damp at times, and the 60-odd people starting would all be finishing hours apart, so better to get the time-critical bit out of the way first and avoid wading.

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And that’s me heading over said causeway – the boxy thing is a refuge in case you get caught out trying to finish an ultra marathon in the right direction and the tide comes in…

As photos are cool, here’s one more, of everyone at the start on Lindisfarne:

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Grand bunch of folk too. I got to see the back of most of them heading off as I headed into my familiar almost-last-tending-to-last place early on.

As far as runs go, this one was a doozy – it really has it all, even a volcano! I don’t think James Bond could come up with finer plot.

You start with a causeway off the island, head across gentle meadows and some fun minor hills on the way to Wooler. The last hill into Wooler is a cracker, just to get you in the mood.

So, that’s me to the first main checkpoint at Wooler Bowls Club, and I’ve already overlooked the fantastic marshalling at the checkpoints on the way to Wooler. The organisation was ace, everything I’ve come to expect from a Trail Outlaws event – seriously, I’d say they’re doing a cracking job of single-handledly turning the North East into an even more stunning venue for some mighty fine running. St Cuthberts Way, the Kielder Dark Skies Marathon and I’m sure the upcoming Sandstone Way Ultra are all immense, even the Penshaw Pieces of Eight half marathon turned out to be a gem of a run in a location I’d never realised was quite so well stocked with trail.

A not-so-quick turnaround at Wooler, and my first chance to try my novel refuel choice, sushi! If you’ve read the last few posts running up to St Cuthbert’s Way, you’ll know I tried a thing or two out, and my key strategy was built around cucumber maki (cucumber rolled in rice and surrounded with seaweed – I hold onto a hope of getting sponsorship from Yo! Sushi one day – when I was buying a shed-load of cucumber maki to take away and explained it was to fuel me through a 100km run they seemed bemused), gluten-free vegan chocolate oaty biscuits and diluted Irn-Bru. First pack of sushi and it felt like a good choice with a spot of soy sauce, they shook hands with my tummy and agreed to all get on.

Out of Wooler and into the second big chunk, and it’s time to introduce some hills. The Cheviots to be exact, and they manage to pack a lot of hill into what looks like a short space on the map. But beautiful, really, really beautiful. Eventually you reach the border between England and Scotland, which looks a bit like this:


Still looking jolly at this point. From the border you get the first view of the Eildon Hills, the volcano you have to scale to get to Melrose on the other side and the finish. From here it looks both small and not that far away. Neither of these facts turn out to be true…

More hills, more hills and then a few more hills just for good measure. There was a bit of woodland in there, with a confusingly vague track through it, but we made it through.

Eventually you reach Scottish civilisation in the form of Kirk Yetholm (or maybe Town Yetholm, I can never remember which is which) the starting point for the Pennine Way.

Along to Morebattle, the next main checkpoint and more sushi. Sushi was still good, as was the Irn-Bru.

There’s a hill, called Wideopen Hill that hides just outside of Morebattle. It’s the mid-point of St Cuthbert’s Way, apparently and also the highest point (there’s a sign to tell you this, I’m not full of St Cuthbert’s Way trivia). The top of it looks like this (complete with sign)…


However, as it’s the highest point, it’s also a crazy long climb, and it’s one of those hills that just looks to keep going. You’ve just congratulating yourself for having reached the summit when another summit appears, and you’ll never guess what’s behind that? Uhuh…

Onwards we go, and we’re half way now, so there’s no point in turning back – on to Bonjedward, and the first hand-powered car-wash in Scotland (as far as I know). We picked up the sweepers here, or maybe they picked us up, that’s probably more like it. You cross the road here and drop down to follow the river then we’re on the back half of the Jedburgh Ultra, the wee church at Maxton, St Boswells, then on to the Eildons.

I haven’t mentioned the time yet – this caper kicked off at 8am in the morning on Saturday. By now it was getting dark, so head torches were the order of the day.

Up, up, up the slope of the Eildons – luckily it was over the saddle – the Jed Ultra goes right up the side of the biggest one, so I was pretty thankful that wasn’t called for. It still felt like quite a climb.

Eventually, and it felt like forever, but the top of the saddle was reached and the first view of Melrose. Just a mega-muddy downhill and a slight direction malfunction and into Melrose itself, and a lone figure in a car which turned out to be Phil Turton, one of the Outlaws-In-Chief and probably the most welcome sight of the day. A stagger to Melrose Abbey to mark our cards (literally) and then the extra mile or so through town to the finish at the village hall.

The light was starting to leak back into the day, the birds were getting their act together and the most amazing 68 mile (that’ll be 100km) adventure was at a close. I reckon I looked OK, all things considered…


Still. Bloody. Smiling.

I think I thanked everyone in the room fairly indiscriminantly and often, I babbled about how fantastic the run was (quite rightly too), then headed back to my tent back on the edge of town to try and get some sleep. I went to sleep wearing my finisher’s medal on, some things are important and should be held on to.

Time? Well, the time at the finish was 4:30am on Sunday, so that’s 20.5 hours on the hoof. There was a lot walking in the second half. A lot of good chat with other runners along the way, which surprised me as I always think I’m a solitary runner, but I honestly think the people was what got me through – the other runners, the marshalls the whole bloomin’ lot – Phil, Tim, Lee, Flip, Tony, just a grand family of people. The Munros too – Helen and John, who I know more from the Scottish ultra scene, so a lovely surprise to see here – Helen seemed to be at every checkpoint in her role as the Angel of Chivvying to try and make sure there was a minimum of Messing On. John, along with Dave Hetherington as the Grim Sweepers from Bonjedward onwards to the end, always with a subtle suggestion of “mebbes run a bit, it’s downhill after all”.

Would I do it again? For sure, but I think it would only work if I could find the time to properly train for it, which is tricky. All the core work with Chris at NUCAS has paid off, but I hadn’t put the miles in to be honest, and I think it showed. One for the future perhaps, more shorter ultras first. I did feel bad about finishing after the official 18.5 hour cut-off, the marshalls and everyone involved have given up their time and I don’t like the idea I’m keeping them up.

Speaking of marshalls and the Trail Outlaws, I did have a thought as I was stumbling through Melrose that those hi-vis jackets would look minty with a logo on, something to continue the fab cowboy theme, sort of like this…


If you’re going to be an outlaw, best be a Trail Outlaw.

Best. Race. Ever.

No, honestly, Irn Bru – I think all the ultra-running north of the border has rubbed off.

Irn-Bru

It’s vegan too, which is pretty cool, or I wouldn’t be drinking it, would I?

Knowing what stat-monkeys you are, here’s the low-down on the numbers…

Per 100ml

  • Calories: 42kcal
  • Fat: NONE!
  • Carbohydrate: 10.3g
  • of which sugars: ALL OF IT!
  • Protein: NONE!
  • Salt: <0.01g

I reckon I used about 400ml of the 500ml bottle (which is two servings, apparently), after shaking it well to get as much gas out as possible, and topped it up with water. It was still, well, a little frisky as I started running, and the bite valve of the water bottle started farting (I can think of no better way to describe it) every now and then as the last bit of gas built up and escaped.

It was quite tasty diluted, a bit like cream soda, if you know what I mean, and seemed to sit fairly well in my stomach. A lovely happy orange colour, which I reckon will come in pretty handy when I’m 60+ miles into next weekend’s run. If I have a bottle at the start and at each drop-point, that’s say 1200ml which will be 504 calories and 123.6g of sugar. Is that good? Every calorie is a good thing, not so sure about the sugar but hey. Teamed up with sushi and biscuits, how can it be anything other than a kick-ass nutrition plan?

I have a sneaky plan to see if I can jam an apple in my pocket, and figure out if that works or not – I’m a bit worried about it, but if I can add that to my existing fruit-running-family that consists entirely of “banana”, then I’d be doubling up on the options. Also, bananas don’t like being shoved in a pack and jounced, they’re much more demure than that, whereas apples are hardy derring-do fruits, and like a ride in a microscopic backpack.

Rock on!

 

Velociraptors. Again.

Posted: 01/07/2015 in Uncategorized

You know how it goes, you train hard, you learn new techniques, you change your approach to nutrition and pacing, you study motivational self-hypnosis tapes.

Day of the race it all goes to pot, and despite your best efforts you’re being chased through a meadow by a velociraptor. 

Again.

  
All of which goes to show why I shouldn’t be left in a car park with a pad, a pen, my phone and time on my hands. 

Reckon this one is in salute to Jay, over at  Born to Plod – I’d only half considered the possibility of dinosaur-pursuit before reading his blog, and don’t get me started about the octopi…

So you probably thought I’d given up when I reached ‘b’ for ‘biscuits’ in the search for things to eat while running unfeasibly long distances and trying not to have unbelievably bad stomachs, puking or well, let’s not go any further gentle reader, eh?..

But no, in the interest of being of service to every other half-arsed vegan ultra-runner who could never get a plan together either, I’ve been out again.

This time I went a bit more refined, a bit more cultured. I went for the exotic far eastern food-belt-delivered heaven that is sushi. As a vegan, I stay away from the fishy variety, the meaty variety, the eggy variety and any of the others than have mayonnaise.  Fair play when you’re making it yourself (and I can, after a fashion – though my sushi rolls tend to look more like a big green carrots, rather than the perfect cylindrical masterpieces you see on the conveyor), but a problem in most sushi places.

We sometimes go to Yo! Sushi (or is it Yo Sushi! – the grammar is too confusing) and I tend to have cucumber maki. If you’re not familiar with the types of sushi (hi mum!) then this is the fella we’re talking about:

Cucumber-maki

What you’re looking at there is this; a thin strip of cucumber in there middle (with a few daring sesame seeds, why not), surrounded by lovely sticky sushi rice, all encased in a fabulous carry-all tube of sushi nori, which is seaweed if you want to get technical about it. [Which reminds me of a joke, why did the octopus come on to shore? Because the sea weed. Thank you very much, I’m here all night.]

I know you’re all crazy statistic-fans, so here’s the run down on the numbers:

  • Calories: 93 kCal per serving (six of the tiny morsels of fun)
  • Fat: <0.5g
  • Saturates: <0.1g
  • Sugar: 3.3g
  • Salt: 0.67g

I have no idea if they’re good or bad numbers – Yo! Sushi label them all as “low” apart from the salt which is “medium”. From a running perspective I’m thinking they’re about as good as a gel maybe?

They’re easy to transport, as the seaweed holds them together pretty well, a quick dash of soy sauce and they’re ready to go. I’m not sure they’d hold up to repeated jolting around in a bag, it worked OK tonight, but I only went a few miles…

They’re tasty – honesty, I ran six miles, ate them then ran back. They’re nice at the best of times, but not exactly the strongest of taste. However, after six miles they’re bloody lovely – just about perfect on the “restart the taste-buds, Captain” front. The little salty hit from the soy sauce is nice too.

They go down well, they stay down well. Both of which are pretty vital. There were no particular or peculiar side effects.

In short, I plan to use ’em! I reckon they’re more of a drop-bag snack, something to whip out and eat when you take a minute. I don’t plan to have wasabi with them (it’s like ultra-hot horseradish) as I think this would tempt fate a little much. Pickled ginger I’m not so sure about, it is an adaptogen after all, and that might be handy, eh?

I’m also secretly hoping to start a trend to more refined dining at drop stations – you never know, it may catch on and one day you might see a swan carved out of ice, on a dining table, surrounded with high-backed chairs and a silver-service. You never know.

Right, so, here’s the thing…

You know all those things you’re not supposed to do with shoes? Like get a new pair just before a race, significantly change the profile of the sole, anything that will affect your running form. You know, those things? 

Occasionally you hear tales of woe of people who’ve tried it – blisters, sore knees, legs flying off mid-race, you know. Chafing, even.

Well, I think I’m about to join that queue of idiots, and her’s why… (Sort of).

Back in the mists of 2012, before I’d been running for a full year, I hurt my knee. It was (thinking back) probably just an overuse thing, combined with a bit more bulk than now. At the time, it felt like a big deal. I nearly went to see a podiatrist about it, but my doctor got in there first and gave me the sage advice that has stood me in good advice all these years later, “really go for it”.

At about the same time, I discovered minimal shoes and slowly transitioned into using them.

The knee got better, the running continued, and to this day I almost exclusively run in minimal shoes, namely Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail shoes. These beauties:

  

Doesn’t matter if it’s road, trail or fell, Parkrun or ultra marathon, these have done the job. On longer runs I get sore feet, which is the downside, and sometimes a bit of joint pain after lots of road or shingle.

Last week, I won the monthly shoe giveaway at my local Parkrun. I was amazed, and very, very pleased. But what to do – the voucher was for Sweatshop and so I needed to pick from their range – they don’t see Vivos, and the shop seems to be full of Nike and Karrimor all of a sudden, neither of which are really up my street.

A bit of checking, and they do sell a few Salomon shoes, including a few trail shoes. I’ve always liked the idea of their shoes, but they’re too expensive and too waffle-icious for me. But for free???

I went down to the shop, I also had a mild worry in my mind that if I didn’t act quickly, then the ace Gibside Parkrun team might decide there was someone else more deserving. I had a look at the shoes. I tried a couple of shoes. I had a bit plod on the treadmill. I felt for the position of my big toe, I tried a size larger. I fended off some minor-league upselling. I decided that I still thought Gore-Tex in a shoe is a silly idea when you end up in puddles and streams. I bought these.

  
I also bought some shorts, because I felt mildly embarrassed to get a £100 pair of shoes without producing my wallet. They didn’t have any of the ridiculously coloured ones in my size so I had to get black.

They’re like marshmallows to my feet, used to barely a sliver of rubber between me and the ground. I can feel the  drop from the heel to the toe, which is an odd sensation.

However, I’ve had them out a couple of times now, one average six-mile jaunt and one three-mile Parkrun dash. And they’re canny. No additional pains, less foot soreness. The only downside to date, other than I notice my Achilles’ tendon more simply because it’s not fighting against other aches. Which might be just what I need with a 65 mile run in a fortnight, something to cushion the feet a little?

But it’s a risk – it could go wrong, my leg might fall off, I could end up running in circles. Who knows? 

So I’m planning to get a slightly longer run in before then and that will be the clincher – if they still feel good then I’ll be doing the St Cuthberts Way Ultra in them, if not then I’ll stick to the Vivos and the sore toes.

Fingers (and toes) crossed, eh?

Blaydon Race 2015

Posted: 28/06/2015 in Uncategorized

The used to advertise McEwan’s Best Scotch as ‘The One You’ve Got To Come Home For’ in the North East. I used to like a bit of McEwan’s Best Scotch, though to be honest I probably liked Exhibition Ale a little better, or Newcastle Amber Ale (as opposed to Brown Ale).

The Blaydon Race is a bit like that, only not at all. It’s the one race I’ve run every year since I started running, it’s one of the only road races I’ll always try to enter. What other race has dancing and singing at the start, bands along the route and then pickled onions and beer at the end (and tripe and black pudding if that’s your bag).

There are many philosophical questions around the Blaydon Race – what colour will the commemorative t-shirt be (fingers crossed not day-glo again like in 2013)? What will serial run-streaker Lord Smythe be wearing (caveman this year – think it was a jockey last year and cupid the year before – no, cupid, I didn’t mis-type that)? Will rain make the sandwiches at the end soggy?

It was proper cracking weather, a bit of sun, but not outrageous. A couple of trips to the loo, then down the Bigg Market and past Balmbras. Into the club runners pen opposite the Cathedral and wait for the start. There was a minor delay – someone further down the course was getting medical attention, so much more important than hitting a clock.

Then we’re off!

The start of the Blaydon Race is amazing – running through the streets of Newcastle with hundreds of other people is something else. You probably need to try it – the nearest I can get to it is if you’ve ever been on a march or parade.

I felt like I was doing pretty good, after a mile there seemed to still be a lot of club runners around me. Two miles and heading along the Scotswood Road and still the same story.

It always surprises me the number of people who come out to watch and support the race – there isn’t much of the course that doesn’t have folk cheering, shouting and high-fiving. 

At the end of Scotswood Road, over the bridge and the new route along the dual carriageway instead of through the industrial estate. Once again, you never know how hilly a bit of road is until you run on it, and this bit was a harder slog thanI’d thought.

Then the run along Chain Bridge Road and into the finish – I looked at the clock and figured it must be wrong – it looked like I was under 45 minutes after last year’s 48 minute speed-fest. I got my t-shirt and picked up a pickled onion and back to the car – my phone already had a results message 42:37 – flippin ‘eck!

I have no idea how I can live up to that next year… 😬