Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

I read on someone’s blog once that most people read race reports to see how long it took.

5:18

If that was all you came for, then job done. But just in case anyone came for more detail I’m going to plough on with things.

To begin with, I got lucky number 7! I’ve lived in a few houses that were number 7, never on purpose, but it does seem to follow me around a bit. It was’t number 1, which is good – I had number 1 at the very first Trail Outlaws event, the Pieces of Eight at Penshaw Monument, and it felt like a lot to live up to*.

I got my t-shirt, which was pretty exciting – if you read my last post then you know that I doodled the doodle on the front, and to see it in actual real life on actual people was fantastic.


It really was ‘a dark and stormy night’. That much is true. Storm Kate kicked off about half an hour before the race started and tried new and interesting combinations of ‘wet’, ‘extra wet’, ‘windy’ and ‘chilly’ all the way round.

Last year’s Dark Skies was lovely and clear, with sunset, stars and all the stuff you’d have come to a dark skies park for. No so last night. I could have stood in the shower with the lights off in my running gear to fairly accurately experience it**.

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I managed to impress myself by running the first half or thereabouts without resorting to a sneaky walk – good going for me at Kielder, where the only bits that aren’t uphill or downhill are the bits that separate one from the other.

I’ve got a decent idea of the route as far as the dam in my head now, so I kind of knew where I was, I was’t caught out by the hidden one-mile-inlet where you can see the route to the dam in front of you, turn a corner and realise there’s another two miles to go before you get there.

The bit from the dam back to Hawkhirst was a hurt-fest of tired legs, tired brain and cold winds – it’s the second time I’ve ever thought I might be getting hypothermia while out running. I think it was because I walked a little to long on one bit, and my core must have cooled down – breaking into a shuffle-trot seemed to do the trick.

I had gone a bit tech-crazy, and as well as my Fitbit heart monitor I also had my Garmin on the other wrist, but I resisted the urge to look at either. I started playing ‘how many miles is this’ and irritated myself at my inability to figure it out. My phone alarm went off at 9pm, and I apologised to the people around me at that point – no-one wants to be shocked by Big Ben when they’re part way round a reservoir in Northumberland.

I made it through to Leaplish and then the final mile and a bit to Hawkhirst saw me summon up a slightly swifter*** stumble along to the finish line. I could hear someone behind me trying for a sprint finish, and briefly wished they’d explode in flames – after 26.5 miles it’s a bit rich to try and pick up a position or two in the final straight**** – they never quite caught up and I doddered into the finish hut, had my picture taken (I think) just as my glasses steamed up and I lost all vision. I found the finish desk, then a cup of coffee and then a bit of a sit down*****.

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All in all a fabulous run – the marshals should get an award for standing around in the rain. The organisation was grand, the people were cool. The medal was a cracking black number with the Plough picked out in tiny crystals – they go right through, so I reckon you can shine a light through. Genius.

To top it all off, five minutes after I got in the car and started heading home the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the moon came out. Really beautiful, and a few hours later than would have been nice.

I GOT MY PICTURE ON A RACE T-SHIRT – DID I MENTION THAT?

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*I managed to fight that urge and come nowhere near the front.

**I would have also needed someone pointing a wind machine in through the door, but that would be silly, right?

***It’s relative, OK, I think I was clocking 14 minute miles just before and got a 13 minute final mile.

****Other views on sprint finishes at the end of trail marathons in storms are available. But they are wrong.

*****An inherently dangerous thing to do after a long run – there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to get back up.

 

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Blaydon Race!

Posted: 06/02/2016 in Event, Running, Uncategorized

I got in!

I might have mentioned that I really like the Blaydon Race; it’s the only road race I really look forward to. It’s got its own song and everything, which is pretty cool in my book.

So, 9 June that’s where I’ll be, toeing the line with everyone else once again.

Get in! Better get out for a bit of a run…

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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.

This was my third go at the George Ogle Memorial Race – just a short hop from home and taking in the bottom of the Derwent Valley. It’s a nice tight run, six compact miles up the Derwent Walk and the trails around, and a great family feel with the local clubs well represented.

I felt so much better running it than in earlier years, I think the core training with Chris at NUCAS has paid off, with my newly discovered (but as yet still unseen) core.

The rain stopped just before the start and held off in a glorious window of running-ness, and I managed to pull off a new personal best on the course. No walking, either, though I still blame last year’s plodding down to ill-advised crisp eating on the afternoon before.

The time? Well, 46:18, and here’s a shot of me coming into the finish taken by Chris Haswell, (hellfirex on flickr).

Right, so there’s a few weeks to go until my next big run, and I figured it’s the right time for an honest-to-goodness appraisal of where I need to put in a bit of work to round off my planning.

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The raw material – one older, portlier-that-hoped-for runner with bad feet and a dreadful attitude to nutrition.

So, in no particular order, the bits I need to concentrate on are:

1. Uphill

Yes, it may be a bit of a cliche, but I’m not that good at going up hills. In fact, that’s not true, I’m dire at uphills. When I was running at Jedburgh I had to stop as the static-vision started in at the edges, and I realised I was about to faint. So I stopped had a bit of a worry while my heart calmed down and then on I went, plod, plod, plod. So, more uphill practise, I think.

2. Downhill

So, what goes up must go down. I thought I was canny at downhills, not fell-racing-mad good, but not that bad, either. Well, I’ve seen the person in front of me disappear from sight the last two times I’ve been to Parkrun, showing that I could definitely get a little better.

3. Flat

I don’t mind the flat, but it does rather go on, doesn’t it? The Glasgow to Edinburgh run was canny in its own way, but it took its toll on my feet – not sure they’ve ever recovered. I could certainly improve on my ability to run on long, flat stretches.

4. Undulating

While we’re on, that’s not so much fun, either, I mean, you can’t get yourself in a rhythm, can you? The run around Kielder Reservoir is one long undulation – it’s around 26 miles, not that much elevation change overall, but it just can’t make it’s mind up, one minute it’s up a bit, the next it’s flat, then it’s down a bit – after that, guess what, it’s up a bit again.

5. Walking

I never thought of walking as an important part of running. But it is, though, especially when you’re going a long way. I spent part of the Glasgow to Edinburgh run being leap-frogged by a couple of walkers – I ran past them, then walked, they walked past me at super-speed, I ran past them, and so on. I think (though I don’t know for sure) that my feet hurt more for walking than for running. If I tried to get better at walking then I might be more effective overall, you never know.

6. Standing still

I know, how could you be bad at standing still? Check points, drop bags, it’s all the fun of the fair – at Jedburgh I was 28 miles in and only a 10 mile stretch to go – got to the check point, bent over to get something out of my bag and CLURK! my back went a bit ouch. See, even inactivity can have it’s dangers…

7. Nutrition

You’d think if there was one thing I would have a god-given prodigious talent for, it would be eating. I mean, normally you’d have to hit me over the head with a brick to stop me from eating things, but when I’m running I kind of figure I’ll have something in a while, maybe another mile, maybe when I get to the top of that hill, eh, it’s always easier to eat going along the flat bit. Before you know it, I’m a bit hungry, but still struggling to sort myself out. I also can’t find good things to eat – as a funky vegan I’m already on a short list of things, and lo-and-behold most snack food joy is not vegan.

I managed samosas mid-way through Glasgow to Edinburgh, which were canny, and I’m in an experimental phase right now, with plans to try spring rolls (thank you Guy), pasties, sushi and maybe some kind of vest made out of knitted noodles so I can wear my dinner?

8. Navigation

Well, I can read a map well enough, from the comfort of my own living room, and imagine with excitement the majestic sweep of the landscape, that tarn up there, the funny way that fence dog-legs back onto itself  and forces you to run an extra mile if you’re not a fence-leaping-goat. But, I’m a bit pants when it comes to staying on the right course. Sometimes this is down to me, like at Jedburgh, where I ran an extra 1/2 mile, taking another three runners with me before we noticed no-one was following. Sometimes it’s because I blindly follow the fools in front of me – at the Dark Skies run at Kielder, I followed a confident-enough-looking group of runners along the wrong path then the scuttle back to the right path across the undergrowth.

I’d love to try a mountain marathon one day, but I’m scared I’d be found upside down in a ditch looking at the underside of my compass and wondering what had gone wrong.

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Maybe I just need to zoom in on the map a bit?

So, in conclusion, I think that if I can just nail uphill, downhill, flat, undulating, walking, standing still, nutrition and navigation then I think I might be in with a chance.

Did I mention choice of clothing? I’m not that good at that either…

Sooooo, I rarely win competitions.

I won a competition a couple of years ago and landed a pair of running shoes, that was cool.

Other than that, not so much.

At the start of the year, replete with Christmas feed and festivities, I was at work when an e-mail popped in with the chance to win a place on a two week METAFIT course. It sounded interesting, I mean, no one’s going to argue with ‘fit’, are they and ‘meta’ is exactly the sort of jargon-y motivational thing that’s guaranteed to make me wonder “eh?”.

So, I replied with my e-mail and that and thought nothing more about it. Until the end of last week when another e-mail arrived saying that I’d won a place on the course. Get in! I think. It suddenly dawned on me that I still had no idea what metafit is, and now I was going to do it. Had I misread, was it METALFIT, aerobics to the tunes of Iron Maiden and Motorhead? Actually, that would be quite cool, let’s hope I can’t read.

I can read. It wasn’t going to involve Slayer or System of a Down it would appear. On reflection that’s probably as well – those kick drums are quite quick and I may have spun a limb off if that was the tempo.

On Monday, I turned up with a bag containing my shorts, t-shirt and shoesies. And some water. They were pretty hot on the idea of hydration, so I felt I should go with it.

Lesson #1 – there’s nowhere to change, get changed at work and then skip over already be-shorted. Likewise with showers.

The course was run by NUCAS Bootcamps – they have a van with the name on the side, which makes them a pro-outfit in my book, I don’t have a van, so I’m full of respect.

Turns out they have trainers too, people rather than shoes, although they have those too. Chris was the trainer we had, and I think he may be the main man at NUCAS. He was canny, engaging and seemed to know what he was about.

Warmup first  – which was leg kicks, arm spins and so on, high-knee jogging on the spot and that kind of thing. All good, and I was frankly a bit tired from that section never mind the actual exercises.

Now the main event – a selection of things such as star jumps, burpees (that’s get down, feet back, then back below your shoulders, up to your feet with maybe a little jump, repeat), press-ups, more high-knees jogging, and the Plank.

Why woodwork, I hear you ask? And that would be a good question. But it’s not.

A Plank is where you get on the floor, and when the buzzer goes you get on your toes and elbows (below your shoulders) and maintain that pose with a straight back for however long. The first was ten seconds, then twenty, then thirty, forty and finally fifty. Ouch.

Anyone who’s read any of this blog will realise that I run, and that’s pretty much it. A bit of cycling recently and a bit of swimming, but in essence nothing that affects the core muscles (in as much as I understand them, which is like those ice-creams I used to get at the cinema with the chocolate sauce in the middle, which was called a Core). Again, as I run that’s arms pretty much not required, so they’re like the pipe cleaners. Really weedy pipe cleaners. Can you even get pipe cleaners in these anti-smoking times? Maybe they’re renamed and called “fake tiny arms” now?

Anyhow, the leggy bits were pretty canny, the arm and core bits were really hard and the plank bits were nice, but along with the press-ups played havoc with my temperamental big toes. Press-ups more than the others to the point that I started doing knee press-ups (which was nothing to do with the tiny arms, honest).

About forty-five minutes of exercise, rest, exercise, rest, exercise, rest, you get the idea and we were done. I was dripping in the same way I would expect from a hard run in the summer. Proper dripping, not some rubbish metaphor.

Back to work, shower, and on we go – a bit stiff as the day wore on to be honest.

Next morning my shoulders and calves were ouchy to the max – back to the doddery old man walk that I last used when I ran an ultra. Crikey!

Repeat on Tuesday, more focussed on core work, which didn’t involve chocolate sauce and sprinkles in the ice-cream-like manner I’d expected, but did involved a lot of Plank, and other exercises to knacker the bits that hadn’t been covered the day before.

Wednesday was rest day – thank goodness, more doddering, and I had to miss out Thursday for a meeting, which I have to admit was rather disappointing.

And then today, Friday.

Plank, burpees, star jumps, something called a volleyball jump, which is to crouch, jump to the side, jump up, crouch, jump to the other side, jump up, and so on. Some sprinting too, which was nice, I like a bit of sprinting as it goes.

Again with the dripping.

I’m really enjoying it, and there’s still another week to go yet – I’m a bit knackered but not broken yet.

I could get used to doing METAFIT, presuming the second week doesn’t kill me. Heck, I might even write an update if I make it through.

Rock on!