Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Ultra Trail 26 - Grizedale

A tough marathon in more ways than one.           

Sunday 18th November 2912 it's a beautiful sunny morning and we are lucky this late on in the year to have perfect conditions for the inaugural Ultra Trail 26 based in and around Grizedale Forest.

Grizedale Sculptures

It has taken a massive effort to get here, I have been on a constant emotional roller coaster for many weeks and in essence I have been really quiet depressed and struggling with every day life. I am so use to masking this complex illness in order to function that it is hard for others to have an insight or an real understanding of the battle I have been going through. It's not an issue I harp on about or want to draw attention to on a daily basis, ironic I know, I use my (this)blog in order to raise some awareness of the crushing impact this illness can have and also how it can be also improved and contained through exercise, for me through running and to create an understanding that despite it people can achieve.

I arrive at Grizedale ready to take on the 27.2 miles of forest, hills and lakeside with in my mind it's 2 loops if I'm not hacking it I can drop after loop 1, especially as I can't remember the last time I had a complete nights sleep - all part of this crappy condition

I'm starting on empty! but this will be my 10th marathon at marathon distance my 4th this year and I am looking forward to the race after recceing some of the course and knowing other aspects from other races in the area I know it's going to be good; the course did not disappoint.

Competitors gather for a race briefing at 10.15 in the Grizedale Forest courtyard and we are set off promptly at I am a little concerned as I realise it's a small field of runners and will I, as a plodder, get left behind? but I was given some sound advice "embrace your inner burner, let go of the plodder" or in reality there are sweapers out on the course.

Grizedale Forest
The race takes us through Grizedale forest on well established forest tracks, non of it flat but gradually and constantly undulating with some good steady climbs, the ones that slowly pull on your legs but your daren't stop. Some of the views across to the main mountains above Coniston are breath taking as you come out of the wooded forest to be greeted by the majestic hills it is quiet a contrast and just amazing.
It doesn't take long for me to drift towards the back of the pack but I do seem to hang on to the sight of the back of the pack, and I'm enjoying the journey despite massive waves of tiredness that I don't usually experience this early in a race but I accept I'm knackered. My wonderful partner is out and about walking in the area and pops up every now and then to cheer me on and I know is checking I'm ok, I am loving the sun, the views and the course. - Loop 1 12 miles is the warm up, the fun was about to begin.

After a pit stop to collect water, jelly babies and flapjacks at the checkpoint I choose to press
on quiet quickly if I stop I won't start out again. I'm pointed in the right direction and soon find myself on a rocky, stone strewn path to start the 1st short climb for loop 2, this is more like it love this sort of terrain and soon hook up with fellow runner Emmett and we fall into jogging, chatting as we explore this exciting loop and exchange race stories and experiences.

There is great variety from forests, lakes, Esthwaite Water, Windermere and the villages of Near Sawrey, Far Sawrey and tarns.We narrowly miss a bull in a field as a local dog walker tells us we have missed turning, too busy gabbing and lost our position on map. The variety is also under foot with some challenging climbs and descents in particular down the coffin trail to the edge of Windermere Belle Grange scarily slippy - a snail would have got down this quicker than me.

Hawkshead Fisheries
A sudden downpour as we move along the bank of Windermere  before another rocky climb that would take us over to Far Sawrey, darkness is falling and as we enter High Dale Park we give in an get the head torches out although improved vision doesn't stop me falling head first in the stream we were
crossing, a chilly dip and a fit of the giggles to compliment the bruised hip.

It is
noticable that we haven't seen other competitors for a couple of hours and we are now admiting to each other tiredness has set in, my companion hasn't done a lot of training on hills and we fall in to informal team work, I pull us up the hills Emmett keeps us going on the downs and flats.

The last 3 miles took an age I had really slowed down, I knew the route but the forest track in the dark seemed to never end and I was really hanging on I needed to eat but couldn't face anything. In the dark other runners caught us up and we chivvied each other along, the girls knew the course well and I realise I wasn't totally focused on where I was, the 4 of us complete the half mile or so together, a short rocky descent and across the road to a fairy lit finish line and a warm welcome. I was so pleased to have finished but felt like I had been run over by a tractor.

It had been tough getting to the start line for this one and it was a tough course, but so worth the effort, the challenge and pushing that bit further. Even for me this has taken a long time to complete, its not an indication of a poor performance more an indication of a challenging exciting course. 27.2 miles done.
Revived by really delicious soup I give an very brief interview about the event take a look then sign up for one of the other marathons next year, challenge yourself and you may find you love it too. Race video featuring 30 seconds of me!!!

The event organiser's Epic Events, the marshalls and volunteers were excellent. THANK YOU
It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

Friday, 16 November 2012

UTLD 50 1st Recce for 2013: Ambleside to Consiton

A night recce by a solo plodder ! Ambleside to Coniston

It has been an age since I have written my blog and a lot has happened in that time. I will come back to some of that in another posting.

I can't believe that we are here again meeting up to recce the UTLD50/100 routes or that I have indeed signed up again!! it really gets under your skin this race (in a good way) and I swore blind I'm not doing this event again!! move on Maxine.

Sooooo... here I am in Ambleside meeting up with some old friends and new ones; ready to listen to the talks on training for ultra events, choosing a headtorch and navigation. Even though this will be the 4th time I have entered the UTLD 50 I still pick up useful information at the recces and you can never cover the course enough.

Marc Laithwaite gave an insightful talk about our (Ultra Runner's) approach to training and how some of us are plodders - yep the slower ones of us that can get round and maintain an even pace no matter what race and the burners - speedy people.  Marc got the plodders to stand on one side of the room and the burners on the other and asked people to place themselves with in this running spectrum.


I am quiet clearly and was a proud plodder and firmly placed myself by the left hand wall to watch people spread across the room. Judging by the case studies presented by Marc of Sarah the plodder and Tom the burner I technically should have been stood outside the building, behind Sarah but then I would have missed the rest of the talk.

I learn the prognosis for a plodder is not good according to our knowledgable speaker especially for an old one who came into running whilst having a mid life crisis like me. My tendons are loosing their elasticity, I have rubbish running technique, I know you think its just a case of placing one foot in front of the other fast -think again; I lack coordination and my body doesn't understand speed. Apparently it is difficult to improve a plodder, I'm now gutted I'll never make Team GB.

My dreams/delusions of being an elite runner are dying whilst I listen to Marc who challenges us to focus on speed work, drills and good technique, for distance junkies who love a good mountain to climb this is indeed asking us to go cold turkey, you can sense the panic in the room and he tries to reassure us you won't loose your fitness if you change your approach to training, more twitching in the seats, I sense people wanting to run to Coniston NOW just to check not fitness has been lost listening to good advice.

This great talk makes me realise I have a lot to do to recaputure my deluded dreams, and plays to my own insecurities, (emphasis here) mine not imposed by others or Marc for that matter. I am now uncertain about the night recce I'm so slow they'll be waiting for me all night and to top it all off I learn I also have the naff headtorch as well. I recieve some comfort from the navigation overview - yep understand my map, contours, keep compass work simple etc.

Reminder slide from my talk this year
Those of you who have read my blog or had to eat chocolate that accompanies my talk that I gave at a UTLD recce this year will know I run (plod) more for health reasons than anything else; and have developed a great love for the lakes and a massive sense of achievement completing in marathons and Ultra's.

Catch up on this aspect here.

So recognising I really haven't felt great for quiet a few weeks I decide to set out early on the night recce. I ran most of the race this year on my own including the night sections and know the course well; so all I have to deal with for this recce is rain, mist and my decreasing confidence.
I inform the event organisers of my plans and will check in with the team and then call my partner telling them my route and contingency routes as I am out there on my own; off I trot it's pouring down.

There is something quiet special about running on your own out on the hills I have done this route so many times yet still the Langdale valley can take my breath away with its beauty, and I love the sense of climbing and covering the rough ground, it's still pouring down.

I soon, don't hold me to times, reach Chapel Stile and continue to where the checkpoint will be, the rain has eased for a moment and I can take my jacket off. The dusk is starting to drop and the mountains around the valley still look fantastic in their black silhouette, as I finish the climb to Side Pike cattle grid at the road to cross for Blea tarn and Blea Moss it is totally dark I stop for a second and get out naff head torches and re-group it is cold and wet I decide to wear all waterproofs and have a chewy bar.

There appears to be no-one in the valley and I can't face a stumble over Blea Moss despite knowing it well I decide to take the road; feeling its safer at this stage I don't feel that brilliant and can't challenge my nerve as well. It really is pouring down and I plod on noting my breath is creating its own mist, it must be colder than I think. I enjoy the jog to the edge of the moor and remember I need to turn back slightly to start the next climb at Fell Foot Bridge that will take me over Knotts to High Tilberthwaite farm.

I start off and I really enjoy this section it's rocky and water is running down the path, a head I see a couple of headtorches and wonder of others have set off early as well? I splash my way up to the headtorch wearers to meet a group of walkers and say hello to be greated by 'Mr Walker' with "hello; you came up there so quick I thought you were on a bike"  I reply "no just training for a race next year have a good evening" whilst thrilled at this compliment I do realise if they thought I was quick the proper runners are just behind me imitating motor bikes.

As I get near to the top of this moderate climb the mist swirls in and out it's quiet fast moving but in small patches. At the top my phone jumps into signal and rings, a number I don't recognise - note to self don't bring a smart phone on a soggy recce fingers slide on the screen but the phone doesn't respond. The problem with the type of depression (see black mountains posting) I have is it comes with a complete panic attack package which I have learnt (CBT) to control but when I'm not feeling good I am conscious of, mine are mostly triggered by telephones? I know bonkers. Whilst pondering on who could of rung and I rationalised it's probably work (self employed) the mist has dropped to all around me and eaten the footpath! where are Mr & Mrs Walker now - not climbing fast enough. Ahhh ha navigation I take a quick compass bearing whilst thinking 'do I have to test myself all the time'?, 'what the hell am I doing here' etc as the compass points the way the mist moves on to scare someone else.

I plod on to be caught up by Sarah & Tom Burner and friends who by the way are also wearing head torches with losts of lumins, luxes, watts and candle power and jog passed me with the ease of a park run whilst saying hello - another note to self for Christmas list " Dear Santa please can I have a bag of confidence for descending the slippy stoney stuff"  how do they do that?

I reach the haven of Tilberthwaite checkpoint and Clare with chocci biscuits, fortified by chocolate I decide I'm not going to do last climb, laziness and close encounters with a phone and the mist I decide its not worth going over Tilberthwaite my own, even though I have taken a competitors over each time I have done the race, they couldn't navigate, and take my continency route of road and forest. I let Clare know where I am going and rang my partner to meet me at Coniston.

Spooky forest at night oohh... actually it was ok as I know the path so well, the mist is even drifting in at this low level and swirls around the trees. At last the miners road in to Coniston and I check in with Terry safe and sound. The phone call was from Jon (of Jon & Otto fame) who were manning checkpoint 1 who I missed as I set out early, checking I was Ok. I text and call Jon to thank him for looking out for me.

Recces are all about learning not only the route but our responses to it and how we test ourselves, especially experiencing the hills at night.
A Massive thank you to Marc, Terry, Clare & Jon for not making a fuss when I ventured out on my own and trusting me to have the skills to do so and for still keeping an eye out for my safety.

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves"    Edmund Hillary

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Spring is round the corner.

It has been a while since my last posting where I was reflecting on my autumn training and like everyone looking forward the start of a New Year 2012 - the Olympic year.

Like most people involved in running and walking you start to plan your events, races and training and set yourself goals, for me it has to be the UTLD 50, unfinished business from my DNF last year and the dream to get somewhere near the fitness I had 3 years ago when I completed it. So for me 2012 races and events are all leading to that illusive 50 miles over the lakeland hills.

My recovery from surgery has taken so much longer than anticipated and it certainly has changed my running physically - 9th March this year has marked two years from going under the knife for major surgery and I can honestly say I am only now starting to run something like I did before I was physically ill, which means I can  now maintain my mental health, one of the main motivating factors for getting out there.

I have been re-reading the book the Flying Scotsman about Graham Obree the  who also has clinical depression, he described his depresssion as, amongst other things " a chronic lack of self worth which is a huge driving force to make up for it by overachievement, to achieve what others don't"  I can understand that and my slow running and how rubbish I felt about that was a motivating factor in entering an ultra marathon.

I feel my runnning is getting stronger (about time !!) I am still not achieving the times I would like but I don't feel like the total hell when on the move, that must be an improvement even if  I still have significant back pain in my lower back and now in my neck.

I attend BMF running club 3 times a week and this for the first time is enabling me to achieve some consistancy in my training and it is paying off, I am starting to feel a bit fitter; motivation in it's self. Training in winter is always tough for everyone one:- dark and cold doesn't always inspire and motivate, but running with BMF has got me out of the door, especially as a group have signed up to do Manchester Marathon.

However for me some of my old demons  have started to come back to haunt me, being enthusiatic about running, events and the buzz of the finish line I encourage friends to get signed up,  "you can do a marathon, If  I can you can....."  January sees about 10 or so of us part with our hard earned cash, download training plans and with the drive and enthusiasm of Paula Radcliffe start to train and plan "the long runs". Small groups start to form and friends keep each other company to get all those miles into their legs, a facebook page is set  up to to motivate and share training tips and by February we are in the grip of marathon fever. Before you know it running pals are way ahead of me, running at fab paces and with the strength of gazelles, I'm back to lone training runs and hear of others long run plans; I realise yet again I'm too slow to run with others - why the hell my legs won't move any quicker I don't know.??

I have only done one road running marathon London in 2008 and swore I would never do another one ........... I do prefer off road, but  here I am looking forward to doing a marathon in my home town followed by a walking marathon in London 2 weeks later.

Now we are galloping towards the end of March and the marathon training gets tough, it is interesting to see the drop out rate; as life, illness, work and the realisation of what a training committment a marathon is sees quiet a few of people I know who signed up are now not going to run at the end of April, for me it is a milestone in my base fitness and a stepping stone to getting somewhere near UTLD 50 match fit.

In terms of my health winter is always tough, but I am now running a new business from home, which does have the early signs of being successful and it certainly gives me the breathing space to look after my health both physical and mental.

Living long term with a mental health condition is for me an ultra marathon , there is no describing the strategies you have to have in place in order that you can function and how it can consume your life, there isn't a time when I don't have to think about it, plan to maintain my health and work bloody hard to "fight it" - running is a massive part of that.  The benefit is I enjoy the events and races, the people I have met, and the finish line and most of all the well being it can bring.

Good luck everyone with the tough training ahead, spring is round the corner, lighter nights and a bit of warmth will make that start line seem a bit nearer. Stay Healthy and Fit.

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves"

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Am I Getting My Mojo Back ? Autumn Training 2011

Am I getting my mojo back ? I ask myself as I write this latest posting to my training blog- I know I have confessed to eating too many sweets, chocolate and cake on my last posting but I am not alluding here to nipping down to the shops for a bag of sweeties.

Surprisingly writing this blog and recording my training journey has helped to provide some motivation, particularly with the supportive messages I have recieved, reviewing my own progress in public black and white and though reading other blogs.

After looking at my training record for October, I realised I had slumped in to just coping mode and letting my training tick over. I need to up it and gain some confidence in my running again and start to enjoy it again - does my pace really matter? well in all honesty yes but in reality I have to accept the last 18 months have been hard and STOP comparing myself to others and people I know. I still don't get why my legs won't move any faster?? answers on a postcard (lol that shows my age) or to move into the 21st century comments on a blog.

My autumn training has been as inconsistent as ever plagued with the relentless tiredness and struggling to maintain my workload. I still haven't quiet found the drive I need to maintain a decent training programme. However there is some light at the end of the tunnel. BMF has started a running club alongside the usual classes and this is making a difference, the sessions are challenging, include speed work, hills and endurance and I have really enjoyed them mainly due to my great BMF pals and the ethos of always encouraging each other, also we are lucky at Heaton Park; Tony (BMF instructor & BMF Park Manager) is really an excellent coach providing interesting sessions that push you - whilst Tony is yelling instructions at the group he also quietly tells us (individually) as we pass him how well we are doing. Who would have thought these running club speed sessions could be fun!!!- well in relays, in pouring rain they are -aren't they?. I have tried to build up my running sessions and this has been done through the BMF running club and park run, the local free 5k on a Saturday morning.

To work on my endurance Saturday is a hard training session I jog to the park, do the park run 5k then BMF running club and jog/walk/crawl home and fall asleep in the afternoon- well recovery is important.

A small turning point has been doing the dirty double lakeland trail races Hellvelyn trail race on 5th November and Ullswater on 6th. Hellvelyn was fantastic the first race I have really enjoyed, sunny, crisp November morning, lakeland autumn colours, an excellent route. I LOVED IT perhaps wearing the lucky fancy dress cat's ears took the pressure off!! it was ok to be at the back "fun runner". The hills, the views awesome this is really why I try to train.

I have maintained my mad Saturday morning training sessions completing about 9 miles each Saturday as training so that I could run the Stockport 10 - a road race with slight hills. I felt strong on this run and certainly I am managing to run the hills much better, I usually give in and power walk, I was a bit disappointed with my time 7 mins slower that the last time I ran it - 3 years ago, but I do feel my body is getting use to the impact again after the surgery and a year out, I certainly see it as base to build on.

I have entered Manchester marathon 29th April 2012 with BMF mates more because this lot keep me going and we are getting together to train off and on road and I have every intention of enjoying this one and the party after.

Taking a Christmas break from work has given me a chance to jog on the moors near my son's house and I certainly feel a bit more motivated and dare I say I'm looking forward to training in the New Year - well I've been given a lovely training log that needs filling in for 2012.

Autumn training summary (Nov & Dec )
3 races = 2 trail 1 road
3 park runs
1 UTLD recce
11 BMF sessions
134 miles & 33.5 hours of training.