Course profile

Course profile
What lies in wait on 2nd July - The 110k course profile

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Post ultra reflections

A week ago today I was somewhere along the course of the Ultimate Trails 110k race. It seems longer than that, but it's long enough to reflect on the whole slightly surreal experience. (warning: This makes for a bit of an epic blog entry ....).

My parents arrived on Friday and after doing all the pre race preparations mentioned in my last entry we all had a (very) early night at 18:00 in an attempt to get a few hours kip before the race. At 10:30, after no kip at all we all got back up, had a bit of breakfast (weird at that time) and headed off to Ambleside where I had a compulsory safety briefing at 11:30 to attend.

Rothay park was busy with excited chatter, nervous faces and blinding headtorches. There was quite a lot of random milling around before we were summoned into the big tent for the briefing, where a rather quite voiced man (made even harder to hear by the heavy rain that started drumming on the tent roof) ran over the rules and regulations for those who hadn't bothered to read the information sent out to us.

After this it was back outside for more milling in front of the start line until finally, at about 10 past midnight, there was a countdown and we were off past the shouts of well wishers, through the park and onto the streets of Ambleside. It was quite exciting really, but I adopted the same tactic as for the Coniston marathon and hung back near the rear of the field to prevent getting carried away and going too fast in these early stages.

The first 12k to check point one passed through the woods around Wansfell and took in the first big climb of the route, over Garburn Pass. I ran with a man who said he'd tried this last year with a friend, but had to pull out just before the first check point with a twisted ankle, which he unexpectedly got on a road section. His friend had stopped with him, but unfortunately this year had had to pull out before we even got out of Ambleside as he was ill and felt he couldn't breathe properly ... what a run of bad luck!

These first few kilometres were characterised by a cautious pace and lots of chatter. Saw another runner with the weediest head light (surely you'd check this before you set off?) and shared a chuckle with some others over the way we were optimistically avoiding puddles despite the fact we knew wet feet were inevitable in the end.

Check point one was Kentmere Institute, where I had some tea and cake (sounds very relaxing) and set off with a handful of crisps. I'd already become aware that I am a lot more comfortable on rough and steep ground than most of the other runners I saw, as I overtook many people on the descent here - something that continued on the long run up the Kentmere valley and the big climb up to the top of Nan Bield pass, the highest of the route.

The final pull to the top of the pass are a series of tight zig-zags and it was a memorable sight looking back down the valley to see the snaking head torches weaving their way up the valley towards me, a sight that was repeated on the descent.

By the time I got to checkpoint two, 22km in at a tent at Mardale head, it was 3:30 and light was already showing in the sky. While I was looking forward to turning the torch off, I was sort of sad that this initial atmospheric part of the race was almost over - it definitely felt that the character of the day was about to change.
Dawn over Haweswater

Maybe it was due to the coke and super sweet flapjack I had at the last checkpoint, but I started to feel a little queasy on the long run along the side of Haweswater. I settled my stomach a bit with a piece of the Spanish omelette I'd cooked on Friday, but by the time I reached the road at the end of Haweswater I was feeling a little light headed and tired and my legs had started to ache, which was worrying at such a relatively early stage.

Janet and my parents had driven round to check point three (35km, Bampton village hall) and looked a little concerned at my rather pale appearance when I arrived at 05:00. I'd run much further than this and on the actual course a few times in training, so it was a shock to feel I was struggling already. However, a bit of a sit down with a cup of tea and a small portion of porridge seemed to revive me and by the time I left 10 minutes later I felt a lot better.

It was a good job too, as the next stretch differed from the route I'd run in training (I think a last minute change due to land owner's permissions), heading along the road for another few miles instead of the nice grassy riverside path I'd been expecting. I found all this tarmac hard to run on and was overtaken by a fair few runners as I eventually started walking, but this isn't the sort of thing you worry about on a race like this.

The support team (Janet and mum and dad) had driven past me on the road, cheering out of the window Tour de France style, heading to the planned rendevous at Askham. I caught up with them after a few miles though as they'd spotted the signs for the run sending us up onto Askham Moor before getting to the village so were waiting for me. It was lucky they had seen them too as they had some more supplies for me to pick up. We'd been told in the pre race briefing that you were only allowed extra supplies if they were in your drop bags, or if you carried them with you - fair enough, but it was a bit late to tell me that 10 minutes before the race started when all my extras were in the car. And no, that wasn't in the pre race notes ....

Bleak! Heading across Askham Moor, string of runners in the distance
Spanish omelette supplies replenished, I headed up onto the third climb over Askham Moor. We'd got away without any rain during the night, but now the weather really put it's back into it with the wind getting up and some stinging rain blowing in across the bleak expanse of the moor. I distracted myself from the unpleasantness by chatting to a fellow runner, asking him if he'd done anything like this before. 'Only the Lakeland 10 peaks' he said, a 73 kilometre 24 hour race with 5600 metres of ascent up the 10 highest peaks in the Lake District. 'When was this?' I asked. 'Last Saturday .... my legs are suffering a bit'!

This surprising answer gave me plenty to muse on as I headed to check point four (50km, Howtown Bobbin Mill). I arrived at this rather homely feeling little room with a group of other runners at about 07:00, all of us agreeing that it was a bad idea to sit down but then promptly plonking ourselves down on the array of comfy chairs irresistibly lined up around the tables within. Everyone was starting to look a bit bedraggled now, with some worried they were going to have to stop due to injuries flaring up, others shovelling noodles down in quiet urgency and some just staring into the middle distance. I felt sort of ok, especially after some more porridge, but was aware that after this I'd be running further than I ever had before so also felt, for the first time, a little nervous.

The nerves soon faded as I headed out for another stretch of road along the Boredale valley. I was now really noticing how my definition of what constitutes 'up hill' had changed. An ultra marathon maxim has it that you 'Walk the uphills, run the downhills and some of the flats' but by now even the slightest gradient was proving enough to get everyone slowing to a brisk march.

I tackled the fourth climb to Boredale Hause alongside a girl who surprised me with her really strong Bristol accent. She'd done a few Ultras before, even 100 mile races, but really didn't like hills or rough ground so was wondering if she'd entered quite the right race ... but did say she liked a challenge ....

The descent from the top of the pass to checkpoint five at Glenridding (60km) at 09:00 was where things really started to hurt, so by the time I arrived at the village hall I was ready for a bit of a rest. Luckily this was the location of the drop bags and the 'support team' were there, so with chatting and changing socks I had plenty to while away half and hour. It was a nice big hall, but unfortunately the toilets were down a flight of stairs - an extra little bit of descent and ascent that myself and many other groaning runners could have done without!

A big climb over Grisedale Hause came next, round Grisedale Tarn and down the rough and steep Raise Beck. The weather took a turn for the worse again here, so I was surprised to see Fix the Fells volunteer Charlotte and a friend waiting at the top of the pass with an illicit drop of brownies - this was planned, but not expected given the rough conditions. As with meeting Janet and my parents at the checkpoints I was finding these meetings were giving me a nice little boost, taking my mind off of the increasing difficulty of actually running.

The next check point was another one with just a tent, down by Thirlmere and at 72km, which I made by about 12:30, feeling pleased to have conquered the second really big pass of the run. There was no let up in the climbing though as from here it was a very boggy route past Blea Tarn and down to Watendlath. This stage had been squishy enough in my relatively dry training runs, but today was a different matter altogether with the saturated ground capable of swallowing runners whole. Well, maybe not, but by the time I got to Watendlath (after an unexpected meeting with some more of the Fix the Fells lengthsmen on the path down) for another meeting with Janet and co they'd seen plenty of runners go past with mud caked right up their legs and occasionally their backs where they'd taken a tumble. I think my experience with this type of ground once more paid off as I got through relatively unscathed.

From here there was another short climb back up, much to the disappointment of a fellow runner who was searching around for a feed station, before the descent to Rosthwaite and check point 7 (Borrowdale institute, 83km) where our other drop bags with spare shoes were waiting. I almost didn't bother changing mine as my feet were not uncomfortable, but the lure of having dry feet for a bit proved too tempting. It was a real pleasure getting my shoes off and sitting down for 10 minutes with my feet in the open, eating about 10 pieces of the cold pizza provided. I was also pleased to note that despite my pre race concerns my feet didn't seem to have swelled up at all.

But it couldn't last and all to soon I felt I should force myself from this comfortable refuge and push on towards the last big climb, over Stake Pass. I walked the first half mile from the check point alongside another runner, both of us marvelling at how hard it had become to make the transition from walking to running, before forcing myself into a slow jog. The journey up Langstrath over quite rough ground seemed especially testing, but nothing like the pain of the climb up to the top of the pass - a proper gruelling hands on knees slog.

It was with a real sense of elation I reached the top, to be greeted by a cheering Abi and Simon who had made the hike up there in horrible conditions to support me. Again, this helped pull me out of myself a little which was a real help as I was really starting to feel very weary indeed by now, although increasingly confident I could complete the challenge with 'only' about 20km to go.

Feeling guilty at spending so little time with them after they'd walked all the way up here I set off down to Langdale Coombe and the last big descent. I knew this path very well, having spent a summer season working on it so was able to distract myself from the agonies of the downhill by examining some of my past handiworks - all holding up well!
Fleeing the rain at a moderate pace down Mickleden

I met up with with Janet, Mud and Dad again halfway up Mickleden. By now I was down to a walk, but did feel slightly disappointed that just before I saw them I had managed to squeeze out a few hundred metres of running. They all looked very wet and said they'd had to retreat from their original spectator point with a view further up the valley due to the driving rain, something that made me realise how tired I was getting as I'd not really registered it (although I did have my back to it).

The last 9 miles/15k or so were torture. I'd was on my last legs (now I really know what that means!) and only managed a few more hundred metres of running. A particularly difficult point came just after the New Dungeon Ghyll pub, where I started to be overtaken by loads of runners who were all actually running. I couldn't understand where they found the energy from when I was reduced to a walk and was even more bugged when they all went past patting me on the back and saying 'well done', almost as if they were taking the mick. Luckily, I soon realised that my race had merged with the 55km one and it was those runners that were springing past me like they were on a 10k fun run. What a relief!
A special effort required here to smile and run for the official race photographer!

I met Janet and my parents once more at the final checkpoint at Chapel Stile (98k), where I failed to get a drink and something to eat, due to the room being tiny, very hot and packed with 55k runners. A short video taken by Janet there shows me mumbling and with my eyes half closed and I really felt quite desperate to just get to the finish. There was one last climb up to High Close, nowhere near as big as the others but still tough at this stage. I struggled up this and round Loughrigg, fighting a very strong temptation to sit down on every wall and log I went past 'just for five minutes', before the final steep descent down the small road leading to the back of Rothay Park and the finish.

My main memories of the last few kilometres are telling myself I mustn't forget that it really hurt, although I can't remember the actual physical sensation itself any more. I was met at the bottom of the hill by a marshall, who gave a cheery greeting before her tone changed to a more worried 'are you alright?'. Janet, Mum and Dad, Abi and Simon and Sarah from the upland path team were also there and it was flanked by this escort that I made my shuffling way into the park before a final 'sprint' finish across the line. Apparently I got a louder welcome than most runners as I think the state I was in was now obvious to all.

I've never felt the need for a chair so strongly as in the immediate aftermath, but luckily Lakeland Trails know this and there were plenty in the finishing area. The marshall had been considering referring me to the medics, but with a change into some warm clothes and a bit of a sit down I was soon feeling (and looking) much better. I'd finished in 19 hours and 44 minutes, longer than I'd anticipated but I'd not taken into account the time spent in the checkpoints when I'd tried to estimate it beforehand.

More importantly, at the time of writing this my sponsorship page total is up to £2413.75 (£2900.95 with gift aid). Although I am dead chuffed to have completed an Ultramarathon, there's no way I would have attempted it in the first place if it wasn't for what happened to my sister and it makes me feel she would have been proud that I went through all this to honour and remember her. I've also had so many messages of support and encouragement throughout this whole thing that it's really helped my on my way, I think people have appreciated the level of challenge involved and I'm glad I decided to do something properly difficult and worthy of sponsoring.
Probably the only time I'll wear a medal! T-shirt might get a few trips out though ...
So I've done my first Ultramarathon, something I can never do again now I am experienced. Would I do another one? Well, give me a bit of time, I've only had a week to think about it  - but I did find myself looking at the Montane Lakeland 100 miler website the other day, just out of interest ......

Friday, 1 July 2016

No turning back!

In my first blog entry back in early October I posted the question asked me by Janet - 'Are you feeling fit yet?'. Nine months later and I honestly still don't know the answer. I don't really feel any different in myself, but I can certainly run a lot further so I'll have to be content with that.

It's been a funny last few weeks. I've not liked 'the taper' that much as I've got so used to all the training running that it's just felt plain wrong to be doing so little. But, that's the advice and that's what I put on my training program all those months ago and it's got me this far so I'm not going against it now.

101 - Cool number!

Main bag's kit for the run, minus some more snacks and my camera
So I've got through the months of training without copping out. I've packed my bags: The one I'm carrying, the drop bag to be delivered to the half way point and the shoe bag for a checkpoint nearer the end. I've got my number and my timing chip. I've done my best to get some good rest this week and will attempt a couple of hours this evening before setting off. Janet and my parents are primed and ready to act as support crew, with the rather tough job of driving round to various points to meet me. Other freinds are hopefully going to be at other spots on the route. I've made a Spanish omlette to take with me. I've checked the weather forecast (not good). It is now just 7.5 hours until I set off on my attempt to run 110km.
Weather forecast .... At least heat stroke is out of the question .....

I genuinely don't think I could have done any more but after all this can I complete it? I still don't know. I'm plagued with doubts, my latest being that I just found out that the second pair of shoes that a lot of runners have in the shoe drop bags are a half size bigger than normal as your feet can swell up with these sort of distances. Mine aren't - I thought it was just so you could have the pleasure of dry shoes for a bit .... What if my feet swell up ....?
Drop off bags. Spare clothes for the first one, exactly the same size shoes for the second one

It's funny where you find solace though. Whilst walking to the bag drop vans today I was chatting to a fellow runner who told me the longest training run he'd done was from Dunmail Raise to the finish. I've done this, plus the bit from Glenridding to Dunmail, which is a good 6 miles and a mountain pass extra. If he'd done 40 or 50 miles in training I know I'd be feeling I'd not done enough, but I got a weird last minute psychological boost from this entirely meaningless comparison.

Like I've been saying, it's all in the mind. I'll need to keep telling myself that over the next 24 hours ...

Friday, 17 June 2016

The final countdown begins!

I've been looking forward to this. For the last three weeks of training, which I entered a few days ago, I am in 'the taper'. It's a commonly (but not universally) accepted way to prepare yourself for the big run, counter intuitively by doing less. It’s not a sudden stop of training, but a gradual reduction over the three weeks until for the last 4 or 5 days you actually do no running at all. The thinking is that you have time to let your body recover after the many months beforehand, repair any minor injuries and niggles that might have been building up and get properly rested for the big day. There’s also something about eating lots of the right kind of food, but I have to look into that.

So I’ve made it to the taper, but it was the weekend before it that I was worried about. This was planned as my peak training weekend and it’s been looming almost as large as the ultra itself – especially after getting heat stroke on the Coniston marathon the week before.

Smiling but nervous in Glenridding at the start of Saturday's run
My main concern wasn’t physical though, but mental. Ever since I started this I’ve been reading and getting advice about how completing an ultra marathon relies as much on your mind as your body, something that I couldn’t really believe at first but that has become increasingly apparent. It’s back to my big spreadsheet, with the whole training programme mapped out. I know that I’d have struggled with the last nine months if it wasn’t for that and as the date has approached it has become more and more important to me that I stick to it.

The last bit of the course I'd not run, up the valley towards Grisedale Tarn
If I’d have been so weakened by my few days of illness after the marathon that I was unable to complete this last big weekend of training, it would have been a great psychological blow that would have knocked my confidence right down. And it’s not particularly up anyway …..
Murky conditions at Grisedale tarn

So it was with some considerable trepidation that I set off on Saturday morning for my planned 7 hour run, following the final 30 miles of the course. And it was with some considerable pleasure that I found myself meeting Janet in Ambleside at the end of this (admittedly 8 hours later rather than 7, but I did stop for a cup of tea in Watendlath) and still functioning. Even better was heading out on Sunday and running a further 20 miles over 5 hours and actually feeling better when I finished than when I started.
A very welcome break in Watendlath

I’ve still got no real idea if I can complete the 68 miles, but getting past this day and starting on the taper at least makes me feel I’ve done all I can and if I fail then it won’t be because I ducked out of things or didn’t take it seriously. That’s very important to me as this is something I’m doing to remember my sister and I’d feel I’d let her down as well if I’d not put the work in. All these questions will be answered in a few week’s time though. Then I can have a proper rest.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Tough lessons on the Coniston marathon

As I write this I'm recovering at home, two days after completing my first 'official' marathon, the Lakeland Trails Coniston. I'd gone into the race with a feeling of quiet confidence - after all, I've run over a marathon in training now - but, as I'd hoped really, the whole experience taught me quite a lot. But not in the most pleasant way.

The weather has been warming up steadily for weeks now and by the time it was race day was forecast wall to wall sunshine and high twenties. No great shakes for lots of the world but for us Brits and especially those who've done all their training over a Cumbrian winter, quite a shock to the system.

So I had good reason to be glad I'd entered the 'Challenge' version of the marathon. It follows the same course but with much more generous cut off times than the more competitive 'Race' and crucially, starts 2 hours earlier at 07:00. Even so, it was already pretty warm by the time the fairly low key and rather sudden start was announced and we were off, jogging through the flat meadows towards Coniston village.
Lovely gentle start towards Coniston village

This early part of the race was crucial. Part of the reason I'd entered this event was to get some experience of running my own race and not getting carried away trying to keep up with much faster runners. So I was very happy to spend the first 7 or 8 miles up to Tarn Hows meandering along, walking the uphills and chatting to fellow runners. Many of them had the same idea as me as almost everyone I spoke to had also entered the ultra in a months time, albeit the 55km version, and were using this as a training run.

I saw Janet again at Tarn Hows (she'd been on the Yewdale bridleway to cheer me on, then walked up for this second rendevous) who had a surprise bonus of some grapes for me, very welcome. After this I realised that I'd started to overtake quite a lot of runners, not really deliberately but just through settling in to a natural pace. This continued up into Grizedale forest, along the wide tracks and through a lovely shady singletrack until we suddenly popped out of the trees high above Coniston water. This moment stopped most runners in their tracks, partly because of the view and partly because of the sudden exposure to the day's oven like heat.
Runners rather distracted by the view ...

It really was properly hot now but I felt fine and kept pushing on through the pack. I really noticed all the training I've been doing on trails paying off on the downhills, where I was able to fly down at full pelt while most of the other runners were picking their way down very gingerly. Past another feed station (there were four with snacks and a further two with just water) and I was on to the final climb to Beacon Tarn. During this I started to develop that all over glowing feeling you get when you're really too hot, so was only too pleased to dunk my head in the tarn at the top. To my surprise the marshalls there said I was one of the first to do this!
Beacon tarn - refreshing!

The marshalls also said that I'd 'reel quite a few more in at that pace' so by now all thoughts of running this at the same pace as a normal long training run had gone out of the window. After the rough descent to the last road crossing for the final few miles back along the lakeshore some spectators informed me that I could be in the top ten if I could pass 5 more people, so I carried on pushing on, pleased to discover I could still run up as well as down the many undulations in the path.

I did pass more people, all of whom were walking, and it was only within sight of the finish arena I started to feel quite odd. Pins and needles in my hands and a dizzy head led me to realize I'd not really eaten anything all race, except crisps at the feed stations and an early bit of home made flapjack. It felt wrong to stop now, but I didn't want to pass out on the finish line, so I got myself a bar out of my bag and scoffed it down with literally 500 metres to go.

Hot and bothered - coming in to the finish line

It worked, and I was able to complete the unexpected loop of the finishing area, now packed with people, in reasonable style. The results showed I came in 14th, with a time of 4hrs 53mins. To put this in perspective, the winning time was 4hrs 20mins but last year's winning time was 3hrs 37mins - a difference I'd put down entirely to the heat.

I think pretty much every runner ended up in here ...
At this moment I felt fine. Ten minutes to sit down, a quick leg soak in the lake and I was ready for a falafel and an ice cream, after which we settled down for the afternoon to cheer on all the other finishers making their way in. I don't know if the damage was already done when I finished, or whether it was the further sessions of sitting round in the sun, but it was later on after getting home and having my tea that I started to feel pretty awful. A night of vommitting and diarrhoea saw me in a very miserable state the next morning, something I'm only just recovering from now after two days off work.

So all in all a very positive experience - the run itself that is. I was pleased that I held up very well during the running, pleased that I kept to my own pace and especially pleased to do so unexpectedly well. But it's really taught me a good lesson about looking after yourself (I didn't have any hat, sunglasses or suncream on), something that will be especially important in the upcoming ultra marathon. I've seen a quote about ultras saying they're really 'just eating and drinking competitions with a little light exercise thrown in' and while I'd quibble the lightness of the exercise this whole experience has drummed home the importance of this other side of things. Get that wrong on the day and I'm toast, especially if it's as hot as this was .....

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Come run with me - my first 30 miles ...

Another week, another milestone. Set out last weekend to cover the first 30 odd miles of the course, starting at Ambleside and finishing in Howtown. Didn't know if I was up to it, but hoped I would be after the week before.

How did I get on? Well, why don't you come along and see - Here's a short video I made with my new action camera. It gets a bit smudgy places, but I think I haven't got a fast enough memory card. Anyway, technical nit picking aside, enjoy the film!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

My first marathon ... a long time coming

Throughout my training there have been plenty of milestones, mostly centred around running for a certain amount of time. But one has been about distance - when would I finally run a marathon?

I've been steadily increasing the time on my feet but constantly falling frustratingly just short of the distance. I thought I had it cracked on the day of the London marathon when I headed out from my house for a 5 1/2 hour out and back run on the Dales Way, a popular long distance footpath that finishes in Windermere (well, Bowness actually). With it being comparatively less hilly than the trails I've been training on I imagined this would be the day, but quite a chunk of time wandering around a confusing succession of small fields looking for the path put me back too much and I missed out by .6 of a mile. Bah.

Sheep on the Dales Way but no sign of the path ....

Today though I finally broke that elusive (but entirely arbitrary really) 26.2 miles barrier, but it almost didn't happen yet again. I was due a 6 hour run (my longest yet) and with the weather looking particularly kind surely this would be the one?
The new cyclepath next to the freshly re-opened A591 at Dunamil Raise - look at that for good weather!
 Janet dropped me at the top of Dunmail Raise and I set off to run the last chunk of the course, heading over to Watendlath, up Langstrath, over Stake Pass and along Langdale to Ambleside. I must admit that perhaps if I didn't take so many photos I might get further in my allotted time, but it's a bit of a tactic for me to enforce breaks, distract me from the physical difficulties and ensure I take time to appreciate the surroundings.
It would just be rude to run straight through this landscape without taking a few pictures - heading down to Borrowdale

Anyhow, even with all the snapping away I made it to Ambleside after 5 hours and 45 minutes. Close enough to 6 hours to call it a day, but looking at my GPS watch I had covered only 24 miles. This time I wasn't ready to accept defeat and luckily I was still feeling remarkably good, so decided to carry on following the course (the first few miles now) to Troutbeck, where Janet very kindly met me at the Old Post Office. It worked! I made it to 26.74 miles.

So I've run my first marathon now. Quite pleased to have done this as I've entered a proper marathon race, the Coniston Trail marathon in a few weeks time. I'm looking forward to running this in a familiar area and getting some proper experience of running in an event before the main one at the end of June. It's still strange to think that despite never having run an (official) marathon I'm now entered into one as a training run.

Actually, when I think about it the technical definition of an Ultra is 'anything over a marathon' so I could argue that today I did my first marathon and  my first Ultra .... but I don't think I'll count this ...

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Getting the hang of it?

It's now just under two months until I undertake what will undoubtedly be the toughest physical challenge I've ever faced and attempt to complete the ultramarathon. A scary thought for sure, but while out again this last weekend for another couple of back to back long runs a strange thought occurred to me: Am I starting to get the hang of this?

Now, I'm not getting overconfident (or in fact, confident in any way). But I am finding that as I increase my long runs to even longer runs I'm beginning to enjoy it more. It certainly hurts more to keep going, but this keeping going is giving a satisfaction all of it's own. I look forward to my long runs now more than my short ones.

I discovered a while back now that I don't feel warmed up until a couple of hours in and after that I start to settle into a sort of rhythm. Not really so much of a physical rhythm, as I tend to slow down and speed up, stop to take pictures, walk up hills and eat snacks and follow interesting side paths just to see where they go, but more of a mental rhythm. Being out running for 5 hours gives your mind time to wander, then settle into a kind of moving meditation where you're just focussed on the simple act of keeping moving on. One step after the other, the minutes turn to hours and the miles slip by. 

The great curve of the Langdale valley ahead, plenty of time to get into a rhythm here ...
They don't slip by unnoticed though. I'm amazed by just how far it is possible to travel on foot, something I knew as figures - after all, everyone knows a marathon is 26 miles - but hadn't ever actually experienced. 20 odd miles feels very different when you cover ever inch of it on your own two legs. It feels epic, in a very real way.

Epic! I'm in this one, on the track right in the middle near the bottom (photo thanks to Janet)
That epic feel is also helped by the landscape I'm lucky enough to be training in of course. I mentioned in my last blog entry about exploring areas I'd not thought to visit before and exploring feels like just the right word, thanks to being on foot. As opposed to vehicular travel you notice so much more from contact with the ground and this feeling of being embedded in and part of the landscape, seeing it change around you is very addictive. It's a real joy to keep moving on and experience what's around the next corner or over the next hill, even if it's on trails I've run many times before.

So, getting the hang of it then? Well, I don't know about physically (that'll only come out on the day) but if I can keep this interest and delight in the journey this will surely give me a great chance of getting round the course.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Know your course - running 'recces'

Every time I consider the upcoming race, I wonder if I will be able to complete the course. I just don't know, and won't know until the day. So I'm doing everything I possibly can to give myself the best chance. I have my 9 month training plan that I drew up and have stuck to every day since then. I've been wearing the clothes (including shoes and bag) that I'll use on the day.

The main thing I'm able to do is take advantage of the fact that the race is essentially on home turf for me, so I know most of the course already. Everything I've read recommends getting to know your course before an ultra marathon, so you're mentally prepared for what is coming. If I lived the other end of the country I guess I'd have to do this by lots of reading up and checking route plans, but I don't and now both the daylight hours and the time I need to be out running are getting longer I've been using my long weekend runs to check the further flung parts of the course I'm not so familiar with.
Looking forward now to running this bit - the trail along the side of Haweswater
I'm finding this is really working. Even running the bits I knew already has been useful, but adding them to the new bits is giving me a comforting feeling of preparedness. Of course, I still have to run it all regardless but knowing when there's a tough climb coming, or a good easy flowing downhill is going to help stop me worrying and let me concentrate purely on keeping going.

This'll be a chance to take it easy on the day - A lovely gradual, long descent towards Ullswater from Askham Moor
A flat bit of road running up Boredale towards the steep climb out at the end
There's a hidden benefit as well. We've had some good weather recently and all this recce'ing has got me out to new places in the Lakes I've not thought to explore before. It's also good job I'm finding these great new paths and tracks now as I don't know how much I'm going to remember of them on the day ....

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Doing the double!

No, I haven't entered another Ultra marathon (let's just get this one out of the way first). The title of this post refers to an ultra marathon training staple of two long runs back to back over two days. It's not recommended by anyone to run the full length of an ultra in training - although I'm sure there are plenty of experienced old hands who do this sort of thing all the time - but this 'double' is the next best thing. It gives you a proper experience of what it feels like to run on tired legs, but without such a danger of overdoing it or injuring yourself.

So it's something I've factored into my training plan the weekend before my '40% reduction week'. This is another training staple that has you reduce your distance/time by 40% for a week every four weeks, giving your body time to recover and absorb the training you've done. I love 40% reduction week ......

Anyway, the double. I've kept the two of these runs shorter than my individual long run on other weeks, but have made the total of them add up to more. As my maximum long run for a long time was only 3 hours, this meant 'the double' wasn't actually too hard but now I'm stepping my hours up I'm starting to feel it a bit.
Spot the difference - Ill Bell summit on Saturday .....

....and on Sunday. Still not much of a view!
A recent weekend felt like a bit of milestone for this, when I cracked the 3 hour barrier on both Saturday and Sunday. Being a bit short on imagination and not wanting to drive anywhere I did the same run twice, heading out from my house and running to the top of the mysteriously named 'Ill Bell', before turning round and running back down again. It was quite interesting to see the difference a day makes, with Saturday's miserable weather meaning I had the hills to myself and a slight upturn in the weather on Sunday bringing runners and hikers out in some numbers.

The trail leads on along the ridgeline ...

Finally! A view!
 An unforseen benefit to doing this was also that I could compare how I did on the two days - turns out I was actually a whole 2 minutes faster on the second day than the first. Didn't expect that, but I certainly felt quite pleased with myself for it. Another thing I was quite pleased with was how well my legs stood up to it, considering the route was around 16 miles with 3000 ft of ascent and descent.
Coming out of the clouds on the way back down on Sunday
Then I realised that over the two days I'd run almost half of the total distance of the race in 2 1/2 months and wasn't sure how I felt. On the one hand still quite pleased, but on the other suddenly sobered and daunted. As the race gets closer I'm finding I get this particular mix of emotions more and more regularly .....

Saturday, 2 April 2016

(Almost) a marathon on the oldest trail of all

Another week away to visit family saw me running on the Ridgeway again. The last time I was here was back at the end of October and I was looking forward to revisiting the path for what I thought would be a nice easy 5 hour run after my recent outings in the far hillier Lake District.

Described as Britains oldest road, the Ridgeway has been in use for at least 5000 years as a trading route. Running along the edge of high hills which afforded both easier, drier travelling and gave a view of potential attacks it travels for 87 miles from Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon. Luckily, in this modern age I don't have to worry about potential attacks, but I was kind of hoping for some easier and drier travelling. Sounds good!

That's one big field! 
Mostly, I got my wish. I say mostly, because I hadn't reckoned on the wind. I'm used to running in windy weather back home in the Lakes, but at least there the topography means that unless you're right on the tops there are lots of hills and valleys to break the wind up. No such luck on the Ridgeway. Not only does it stick resolutely to the escarpment edge, but the high side is largely made up of vast arable fields with only the occasional scraggy tree to get in the way. I really noticed the lack of drystone walls as well, a popular windbreak in the Lake District ...

So the beginnings of storm Katie continuously blasted my right had side for the first half of my run, only changing when I turned round for the return journey and the left got a go.

Definitely no excuse for walking here ...
I did get the wished for easier conditions underfoot, but even this had unexpected difficulties. When I run at home there are often steep hills to get up, or particularly rough areas of ground to get across. These provide a good excuse to walk for a while, giving me a break from running and an ideal time for a snack and a drink. With nothing like this on the Ridgeway I was left with no option but to keep plugging away for my whole time out, making special stops for food or drink which always felt like I needed to get going again.

Actually, it was quite good to practice this continuous movement. I've read of people who only train in hilly areas having difficulty just keeping going for long periods, but it was still surprisingly hard work.
The fantastically atmospheric entrance to Wayland's Smithy
Overall, I enjoyed the change of scenery along with the chance to revisit some of the neolithic sites dotted along the route such as Wayland's Smithy. It's this capacity of trail running to take you places on days when you wouldn't necessarily chose to go for a walk that can make it so addictive.

In the end, those easier conditions paid off and I was pleased to smash my personal furthest run by covering 24 miles - nigh on a marathon. With the return to the Lake District and those rough, hilly paths this is a distance record I expect to stand for while!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Reasons and motivations

Everyone has their reasons for entering a run like the one I've signed up for. For me, it's more than simply a physical challenge, entered out of curiosity or a need to 'push myself'.

I've mentioned before that the initial inspiration to enter came from my little sister Ruth's death from cancer. There's nothing I can do that can bring her back, but I hope that anything I raise can help Cancer Research just a little with defeating this awful disease. There's no way I would ever have entered without this worst possible turn of events and thinking of her when running helps. On longer runs when it has been starting to get tough I've been reminding myself that the pain and discomfort I'm experiencing is nothing, nothing at all, compared to what she went through. It's a hard thing to even think about, let alone to write, but it's helping me get through. Thinking these thoughts while out running have made me feel quite emotional with my still relatively short runs so I can only image the sort of mess I might well be in come the actual event. But with Ruth as my inspiration I feel determined to do this - it's an inspiration I'd give anything to not have but it's where I am.

I've run on and off through my life and I think if you've had any contact with any sport there's always a curiosity as to what it's like at the extreme end of that sport. This is a category I think it's fair to say that this run fits into and while I'm nervous and finding it tough to stick to the training and worried I might fail despite everything it's still exciting to be attempting it and it feels like something positive has come out of something that really doesn't have any positives.

It's hard as well for me to focus just on the disease and what happened to our family. I also wanted to make the run about something else as I don't think I would have the strength to carry on if it was all about the cancer. It's still too soon and it would feel like too much of a massive weight, a dark cloud hanging over me. So it occurred to me to give a percentage of anything I raise to Fix the Fells, the organisation that looks after the paths and trails of the Lake District fells.

I'm on more comfortable ground here. I've worked as a National Trust ranger for the last ten years, four years of which I spent on an upland footpath team. Now in my job at the volunteer centre High Wray Basecamp I spend a good chunk of each summer working on the fells with volunteer groups, dealing with path erosion problems as part of Fix the Fells. So I think I'm well placed to say that the upland paths need our help. Brown Tongue, just one of the three main routes up Scafell Pike can see 1000 people walk up it in a month in summer and that's just one path in one month. Multiple events, especially the three peaks charity walks, use the fells as a 'facility', but all to often nothing is given back to look after the place. I'm pleased to report the Lakeland Trails events do donate to Fix the Fells, but upland path work is underfunded and there's always more needed.

So while I'm running round in July, I'll be remembering my sister but also keeping an eye on the paths below my feet.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Marathon musings

Whilst out splashing along the muddy trails today I was musing on the question of why so many people run on roads or pavements. It's not a snipe, because it's what I did for years, but the more I think about it the stranger I find it. I can sort of understand it if you live in a big town, but even then there's often parks or cycle routes or some sort of other option. But most days when I drive to work I'll see a fair few folk running on the pavement alongside the A591 between Windermere and Ambleside, quite a busy road, when there are wealth of other options available.

It's a bigger question than I've got the talent (or inclination) to go into. I've recently read a book called 'Run Wild' by the unlikely sounding Boff Whalley (a member of Chumbawumba, no less) which addresses this in some detail. One of his theories is that city marathons have become such big events that they've overshadowed all other forms of running and sort of conditioned everyone to think this is the pinnacle, the target, the ultimate aim for a runner. I think.
Wet, but so much better on the knees ..... and no cars!
Don't know if that explains the popularity of the Windermere marathon though, which conducts a full circuit of England's largest lake. Sounds pleasant enough, until you look at the route. Not only is it all on roads, but the second half goes along the quite narrow and very busy A592 - and the road isn't closed to traffic. And there is no pavement. Some friends of ours saw this last year and described a scene of absolute chaos, runners all over the road, mixed in with a queue of angry traffic with the drivers taking all sorts of risks to overtake the runners in their way.

Horrible enough, but consider the 'ten in ten' participants. They do this marathon once a day, ten times in a row, with the last one being on the same day as the full event. And I thought my run sounded tough!
Wet feet ahoy!
Maybe though, it's something simpler. Maybe it's wet feet. Each time I start out on a run now I can't resist hopping and skipping around in a ridiculous manner, trying to avoid puddles. I know my feet will be soaked sooner or later and don't mind when they are (it's quite liberating actually), but I can't avoid trying to put it off as long as possible.

I'm sure it's more complex than that, but to those fearing the soggy shoe I say join us! You have nothing to lose but your dry socks .....

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Now it gets tough ...

On Wednesday just gone I was half way through my training for the Ultra marathon with 4 1/2 months down and 4 1/2 to go.

I don't really know how I feel about that. On one hand it's good that I've kept the training regime going but on the other it's pretty scary that the longest I've ever run is for 3 1/2 hours and it took me this long to build up to that - I've now got the same amount of time left to be able to run for probably 5 times that.

It's only going to get harder from now on as well. Up to this point my training has been focussed on building up a core level of fitness, so my long run has remained at 3 hours for some time. But today I started to increase it, going out for 3 1/2 hours and really noticing the difference. It didn't help that the weather today was probably the worst I've been out in - constant heavy rain, strong wind and quite cold.

You know it's bad when the sheep just stand still with their backs to the weather!
At least the waterfalls were good ....
I also encountered some problems today I've not experienced before. My feet where freezing for a while as there was so much water about I was constantly running though quite deep floods on the paths and refreshing the cold water in my shoes. I also suffered with some quite nasty chafing in .... places .... which is a new one on me, but one I definitely need to sort out.

But overall I'm pleased with the day. I now know how far I'm running thanks to my new purchase of a GPS watch so was pleased to have covered 18 miles. I kept going despite all the adversity and after a few hours back home feel reasonably ok. Most of all, I still sort of enjoyed it although I couldn't work out why. I don't think I'll question it too much though, just hope I can hold on to that as the miles ramp up ....

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Spring is here .... almost

It's been a long old slog getting through the winter, sticking to the training plan, but at last I'm starting to feel like there's some light at the end of the tunnel.

My day job as a National Trust ranger means I'm out and about a fair bit and probably notice the changing of the seasons more than I would if I worked in an office, but this has been heightened this year by the addition of the running. As a result, I can say that I think I've never looked forward to Spring as much as I am this year.

Might not be long before I get a break from sights like this ....
This winter of course it's not been the cold so much as the rain that's made things tough. Our recycling bin has been full every time with old newspaper from stuffing my shoes, but this last week has finally seen a change. For a while at least, it's stopped raining!

Wednesday evening's run - There might still be snow on the fells, but it's sunny at last!
So I'm starting to get an inkling of what I'm thinking of as my reward - The time when Spring finally arrives and I can be out on the dry trails, eating up the miles and revelling in the fitness I've built up over the winter. Of course, being British it'll only take one mildly warm day before I'm complaining about being too hot!

Saturday afternoon and there's still some sun and it's still not raining!

Monday, 1 February 2016

The tale of Langdale 1/2 marathon

I've mentioned my Langdale half marathon experience a few times, so maybe it's now time to look back at that in more detail. First, a bit of explanation as to why I've called this blog 'from 0-68'. Despite the fact I've already done a run of this length, I really feel I started the training for the 68 mile run from a base of running 0 miles.

Technically, it's true. When I applied for a place in late September the last time I'd been out for a run was about 7 weeks before. Janet and I had entered a 15km trail race and had been running together, training for that, but Janet had a nasty fall and injured herself and we'd not been out since then. I wasn't running alone as it had been Janet's idea to start going the August before that and I'd been enjoying the companionship of running with someone - something I've not done before.

Before that I'd not run for 4 years, when I took part in the aforementioned Langdale Half marathon in 2010. for me this lived up to it's billing as one of the UK's toughest half marathons, so much so that when I finished I vowed that I'd 'never run again'.

Why did I find it so tough though? Well, I reckon there's a few reasons and therefore lessons:
  • Make sure you do enough training. I probably didn't, just going out for a run when I felt like it, with no plan to follow. The furthest I ran before the event was 9 miles and when I got to 9 miles on the course I really felt like it was time to stop. Except that point was right at the bottom of a massive hill .....
  • Get your pacing right! My last blog was all about this - It's always been a bit of a weak point with me and I distinctly remember starting off full of excitement, trying to keep up with the front of the pack. Trouble is, the course heads up another horrible, steep hill to Blea Tarn after the first 1/2 mile. By the time I got to the top of that I was already in trouble .....
  • Don't drink a couple of pints the night before. Should be obvious and Janet did point out to me that it might not be a good idea at the time, but I knew best ....
All good solid reasons why I ended up running the last 2 miles back up the Langdale valley like Steptoe, grimacing and waddling. When I look back now though, a valuable experience and those three points are definitely things I can apply to the current race.

I guess I should just be glad I didn't run the full marathon. That uses the same course but with two circuits, so you'd have to run past the finish line with all the relieved half marathoners finishing and head off straight back up the horrible hill to Blea Tarn. It's anyone's guess what my vow might have been if I'd tried that .....

Thursday, 21 January 2016

A question of pace

As I start to run further and for longer, my thoughts are turning more to pacing. This is something of an Achilles heel for me. My running in the past, mainly when I was a lot younger, consisted of nothing longer than 10 miles tackled with the tactic of 'go as fast as I can'.

This always used to work fine and I used to do quite well in races, but it just won't do if you're expecting to run 68 miles. I had a bit of a taste of what getting your pacing wrong can do to you when I took part in the 2010 Langdale Half marathon, setting off way too fast and struggling desperately in the last few miles.

If I get it wrong for the Ultra marathon though, there won't be just a last few miles to struggle through, I could potentially ruin my chances of finishing at all - the dreaded 'DNF' (did not finish) and the thing I fear most. So how do you keep going for hours on end? I'm up to 3 hours now so while I still don't really know the answer to this, I'm getting a few inklings .....

It's ok to walk

Time for a walk ....
I've always viewed walking up hills as a sign of weakness, but it's actually suprisingly common in trail running, especially for longer distances. Some people adopt a tactic of regular walking (say 5 minutes every half hour), some walk all the uphills. The most important thing is not to feel like you've failed if you do so. A long race is as much in the head as anything so having an acceptance of this beforehand makes it easier to give yourself a break. I'm not sure of my tactic yet, but I've already done plenty of walking ...

Keep eating and drinking

Should see me through for 3 hours ....
I've seen it suggested that you can only go for 10 miles before you need to replenish your energy reserves by eating something. I'm not sure it's that exact, but it's certainly important to keep taking food and liquids in. Apparently this is something that lots of runners find difficult, but I'm pleased to report I've not had any problems yet. I think I had good training working on an upland footpath team where every lunch break was follow by strenuous physical activity .... I'm also starting to take quite a lot of food out with me already, if it carries on like this I'll need a cool bag!

Enjoy it!

Time for a break to admire the view!
Seems obvious doesn't it? But it's a bit of a revelation to me with my road running background, where it was all about covering certain distances quicker than last time. Enjoyment wasn't really part of it. Now when I head out, I often don't know exactly where I'm going and this sense of anticipation and exploration gives quite a boost. I'm also not afraid to stop if I see something interesting or want to admire the view. It all goes towards making running about more than getting from A to B as quick as possible. We've got cars for that.

I'll need to keep remembering these simple lessons over the coming months. It'll become even more important by the end of February when I'll need to start ramping up my time on my feet ....

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The benefits of winter

Although the winter has been mostly wet and mild so far, there has been the occasional day where it's dropped below zero.Chilly stuff and something that makes it even harder to leave the nice warm house for a training run. It's especially tricky deciding how many clothes to wear. There's a running adage of 'be bold, start cold' to encourage you to not overdress and end up too hot and sweaty, but as I run with a small backpack (all part of the training) I can get away with a few extra layers and take some off as I go.

A winter landscape to draw you on - not seen this much though .....
But some proper cold winter weather can have some benefits. Scenically, I'm especially fortunate living in the Lake District where a cold clear day after some overnight snow can give a run a very pleasing alpine element and make everything feel just that bit more intrepid and adventurous. As long as that snow and ice doesn't come down too low that is - I'm quite happy looking at it from a distance but I don't fancy running on it too much.

A much more familiar sight this winter - wet feet ahoy!
Which sort of leads me on to an admission. I'm not a massive fan of winter so I can't really think of many other benefits, I'm mostly trying to convince myself here. But there is one more: Get out quickly for a good run on a cold morning and there's few things more pleasing than returning home with a good appetite and whipping up a good cooked breakfast/lunch. Or brunch if you will. There's still plenty of winter left yet so I'm looking forward to lots more of these - Well, I am in training ....

Well earned!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

End of year report!

Happy new year to everyone out there! Now it's 2016 I'm faced with the reality that the ultramarathon is this year, not next year any more. Scary.

So I've been in training now for 3 months, one third of the way through (also scary). With the start of the new year it seems a good time to take stock of how I'm doing. First things first:


Hard to say, but I think I'm holding up ok. I've been lucky enough to not suffer any injuries so far, except for a niggling pain in the bottom of my left foot. Reading up, it may or may not be related to Plantar fasciitis which is a well known, much dreaded and little understood problem. There's an almost endless amount of advice and doom and gloom about it on the internet, so I've decided to deal with it by listening to my body and taking it easy when necessary. Luckily, the time it's worse is if I'm running hard up a steep hill and as a common Ultra technique is to walk up the hills then going easy on my foot fits very nicely with my training. It's not got any worse since I first noticed it about 6 weeks ago, so this seems to be working.

The upper reaches of the Garburn Pass

Looking down into Kentmere, the trail visible ahead.
Apart from that, I've now built up to the stage where I need to maintain a level for a few months before building up again to the actual event. So I've reached my current maximum level of a 3 hour long run at the weekend, something I did for the first time today by running a chunk of the early part of the event's course over Garburn Pass and back. Being both the furthest distance and the longest time I've ever run it was nice to start the new year with this milestone although I'll admit to being quite knackered after it. I'm mainly trying to avoid thinking about how to complete the Ultra I'll need to do that about 5 times. Which leads onto:


My summary on this blog gives the main reason I'm doing this, which is a big incentive. Apart from that though I think the main thing I'm now struggling with is getting to grips with just how far 68 miles is. After this morning's exertions for 3 hours it's taking quite a lot of faith to convince myself that in 6 months time I'll be up to doing that another 5 times.

I've just read another American Ultra runner's book, Dean Karnazes, where he describes going stiff as a plank in absolute agony with cramps inside his car after his first 50 mile race and projectile vomiting all over the inside of it. I don't fancy that much and it's stories like that that can play on your mind a little.

Having said that, heading up towards the Nan Bield pass today felt exciting and adventurous and a bit like my first taste of what running for such a long time will be like. It was a feeling of freedom and ability that I've not experienced before and while it didn't last long it was something I'm looking forward to getting more of, which will get me through the coming months.

Tempting! The trail beckons, heading up the Kentmere valley towards Nan Bield 
Then there's:


Unexpectedly, the thing that's really got me out every day is a spreadsheet. When I signed up for this run, the first thing I did was work out an entire training schedule from that day to the race . I based it on a short 'you can run an ultra' article in Trail Running magazine and some internet research. I fill in what I've done every day against this and the longer I do it, the more difficult it becomes to not do it. It's an unexpectedly compelling trainer ...


Less to say about this really. I've still got the same gear I had when I posted about buying some new shoes, except I've now sold the new shoes as I didn't like them after all. I think they may have contributed towards the mysterious foot pain. Might buy more socks soon, but I have bought another pair of shoes - exactly the same as my first pair .....


Hmmm .... Not much to say here either. I probably need to start taking this sort of thing seriously, but so far have found that Christmas cake and Cadbury's Brunch bars go down well and I don't seem to be having any difficulty eating whilst running. Quite pleased about that.

Time to turn back! That's as far as I got up the valley today - further next week?

So, overall I think I'm progressing ok. Today was a bit of an eye opener for sure, but if I stick to my schedule, keep eating cake and try to avoid any more uncomfortable shoes I have to believe I'll be lining up on 1st July ....