Wednesday, 18 January 2017

LEJoG 2017 - starting to plan

With 120 days or so to go, planning is kicking off now!

Things to plan:

  • Route
  • Kit
  • Emergencies
  • Training
  • Sponsorhip?
Kit - I've had an initial think about kit. I'll need the flexibility of camping and sometimes camping not at a camp site, so that will appreciably add to my pack weight. This could get tricky and it'll mean getting used to a decent pack weight carefully without injuring myself.  I'll also need to figure out how to put my tent up (paved garden means I can't do it at home) and try it out a good few times.

Route - I want it to be as off-road as possible, but not being stupid about taking a trail route that's 25%+ longer and way more difficult than roads in places like the South West. e.g. I *could* take the South West Coast Path, but that's really difficult and appreciably longer than going inland a bit, staying North of the A30, and taking some back roads in between footpaths & bridleways.  Ideally I'd like to be on National Trails where practical as they're generally scenic and well-marked, so navigation is easy. I see the Pennine Way and Offa's Dyke or maybe the Cotswold Way featuring at least in part.

Training - I'm chatting with my coach this coming weekend, about the shape of this year and how we did a good job for Thames Path and North Downs Way the last two times.  In some ways, you can't really train for 40+ days on your feet, but you can sure make it easier at the start.

Emergencies - will depend on routing as to what provisions I'll need.  More thinking once the approximate route is taking shape.  Suggestions and recommendations welcome when that happens!

Sponsorship - I've been considering whether to raise money for a cause and/or ask for help from outdoors companies.  Though I generally sit on the side of doing sport for the love of it, I'm leaning on the side of choosing to raise money for through this challenge. Public Health Collaboration is doing stuff I really care about and I'd like to support that.  LEJoG will be a genuine challenge for me - previous events and races I've been pretty sure of completing, but this is a different game altogether.  If I decide to go through with that, I'll set up a JustGiving page for it.

It's also going to be expensive to do this run. 4ish weeks of unpaid time off work (after I've used up my holiday allowance for the year), plus kit and consumables adds up.  I've no experience asking for help from companies, so no idea how that might go.  It'd really help to get a few items covered though and there are some companies products I already love and swear by that I'd love to evangelise (Icebreaker, Petzl, Garmin, Haglofs...).  If anyone can help with that, please let me know!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Race Report: Country to Capital 2017

Country to Capital is a landmark in the race calendar to kick off the year. Starting in Wendover, winding through woods, back lanes and fields to Uxbridge then on canals from there to Little Venice,. 43-ish miles in total, there's a lot on tarmac in the first section,;the rest can be muddy and slippery and the unrelenting flatness of the last 23-ish miles pretty harsh.

It was awesome to know the course pretty well.  Having run the race twice previously (2014 and 2016) and gone for a recce run of the first 13 miles on Christmas Day, there was no need to worry about route finding at all.  Yes, the route isn't marked, but if you know it already that doesn't matter.

We'd agreed we'd run this one together as a "nice day out". Unfortunately it wasn't that nice really. The forecast of overcast then sunny and dry didn't pan out. It started off chilly and breezy, then it started raining, which turned into snow. The cold set in early. We zipped through CP1 without stopping, only slowing to get our timing chips checked in. The checkpoints at this race are pretty limited in terms of food choices (which is good, as my strategy is in-out-gone): mainly cake and jelly babies, but some savoury at CP3 and the end (mini pastry snacks - pork pies, cheese and onion things etc.). They're really good at checking runners through and helping to fill bottles, but beyond that it's pretty minimal and nothing hot, which is hard on a day like this.

I noticed my breathing wasn't quite right early on - breathing too hard for the effort level.  Then my right hamstring got niggly and my brain wasn't being supportive of running well. I got a bit whiney, but MrTOTKat stayed mostly within earshot and waited every now and then for me to catch up. Darkness in the brain was telling me to give up, but that's actually quite hard to do on this route. Checkpoints are far from any useful transport options and as it's point to point, once you're beyond a certain distance you may as well get to the end anyway for the time it would take.

From well before hitting the canal at Uxbridge, I was finding it hard to run the flats all that much. So we were run/walking already before 20 miles in.  Compared with the 2 previous runnings of this race I've done, I was in much worse shape at this stage. Food didn't help and the cold was causing difficulties with my hamstrings. Even when it stopped snowing, it was still really chilly.

MrTOTKat was awesome. I was whingey and petulant even at time, but he was encouraging and supportive; if he'd not been with me, the last 23 miles of the race (and in particular the last 12 or so) would have been miserable instead of just difficult. We jog/walked until the last checkpoint, where it turned out we were 65 mins or so ahead of the cut-off time so we could walk the rest in if we really needed to.

We crossed the line together, freezing cold and in the pitch black. Almost last, but together and in good spirits. It took warm food, many hours and an additional 3 layers to stop shivering hard with the cold. The medal was nicer than last year's, but I think I might have finally realised after three times with this race, that I simply don't enjoy the route. I need to remember that when I'm next tempted to sign up for it.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

LEJoG 2017 - a 1,000 mile training run

[Not the actual route as all on road would be miserable.  More off road is appreciably longer!]
I've wanted to traverse the length of Britain on foot for quite some time and a couple of years ago a window of opportunity almost came up, but then I got a job again so it didn't even get to the planning stage.

Due to an extremely flexible and accommodating employer, I have the opportunity to do it this year.  Starting in May-ish, through June into early July-ish (depending on unforeseen circumstances and work schedule in May).  I've got 44 days to get to Land's End, run to John O'Groats and get home again, and that's including contingency.  It'll take a day to get to the start and a day to get home afterwards, so that's 42 days to cover something around 950-1100 miles, depending on the route I end up with, and a lot of elevation.  And carrying all my own stuff.

Of course, finding a route is the hard part.  I've already spent a day getting really frustrated with trying to get out of the South West using trails and avoiding the South West Coast Path (because it's really super hard!).   It turns out most of the roads in the area have no pedestrian facility either (thanks Streetview!).  So I now have OS Landrangers 203 and 204, up to 182 (thanks to a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer), which I will be laying out on the lounge floor to try to get a much higher level view of where the trails/off-road paths are in relation to each other and have another go.  Once I'm out of the South West, routing gets a whole lot easier with some good other National Trails in Offa's Dyke, the Pennine Way etc.

It's all an elaborate training run for Deadwater at the end of July though!  And an excuse to blog a bit more in the planning and the running of it, and take a bajillion photos.

 Vote for me!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Deadwater: A Goal in 2017

I like multi-days :o)  With a 50 runner limit, by submitting an application that doesn't guarantee entry I was pleased to be accepted into this race: "235 miles, over six stages. It starts in Deadwater on the Scottish border, and it ends at Flint Castle in Wales. Getting an entry today is not an automatic acceptance. We will take only runners that we believe have sufficient endurance experience to take on the challenge. We will notify you either way."  And the image above is what arrives in your email to let you know you've been accepted once your application has been assessed.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Race report: Centurion A100 2016

I learned a lesson this weekend.

Having had the dream come true race at NDW100 a couple of months ago,  I should have been nicely set up for a solid second 100 miler at A100 this weekend.  With 10 weeks in between the two, there was time for a few weeks of recovery, then a couple of weeks of maintenance/re-building and a couple of weeks of taper.  This is what those 10 weeks looked like though:

  1.  Sitting on my backside, as planned, with a cheeky parkrun at the end.
  2. A few gentle jogs, as planned and a flight to California, little parkrun.
  3. Busy week at work in California, 3/6 planned runs, missing the long Sunday run, flight back to the UK.
  4. Flight out to Massachusetts, hot & humid, 5/6 runs, not too bad!
  5. Flight home to the UK/out to Michigan on Monday, really humid & hot, parkrun on Saturday and 2x 15 minute runs in the week.
  6. Flight back home to the UK, knackered, slept for 3 days. Short 3 mile jog and a half-assed attempt at CW50 (managed 25 miles of starting slow and getting slower).
  7. 2x 30 min jogs and a 10 mile obstacle race. Coming down with a cold.
  8. 3/5 planned runs, long run cut short. Getting sneezier and coughing.
  9. 3/6 planned runs, chesty cough really kicking in.
  10. 1x 30 min jog. Chesty cough. Declared "fine" by the doctor on Thursday morning.

Basically, well under 50% planned sessions started, some cut short, not well, 60+ hours of travel over 3 weeks.  This does *not* make for great preparation for a hundred mile race.

Having not really sat down and thought it through, I toed the line at A100 on Saturday morning.  Felt pretty OK, a bit more chesty coughing, but that cleared up after about 3 hours of running.  The first leg was actually lots prettier than I remember that part of the Thames being, but I got a warning shot over the bows.  A short set of steps and my legs felt super heavy going up them.  Drained.  OK, I'd done around 18 miles at the time, but they shouldn't feel like that after 18 miles on the flat and very gently (5-ish hours marathon pace).  Quick dark patch, but then I ignored it and carried on - no point getting wound up about something at this early stage, it only gives fuel to the demons when they arrive later.

I motored in to the end of the first leg in just under 5 hours (just less than 25 miles in to the race).  Feeling sluggish compared with how I expect to feel at this stage I was still pleased to be doing pretty well for a reasonable, not-death-marched finish in another 75 miles or so.  I declined my drop bag - 4, out and back legs to the same central check point gives access to your drop bag 3 times during the race - as I didn't need anything from it, I chugged some Pepsi, filled my water bottles and got out onto leg 2.

Leg 2 and the first of the Ridgeway ones - I expected a bit of climbing but it didn't come for a good while.  I didn't recognise this section for a while until I realised on the outward stretch to the turn-around point that I'd run it in the opposite direction at Druids last year.  This was one of the delightful, hugely runnable descents that I flew down at Druids, kicking through the leaves and not even noticing the tons of tree roots that lay beneath.  Hiking up in the dwindling light, the rain started bang on schedule at 5pm.  Still under the protection of the trees, I whipped out my waterproof and stuck it on before getting out and into the pretty torrential downpour.  Good move as it meant I was completely dry inside that jacket (one I bought in a massive tantrum in the Lake District last year after getting completely soaked to the skin in a different one).  The turnaround point eventually came and I hid from the rain in the gazebo to get out my head torch and chomp on some ham.  Leaving wasn't too hard (lovely though the volunteers were!), I lost my marbles a little as I asked on the way out of the aid station which way to go.  Hm.  It's an out and back.  This is the turnaround point.  Which way do you think you should go?  (that was my inner monologue after I'd been pointed in the right direction and stumped off for a bit drinking my slowly diluting Pepsi in the rain).

The second major warning shot was hitting the lovely runnable descent.  There was still daylight so it should have been still safely runnable.  But my legs weren't playing ball.  More my knees and hips were jarring painfully - my gait was all wrong and I couldn't run downhill comfortably at all.  Darkish moment again, but I had a chat with myself about being about 30 miles in and of course things were going to be not feeling great as I'd just run 30 miles - it's a long way!

Darkness fell and I switched on my head torch.  This was the bit I was looking forward to.  Solitude, at night, in the woods.  This was one of the big reasons for being here after enjoying the overnight so much at NDW100.  I started to enjoy the dark and the owls hooting and a super long stretch without seeing anyone at all.  Glorious!  This is why I run long!  But the visual contrast between tree roots and trail was too low.  Once; I kicked a root really hard, twisted and almost fell down a steep slope to the side but pulled up with the muscles in my back and midriff to save me from hitting the deck.  That really hurt my toe and my back.  Twice; same again a couple of miles later only on the other foot and this time so hard that 24 hours later my toenail is about to come off.  Again I saved myself from hitting the deck, but at the cost of really twisting my back.

Miles 23.5 to 25 - according to my watch 24-32.
I came in to the aid station 4 miles out from the central base point feeling pretty good.  Ready for a quick turnaround with a cup of Pepsi and a water refill, I chugged out again in less than a minute.  At this point I was fed up with my watch to the point of wanting to throw it into the river.  On the first 25ish miles out and back, there was a section of the return leg where it lost its tiny little mind and clocked in 9 miles over a mile and a half of actual distance, with times that started out at 06:59 and ended at 0:48/mile.  I'd seen a couple of miles earlier in the run with silly quick times and thought it was a one-off weirdness and I'd have to mentally allow an extra half mile or so to the end, but this was now beyond annoying.

Uhhh, OK Garmin *pat*pat*pat*
About half a mile beyond this aid station, the wheels catastrophically came off.  I was jogging along pretty slowly and realised my glutes and hamstrings had stopped playing.  My back was pretty sore and bending down, to clear some debris from the inside of my shoe, it was twingeing unpleasantly.  I couldn't actually run at all, there was no power in my legs, and not long after that a runner ahead of me took a walking break and I realised I wasn't catching them while I was jogging.  I tried some food to see if that helped - a delicious peanut butter filled Clif bar (oh *why* can't you buy these ones in the UK!?) - but it didn't seem to make much difference.  Thoughts came and went of being well over 80 miles into NDW before being anywhere near this slow (totally untrue actually, due to the elevation profile of NDW!) and it didn't feel great to realise that (bad brain - lying to me!).  Shortly after that, a couple of other runners actually walked past me while I was jogging.  Not good. Very not good.  My glutes felt congested/sore/weak, as did my hamstrings - not even half way in to this race and my legs were shot.  I had no idea what my pace was as my watch was in la-la land so I was ignoring it completely, but I knew it was less than 3mph and that would make for a touch and go finish in under 28 hours.

And that was that.  I called it.  At Goring, the central base, I came in and sat for a bit with some tea and a tub of cold rice pudding.  Chatted with MrTOTKat, James, Nici, Louise and Melissa, who were all very encouraging and made it super clear that I could get to the finish as I had 16 hours to cover 50 miles, which I could walk if I wanted to.  But when I stood up, my legs were like a baby deer's.  I was wobbly, unsteady and lacking in much control to go forwards.  I know I could have jog/walked it in to just about beat the 28 hour cut-off, but I didn't want to finish like that.  I didn't come to this race to walk for more than half of it (having hiked a few earlier sections, and the second 2 legs being slightly longer than the first).  I did really want to run into the dawn as that is a glorious experience, but I wasn't going to get that today.  I knew why I was in this position and I wasn't happy about it.  It was 100% my responsibility and I'd gotten over-excited about doing another 100 that I was simply not in a fit state to do.  I cried through sheer frustration and disappointment, and James was really good about that.  I was also angry that I'd let a few people down through my own ego drowning out the pragmatic part of me.  I was angry with myself for all the people who'd wanted to run this race and I'd gotten a place that they'd wanted and was throwing it away.  I could have marched on for some more miles, but there was no point in doing that for the heck of it.  I was pretty perky, awake, full of energy and enthusiasm for getting through the night without sleeping, but my legs were simply not on the same page.

Ya think?
Centurion Running races are super professionally organised, staffed by genuinely lovely people with runners needs front of mind at all times.  I can't praise the staff and volunteers enough - and I'm hoping to give back some by volunteering a couple of times in 2017 (I loved it at 2014 NDW!).  It's a great community and I'm glad to be a part of it!

I will be back though to the Autumn 100.  The first two legs are lovely and I know I'm capable of the distance, I "just" need to put in the smart work beforehand to give it the respect it's due.  Onwards and upwards!