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ultra running

Thetford Forest 10K Night Run, Thurlow 10 Mile and The Stort30 Ultra.

October has been a silly month.  Too many longer distance events all inside four weeks:  it won’t happen again.  That being said, I have learnt something about myself: I think I am slowly becoming conditioned to the longer runs, as I do not seem to require the recovery (time-wise) that is often quoted for longer runs.  For example, I ran the Kings Forest Ultra, and with no running in between, I felt really strong at the Thetford Forest 10K Night Run.  Less than a week later I was able to run the Thurlow 10 Mile race, and again, I felt good!  Then, just a week later, I ran the Stort30 Ultra, having volunteered as 25 minute pacer at parkrun the day before.  The rule of thumb is one thing, and I recognise the need for rest, but, there is a lot to be said for becoming conditioned, and knowing your own body, and what works for you!

Thetford Forest 10K Night Trail

Ely Runners: James, Clare, Lauren, me and Nicola at the Thetford Forest 10K Night Trail.

The Thetford Forest 10K Night Trial was special for one main reason: it was Ely Runner Lauren’s return to events for the first time after a long period of injury.  Lauren of Girl Running Late fame, has had to endure plantar fasciitis.  Lauren might not think this, but she has tackled her injury with patience and self-discipline, at least outwardly:  I am sure it has been a bit more complex closer to home.  Any way, she was back, and raring to go!  Lauren made it clear she was sticking with me, and I made it clear to her that she should not do this given I had ran The Kings Forest Ultra only days before.  Once that waffle was out of the way, and we had posed for pics with other Ely Runners, off we set!  Lauren was strong from the offset, and in her typical style, she pelted along, occasionally checking I was still there.  I am under no illusions that I was faster than I have been before; I know Lauren was taking it easier than usual;  but it felt good to cross the line just behind such an amazing runner; with her taking the third lady position; and considering I had ran the Kings Forest Ultra just days before.  The Thetford Forest 10K night trail is a really fun race!  Do it in 2020!

Thurlow 10

Each year, Haverhill Running Club organise and host the Thurlow 5 and 10: a choice of a 5 or 10 mile race through picturesque Suffolk Countryside, starting and finishing in the village of my childhood: Thurlow.

I first ran this race in 2016, and I know that I will run it every year until I can do so no more.  I love the atmosphere, the way Haverhill Running Club encourages everyone, and of course the fact that I get to run through my old stomping ground.  It is pure nostalgia for me.

A couple of years back, I agreed to run the event with an old primary school friend, Jacqui.  In fact, Jacqui was my girlfriend at that tender age: but she doesn’t like to dwell on this!  The first time we ran the Thurlow 10 together we chatted away and took our time.  Fast forward to the most recent race: Jacqui and I found ourselves stood next to each other at the start line, and, although we had not agreed to run together, when we set off, we found ourselves running side-by-side and at the same pace.  We commented on how we were running too quickly, and then it occurred to me just how fast Jacqui had become over just a couple of years.  We stuck together for the whole race, and it is a tough one: undulating – with hills that are long and steady rather than steep.  We had a natter, but there was the understanding that we might need to keep quiet when it got tough.  We talked way less than we did the first time we ran together, as our pace this time was not at all conducive to conversation!

The race took us from Great Thurlow into Little Thurlow;  with bit of trail along the river Stour into the hamlet of Little Bradley;  uphill to Noarley Moat Farm and along tracks into the village of Cowlinge.  A bit of a loop took us back the way we came until there was a long sweeping downhill back into the Thurlows.  I was really pleased to see an old school friend, Neil Mustoe (Haverhill Running Club), who was marshalling out in Cowlinge:  what a superb and encouraging gentleman he is.

Speedy Jacqui, having aced the Thurlow 10.

I had a quick think about how I would tell Jacqui how I felt as we both executed a sprint finish.  I did not want to sound in any way patronising, so I told her exactly this, and how amazed I was at her progress over the past couple of years.  Jacqui seemed chuffed with my observations, but nowhere near as chuffed as she was with her overall pace and race!  She really was bloody amazing!  Oh, and I won a spot prize!  See you again next year, Haverhill Running Club!

Stort30

I then spent just under a week resting.  I did my usual parkrun pacing on the Saturday, but other than that, I did nothing:  I ran not one step.  I went though all kinds of anxieties in the lead up to the Strort30  (a 30 mile trail race in Bishops Stortford along the River Stort).  I entered this race ages ago, and all I could think of by the Saturday night before the event was just how many miles-worth of racing I had done so far in October 2019: too many:  but I was coping.

I ran this race with fellow Ely Runners, Andrew and Emily.  Emily drove us to Bishops Stortford at a silly time in the morning, having laid on a bit of a 90s play list on her car stereo (it was interesting and amusing).  We all reminded each other the night before of the fact that the clocks had to go back an hour.  The following image should tell you who ballsed up the necessary clock action.  I will leave this here….

Clocks back balls up.

The Stort30 is a super-friendly and well-organised event laid on by Challenge Running.  It incorporates the ‘UK trail Running Championships’ Middle Distance Race; something we become all to aware off when we looked at many of the other runners at the start: there were some serious looking people:  the kind of people we knew would see this race as a bit of a walk in the park!  All we cared about was finishing, and given this race had half-way and overall cut-off times, this focussed our minds somewhat!

The route was a glorious run along canal and riverside, often on track, but at times on uneven and very muddy footpaths.  I loved the slippery mud, Emily hated it, and Andrew, in typical Andrew style wasn’t too fussed either way!  There was a generous number of aid/ food stations, staffed by really friendly, chatty and helpful volunteers! One of these stations was home to the self-confessed most-inappropriate volunteers.  We won’t go into detail, but they were funny and superb!  Emily had in her ultra vest a stash of boiled new potatoes in butter and salt:  this made me like her even more than I usually do, and during the whole event I got two potatoes from her!

We agreed on running the first 15 miles and then adopting some kind of run/walk/run strategy on the return (this was an out and back course).  The first half went well, although the muddy parts of the river path were really hard work, but the weather was amazing, as were the views!  The canal stretches were gorgeous with the quaint locks and gorgeous little cottages.

Half way, and Mr. Scarlett maintains the rabbit ears tradition.

Andrew is pretty understated and matter of fact about all events, although this is not to say he is not enthusiastic, and anyone who knows him well will know he loves a chat! When Andrew wasn’t chatting with Emily and me, he pulled ahead for a while to chat with people ahead of us:  legend!

During the longer distance races and training runs I have ran with Emily, I have found her to be superb company, very funny, and at the same time, mercurial in her moods.  Emily will tell you just how she is feeling during an ultra, sparing no detail, and unapologetic for her language.  It is brilliant!  But, it makes me very mindful of how bossy I can be when there is a distance to cover, and especially when there are cut off times to consider!  To this end, I carefully dictated the run/walk/run strategy on the return journey, which was, for the best part a 4:1 (four minutes run, one minute walk).  This worked well, but I was mindful of how acutely Emily was feeling the eternity of the four and the transiency of the one!  I studied Emily’s facial expression and body language carefully before each announcement of a run section.  I would not want to give the impression that Emily is in any way unpleasant:  far from it, she is lovely!  She just wears her heart on her sleeve during ultras!  Ultras are tough!  I place Emily in with a handful of the very toughest and mentally stubborn people I know.  Although equally tough, Andrew is a different creature: whether he found it tough or not, he gave me the impression he had just popped out to post a letter!

The last few miles of this event did drag on somewhat.  It was not hilly, but at times it was a technical run, with tree roots and very wet mud on uneven paths.  But, we got that usual second wind, and as we approached the finish, the fact that we had to do a lap of a field before the crossing the finish line was made all the more palatable by the fact that there was a still a crowd out, shouting and cheering for us, even though we were among the later finishers in an event that included some fast runners!  Crossing the line with Andrew and Emily was amazing, and after a cuppa, a clean up and a hobble back to the car; we found ourselves chuffed with the shirts and medals, but more importantly, happy with what we had shared together.

A special mention should go out to the organisers and volunteers of the Stort30!  Brilliant event!  Do enter it!  I will be in 2020!

Stort30 happy finishers!

What next!  Nothing major for a while.  I need a period of fewer miles.  More another time!

ultra running

The Kings Forest 50K Ultra.

The Kings Forest Ultra (by Positive Steps) deserves a blog entry of its own!  I learned a good few things!

From the outset, it must be said, that like all events organised and laid on by Positive Steps, this one was well-organised, the course was well marked-out, the check points were superb, and the marshals and other volunteers were happy and friendly!

The Kings Forest is just a few miles from Bury St Edmunds, and the ultra comprises of two loops taking you to the marathon distance, and then a smaller loop to make the route 31 miles.  It is not the most challenging course in the world, but stone and mud paths with regular tree roots and other hazards becomes all the more demanding over a longer distance!

My personal view (I am only a few ultras in now, so I am no expert) is that once a certain distance is covered, and one group of muscles has had it, the gait alters and a new set of muscles gets its turn for a battering:  I really felt this during the Kings Forest Ultra!  A lot!

 

Me with Martin Lewis, fellow Ely Runner and ultra mentalist.

Fellow Ely Runner, Martin Lewis and I travelled over to this event together, and it became clear that we would have a stab at the race together.  We talked tactics and had a long discussion about run/ walk strategies.  We agreed that we both still find that it doesn’t feel right to adopt a run/ walk approach right from the outset, and yet more experienced and superior ultra runners than us use this technique with huge success.  We agreed to give it a go.  When Martin and I set off, we noted that a fellow Ely Runner (who has completed a huge number of marathons and ultras) was adopting what looked like a 4 minute run/ 1 minute walk approach from the off.  A little bit of reading after the event helped me to appreciate just how sensible a run/ walk approach right from the start is.  However, Martin  and I did not start start run/ walking right way.  How rubbish are we!?

The trail was not demanding in terms of hills; it was all pretty flat apart from slight and long inclines and declines.  It was clear that Martin loves downhill stretches: he used this to experiment with speed, and it was impressive.  I, being a bit of an old fart, use down hill stretches to rest, let my arms hang and to lower the heart rate a bit.

Amazing people! Lisa and Kyle!

At this point, it should be mentioned that at the start it was a huge boost for me to see fellow Ely Runners: Peter, Lisa and Kyle, who had all volunteered at the event.  What amazing people!  Martin and I got a huge kick out of seeing them twice at a checkpoint they were stationed at on the big loop.  Lisa gave me a packet of Love Heart sweets!  She knows I always have them on me at an ultra:  she is wonderful, and my main ultra running buddy!

The first loop went well, with Martin and I covering it having executed a decent pace, and with relatively little effort.  Things got much tougher as we approached around mile 21 in the second loop.  We had well before this stage agreed to adopt a ‘rapid’ mile/ one minute walk strategy, and it really worked!  Don’t get me wrong, enough runners had remained ahead of us, and some overtook us, but the speed of our mile sections was rapid, and it meant we overtook people!

We ran and chatted with fellow Ely Runner and Ely Tri Club member,  Naomi Course.  She, Martin and I talked about triathlons and duathlons for a while.  Naomi has a very consistent pace; it was great to meet her!

Martin and I ate well, with him eating better than I did (I still really struggle with eating during ultras, preferring to eat loads in the two days in the lead up).  Martin ate his vegetarian wraps and scotch eggs and I plumped for the usual spam sarnies!

Cheesy feet!

Then there was the cheesy feet!  A bit like cheese scones, but thin and in the shape of feet!  They are a delight, and I have encountered them on the LDWA events only before the Kings Forest!

Like I have said, the second half was tough, with me thinking Martin was dictating the pace, and with him having asked me to organise and time the run/ walk strategy.  There is no doubt this was a team effort.  We were a superb team.  It was a joy to cross the chip timer strip at mile 26, and there was a fair bit of crowd support given we were in a forest!  At the mile 26 point, with a 5 mile loop ahead of us, we were feeling good!  I necked a whole bottle of Lucozade (flattened the night before and left in my bag in a designated area) and ditched my ultra vest, and off we went!  Martin had to bolster me up a few times in the final 5 miles, as I felt my mood dip:  we had discussed how we had passed runners who had clearly had enough and were suffering physically and mentally: we were doing OK at this stage!

I had some twinges in my left calf, and this concerned me a lot!  But for some reason, the pain moved around my left leg as we progressed through the final loop, as if it my body was sharing its protest, and not allowing one area to take on all of the grief.  There was a debate going on in my head at around mile 29, and the side for the prosecution, with the argument that I am an idiot, was winning!  Martin was the man when it came to leadership near the end!  He reminded me of where we were at mile 30 and just how near we were to finishing.  I recall giving him a little push in the small of his back and telling him that I insisted that he went over the finish line before me, and I thought as he pulled away what an amazing runner Martin has become from his beginnings on the Ely Runners Beginners’ course in 2018:  he has become a stronger runner than me in many ways, and this sits just right with me.  Top bloke.

The finish line was superb, and I had been looking forward to it, as it was time to collect my Grand Slam tankard for completing three Positive Steps ultras in the year.  I was greeted at the finish line, presented with my tankard and photographs were taken.

Being presented with the Grand Slam tankard for the Peddars Way 48 miler; the Norfolk 100K and the Kings Forest 50K.

I would like to thank Martin for being a superb running buddy throughout this race: we were both pleased with our performance, and we helped each other out no end.

What next? The Thetford Forest Night Trail, and the superb Thurlow 10 miler! More soon!

 

 

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trail running, ultra running

The 2019 Flower of Suffolk

I have been looking forward to the 2019 Flower of Suffolk 18 miler ever since the same Ely Runners crew ran the SVP50!   Charlotte, Emily and Jon are superb running buddies, and I knew that this event would be a laugh as well putting us through some effort as well as exposing us to some gorgeous countryside.

This particular event, laid on on by the Norfolk & Suffolk LDWA (I think this one was more a result of the efforts of the Norfolk LDWA) was a great route, and we opted for the 18 mile option, perhaps just as well given the weather on the day!  There is no way to describe how wet it was, it went from torrential to heavy and back all day: with no breaks.

I am mortified at the error I made in my poor preparation for this event.  It rained for a short while at the Ely Tri Club Ultra the week before, so I packed away and zipped up a wet and perhaps slightly sweaty HIGHER STATE waterproof shell/ jacket, and left it in the boot of my car.  I decided to open it in the car on the way to the Flower of Suffolk:  the aroma was far from pleasant, and way from flower-like.  I am not sure Charlotte, Jon and Emily will ever get over it.  I discovered small patches of mould inside the jacket:  it was not good.  I am ashamed.  Rookie error.

We rocked up at Walberswick Village Hall (on the Suffolk Coast) nice and early, but we were still a few minutes late as poor Jon had had to negotiate the most treacherous of driving conditions; so bad that on the way there we got to the stage where we all felt that the event must have been cancelled.  On arrival, we hurriedly made ourselves known to the friendly organisers, and once given our checkpoint cards, we were away.  I had little choice but to wear the horrid jacket, but we were soon to discover that the weather, and even worse smells would soon neutralise the offence I had caused so far.

The start.

We stood in the porch of the Village Hall for ages, discussing the route, swearing about the rain and setting up watches: I know these were all delay tactics!  None of us could believe the state of the weather; and we all knew it was going to be like this for the duration.  Off we set!

It was hard not to be introspective, to look at the ground just in front of us, and to deny the distance we had to cover in such conditions.  Very early on, I recall commenting to Jon that were it not for the rain, taking a little look round would confirm that it was a gorgeous route.  Jon was not ready for such positivity!  I felt that maybe in some way he blamed me for us all being there in the pouring rain:  it was in fact Emily’s fault this time!

The route took as along the edge of the Dunwich Forest, and for a while just inside it.  The path around and the through the Forest was challenging in that it was undulating, and at times we were just below knee level in water.  The route was not coping with the sudden amount of rain.  After a while, we gave up avoiding the really deep stretches of water, and ran through them: you can’t get wetter than wet!

Dry compared with what was to come.

We had the sea to our left for the first half of the route, and although we only got glimpses of it, when we did, it was amazing!  Loud, rough and scary to see!  At a few points along the route were pig farms, higher up than us and flooding into our path!  This made for interesting and smelly wading at several points!

We had some great chats with staff at the aid stations!  It was raining very heavily at the first check point, with the poor volunteers holding onto the marquee/ tent shelter, as it was threatening to blow away!  At another aid station, we perhaps outstayed our welcome and ate a lot of date balls (amazing); crisps and fruit.  The aid station of the day was being looked after by brilliant people with amazing Norfolk accents, who had prepared home-made jam and butter on brioche: we could not leave it alone! We liberated a lot of the food at this station!

Very brief respite from the rain!

I have tried to identify a ringleader for depths of inappropriateness to which we plummeted ‘conversation-wise’ during this run:  I could point to Charlotte, but I am not sure that would be fair, as we all covered subject matter that shocked one another, and maybe ourselves, but it certainly helped us get through what would have been, on any other day a pretty straightforward 18-miler.  But, due to the very challenging conditions, we were on our feet for a long time and we needed to get each other through it.

Controversial subject matter (and singing 90s House Music to each other) got us through it.  Emily reminded me of ‘Smart E’s Sesame’s Treet (by singing it whilst running through pigs’ slurry).  I love her for this, and for throwing me back to 1992, just for a few moments!

The final stretch!

For me, the stretch at the end was the highlight: we were on the beach, and the sea was crazy!  We all managed a final push back into the Village Hall, to discover the whole floor had been ‘tarped’ and the kitchen as laying on tea as well as beans on toast with grated cheese!  We all ate and drank whilst quietly steaming, before posing for a photo and then using the very small toilets to get changed into dry track suits:  let’s just say Jon and I got to know each other a little better, and we laughed” a LOT!

Wet, full of beans, and happy!

What an amazing, low-key, friendly and well-organised event by the Norfolk & Suffolk LWDA. I do hope Charlotte, Emily and Jon have another stab at this in 2020! I will be; and I almost hope for rain!

Round Norfolk Relay, ultra running

Round Norfolk Relay and The Ely Tri Club Ultra Marathon

 

The 2019 Round Norfolk Relay

My last blog entry covered a bit of a disastrous training run on Devil’s Dyke in Cambridgeshire:  I am pleased to start this entry with what I regard as a successful contribution to my club’s entry in the 2019 Round Norfolk Relay (RNR).  This will be offset by an enjoyable but far from straightforward Ely Tri Club Ultra (more on that later).

Within my running club is a small, dedicated team, who’s task it is to put together and organise runners for each leg of this popular relay event.  Back when the team was being put together, it seemed like a great idea to take on leg number 12:  the longest stetch at 19.67 miles.  The time to actually run it came round very quickly, and the nerves really kicked in;  much more than usual.  I suspect this is because of the awareness of the efforts of team mates covering the other legs of the race.  Not only this:  leg 12 is the longest, it requires a steady and rapid pace (not power walking up hills as in ultra marathons), and it has to be started at about half past midnight with support from team members following you in a van.

Given I have three young sons, who I could not expect to keep quiet while I tried to sleep during usual hours, I decided to sleep at my parent’s home on the Saturday afternoon, having already volunteered as a steady pacer at Littleport parkrun that morning.  I am not overly keen on going to bed at night, let alone during the day, so I did not get a lot of sleep, but, given my Mum was involved, I got fed very well!

Fast forward to 22:30 hours on the Saturday night, I found myself in my car in a field in Scole, on the Norfolk/ Suffolk border.  There were other runners around already, and some friendly RNR volunteers to chat with.  I sat and used my iPhone to check the progress of the Ely Runners in the legs just before me, and then I jogged the first mile of my leg, just to check that I knew the way out of Scole before the long, straight stretch of around 16 miles.

It wasn’t long before Ely Runners volunteers, Caroline and Michelle showed up to reassure me, and to transport my car to the end of my leg.  Even though we had a fair wait until it was time for the baton to be handed over to me, it came along quite quickly. I was expected to finished my leg with a time of 2:57:02, requiring of me a constant 9-minute mile pace over just under 20 miles.  Fellow Ely Runner (and Michelle’s hubby), Allistair run down the road towards me (looking very strong), handed to me the baton, and I was off, with the van following just behind me.

Me running leg 12 of the RNR. The blurring was not caused by my speed.

The support van following me was being driven by Ely Runners, James and Andy, and in the back was Lisa (who I ran Peddars Way and the Norfolk 100 with).  They made it clear I should gesture if I needed anything, and apart from me asking for a drink three times, and for the occasional chat and word of support from them, they left me to it.

I was running under 9 minute miles from the off, and I put this down to a fast start (as is often the case), but, it turned out I had sub-9 minute miles in me all the way!  I did NOT expect this, and although I got overtaken by plenty of leg 12 competitors, it was a great feeling for me to overtake a couple of runners!  The middle part of the race felt good, with me knocking out my fastest pace.  Running at night in the cool suited me, and as I don’t really do loneliness, and like solitary running, the dark and quiet was just fine.  The last couple of miles was tough given I had been pushing myself, but once I could see fellow Ely Runner, Matthew, waiting for the baton,  I managed a sprint finish.  James handed me my medal, and the van disappeared, following a rapid Matthew!

Caroline was at Thetford, the end of my leg, to give me a hug (poor lady – I was really quite sweaty) and to hand me my car keys.

The drive home was interesting: I had pushed this race hard, and I had completed it inside my predicted time (just).  I was very dehydrated, and I necked a lot of water during a steady drive home.  I pulled over twice in Newmarket to vomit by the roadside.  When I got home I snuck indoors and got into the bed in the spare room, with the cold shivers.  It took me just under a week to properly recover.  It was a performance I was happy with, even if it did hurt!  Special thanks to the Ely Runners organisers/ van support and club volunteers, as well as the other leg runners.  I can’t wait for the 2020 RNR, but I do not want leg 12 again!

RNR bib and bling!

The 2019 Ely Tri Club Ultra Marathon

I really did prepare for the 41 mile Ely Tri Club Ultra.  I slept well, ate sensibly and hydrated adequately for 24 hours in the lead up to the event.  The race was from outside Ely Cathedral to not far from Jesus Green in Cambridge (and back the same way).  I was pleased to be running this event with ultra buddy, Lisa, and fellow Ely Runner, Martin (his first ultra).

It all started off just fine after a natter with various marshals and fellow runners; if not a tad too quickly for my liking.  I noticed that it was not that far after we left Ely and headed along the river that a couple of people had adopted a very early run/ walk strategy.  There is nothing wrong with that:  am a well aware of how superbly it can work and how quickly distances can be covered with this approach.  We did not take this approach until the second half of the race, and we got to Cambridge and the half way point (20.5 miles) pretty quickly, having stopped only briefly at the superb aid stations.  It should be noted that Ely Tri Club, who have just taken this race on, organised it amazingly:  the marshals were caring; funny and attentive; the course was well-marked out and the aid stations were plentiful and generously stocked.  Martin was great company (as expected), and Lisa, who I am now quite used to, was predictably smiley, reassuring and enthusiastic.  The weather on this run oscillated between exposed sun, and heavy rain, with a pretty constant wind (in our faces on the way out).  It was OK.

Things started to go a little wrong towards the end of the first half: I could feel aching around the site of an old leg break.  I have had some metal work in my left tibia for over 20 years now.  It does not play up often, but when it does, it really can slow me down. This time, it was not about to go away, and this, coupled with some low-level nausea from overindulgence in full fat coke, placed a dark cloud over me for a good proportion of the second half.

With Ely Runners, Lisa and Martin at the start of the Ely Tri Club Ultra

I noted at between 33 and 35 miles, Martin started to question the sanity of running this far.  If this was him edging into the mental struggles that arise on ultras, he was very dignified and calm about it.  I had started to complain regularly and quite openly, with a marked deterioration in my language.  As usual, Lisa, who also struggled in the second half, had positive things to say and kept feeding us doses of that smile!  When there was around 5 miles to go, Martin made it clear that a run/walk approach this close to the end was no longer for him, as he wanted it to over and done with:  with that he pulled away.  About two miles from the finish, Lisa announced that she had got a second wind, and she also pulled ahead.  Although I did not have it in me to keep up with Lisa (my knee and my guts would not permit it), Lisa being slightly in front of me did keep me going, especially given I could see two other runners in the distance behind me.  I decided I wanted to keep them there.  Cherry Hill in Ely is the last thing you want at the end of a 41 mile ultra, but once at the top and through The Porta, it felt amazing to run along The Gallery and left to the finish on Palace Green.

Look closely. Martin at the end of the road not far from Wicken Fen.

The Ely Tri Club team and volunteers really made a fuss of us at the end, and they looked after me given how wobbly I was as I approached their tent.  I was given a deck chair and a drink and I was watched for a few minutes.  What a superb event!  What superb running buddies!  A huge congratulations to Martin for his first ultra performance in tough conditions!

Post 41 miles: soaked and knackered.

Like an idiot,  I have the Flower of Suffolk 18 miler just a week after the Ely Tri Ultra, then the Kings Forest Ultra:  we shall see.

Uncategorized

Devil’s Dyke, the brilliant Bedford Running Festival, and the England Athletics award.

I have ultras to run soon: the Ely Tri Club Ultra this month and the Kings Forest and Stort 30 next month: plenty to focus the mind.  Things don’t always go well!  Read on!

When things go badly. 

I am the kind of person who doesn’t always learn from mistakes the first time round.  Once before I have ventured out on a longish run, seemingly well-prepared and equipped, only to realise that it has gone wrong due to heat, and poor hydration the day before.  I allowed this to happen again, in a big way over the recent bank holiday weekend.  The decision to run from Burwell to Woodditton and back along Devil’s Dyke was a little last-minute.  I am given to understand that we had record temperatures for an August Bank Holiday in the UK, and I decided to leave my run until late morning.  My thinking was that it is important to condition oneself to hot days, as you can’t choose the weather on the day of an ultra, so I ran it later on this baking day:  the reality is I am lazy and wanted to lay in bed a bit longer!

I adore the Devil’s Dyke run:  it is scenic, quiet, and I have never failed to see amazing wildlife.  The run to Woodditton was fine, although I was very hot, and had drank over half of the water I had in my ultra vest at this halfway point.  There is a garden with plum trees in Woodditton and the owners had left a sign out saying ‘help yourself’.  I ate three of the most sweet and watery out of season plums, and began to feel better almost right away.  This did not last long.

Burwell to Woodditton along Devil’s Dyke: very little shade!

The run back was starting to feel very difficult, and this surprised me a little, as I had only ran just over 6.5 miles, and I am used to greater distances.  I was drinking what was left of my water very quickly, and yet I could not satiate my thirst:  this, together with a slight stagger in my gait and a sense of dread I could not quite put my finger on started to really concern me.  It was at mile ten that I realised I might be in trouble, as I had water left, but was starting to feel quite unwell.  I was covered up enough from the sun and had applied sun cream and block where needed: but wow, it was hot!  The final three miles turned into a kind of run/ jog/ walk affair – and I hate to walk when out on a run.  Two miles out from where I had parked my car and I seriously thought about sitting in the shade of a bush and calling someone to come and rescue me; but, being a stubborn chap (or a fool), I decided to press on.  I was staggering like I was drunk when I got to the 13 mile point.

When I got to my car, I had already drank all of my water.  I started the engine and got the air conditioning going, and found a bottle of Lucozade in the boot that I had decanted and flattened and put back in the bottle for the Stour Valley path.  I didn’t care if it was off: it went straight down the hatch!  I then sat in the car and cooled down before driving into Burwell to purchase a lot of full-fat Coke!  I necked it all and sat in the car for another ten minutes before driving home.  I felt rough for the rest of the day, and I genuinely feel that were I further out than three miles from my car, I would have been in serious trouble.  It was an unusually hot day (proper hot), but I am sure it was down to poor hydration the day before.  Maybe I will learn this time!

The 2019 Bedford Running Festival.

I ran the 10K at this running event last year with top running buddy, Lauren girlrunninglate.  It is known for the superb atmosphere, pleasant route and amazing medals!  No different this year!  Sadly, Lauren was not able to make the 10K and Half Marathon she had booked, as she has been nursing an injury (which she was and is gutted about), but at least there were other Ely Runners to enjoy the weekend with.  I decided to treat the 10K as a tempo run, as I did not want to do anything silly given some important events I have coming up, but mainly as I was due to run the half marathon the next morning.  I really enjoyed the run and the route, and I was pleased enough with my time given what I wanted from the race.  Fellow Ely Runner, Chris and his wife did amazingly, as did the superb Charlotte, who posed with me to help Erdinger Alkoholfrei boost their sales!

Sarah and Chris Clowe, with a Charlotte photo bomber at the back!
Boosting sales of Erdinger Alkoholfrei.

The organisation, marshalling and race village was all superb for the 10K!  The next morning I made my way back to Bedford for the half marathon.  I simply could not face hammering it, and once I had gathered with Ely runners, Don; Shaun and Jon, we decided to have a steady run round the race in order to take it all in.  This half marathon turned out to be one I will never forget: we had huge fun and had great chats with people along the way.  The three of us were in awe of a few Ely Runners who lapped us early in the race and went on to get amazing times, and we all had a laugh and a show off for the photographers.  Just once in a while, I like to get round an event without doing it in anger: it is good for the soul!

Don, Shaun and Jon: amazing running buddies!

Do enter the 2020 Bedford Running Festival! It is amazing, and you get extra bling for running more than one race!

Multiple bling at the 2019 Bedford Running Festival!

The 2019 England Athletics Volunteer Awards

Due to a kind and thoughtful nomination by fellow Ely Runner, Natalie Andrews, and the fact that her nomination was shortlisted, I won the 2019 England Athletics Easter Region Volunteer award (Inclusion category).  This was for inclusive approaches around the Ely Runners Beginners’ course as well as my work promoting access to parkrun for people with a learning disability and/ or autism.  I was invited to the Bedford International Stadium to have lunch, meet the other category winners and some England Athletics Officials, including Neil Costello, who presented me with my award.  I was greeted by friendly staff, who looked after me, gave me food, showed me to the showers (I had just ran the Bedford Half Marathon) and talked me through the awards ceremony.  I watched the athletics event at the Stadium and was presented with my award.  It remains to be said that the stuff I have done to be nominated could not have happened without platforms such as my employer, Thera East Anglia Thera East Anglia and the amazing Ely Runners Ely Runners and its beginners’ coaches.

The 2019 England Athletics Volunteer Awards.

What next?  The Round Norfolk Relay and The Ely Tri Club Ultra!  I will post again after these and before the Kings Forest Ultra, the Flower of Suffolk 18 miler and the Kings Forest Ultra!

Always hydrate well the day before a run!

trail running, ultra running

Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog; RunNorwich 10K; Plogging; a couple of awards and the Stour Valley Path 50K ultra!

A lot has occurred since the last blog!  Parkruns;  a couple of Kevin League Races; coaching the amazing Ely Runners Beginners and general training.  Among all of this, two awards for work around inclusive approaches on the beginners’ course as well as promotion of access to parkrun for people with a learning disability and/ or autism.  The first was the Ely Heroes ‘Sporting Hero’, which I won having been nominated by the amazing Lauren girlrunninglate and then, winner of the Eastern Region of the England Athletics Inclusion Awards; nominated by the amazing Natalie Andrews.  All very flattering and a little surprising!  One of the most touching aspects of these awards was the Ely Runners Coaches and current beginners rocking up to the awards to surprise me!

Resplendent in sash with my nominator, Lauren, and surprised by the Ely Runners Coaches and current beginners!

Back to running!  The Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog might be THE event of the year!  The race is hugely popular and takes runners through winding and undulating forest trail at High Lodge.  It’s so much fun that it’s hard to describe!  Just do it some day!

Ely Runners at the annual Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog. Note the double rabbit ear.

I had my fourth stab at RunNorwich 10K, it’s another favourite of mine, and a big event.  There’s a tough hill in this one, with amazing crowd support and a great medal!  Do try this one!

I was introduced to plogging recently.  I feel guilty that I hadn’t heard of it before.  Fellow Ely Runner, Shaun grabbed a few Ely Runners and we ran/ jogged a brief route on the outskirts of Ely whilst picking up litter, which Shaun then went on to recycle.  This was a satisfying experience, we had a laugh and managed to clear a lot of litter!  It is rather a shame that plogging is necessary, but I did win the strangest item of the plog having discovered a peeled boiled egg!  We will be plogging again soon!

Ely Runners after a plogging session.

I had been so looking forward to the Stour Vally Path 50K Ultra marathon as it was due to be the first ultra for fellow Ely Runners, Jon and Emily.  I had arranged to run it with them:  they have both trained so hard and shown pure determination in their approach.  So there now follows an account of the event, with plenty of pics!  With permission from Jon and Emily, it is ‘warts and all’!

It was quite a journey to get to the start having dropped a car off at the end of the route, and it was great to see Ely Runner, Charlotte at registration.  Having registered and as we waited to start I sensed some nerves and anticipation from Jon, while Emily organised herself, clearly uncomfortable at having to do so really close to the off!  Eventually we were all herded off to the start.

Emily, Daz, Charlotte, Jon and me.

From the offset it was clear how stunning the Suffolk countryside is along the Stour Valley Path; being a Suffolk boy, I know some of the area, and it being hilly was no surprise to me.  Jon and Emily did not expect the hills to be as sudden and steep as they were!  We hit a good few climbs, and we used the perfectly acceptable ultra approach of power walking them, often adopting the hands pushing on quads and knees technique.

Coach Emily demonstrating the hands pushing on quads approach to powering up hills. Perfect! The cow to the right approves!

It would be fair to say that although Emily and Jon enjoyed their first ultra, it was a strange kind of ‘enjoyed’:  both of them longed for the first aid station, and there was much grumbling about the hills.  As I was there in the capacity of support and encouragement, I had to read them both carefully to judge when pushing just became annoying:  Jon only insulted me and told me to ++++ off a few times, and as for Emily, I was more wary of her, and took silence as a sign to ease off a bit.  Later in the event, they both told me that they had appreciated the approach, which I was really pleased to hear.  The first aid station was at mile 11, and it really was the most amazing oasis!  I have to say that the food was the best I have encountered at an event:  they laid on boiled new potatoes rolled in crushed rock salt!  We all ate a little too much at this point!  Emily clearly felt better at having reached this milestone, and her mood visibly lifted.  Off we went!

The Stour Vally Path crews laid on very friendly aid stations, with amazing food! They could not do enough for us! I avoided the eggs, as much as I wanted them!

Leaving the first aid station was tough, and we faffed about a bit too much to avoid the inevitable, but we were rewarded with even more beautiful countryside as we progressed.  It was during this stage that Jon rather poetically commented “I think it was round here that Constable painted all his sh*t”:  beautiful.

Moving on to section leading to the aid station at around mile 26, Emily started to struggle mentally:  she was a little tearful and could not see this particular check point soon enough.  I had been encouraging them to run on the flats and downhill, and leading slow runs where it was favourable.  Mood-wise, Emily really picked up at the aid station, as she knew it was only a matter of 4.5 to 5 miles to go!

 

A certain amount of relief, with Jon wanting it to be over, and Emily close to meltdown before the final aid station: this pic is deceiving!

The final push saw a total change in Emily, who took the lead in initiating the run sections, so I backed off a bit.  Jon became more chatty and less resentful at my pushing, and we covered this final section pretty rapidly: the dark had set in and we used head torches to work our way through the final sheep-filled fields and onto the finish, which was marked out with ribbons and glow sticks.

There was a short run into Cattawade before we spotted Charlotte, who had ran amazingly!  She trotted along with us to the finish, which was emotional given how relieved and happy Jon and Emily looked.  There was an amazing women handing out the medals, who administered hugs, whether they were wanted or not: this was superb!  Emily was visibly moved, whereas Jon was more reserved, until things sank in on the way home, when he admitted to feeling a little emotional.  It was a joy to see them finish what was a tough 31 miles of trial.

Ultra events make you think; they put you through a range of emotions, and they test you much more mentally than they do physically.  So what next?  The Kings Forest Ultra in October!

Emily and Jon, well done, and Charlotte, thank you!

More later.

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trail running

Post – Norfolk 100K, and the Wolsey Waddle 20 miler.

At the time of writing it is 19 days since I completed the Norfolk 100K Ultra Marathon.  I am still learning about recovery, and I do not recover quite as swiftly as some seasoned ultra runners!  The day after the ultra I was in the usual pain that a huge effort might bring, but as is always the case with me, it was day two when it really hit me:  some toenails hurt (I am losing two more);  I had chaffed areas;  the soles of my feet hurt (especially that area before the toes);  my left hip ached;  my quads felt heavy, but most of all, I felt mentally washed-out.  In the week following the event, I fell asleep twice after work. This never usually happens!   I felt a lot better in time for the Great Wilbraham 10K Cake Run!  This is a new and very low key race, which I went along to with Lauren, and she has already written about:  take a look! Girlrunnninglate

Great Wilbraham 10K Cake Race with Lauren, of Girlrunning late fame.

Next up was the Wolsey Waddle 20 miler, laid on by the Norfolk and Suffolk LDWA.  Ely Runner and Coach, Charlotte suggested this as training run for club members Emily and Jon, who have been training hard for the Stour Valley Path 50K, which Charlotte and me are also running this August.  Overall, the route took me by surprise, it was picturesque and undulating, taking in the gorgeous waterfront in the middle of Ipswich;  the banks of the Estuary/ River Orwell (and under the Bridge);  through woodland along stunning tracks and through the middle of wheat and barley fields.  All in all, a loop of just over 20 miles.  Walkers set off before runners.  Charlotte fancied her own headspace so went off ahead.  Emily, Jon and I set off nice and steady, with me feeling very pleased that Jon’s watch showed us which way to go and Emily had a map (she was bloody good at navigation)!

The Ely Runners Wolsey Waddle 20 miler massive.

One thing stood out for us during this superb run:  the Estuary part along the River Orwell was stunning to look at, but gave off an unpleasant aroma.  We are sure that nastiness from sheep-grazed fields and farmland higher up on the banks had seeped into the seaweed and shingle on the banks.  It was not nice, and it made for a technical run at times!  Needless to say, we did not smell pleasant for the rest of the run.

Feet soaked by the river, seaweed and sheep manure juice: but happy!

The run was well-marshalled but with little by way of signage.  This didn’t matter; we could tell that Emily was simply in her element reading a map and getting us through the event.  I suspect she was a little disappointed at finding no need for the compass she came equipped with.  The early stages of the race took as through woodland, with some rural tracks alongside cereal crops:  it was beautiful.  Given the pending Stour Valley Path 50K, we employed some power-walking up slopes.  Otherwise, we ran!

It got pretty hot during the latter parts of the run.

At one point we ended up in the Docks and Central part of Ipswich;    we were getting some funny looks, and the hot dog and burger stands as well as the pubs and bars were a real challenge to run past.  I will be honest, I was pleased to get back into the countryside.

The food/ drink stations were interesting: the volunteers were lovely, and we were treated to ‘cheesy feet’ (mini cheese scones shaped like feet); full-fat Coke (my thing when distance running); chocolate mini-eggs; crisps and more!  One food station was set up in a huge greenhouse in a park, and this was an unusual affair in my view, or at least the refreshment were: tomato, cucumber and lettuce gluten-free white bread sarnies, plates of lettuce, crisps and hot orange drink (yes, hot).  We got it down us, it was fine and we were hungry.  I was starting to get slightly ‘hangry’ by this stage.

The final three or so miles were tough as it got a little more hilly, we were exposed to the sun, often running though the middle of crop fields.

The later parts of the run: uphill and hot!

Nearer the end of the race we had a message from Charlotte expressing her dissatisfaction at having to run along the shores of the Estuary, and offering us an interesting name for a member of the public, who gave her poor directions (this resulted in Charlotte running an extra four miles)!  I would love to quote the message, but this is a family-friendly blog.

Food and rest.

When we finally entered the hall at the end of the event, we were chuffed to bits to discover hot food, included in the cheap price of the event!  I am sure I broke the world record for the most speedily-demolished beans on toast and apple crumble with custard!  Fantastic!

This was a really enjoyable event, so much so that we agreed we must do it again in 2020, and the fact that there was no medal didn’t bother us so much in the end!

Jon and Emily were such great company, and we made a superb team: Charlotte is a comedy genius.

No-one stole any potatoes and put them in their ultra vest.

I will blog again after the Stour Valley Path 50K.  Until then I will just say,  I still have stuff to learn around recovery and nutrition post-ultras. I have not hit other runs hard since the ultra, but I can still feel what the Norfolk 100K did to my body.  I hope the energy levels increase soon and the aches go away!

100K, trail running, ultra running

The big day! The 2019 Norfolk 100K ultra marathon!

I had to leave it a couple of days before describing my completion of the Norfolk 100K ultra:  for two reasons.  Firstly, I was too wiped out to write straight away, and secondly, I just did not know how I was going to write about it.  It was so intense, so physically and mentally demanding, and so crazy, that I needed a few days to process it.  I have decided that my account of the event needed to be ‘warts and all’, as some horrible stuff can happen during and after ultras, and what’s the point in logging only the positives?  So here goes.

Somehow I did it.

The lead up. 

In the lead up, I decided to lay off the beer for a few days and hydrate well; I tried to eat sensibly (a challenge for me as I eat anything and everything); I tapered a bit, and was generally sensible.  Fellow Ely Runner, Lisa, the same athlete who ran Peddars Way with me in January 2019, was running the Norfolk 100K with me, and she is a camping nerd!  Lisa’s thing for tents worked in my favour, as I could tap into her excitement at the idea of camping over within just 5 minutes walk from the end of the race!  We decided to camp the night before and the evening after the event.  Lisa organised and provided everything!  All I had to do was provide my ultra kit, a sleeping bag and pillow, and pick her up on the Friday!  Result!  Having taken a day’s annual leave, I collected Lisa in the middle of the Friday, we packed the car and off we went to lovely Beeston!

On arrival at Beeston, Lisa had to take charge, as I know nothing about camping/ tent erection etc.  Within a very short time, we were sorted, and I was impressed with our view from the tents!

Superb spot for the tents!

Among Lisa’s impressive camp kit was a fridge, and in this fridge, other than sausages, black pudding, bacon etc, was beer!  This I struggled with a little; it was tough to have set up camp right by the sea and not sit and drink beer, but we didn’t!  Lisa’s husband had prepared spag bol for us, so we got that down us, and had just a half glass of calming red wine.  Beer would have to wait until after the event!

We decided to stretch our legs a little as the coast was so gorgeous where we were camped.  We were right next to a high point on the cliffs known locally as  ‘Beeston Bump’.  We walked over it with a couple of Bungay Black Dog Running Club members we bumped into: Jules and Rachel.  They were superb company and very funny; and the walk over the bump was gorgeous.  Lisa and I were to find out the next evening how much it was possible to hate the Beeston Bump!

With Jules and Rachel from the Bungay Black Dog Running Club.

Jules and Rachel had a rather superb camper van, and they offered to get us to the place where a bus would take us to the start in the morning; so, after food, and a night’s sleep drifting off to the sound of the sea, the day arrived to tackle the Norfolk 100K ultra!  We had to get up at 0400hrs!  Yes, 0400hrs!  There’s stuff I need to have done before I run!  I am not one of these people who rocks up at a race without showering; and I like to have used the toilet and eased into the morning.  We got ready swiftly, and we had checked the mandatory kit, read and re-read the race rules and laid everything out ready the night before.  Soon we were in the camper van, and ferried to the point where a bus was taking loads of us to the start!  It was still silly o’clock in the morning, and loads of ultra runners were looking nervous and tired.  Many were trying to eat: no-one looked like they wanted to.  I had forced down a bowl of cereal, a banana and a biscuit; at 0430!

We got to Castle Acre to register and had a brief from Kevin of Positive Steps.  We were then told about the check point at mile 45: this went on to haunt me for a huge chunk of the event.  The deal was that runners had to be there by 1800hrs.  Also, if marshals felt that someone looked unwell/ unable to carry on, they would be pulled from the race!  No pressure then!  We were herded to the start line, counted down and sent on our way!

Castle Acre, up to the Coast and to Beeston! 62 miles!

The enormity of covering 62 miles is something I had carefully filed in a place in my head that is designed to protect me from horrible thoughts.  But I could not get over this cut off point at mile 45:  Lisa kept trying to reassure me, but I felt this was on the tight side for new/ inexperienced ultra runners like myself.  The early parts of race were fine, and we experienced no problems other than me feeling quite thirsty despite my hydration efforts the day before and my use of Tailwind in my bottles.  Lisa and I worked as a team, reminding each other to eat, and to follow the example of experienced ultra runners, and power-walk the hills and make up time running on flat and downhill sections.  The trail, was stunning throughout.

The first 32 miles: hot, humid and cloudy.

The first 32 miles was hot, humid and cloudy, and sweat was not evaporating from our bodies.  I has used my Tailwind correctly and replaced it in my topped up water bottles at the first check point: despite this, I was experiencing serious hydration issues: with a constant thirst I simply couldn’t seem to satiate.  To make matters worse, my efforts at eating were being thwarted by a dry mouth, leaving me struggling to swallow food but able to chew it for ages.  Small sips of water helped a little.  Lisa was bearing up better than I was.  Then disaster struck and Lisa took a tumble, almost certainly due to fatigue kicking in caused by the heat, leaving her not lifting her feet as high as she should.  She broke her fall like a pro, but still hit her face on the trail.  Despite this, she got right up, made no fuss and we carried on.

Right after a serious fall, and STILL smiling!

I didn’t tell her at the time, but Lisa’s fall and how I felt at mile 32 seemed to be a green light for negative thoughts; I went on to have a long dark period during the run.  We both had mentioned that we might go quiet, and we both understood what this meant.  Instead of feeling pleased with the distance we had covered at just over half way, the distance ahead weighed heavily on my mind.  I have never entertained not finishing a race: for the first time ever I went over this in my head, but it seemed impossible to me for so many reasons, so I plugged on, in silence, other than when we decided to communicate when to power walk slopes and when to resume running.  We kept using the check points (there was a generous number of them) and I kept worrying about mile 45.  In fact, we arrived at mile 45 well within the cut off point!  But I was really worried about the possibility of being pulled from the race, as I was not doing well at all.  I sat in the shade of a parked car and necked some full fat Coke like it was the last drink on earth.  The marshals did not seem concerned about me, but I snuck off behind some cars further away and experienced quite a spectacular vomiting session.  I composed myself and approached a concerned looking Lisa; who asked if I was OK.  I gestured that we should set off again, and, with another 17 miles to cover, I explained what had happened and my fear of being pulled from the race.  Things got really tough!  Lisa had another fall and this time her mouth hit the trail, causing some bleeding.  This caused Lisa some concern and it knocked her confidence a little.  But nothing stops Lisa!

The coastal part of the run was enjoyable just because this part of the Norfolk Coast is so gorgeous.  Castle Acre to the Coast is amazing also, but we had ran it before and knew what to expect. The coastal wind masked the sun burn though, as I was to find out the next day: I didn’t apply enough top ups of the factor 50!  Lisa was continuously looking longingly at the sea: she wanted to get in it, and several times she ran in to cool her feet and legs.  I was pretty sure my feet were ruined by now, I just wanted to keep them as they were!

Perfect cooling strategy!

I continued to struggle with hydration.  Despite drinking Tailwind solution, for some reason I craved full fat coke; it is all I could think about, and it is all I necked at each check point.  My ability to eat tailed off so that all I could do is pop a Love Heart Sweet between my teeth and cheek and hope that might help.  Lisa was doing better than me on the food front.

Shingle Beach

My state of mind as we approached around 54 miles is hard to describe: thinking about how much I was suffering only moved aside to allow in other nasty intrusive thoughts; some related to the run and some not.  I entertained the idea that I am not designed for ultra running and should give it and running up as soon as I got home; I thought about my three sons and their worries; all very real to them; I thought about war; work problems; the chances of dropping dead any second; I thought about my amazing long-suffering wife; and I thought about what would have happened if Lisa had knocked herself out when she fell in the middle of nowhere.  I thought about stuff I can’t write about, and I cried.  I have my dark moments at the best of times, but this experience really pushed me into a horrible place; so when we got to a concrete shelter marking the check point before the Shingle Beach, I necked a Coke and snuck round the back, sat down on the shingle and sobbed.  When I went back to the marshals a male ultra runner walked over and gave me a huge hug, and then so did Lisa.  I am not a huggy person really, but these physical gestures helped!  A marshal told me to drink simple cold water: I did so, it was bliss!  There then followed a few miles of shingle beach: just what I did not need when feeling emotionally and physically broken.  This beach was very hard to run on, I had a go, but it was not going to happen, and as Lisa and I looked at the line of ultra runners way out in front of us, and those coming up behind us, we realised that they were all power walking – without exception.  So we power-walked it, and it seemed to be a perpetual beach: it went on and on!

Cley next the Sea, and our happy smiles were diminishing! But that bloody monkey was happy enough!

I noticed something on the Shingle Beach: runners were chatting, joking and helping each other, pulling each other up over shingle dunes in order to find easier routes, and laughing off the sheer distance to the end of the section.  It was quite touching; but it was all I could find that was positive at this stage despite an enchanting location, right on the sea in amazing weather.  Lisa and I knew that we had some tough Cliffside hills to combat once we got off the beach.  For some reason my mood lifted, and it was so sudden it caught me by surprise.  We left the beach and felt overjoyed to be on track and grass again, and I led the way as we ran and approached the first of some hills just 4 miles or so from the end.  These hills were tough, and they forced us to use the ultra running technique of power-walking up them whilst pushing our hands on our quads.  There was a bit of a run along the coast in Beeston before approaching Beeston Bump itself.  At this stage we had put the head torches on.

Tough cliff paths leading to the 63m high Beeston Bump. Right near the end!

Darkness happened very suddenly, and Lisa I found that we had ran ahead of the group we were with on the Shingle Beach, which gave me quite a boost!  We ran down the other side of Beeston Bump, and we could see glow sticks showing us the way to the finish.  We went over a pedestrian railway crossing and then heard and saw a marshal along a dark narrow lane; she called out for us to follow her and she directed us across a field.  Lisa and I held hands and ran across the field towards the finish funnel.

Lisa, happy and me with the ‘ultra stare’.

Kevin was there and shouted ‘well done’, then we were handed medals and shirts.  Lisa was given her Grand Slam tankard for completing three Positive Steps ultras…..and we sat down.  No crying, no laughing, no hugs, just sitting down.  Lisa went and got a full English Breakfast from the table behind us, and I drank a lot of Coke!  A lady put a tartan rug over me, I can only assume I looked about 95 years old.  It was over, and we made the painful walk back to the camp site.

I thought I might leave the blog here, on a positive: we ran 62 miles!  But no: I did say ‘warts and all’.  I decided I must shower before drinking beer.  It was about now that pain, no doubt until now shielded by adrenaline and other such wonderful chemicals, began to make an appearance.  All was clearly not well in personal areas, and I knew that I had not topped up the anti-chaffing cream.  Something felt very wrong along the padded parts of the soles of my feel before the toes.  I had already lost my left big toe at Peddars, but something was now amis with the right one. My shoulders were killing me.  I went to the campsite showers with a bin bag (to dump everything in), shower gel, a towel and a track suit.  Undressing was hard, and I was grateful no-one else was in the shower area.  I looked in the mirror at my reflection and didn’t really recognise the chap staring back at me: I was covered in dirt, sweat, rubbed and bloody areas and with quite a serious case of sunburn.  My pants and socks were full of blood and I noticed my mouth tasted of blood.  The shower was bliss and agony!  I hobbled back to the tent ready for a beer and a chat with Lisa.  Her tent was zipped up and a dim light illuminated the interior.  I asked her if she was OK and she didn’t answer.  There then followed a dilema: should I accept she had crashed and leave her alone, or should I open the tent if she didn’t answer (risking seeming weird).  I quickly messaged a fellow female Ely Runner and explained the dilema: I was advised that I was to open the tent and check at once and tell Lisa she had told me to do so.  Lisa was not in there.  Phew!  This meant she was showering.  When Lisa emerged we both had a laugh at the state we were in and we retired to our respective tents, Lisa with wine and me with a beer.  I slept very well!

The next morning we went and showered again and Lisa cooked a proper fry up!  Bloody hero!  I washed up and we took the tents down.  The drive home felt much longer than it was, I was shattered and needed to go steady.  Lisa was soon dropped home and I got myself back to Ely.  When I got home I struggled to get out of the car.  One of my sons hugged me and I blubbed again!

Over the past few days I have eaten like every meal is my last and all I can think about is food!  I rested on Sunday, and had a gentle jog with the Ely Runners Beginners on Monday evening. This felt surprisingly good!

The morning after! Broken but happy.

This part of my blog should close with a few words about Lisa.  One of the things I have noticed about all of the Ely Runners I have met is huge mental strength, even among those people who do not see it in themselves.  Lisa is among that group, and one of the toughest people I know; she dusted herself down after two nasty falls at distances that would beat many people; she always put me and others first; she made sure my camping experience was a memorable one, and she made 62 miles look easy!  I am very grateful to her.

That’s all for now.  Next?  The Stour Vally Path 50K in August!

Uncategorized

Not enough distance, but still forcing myself!

I have still not covered the distance I should have, given I have the Norfolk 100K coming up.  I was offered some reassurance by a very experienced runner about this just last week:  I was told that some runners who do the occasional bit of distance work, just push harder on their shorter races, and on the ultra day, eat well, and just slow it all down.  I am not sure I am convinced, and at the very least, I like to get long distances in, as for me they serve as confidence boosters.

Although I very much enjoyed my most recent ‘confidence booster’, it didn’t end well.  Fellow Ely Runner, Emily, is working towards the Stour Valley Path 50K, and at the time of writing she completed a marathon yesterday:  she is disciplined when it comes to getting miles under her belt, but she does tend to prefer notching up the miles with a bit of company.  So, we decided on trail: 20 miles for Emily and 26 for me.  We compared notes on ultra vests, arrangements for carrying water (Emily carries a lot of water), food, and off we set along the river from Ely.

Hmm, that there is definitely a bull.

The run was fun, but wow was it a warm day on the 2nd June!  We stopped a couple of times to drink and catch our breath;  we noticed that our heart rates and breathing were up a bit compared to our usual.  On the river, we encountered a bull, cows and their young.  The bull was not shifting, and we decided that this was fine, but it was probably better if we did not spook the cows.  This meant we had to climb down a steep bank, and we decided that if the cows did get bothered about us being around their calves, we could jump in the river:  thankfully this was not necessary, but it did result in the beginning of some pretty stung legs for both of us.  The run was uneventful other than finding that much of the trail was very overgrown, mainly with nettles and thistles.  We had no choice but to push through all of this;  and even though we both got stung, it was odd how Emily’s legs bled but mine didn’t.  Emily and I had a good laugh during this run; she is dead interesting to talk to; very funny; and she is one of those people who says it as it, is: I need to emphasise; Emily really says it as it is!  She is also very stubborn, and although she is happy to tell you what she does not enjoy about distance training, and the aspects that she finds emotionally difficult, she is tough, and gets it done.   I think this must be a common theme among ultra runners; there might be calm ones, neurotic ones, all types: but all stubborn.  At least I think so!

We stopped at ten miles as we had intended to do an ‘out and back’, with me carrying on for six more miles on our return to Ely.  We sat and ate, but not for long, we drank more, and then headed back.  Emily showed the first signs of struggling with the heat on the way back, as did I, but Emily was happy to have a bit of a polite complain and she did warn me to heed the possibility of impending grumpiness!  As it turns out, there was no grumpiness, but I did have the sudden and urgent need for full-fat Coke.  I had been using Tailwind in my water bottles and I had drank well enough (we had also had a water top-up at a marina we passed though).  I don’t usually like full-fat Coke, but I have found myself craving it during and after long runs.  We stopped at a riverside pub and I was satiated.  Or so I thought.  I noticed I was thirsty; all of the time,  even though I had steadily drank around two litres of water with Tailwind and the Coke.  We both started to feel a little worse for wear as we entered Ely.  Emily and I parted ways, and I spotted an Ice cream van by the river: armed with one orange ice lolly, I ran with it through Ely Country Park, determined to get the additional six miles in.  I ran a loop, which saw me approach Ely Sailing Club, I was slowing down and not feeling well.  I laid down on the grass and had a think.  My parents’ house was very near by, so I ran there and took stock.  My Mother looked very worried as I threw myself onto a shaded part of her lawn.  I necked half of the pint of squash she gave me, and I readily accepted her offer of a lift home.  My heart rate was higher than usual for a run like this.  The idea of pushing myself through things I do not want to do went out the window, as this time, there was clearly something wrong.  I have coped with these distances and much further before, and I have ran in the heat.

I spoke with a few people about this run, and in my case, it is likely that I went out insufficiently hydrated before; and I mean the night and day before the run.  In Emily’s case, she just felt it was the heat that caught her out.  I still enjoyed this run and put it down to experience.  I must hydrate more efficiently the day before long runs.

Four days later was the Kevin Henry League race in Newmarket.  I love these events and the feeling that comes from seeing so many Ely Runners turning up and supporting each other.  I decided about 0.5K in to give it a bit of welly.  I finished the race way slower than I did at the same venue last year (when I got my 5K PB), but it was fun!

Ely Runners at the 2019 Kevin Henry Race – Newmarket.

There then followed rest days, and the odd bit of trail running.  I had a rough experience after Littleport parkrun, having run to and completed this superb event, the run back was into a strong headwind, in rain and through plenty of standing water.  Before I left Littleport, three people offered me lifts:  but I was back in the ‘right’ frame of mind.

The 2019 Sutton Beast was superb!  It is a tough race, but I decided to wind it down a little, to try running at a lower heart rate and to pace a good friend.  I enjoyed it, for many reasons, not least because Sutton Beast was my first ever organised event a few years ago.  My sons loved the Mini Beast!

My own mini beasts at The Sutton Mini Beast 2019.

The Ely Runners 2019 10K handicap was huge fun, not least because of the banter in the lead up (the word ‘bandit’ crops up a LOT). I felt I did OK, I overtook a few people and a few more overtook me.  I was slower than last year, but I gave it a little bit of stick.

Today, I caught the early train from Ely to Waterbeach so that I could run back along the river.  The nettles situation was even worse than when I ran with Emily:  I had little choice but to run through them.  This led to tingling over both legs all day.  I encountered the same bull and herd as I did when running with Emily, and again, I stopped for a sandwich and to just sit and look.  I took in some audio book during this run: “Extraordinary Insects” by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson.  Absolutely fascinating.  I find Audible and Podcasts a joy on long runs if I am alone.  This run went well, I enjoyed it, no issues.

In just under a week, I will be having a stab at the Norfolk 100K with Lisa (who I ran Peddars Way with back in January).   This is what my lack of training has been leading up to!  I will blog a post-mortem at some point!

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Back in training (a bit late).

All kinds of stuff has been going on, but given I have the Norfolk 100K to run in late June, not enough distance work has been going on!  I can’t change what I haven’t done, but some superb stuff has happened instead!  This blog has turned into a journal now; and it is my hope that as it develops, it becomes punctuated with ultras!

Alfie, with me at Littleport parkrun.

My twin sons have been getting into parkrun!  This makes me very happy!  Alfie and Lewis have both ran Littleport parkrun, and recently, Lewis and me made the trip over to Brandon!  Fingers crossed they keep interested!  They are both knocking out sub-29s at the moment!

I have known for some time that speed/ interval work has been lacking in my own training: there are reasons for this, and work clashing with the club’s Tuesday night sessions is one of them.  This is all due to change!  Recently, Lauren of girlrunninglate fame (Lauren’s superb blog) led a superb speed session at the track in St Ives.  I won’t get into the structure of her session, but I will say that it was superb, challenging, fun, and she explained the logic behind it, and every stage she delivered.  I surprised myself a little during a final 200m sprint:  I just don’t recall running that fast since I was in my 20s, and I can still do it!  Lauren’s session inspired me: more speed work to come!

Sweaty but happy after Lauren’s track session.

I found a superb hill to run up and down in Mallorca!  Na Penyal!  Superb training, very hard work, over 200m of elevation, but gorgeous!  During my stay in Mallorca I ran up Na Panyal twice, once with fellow Ely Runner, Chris Clowe (while the rest of our families sat by the pool) and once alone.  I am not good with heights, and I found the descents really nerve-racking; Chris seemed a little preoccupied with snakes!  If only we had a Na Penyal in Ely!

Kings Lynn GEAR 10K 2019.  Not as fast as last year, but I was happy with my time, and I actually felt strong and relaxed!  It is not an especially tough race, and there is some potential for great times, but not for me and my ‘slower than a year ago’ body!  A highlight for me was a quick catch up with Lisa at the start line: she is a legend!

The legendary Lisa at the start of the 2019 Kings Lynn Gear 10K!

Today felt like the start (or restart) of proper training in that I got back into the mindset I occupied prior to Peddars Way: doing stuff I don’t want to.  I wanted to run around Grafham Water with fellow club members today;  it is a gorgeous run, but I did not want to do it twice!  My thinking in the lead up to ultras is that I must push myself out of my comfort zone:  when I hear that voice trying to talk me out of things, I try to dismiss it and push on!  Luckily I was accompanied by the superb Ely Runner, Peter, for lap one;  he allowed me to set the pace, which was easy for him, and then he pushed ahead when it was time for the second lap.  17 hot and sweaty miles later, the job was done.  17 miles is not so far in the scheme of things, but I had swatted away that voice telling me to stop after lap one:  that is the main thing!

Time to up the milage!  More soon!

Me giving some bugs a lift around Grafham Water.