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.
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!
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!
Do enter the 2020 Bedford Running Festival! It is amazing, and you get extra bling for running more than one race!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
Na Penyal about to be conquered.
At the top.
View from the direction we climbed.
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!
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!
It’s been a while since my last blog. I have used Peddars as an excuse for my sluggish running for too long, and now I have put all the weight back on (and maybe a bit more). It is time for me to train properly again as I have signed up for the Norfolk 100K in June and the Stour Valley Path 50K in August. But for now, some ramblings on what I have been up to.
March 29th was the Night Trail 10K at High Lodge. This was a superb event, with a great Ely Runners turnout.
Night trail is massive fun, especially if you are with your running buddies. This was a technical run in that you had to watch where your feet landed, almost all the time, and it was pitch-dark apart from the area illuminated by your own head-torch (just in front of your feet) and the spot lights of other head-torches ahead and behind you. One thing I noticed was how tough it was when you found yourself running uphill and had no warning of it due to the dark: it just suddenly got harder! I will be repeating this one next year!
I might as well take the opportunity to harp on a bit about the Ely Runners Beginners’ course, simply because it is so brilliant. It is the success story of a couple of Ely Runners who set it up years ago, and a band of coaches who have kept the course going until the present day. I now co-ordinate/ lead the course. It results in two groups of people graduating each year having trained to improve their running; especially at the 5K distance. Many of the graduates of the course complete a local parkrun, with club members supporting them. A good few of them go on to the join the club. It all works due to the dedication and enthusiasm of a group of coaches who give up their time! I could go on about this forever, because I love it so much. If anyone wants to know more, email firstname.lastname@example.org
I did something a little different on April 14th: The Rutland Spring Half Marathon. An old University buddy/ one of my very closest friends was running it, and he suggested I sign up: I am highly suggestible and vulnerable when people ask me to sign up for stuff. No, really!
My mate, Ralph, is a member of Desborough & Rothwell Running Club. We first met when I was 18, and I think the Rutland Half is the only thing we have ever done together that has not involved beer! Ralph sent me some of his recent shorter distance times a day or two before the race, and these concerned me in that it was agreed that I would be pacing him! It was a stunning day when we met up at Rutland Water, and I was chuffed to see fellow Ely Runners, Andy and Caroline.
With the awesome Andy and Caroline
Ralph, post the Rutland Half Marathon.
The scenery around Rutland Water is gorgeous, and as the race started, my immediate thoughts were around how the race description of ‘undulating’ was not accurate: ‘hilly’ is how this fella from the Fens would describe it!
In my view, Ralph didn’t need me to pace him, as we were pretty much at a similar pace at all times, apart from uphill, when I seemed to go on the attack, and downhill, when I rested and Ralph used these times to speed up. We managed to have a natter, but not much of one, as our pace and the hills were just challenging enough to make conversation difficult. We took in the scenery. As we had started the race at the back, we found ourselves motivated by reeling in plenty of runners (but then, a good few reeled us in). Then there was the end of the race, a sudden and steep hill, and the kind that makes your heart race, a LOT! Just when I was relieved to have beaten the hill, another final and even steeper one was upon us, which Ralph and I chipped away at before the finish! This is another race I will repeat, and perhaps I enjoyed it all the more for spending time with an old friend.
So, it is time to start the long runs again, but this time, I’ll need to learn to run a bit further and in warmer temperatures. I have my French Foreign Legion hat ready: it’ll be hot!
After the Marriott’s Way Half Marathon, I was left feeling I needed more rest, so, I have tried to do less between booked races. Yet still, I am left feeling that the engine is strong, yet the body is weak. Only yesterday, a very experienced runner and coach told me that I should expect to feel the effects of Peddars for a long time, especially given it was my first ultra! This makes sense, as I have been able to take part in and complete all of my booked events, but they have felt really tough!
This year’s Cambridge Half Marathon was superb as usual, and this year I decided to worry less about time and more about enjoying the race and taking it in more! This is why I jumped at the opportunity of running this amazing event with Pete and Lauren (Lauren – girl running late). What I forgot, is that their easy run and pace is not mine! Their easy pace is not at my maximum effort, but it is not at my easy pace! This will explain why all the way around this race, Pete looked totally relaxed and smiley, and Lauren was grinning, laughing and chatting for the whole duration: they really enjoyed it! I did too, but I was busting a gut! Plenty of Ely Runners laughed at the event photos, where Pete and Lauren were clearly having a ball, and I looked quite serious! Despite me urging them to go off and get a better time, they refused and stuck with me to the end. My time was OK, but slower than last year (a common theme for me in 2019).
I love to cycle, and I signed up for the Ely Tri Club Duathlon ages ago. I did not train for it properly, and knocked out just two brick sessions in the weeks leading up to the event. A few days before the duathlon, Kyle, known locally at ‘Sproketman,’ visited me at home and serviced my bike. He did a superb job, sorting my surrealist gears and adjusting the seat as well as giving the bike an all over tune-up. Do get Sproketman to look at your bike! Sproketman
The weather was dreadful on the morning of the duathlon, and I really didn’t know what I was doing; I had no real idea how to approach the transitions, and I was a little worried about breaking any of the strict rules (like I was going to be slipstreaming anyone)! This was another event Lauren was signed up for, and she showed up looking less than happy (cold, tired and generally cheesed off about being there). Lauren went on to finish as first lady in her age category: quite typical of her to arrive looking so fed up and then leave with a trophy!
The first 5K was fine, with me keeping at a steady pace through the village and around a disused airfield before getting back to the transition area; it was here that I realised belting out 5K was not conducive to remembering what to do in the transition pen. Luckily, Ely Runner and Ely Tri Club member, Samantha was at hand and at about the same stage in the race as I was: she gave me some advice, and a marshal yelled at me to turn my bib number round as I ran my bike out to the road. Physically, the 25K cycle felt fine, but mentally it was a huge challenge. There was a gale and almost horizontal rain at some stages, and at Way Head and Coveney, the weather was so bad it almost got me blubbing. It was as I pulled into the transition area back at the start that thing started to go pear-shaped. My hands were frozen as I dismounted from the bike, and I was pretty much soaked through; thinking was a struggle let alone getting ready for the final 5K run. Consequently, my transition was around two minutes long! Kyle and Nick (Ely Runner) both yelled lots of encouragement at me, and Nick had a bit of a laugh at my soaked and muddy backside! I ditched my cycling jacket, turned my number round and then covered 5K again, but not really in a way that could accurately be described as running. My legs were like two strands of cooked spaghetti, and the final leg of this event was really tough mentally. I am fairly sure what I was feeling was not just the effects of the duathlon, but the remnants of Peddars Way! Fun though!
Brandon parkrun said it was their birthday, and fancy dress would be welcome. Two people turned up in fancy dress. I must have lost a stone in weight from sweating, and the less said about the whole affair the better!
Having ran the inaugural Oundle 20 Mile race last year, I thought it would be worth giving it another bash. Speedy Pete wanted to achieve his furthest distance to date and not go out too fast, so we agreed he would run with me for a while. Pete and I had a good natter for the first seven miles, with him finding conversation a little easier than I did (again, his easy pace is not necessarily mine). Pete seemed so relaxed at mile seven that I urged him to go off ahead at mile seven instead of the planned mile ten: off he went!
I was OK until about mile seventeen, when I had to strip down to my vest and endure the last part of the race, which seemed to be uphill and into a direct headwind! This race is in a beautiful part of the world, so, despite it being tough I did my best to keep my head up and take it all in. The final mile was uphill, with the wind making it a very challenging finish. I managed a sprint finish of sorts given that Pete and Rob (Ely Runner) were there yelling encouragement. Pete Rob, and another Ely Runner, Alex, all achieved superb times; I was happy enough, but in keeping with 2019’s theme, I was slower than last year. Superb medal!
This blog is generally ramblings when it comes to content as I am not training for an ultra at present (but I soon will be). I am struck by how long after Peddars I am feeling its effects. I lost a fair amount of weight and feel quite weak. I have more rest between events to do, more eating to enjoy, and some serious strength and conditioning work to plan.
I have some great events booked and on the calendar. More another time.
I have not known what direction to take the blog since I completed the Peddars Way Trail Ultra. I felt a bit of low mood settle in after the initial high of completing the event, but I soon snapped out of this, and, as predicted by several running colleagues, I signed up for more: The Norfolk 100K and the Stour Valley Path 50K. I must admit, I can’t wait! So, in terms of the blog; I’ll write about events that stand out for me, and stuff that leads up to ultras.
In terms of the initial recovery after Peddars, this went better than I thought it would. I had some toenail issues (some are still black); I lost some weight (a stone overall since the training and the event itself), and I remained very hungry for three days. I felt back to normal in just under a week.
I have ran and cycled a bit since Peddars, but the main events since then have been the Ely Runners Annual Cross Country Championships, Brandon parkrun (only because it is one of my favourites), and the Marriott’s Way Trial Half Marathon.
I was pleased with my run at the XC Championships. The race got easier after the first two loops of Cherry Hill and The Deans Meadow, but it was slippery and tough enough to slow me down in places where I would have performed better had I got some spikes: I’ll be investing in some. The less said about the swearing the better! As tough as this race was, I was pleased in general, and especially with my sprint finish. It’s a race I dread, but enjoy (weird).
There has been the usual parkrun obsession, but a trip back to a favourite stands out. Brandon is a gorgeous course and it always has a great atmosphere. Lauren (regular running buddy), and blogger (see below) always jumps at a chance to run Brandon, and it was good to see Andrew S turn up! As usual, Lauren did her ‘make it look easy’ routine, and crossed the finish as first lady, with a time a little quicker than my 5K PB (not jealous). That hill in the middle felt tough, and I realised that I might not have rested after Peddars in quite the way I should have. It was maybe a bit silly to run this parkrun the day before a trail half marathon, but there you go.
Andrew S and I arrived at the start of the Marriott’s Way Trail Half Marathon nice and early (we both like to be dead early). A coffee and a sausage rolled was necked, and we were soon ushered to the start and sent on our way. I had debated long and hard about what to wear, and the Merino wool base layer had worked out so well for me at Peddars; I am so glad I went for the vest; it was hot! Andrew and I ran together for most of the race, with me setting the pace for the first half, and him for the second. However, things went wrong for me from mile 9, with my quads and hip really playing up. I felt tired, heavy and sluggish. Andrew pulled off in the second half, and rightly so, as he was on form and running a superb pace. The trail is gorgeous, and I actually took it in instead of staring at the ground. The last two miles was tough, but I managed a decent time for the course, and I was very pleased to enter the Village Hall for a medal, shirt, full-fat Coke and food!
More rest is needed, so nothing for a week. More soon!
The big day arrived! I have described it, and I have used plenty of photographs, for which I don’t apologise!
Between the big day and the Ultra Marathon, I was as sensible as I could be given the ill-thought-out decision to participate in RED January! In this time I ran no more than 11K in any one go, and used cycling to rest. On reflection, I think I felt the benefits of distance training for the first time at the Snetterton Race Track 10K on the 20th of January: there was no PB for me, but, for the first time in ages I felt light, and running at close to maximum effort felt in some way easier than it has for a long time. I was happy!
In short, the lead up to Peddars involved keeping the legs moving, eating well, and trying not to fret.
The day before Peddars I took a day’s annual leave, rested and ate well (I ate a lot, but not so much as to get bloated). I remained hydrated, and exchanged messages with Lisa (my running partner for the day) and Steve (lift/ race support). A tip I would give to any one embarking on their first ultra is to check your kit, especially the mandatory contents for the race, and have it all ready the night before. Mine was checked, double checked and laid out on the living room floor ready! I had my tailwind/ water solution in the collapsible bottles and stuck in the fridge ready too. I am not a ‘bed early person’ and I resent going to sleep at the best of times: it’s a waste of time, but I turned in ‘early’ all the same. It was a fitful night’s sleep, but I didn’t feel too bad in the morning. I went for a breakfast I am used to (Weetabix, milk, a bit of sugar and a banana) and a pint of tea! Before I knew it, Steve had picked me up and we were off to collect Lisa from Newmarket.
It was good to have a natter with Lisa on the way to the start, as she is pretty relaxed, and crucially, she has a good few ultras and marathons under her belt. We did struggle a little to find the start (which was in the middle of nowhere and it was still dark), but it wasn’t long before we saw flags, people in Hi Vis, and car headlights. It was at this point that I realised that I should have warned Lisa about Steve (lovely bloke, great friend, but at times he blurts stuff out). As we pulled up alongside the event start, Steve said “well, this is either the start, or it’s the most organised dogging site in the UK”. Brilliant.
I registered quickly. The system for the mandatory kit check was to pick a numbered ping pong ball from a bag; the numbers were coded to a list of items – I was asked to show my head torch: job done! Lisa and I got ready with pinned bib numbers and ankle tag chips, and then Andy and Caroline arrived! I have to say, I was touched that these two excellent Ely Runners showed up! They are training for their own ultra, they were smiling and full of encouragement!
After a trip into the bushes for a nervous emptying of the bladder, I found that things suddenly moved very quickly, for which I am thankful! We got a quick photo taken with fellow Ely Runners, Kyle and David, and then, after a briefing from Kevin of ‘Positive Steps, there was a count down, and we were off!
Lisa and I set off at a relaxed pace, and I felt happy and full of anticipation. I decided that I would actually look around and take this event in, as I do have a habit of becoming very introspective on long runs, with a lot of time spent looking at the ground a few feet in front of me. The countryside was beautiful this early on in the day, and the weather was perfect: cool, with just a slight breeze.
The pack thinned out surprisingly quickly, and soon, after the odd natter with other runners, Lisa and I had time to settle down and have a chat. I’ll get this bit out of the way now: Lisa is very laid back and cheerful, she is an experienced ultra runner and has given me lots of advice in the lead up to the event. If my experience of Peddars is anything to go by, if you decide to run with someone you know (but not so well) at a tough event such as an ultra, you will get to know them surprisingly well – and quickly! You can’t adhere to the usual social niceties in situations like this, and before long, we had provided look out and cover for each other, facing away from the forest as one of us legged it into undergrowth to do things we much prefer to do in the comfort of our own bathrooms! We shared potted histories of our lives, and covered subjects such as: musical tastes; medical histories; family; food preferences; where we have lived; work; and our thoughts on running. I could not have wished for a more cheerful, down to earth, funny and clever running companion!
The first quarter of the event was a bit of a bit of a blur to me. I noticed something I had heard of though: many ultra runners walk up hills, and that includes the runners who are experienced. I have always had a problem with walking during races, but this made sense. So, we like many other runners power-walked up hills and used the flat sections and down hill to run at a good and comfortable pace: it makes huge sense!
Soon we arrived at the first aid station at about 13 miles. I had been drinking as my friends at tailwind and my fellow-runner Kyle had advised: little and often. I had however struggled to eat. I simply wasn’t hungry, and just like during training runs, I could only eat once stationary! This aid station, although small, and on the side of a track was full of goodies, and staffed by friendly and encouraging volunteers! I am not a fan of full-fat coke at all, but it is superb when distance running (for me any way), I got the collapsible cup out and got plenty of this unhealthy rubbish down me, as well as some amazing ‘powerballs’ made by one of the ladies at the station. These tasted like Rice Crispies, peanut butter and desiccated coconut (perhaps because that was what they were made of). Amazing! I necked four! Soon we were off again!
Things got a little tougher as we edged into the second quarter of the race. The trail became a little more challenging here and there, and the course was straight but undulating. The Peddars Way Trail is very well-marked out, but, I would advise anyone who runs Peddars for the first time to keep an eye on the signs, as you can miss a slight deviation on the route easily. Lisa and I did this twice, but, each time, other runners advised us, or the amazing GPS maps on our phones got us back on course quickly.
As I had trained up to the 30 mile distance, I still felt strong as we got nearer to the 26 mile aid station at Castle Acre. I had also taken on board a few nutrition tips from Lisa, one of which was chicken Fridge Raiders: watery and easy to eat, we stopped and availed ourselves of them a few times. I also managed to nibble a few Chai Charge energy and endurance bars. I know this all helped.
Soon we arrived at the Village Hall at Castle Acre. Having reassured myself so far by mentally breaking the event up into sections, with 24 miles being a major stage for me, this aid station was a most welcome point! Over half way! Lisa had told me about her experience of hallucinations during ultras, I was reminded of this as I saw Kyle sitting in the Village Hall. I wondered in what parallel universe could I ever hope to find Kyle still at an aid station when I arrived at it? I went over for a chat and it turned out that despite having led the field for the first half, Kyle had felt really unwell and particularly nauseous: he had had to bail, and his lift home was on its way. Despite looking as pale as Casper the Ghost, Kyle hid his disappointment well, and he even topped up my water bottles with tailwind for me. Having clogged up my funnel and perhaps joked too loudly about white powder, Kyle helped me no end while I went and discovered the joys of soup and a cup of tea during an ultra! Usually if someone hands me a cup of tea that is less than hot and of the wrong strength/ colour, I will politely refuse it: I am a snob when it comes to how tea should be presented. The milky, sweet and less than hot tea I drank tasted like nectar, handed to me by a God rather than a small lady with a concerned and yet cheerful smile. As for the soup, I don’t know what it was (it was amazing), but I suspect the Caste Acre aid station soup has ruined all future soup experiences for me: how will I ever derive any joy from soup again? All of this happened whilst Lisa continued smiling and chatting to fellow runners!
As we left the 26 mile aid station, I could feel the first signs of fatigue; almost certainly due to having sat down as much as it was from having covered 26 miles of trail in a reasonably decent time. My lower back, hips and the toes on my left foot were all letting me know they were not happy. A little way into the second half it had occurred to me that I had been dictating an almost fartlek approach: trying to identify nearby landmarks to walk to on hills, and then making sure we ran on ‘smooth’, flatter trail and down hill at a decent pace. Was I being bossy? Would Lisa come to hate me for my unreasonable approach, like the troops of Easy Company hated Captain Sobel? I decided to check with Lisa if she was OK with what I had been doing. It turns out that she really appreciated and needed this structured way of tackling things! Good! But I tried to be way more consultative from thereon.
The trail was lovely, with only 8 miles to the third aid station, which felt like not such a big deal to me. Our conversation started to get a bit weird at times in the second half, with Lisa admitting that she can ramble and go off course depending on how her blood sugars are! We starting seeing ever more elaborate shapes in trees and clouds. I claim the tin man from The Wizard of Oz as one of the best sightings of the second half.
Things got a little bit tougher for me as we approached the third aid station, and I started to entertain just a few dark thoughts. That being said, Lisa and I had both agreed that running Peddars together had helped so far in terms of remaining positive. Even during periods of running a long way without talking, it helped knowing that your running buddy was right next to you.
The third and final aid station was laid on by Bungay Black Dog Running club. Seeing their flag in the distance bolstered me up no end. Lisa had told me that they provide tea and warm snacks! The lady and gentleman at this station were full of cheer and gave me more coke, tea, and warm sausage rolls! Pure joy! Lisa sat in a deck chair and caned mini Battenburg cakes!
Off we went for the final push. We had 14 miles to go. As we ran, refreshed from the aid station, Lisa tried to described 14 miles to me in ways she felt might sound more positive. We laughed about this: it was 14 miles! I very much appreciated her efforts at bolstering me along!
By the way, Lisa had a made a big deal of us passing the 30 mile mark, as that distance was the furthest I had ever ran before Peddars! I appreciated this also!
It is hard to describe from the third aid station to about 4 miles from the finish. I do recall consulting the GPS map and being reassured by the little cursor! It looked so close to the coast. The run leading to 40 miles is a blur to me, as we settled into our routine, paused quickly to eat and drink, and repeated this regularly in order to remain focussed. Things started to feel hard! I am mentally stronger than I am physically, and I maintain that without mental strength, things will go wrong at these kinds of stages, no matter how tough you are physically. Despite Lisa’s presence, the duel in my head began, with ‘positive Justin’ and ‘negative Justin’ trying to get the upper hand over each other. I was just an observer. Darkness crept up on us, and before long, we needed torches. I was glad of this, as I felt the need to blub a bit at around 41 miles. I did so for a while, keeping just in front of Lisa. I answered some messages: my Mother, who was worrying all day; Steve, who I had tried to keep appraised of how far were were from the finish; my long-suffering wife and to Lauren, who had kept sending encouraging messages in capitals (hero).
The final 4 miles was tough, but for some reason we got a bit of a second wind! We went through a village and glow sticks were strung up in strategic places to mark the way for runners. Then came a long section, which felt like a gentle decline on trial with trees and bushes very close on both sides; Lisa and I hit this section at what felt like a fair pace. We did not stop! I was down to just the Merino Wool base layer at this stage, and the coastal wind and start of rain was not bothering me; we just kept focussing on the trail and running. We hit a final bit of village, until groups of people yelled encouragement and we headed down towards the beach. Lisa led the way to where the infamous book was hanging from a sign. We could hear the sea, and knew it was very near but we couldn’t see it. We ripped out our pages and headed back to the Village Hall at Holme-next-the Sea. I wanted Lisa to cross the chip line inside the hall first, but she was having none of it, so, we legged it across the line hand in hand. I was given a medal and a shirt and everyone inside burst into applause, with lots of shouts of ‘well done!’
This was an emotional moment for me, and on seeing Steve I had a little blub and went to sit down and request a baked potato! An amazing cup of tea was placed in front of me, and Lisa and I were given baked potatoes with cheese and beans. Another runner came and sat opposite us and burst into tears. I told her I had done the same and Lisa went around the table to hug and comfort the sobbing lady. Many people crossed the line crying!
I fear Lisa and Steve might be emotionally damaged at having witnessed me strip off, complete with black KT tape on each nipple! I chatted with Glyn Manton, a Norfolk runner I sometimes bump into. We made our way to the car.
Steve is a hero! Inside the car was a glass and bottle of beer for each of us (not Steve)!
While Steve drove us home, we drank beer and reflected on the race! I felt very happy!
I hope that this record goes some way towards helping any runner who thinks of embarking on their first ultra.
I will be running another!
Other people are vital in the lead up to, during and after such events. The support and advice has been amazing, Lisa got me through it, and I am amazed at the comments and congratulations I have received. If I leave anyone out I am sorry, but in terms of ultra advice, I feel I must offer my total gratitude to Kyle, David, Charlotte and Lisa of Ely Runners.
Diet and training is everything.
Sports massage helps! Thanks, Becky!
I still don’t know why I did it.
I love my family for putting up with it all!
I will leave this blog for a while. I want to continue it, but with a new focus after a break and a bit of a think. I hope you have enjoyed it. Do comment!
There has been a lot of learning since the last blog entry, and a lot of running! The runs have been mixed: Littleport Parkrun, various club runs, some long runs, The Ely Runners New Year’s Eve 10K, Bury St Edmunds Parkrun, King Lynn Parkrun. I am only going to focus on errors, what went well and discoveries.
Run Every Day January (RED). I really enjoyed this last year, but it was an error to embark on it in 2019 given I am training for the Peddars Way ultra. As a Coach, and as someone surrounded by runners who know their stuff, I know I should have left it this year: but I didn’t, and once I start something I can’t really leave it. So, on rest days, I go for the briefest of gentle cycles: it counts!
Parkruns. I know that some speed work can be a legitimate and important part of training for un ultra marathon, but I have made the same mistake TWICE in recent weeks. Before Christmas, I gave Littleport Parkrun enough stick (in muddy conditions) to knacker my left foot. I tend not to slow down much on muddy parts, and I am sure this is how I did the damage. This led to me taking a break in the lead up to Christmas. I rested enough, and the foot problem seems to have gone away. More recently, I tried King Lynn Parkrun, which is a course known for fast times. To cut a long story short, I tried to hammer it; I couldn’t run it as fast as I wanted to, and I felt some very scary twinges in my left hamstring, which I know slowed me down. Luckily I don’t think I have done much harm. But the hamstring and foot issue forced to me to take breaks and even abandon a long run. Hitting Parkruns hard, for me at least, is not wise in the lead up to an ultra event.
I was really pleased with my performance at The Ely Runners New Years Eve 10K. I did not get a PB, and my time was a tad slower than it was for the same race in 2018. But, I had two personal goals for this race (which I will keep to myself): I achieved them both. I put this down to the training I have been doing, but also, due to thinking about the race, attacking the hill and applying a bit of strategy for a change. In short, I felt strong.
I have been plagued with a problem where I get pins and needles in both feet during the early stages of runs. In the past, I have been advised to look at how I lace my running shoes: apparently, it can make a difference. I did nothing about it, until the morning of Sunday 5th January 2019 (my longest run yet). I re-laced the running shoes I will be using for Peddars way, loosening the laces all the way across the top of each foot. During my long run, although I still experienced some pins and needles, it was nowhere near as acute, and it didn’t last as long. I am loosening the laces on all of my trainers!
The long run! I have got to the stage in my training where I can run the marathon distance (not at race pace) any time. I felt the need to extend the distance, even if only to boost my confidence. I had a plan, and this involved two big loops, and a shorter ‘out and back’, resulting in a 30 mile run. This went well. Now for the detail.
I have discovered three foods that really work for me: fish paste sandwiches (white bread); dates; cashew nuts; Love Hearts (the sweets). My plan for this run was to run two 11 mile loops and then an 8 mile out and back run. I treated my house as an aid/ food station, thus trying to replicate the Peddars Way experience in some way. The plan was to eat and drink something after mile 11, something more substantial (soup) at mile 22 (there is soup at mile 26 at Peddars), and then go and finish the 30 miler. I took with me two collapsible bottles of water with tailwind in them, along with some nuts, two sandwiches, and some Love Hearts. This worked well, as did the aid station approach. I spent as little time as possible at home: the first stop was about 5 minutes and the second (at mile 22 was around 7 to 9 minutes). I did not get hungry at all on this run and I felt well-hydrated. The tailwind and the food has got me where I want to be!
The run itself was tough in that it was dull but I did not want to stray too far from home. I listened to some more of an Audible book : ‘A History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell’, which is pretty heavy going, but it did help with blocking the negative thoughts I often experience on longer runs.
I also tried out my power pack set up, which involves charging my Garmin watch from a lead threaded through my running jacket sleeve to a power pack in my running belt. This worked perfectly.
I was heading out of Ely and along a river bank when I hit 26.2 miles. I was hit by a wave of emotion at this stage. 1. It dawned on me that technically, I was now an ultra runner. 2. I knew I was able to run the 30 miles, and this was going to be the furthest I had ever ran. 3. My confidence had been boosted no end. I have to confess, I blubbed for a few minutes.
The final four miles was tough but enjoyable, purely because I knew I was about to hit the 30 mile mark. I arrived home, to my sons and wife, none of whom looked away from the TV when I walked through the door, elated!
Today, the wonderful Becky worked her magic with a sports massage to my legs: they feel great now.
What has really surprised me about the 30 miler is how little I have suffered in the few days after it: I am hoping this is a sign of increased fitness and conditioning for distance running. That being said, I have replaced runs with short cycles for a few days in order to satisfy my RED commitments. Now I can take it easy in the lead up to Peddars (and just keep the legs turning over). This whole experience has been a big deal to me.
Since my last post, I have been resting more; this is a good thing, as I have been showing some classic signs of being over-trained: general fatigue, waking in the night, and continuous aches and pains! This means I have skipped sessions on my plan, and focussed on some faster stuff (as well as distance).
Continuing with the theme of making myself do stuff I don’t want to, this week I ran a steady 5K around Thetford with Sophie (a superb work colleague and even better runner), very early the morning after a heavy Christmas works do! I have little to say about this other than I wish I had more opportunities to run with Sophie, and 5K is a superb hangover cure!
Thursday’s club run composed of pretty straightforward loops around Ely; but this week, a beginners’ course graduate turned up for a taster session, and seemed a little apprehensive. I decided to go for the open-level option (four laps), having offered to run lap one with the beginner lady. I enjoyed the steady loop one, and once the beginner lady and I exchanged farewells, I decided to speed things up for the lonely three loops. As per previous club sessions, my thinking was to do the fourth loop: even though I didn’t want to. I am realising more and more that when preparing for an ultra, you are training the mind as well as the body.
Each December, Ely Runners lay on a coach to ferry us to Woodditton (Suffolk), so that we can enjoy the gorgeous trail back to Ely. I went for the full 18.5 mile option, which takes in Devil’s Dyke, mud, and parts of the Fen Rivers Way. I LOVE this run, which happened today! Arranging to run with Charlotte, Nick and Andrew was all quite last-minute (and I wanted run with each of them for different reasons). Although the pace of this small group was a tad faster than I should have run, I enjoyed every minute. I actually managed to eat, as well as drink all of the water (with Tailwind) in my collapsible bottles.
At one point during the run, fellow Ely Runners, Claire and Emily had laid on a mini-bar! The Rolo Vodka, although in no way recommended as an aid to ultra training, was sublime! Claire and Emily are bloody heroes!
I have been eating non-stop since today’s Christmas run! More soon!
After the marathon training run at the weekend, I have not run at all during the week: this is almost unheard of for me, but a combination of work, and just needing to rest led me to this course of action. I was due to marshal at Littleport Parkrun on the 8th December 2018, and my superb running buddy, Lauren, agreed to trot along the river bank to Littleport with me. Lauren is one of the very best people to run with, as she always sets a steady pace, she is so encouraging, and always funny! Lauren’s blog is well worth following; she covers all aspects of her own running.
Five whole days of no running had clearly done me no harm, and it felt like we had got to Littleport pretty swiftly, and I felt great! Maybe the break had done me some good? After Parkrun, I ran back along the old Ely Road. The wind was in my face the whole way, and it was nowhere near as much fun as the run in! I’ll call this session 17 as it is close to what was expected in my plan, and I was playing catch up after those few days off.
Session 18. The plan said I had to run a half marathon and push the pace a bit. I took this to mean a bit faster than ultra pace, and given I have been struggling to slow down, it almost felt a relief to not have to as much for this run.
I decided on a run through Ely, along the river and then up towards Barway (and back). The trail heading towards Barway was more challenging than I thought it would be. At times, the muddy puddles tried to suck my trail shows off. I nearly fell several times. Once I was through the quagmire, I headed through Barway to the main road that leads into Ely, I turned around to head back the way I came. Despite the conditions, the trail bit was huge fun, and the Marino wool socks once again worked wonders: the feet felt damp, but warm!
I am still struggling with nutrition: I won’t get into it this time, but needless to say, it’s not an issue for the half marathon distance. I managed on a bowl of porridge and pack of Love Hearts today; as I popped the first into my mouth on the trail, I could have sworn it had ‘IDIOT’ written on it: I must have imagined it.