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Injury and the 2021 Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon.

In short, I ran a trail marathon with a suspected broken big toe: here’s the longer version…

It wasn’t my intention to run this year’s Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon competitively: for me it’s not that kind of event, and I hadn’t trained for it in any structured way. There has certainly been no tapering, which is evident given I decided to run 20 miles of trail five days before the marathon. I tend to disagree with the strict post-long run recovery periods you often read and hear about: I prefer to recover based on how I feel. That’s just me though, and I would never suggest that good periods of recovery are not essential, I just think the approach can be more personal as you gain experience. But regardless of my views around recovery, my long run before the marathon put paid to any ideas of running Marriott’s Way in anger.

From my house to Wicken Lode along the river and back is about 20 miles, and I fancied a few hours alone in the sun during a week of leave from work.

There’s loads of them along the river in Ely!

Once I got on to the riverbank heading away from Ely, it became evident that there was more cattle than usual; at least, it felt that way, and although there was the usual huge bull on the river bank, my concern was more about the nervous cows with their young. Getting out of their way involved a wide berth and negotiating overgrown banks, so I trotted behind the herd, trying not to move too suddenly or to get too close (the cows can get spooked when they have young). Eventually, the whole gang broke into a trot and ran down a path leading to the side of the riverbank: I made a mental note to keep an eye out for this skittish lot on my return journey.

The run was gorgeous, if a tad too hot and exposed for a long run, I reached Wicken Lode and headed back on the same route. When I encountered the cattle again, I glanced at my watch and noted I had reached 24K in distance, and the herd, including the huge bull, were all below and to the right of the high bank I was running on. I was concentrating on them more than where my feet were landing, and I stubbed my left big toe on a raised part of the bank, which caused me to fall heavily. I had decided on very light road shoes given it was so dry, and this pair afforded hardly any toe protection, and when I got up and carried on, I could feel that something wasn’t right with the toe, but it was not so painful that I had to stop running.

I ran the remaining 8K home, and inspected the toe: it looked terrible. The new nail that had grown to replace the one I lost as a result of running the Peddars Way Ultra had split horizontally, and the end of the toe was a deep purple. Without a trip to the local Minor Injuries (I couldn’t be bothered), I decided that a fracture was likely, maybe a spiral one. My wife disagreed and thought I was making a fuss. Either way, I was pretty sure that Marriott’s Way was not going to happen.

I was surprised at the number of people who recommended that I just strap the injured toe to the next one and get on with it, and if I am honest, this advice appealed to my attitude to running distances: that of overcoming the obstacles and getting it done. So, days later, I found myself back at the start of the Marriott’s Way Trail – a race I have ran before at the marathon and half marathon distance. I met up early with fellow Ely Runner Andrew Scarlett, and we discussed how we wanted to approach the race. Andrew told me his intended pace, I wiggled the strapped up toe and told him he would be running without me; he said we should just ‘see what happens’. I have come to appreciate that Andrew is as tough a runner as they come, and if he had decided on a certain pace and time, that was what was going to happen. I lost sight of him within a mile of us being sent off in covid-safe waves!

Waiting with Andrew Scarlett to start the Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon

The organisation, as is always the case with Positive Steps events, was superb, and even more so while we find ourselves still in the grips of the pandemic. No need to go over the things Kevin Marshall and his team did to mitigate the risks – let’s just say it was all reassuring.

I rather surprised myself in the end. I had water with me, so I did not use any of the aid stations the event laid on. I had also told myself I would treat this as an ultra and walk anything that I found tricky, or to take on a run walk run strategy in general; in the end I just ran it: no walks, no aid stations, and no food. The trail was pretty flooded at various points, with the water ankle deep at times, and there were some very muddy sections, but this added to the fun, and my overall sense of achievement. No sub-4; but then, I think those days are gone for me, but I was happy with 4:22 and having got through it with an injury. Andrew finished in just under 4 hours, and given the conditions on the day, this is amazing.

Home in time for tea and medals!

If you like trail, and you like distance running, do take a look at the events offered by Positive Steps.

During my drive home I thought about two challenges that were next on my list: the ‘Run Around the World Virtual Challenge’, and bang in the middle of this, the ‘Virtual Montane Lakeland 100 Miler’. More on these next time, but for now, I can report that these events seem a little less daunting to me having got through Marriott’s Way in one piece.

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The 2021 Peddars Way Ultra Marathon and the Bury to Clare Cross Country 18 miler.

It has been close to two months since my ‘home from home’ 50 mile ultra. Since then, some organised events have been creeping back onto the scene. Everyone has their own pace when it comes to returning to ‘normal’ during these strange times, and my own approach to races is to case out race organisers’ risk management details before booking any event. In my view, Positive Steps Events are managing transmission risks really well during this stage of the pandemic (I know a little about the subject due to my work); so I have had no hesitation in signing up for their races.

The Peddars Way Ultra Marathon is where distance running started for me a couple of years ago, so it has a special place in my heart. I ran it in 2019 and 2020, and, although I left it a little late, I got in again this year. It was reassuring to know that a group of Ely Runners had already entered, including the amazing Lisa, who I have twice ran the event with. Even better was the news that another two Ely Runners, Michelle and Caroline, were going to provide us with unofficial support on the day, which was allowed, as long as they did not park or set up near where the scaled down official aid stations were scheduled to be situated. If you have read any of my blog entries about ultras, you will know that I really struggle with nutrition during them, and to an extent hydration also: I tend to feel a little nauseous when I have passed the halfway stage, and eating is a huge struggle for me. I am pleased to report that I more or less nailed it for the first time at the 2021 Peddars Way! More on that shortly.

The Peddars Way Ultra – from the Suffolk border to the North Norfolk coast

It has become a tradition that a mate, Steve, takes me to and picks me up from Peddars. Lateral Flow tests all round, open windows and masks, and the tradition was maintained this year! Positive Steps placed runners in safe numbers and waves this time, and at the start I felt safe and comfortable.

Time to rewind and talk about nutrition and hydration. I like a beer – I have always liked a beer (as well as other boozes), but for reasons I won’t go into, I decided months ago that I will only have a beer on Sundays now, after my long runs. As much as I like a dark rum, I have decided that I need to leave spirits behind me. As a result, I am more hydrated most of the time, my head feels clearer and my running has most definitely improved. On the day before Peddars I hydrated well, and I focussed on carb heavy, healthy food. As usual, I decided to take the food I like to the event, no matter how unhealthy: as a fellow Ely Runner always tells me when it comes to nutrition and distance running: ‘train clean, race dirty’. So, I took advantage of the unofficial race support on the day, and Michelle and Caroline carried for me: 1x one flask of leek and potato soup; x 1 bag of new potatoes in salt and butter; x 2 hard boiled eggs; x 5 bottles of Lucozade. In my ultra vest I had more potatoes; some flat Lucozade; Love Hearts; salt and vinegar crisps and x 2 breakfast bars as well as the usual soft bottles of water. Also, this time, and for the first time, I followed the advice of friend and Ely Runner, Emily, and carried salt tablets, which I took x 1 per hour. On the morning of Peddars I drank a pint of tea and ate a large bowl of cereal.

At one of Michelle’s and Caroline’s amazing aid stations.

Running Peddars in April instead of February made a huge difference on many levels: it was simply nicer weather, we started and finished in daylight, and we did not have to run up to our shins in water along that notorious boardwalk near the start. The sunshine definitely helped me in terms of general mood. It was a gorgeous day. Fellow Ely Runners Andy, Allistair and Lisa had already started ahead of me by the time my wave was sent off. I started my race with Ely Runners Tom and Martin (who I have ran a few events with) and his brother in law, Brian.

Utterly gorgeous weather.

Tom is one serious runner at the best of times, so it was not long before he had edged off ahead of the pack, and before long we caught up with Lisa and her friend, Mike. It was nice to run in the group and for the bulk of the the race, I kind of oscillated between Lisa and Mike and Martin and Brian. For the first time, I ran chunks of a longer event alone, with my running buddies in the distance in front and behind me: I enjoyed these periods as much as I did running in their company: I had time to think and to reflect on the fact that this felt better than any Peddars, or in fact any ultra I had ran before in terms of nutrition. Caroline and Michelle were parked up more or less every 7 miles, which was a huge luxury! I didn’t eat too much when we stopped at their cars, but certainly enough to fuel for the miles ahead. I felt so much better for it, and didn’t really start to suffer until around mile 40, which is good going for me!

Physically the terrain was tough. Peddars does have some hills, but nothing too crazy; the main issue was trail that has been muddy and well trodden on, but had baked dry in the sun, making for an uneven and technical run. As a result, by mile 40, the soles of both feet with suffering, my lower back hurt, and I could tell that one big toe nail and both little ones were definitely on the way out. As I type this, the three toenails are black, but they have not fully succumbed and fallen off just yet: they will.

In the latter stages of the race, I found myself alone with Martin. His brother in law had pressed well ahead: highly impressive given his furthest distance to date had been a marathon. Martin is easy and fun company at these times, and we talked about family, food, work, and running. Martin can also be quite motivating, saying the right things just when you are starting to dip mentally.

I finished the race with Martin, and together we took in the slow downhill towards the coast, with the noticeable sea breeze from around mile 45, which disguised what was for me going to be a decent case of sunburn! The final mile involved road running as we entered and ran though Holme-next-the-Sea. As we approached the beach to rip our pages out of ‘the book’, I couldn’t help but feel disappointment mixed with elation. At my past two Peddars, when ripping out the page, it was dark, with the crashing of the sea in my ears: it was a dramatic and exciting way to finish the race. This time, it was a clear, sunny day: no drama, but still the same level of relief.

At the finish, which was this year outside the village hall instead of inside, it was great to see Andy and Alistair along with our support crew! We waited to see Lisa and Kevin come in, and then I made a swift exit with Steve, who handed me a bottle of beer and then tolerated me for the journey home.

Well done, Positive Steps on a safe and well-organised event. I will be back!

In the few weeks in the wake of Peddars I most definitely felt the training effect, and I still am, and whilst runs might not have been faster (although some have) they have all felt easier and more relaxed. Interesting then, that the Bury to Clare trail race, also laid on by Positive Steps felt much harder than Peddars.

Bury to Clare cross country, a tough run wet or dry.

Friends and Ely Runners, Emily and Lisa have both told me how lovely the Bury to Clare race is. It was full when I finally looked it up, so I added myself to the waiting list and was chuffed to bits to to be offered a place just days later. I was to run this one alone, as Emily, Lisa and fellow club member Jemma were all in a later wave to me. The stress of transport to a point to point event was removed for me as Jemma’s other half, Geoff, kindly agreed to add me to the car journey (more Lateral Flow tests, masks and open windows).

I am still unsure why, I but as I was ushered into my start pen, I made the decision that I would not be power walking hills and I would not be using the aid stations: I decided that it was a straight 18 mile run with no stopping no matter what. I knew from very early on that this would be tough, for various reasons: it was warm, sunny, exposed and a slightly humid day: there were slight hills, right from the offset; and loads of people, including runners clearly better than me, were walking the hills. On top of this, trail that had been messed up by being walked and driven on in the wet had baked and ordered into a surface that was really hard work. I did this run off the back of breakfast, some water and some salt tablets: I carried no food. I might not be one of the strongest or fastest runners around, but I reckon I am one of the most stubborn, and if I decide on an approach, it’s happening!

Gorgeous open countryside.

Running an event that was new to me, and with no company, was a lovely experience. I didn’t have to worry about navigation, as I had the map on the Suunto and it was well marked-out in terms of signage along the way, so I was able to think, and take in the scenery. I was not familiar with this route, despite this part of Suffolk being close to where I was raised; it is gorgeous open countryside, and it seemed ever changing as I progressed along the route. When I approached the first aid station, the lady with the water and snacks seemed a little surprised that I was not stopping, but I gave her a cheery wave, and as I had water on me, I pressed on with my decision to run the whole thing.

Before long I was passing and being passed by a familiar group of runners, all of whom were faster than me when running, but walked all of the hills. Me constantly passing them on the hills and them repeatedly passing me when they resumed running soon ended when their speed was making more gains than my hill running. I was not bothered by this, because despite being in some physical pain by mile 13, I could tell that I was in better condition that I have been for over a year and I was going to be able to finish this without walks or rests.

Mile 13 is when things really started to hurt, and I could feel what had been a reasonable pace start to ease off. It was at this point that a passing runner told me it was now roughly a 50 foot gentle drop into Clare. This was highly motivating news, but when I could spot Clare in the distance, I could see that the drop was interrupted by a bump in the landscape, which turned out to be a nasty upward slope before the proper drop into Clare Country Park and towards the finish line.

I was pretty done in by the time I crossed the line. I ached all over, my feet hurt, I felt burnt and I was covered in the dry salt I has sweated out. I needed full fat Coke, but there was a queue at the little shop near the finish line. A lady in the queue clearly read my mind and asked if she could get me anything and she added that it would be her treat! What a wonderful person! I was soon sat ‘comfortably’ guzzling my drink and situated so that I could cheer in Jemma, Lisa and Emily as they separately crossed the line. No matter how they felt, they all looked strong when they finished. No mean feat in warm, humid conditions on reasonably hard trail. Well done to Tom, also!

Thank you, Positive Steps. I think this will be a regular one for me, and I will be back for the December event. Hopefully with a fellow Ely Runner who wants to try out the route!

Next stop – the 2021 Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon!

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Home from Home – 50 mile ultra

Whenever I have cause to visit the village of my childhood, I always feel a sense of home and nostalgia; for me, Little Thurlow in Suffolk holds so many memories, and I know the huge estate around it like the back of my hand.  I left Thurlow when I was 18, and I have been settled in Ely, Cambridgeshire for many years, but I often think of Thurlow as home.  Since taking up the madness that is distance running, I have always been taken up with the idea of running from my new to old home, cross country, but I am rubbish at navigation and creating routes.  Of course, I know the route by car, but that would be no fun:  I wanted to know how to do the route whilst encountering hardly any tarmac. This is where Ely Runner buddy Emily comes in!

I have ran a few ultras with Emily, and she knows maps!  She loves them!  She collects them!  She is also brilliant at creating routes and sending them via GPX file.  I decided it was time to ask a favour.  Before I knew it, Emily had messaged me the required file (we both own the same Suunto 9 GPS watch), and after the usual head scratching, I managed to transfer the file into the maps in the Suunto app and onto my watch.  There the file sat, and Sundays went by when I was doing other runs, or just couldn’t pluck up the courage to just do it!  Then, I did it!

I spoke with my wife and children, and got the all clear to be away for the best part of Sunday the 21st March, and the evening before, I did my usual prep.  The kit….

  • Newton Boco AT 4 trail shoes
  • Shorts and technical shirt
  • Merino jumper and socks
  • Buff
  • Ultra vest with soft bottles to carry a litre of water
  • Lightweight power pack with phone charger lead
  • Debit card
  • Bag of wet wipes
  • Head torch
  • One ham and cream cheese sandwich
  • One banana
  • Two packs of chicken fridge raiders
  • Two small Soreen bars
  • One bag of salt and vinegar crisps
  • Two bottles of Lucozade (flattened the previous night)
  • Suunto 9 GPX watch
  • iPhone
  • Foldaway waterproof jacket

This was going to be 50 miles of solitude, and there was a good chance that if anything went wrong it could be ages until I encountered anyone else and there might be black spots in terms of phone reception, so, I ate and hydrated really well the night before, and got a decent night’s sleep, having made sure the watch and phone were both fully charged.  I have told several Ely Runner friends that I needed to do a big run alone, as I feel I am too reliant on the security of company:  emotionally and practically.  This time there would be no-one to share things with, no matter how bad it got.

I was reassured when I studied Emily’s map, as I came to realise that I knew the vast majority of the route.  18 miles or so was Ely to Woodditton (our running club’s annual Christmas run), then there was a small chunk I didn’t know at all, which led to the outskirts of Stetchworth and then onto Great and Little Bradley (where I know the terrain) and then to Little and Great Thurlow (which I know like the back of my hand).  There and back, using the Suunto 9’s breadcrumb navigation, meant 50 miles of trail.

I set off at 0730 having done the usual (bit of breakfast and the application of Vaseline to those areas that can ruin an ultra if they do not receive the preparation they require)!  The trail along the river at that time of morning is beautiful, and I decided to try and stop staring at the ground just ahead of me and actually take things in for once.  I am glad I did, because I encountered no people until close to the Cuckoo Bridge Nature Reserve:  only deer, swans, buzzards and what seemed to be an unusual number of Greylag Geese.  On this route is a section known as Chalk Pit – a wide track, heavily churned up by agricultural vehicles, with huge puddles and very deep mud, often from one side to the other.  Chalk Pit is usually a bit of a laugh, unless you have miles ahead of you after the mud, and you have to encounter it again on the return journey.

Fast forward to Woodditton, where usually I would be pressing straight ahead, or, one can turn left to join the Icknield Way Trail: Emily’s map told me that I should turn right onto the Stour Valley Path and head towards Stetchworth.  The countryside undulates more out this way, and the trail takes you along muddy paths on field headlands and beside woodland before leading onto very narrow paths only as wide as your outstretched arms.  It was on two such paths that I encountered conditions worse than Chalk Pit!  The first was a gentle downward slope of deep well-trodden mud with a hint of horse sewage; there was no way to avoid ‘running’ straight through it.  It occured to me just for a second that Emily had known about this and included it for a laugh;  this was closely followed by the realisation that the return journey would include the same, but uphill!  Nearer into the village were more long stretches of muddy woodland footpath, where at one point a shoe was sucked straight off a foot!  All that was possible at these stages was a gentle trot, or a careful walk.


Could it have been Emily’s idea of a laugh?

Beyond Stetchworth the landscape opened up and I started to get my bearings.  I no longer needed the breadcrumb navigation on the watch and switched over to the distance/ pace/ heart rate display.  A long gravel track lead me to the bottom of Water Lane in Great Bradley, where the gently flowing river crosses a ford, where I played as a child.  I paused here for a moment and tried to eat something (nutrition during ultras is something I still really struggle with).  I then took in the trail around the edges of Great Bradley, which leads into the Hamlet of Little Bradley, where I passed its amazing, tiny, 11th century round house church, before heading along the bank of the Stour towards the Thurlows.

Finally I had arrived in the village of my childhood – Little Thurlow, and I ran through it to the end of Emily’s map, which for some reason ended in the middle of the field behind the Village Hall in Great Thurlow.  Curiously, I felt a huge sense of achievement, which is odd, because I have ran trail marathons and ultras, and I have ran further than the 25 miles I had just covered.  I can only assume it had something to do with where I had ran to, and how long it had been a bit of an ambition of mine to do it.  I headed back a short distance and found a spot up against the fence in the huge meadow behind my late Grandparents’ home. I tried to get a banana down me, but again, I couldn’t eat; I just sat there thinking about the contingency plan I had discussed with my wife whereby she would come and get me once I was in Thurlow if I simply couldn’t face the run back.  I couldn’t face the run back, I couldn’t eat, and I was thinking about my Grandparents and how old I was now, whilst back in my childhood village. It was a bit of a dark moment.  An internal pep talk then ensued, where the sensible me told the miserable bastard sat in a field failing to eat a banana that he should not care about distance or pace, and to feel fortunate to be able to take in all this countryside, and to soak up the journey back.  No call was made to my wife.

The gorgeous Little Thurlow

The run out of the village was lovely and my mood lifted.  As I headed out along the Stour again, back towards Little Bradley, I recalled fishing the river, seeing otters, and how us kids made a raft one summer.  All was fine through Great Bradley, but as I headed back towards Stetchworth, the miserable bastard made himself known again: he had worked out that if things were to get really tough, it would likely happen around the 35 mile point, which would be back on Devil’s Dyke, and that would be after the uphill mud had been negotiated in Stetchworth.  Part of the idea of this run was that I was to do it alone, but I decided to message Ely Runner friends Lauren and Emily, to ask them if they would take a video call as I hit the uphill mud section:  I knew they would laugh and in turn this would give me a little lift.  When the time to make the call arrived I noted that the sun had slightly dried and hardened the track, but there was still a really wet, deep, squelchy middle section, which Emily and Lauren found most amusing.  I can’t quite work out why they so wanted me to roll in it though: they didn’t get their wish.  I was really grateful for the quick chat and laugh.

One of the mental milestones.

I was pleased to get off the Stour Valley Path and run from Woodditton onto Devil’s Dyke.  I had decided that this would be a bit of a milestone on the run, but I also knew that, having been depleted by the mud and having not eaten enough, approaching 35 miles meant testing times ahead.  I encountered several people on the narrow top of Devil’s Dyke, and each time I gave way to them and edged slightly down the Dyke edge, not only to socially distance, but if I am honest, to grab 30 second breathers.  All I was interested in was the flat Lucozade in my ultravest; the food was not going to get eaten.  It was necessary to power-walk some of the chalky steep slopes on the Dyke, using the technique of pushing the hands down onto the quads

Chalk Pit on the way back was just as bad, and by now I was at that stage where if I staggered or slipped, correcting myself was harder due to fatigue, and this resulted in me sliding into some of the bigger puddles. My thoughts turned to the long stretch along the drains out at Reach Lode, where it is stunning, but it’s a long bit with no variety! It was here that I spotted two fellow Ely Runners, Lisa and Mark with their little one on the other side of the drain. We discussed my run, and Mark enquired as to whether I was mental: fair enough!

Things were starting to hurt by the time I had passed through the Nature reserve and headed along the river back to Ely. The sun started to set as I passed the Marina, and all was quiet other than the Greylags and the numerous pheasants startling me more than I did them as they flew off to roost.


Close to Ely

Once I reached the Barway Pump House I knew the end was in sight, and it was a matter of one foot in front of the other while keeping the lights of the railway station and the bypass as my focus. I ran towards the railway crossing and stopped, as I had decided that if the 50 mile mark was not near my house; tough – I would be walking the rest as a cool down.

Running 50 miles of trail is always going to be tough, but the terrain and conditions can make things a little easier, or even tougher. Running such a distance alone is so different to doing so with company. Ely to Thurlow through the mud is a run I am glad I completed and I will never forget it. But I think this is one 50 mile route I’ll try just the once.

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Ely Runners RED January 2021, and my battle with Quanea Drove!

Given what we know about the link between building movement into our daily lives and how that supports mental health, every year, RED January inspires many people to get active on a daily basis. At the time of writing, we are still experiencing a global pandemic, so anything that can help people with their mental health has to be a good thing. This year, I decided to try and create a bit of a RED January team from members of my running club, Ely Runners, and at the same time try to raise some funds for RED January’s charity partner, Sport in Mind, the UK’s leading mental health sports charity.

https://www.sportinmind.org/pages/category/who-are-we

Every year, Ely Runners usually manages to get a handful of members to take part in RED January; this time though, and probably due to the fact that the focus is on all kinds of activity, and not just running, we managed to recruit a team of over 40! A JustGiving page was set up for Sport in Mind; a little promotion was created via our Facebook page; a Strava Club was created, and we were good to go!

The Ely Runners Red January 2021 Strava Club logo

I am not sure why, but I decided I would have a crack at a daily 10K, with maybe the odd longer run on Sundays. In the end this worked out just fine, and as is always the case, I was happy to run alone (early in the morning or after work), and I was also pleased if any one fellow Ely Runner joined me (whilst adhering to the pandemic rules).

So, January was quite a journey, with loads of online mutual encouragement, sharing of runs, scrutiny of the weekly Strava League table, and the logging of running; walking; cycling; yoga; HIIT sessions; strength and conditioning; and even outdoor swimming!

The thing that hit me early on was the number of club members who were perhaps in the doldrums in terms of their running: something that happens to the best of us, but perhaps more so in the middle of a depressing global pandemic. People made it clear that they were signing up to ‘get back out there’. One club member, Lizzie, was quite open about how RED January had helped her with her sanity, got her running again, resulted in her finding places near her home she had never seen, and got her some PBs!

Speed and pace is of course all relative; but my personal approach, given I ran 10K every day, was to run what is a slow pace for me, with the occasional run that was close to race pace.

With club member and running buddy, Emily, and some effluent!

As usual, I was able to run, in accordance with the rules, with one other person at a time: so, it was great to see the usual suspects: Shaun, Emily, Jon, Lionel, Andrew S, Natalie, and Lauren. I am so grateful to this bunch, and other Ely runners, who kept each other motivated via Instant Messenger.

With Lauren on the infamous Quanea Loop 10K route!

I tried to mix it up a little for my 10K routes, but for some reason I kept going back to a familiar club route: Quanea Drove. The 10K route takes in some of the City, but also a run along the river and up a hill (Kiln Lane) from Roswell Pits. The Quanea Drove part is made up of long, isolated and exposed farmland roads, with wide views across black Fenland soil. It is rare not to see deer, buzzards, barn owls etc. At this time of year parts of the route are very muddy and icy, and the long empty roads can mess with your mind; especially in rain with a headwind! But, for some reason, I like the route, so, it became a regular for me throughout January!

Watching other club members’ progress on Facebook and Strava became addictive, and it turns out that social media was important in helping people to remain motivated to do RED January; especially when feeling gloomy about the pandemic situation. For those of us whose focus was running only, a club leaderboard on Strava was interesting, and for some, maybe a source of friendly competition (you know who you are)!

I found that, despite not getting proper rest days, I became quickly accustomed to 10K every day, but there were times when I ached a lot, and the odd day when it all came together and I felt like I did a few years ago when all those PBs kept rolling in: I analysed my pace and times and found I was running more challenging routes at a faster and more consistent pace on those rare days. Sundays were devoted to trail, and usually a half marathon.

With Jon. Mud played a huge part in Red January this year!

Due to the kindness of the Ely Runners RED January Team, other Ely Runners, some of their friends and some anonymous donors, we did well on the fundraising front. At the time of writing, Ely Runners has raised £1,538 for Sport in Mind.

I had hinted to one or two Ely Runners friends that I was keen to do a longer run on the last day of RED January, and this was going to happen whatever the activities of any of my club mates; but, it was a certain Allistair Berry who motivated me to go that bit further! Allistair is a phenomenally tough runner, who pushes himself hard; and you would never know if he is finding things hard, because he is always smiling, joking and laughing! On the penultimate day of RED January, Allistair knocked out a casual marathon in wet and windy conditions (despite being bitten by a dog en route)! Kudos! But then he ran 10 miles on the final day with his wife, Michelle, and then carried on to make his final run a half marathon! Now, I have never really been bothered about my place on the leaderboard, only having looked at it to see how people were doing, and to keep abreast of their amazing mileage in the final week. On the last day, I decided to push it further than I had at first intended.

With Shaun, who accompanied me on my first Quanea Drove loop on the last day of RED January.

My original plan was to park my car in town, and use the boot as an aid station (Lucozade, sandwich, banana, change of socks and some plasters), and then run the whole loop (10K) four times, so that I would cover about 24 miles, and then would have to go off and do a bit more for the marathon distance. As a fellow club member said just yesterday: just one lap of Quanea Drove can be mentally demanding in the wrong conditions. I wasn’t worried about the mental stuff; I have an ability to switch off from it now: I was worried about my physical ability given the daily 10Ks in the lead up to the 31st January! Allistair’s marathon, and knowing that he was out there running again gave me the final push to decide that more than a marathon was required. I decided to run 5 Quanea Drove loops with a short cool down at the end.

If I was to cover over 30 miles, I decided to be kind to myself (and responsible to others): this meant a very short break at my car to eat and drink after each loop; to take a selfie with any Ely Runners I encountered, and to defer to the public at all times. I can’t pretend I wasn’t happy when I had to stand to one side to allow tractors, other runners and families to pass safely.

The first loop was easy (no biggie as some of my club mates say): I am used to it, and I had the company of the superb Shaun, who kept me chatting about all things covid! The second loop was fine, and made easier by losing some of the gear I was wearing, and getting a banana and some Lucozade down me! Things started to get a little uncomfortable physically at the end of the third loop, but some messages from friends helped: I was running slowly enough to be able to text whilst on the go!

The fourth loop was the one where I switched off mentally; something I have learned from a few ultra marathons: it’s not easy to explain. It involves banishing negative thoughts or any ideas that you can’t achieve your goal, and it seems to be associated with a type of tunnel vision, where looking forward is constant and I shut down from everything going on around me. I remained focussed on getting back to the car, avoiding running near anyone, and remembering to take sips of water.

The dreaded Quanea Drove. 34.2 miles of repeats!

I cannot pretend I was happy at the idea of setting off for the fifth loop, and as I did so, I noticed that even the shortest break resulted in me seizing up, so, I got on with it. I still struggle with nutrition on longer runs, and the usual mixture of nausea and hunger kicked in. This final 10K loop was a challenge physically, and I think I was able to do it because of my efforts in RED January, and yet at the same time I was hurting because of those same efforts. Good humoured banter with club members via messenger pushed me to the end of this loop, and then a final shuffle of around three miles. This marked the end of RED January 2021 for me!

So, today is the 1st of February 2021, and apart from eating, a lot of my time today is being taken up with reflecting on the efforts of my fellow club members, all of whom have things going on in their lives during a stressful and worrying pandemic. RED January 2021 has helped us all, and in the process, helped to raise some money for a superb charity. So here’s to Ely Runners, RED January and Sport in Mind!

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The pandemic and running friends!

Today I completed the annual Ely Runners New Year’s Eve 10K. It is an amazing event, that sells out fast every year: this year it had to be done a little differently as, at the time of writing, the global pandemic is still very much making itself felt, and I live in what is now a tier 4 area. The NYE 10K had to be virtual, and the Government guidelines and laws had to inform how the race would be conducted. I decided to use the same event route used for this race every year, but, I ran it alone, cold, and in a reflective mood. For days now I have been thinking of what theme I should use for new work on my blog; and as I set off on my 10K today, and had covered about 1.5K, I spotted Charlotte in her car at a junction ahead: I was pleased to see her. Charlotte is a major organiser for the event, and all round Ely Runners hero. I approached her car, she shouted a friendly insult at me and drove off. It wasn’t just any old insult, it was a baaaaad one – not one to be documented in my blog. I could not imagine a world without Charlotte’s inappropriateness in it. Then it hit me. My group of running buddies have got to the stage where they share each other’s problems, tragedies, successes, jokes, opinions; and they can shout THAT kind of insult at me, safe in the knowledge that it will not offend, and it genuinely is meant as affectionate (at least I hope so)! This time my blog is about running exploits since August 2020, but with a focus on the characters whose company I shared: people I regard as friends.

The 2020 Virtual Ely Runners NYE 10K

Time to rewind. The last time I blogged I covered the Stour Valley Path Ultra with Ely Runner, Shaun: a man with a quick, dry sense of humour, who I have had the odd socially distanced run with since then. During one of our more recent trail runs, Shaun and I turned into a sweating, slightly out of breath politician/ virologist hybrids. Shaun is a top running buddy.

The legendary Shaun: eco-warrior, politician and virologist.

You will have read about Lauren in my blog, and you might have read hers https://girlrunninglate.com/blog/. To say that Lauren and her family have had a bad year is an understatement; throughout the pandemic and the tough time she has had, she has remained the usual superb running buddy and friend, who has joined me on random runs; the first leg of a duathlon in September; part of Ely Runner, Natalie’s leg of the Virtual Round Norfolk Relay; a Christmas run with Pete, and a weekly cycle with Bethan (more on that in a moment).

The amazing Ely Runner and friend, Natalie, who Lauren and I joined to support her through her leg of the Virtual 2020 Round Norfolk Relay.

Lauren and fellow Ely Runner, Bethan started cycling on Wednesdays after work a while back, and they either invited me, or I muscled my way in – I can’t remember – either way, it’s good cross-training and always a laugh. Bethan is hilarious, not just because she never seems to change gear and struggles to indicate left, but because she laughs a lot and her happiness is infectious. I always look forward to the weekly cycle: pandemic permitting.

One of the Wednesday cycles with the amazing Bethan!

Lauren had planned with fellow running buddy, Pete, to complete their own Club Christmas run, given they did not participate in the annual festive Ely Runners jaunt from Woodditton to Ely this time round. Vodka has become a bit of a tradition on this run, and determined not to miss out, Pete made some and stuck it in his back pack! I have given up all spirits, but did treat myself to one bottle of Guinness, carefully decanted into one of my ultra-vest soft bottles. I loved spending time with Pete and Lauren on some muddy trail, punctuated with their regular Rolo Vodka stops (over a half marathon distance)!

With the awesome Pete: Ely Runner and Rolo Vodka pusher!

As previously mentioned, our club organises an annual cross-country Christmas run from Woodditton back to Ely. It involves hilarity; festive costumes; food stops; mud (lots of it) and that now famous Rolo Vodka! This year, we had to run in small groups, which was allowed at that time, and I found myself in a superb group of Ely Runners. Among them was Andrew Scarlett, legendary for the miles he puts in, and his general enthusiasm. I have shared some tough events with Andrew: a couple of ultras, the Marriott’s Way Trail Marathon, The Surrey London Ride 100 as well as many other races and parkruns. I will say though, that Andrew let us down this year, as it is tradition that he falls flat on his backside in the mud on this run. Despite me at times begging him to fall, it was not to be. Thanks for hanging on at times on the Christmas run, Andrew, and allowing me to catch up!

Andrew ‘failed to fall’ Scarlett

This leads me to Emily – top nerd (in a good way) and something of an enigma. Emily clearly loves trail, and the muddier and rougher the better – but, she also swears a lot about such activities, and gives the impression that she partly resents them. Emily and I only run trails, and she loves planning them. One of the best things about Emily is her amazing humour, which came to the fore when she joined our small pod on the recent Club Christmas run: her anecdote about thistle injuries, a camera and Boots the Chemist had me laughing so much that my face hurt: she’s brilliant.

Emily ‘no filter/ trail legend’ Knight!

There are others I would loved to have said a few words about, but for various reasons our paths simply haven’t crossed much during these difficult months. But regular check ins with Lionel; Jon; Lisa; Andy T; the Berries and others, has made the pandemic that more tolerable. Instant messenger runner groups with names like ‘The Hash Brown Appreciation Society’ and ‘The Red Face Gang’ have also provided humour and support!

Back to today. That loud, embarrassing insult, yelled from Charlotte’s car – it reminded me that being part of a running community brings with it great friends, laughter and camaraderie: much needed during these strange times.

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The Montane Lakeland 100 and some other stuff.

I was going to say that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, but are we in the middle?  I was hoping we might be nearer the end, but I am sure that’s wishful thinking. One thing is certain though:  running buddies have made the whole dreadful experience that bit easier.  I am the kind of person who is happy to be alone and to run alone, in fact, at times I really need the solitude, but running with a club member once in a while is a serious tonic.  So far I have ran with Lauren, Emily, Shaun, Andrew, and Jon: all amazing Ely Runners.  On top of this, Lauren organises a weekly strength and conditioning session via zoom (my attendance could be better), and fellow Ely Runner, Charlotte uses the same technology to deliver to her club colleagues a weekly training run.  As a result of plenty of lone runs, socially distant miles with club members, and the odd zoom session, I can feel myself getting fitter at last!

In the lead up to July, I signed up for the Run Around The World Challenge, in aid of the mental health charity, Mind.  A few other Ely Runners signed up also, so we have been stacking up the miles for Team East.  It has been fun to have bit of a challenge, and to compare mileage with club members:  we will also get some bling at the end.

A challenge doesn’t alway equal fun, as I found out when I signed up for and completed the Montane Lakeland Virtual 100. When pandemics aren’t spoiling things, The Lakeland 100 is understood to be incredibly demanding, with a high drop out rate: all set in the stunning Lake District.  So, let’s get one thing out of the way, signing up for a 100 mile event, to be completed at your own pace in seven days, and probably somewhere flatter than the Lake District is not going to be as tough as the real thing.  But, if you have never completed a 100 mile training week, or a virtual event expecting you to stack up that many miles in seven days, please do not underestimate it;  it is demanding in its own special way.

I signed up for the Lakeland 100 (actually 105 miles) as I had upped my mileage in July, and I wanted to give myself a little confidence boost for The Stour Valley Path Ultra (in August).  Right away I looked at my work schedule; compared mine to that of my wife, and then thought about childcare.  I worked out that I would mainly run 10 milers, twice a day.  In the end I planned it this way..

Monday early in the morning – 10 miles

Monday evening – 20 miles

Tuesday early in the morning – 10 miles.

Wednesday to Friday – an early and late 10 miles each day

Saturday morning – 5 miles

On the Monday, I rolled out of bed at 0500, did the essentials and was out of the door swiftly.  As I had eaten and hydrated well the day before, I did not bother with breakfast but did swig back some squash.  This first run made me realise how much many of us miss out on by not seeing the Fens at this stunning time of day, as at just after 0500hrs I saw the flat landscape in a different light (literally).  In one ten mile run I saw hundreds of Greylag Geese take off from the black Fen soil in the fields to my left and swoop into the Great Ouse River; I spied a Barn Owl flying low below the raised bank I was running on; a pair of Roe Deer scared the life out of me when I surprised them as I passed a pump house; I saw a huge buzzard, and all kinds of dragonfly; it was a joy.  At the 5 mile point I ran back at a bit slower than my marathon pace.  All in all, no problems.  That same evening, and I have no idea why, I thought I would have a crack at 20 miles along the same route, but this time out 10 miles before heading back the way I came.  I was sensible enough to hydrate well after the morning run, and to eat well but not too close to the actual run.  I took an ultra vest, which carries a litre of water, a sandwich and some wet wipes (you don’t need an explanation).

Stunning Fens

10 miles in the morning and 20 later the same day was tough, and I was berating myself during the final 5 miles. But the way I saw it, I had eaten away a sizeable chunk of the event on the first day.

On the Tuesday, due to work commitments I was not able to run 10 miles in the evening, which made me all the more pleased that I had churned out 30 miles the day before.  I got up at a silly hour and ran 10 miles on the same route.

There’s plenty of company on my preferred route.

The Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all 10 miles in the morning and the same in the evening, but during these runs, I had that company I mentioned earlier from various Ely Runners.  Running with people seemed to prevent the dark thoughts; it even sped me up a little!

The views are stunning on the Great Ouse. Ely Cathedral can be seen on the horizon to the right.

By the Friday evening I had ran 100 miles in five days.  As mentioned earlier, the actual Lakeland event is 105 miles, so I had a 5 miler to do on the Saturday morning.  I was chuffed when fellow Ely Runners Charlotte and Emily offered to run this with me:  Emily chose a trail route in the utterly gorgeous Wicken.

 

Just a few distractions on the Wicken 5 miler.

There’s something worth mentioning about Emily and Charlotte, don’t ever think you can ‘out inappropriate’ them when it comes to conversations: these two are experts at covering forbidden areas: I think I sail close to the wind at times, but these two…

Once the 5 miler was done and Charlotte handed me a beer (fair enough, it was 0800hrs), I went home and reflected on what it is that’s tough about a 100 mile week: for me it is the fact that if you really want to do it, having a break isn’t an option, as it will add miles to another day.  Also, you hurt all of the time: I found I hardly slept for a week as my legs kept me awake, trying to repair themselves, but never getting a decent enough window to do so.  My amazing Ely Runners friends helped no end, as did monitoring the Strava entries of another local runner, David Mould, who ran the same virtual event with the ease that is expected of such an experienced distance runner.  Finally, I should mention that there is an amazing Lakeland100 group on Facebook:  reading their stories and following the progress of a huge number of runners was so motivating.

I enjoyed it in a weird way, and during the whole of July I stacked up 186.4 miles.   Would I do it again?  Maybe.  I will be back to report on the Stour Valley Path Ultra in mid-August!

 

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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!

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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.

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Time to train again, but before that, more ramblings.

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.

The usual Ely Runners suspects.

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!

Night Time Trail 10K at High Lodge with she of ‘Girl Running Late’ fame!

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 beginners@elyrunners.co.uk

Participants, coaches and club members of the last Ely Runners 10-week Beginners’ course.

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.

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!