When running is important to you, and you can’t run, it messes with your head: well, it does mine! At the time of writing, while we find ourselves in the Covid-19 pandemic, we are allowed out for one daily exercise, and although I am not running every day, I am running more often that I have been: for a couple of reasons…
At the end of February, I needed to have an operation, I won’t go into details, but I will say that although it was not major surgery, it was serious enough to put me out of action for weeks. I was told by the surgeon that I was not allowed to run, and I soon discovered that I couldn’t run, even if I had been given the all clear to do so. I was also unable to cycle or swim, so, it wasn’t long before I started to suffer mentally. Running has done absolute wonders for my mental health; I am not ready to talk about this in any detail, but let’s just say I can end up in some dark places if I don’t remain active.
So, I did stuff that involves other people’s running instead. I lead the (Ely Runners) 10-week beginners’ course, so I was able to take on static roles, and as a Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF), I can say with some authority that you can learn as much about someone else’s running by standing and watching, as you can running with them: maybe more. So, being static was a positive thing, as was keeping in touch with fellow coaches and seeing the impressive progress of the course participants.
I also volunteered at Soham Village College parkrun , an event that is really important to me, as is parkrun in general. As part of the core team of Run Directors, nothing gives me more pleasure than to help set up in the morning and have a laugh with the amazing volunteers.
Sadly, parkrun, and the beginners course had to stop due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent Government response to it. On top of this, as a key worker, I was able to carry on working, until I started to feel really unwell. I went from someone who was able to run a half decent 5K or an ultra marathon, to a coughing wreck in just a few days. Even a walk in the garden caused alarming breathlessness. A call to NHS 111 resulted in what I dreaded and expected, self-isolation at home. My wife is also a key worker: she and our twin boys had to self-isolate for 14 days. Once that was over, and I eventually went for a run, I could really feel what fitness and endurance I had lost as a result of illness, self-isolation and my break due to surgery.
I have a somewhat mercurial mood at the best of times, which can be great, but it can also be problematic: running really helps, but until recently, the release running gives me was removed. My wonderful wife, as understanding as she is, has had to put up with a grumpy and obsessional prat: I love her for her patience. Friends have helped; all friends, but as my blog is about running, it must be said that keeping up with running buddies via social media, Zoom, Messenger etc has been invaluable. I believe the pandemic might even have strengthened friendships that were already pretty solid, which is often the case among running club members. Thank you to my close running buddies. You know who you are.
My running is slowly improving again. I am slowing things down, worrying less about times and PBs and focussing on being able to run around Ely and the surrounding countryside: long may it continue.
A year has passed since I ran The Peddars Way 48 Mile Trail for the first time. A lot has happened on the running front since January 2019, a year in which I got 6 ultras under my belt. The number of ultras in 2019, excessive sounding to some, might be part of the reason why the 2020 Peddars Way felt a little easier to me. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough, but this year I crossed the line in better condition: I felt generally happier and more relaxed throughout.
This time I had prepared fish paste and tomato sandwiches with white bread; two bottles of flattened Lucozade; a huge bag of dry roasted peanuts; Fruit Pastils and a banana. Breakfast was porridge, some berries and a pint of tea.
Once again I ran the race with the amazing Lisa, and we were joined by fellow Ely Runner, Martin, who has now ran a couple of ultras: Peddars was about to be his furthest distance to date. We and some other Ely Runners gathered nice and early at Knettishall Heath.
Among our group were speedy types, and people who just wanted to do their own thing, which is of course fine. Martin, Lisa and I decided to stick together.
After Kevin (Positive Steps) had delivered the race brief, we were sent on our way. It would be fair to say that we did not adopt as much of a run/ walk/ run strategy as we could have before the first checkpoint; but we were more disciplined than last year in that we had the odd 1 minute walk so that we could eat, and power walk up the slopes. As I said earlier, I felt generally more confident from the outset: the great company and gorgeous countryside definitely helped.
It was during the run after the first checkpoint that our Peddars Instant Messenger chat pinged on our phones, and we got news from fellow Ely Runner, Charlotte that she had felt the need to pull out of the race. Charlotte is an amazing distance runner, who is training for a 100 miler! Peddars was for her, a training run, but, when things go and feel wrong, it takes courage and discipline to know when to cut your losses. I have always found Charlotte to be the voice of common sense; she can clearly apply her calm and logical approach to herself when necessary. We were gutted for her, but she did the right thing.
The checkpoint at Castle Acre is a confidence booster for me. At this stage you have put about 27 miles behind you: it feels good! There is soup at this stage! We decided we would not spend too much time at any of the checkpoints: we agreed that we would enter, refill water bottles, grab food, say thank you and power-walk out before resuming running. It is hard to leave the Castle Acre checkpoint, but we really didn’t hang about! The soup was amazing!
It was on leaving this checkpoint that we took stock of how we were all feeling. As we ran, Lisa told me that an old ankle issue had resurfaced. I asked her how painful it was on a scale of 1 to 10. Lisa said it was about an 8! This says all you need to know about Lisa! Ever smiling, she will not allow something like serious pain to stop her running a further 21 miles having already ran over the marathon distance on muddy, uneven trail! Martin had little to report on the problems front other than some stiffness in his legs. My problems were to make themselves known at around mile 32, at which point we found ourselves at the bottom of a long hill. I had eaten and hydrated very well the day before, and, having recalled the issues I had experienced last year, I snacked well in the early stages of this race. At the checkpoint we had just left, I took full advantage of the amazing soup on offer, I dipped a jam sandwich into mine! It was OK! For whatever reason , as we climbed the hill, I developed tunnel vision, and broke into a serious sweat that seemed unrelated to the effort at hand. I had to eat some fish paste sarnies (don’t judge me), as well as some dry roasted peanuts, and I necked some flat Lucozade. It is hard to tell which of these medicines sorted me out: maybe it was all three, but I recovered swiftly and soon we were on our way again.
It would be fair to to say that after 30 miles, things start to get a bit tougher! My feet started to hurt and I had those tell tale bruised and aching feelings under several toenails. My right hamstring started to tighten, no doubt compensating for a very old injury in my left leg. Lisa’s ankle issue persisted, and Martin, still ailment-free until this point, reported feeling some pain in his feet. We pressed on.
Things got a bit trickier here and there from about mile 32 onwards, with the running getting more technical, the tracks muddier and more uneven, and the gloom of the fading daylight making it a bit more of a challenge. The three of us just kept pressing on. We got chatting to several runners, mainly due to the odd thing that happens whereby you keep passing people, only for them to catch you up, and for this to be constantly repeated. One chap we were passing overheard me talking about how much I would love a Snickers Bar (Marathon to those of us old enough to resent the change in name), he went on to produce a bag of chocolate from his pack, which he happily shared with us! Among the selection was the chocolate I wanted! Never has a Snickers/ Marathon tasted better! This chap was anxious about the cut off time; we reassured him that he would make it (he did). Not sure if you will ever read this, Brian, but thank you.
Checkpoint 3 is at about 34.25 miles in. It is hosted by Bungay Black Dog Running Club. As we approached this point I remembered with fondness the tea, coffee and hot sausage rolls the group of volunteers provides. Enough said – they are amazing! Talking of the Black Dog Crew, we encountered two of them again having not seen them since the June 2019 Norfolk 100K ultra. Jules and Rachel! It was great to see them again!
So, the final approximate 14 miles from checkpoint 3: this is where things got tough. Martin, Lisa and I made quite a team by giving each other loads of encouragement. Poor light to pitch black set in very quickly, and with head torches, we pressed on with the tough bit. In order to make sure we kept covering ground, and given the muddy, unstable trail and pitch black conditions, we agreed to bursts of 90 seconds of running, punctuated with power-walks. This worked well. About 5 miles from the coast we hooked up with a lady who was running alone, who decided to stick with our regime until about a mile from the coast.
Before we knew it, we were running the familiar downhill trail with hedges claustrophobically hemming us in from both sides. At this stage you can easily touch the hedges on other side by raising your outstretched arms. Lisa shouted out that she had seen a pair of orange eyes peering back at her through a gap in the hedge; whatever the creature was, if it had given chase, we could not have ran any faster!
When we finished the long narrow path towards Holme-next-the-Sea, we were greeted by glow sticks throughout the village, guiding us to the part of the the race we had been longing for: the run up to the beach.
There was a lovely moment as we headed towards the sea. Martin’s young son, Thomas was running alongside us: his family had travelled via train and bus to be there. It was clear that Martin was elated by this, as it was unexpected! Suddenly we hit sand, and just like last year, we could hear the roar of the sea, and feels its spray, but we couldn’t see it. We all ripped a page each from the book hanging from the post, and took a selfie. It is necessary in this race to remove a page from a book, hanging from a post on the beach; this is presented to race officials back at the Village Hall as proof that you have completed Peddars!
The run back to the Village Hall seemed to take forever! We were all hurting, but adrenaline and pure joy had kicked in, blocking out anything that might have stopped us from running.
Eventually we could see the Village Hall ahead and on our left. It was quite a moment when we ran inside and over the chip timing mat on the floor. Just like last year, we were greeted with cheers from the volunteers, and from the runners who had already finished. My mate, Steve was there with our change of clothes, and Ely Runner, Allistair Berry was there volunteering! Steve commented that I was in a much better state than I was at the end of the race last year! I was really pleased to hear this! Medals were presented to us, and then we attacked the beans on toast! The hot mug of tea was amazing. I didn’t care about modesty at this point, I just changed into my track suit there and then (poor people).
Allistair Berry, who volunteered at the finish.
At the time of writing, it is the Monday after Peddars. My legs hurt more than they did the day after the race, and my feet and toenails are in a sorry state! I have eaten tons and the hunger is only just easing off! It has all been worth it! See you in 2021, Peddars Way!
After a heavy October, I have kicked back a bit: I have ran way fewer miles in November, and yet carried on eating at the same rate. I have kicked back too much, I have gained a few pounds (not a major problem) and have definitely lost some fitness. My fault! I have some serious training to do in early 2020.
I have just two things to report: the new Soham Village College parkrun, and the Ely Runners annual Christmas 18 miler (oh, and maybe a little review of the year).
Soham Village College parkrun.
parkrun, is, as we all know, is a global phenomenon, and thanks to two fanatics, it has come to another part of our little corner of the world. Andrew Scarlett and Jon Price discussed Soham Village College parkrun ages ago, it has been a real slow burn in its planning, and with the help of a core team of Run Directors (of which I am one) and volunteers, a trial event took place on the 16th November 2019. We are now at event number 4.
I have enjoyed working on the social media and promotion for this parkrun, and with the help of Neighbourhood Cares Soham, we managed to reach out to the local community. It is really early days, but so far, we have had enough volunteers to cover all of the roles needed to allow parkrun to happen each week, and we have had a respectable turnout of people to walk/ jog/ run the events.
Soham Village College parkrun is an interesting one, with some twists and turns, and time spent on the concrete of the College grounds as well as on gently undulating fields. It may not be a PB course, but it is a fun and varied one, which will certainly help with anyone’s 5K times. Come along and see what you think! It’s brilliant!
The Ely Runners 2019 Christmas 18 miler.
This is one of the BEST events in the club calendar! Members can choose to run from Woodditton to Ely (cross country), which is just over 18 miles, or a couple of shorter options. All distances are demanding, mainly due to mud, the undulating terrain and the fact that it really is a bit of a technical run.
This year I ran the best part of the route with running buddy, Emily. We covered the trail though woodland from Woodditton (ups and downs, tree roots, mud) and along the amazing Devil’s Dyke, which gives stunning views of the surrounding countryside, and requires you to run along a very high path lined in clumps either side with Hawthorn; Blackthorn; Wild Rose bushes; thistles and general all-round prickly stuff! It’s great! The wind made the run a little more demanding, but not as much as the mud and puddles as the terrain turned more ‘Fenland-like’. We met up with Charlotte, who wore the BEST festive costume (see if you can guess who she is from the pic above)! Sadly, as we got to the second food and drink station, Emily decided to cut her run short as she was not feeling so great. We tried some sublime Rolo Vodka and Sloe Gin, provided by the amazing Claire, and then we carried on. For the rest of the run, we stuck with Martin (who I ran the Kings Forest Ultra with) and Allistair, another amazing Ely Runner.
I found that the Sloe Gin and the Rolo Vodka led to a slightly elated feeling as I took in the views and enjoyed the banter with my fellow runners; however, the drinks did repeat on me a fair bit! Speaking of banter, there was a lot of it and I’m not sure it should be documented here: needless to say at times it was controversial (it often is when Charlotte is around)!
It should go on record though, that after Emily had ran off to find undergrowth and bushes, behind which she could ‘spend a penny’, she ended up with loads of those burs (hooked seeds) in her underwear: upon rejoining the trail she looked somewhat flushed and loudly announced ‘I’ve got seeds in my under-crackers!’ Emily, it would have been wrong of me not to record this for posterity.
Once we got to Ely (and that last slog with the Cathedral in sight is tough), it was time for a shower and slap up roast lunch, organised by the Ely Runners Social Secretary and superb running buddy, Lauren Thomas. All in all a brilliant event!
It’s been a crazy year for me, with many highlights and personal achievements: 26 races (including my first duathlon); getting very close to my 100th parkrun; delivering my first one-to-one coaching sessions; delivering my first track session; completing 6 ultra marathons (and getting my Positive Steps Grand Slam tankard); winning the Ely Sporting Hero Award (The Ely Hero Awards) as well as the England Athletics Regional Volunteer Award (inclusion category); supporting people with a learning disability and/ or autism to enjoy parkrun. Hard work like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum: it requires support and understanding from loved ones, great running buddies and an amazing club. I have loved 2019!
No more now until Peddars Way in January 2020! Merry Christmas!