Sunday, 7 September 2014

When a marathon is half-empty or half-full

Bonjour! Well, let's start with the facts. This weekend, over the course of two races, I ran 39.3 miles at an average overall of around 9.31 per mile. This may have been quicker, but for a massive falling apart in Saturday's marathon at around mile 17 that I didn't really recover from for the rest of the race (although the sprint finish I managed indicates that there may have been a psychological element involved.) I'd last run Somerset Levels and Moors Marathon on my 30th birthday in 2011, so I knew roughly what to expect, although the passage of time had allowed me to forget just how brutal the hills at mile 19 and mile 24 (roughly) were. A mile or so before the first hill, after an uncomplicated steady run, almost stride for stride with my brother Joe, something changed in an instant. I have a number of theories on why this may have been. Looking at it holistically, I'd done very few long runs this year, hadn't had a brilliant amount of sleep in a long time, my diet could have been better of late, I may not have been too well hydrated (partly because a lot of my water went over my head rather than down my throat) and psychologically I may have known there was a big hill climb coming, and that I wouldn't be able to sustain the same pace going up it. During the first half of the race I'd seen a man head-butted by a horse (he was fine, just a little confused for a moment or two!), and had nearly lost my footing once or twice running through a potato field. Aside from that though, nothing especially out of the ordinary had happened and I'd enjoyed a comfortable run through stunning scenery with great company. When the low point came it marked the start of a deterioration that just didn't lift. If this had been an ultra race then perhaps in another few miles I would have felt better again after getting plenty of fuel on board and having slowed my pace for a while, but seeing as it was a marathon I just wanted to get to the finish as quickly as possible. It turns out this wasn't very quickly. It made me think of one of the standard "If you've done 100 miles this'll be a walk in the park for you" comments I'd overheard before the start between other runners. I'd commented at the time that in some ways a marathon is more difficult than a long ultra, because during a marathon there's an expectation that it should be one constant effort rather than being broken up into sections. If I had been on a long ultra I'd have taken time at the aid stations to properly refuel, but during this race I tried to just take on a little liquid, then take some for the road, not stopping for more than a few seconds each time. The shorter the race, the more expectation there is to just get it done, which brings us on to Sunday's effort......

For a bit of fun, seeing as I had a rare free weekend, I'd signed up for Bridgwater Half Marathon the day after the marathon. I had no idea how it would go, but seeing as it was 'only' a half, I still expected to run every step continuously. It may not be quick, in fact I wasn't even sure if I'd break two hours, but I was hoping just to enjoy the run and prove to myself that I was getting back towards a reasonable level of fitness compared to that I'd achieved in spring last year (probably the fittest I've ever been so far.) From the start I could tell that my legs weren't fresh, but I had also feared that it would feel like an absolute suffer-fest straight away, which definitely wasn't the case. In the first mile I was constantly overtaking people, and then gradually over the next one began to reach the point in the field where everyone had hit a steady pace. For the next few miles I would focus on somebody ahead who I would try and gradually reel in. Occasionally something would make me run a tiny bit faster (the sound of distant gunfire around mile three for instance), but I pretty much kept up a constant sustainable effort. Between mile 4 and 5 I overtook some people I'd been reeling in for some time, one of them saying "Hey, are you that writer?" as I passed. I had a brief chat, remembering a few people yesterday who told me they'd enjoyed my book and thinking that this is something that may happen during many races I run from now on, then a mile or so further down the road 'Eye of the Tiger' was blaring from some speakers in a house. I had a little bit of a dance, much to the enjoyment of the locals it seemed, and hugely enjoyed the next downhill section. I did have a bit of a low patch between miles 8 and 9, but there was never a point during the race when I was thinking I'd have to walk; the effort always felt totally sustainable, which is what I'm aspiring to in every race. During an out and back section I got to see those at the business end of the race, and tried to imagine where abouts I would be in the field if I'd entered on fresh legs. Before too long it was my turn to go past people who were further behind, and was surprised to see Jon Pike, who I'd met that day, just a short way behind Jon Tofts; Mr Pike had estimated a finish time of around 2 hours, 35 minutes whereas Mr Tofts had been aiming for around 2 hours. In the end they both finished together at around the 2 hour mark, but when I saw them close to each other with a few miles to go I was thinking either I'd been running a lot slower than I thought, or that the two Jons had both run like warrior poets. Luckily it was the latter, and although my last couple of miles felt tough I felt myself accelerating slightly, particularly towards the end. No sprint finish this time, but I did have a protein shake thrust into my hand just after I crossed the line. For the record it was disgusting but I drank it anyway.

So overall, during the course of these two races I got to run a lot in the sunshine, had some stunning views over the Somerset Levels and generally marvelled at how wonderful the outdoors is, got to chat with lots of great people about this sport we all love, and got to stuff my face after the races. What's not to like? A number of people have commented that what I did this weekend was crazy, but it just reminds me how all things are relative. As I sit and type this Adam Holland is shortly to begin his fifth marathon in five days, and after today he will only be half way through the whole challenge. On Saturday I met Isobel Wykes, who will be running round a 400 metre running track for 24 hours in a few week's time, presumably whilst trying not to be driven slowly insane by the monotony of the situation, and perhaps inventing lots of games to play throughout (shame I-spy doesn't work with one person.) About four years ago I was worried I wouldn't be able to run every step of one 10k race. Seven years before that I wondered if I'd ever even be able to walk a mile again. Putting one foot in front of the other is, like most things, something you just get better at with practice and more able to endure the more you do it. If you are able to run and you think a challenge like this is beyond you then the first thing you need to change is your mindset. Do that and the rest will fall into place.

Signed copies of my book 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run' are now available on a print on demand basis, can be ordered via this link.......

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Rebuilding ultra fitness (and making it stronger)

Thought it was about time I put a few words down as it's been a while. So, the possibly exciting news is that my name will be in the ballot for next year's Grand Union Canal Race. I have already begun training, so that if I get in I will be somewhere approaching ready to start ramping up the training by the time I know I'm in. If I don't get in then I'll be in a position to not waste the fitness I've built up and sign up for something else as a back-up plan.

So, how do you train to run 145 miles and come as close as you personally can to winning in the process? Well, my previous thinking was just to run a lot, but I have since come to learn that it's not only how much you run but the manner in which you do it that's important. If I was writing a column for a tabloid newspaper I'd no doubt draw a few comparisons here, but seeing as this is my good, wholesome family blog I will instead say that in order to train for the aforementioned I plan to run plenty but mix it up, and do some things I don't particularly enjoy usually, including the dreaded speedwork. Now don't get me wrong, there is something exhilarating about running fast, but I used to never see the point in running fast in preparation for an ultra, because when I have run fast during ultras it's normally only gone one way, which is a recovery death march that has dealt a blow to my chances of finishing in a time that won't make me miss any more meals than would have been strictly necessary otherwise. I usually rally later on; during the Oner I fell apart a bit after a relatively blistering start, but then during the final 40 miles or so I didn't ever feel particularly bad until right before the end, when the enormity of how far I'd travelled on foot hit me. Anyway, why am I saying all this? Well actually speedwork is a vital component of training for ultras in my mind. Why? Because it encourages good running form; you can't get away with sloppy form if you're running fast and will naturally compensate if your form isn't up to scratch. This will only help you when you're running long - more efficient form will make everything smoother and easier. Also, a good speed workout will arguably increase your overall fitness more than a 30 mile plod will. What's more, the faster you can run, the faster the pace you can comfortably sustain will be, and this will minimise your suffering during the race. Ok, so you may get less value for money but you may be finished in time to have a slap up meal at a suitable time and perhaps even to sleep at a reasonable hour depending on the start time. This is why I plan to incorporate intervals, hill sprints, tempo runs and all the rest into my training.

What else?? Well, I've never done enough cross training, and so it's time I got myself dahn the swimming baths a little more often. Also time to get the press-ups, planks, squat thrusts etc. on the go and to do them consistently, as boring as I find them from time to time. I'm thinking of perhaps setting myself challenges to keep myself motivated. Oh, and I've even thought about getting one of them kettlebells. I can't argue with the results I've seen so far, with people who are into all that stuff doing one-handed handstands and crazy stuff like that. I need me some of that. There'll still be plenty of honest to goodness runs as well, and the occasional long, slow run but nowadays due to less time on my hands and wanting to make every run a quality one I'll probably do very few 20-30 milers. Time on your feet is all good, but if you spend consistent time on your feet most days then it's probably worth more than if you stay off your feet plenty and then grind out a marathon-length training run. That would be perhaps somewhat akin to making a juice once in a blue moon and then claiming to be healthy despite not eating brilliantly much of the time.....but who would do that???

The thing that's been most intriguing to me is hearing tales of the kind of people who finish fast in the GUCR setting off from the start at 9.30-10 minute miles. Ok, so it's a very, very, very, very long way, but despite not being one of the quickest by a long shot I find it very difficult to limit myself to that kinda pace for any length of time. However, I also know for sure that this is where I've gone wrong in all of my ultra races to date; I've been thinking "I feel fine, so I'll keep cranking out some faster miles!" but you wouldn't sprint at full speed early in a 1,500 metres race would you? No, I'm going to have to teach myself to run very slowly, and keep running very slowly. I remember a time I ran a 20 miler with a clubmate at 10 minute miling roughly, and I still had masses of running in my legs at the end of it. There's an extremely valuable lesson there. So that's it, I will train for this race by running fast, running slow and running just right....and by doing stuff other than running. Easy!

If you want to pick up one of the final 10 or so signed copies of 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run' for ages please follow this link......

Monday, 14 July 2014

Back in the game, back to reality with a resounding thud. My back doesn't hurt.

Good morning, everyone

How are we all today? Well I can't speak for anyone else, so seeing as it's my blog I will only speak of how I am today. Well as ever I am thankful that I get to appreciate this beautiful morning, and that I have what I do, but tempered with this today is the knowledge that I am back on the mainland breathing the putrid air, drinking the questionable water, having to drive to get around and not being able to wake up every day unflustered and so inspired in multiple ways, but instead waking up every day hurried and with various different pressures closing in from every angle. In short, I have just spent around nine days on St. Mary's; the main island on the Isles of Scilly. Whilst there I breathed ample pure air, drank plenty of pure water, did a little swimming in the sea, ate plentifully and bountifully, slept wonderfully and woke up naturally every morning with the light of the sun, and covered plenty of distance by foot, including.....yes, you won't believe it, a fair bit of running! The running included some hills, and occasionally included me pretending I was leading in the final mile of Western States 100, looking back anxiously over my shoulder every so often to make sure I wasn't being too closely pursued by whoever was in second place.

There's something about being somewhere of stunning natural beauty and of great silence that inspires me to move my feet in some kind of rhythm, and when this doesn't entail Morris Dancing it leads to plenty of running. Having the time away from all the aforementioned pressures, of which I didn't mention any in actual detail, also allowed the time to get back into some kind of running form without wondering if I ever would again. This unhurried method reminded me how simple a thing running is, and that all I needed to do in order to run like I had run before was to actually do it. Just to run. My muscles (atrophied as they were from underuse) could remember how to do it, I just had to actually do it. Ok, so I couldn't go and bust out a sub 20 hour 100 miler tomorrow, but I would feel fairly confident of jogging a marathon in around 4 hours if there was a delicious banana cake at the end of it. Despite the even further increased pressures on my time that are to follow this time away, seeing as some unforeseen expenses at the end of it have left me right at the brink financially, I am absolutely determined not to lose this moderate level of running fitness I have crowbarred back into my life, and so whether it takes the occasional uber-late night jog, or the occasional uber-early morning one I most certainly WILL keep it up. In fact, I even plan on sharing the little wisdom I have accrued from my stumbling into running over the previous few years to coach people who are just starting out and help them to achieve their goals. Ok, so I'm not gonna coach anyone to take down Kyle Skaggs' seemingly impenetrable Hardrock 100 course record......hey, way to ruin my clever ultra running reference, Kilian!!!......Ok, so I'm not gonna coach anyone to take down Kilian Jornet's stunning Hardrock 100 course record, but maybe I can help someone who was where I was a few years back to get to where I did or beyond. Whyever not? Details soon to follow.

Ok, so it's a while since I did an epic blog, which is mostly to do with time constraints, and so to end this I shall mention the concept of shorecraft - being able to tell whether a tide is coming in or going out the minute you get to a beach. How is your shorecraft? Does it need work? I can help with that too! Take much care until next time......

Many of you already know this, but if anyone doesn't this is a book I wrote that fills in a few gaps left gaping by this blog post.........

Thursday, 26 June 2014

It worked out in the long run (sorry outdoor buzz for stealing your title ;) )

Ok, so I haven't posted in here for quite a while; never seem to find the time nowadays for such things as blogging, which could either indicate an extremely busy life or merely nothing to blog about. Maybe even both.

Well this is just a little post about what long runs have done for me. Well without wishing to be overly dramatic, I just don't know how I might have coped with elements of the past few years without being able to get out and run long. Simply put, just going out there and running long when I never had showed me large pools (I won't say vast oceans as that may be a little OTT) of strength and determination that I never knew I possessed. It's not an original thing to say, but knowing I had the determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other when my body was begging and pleading me to stop by firing up pain receptors in a number of different places allowed me to believe that I would be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other in life too, and deal with whatever could be thrown at me. I have two perspectives to share on this that can help back up my experience, the first is from a little tome known as The bible - you may have heard of it. This is from James 1: "For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."

Whether you read the bible or not, the above verse speaks a truth that is surely relatable to any ultra runner - we have all been through those lows in races that seem like they might derail our chances of getting to the finish, but invariably if you push through them you will come out the other side and find new sources of strength to keep you moving forward. Having the knowledge that the lows will come but you can deal with them as long as you keep looking after yourself and putting one foot in front of the other is enough to bring any challenge into the realms of possibility.

The second sentence I would like to share is from the late Caballo Blanco; I saw a talk he gave in Bristol a few years back, around six months before he died, during which he said (not word for word): - "The way to cope with the challenges of life is to have faith in something. Look at running 100 miles; you will inevitably have times when you suffer, but you get through it. It's the same in life; you have low points, but you get through them. All you have to do is believe."

That is what I am getting at; once upon a time running a marathon seemed like an impossible dream for me. There came a time when I would think nothing of doing a marathon length training run. The long run allowed me to make the distinction between 'Can't' and 'Won't' and is still an analogy that helps me to realise I can get through the challenges life presents. Ok, so maybe I can't literally have a few hundred pounds taken off my debts by running long (oh how I wish it were that simple), but knowing what I have achieved by pushing through the lows in a running sense shows me what is possible, and is part of what stops me from spending each day freaking out about things I can't change with a click of the fingers.

My book 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run' (signed copy) is available via this link.....

Monday, 12 May 2014

Barkley Marathons: Interview with Frozen Ed Furtaw

Bonjour folks!

Ok, so a month or two back I did a dreadful thing and accidentally deleted my entire blog. It's easily done....right???

Anyway, I was delighted to rediscover this in my e-mails recently, which is an interview I did with Frozen Ed Furtaw, author of 'Tales From Out There' about the infamous Barkley Marathons. The original post also contained a quote from James Adams about his experience of running the event in 2012. Basically this equated to "It was very, very hard and I've done Badwater and Spartathlon and Run Across America" - my words, not his. I thought the timing of this post couldn't be more perfect seeing as this race took place over a month ago and everyone's buzzing about Transvulcania having just happened and looking ahead to GUCR, NDW50 etc. Anyway, here is the interview.......

1.  As someone who is running the Barkley for the 17th time this year, what would you say is the best way to prepare, especially for someone who lives thousands of miles away and can't really come and train on the course?
The runners who have had the best success at the Barkley ran a lot of steep elevation change in training.  For example, Mark Williams, the British runner who was the first ever to finish the Barkley 100-mile (in 1995), reported that he did training runs of 15 and 22 miles on back-to-back days, with 13,000 and 11,000 feet, respectively, of ascent (and the same descent), on each of the first three weekends of March.  It is also important to know how to find your way around an unmarked course, using map, compass, and written directions.  So some orienteering or land-navigation experience is good training.  Spend some time out in the woods at night, preferably alone, so that when you have to do that at Barkley, fear of the dark won't stop you.  Study the map of Frozen Head Park, and if possible go there before the race to run or hike the parts of the course that you legally can.  It is very helpful to have a good mental map of the course.  Since Mark Williams had never been on most of the course before his 1995 race, apparently he was able to develop such a map during his first few loops.  One European runner, Christian Mauduit, obtained topographic maps of the Frozen Head area, and actually built a three-dimensional topographic model of the course before he ever went to Frozen Head!  However, he still was able to complete only about one-and-a-half loops.

2. Ultrarunning in general is as much a mental battle as a physical one, but James Adams - a none too shabby ultrarunner from the UK, said he simply wasn't fit enough for the Barkley last year; what attributes do you think are most important for someone who wants to do well in this race?
The most important attributes for doing well at the Barkley are:
the physical and mental endurance to be able to keep going for 30 to 60 hours;
strength at steep hill climbing and descending;
the ability to navigate on rugged, unmarked terrain;
prevention of foot problems;
managing what to carry, and what to eat and drink on each loop and between loops;
dealing with little or no sleep for up to 60 hours;
and most importantly, relentless determination.

3. Barkley is designed to be pretty close to impossible to finish, but do you think the race could have kept going this long if no-one had still finished, rather than a handful of people?
I think it is essential that Barkley be within the realm of possibility in order to continue to be as popular as it is.  I believe that the race directors, laz and Raw Dog, adjust the race course over the years to try to have it as close as they can to the limit of what anyone can do, but to have it on the "possible" side of that limit.  If the race were so difficult that no one could do it, I think laz would change something to make it more doable.  This actually happened in the past.  From 1989 through 1994, the 100-mile was six loops with a 50-hour time limit.  No one even made a serious attempt to go beyond three loops in those days.  Then in 1995, the loop was lengthened a little and called 20.0 miles per loop, so the 100-mile race became five instead of six loops.  The time limit was also lengthened to 60 hours.  Mark Williams finished it in 59:28:48 that year.  No one else finished the 100 until 2001, but the fact that Mark had proved it possible kept other top runners interested in trying.  Over the years since 1995, the loop has been made more difficult, in my opinion, because the runners have gotten better.  This interplay of the course getting tougher and the runners getting better has been a beautiful evolution to watch and be part of.

4. One of the finishers, 'Cave Dog', was a climber who didn't really run a lot - do you think you actually need to be much of a runner to finish; for example, could a really strong hiker be well suited?
Several of the best Barkley finishers are predominantly long-distance hikers or mountaineers; Cave Dog is a good example.  Another Barkley 100-mile finisher, Andrew Thompson, had never run a 100-mile race before finishing Barkley, but he held the record for covering the full length of the Appalachian Trail, averaging something like 47 miles per day for 47 straight days.  These long adventure runs, like Barkley, are done with more walking rather than running.  I would say that all the Barkley 100-mile finishers were very strong hikers, but also they undoubtedly all ran some parts of the course.  Even as slow as I am, I do run parts of the course.

5. Part of the application process for Barkley is that you have to write an essay explaining why you should be allowed to attempt it; do you have any tips as to what race director Gary Cantrell is looking for with the essay?
I think Gary (a.k.a. laz) is looking to the essays mainly for his own amusement, and to tweak the minds of the entrants.  To the best of my knowledge, since 1988, he has not distributed or publicized the essays that runners submitted.  In 1988, he did distribute copies of the essays.  I once asked him what he thought of my essay that I had sent him a few weeks prior, and he said he didn't remember it and may not have read the whole thing.  It was a several-page-long science fiction story.  I think it was too long to hold his attention.  So maybe what he is looking for is something amusing and clever, but brief.  The essay is not a factor in his selection of who gets entered into the run.  However, an applicant's initial e-mail requesting entry may help a runner get selected.  This initial e-mail should get his attention by stating the runner's major accomplishments.  Highly credentialed ultrarunners probably get preference, because laz likes to get the best runners possible to run Barkley.

6. An unprecedented three people finished last year's race, and the course record was lowered significantly. Does this mean there will be significant changes this year to make it harder still?
laz has told us via the Barkley e-mail list that the course this year will have a minor change compared to last year.  It looks like the loop will be fundamentally the same as last year's, but with one additional descent and climb of several hundred feet per loop.  He said that it is still 20.0 miles, with zero net elevation change.  Most people who have been there, including myself, believe that the loop is considerably longer than 20 miles.  As I describe in Tales From Out There, I estimate that the loop length in recent years has been about 26 miles.

7. In recent years there have been plenty of men and women who've run races in the world of ultras that have been described as 'game changing', but I haven't seen any of their names connected with a Barkley attempt; I'm sure many would be intrigued to see how someone like, say, Kilian Jornet would fare at this race, but can you see it happening?
Most of the top ultrarunners who win other major ultra races seem to avoid the Barkley.  For example, of the approximately 70 North American runners who received votes in UltraRunning magazine's annual voting for Ultrarunner of the Year and Ultra Performance of the Year for 2012, only one (Hal Koerner) has ever attempted Barkley, back in 2004.  He quit after two loops, and has never come back.  I think the fundamental reason that most of the top ultrarunners avoid Barkley is that most of those elite runners love to run fast, and they know that Barkley is steep and slow.  Barkley appeals more to people who like to run and walk long and slow.  But there are exceptions to this generalization.  For example, Jared Campbell, who finished second in last year's Barkley, had won the Hardrock Hundred a couple of years prior.  To most ultrarunners in the US, this would place Jared among the top ultrarunners.  When David Horton and Blake Wood finished the Barkley 100 in 2001, they were both already considered among the top US ultrarunners.  Each had previously won Hardrock.  But most of the other Barkley 100 finishers were not so well established at other races.  Runners like Flyin' Brian Robinson, Cave Dog Keizer, Andrew Thompson, JB Basham, and Brett Maune are all nationally reputed in the small world of solo long-distance adventure trail running, but most of them have not run many of the more popular 100-mile trail races.  There seems to be two closely related but different groups of top runners: the best ultra race runners, and the best solo multi-day adventure runners.  The latter group seems to produce the best Barkley runners.  The Barkley does not appeal as much to the elite racers.  Of course it would be interesting to see Kilian run Barkley, but I doubt it will happen.

8. Finally, many have said that they've felt like a different person after running their first marathon, or their first 50 or 100 miler, but is this race off the scale in terms of how different a person you can feel like after attempting it?
For me personally, Barkley has been the most fun running challenge in my life, and the race that I have gone back to the most often.  I believe that my life would be somehow different if I had never done Barkley.  Every year at this time, I work hard to get myself into the best condition I can for Barkley, knowing that my training and condition will be inadequate to finish the full race.  But I use it as a measure of my fitness and determination.  I have always thought that being able to compete at the Barkley is a more diverse challenge that running other races, because of the extreme and unusual nature of the Barkley, and the need for navigation and self-sufficiency.  So I do think that Barkley has led me to be a somewhat different person than I otherwise would be.  It is difficult to describe, but I would say that the Barkley makes me more humble about my running ability; able to see the world more humorously; better able to define a challenge and plan to achieve it; and more willing to try something difficult and be willing to pay the price and accept the result of that attempt, even if the result is "failure."  Barkley teaches us that "failure" can be an acceptable outcome of our effort, as long as we have the courage to do our best.  It forces us to redefine failure, and to find success and happiness in the effort of the journey rather than in arriving at the destination.

Thank you so much again for taking the time to talk about this incredible race. It's a shame there's not an equivalent in the there's a thought!  Maybe one day! Take much care,


You are most welcome.  I think it is entirely feasible to create a Barkley-facsimile race, in the UK or elsewhere.  There are already a few small Barkley-takeoff runs in the US.  If you are thinking of doing it, my advice would be to first come to the real Barkley and experience what makes it unique.

Best regards,
Frozen Ed

Hope you enjoyed, and I am contractually obliged to remind that a little tome I wrote is available here..... 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Thames Path 100 2014 race report (a race report with a difference!)

Good morning! As I sit typing this I find the weather to be sunny, which is in stark contrast to the conditions experienced when I volunteered at Thames Path 100 last year, although I am led to believe represents the reality of the conditions for this year's race. The warmth of the sun apparently led to many runners experiencing nausea from fairly early on, which almost certainly would have been the case for me - I am never actually sick during a race or training run but if it's hot then you can guarantee I'll be urging at some point. On a ridiculously hot day I once spent a good couple of hours retching as I tried to run the Quantock Greenway's northern loop, but was reduced to a hobble due to said retching. Eventually I felt well enough to jog slowly again, but it took some time.

So I've had the mental capacity to keep moving forward for a couple of hours whilst my body tries to reject the fuel I have given it. That should stand me in tremendously good stead for running 100 miles. So what went wrong? Why am I sitting here typing about how I missed the Thames Path 100 than about how I brought home the bacon there? Well as it happens I've just dreamt about doing the race, and just before I woke up I was moving well past the 100k point, passing a number of people and telling them I'd still break into the top 10, even though at least seven people had already finished at this point (my race would be going pretty badly if that had been the case.)

Well, to cut a long story short I had a troublesome ankle injury last Autumn. After my last race in October I decided to give it a good rest. Then we were hit by many of the most ferocious storms I can remember experiencing. This didn't really inspire me to get out running. All of that time I was writing a book, then getting it published, then processing pre-orders. In between all that January 1st happened and I had written a list of 100 kind of resolutions that would help me have a fitter, happier, more productive (see what I did there any late 90s indie fans?) 2014. Then suddenly it was nearly April and I'd barely run a step in anger all year. "It'll be Ok," I reasoned, "As long as I can have a few weeks' half-decent training I'll be able to give TP100 a go." I even had a crazy idea in mind of trying to finish in time for breakfast; a time of between 19 and 22 hours. It was flat as a pancake, I thought, and so it shouldn't be impossible. Around that time I did a run of about 19 miles on the 'infamous' Taunton to Bridgwater canal, but nine minute miling didn't feel all that slow, and I was having to take walking breaks from 6 miles in. A few days after that I went for a run on the 'legendary' Ilminster to Chard cycle path. Within a mile or two I just knew in my heart that I wasn't going to be ready to give it my best shot. Maybe I'd be able to death march to the finish in about 26 or 27 hours, but maybe I wouldn't. If I was going to do a Centurion race I wanted to know when I stood on the start line that if everything went perfectly I could get to the finish in a decent time.

It was with a very heavy heart that I decided to relinquish my place, for there were many people I'd been talking to excitedly about the race beforehand, many of whom I was looking forward to meeting for the first time. Maybe I could volunteer instead? Well the fact is that in stark contrast to when I volunteered this time last year there's a whole heap of stuff going on in my life that means I could have done without a busy weekend away anyway. This has led to the realisation that the publication of my tome really does mark a bit of a turning point. It does mark the end of a chapter. The fact is that unless I become a millionaire any time soon I don't see myself being able to crowbar in enough running time to be able to train to give a long ultra a proper good go. Until such a time as this changes I won't be entering one. Oh nosirree. Instead I shall be building myself up as a runner again from scratch, ready to absolutely set alight the next ultra race I take part in, be it later this year or not for several years. My immediate running goal will now be to train for.....a FIVE K!!!! Yes, that's right. A distance I have never raced. I will be training for Taunton's 'world renowned' Long Run Meadow Park Run (don't know if that's even its proper title.) This will involve a fair bit of speedwork, and little in the way of long runs - now that's ironic. Also, for some reason I keep happening to look at a clock when it reads 3.36, which happens to be my current marathon PB. I am hoping all the speedwork will allow me to go out one day and run a marathon faster than that, just to prove I can. I will attempt to do it in race conditions if I get a chance.

Instead of dwelling on what I can't do I've decided to focus on what I can do. I have time to train for a 5k, and in fact to give it a really good go at getting a half-decent time. I won't be aiming for 15 minutes and change or anything crazy like that, but will see if I can post a sub 20 by the end of the summer, which is actually pretty quick for me as I hate running fast if I'm brutally honest. I'll do that and just see where it leaves me, but my hope is that it'll make me fitter overall and as I gradually aim to get towards being ultra fit again I will end up fitter than I've ever been. Genius ;)

So what about the Thames Path 100 race report? Well, on Friday I got that familiar buzz of excitement, even though I wasn't racing - I guess my brain knew that I would have been. Then over the weekend I looked for updates where I could find them, being unsurprised that Ed Catmur was storming ahead at the front, smiling broadly when I saw that someone I knew was doing well, having a frown that needed turning upside down when I saw that somebody I knew had dropped. On Sunday morning, at about the time I envisaged myself finishing, I felt pretty morose. For the rest of the day I kept thinking about how I should be absolutely wiped out physically, mentally and emotionally, and looking forward to eating everything in sight for the next couple of days, then slowly recovering and getting back to running again. Well it didn't happen. I haven't beaten myself up about it, and have been lucky enough to dream very vividly about doing the race, which is the next best thing. I won't rush my return, but will get a different kind of racing buzz soon in a way that I can without decimating the time I need to do what needs doing currently. To quote a line from an old Streets song, "Something that was not meant to be now is done, and this is the start of what was."

Oh and blimey o' reilly, WHAT??!!!!! I've just remembered the title of my aforementioned tome, and how the rebuilding process begins with Longrun park run - I guess everything will work out in the long run!

(If anyone wises to order, please follow link below)........

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Starting afresh

Good afternoon!

Ok, so I have decided to start my blog afresh to reflect starting running afresh yesterday. By starting afresh I mean that since DNFing at mile 65 of Caesar's Camp 100 in October the amount of times I had intentionally gone out with the purpose of going for a run until yesterday 8th February I could count on all of my fingers and toes even if I was paraplegic. I hope that joke doesn't offend anyone; I like to think that if I was paraplegic I would see the funny side of that joke. Anyway.....

Yesterday was the Cotswold 50k; an informal event organised by Tim Lambert involving an out and back 32ish mile run from Bath to Old Sodbury and back to Bath. I was credited with helping to organise the event but short of agreeing that it was a good idea, promoting it a little bit and doing an off-the-cuff race briefing in which I insinuated that Jez Bragg's solo run across New Zealand was the result of Tim not being able to open a tin of rice pudding at an aid station when crewing for him at Western States 2012, which pissed him off so much that he had to go to the other side of the world to calm down, and then I painted Emily Canvin as the kind of person who'd point and laugh, take a picture of you on her phone and share it on facebook just because she'd annihilated me in North Dorset Village Marathon last year despite me running a big PB, I can't say I did much organisation, and so all credit must go to Mr Lambert. As it happens, Emily was doing this run on the back of winning the 50 mile Thames Trot the previous weekend and still made it to the half way aid station before I did, and so her merciless rubbishing of my running abilities continues. Looking at it another way though, runners like Emily exist to keep the rest of us humble; runners like Emily don't need to be kept humble because they already are. The inner peace and humility that comes from being bloomin' good at running seems to be something that all bloomin' good ultra runners I've met share.

So 18 of us ran; I won't list all of them, partly because I don't remember every single one of the names, and partly because I want this post to be relatively short. What I will say is that each and every one of those runners brought their own personality to the day and the personalities blended into a delicious soup nearly as tasty as the gluten free flapjack made by Chris and Nikki Mills that was present at the half way aid station. The half way aid station was run by the peerless Nici Griffin. I told Nici she was the real star of the show on the day and I meant it; if you had to be outside on a day typical of this stormy winter we've been having would you rather be running and keeping warm or stood in one place waiting for a bunch of silly sausages who thought it was a good idea to run in that horrendous weather to arrive? She never stopped smiling or dancing, and was her ultra supportive self the whole time. Her wonderfulness has not gone unnoticed in the ultra running community, hence the glowing praise plastered all over facebook of her endeavours, and her employment by Centurion Running this year. Anyone who volunteers for the length of the Spine race must have a phenomenal love of the ultra scene, and this is crazily inspiring for the rest of us. Nikki also did a fabulous job of volunteering on the day, even going beyond the call of duty to give myself and Emily a lift back to Bath when we dropped at the half way point. Emily's excuse was a hard 50 mile run seven days previously. Mine was possibly having to rush off to Bristol at any moment, but I wasn't even remotely disappointed to not run the return leg because I have to admit that those 16 miles to half way had been the toughest 16 miles I'd run in a very, very long time.

 So basically it's a simple equation; if you don't run properly all winter then 16 miles is going to be pretty tough unless you're Kilian Jornet or someone like that. For me it involved a bit of cramping just 8 or 9 miles in; I think this was because I hadn't eaten enough, needed some electrolytes and because of the mud leading to a greater effort in most strides, but essentially lack of training was mostly to blame. The route was stunning; sweeping hills, pretty (if a little blustery and unnerving) woods, picturesque valleys. After my cramping I decided to slow it right down for a while, eat a bit, have some electrolyte-infused water (half a Nuun tablet) and it was at that point I was able to reflect a bit, stop thinking about how much distance those ahead of me were putting on me and just enjoy the fact that I was outdoors, the breeze was on my face, I was far away from anything urban and I was at peace. Lovely stuff! I even got a bit of an endorphin high when I started running again, and had ideas for a couple more books in my head - not books about my own story I hasten to add. Maybe one day they will get written, but for now I have my first one to promote/sell....well, I will as soon as the publishers decided I can have it anyway. Several people said they were looking forward to reading it during the day, and I am looking forward to being able to allow people to read it, that's for sure.

Was great to run again, great to run with other people again, great to meet people in the flesh I'd only spoken to online. Everyone was awesome. Mega props to Kat Ganly for driving down on the morning of the race from Brighton (as well as Nici driving down from London) and devouring lots of KFC on the way home having put in an awesome run. Also met Andrew Jordan, Richard Hill, Zoe Thornburgh, Rich Cranswick for the first time as well as others I'd not been expecting to meet. What lessons did I learn from the day? Well one of the main ones I still haven't learnt is not to go shopping when still high on endorphins. I appear to have bought a crazy green jumper with a couple of fish on the front. Luckily it wasn't too pricey, but will I wear it again? I'll have to, won't I.

If I was to give a final thought it would be that running is good, and ultra runners are usually good people. I already knew that. So how about something I didn't know? Well Ok, thanks to Richard Hill I now know that a 10 acre farm in South Wales may cost somewhere in the region of £200,000. Now that is intriguing! If I sell half a million copies of my book it may be something to consider (that would be more than £200,000 but then there's tax, living expenses, debts to pay off.....basically I still may not be able to retire on it.) Thanks for reading, and happy running and non-running to you all.