Thursday, 14 November 2013

Lakeland 100 recce – Coniston to Buttermere – Sunday 10th November 2013


Well, my preparation was not greatest. The link between my car accident many years ago, and the metal pins in my leg as a result, and the recent discomfort in my quad, turned out to be a red herring. I had an x-ray and it suggested that everything was still in order and so my doctor (a fell & marathon runner himself) put it down to soft tissue damage. To be honest, I’ve kind of got used to it now anyway and it’s not holding me back at all.

The problems I’ve been having in the top of my foot and underneath my arch didn’t seem to be getting better with the exercises the physio had given me, so I put it down to loose fitting shoes and splashed out on some new Salomon Speedcross 3. Whilst I was at it, I got the new Salamon S Lab Race Vest and an OMM fully waterproof super light, super comfortable, running jacket with the all-important taped seems!

I thought I’d get all the expensive purchases out of the way in one go and boy was it an expensive trip to The Endurance Store, but I’ve been really happy with my purchases in the lead up to the recce and on the day itself.

I also bought some new Oakley sports glasses, which were as expensive as all 3 of the above items combined! It’s something I’d been thinking about a lot. I’ve always ran in contact lenses, but I’ve never been able to wear contacts for long periods in everyday life. I’ve been worried therefore about wearing them day and night for 30-40 hours whilst significantly sleep deprived come the big day. I’ve also been frustrated with the whole question of whether to carry sunglasses and swapping and changing glasses in everyday life and so wanted to solve this conundrum too.

Hence, I forked out over £300 on some glasses that I can wear 24/7 whether out running, down the pub or at work. They are sports glasses, so they don’t move around when running, but they also look good for everyday wear and have transition lenses, so I look like Roy Orbison when I walk back in the office after lunch!

So what about actual running? Well, having had 4 weeks off running to try and fix the leg/foot issues with little or no success, I had just 5 weeks to build up to the recce, which meant a steep run up with long runs increasing by 5 miles each week and lots of mid-week and weekend runs in the hills around Oldham.

The one issue I did have around this time was that I kept falling over. The first fall was after wearing my new glasses for the first time whilst out running in the hills one Saturday morning in constant rain. Despite also wearing a cap, my glasses were speckled with water and were steaming up. Towards the end of the run, on the last leg home down the canal, I tripped over a rock and went down hard, landing on another rock presumably with my forearm. It hurt a lot and I had to gather myself a bit before starting to walk, then jog, then finally run again. When I got home I realised I had a fairly deep cut and spent the afternoon in casualty getting some butterfly stitches.

I then fell again two weeks later. This time I can’t blame the new glasses. I was running away from a Doberman, which I’m pretty sure was intent on ripping me to shreds. I don’t mind saying I was terrified. I slipped on a rock on a narrow path with a big drop on one side, so it could have been much worse. I scrambled to my feet and carried on running out of pure fear, but once I got far enough away I realised I was quite hurt. Just a knock and scrape, but I was getting a bit bored of hurting myself by now. Little did I know what was to come.

The night before the recce

I arrived in Keswick an hour or two before the talk was due to start in the Parish Hall and checked into the YHA where I would be spending the night.

Being a Parish Hall, I assumed (incorrectly) that it was at the church of the same name, but the local Vicar put me right on that one and so I whizzed across town and found the right place in time. On the way in, I saw a chap who I’d seen leaving the dorm at the YHA as I’d arrived and he recognised me too and shouted over. We introduced ourselves and I was immediately grateful that I had someone to talk to from the get go.

The speaker we should have had couldn’t make it and so we got Marc Laithwaite, the race organiser himself, which I was delighted about. As a regular listener of Talk Ultra on which Marc has a regular slot on ‘Talk Training’, I couldn’t think of a better person to talk to us about LL100 Training Plans. It was good too. A kind of whistle-stop tour of the science of a good season-long training plan in the lead up to one all-important event. My only criticism is that it wasn’t focussed enough on LL100 (more geared towards increasing speed for the LL50 event). It was quite generic I guess, but the science on running efficiency was fascinating and something I’m really going to focus on.

Things finally drew to a close a few hours later at around 9pm and Steven from the YHA and I headed into Keswick town centre for a cone of chips and a couple of pints to round off the evening.

The morning of the recce

Sunday arrived with the promise of clear skies all day and we weren’t disappointed. Of course this meant freezing temperatures; ice covered our car windscreens and the roads were treacherous. So much so that my little car was struggling up Honister Pass from Keswick to Buttermere on the icy road. The route down, which carried spectacular views, was even more frightening and at one point I slid straight off the road.

When we got to Buttermere, where we were meeting the coach to take us back to Coniston for the start, I could see my fellow runners milling about near their parked cars and most were wearing all the running clothes they could including tights, jackets, hats and gloves. I was one of the few with bare legs and I think I got that right. It was a very cold start, but as the sun shone all day temperatures eased.

The coach driver was running around everywhere trying to find grit to put down and did not look happy about the initial descent on setting off, but eventually we made it away from Buttermere and an hour or so later we arrived in Coniston for the start.

Coniston to Seathwaite (7 miles, 2,162ft ascent)

Chatting to my room-mate Steven in the pub the night before, I began to realise he was quite quick. His 10k time suggested he could run a sub-3 marathon, which he was planning to put to the test at the earliest opportunity and so as we set off running together I should have been asking myself if this was wise.

It always takes me a good 4 or 5 miles to warm up and I would usually take these early miles quite steady, but as it was I found myself struggling to keep up with my companion as we headed up out of Coniston, up the first big ascent of the day, up and around ‘The Old Man’.

When it came to the descent, Steven and a couple of other front-runners that we had caught up with on the climb, shot down the mountain like runaway trains!

I think without realising it I probably then tried to push myself to run down faster than I would have had I been running at my own pace. Whether this was my undoing, I guess I’ll never know, but as I eventually caught up with Steven near the bottom of the descent, I went over on my ankle. It was one of those ankle rolls where you go right over so that your ankle bone makes contact with the ground and then the force of your downward movement and gravity pushes all your weight down hard stretching the ligament to the max.

I stopped in my tracks and put my hands on my knees, wincing with pain. At that moment I could feel it swelling up. For a few terrifying moments I considered that all the planning and preparation (and all the travel) that had got me to this point, might be for nothing if I was unable to carry on.

I think under ‘normal’ circumstances, not carrying on would have been the right thing to do. Running with an injury is always likely to exacerbate the problem. But I guess I was treating this as my last important run (if not a race as such) of the year and so quitting was not an option as long as I could physically carry on. What would I have been saving myself for?

So I started to hobble, then broke out into a jog and simply took it slowly for a bit. Steven had waited for me, but we’d already discussed how we wanted to get down the last descent of the day before dark and he had a drive to Rugby at the end of his run and so it wasn’t fair for me to slow him down. I told him to go; to run on ahead without me and not wait. We shook hands and off he went. Top man.

I then felt a bit of relief as I think I was worrying about keeping up. Having sustained an injury I just needed to focus on the here and now, on myself. I needed to take it easy for a bit, get to CP1 at Seathwaite and then take it from there. If there is one thing I’ve learnt running ultra-distances, it’s that you to break it down into bit-size chunks and don’t worry about the whole.

Thankfully from there, the run into Seathwaite was fairly flat and straightforward to navigate and I was starting to relax into my running a bit by the time I got to the unmanned checkpoint at mile 7. I hoped the next 3 legs of this run would be a little less dramatic, but by now I think I was starting to notice a particularly painful blister on my right toe as well!

Seathwaite to Boot (7 miles, 1,263ft ascent)

So I began the second leg with a sore left ankle and a sore right toe! That said, I didn’t feel they were slowing me down and I latched on to a group being led by someone who clearly knew the course. It was a relief not to have to worry about navigation for a while so I kept the pace – hang on, didn’t trying to keep up with others get me in trouble once already?!

As such, I eased off a bit. The group started to get strung out as this leg of the run unfolded, especially on the climb, and by the time I got to the forestry plantation I’d lost sight of those in front and couldn’t see anyone behind. I’d heard that this was a tricky bit too with the path being difficult to follow now that a lot of the trees had been cleared, but I did OK with the help of the trusty Road Book.

Now, I’m used to running in boggy terrain with all the peat bogs I traverse on the moors near where I live, but this was fairly extreme bog! I could really feel my ankle and toe on this section as I leaped around trying to land on safe ground.

I was eventually caught by a fellow runner and at one point he was in front of me, we were chatting away, and he suddenly lost almost his whole leg into the mud, right up to the middle of his thigh! I have to say that whilst I was in some pain and starting to think a lot about how hard this was going to be when it comes to running the whole course, I was really starting to enjoy myself on this section. Mud, glorious mud!

I eventually made it to CP2 at Boot. A makeshift checkpoint had been arranged by one of the volunteers, Terry. He’d parked his minibus by the side of the lane and had cake, flapjack, water and cola all lined up on a wall and camping table. It reminded me of how Johnny and Rowena had supported our run around The Oldham Way in Johnny’s Ultra-van!

Boot to Wasdale Head (5.4 miles, 974ft ascent)

The easiest section of the day. The climb up from Boot was fairly gentle and the view coming down to Burnmoor Tarn was superb. Looking down on it with the sun behind me, the water was a brilliant blue. Then having ran around the edge of the tarn to the other side, I stopped and looked back at the sun bouncing of the water – beautiful.

Wasdale Head to Buttermere (6.9 miles, 2,336ft ascent)

The climb from Wasdale Head to Black Sail was long and hard. It was getting late in the afternoon and much of this early part of the final leg of the run was moving up through the valley and with no sun you could feel that the temperature was dropping.

The climb got steeper and steeper as the path turned from loose rocks eventually to stone steps in the rock. I could see others up ahead, much higher than me, but I tried not to think about how much fast hiking I would need to do to get to where they were. It was now a case of head down, breathing hard, getting into a rhythm, and trying not to think about how much my quads were screaming at me! False summit after false summit, it kept going up until finally arriving at the top of Black Sail Pass.

It was cold up at the top and the light was starting to fail a bit now. There was snow on the ground around me and I decided it was time to add a third layer – my jacket – and some gloves. I then started my descent and for the first time all day I went a bit wrong. It was difficult to see where the path was and I suddenly found myself trying to make my way down on a rough grassy, rocky hillside with no clear path and the gradient getting steeper and steeper. My ankle was really hurting now and I started to go over on it again and again. I was cursing a bit, but refused to panic. I didn’t want to stop enjoying this, so I stopped and thought about how I was going to do it.

I spotted the runners ahead of me eventually on the valley floor like ants moving from right to left and could see the path they had taken, which I then traced back. I could also see The Black Sail YHA in the distance, where they were headed. I worked out the direction I needed to go in order to re-join the path and follow them. On doing so, I looked back across the hill I’d just circumnavigated and saw Adrian, a chap I’d met earlier, doing the same thing I’d done. We eventually met up further down and ran together for the rest of the run.

Adrian was good company as we came down past Black Sail YHA (bringing back memories of my Ennerdale 50k race last year) and Adrian spotted where we needed to peel off and head up to the summit of Scarth Gap; the last climb of the day. Adrian was in great spirits as we chatted about football and our respective running histories and injuries and the like, and he kept me in a strong frame of mind too.

As we dropped down to the lake, day was becoming night and we stopped in the forest by the lake to put our head-torches on before tackling the undulating lakeside run into Buttermere.

As we approached the village, Adrian noticed that our time for the run was 6 hours and 55 mins, so we put our combined foot down and finished strong in under 7 hours.

Blimey, what a run! Tough. Tough. Tough. But a fantastic experience. I loved the whole trip, made some good friends and yes I am now terrified at the thought of doing that + another 79 miles on top of it next July. But at the same time I’m more motivated than ever and can’t wait for the next recce in January, which we’ll be doing in the dark!

The week that followed

I naively thought that a few days rest and I’ll be running again. By Tuesday I couldn’t see my ankle. I no longer had an ankle and a calf, I had a cankle!

I took myself off to A&E on Wednesday night and after a 2 hour wait, the doctor had a look at me. I told the doctor what had happened and she was, well let’s say a little surprised that I had ran for over 6 hours and around 22 miles of a 26 mile run with a sprained ankle. The diagnosis is ligament damage, most likely caused not be the ankle roll itself, but by then running on it for as long as I did – oops.

And finally….

No regrets. I would be much more unhappy sitting here now having not finished the run given everything I put into it. It might take up to 6 weeks until I can run again, which is Xmas, but hopefully not. I’m going to work hard to get the swelling down and really look after myself; resting as much as possible. I’m also going to use this time constructively in terms of planning, then in a week or two, really get into the strength and conditioning work in the gym and back to Pilates.

When I am ready to run again, I’m going to start with short distances and focus on form and running efficiency, and maybe even some speed work before then starting to build up to the long run miles next year and gradually back to marathon distance by mid-Feb when I’ll be doing the Osmotherly Marathon in North Yorkshire for my 40th birthday! :-)

Saturday, 5 October 2013


I stopped at the junction of what was a very narrow side street. It had a white line painted down the middle and the usual two dotted lines to signify Give Way, but in reality there was barely enough space for two cars. I was turning right onto a fairly busy dual carriageway, but it was a junction I knew well and I'd been driving for years already, so I was fairly relaxed and probably chatting away with my friend who was in the passenger seat.

That said, as far as I'm concerned, I did everything right. Every decision I made I would make again if the situation was repeated today, even though that particular day ended so badly.

As the big white box van approached from the right, in the left-hand lane, indicating left, it was obvious that it couldn't fit into the street unless I pulled out a bit. So I edged out into his lane as he turned left into the space I was leaving. I was careful to only pull out into his left-hand lane and then stop to see if there was anything coming once he had made the turn. As the back of his van disappeared though, it happened.

Time stood still for a moment and then it sped up to double or triple speed. I remember seeing the car coming at me very fast and it was almost on top of me. It was going much faster than the 40mph limit I'm sure. It was silver, maybe a Ford Focus or something similar. Did such a car exist in 1995? The driver was obviously driving staight at the van in the assumption that it would turn in time and if it didn't maybe he would have swerved around it knowing that the fast lane was empty. But by the time the van disappeared and he saw me there in my little green Ford Escort, there would have been no time to swerve.

He hit me. Hard. Judging by how my legs finished up, squashed against the gear stick, maybe I had jumped to the left, I think I remember my brain delivering that instruction just before I blacked out. When I came round again a second or two later, the car had spun around and moved down the road a fair bit. It was crumpled to half its original width in the middle with me and my good friend in it.

My door was pressed up against my squashed legs, having completely filled the area where my legs would usually occupy beneath the steering wheel. I remember comparing notes with my friend beside me. He was fine. I wasn't. I felt calm though. I remember moving my upper body around a little and being intensely relieved that I was only hurt from the waist down. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my right leg was broken, but I didn't care. I was just relieved that my head and back and vital organs had been spared, knowing that my leg could be mended. It's strange to think now that I was capable of such rationale thought at a time like that. Maybe I'd think differently now that I'm a runner though! Maybe I'd be thinking now 'will I still be able to run'....

This was 18 years ago and I was no doubt in shock at the time, so my memory is a bit sketchy. I remember at some point my friend Eamonn got out and was probably talking to the driver of the other car and I remember a woman who must have been a passer by. I remember the fire service cutting me out of the car, but I don't know how long it took. It could have taken 10 mins or it could have been an hour. I do remember being on the stretcher and about to be loaded into the ambulance. I was told that they would have to staighten my leg, which was still bent at 45 degrees as if still driving. I said OK and they gave me oxygen and the paramedic straightened it out. I can't remember the pain, but I can remember that it was painful, if that makes sense. I know that I went through a lot of oxygen in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I think I was as high as a kite by the time we got there. I remember the paramedic saying I'd had the whole bottle!

When you get to hospital after a crash like that it's assumed that you might have head or spinal injuries and so I was in some kind of brace and wasn't allowed to move until they were satisfied that the injuries were indeed confined to by lower body. They cut my clothes off. I was gutted. I really liked that pair of green cords and the green shirt I was wearing.

As suspected, I'd suffered a broken Femur, the bone that runs from your knee to your hip, and sustained a fractured hip. I remember having traction the next day to re-align the Femur. That was incredibly painful. I guess I then went into surgery not long after in which they inserted a titanium metal rod down the centre of my Femur and pinned it at both ends - just above the knee and below the pelvis. I can recall the x-ray which showed the metal rod and the two pins at each end with what looked like nuts and bolts on them.

Now this is all fairly significant stuff in terms of my health history and so when I was lying on the physio's table on Tuesday this week, 3 weeks after my last visit, telling Nick that the pain in my quad had got worse rather than better, he was wondering why I was only telling him about my car accident now!

The thing is, it only took a few months to recover from my accident and my leg has been fine ever since (or so I thought) and this happened 18 years ago at a time of my life that was, well, lets just say, very eventful. I don't think about it anymore, except when I set off metal detectors at airports, and believe it or not it's never even crossed by mind that it might have an effect on my running!

Now of course, having discussed with Nick on Tuesday, it all makes sense. Could it be that the pain in my quad, which is just above the knee and to the left, is a result of some movement of the pins in my leg? Lets face it, running as much as I have over the last couple of years, it's not inconceiveable that even after all this time, they are starting to work loose. If so, could they, or it, now be pressing on my muscle from the inside? Maybe.

Now I come to think about it, I've had my fair share of injury niggles over the last couple of years and I've come to realise that I must have a weakness on my right because the injuries are always on my right side - my ankle, my calf, my groin, my hip flexor - I'm sure they've all been on my right. Also, when I try and do glute and piriformis streching on my right, I find that my right hip is much stiffer than my left. Well I guess it's pretty obvious why I might have a weakness on my right now ha?! Do you know, I don't even remember having any physio whilst recovering from my accident....

So this is all great in theory, but it could be a wild goose chase. I'm going for an x-ray on Monday, so I guess I'll find out if everything is still in order with regards to the pins in my leg. I had treatment on my leg whilst we were discussing all this on Tuesday and Nick found some knots or such like which he massaged out and my leg has felt much better since then, so it might have just been that. I can still feel something, but not the pain and discomfort I was feeling before.

I've started running again this week after a 4 week rest. I started with 2 miles on Tuesday night, 3 on Weds, 4 on Thurs, then 5 this morning. The tendinitis in my foot seems to have cleared up (so far so good anyway). I've now got 4 more weeks until I run the first 25 miles of the Lakeland 100 course on the first of the recce weekends, so I'll continue to build the miles and start introducing hills from next week.

In the meantime, I'm doing strengthing and conditioning in the gym 4 lunchtimes a week, which is more important than ever now, and I'm focussing a lot on building flexibility and strength in my piriformis and my hips as well as all the usual single leg squats and core work. I'm also doing Pilates every Wednesday lunchtime and loving it!

As for the metal in my leg, I'm not going to worry about it. Hopefully an x-ray and a visit to the doctor will rule out any issues, but if there is something that needs to be done, then it needs to be done. Hopefully it will be a straightforward procedure, which I can time so it doesn't impact on my LL100 training too much. You can't have too many impressive scars anyway, right?

Monday, 16 September 2013

False Dawn

The title is a bit dramatic isn't it?!

Entering Lakeland 100 did feel like the start of a new and exciting journey though and to be fair it still is. But to be hit with injuries the very same weekend that I entered has been tough. I've got all this energy and excitement that I want to channel into my running and I can't.

I visited my physio last Tuesday. Nick at City Physio in Manchester's St Anne's Square. I've found him really good so far. It's only the second time I've been to see him (Ro is credited with discovering him) but I've got confidence in him already.

He suggested 3 exercises for the neck/back/posture problems I've been having - the funky chicken once an hour when at work!! And a couple of others to do at home.

He thought my quad and foot problems were related and, as suspected, stem from a weakness in my piriformis/glute on the right. Again, he's suggested 3 more exercises to strengthen this area.

My foot is likely to be tendinitis and he said he expected it to take a bit more than the 2 weeks I've got until High Peak 40 to heal, but with lots of the above exercises (twice a day), lots of ice on the foot (20 mins of every hour that is convenient), it is not impossible to get through the race, but he thought Round Rotherham 50 a month later would be a more realistic bet.

He made the point that if I did choose to run HP40 and it wasn't fully healed I would make it worse, but he recognised that I would then at least have 4 weeks for it to recover properly before RR50.

I don't think I was any closer to knowing what to do!

I chatted to Ro about it that night and sent Nick a quick follow up email. I asked him what I should do if I decided not to run HP40. He advised me to use the stairs as a guide for the quads improvement. Ideally, pain free and then about a further 5-7 days

Correction/improvement of the lower limb position (my foot) would come as a result of improved stability around the hip, but this is a slower process. It should be better at 3 weeks due to improved muscle co-ordination etc., but measurably stronger at 6 weeks! Nick expects me to be able to run somewhere between 3-4 weeks. 

So that's at least another couple of weeks from now before I should start running again. A week before RR50. My first 'test run' I'm advised to keep sensible to avoid too much aggravation e.g. 5 miles. Not 50 then?!

So where does that leave me. Well, I'm doing pretty well with the exercises. I'm going to gym almost every lunchtime and I'm going to start swimming after work a couple of times a week from this week. In reality though, whilst I've felt a little improvement in the quad, it's going to be another couple of weeks before I can even do a test run and I don't wat to rush it. I want to give the injuries time to heal. 

In a nutshell, I'm going to miss my last two races of the year. 

My focus though is Lakeland 100 next year. I've got a recce coming up on 10th November. If I can start running again at the start of October then I've got 5 weeks to build back up again and go into that feeling good. Feeling fresh. Then I can start some proper winter training, including lots of night running, which I need to get good at. 

In short, I've just got to be patient. Sigh. 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Bumpy Start to Lakeland 100 Training

Last Saturday, the day before entering LL100, I set out to run up to 25 miles in the hills, but cut the run short, heading back home from Diggle after running Stage 1 of the Oldham Way instead of carrying on to Stage 2. The top of my foot had felt sore coming down the hill from ‘Pots and Pans’ and I didn’t want to risk aggravating a minor injury with High Peak 40 only 3 weeks away.

On top of this I noticed a bit of soreness in my right quad muscle walking across Manchester on my way to work on Monday morning – assume this was sustained during my run in the hills too, but could have been a bike ride I did on Sunday. I noticed it again at the gym the next day and when warming up for my run on Tuesday evening – although not too sore when running on the relatively flat canal. I did feel the soreness in my foot thought after a few miles. 

Garmin Details - Tuesday 3rd September

Very disappointed I decided to take the rest of the week off from running to give both injuries chance to settle down.

When I set off for my planned 20-mile run this morning I knew my quad was still sore, but thought I’d see how I went. I could feel it the whole time I was running though – it seems to hurt when go up and down stairs or doing any kind of lunge movement and so no surprise that it hurt as I ran up into the hills. Just over 3 miles into my run I started to feel my foot too. I turned around at the 4-mile point and on the way back down my foot got worse and worse.

Garmin Details - Sunday 8th September

Things to consider

Should I worry about the root cause of these issues, both being on my right? Is it an imbalance that I need to work on noting that my right glute or hip feels weaker than my left when doing glute activation warm up exercises?

I’ve had a problem with the top of my foot before and when I asked around it was suggested that the most likely cause is laces too tight. I checked my laces when I got home from my run last weekend and I could fit my finger under the knot, but that’s not to say they started that way.

The foot could just be bruising, but could it also be a fracture of the metatarsal?

How do I treat the muscle injury in my quad – rest, massage, acupuncture, exercises? If exercise, should I do them as part of my pre-run warm up, post-run stretch or in the gym at lunchtimes when I’m focusing on strengthening and conditioning?

Finally, what does this mean for High Peak 40 in 2 weeks? The longest I’ve run I’ve done since running my Oldham 40 on 17th August is 14.5 miles last Saturday. Since then I’ve only managed 5 miles on Tuesday and 8 miles today.

Trip to the physio needed this week. I’ll make the call tomorrow and decide after I’ve seen Nick.

Good news this week

Lakeland 100 planning has gone very well. I’ve set myself a budget for both kit between now and next July and I’ve worked out costs/budget for accommodation for all the recces I’ve got planned. We’ve booked accommodation already for race week, getting there the day before and allowing at least 3 days recovery after the race.

I’ve also entered two more races! That’s it now, all my races for this year and next and booked and paid for!

I’m a big believer in the idea of having an A, B & C race for each year when planning ultras. I think 3 main goals for the year is more than enough to focus on.

Last year, my A race was supposed to be Lakeland 50, but I messed up and didn’t get a place, so I entered Evesham Ultra instead. At 45 miles though I felt like I hadn’t hit my target for the year of running a fifty. As such, I’ve entered Round Rotherham 50 in October as my replacement A-race for this year. I just want that badge of having run 50 miles before the end of the year!

For my C race, I’ve also entered Hardmoors 26.2 Osmotherley Trail Marathon in February to celebrate my 40th. As you do :-)

My B race could end up being High Peak 40 next September if I can’t make it in 2 weeks and I’m able to defer my place.

The main focus of course though is my A race for next year, Lakeland 100, and I’ve got lots of recce weekends planned so I can run the course as much as possible. I’ve signed up for 3 of the 4 official recces and then plan to do at least a couple of my own between April and June next year.

Run up to LL100 - Key Dates

Events already booked and paid for:

21st Sep High Peak 40 

19th Oct Round Rotherham 50

10th Nov LL100 recce 26.3 miles – Section 1 - Coniston (CP1) to Buttermere (CP5)
(Finishing in the dark)

25th Jan LL100 recce 15.6 miles – Section 4 - Ambleside (CP13) to Coniston (CP1)
(Night run)

16th Feb Osmotherley marathon

30th March LL100 recce 52.8 miles – Section 2 - Buttermere (CP5 to Dalemain (CP8)

My own planned recce runs:

Easter weekend – 18th – 21st April – Run the full 100 mile course over 4 days with overnight stops and support crew

Date TBC – Run the full 100 miles course again over 3 days with overnight stops and support crew

Sunday, 1 September 2013

I've entered Lakeland 100!

The Lakeland 100 'Ultra Tour of the Lake District' is the most spectacular long distance trail race which has ever taken place within the UK. The 105-mile circular route encompasses the whole of the Lakeland fells, includes in the region of 6300m of ascent, and must be completed within 40 hours.

Sounds good doesn’t it? If you’re nuts!

I’ve had my eye on this for a long while, but I’ve mostly kept it to myself. I decided I wanted a challenge for next year that would top any other challenge. OK, so there’s the iconic UTMB of course and other iconic races around the world such as Western States, but you’ve got to start with the best we have to offer here at home and Lakeland 100 represents this to my mind. 

Firstly, it’s a 100-mile + race. I know there are quite a few of those now, but this one is considered the toughest by a long way with a drop out rate this year of around 60%. That’s circa 60% of the people who lined up at the start, didn’t finish! Not many people make it round this course and that says something. 

Secondly, it’s in The Lake District for Christ sake! It will be hills, hills, hills. But that’s what I do. I train in the hills on the edge of The Peak District where I live and my experience so far has been that I perform best and enjoy it most in either The Lakes or The Peaks where the terrain in rugged and the topography is constantly up and down. 

I’m not ready for this race though. Not by a long way. 10 months of intense training will be required and this starts now. I’ve not ran this kind of distance before and everybody says this course is brutal, so I want to obtain as much experience of the actual route as possible over the next year.

One thing I’ve realised this year is how important non-physical training is. Anyone can run 50, 70 or 100 miles a week if you build up to it gradually over time, but that alone won’t get you through this race. 

I’ve learnt a lot from watching how my partner prepared for her Ironman event earlier in the year and more recently reading the blog of and listening to an interview with Stuart Mills, this year’s Lakeland 100 winner, and how he  prepared. Everyone who completes Lakeland 100 says its mostly mental strength not physical strength. It’s about preparing your body and your mind and getting all the little details right. You need to think of everything and be ready to deal with anything. 

I’m going to do more regular blogs from now on, which will form part of my non-physical training. Hopefully they will provide a reference point for me and generate some discussion as I prepare myself for next July. 

First up though is High Peak 40 in less than 3 weeks. I’ve done 40+ miles a couple of times before and know I can do this course as long as I stay healthy, so what should I be aiming to get out of it? I need to give that some thought over the next 3 weeks. I want to enjoy it, but at the same time what can I test that will help me in my journey to Lakeland 100?

Then I’m looking at Round Rotherham 50 in October. My first 50-miler!

Then November will be the first of 3 or the 4 Lakeland 100 Recce Weekends I’ve signed up for. 

It’s gonna be one helluva ride!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Running The Oldham Way

I took my time about it, but finally ran the 41.8 miles of The Oldham Way in one go this weekend with some great company and fantastic support.

This started as a project back in February. It was one of my 3 main goals for the year. I'm fortunate to live just 1 mile from The Oldham Way, which I discovered was a footpath encircling the Borough of Oldham and taking in a lot of its amazing and varied countryside.

The landscape of the route varies from moorland to canal. Its official starting point is at Dove Stone Reservoir near Greenfield, which is just over 2 miles from where I live. It then continues over Saddleworth Moor to Diggle and Castleshaw Moor to Denshaw. It then skirts the north of Shaw and Royton to meet the Rochdale Canal at Chadderton Hall Park. It follows the canal south through Chadderton to Failsworth, after which it joins the Medlock Valley to Daisy Nook and Park Bridge before climbing over Hartshead Pike to Quick and then back to Dove Stone.

The original plan was to run it with 6 twitter friends in June, but I picked up a bit of an injury and had to postpone it. With a busy summer already planned I didn’t have too many dates to choose from after that, but tried to pick one that I hoped most of us could all still make. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as one by one the original group (all but one anyway) ruled themselves out with other commitments etc. Fair enough. All but one that is. My good friend Johnny (@Dunsrunner) still wanted to take part even though he’d been out with a back injury for a month and had only managed one small run in the days leading up to it. The whole 40-mile route was out of the question, but he wanted to come and support and maybe run a bit.

The inconspicuous Johnny!

Then, up stepped two local runners with impeccable timing. “We’ve read your blog and would like to run The Oldham Way” or words to that effect.

Paul (@xx51mmo) and Steve (@stelee15) were well up for it and their enthusiasm was just the boost I needed. Don’t get me wrong I would have been happy to do it on my own, but I’d much rather share the experience and so I was all too glad to get these guys on board. Paul sounded like he had a bit of experience. Arguably more than me. He’s run further having done The Wall, which is a 70-miler.

Pretending I know where we are going

Steve was less experienced having done just one marathon, but having met him for a small run a week or two before I was confident he had what it took. He was no stranger to running off road and he’s ex-army. I could tell he had the mental strength to keep going.

The assembled runners: Johnny, Steve, Paul and me

We then needed one more to make up this motley crew. Now who do I know that is reliable, enthusiastic and very experienced in the art of running support? Yes you guessed it. Our rock of support for the day was Rowena of course (@rowenanews).

Johnny decided that he’d run 10 miles of it and so I put together a bit of a strategy involving me and Johnny deploying his van (from now on known as ultravan) to The Diggle Hotel on the Friday night. This worked out well as it meant we could have a couple of pints of Golden Sheep and chew the fat a bit. Johnny was to run the first 9 miles from our starting point at The Royal George in Greenfield to Diggle where he would join up with Rowena and they two would then become our support crew for the rest of the day. Rowena herself having been struggling with a knee injury would run to The Diggle Hotel along the flat, which was much quicker and less stress on her knee, whilst we were gallivanting in the hills! Simple. Not that simple. Ro fell and hurt herself running back home from the Royal George. Badly grazed her knee and took a bit of a knock. There was no way she could run the 4 or 5 miles to Diggle, but she managed to get on her bike and cycle there! Respect.

Faithful 'Red' got Rowena to CP1
Here we come

Rowena was waiting as we 4 hill runners arrived at CP1 feeling pretty good. That said, the boys now knew what they’d let themselves in for! With food and drink consumed courtesy of ultravan and our slightly battered support, I shook Johnny’s hand and as 4 became 3 we headed off up another big hill to start Stage 2. Stage 2 is tough. It’s a lot of climbing up to Castleshaw Moor and when you get there it’s incredibly exposed to the elements and the crosswind was very strong. Running along the top is very technical under foot. It’s boggy and rocky. Every foot placement needs concentration and this takes its toll.

I remember Paul saying his legs had never felt so tired after 14 miles just after we had descended from the Moor to Denshaw. I think the next 4 or 5 miles to CP2 where Rowena & Johnny would be waiting with ultravan felt quite far to Paul and Steve who were ready to fuel up. I was doing well taking in food that I was carrying (humous & olive wraps and homemade flapjack), but I too was looking forward to a swig of coke and the lift you get from seeing friendly faces.

Johnny and his ultravan patiently waiting for us at CP2 whilst Rowena gets the shots (he's probably on Twitter isn't he)

Looking back up the trail

Nobody's looking, I'll just squeeze in a few burpees!

No sign of us yet

Here we come

Forcing a smile


Setting off again

The next stage was the longest. Miles 19 to 35 began with another big ascent. Lots of running across farmer’s fields. A lot of stiles. The occasional navigational blip. By the time we joined the canal in Oldham it had started to rain. I was feeling OK. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt better running than I did doing this run. I just had a good day and felt pretty strong throughout. The other two won’t mind me saying though that they were finding it hard now and CP3 couldn’t come soon enough.

Paul in particular was concerned about slowing me down, but it didn’t matter to me how long it took, it was about starting together and all finishing together. My biggest problem is usually going too fast and paying for it later, so in that respect a slower pace was good for me. I did get my calculations a bit wrong and CP3 seemed to be getting further away and the guys were very patient as I kept saying “actually, it’s a few more miles yet!” I ran on ahead a lot to try and give them something to chase (don’t know if that was a good strategy, but it felt like it was working) and when I arrived at Daisy Nook I took a minute to get the map out and work out what was left. Just half a mile to Park Bridge where Johnny and Rowena would be waiting. We all now needed some supplies. For me it was salt and sweet stuff. Steve had realised that Haribo alone wasn’t enough and Paul needed food too; his energy levels now very low. After that I told them, the good news was that the final stage was around 6 miles, not 8 as I’d first thought!

I’d exchanged messages with Rowena, which was just as well otherwise it would have been a shock to come running down the trail into this former mill site and now heritage centre to see lots of people and a man with an M6 machine gun!! Apparently they were filming ‘Crimes that Shook Australia’! Paul’s wife and family had turned up, which must have been a massive boost for him. They had some camping chairs and Paul plonked himself down in one. After a little while I was starting to get worried that Paul wouldn’t get out of the chair if he sat in it too much longer! Then another boost. Johnny wanted to run the last 6 miles with us, which I thought was a great idea.

Keep running or I'll shoot you!

First casualty of the day!


He just can't stop doing burpees!

If we don't set off running again soon we're dead

Gotta love a man handing out Jaffa Cakes

Getting a bit TOO comfy 

Crouching gunman as you'd expect to see at any checkpoint

We set off, the first couple of miles following the river, then we began the climb to Hartshead Pike. This was a tough hike so far into the run and we lost the path on the way up, making it harder still. We then ran down the other side and through a bit of a residential area before greeting another hill up to Quick. I'd been looking forward to the hill at Quick though knowing that the splendor of the Saddleworth hills would appear again as we came over the crest of the hill and we could see where it all started 10 hours earlier. I sprinted down the grassy bank (well I was sprinting in my head, I was probably hobbling in reality). Johnny then got ahead to take a photo of the 3 of us descending. We passed Paul’s Mother & Father-in-Law’s house and got waves of support and encouragement, then down to the canal, left past the cricket club and out onto the road where our starting point, The Royal George, came into view.

What a feeling to have done this spectacular route. Handshakes all around. Hugs for everyone off Rowena. It was throwing it down with rain now and we all staggered into the pub looking like wet dogs and smelling worse. The crazed looks in our eyes probably dissuaded the manager from turning us away, but you could tell from the look on his face that we weren’t the sort of Saturday night clientele that he was looking for :-)
Paul’s wife and kids arrived too and we all had a well-earned drink.

I have to thank my lovely Rowena for her tremendous support and putting up with me ranting on about this run all year. Enormous thanks to Johnny for making the trip down from Duns and making the day extra special. But my biggest thanks go to 2 guys who ran 41.8 hard miles with me and never once considered giving up. Paul admitted it was as hard if not harder than The Wall and I think he has learnt a lot from this run. As for Steve, *puts on on Ironman voice* Steve Lee, you are an ultrarunner. Legends, all 4 of them.

Respect to Paul & Steve. Looking forward to running with you again.

Monday, 17 June 2013

How my girlfriend became a Half Ironman

When we met a year ago, Rowena had already entered Ironman Lanzarote. Not long after she changed to Mallorca 70.3, but with less than a year to get up to scratch we were in no doubt that it would be a hell of a challenge. A 1.2-mile sea swim, a 56-mile bike ride up into the mountains, followed by a half marathon in the heat of Mallorca was never going to be a walk in the park.

I want to tell the story of how my girlfriend became a Half-Iron-chica; my experiences of the journey over the last year, and the race itself – Ironman Mallorca 70.3, which Rowena completed last month. Something that has since inspired me to my first open water swim last week.

I like to run, but there was nothing about watching Rowena train for Ironman over the last 12 months that made me want to take up triathlon. The training looked hard, but seeing what she achieved, from her starting point a year ago, and experiencing Ironman first hand, well….it was truly inspiring.

The Swim.

This time last year Rowena could swim, but only like we can all swim. You know, we learnt when we were kids and swim occasionally; usually on holiday. But how do you go from that to swimming over a mile in the sea whilst lots of other triathletes all try and swim in the same direction at the same time? She started with some lessons at the pool to improve technique and then she worked up to swimming a mile at Swimathon. This took a lot of swimming practice, week in week out at the pool. When she moved to Manchester she joined a local leisure centre just out of the city. Imagine the most down-at-heel inner city place you can and then insert a leisure centre – not paradise, but she loved it!

Then came the wet suit. She travelled around different places trying them on, researched extensively, but it was no good, she simply didn’t know how to buy a wet suit. And I certainly couldn’t offer any words of wisdom. In the end, with a swim camp booked in Lanzarote she ended up hiring one. She later bought it because the fine for how late it was would have been more than the cost of buying it! She then found out it was too big and had to buy another!

As the winter set in and Rowena got a job in Salford, a change of pool was required. Throughout the long cold winter she was getting the first train at 6.50am and doing 2-2.5k every Tuesday and Thursday morning – mind-boggling swim sets provided by her new online triathlon coach.

The swimming became the strongest of her 3 disciplines – I think a result of her ability to continue all the way through winter when running and cycling had become more difficult. But she was still nervous about open water swimming; the only dip in the open water all winter having being a swim in the freezing cold of Salford Quays on New Years Day with the brilliant Uswim. And lets face it, this winter didn’t want to leave us and so she didn’t manage a single decent open water sessions before we flew out to Mallorca in April.

Our first trip out to Mallorca was a recce during which Rowena swam what she thought was going to be the course. Luckily though she also went out there a week early in May, a week before the start of Ironman, because the course wasn’t where we thought it was going to be. Without doubt it helped to swim the actual swim course twice in the week leading up to the race.

Come race day I was nervous as hell, stood by the railings as Rowena waited in the pen for the start of Ironman Mallorca 70.3. I’d been down to the shore and watched the professionals set off 5mins earlier and it was carnage! When the gun fired I could see the look on her face. Calmer than I expected! Focussed. She was ready, you could tell. She was supposed to be starting near the back to avoid being trampled, but ended up near the front and ran down and into the water along with another 500 other women in their black wet suits and orange race swim hats.

Then that was it. Rowena’s mum and I moved around to the other side to get a better view and we could see a huge swell of bodies splashing around in the water. Many often say it looks like a shoal of piranha – it does. It’s an amazing sight. By this point though we had no way of knowing which one was Rowena. All we could do was make the short walk down the beach to the finish and wait.

Rowena and I had sat in our apartment the night before going over cut off times. We expected her to do the swim in around 45 mins, which was well before the cut off. We knew that unless something bad happened out there she would be OK. We’d also spent the night before practicing getting the wet suit down to her waist, something we knew she should try to do as she came out of the water. The back-up plan was to ask a fellow competitor to help in transition – the race officials can’t help!

But that wasn’t necessary. She came running up from the surf at around 41 mins with the wet suit stripped to her waist, looking awesome! Still focussed, but we got a smile when she saw me and her mum. I was so proud, but really excited too. The adrenalin was pumping.

The Bike.

Wow. This one was a struggle. Really. 12 months earlier when she was getting into triathlon, she was using a hybrid that she’d bought off a friend. She didn’t understand the gears. She had no road sense. No handling skills. She won’t mind me saying this, but she was a complete amateur!

But what she lacked in ability, she made up for in guts. In September, as I was running Kielder Marathon, Ro signed up to do the Duathlon! The same 26.2-mile course, but both running and cycling. I know from running it the next day that the course is gravelly and very very undulating. She still didn’t know how to operate her gears at this point! I’m still amazed to this day that she got around the course without freaking out. And she did it in a decent time. She could hardly walk afterwards and I remember we had to stop the car so she could get out and try and stretch her legs not long after we had set off to our friend Johnny’s house afterwards.

Soon after she bought ‘Red’ – a half decent road bike from Decathlon, but infinitely better to ride on the road than ‘Grover’, the hybrid. For Rowena though it was like getting out of a Ford Escort and into a Ferrari. She couldn’t handle Red’s speed and ‘twitchiness’! Winter had also set in and at times her confidence on the bike seemed to be decreasing rather than increasing. A roller in our basement gym helped, but everybody knows that you need to get out cycling on the roads and where we live in the hilly Pennines that’s hard enough during good weather. This year, from December through to March we had nothing but snow, ice and sub-freezing temperatures!

Like I said – guts! She kept at it. She joined an all-ladies cycling club; a bunch of tough nuts from around these parts,  and went on some long Sunday rides with them, returning exhausted and blue from the cold. She tackled the big hill up onto the moors from where we live, on her own, and came back unable to move she was so cold. She suffered a puncture up in the snowy hills and had to get a taxi home. She cried on her return from these bike rides on more than one occasion and had her fair share of accidents and near misses, one with a lorry!

By the time we went out to Mallorca in April, she could ride, but she still lacked confidence. Rowena was scared the first time she set off to do the actual bike course, but she tackled it, finished up doing it twice over that 5-day period in April. I drove it and that was scary enough! The switchbacks on the way down where unbelievable. She had some falls over there too, but definitely came back from that trip feeling more confident.

The bike was always the weaker of the 3 disciplines though and we thought she would be close to the cut off times, but on race day when we saw her emerge from transition and grab her hired race bike, she was looking good. All we could do now was wait. It was time for me to bond with Mrs Harding!!

Mama Rowena and I having done a bit of bonding, and a bit of shopping, positioned ourselves near the end of the bike course and entry to Transition 2. I kept telling her mum that I wasn’t expecting her for a while. We were there before midday and we’d calculated that it might be more like 1.30pm, but we were both glued to the road, watching every cyclist come in, and her mum was convinced she would be much earlier than expected. Which of course she was! An hour and 10 mins earlier than expected! Why had we been worrying about cut off times?! Again, I was amazed, proud and absolutely thrilled. All I could think was ‘awesome’!

We now knew that she could walk the run course and still do it. I was so happy by this point I could have burst.

The Run.

This should have been Rowena’s best discipline having come from a running background and in a way it was, but the training had been difficult. A mysterious foot injury, which we later found out was a nerve problem at the bottom of her foot, held her back in training. She was more or less doing the runs that were in the training plan, but they were often ending in disappointment and pain. And I was her run coach! I couldn’t let her running let her down.

With a couple of months to go we ignored the training plan a bit and put our own plan in place for getting her run-ready. Rowena entered us both in the Blackpool Half Marathon in early April and we built up the miles over a several week period leading up to it. She nailed it in the end with a PB of 1:53 and carried that through to Mallorca when she lost a bit of time, as you would expect, but still did incredibly well at around 2:10. It was 3 laps of a course that ran parallel to the beach and I loved watching her during this part of the race. She was smiling so much every time I saw her even though, whilst looking great, she looked like it was hurting. That’s my Rowena, guts and positivity rolled into one.

She finished the race strong and recovered well the next day when we climbed hundreds of steps to visit a church and then tackled a huge hill up to a monastery. The training had paid off. Swimming twice a week. Cycling 3 times a week, sometimes for 3-5 hours at a time. Running twice a week. Strength and Condition sessions at the gym twice a week. And the incredible amount of research and preparation that went into making that start line with the tools required to do the job. It had all paid off.

I’m immensely proud off my Iron-chica because not only did she do this, but she did it for a reason. She did it to raise money for Freedom From Torture. That’s the bit that I admire the most. When I set out to do a running challenge I do it because it excites me; because I know I’ll enjoy the training and the event itself. Rowena did this partly to prove something to herself, to rise to a challenge, but she deliberately chose something completely outside of her comfort zone that she knew she would not enjoy training for because she wanted to raise money for a charity that has become very special to her over the last few years. 

Because my Rowena likes to put everything she has into a worthwhile cause. And she certainly did that.
To all those who sponsored Rowena, and I heard of some amazing acts of generosity, thank you. If you didn’t get around to it, you can still sponsor Rowena by visiting: