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The un-training Ultrarunner

Tales of ultrarunning, food, and not training

Gothic Challenge (Marathon) report #ProjectGrandSlam and a PB for me

“I’m nervous – more nervous that when I do a parkrun…. OMG!!!!!!”

That was me on 12 february. What was I doing? Why was I so nervous? After all, it was “only” a marathon and I have run further before – as my friends kept telling me. But this was a race that would give me a sense of how my training was going in the lead up to Centurion Grandslam 100mi (x4) between April and October.

So as it was, I was getting messages from friends trying to reassure me that I was going to be ok. At the same time, I wasn’t letting slip what target I had in mind for the marathon. (I don’t mind sharing now that I was planning to keep to around 8:30 minute / mile pace for the marathon.

I laid out my kit the night before. What struck me is that I had very clearly forgotten something, because I didn’t have the kitchen sink! I am used to doing ultras which have long mandatory kit lists. But this one, all that was required was to turn up with clothes on and run!

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The race was called the Gothic Challenge. My plan was to do a marathon and to keep it just slightly uncomfortable but not to go flat out because that would mess up my training for weeks if I ran too hard.

Susie was running too and we turned up plenty early enough to get a coffee nearby. I find drinking a latte takes away any hunger pangs and the caffeine gives a little boost too.

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We picked up our race numbers and clip cards (to record the laps) from the organisers. Saxon Viking Norman organise these events – and they are friendly, laidback, great medals and goody bags and are very local to us in Kent.

The sun was getting stronger and despite it being cold stood waiting, I decided that I would run in shorts, t-shirt, arm sleeves (that I could take off), and no gloves. I figured correctly that I would start to feel warm after the first mile or so.

Soon we were ready for the race briefing. As ever – all I heard was blah blah…. I am not very good at listening when I am nervous, and all I heard was second bridge. Either way, I would be following people (I’m not so fast!) so would be unlikely to get lost.

This is the medal I would be running for….

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3….2……1………. go!

And off we went, I quickly found myself caught up in the excitement with only about 10 people streaming out in front of me. I ran a few miles at what felt an easy pace (compared to flat out at Serpentine 7 mi on Wednesday night (which I run at 7:30/mi) and parkrun (which I run at 7:15/mi). I decided to rein in the pace before I regretted it later. So I aimed for 8:30/mi as it felt reasonably comfortable, but that I was pressing on.

We ran along loose gravel – high quality trail, over a couple of bridges, down a little rutted/rocky path and then onto trail path down the side of a quiet road, up to a turn around point, and then back to the HQ. The good news was that from the turn around point, it was pretty much downhill and that made for some decent mile splits. I quickly realised that to get 8:30/mi average I would have to take full advantage of the downhill sections because of the undulating trail sections.

Soon I was back at HQ, and the aid station. I decided that I would visit the aid station on every other lap to save time and hassle, so I pressed on. By 4 miles in I was fully into my stride and feeling good.

The miles and laps breezed by. I felt good. The uphill sections were becoming harder going, but I kept up my momentum. The downhill sections felt fine and I was able to press on at around 8 min/mile pace. I was loving it. I was so happy it was feeling good, and I was smiling and waving at everyone I ran past (in both directions – because it was more or less an out and back course).

At the mid point of lap 5 I started to feel a dip in energy (that would be around 18 miles) and I realised I should have taken a few more jelly babies ( I had been eating 4 each time I went to the aid station) and I promised myself that I would scoop some up at the end of lap 5 and 6 before the final lap.

When I came into the aid station I was excited to find some cups of shandy! YAY! I took one on lap 5 and 6 and loved it! It gave me a real spring in my step and I found that I had been able to start catching some of the runners that had been consistently ahead of me. It was a great atmosphere – we were all willing each other on, smiling, waving and shouting words of encouragement at each other.

Finally, on the last lap I saw Lisa – the leading lady already on her return section and mere minutes from the finish. I wished her luck and I carried on with what felt like a lovely victory lap. I ran up to the turnaround point, and from there I felt home and dry. Just short of 2 miles, mostly downhill, and the opportunity to give it almost everything I had to get a decent time.

My previous PB was 3:50:09 – set at Edinburgh in 2011 (a flat road course which I did 6 years earlier!). I knew I was close to reaching it. But the time was ticking away. My watch showed 3:40 something…… and I was still half a mile from the end. I gave it more. I flew past a chap who had been in front of me all the way, we exchanged congratulations and I put my head down and charged up the final short little slope into the car park.

The finish line in sight……

I screamed “Get the stop watch ready………. Get the bell ready for me to ring!!!!!!!!”

I ran to the end. Looked at my watch…..

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3:44:49 – A PB! Holy moly – a PB by over 5 minutes.

I clanged the bell with all my remaining energy and discovered that I was fourth marathon finisher and third male!

The first time that has ever happened. It felt great. Ok, of course I was blessed with a fairly small field (maybe a 100 runners?) and no elites – but hey – I am happy!

I got my bottle of beer opened (amazing goody bag by the way) and chilled out and looked at my medal (there is always a tank embossed in the medal and it is fun to try and find – took me about 7 hours!).

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Susie was at the end – she did 5 laps (19 miles) and I soon saw Paul Commons who was just out for his final lap. We waited around for him and enjoyed a coffee afterwards at the cyclopark café.

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Brilliant event. Marvellous training. Fantastically friendly and well organised. You can see from the graph below that I kept it pretty consistent in terms of the pace (taking into account the lumps in the route!)

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Next race is Cookiethon on 6 March 2017. All good training ahead of Centurion Grandslam 100 during the summer.

Strava link – https://www.strava.com/activities/864972860

Download Racecalc – pacing your race and checkpoints – including Ultras

When I was planning my race strategy for Autumn 100, in 2016, I set up a spreadsheet which would calculate for me when I would be at the various checkpoints based on my assumptions about pace during each section – (some of which was based on experience of recceing parts of the route, and the inevitable slow down during the dark hours).

I’m sharing the spreadsheet with you so you can edit it for your own purposes. I have included a screenshot below so you can see what you are getting yourself into.

All the pale yellow/beige bits (i.e. column 1 – 4, plus 7) can be edited. The other columns are automatically calculated. If you fuck around with those, then it won’t work as planned.

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  1. Download RaceCalc.
  2. Read the instructions (and caveats).
  3. Have a play.
  4. Don’t blame me if your race doesn’t go to plan!

If you notice any gremlins – please let me know! All feedback appreciated. Unless you are being a bellend – in which case I will ignore you!

Phil

Hello 2017 – plans for the year

I love the start of a new year.

It is almost as if all achievements become banked, and all disappointments are consigned to history.

Over the last few weeks I have been taking my jogging a little less unseriously than normal.

I have been doing some un-untraining including some spectacularly un-untraining things such as: Hill repeats, flat out runs at parkrun, tempo pace at Serpentine three parks, slow, fast, fast, slow runs, intervals, long runs (but shorter than my normal long runs) and parkrun followed by 5-6 miles (which it turns out is amazing simulation for around 30 miles of an ultra).

My aims for 2017

My main aim for 2017 is GrandSlam which I will be delighted to just finish, and over the moon with absolutely anything else. I do have a secret aim – which I am not going to mention for fear of jinxing it.

A secondary aim for the year is to crack 20 minutes at parkrun. I have found that I have brought down my parkrun times from 23:19 (at maidstone) to 22:03. I have even managed a 21:57 at Widnes parkrun (while visiting up north). So it would be nice to scratch my itch. But it is very much as secondary aim – if I do it, then great. If not, I will not cry.

I have always found running fast, really hard work. I am much more in my comfort zone when I am running over 30 miles. Doing parkrun is a great way of getting more pace into my legs.

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The races I am planning for 2017

I have a couple of races planned in the run up to Centurion Grandslam in Summer 2017.

13 February – Gothic Challenge – Marathon distance – http://www.saxon-shore.com/Gothic/ It is at the Gravesend cyclopark and a combo of trail, road, and cycletrack. So looking forward to a good marathon (I don’t often run that distance).

6 March – Cookiethon – approx 31 miles – off road. http://www.saxon-shore.com/cookiethon/ This is at Challock – Kings Wood and is trail. It is a 6 hour challenge, but my aim for this is to just do 6 laps.

Then it is all out for the Centurion Running Grandslam. Four 100 mile races over 5.5 months. All of them are tough – and some are tougher than others.

  • Thames Path 100 (April)
  • South Downs Way 100 (June)
  • North Downs Way 100 (August)
  • Autumn 100 (originally the Winter 100) (October)

I’m looking forward to the rest of my “untraining” 🙂

What are your plans for 2017?

Autumn 100: Race report

Stood in a waddle of ultrarunners. Everyone geared up to the hilt. Some with beards – the majority without (obviously the trend for big beards has moved on).

It was the start of the Autumn 100. My second 100 mile race I had entered. I had first bumped into Zoe Norman who was volunteering and she took the opportunity to take a selfie of us three. That’s Zoe on the left and Susie on the right.

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With Zoe (L) and Susie (R) at the Start

I didn’t have the pleasure of running with you unfortunately but when I saw you at the start you seemed so calm and collected.”

Zoe Norman – another silly running friend of mine – and Volunteer at the HQ

We had arrived in the area the previous evening and our friend Zbysia had gamely looked after me and my wife Susie in typical Polish style. Great food. Great chat. Great company. Even cooking a full english breakfast for us both at 7am before seeing us off for the short drive to Goring and Streatley for the race. It makes such a difference not having to get up at stupid o’clock to start a 100. It is hard enough to get to sleep the night before with the worry about oversleeping.

So, there I was at the start line. Well, obviously, not right on the start line – I stationed myself some way back for feel of getting a) trampled, b) caught up in the excitement and going too fast. I spotted Kate Jayden – colourful in both language, outfit and personality – and had a bit of an excited chat.

James Elson did his traditional briefing. I never take any of the information in. I remember “blah blah tape, blah blah signposts, blah blah blah. Then the horn and we were off. Bit of stop start to begin with and to the whooping cheers of the family and friends of the runners and the cacophony of the cowbells that seem to have become a fun staple of cheer at these events.

Spur 1: (Thames Path): Streatley to Little Wittenham and return

I wanted to keep to around 12 min miles. No need to go off fast. So I kept it steady. Happy for the most part to listen to conversations, nod, contribute a few words but then settle down into my own race plan. I say “race” in the understanding that I am only ever competing with myself…. and that is usually just to make it to the end in one piece. My plan is below.

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The pace chart based on some complex calculations

At the first aid station (6.5 miles in) I bumped into Kate and Garry. I didn’t stick around grabbing a few pieces of fruit and some scotch eggs and pressed on. A mile or so later. Around 8 miles in my stomach made threatening noises and I felt in some pain. It felt uncomfortable. I ignored it. It soon got really bad. I asked a couple of faster runners returning on the leg whether there were toilets at the aid station at Wittenham. “Nope….” Was the answer. It was a tent. Luckily I spotted a footbridge and instead of crossing I disappeared underneath and cleared my bowels while hoping no boats would go past, and that no one would see me. Luckily I had plenty of paper with me (See – I do learn sometimes!).

I pressed on and was feeling instantly better. But it didn’t last long. I was struggling again at the aid station and by this point I was already almost last having lost so much time already. I set off on my return leg.

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I don’t remember very much at all of the remainder of the leg. I spent most of it ducking into bushes or perching out of view on the side of the river to purge myself of the brown junk. (TMI!) From what I remember, the ground was reasonably firm despite rain for a few days before and I could easily have run it in road shoes.

“I saw you at Goring after the first leg, you said you had a bad stomach, a lady gave u Imodium and I gave you a hug and off you went!” Zoe

Eventually I arrived back at Goring Aid station and checked in. I was encouraged back out for the second spur – but I scuttled off to the toilet for a while instead. Shortly after, and having seen Susie, and Vanessa who I know from a running group on facebook, I headed out having stuffed a couple of Imodium (Thanks Vanessa), and a bottle of delicious tropical Rubicon juice.

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At the end of Spur 1 – 25 miles in and needing the loo

Spur 2: (Ridgeway): Streatley to Swyncombe Farm and return 

I recced this section a few weeks previously with Susie. I soon bumped into Graham Carter and we jogged some of this leg together. We unfortunately soon came across a very injured Tom Sawyer – his race was over. He had been in 6th place I think going out on that leg. It’s always disappointing to see anyone have to drop through serious injury.

Thankfully my stomach had settled down heaps and I was finally able to concentrate on getting this race completed. I was glad that I had recced this route because it meant that I could just relax and enjoy it without worrying about navigation or missing a turning. I ended up running a little slower and soon Graham pulled ahead and I was running on my own – which I don’t mind too much at all. I often seem to end up running at my own unique pace – with hardly anyone around me. I passed quickly through North Stoke aid station (29 miles) and carried on up the rest of the spur.

I really enjoyed this section, running through slightly chalky rutted sections of the ridgeway and finally getting to one of the highest points on the spur. It was there that I met Lee Kelly and Paul Pickford. Two great friends of mine that I met through running. Paul gave me a bear hug and Lee offered some coke and haribo. On grabbing a handful Lee asked how I was.

Lee Kelly: “How are you mate?”

Me: “Feel ok now, but was bad earlier…. stomach, bowels, explosive!”

Lee: “Oh, I see, which hand did you use?”

Me: “Both”

Lee: “Ah……………” as he quietly put the half eaten and mauled bag of haribo aside.

Off I trotted and by now it was pretty dark.  I took it easy through the knarly tree root strewn sections of the woods and then eventually made it to the turn back point at mile 37.5 (Swyncombe Farm) and having seen Lee again with his trusty bottle of coke. There was quite the party going on there and I bumped into Kate again. I sorted my headtorch. I spotted some apples…. I really fancied one – so I chanced my arm and asked if I was being greedy if I had a whole apple. The friendly volunteer said “Yeah, fine – go ahead – you’re running far enough”.  I texted Vanessa to warn her I was running ahead of plan (she was joining me for mile 50 – 62.5) and quickly headed out.

This next section involved some steep up…. which somehow surprised me, having already run down it, and also having run it on the recce. I pushed on up and eventually ran into Lee and Paul again and a girl in a pink jacket (which for all the world looked to me like a flamingo!). With their encouragement ringing in my ears I carried on and eventually came onto the really gnarly section “Grim’s Ditch” with the tree roots that seem to rise out of the path and try to strike you down.

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I’d already bashed my feet, and tripped several times so I took this carefully. It would have been so much easier to run this in the light – and I can see why some people swear by running the first sections of this race hard to get past this in the daylight. Eventually, I found myself back at Goring and met with Susie and Vanessa, Lee and Paul.

So that was 50 miles done and after some refuelling I was out again. Vanessa had agreed to join me so I would have some company for this next section.

Spur 3: (Ridgeway): Streatley to Chain Hill and return

I warned Vanessa that I would be slow – having already done 50 miles – and she seemed to be worrying she would slow me down. No chance. I was in walking territory. I see no point running up hill and wearing myself out. My plan was to leave the running til the route back down the hill.

It was already pretty cold, and eventually it started to rain on this section. It was lovely to talk to Vanessa and share some stories. I had started to worry about whether she would ever find her car again (she had to dump it in a random spot when I had called her to say I was running ahead (on spur 2 – but then ended up being on time). I was sure that we were pretty much near the back. But I didn’t give a stuff. I had my plan and I was sticking to it. I had built in that I would hike up the hills already.

Eventually we spotted a coffee cup on the floor and we were with Rachel Hessom and her pacer (I think). I was initially confused on why spotting a coffee cup was a good sign of an impending aid station. It took me a good ten minutes to cotton on.

“[You were] like the Duracell bunny whose batteries were running dry as we approached the aid station… gradual winding down in quantity and volume of speech… then springing back into it after a coffee with some almost gazelle moves for a few minutes! I can’t take the piss much, my batteries did actually run out, which was crap of me”

Vanessa Armond – Pacer – 50-62.5 miles

We soldiered on through the aid station (I drank coffee, ate stuff, changed batteries, got very cold, put on three layers and then cracked on). We eventually ended up at the Chain Hill turn-back aid station. I didn’t stick around – despite the amazing music. I felt bad about leaving Vanessa there in the middle of nowhere in a marquee in a big field. I was pleased to find that she retrieved her car when she sent me a text later on.

I made good progress on the way back. This section is super easily runnable and I put in some decent-ish pace. I hooked up with a few other runners on the way back and we were all wondering why we were having to run so much uphill as we don’t remember any down-hill on the outward spur. Anyway, just one of those things.

Soon I was putting the pace in and pushing on. This section has lots of tarmac and good quality runnable sections and so I was able to pull away having saved slog in my legs earlier. I soon came within a mile of the aid station, called ahead to Susie who confirmed she was ready to pace me and then focused on getting in and out of the aid station as quick as possible. I ran in so hard into the HQ at the end of spur 3 that everyone seemed to think I must have finished….. “Nope… I have another one to do!”.

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Spur 4: (Thames Path): Streatley to Reading and return

I headed out with Susie. At the HQ we had bumped into Tracy Watson – another runner – and my mate Paul Pickford who was pacing her. They had headed out before us – but we were keeping with them.

Despite my legs and feet being fine on the last section, I was starting to feel the pain. No getting away from it – I was slow and getting slower. I had a few sit-downs to stretch my legs out and my calves (they were leaden!) but each time I did that I was able to push on (so definitely the right decision).

Soon we came into the aid station at Whitchurch and were greeted by a beaming Jo Turner and Steven. I took the opportunity to lie down for 5 minutes (They’ll say it was more like 20!) before pushing on.I seemed to have lost my mojo. I refused all offers of food. Then I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.

“.. the mention of pizza was like saying “Walkies” to a dog….you suddenly perked up 😂😂

Jo Turner – Whitchurch aid station – 79 miles

The route continued along the thames, it started to rain quite heavily, and I was started to get super pissed off with the weather already. The remainder of the section can be summed up by three things. 1. Reading is huge – so when you see “welcome to Reading – there is like 3 miles at least to go to the turn around point. 2. There was a huge lake of a puddle that once I had waded through it made my right foot instantly macerate. 3. Don’t believe other runners when they variously say – “it’s only 2 minutes, it is only 0.5 miles, it’s only a mile, it is about 30 mins”.

It is none of those things. It’s the most soul destroying section ever. The monotony and the mindgames were only over when I reached the turn back point at Reading (it was actually the boathouse where I volunteered on TP100 earlier in the year). On the way back it was slow. Really slow. My legs hurt. My feet hurt and I lay down several times in the middle of slightly muddy fields.

Me: I’m fucked. My legs are fucked. I can’t do this. Everything hurts.

Susie: Come on…. let’s jog a bit.

Me: I am lying down. Here. Now. In this mud.

Susie: Come on……

Me: Give me 5 minutes. I promise.

Susie: You’ve got 2 minutes and you can pull your big girl pants up and finish this.

Eventually we got to Whitchurch to be greeted by Jo once more. She made a cup of black coffee (they ran out of milk and sugar).

“Your face was priceless when I told you had less than 2hrs to cover the last 4.5 miles, the look of “oh shite I better get a move on …”

Jo Turner – Whitchurch aid station 95.5 miles.

This was enough to make me want to get moving and quickly. I had a super fast couple of gulps of coffee and I headed off again with Susie. The rest of it was a case of keeping moving forwards. Susie suggesting points to jog to, and me mostly obeying her commands.

Eventually a bloke said “1 mile to go”. I rarely believe these proclamations but in some ways I felt with one hour to go, I could slow down. That’s what I did. I went slower and slower. Treating it almost as a victory parade.

My feet hurt. My legs hurt. I could see other runners gaining on me. I didn’t give a shit. Because I knew I was finishing this. I was putting behind me the awful feeling of my DNF at the Liverpool Leeds Canal Race at 90 miles in August. I was getting closer to the end.

Graham Carter flew past me with his pacer. Then Kate Jayden flew by almost as if I were standing still. As I rounded the corner from the River I put a jog on up to the aid station, and did my best run at the end into the checkpoint.

Then I was finished. My time recorded. I could finally stuff my face with chilli and a bread roll and anything else I could hoover up.

cr-16-a100-finish-413Medal. Photo. Blah blah. That was it.100 miles in 27hours. 23 minutes. 13 seconds. A distance PB. A course PB. A season PB.

Thanks so much to everyone.

Centurion Running for putting on an amazing event.

All the volunteers – who really make the event what it is – runners who understand what we are all going through.

My friends who were out on the course – as volunteers or as supporters.

Zbysia for being an amazing host.

Vanessa for responding to my call for Imodium and pacing me from Goring to Chain Hill.

My amazing wife Susie for pacing me for 25 odd miles and putting up with moans!

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The Finisher T and Buckle

What I learned?

About the race

  • Taking it easy works well – meant that I could still run/jog parts of the final spur.
  • Reading aid station is a sodding long way and a half!
  • Getting out of grim’s ditch before dark would save a shed load of time.

About Ultras

  • It was not just a fluke that I ran 100 miles last year. It is a double fluke!
  • Sometimes a little sit down for a few minutes works wonders.
  • It’s lovely having so many friends volunteering at aid stations.
  • For the first time, I used a pace plan and I liked it – I didn’t feel I was losing time.
  • It’s not necessary to eat my own body weight in food during an ultra.
  • It is still true that things start going wrong after around 80 miles.
  • Blisters are a total shit and I still can’t be bothered to sort them out when I get them.

About Kit

  • Imodium works instantly. Never leave home without it boys and girls.
  • Ultimate Direction SJ 3.0 race pack was perfect. Comfortable. Light. Spacious.
  • Inov8 290 Ultras were amazing (but I could have got away with road shoes).
  • I’m vindicated in my obsessive carrying of clingfilm wraps of toilet paper.
  • Wet gloves are really unpleasant.

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Centurion Running Race Report and Results – http://centurionrunning.com/reports/2016/a100-2016-race-report

Strava link – https://www.strava.com/activities/746939325

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Somehow I used all of this!

Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race – DNFd at 90 / 130 miles.

 

WP_20160821_16_43_25_Pro (1)The food shopping was done. The kit packed. The preparations made. We were sat in the car ready to make the journey up north. This was no trip to the coast for bank holiday weekend, but a trip up north to run the Liverpool to Leeds Canal race.

I even had some rules for my crew!

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It is 130 miles of canal that wends its way from one city centre to another. While it has some elevation gain (hey – that is why there are locks on canals) it is not too much to deal with and actually feels like a respite from flat towpath.

 

It kind of felt like some weekend away

I was travelling with:

Susie – my wife – (who would be aid station crew, and buddy runner for me from around 100 miles)

Paul Commons (who would provide some light entertainment and crew/buddy run with me from 70 miles).

Karen Grieves (driver and all round amazing egg who would look after us all weekend)

Lee Kelly – fellow runner – He has done quite a few ultras – including silly length ones – quite a few 100s and made it to about 115 miles on the Grand Union Canal race back in May.

So off we went down the M20 in Kent heading towards my parents house in Widnes. I love these journeys. Full of nervous chatter, discussing race tactics, equipment, races we have done, and inevitably blisters and injuries…. then the words that strike terror into the hearts of any traveller…..

“Oh shit……… oh no…….. I can’t believe this…….. oh my god….. I have forgotten my running shoes”

All too easy to do. Lee had forgotten to pick them up. And when you are running 130 miles it’s not really possible to pick up some random pair from the shop and wear them instead. So back we went, and then after picking up said shoes, we were off. Take two!

We just made it in time for breakfast at McDonalds. We were at Thurrock – Lakeside. Double Sausage and Egg McMuffin Meal is indeed the food of champions.

Taken with Lumia Selfie

We stopped by Decathlon (a huge sports superstore) on the way to pick up some random running kit. Not for the race, but just because we were passing. It’s a marvellous place and they often have sales on. I won’t bore you with the details – but let’s just say that it is a bloody good job I don’t live right next door to one!

Taken with Lumia Selfie

We took plenty of opportunity on the trip to stuff our faces (the journey took about 7 hours with some terrible traffic!)

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After what seemed like half a day (no exaggeration) we arrived at my parents place in Widnes. Just the welcome we needed and the comfortable environment just before a race. We were superbly mollycoddled…… spaghetti bolognese, chocolate cake, lemon drizzle cake and cheese. I think the last time that I was at my parents before a race was the Liverpool marathon back 5 years ago!

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We got an early sleep and we were soon up at around 4 am – ready to leave 30 mins later to get to the start line. Eldonian Village Hall in central Liverpool. The traffic was easy and the place was fairly easy to find.

I found myself stressing early on. I was surrounded by proper ultra runner types. I have been injured for months with one thing and another, and haven’t done much running. So I was hoping that I would remember how it was done.

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I stressed over every last detail – most of which didn’t matter – but helped divert my brain away from the race itself. List of things that don’t matter but seemed to matter a lot at the time.

  1. My arm sleeves. I didn’t want the black ones. The peacock ones were too tight. I wanted the other ones. “No… I don’t know where they are!!!!!!”
  2. How do I put my number on……. It seemed to attach to both sides of my waist pack before it was done up. Argh – this is a pain in the arse.
  3. I’ve got my handheld water bottle…… yes it has electrolyte in it – but I was too polite to mention that I wanted the berry flavour and not the lime.
  4. My shoes….. not those…. they are the size 10.5….. I want the size 11 ones….. argh! Yes – they are both black….. yes they are both the same make and model…. argh!

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I tried to hold it together. I knew I was being entirely unreasonable and I was trying so hard to be a good boy. I don’t know if anyone noticed I was already being an idiot. But while I am a billion times grateful I am not sure how I came across. Hopefully everyone will forgive me. I also spotted Fi (Fiona McNellis) who is great fun – and I hoped that I would spot her during the race. I also had a brief chat with Andrew – who like me – says he just turns up to races without doing any training and just does it.

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I already had a stone in my shoe. Gaitors off. Shoe off.

“Phil – everyone is walking to the start!”

“Shit”

Shoe emptied. Back on. Adjusted and quickly made my way to the legendary briefing from the king of the canal race series – Dick Kearn.

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I was trying to take it in but all my mind processed with all the excitement and nervousness about the race ahead was……

“blah blah……. who is doing both GUCR and LLCR?…………. it’s only a race……. don’t over-do painkillers – they can be dangerous…….. good luck…… blah blah – and go!”

And with that we were off. We queued through the gate to get onto the canal (in the middle of a housing estate. I was too close to the front, but I wanted to go slow, so I tried to stay to the side, and my aim was initially to run a few mins and then to hike a minute. We soon spread out and I wondered how long it would take me to settle into my pace.

It was already getting light. I thought I might have felt cold (others were wearing jackets) but I soon warmed up and got into my stride. My plan was to cover the first 14 miles in around 2h45mins – sensibly keeping the pace down. I had planned to slow down further on each of the sections so that I could be sensible about pacing and to keep going to the end.

I soon found myself near the back. I wondered if others knew better than me but quickly reminded myself that I know what I am capable of, and I know how slow I will end up later on if I blast out at the start. So slow and steady was my plan and that was what I would do.

I monitored my current mile pacing on my GPS watch…. as it crept towards 11 min/mile I slowed it so it would be closer to 12 min/mile by walking. I gradually eased into a pattern of jog/walk which helped the miles pass by quickly.

0 – 0.10 mile – hike, 0.10 – 0.25 mile – jog, 0.25 – 0.30 mile – hike, 0.30 – 0.50 mile – jog, 0.50 – 0.60 mile – hike, 0.60 – 0.75 mile – jog, 0.75 – 0.80 mile – hike, 0.80 – 1.00 mile – jog.

That seemed to equate to 12 min/mile. Though it did mean I had to keep an eye on my watch (which is not what I normally do) and it ran the risk of me tripping into the canal.

Soon I felt a bit of a sensation down below. Dammit. I need some vaseline.

So I texted ahead to Susie who was at the first aid station with my crew. I also remembered about suncream. While I was wearing my sahara hat (and looking like a dick!) I didn’t want to bake in the heat of the day.

Checkpoint 1 – Soon enough, and almost unexpectedly I made it to the first checkpoint. It was 8:40am. My plan was for 8:51am – so I was 11 minutes ahead of plan. So, with a little break, and slightly slower pace I should be back on track. 13.7 miles in 2h40mins. Susie hadn’t got my message and then realised her notifications were turned off. After some liberal application of product, refill of water, and some random selection of goodies, I was off again. I was pretty much on track on my pacing. I felt comfortable. The heat was starting to rise but it was no real trouble. I said that I would see them at the next checkpoint at around 25 miles. I was running on only a 500ml bottle of electrolyte stored in my Ultimate Direction waist pack.

Checkpoint 2 – Soon enough I was at the next checkpoint. It was CP2 – 24.9 miles – Lathom. I arrived at 11:05am against my plan of 11:11am. So 25 miles in 5h05m. So I was pretty much spot on. Still a little faster than planned, but with a break at the aid station to refuel, I would be fine. I pushed on. Decent progress but not too fast.

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Meeting point D – 35 miles – Next up was the run to around 35 miles – where I would meet my crew again. It was hot so I knew that 10 miles was the most I could do with only 500 ml of water. Running along I took a suck of my bottle and discovered electrolyte. Yuck! I am sure I said “please fill with water”. I couldn’t be grumpy about it, but I was surprised not to have water as my mind had prepared itself for cool water and the end of sickly sweet electrolyte berry drink.

Checkpoint 3 – Soon I was at checkpoint 3 (39.4 miles) – Red Rock Lane, Haigh. My target was 2:19pm, and I had dropped half an hour behind my pace. I arrived at 2:49pm. I didn’t know that at the time and I am glad I didn’t because I may have sped up. So I had completed almost 40 miles in 8 hr 19 mins. Decent pace for me. Particularly since I was taking it easy.

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From this point I decided to meet my crew at each meeting point. The next one was just over 5 miles away and then another 4.3 miles and I would be at checkpoint 4. I found that each point would come up sooner than expected. I think this was because I wasn’t looking at the mileage on my watch so I didn’t know when to expect the checkpoint, and I wasn’t counting the number of times my watch was buzzing to announce the arrival of each mile marker.

Me and Lee seemed to be leapfrogging each other. We were close together. We weren’t racing. Just executing our own plans.

Checkpoint 4 – 54.3 miles. I arrived at 6:51 pm. So that made 12h 51mins into the race. My watch was buzzing with low battery (which seemed a little early – but I later realised it was down to 20% battery, so I would have had another couple of hours to go. I got my battery charger connected.

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I headed off now. I walked for a mile or so out of the aid station and soon happened on the crew of Roger. They were marvellous. They were so friendly, and I had have a bit of a chat with them each time I had come across them. I gathered that Roger was somewhere behind and going well. I love the friendliness of these low key events. I took advantage of the sweets on offer, and left a half eaten Ham wrap with them that I had grown bored of.

I soon found that the canal path ahead was blocked and I had to follow the diversion. I stumbled through a car park and finally found the route. Not so hard. But I realised that this wasn’t the diversion that the organisers had warned us about – so I still had that to come. I then came to another blocked way ahead. There was a group of teenagers.

“Are you doing a marathon?”

“No….. further. I have run from Liverpool”.

“See…… ” said the girl to her friends ” I FUCKING TOLD YOU – these guys are NUTS!” 

I asked them about the diversion because I could only see a large yellow sign (which seemed designed for cars to follow), and I heard

“ahead, left, right, left right, ahead, left right, blah blah….”

Ok. So that wasn’t helpful…. so I headed for the sign… and then after that saw nothing. I was soon on the phone to Susie. I was keen to avoid getting lost and adding extra mileage. Unfortunately she couldn’t help, but mentioned that everyone had been taking diversion maps with them. Oops… I forgot to pick one up. As I headed up a hill, I shouted towards a family getting into a car and they confirmed, thankfully that I was going the right way and that the canal was just to my left. Phew! Crisis averted.

Meeting point G (60 miles). It was 8:54pm – so 14hrs 54 minutes in. I had made decent pace and I was happy with my progress.  I reached here just as it was getting dark. So, I hoovered up some chips and part of a meat pie, strapped my head torch on and headed off. I was still without jacket, I was wearing a short sleeve top (albeit with arm sleeves on) and I had my road shoes on (I had swapped earlier from my trail shoes because there was more tarmac than expected).

Half a mile down the canal, I felt cold.

Yikes. I was starting to rue not putting my jacket on.

Anyway, I pressed on. It started to rain. Soon, I was slipping on the path. and with almost 10 miles to go I was starting to feel irritable.

The heavens opened. The path – which had turned to rutted grass and mud was giving me hassle, and I opted to hike on rather than to attempt running because I was only slipping and risking injury. I came across a chap with a dog. He warned me that “some lads” had failed to cross the canal at this bridge and that I shouldn’t make that mistake. I checked my map and I realised that I had missed this instruction – and would have also made that mistake if it had not been for this chap.

I had to keep stopping under bridges – for a bit of a rest from the rain, but also to stretch my back out – it was agony!

After what seemed like an age – and getting pretty soaked – I spotted some lights in the distance and the checkpoint ahead.

Checkpoint 5 (69.8 miles). I know that I had lost some time according to my plan. I wanted to arrive at 9:40pm and instead I arrived at 11:05pm. So I was an hour and twenty minutes later. This was due to the hike. I swapped my shoes back from road to trail and after a break and change of top I was able to head off with Paul Commons. My first buddy runner for the race.

The next stretch would be around 5 miles, but we had to navigate around the tunnel. That wasn’t too bad, but neither of us could really remember the instructions that we had been given. So, some debate and we tentatively pressed on. Eventually finding our way back to the canal for the next section. I was doing a fair bit of walking at this stage. I could tell that Paul was keen to press on so I got back up to pace and we tiptoed around the path which was pock marked with puddles. I had rolled my ankle doing the same on a race a few years ago so I was being super careful.

Meeting point H (74.7 miles). We made it here at 1:44am. So I had been running for 18h 44 minutes. That’s pretty decent for me. So I was fairly happy. This was the dreaded overnight section and I think we walked most of the way. There was some ascent. It was cold. Dark and we were trying to find the meeting point. This was also the section which would be most tricky. We had to navigate around the Foulridge tunnel and back onto the next stretch of canal. My back was really hurting and during several bits during the night I had to stop and lie down on the towpath to give my back some rest. I had never had this before on a race. My stops were getting more frequent.

We rose away from the canal followed the instructions but couldn’t find where to go. We were rising away from the canal and it went against every instinct. We got on the phone to susie to see if they could help with directions. Eventually I got our location on my phone and I realised that we were off the route.

Then it struck….. bloody monsoon! The heavens opened completely. It was seconds before we were soaked to the skin.

We sheltered for several minutes in a bus shelter and enjoyed the brief respite.

Soon we got on the move. Braving the elements. Not really being able to see as the rain was so heavy that our head torches were reflecting light back to us from the sheets of rain coming down. We tried to side step puddles but found ourselves running up hill through steady streams of raging water (ok – a slight exaggeration but it was pretty deep – certainly above our ankles). With some relief we found the next section of canal.

It must have been the rain but I was able to get quite a move on during this section. After what seemed like an age, bend after bend, and so long that we thought that we had missed the checkpoint. I rather over did it on this section, and felt a few twinges in my legs. So I walked the last mile or so of this stretch. We arrived at the Checkpoint 6 near the Anchor Pub.

Checkpoint 6 – 83 miles. I was aware that we had gone pretty slowly and getting lost had not helped much either. The plan was to get here at 3:11am and it was now 5:13am. So I had been on the move for almost 23h 13 minutes. I stopped at this check point for around 20 minutes. Quite a long time really but I had a little sleep.

By the time we left, it was getting light and I realised that I should have left my head torch with my crew. We soon set off, and with 16 miles to do and 6h 25 minutes to do it in – this was entirely possible. We had an age. We cranked out a few decent miles. I know that when the sun rises it gives an extra prompt to get moving. We were soon coming out onto the pennines – which proved to be beautiful.

Unfortunately I was struggling. A lot.

I was dragging my feet increasingly often. My back was really hurting. REALLY HURTING.

The pain intensified and I increasingly had to stop and stretch it out. Either lying on the tow path or leaning against a wall of a bridge. It was affecting my legs as well. My feet felt great, but my legs and buttocks had shooting pains going up and down them in a cycle. All I could imagine was my spine compressing and shooting off signals down my nerves. I pressed on….. clocking something like 25 minutes a mile….. barely moving…..

We came to a British Waterways toilet. Paul popped in and I took advantage of a brief rest to sit down on some concrete plinth.

Next thing I knew was that Paul was towering over me and pulling me to my feet. I had fallen asleep and I was lying down.

Everything hurt. I increasingly found it difficult to move in a straight line and I was fearful of plopping into the canal. I was sure to keep Paul on the canal side to act as a first line of defence against my weaving around.

I don’t remember much of the next bit except for being totally wowed by the beauty of the Pennines. It seemed strange that we had started in Liverpool and wended our way through some northern towns and ended up in this beauty. I checked my watch – we were 90 miles in. Paul told me I could do this….. I pressed on… but at some point I couldn’t move anymore. This was the end. No more.

After a bit of discussion and Paul doing his best to motivate me on, and me explaining how painful my situation was, we called for the crew – Karen and Susie who came to pick us up.

Susie said “Are you sure you want this?”

I was very aware what “this” was….. it was a DNF (did not finish). RTC (Refuse to continue). A drop.

 

I felt disappointed that I couldn’t go further and wondered whether I should have rested a while. But I was glad in the end to get into the car and rest. That was my canal race over. My progress had slowed to a barely perceptible crawl and I completed 90 miles of jogging in just short of 25 hours. I could feel happy with that – even though I was disappointed at not finishing. We went to pick up Lee at the next checkpoint – he was dropped too a bit earlier at around 85 miles.

I found later found out that of 41 starters, only 21 runners finished. Yikes. That is almost a 50% DNF rate.

That, I think showed how brutal this race is, particularly since it doesn’t tend to attract new people to ultra running who are there just to give it a go.

results sheet

I found the energy to stop my race drone GPS tracker. Put a brief message on Facebook (I knew that friends, family and members of the Facebook group “Running the Distance” had been tracking my progress and sending messages (my notifications on Facebook numbered in the hundreds!).

Next thing – we were at the Travelodge in Wakefield. I don’t remember the journey. We had booked this hotel on the M1 close to the finish line. Paul was able to get us checked in early.

I slowly made my way with Susie to the hotel reception. It took quite some time. My left foot was in agony! What? Why wasn’t my back hurting as much as it did? Where did my foot injury come from. Turns out I have a huge bruise along the side of my foot and it is completely swollen all over – including a bit fat ankle. No idea where that came from!

I didn’t understand anything. My brain was mushed. Eventually she gave Susie a key and uttered those words that no runner wants to hear.

“Yeah, so your room is 200, and it is on the top floor. There is no lift. The stairs are there. Sorry – I know you can’t walk very well”. 

And with that a long sleep waking up sometime in the afternoon, and then enjoying a huge king sized belly busting Toby Carvery nearby. I DNFed that too – I left one of the two yorkshire puddings. It was great to talk war stories about the race with Lee and share moments with my amazing crew. I felt a bit of a fraud eating a big sunday dinner despite a DNF at 90 miles.

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Obviously I had not got a medal – because I didn’t finish. I had got a cotton t-shirt and hoody for taking part in this amazing race (thankfully they don’t say finisher on them – so I can absolutely wear them with pride).

It was then that I got the most amazing surprise.

Paul and karen passed me a plastic wrapped package. I opened it up. It was a metal unicorn belt buckle. Amazing. I loved it. I beamed from ear to ear.

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Somehow this was even better than getting the finisher medal.

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We arrived back to the hotel room to an almighty stench. Like a dead animal. Yuck. It was my kit!

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So that’s that for now. I will definitely go back. DNFing was just one of those things. It didn’t come together for me on the day, but I was proud of what I achieved – a decent pace for most of the way, and a great time with friends and family.

Most of all, I left with a desire to go back and finish this thing next time.

That, hopefully, will be 2018. In 2017 I will be doing the Centurion Grand Slam (4 x 100 mile races over the period of 5.5 months – North Downs way, South Downs Way, Autumn 100, and Thames Path 100). The journey back down to Kent was less than 4 hours! Well done Karen!

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I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to my crew and everyone who was part of my race.

My parents for looking after us and providing some much appreciated comfort the night before the race.

Karen for doing her very own “Ultradriving” – taking us up there and ferrying around and acting as a mobile aid station – aided and abetted by…..

my wife Susie (who did a great job of feeding me, filling my bottles and giving me cuddles), and

Paul for running with me (sorry you only got to do 20 miles with me! You did a great job of keeping me company during the night and getting me to 90 miles).

Lee – for giving me a much needed can of cold pepsi at a pub at around 30 odd miles and being great company for parts of the race.

Roger’s Crew who chit chatted and gave me encouragement along the way and gave me sweeties!

Dick, Keith and the other organisers and volunteers who made the race possible!

 

t-5: Go teamUNICORN -LLCR130 – Liverpool to Leeds Canal race

Paul came into the conservatory and chucked a grey plastic mailing bag at me.

“What’s this?”

“A little present for the weekend”

I opened up the package…… Two white t-shirts for me and my wife with a picture of a Unicorn and TEAM UNICORN LIVERPOOL – LEEDS 130 CANAL RACE emblazed across it. Brilliant! So Paul, Karen and my wife Susie will be able to show they are part of the silliest run that I have ever done. (L – R – me, Susie, Karen, Paul)

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I will be running with 60 odd others from Liverpool to Leeds along the canal. A cool 130 miles (give or take – I’m hoping for take). I am not planning any heroics – my main aim is to finish within the 40 hour cut-off. Other aims are to have fun and to be nice to everyone else (tough over such a distance and without sleeping for two days). Here are the rules that I’ve written down to help me “Not be an idiot!”.

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We will head up towards Liverpool ready for the start of the run on Saturday 27th at 6am. The 40 hour time limit means that I need to finish by 10pm on Sunday 28th. It’s further than I have ever run in one go (multiday events are a bag of chips in comparison because of the recovery time overnight).

I’m planning to bimble along, not get caught up in racing the other back-of-pack runners, and to do my own thing. I will have my crew – Susie, Paul, Karen to feed and water me every 5 miles or so, and with that in mind, I have just taken delivery of an Ultimate Direction Access 20 Waist pack. Enough space for the limited kit I am carrying on me.

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Here is what I am running with.

1. A 500ml water bottle (with electrolyte in) I also have a handheld bottle that I may carry.

2. A basic nokia mobile phone (loaded with loads of free texts and calls).

3. Racedrone on old iPhone (follow me http://www.racedrone.net/event/leeds-liverpool-canal)

4. Jelly babies/Midget Gems/biltong

5. A British Waterways Toilet key

6. Some toilet paper and some wet wipes in cling film.

7. Cut to length waterproof tape for my feet.

8. £20 and a debit card.

9. Headtorch and batteries (during nighttime)

10. Waterproof taped seam jacket (if necessary)

11. Maps and my route crib card with rough pacing plan (and notes about bridges and diversions).

12. Arm sleeves – in case it gets cold.

13. My Saharienne hat (cap with neckflap) if it is hot.

14. Buff (so my headtorch doesn’t dig into my forehead).

As well as the gear, I need to remember to put suncream on and some running kit and shoes. Obvs.

Super excited. Can’t wait. ARGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! Only a few days to go.

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L – R: Paul and me!

 

Alternative preparation for Liverpool to Leeds Canal race LLCR130

Ok – so this is not text book preparation for a really long jog. The jog in question is a really meandering route from Liverpool to Leeds, which heads up north first….. I think something to do with what all those old folk used to do in the Victorian times (take black stuff out the ground, and do something with sheeps clothing).

Anyway, I’ve been pretty well injured for the last 6 weeks. When I should be doing some “untraining” to prepare for this run. I’ve had hamstring issues, groin strain caused by piriformis muscle mucking around with my sciatic nerve. Quite literally a pain in the arse.

Because I am stupid, I ran through the pain, and I also did a 45 mile jog in the Shropshire Hills in mid July – 12 labours of Hercules. Just to remind myself how to jog and walk during a race.

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12 Labours of Hercules

 

Eventually, as a last resort, and finding that the pain – while no worse – was no better, I went to a sports massage chap who sorted it all out. This just left my knee issue. More resting and a little running (with the local club, and parkrun, and round the block) and that wasn’t improving either…. but not getting worse.

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Flashing my pants at Maidstone Parkrun  by Tom Phillips @tomsprintstomphillipsphotos.co.uk

Also went out for a little run around the block with my wife Susie – and the pain was a good 6-7 out of 10 when I started but it dropped down to around 3 out of 10 in the last mile (which was 7:40 something a mile for the last 0.9).

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Me and Susie after a run around the block

 

So went back to the physio guy. Played around with it some more and I’m now at 85-90% on my knee. It’s alright. And fingers crossed it will improve even more before the race at the end of the month.

The upside of having plenty of time on my hands is that I can spend even more of it faffing around and working out my silly plan for this Liverpool to Leeds run. Something a little beyond start, stop every so often, eat food, drink and carry on and moan like hell. Hopefully throughout that I will remember to be 100% lovely to everyone I meet, and talk to… never guaranteed when I’m in some inner turmoil during a long one…..

 

Am sure you’ll agree – not quite the best preparation for a 130 mile race, but guess what….? My legs feel fresh!

#LLCR130 – 82 days to go: Goals and the weekend

Lovely weekend of running with my wife and seeing my running buddies. First up was a local run for me and Susie – just around the block (3 miles) and it was a good one to see how we both measure up since we do it so often. (answer – quite well).

Taken with Lumia Selfie
Taken with Lumia Selfie

Then it was off to Maidstone for friends Michael and Monika’s leaving drinks. Michael runs  a bit and we have done a few ultras today and some social runs too. Hard to believe he is moving to Poland. I’m sure everyone will miss him. Good opportunity to catch up with some other running friends too – and to meet the wonderful Diana HM for the first time (outside of chit chat on Facebook). She’s being amazing – getting back to walking and running and being a super determined sort I am sure that she will get there.

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On Sunday we were planning to chill out at home, but found that a friend of ours Paul was running a marathon. So we went down to the seaside where there was a marathon going on. One of Saxon, Viking, Norman races put on by Traviss and Rachel. Beforehand – bacon butties made by the amazing Karen Grieves. And brown sauce!

Neither of us were racing, but a friend was – Paul Commons. So we went down there to give him some support and wave at him and shout obscenities. We went for a 7 mile run and spotted him a few miles in and waved vigorously. We also spotted Andrew Burgess – who shows no sign of stopping after already having done over 100 marathons just recently. Me and Susie ran along to Reculver castle and then back and even had a chance to have a few photos – That’s Susie below doing her wavy hands thing! Then off for some food with Paul and Karen.

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I have a few races coming up. One with lots of us – 12 Labours of Hercules which is 12 routes which add up to 78 miles (if you do all of them!) – that is in July.

The main target for me though is the Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race. This is in the final weekend of August – a bank holiday weekend thankfully – and is 130 miles.

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Apparently the canal is only 127 miles long, but you add 3 canal miles through having to cross the canal at various points and also because you cannot run on the water so you get a bit of curvature!

So, this weekend when I was running the relatively flat seafront, I was mulling over the fact that LLCR is NOT flat…. and that 12 Labours of Hercules is some 17,000+ ft of ascent. I will have to do some fast recovery in between those two races.

My goals for LLCR130 are:

  1. To finish within cut-off
  2. To be lovely to my crew and volunteers
  3. To have fun
  4. To keep hydrated and fed
  5. To not get lost

Simple really. Isn’t it?

You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned a time. It is irrelevant to me – other than to finish within cut-off. I am not racing anyone else. I am not racing myself (I have never done this event before). I will probably be the last to finish. But I don’t care. Because the important thing is to finish and to be nice to my crew and volunteers.

 

 

Twelve weeks before Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race (130m) #LLCR


I sit here on the sofa on the weekend with 12 weeks to go before I run Liverpool to Leeds Canal race. It is the not so little sister to the iconic Grand Union Canal Race. 

I am watching some mountain racing (Mount Marathon race in Alaska) and getting inspired o do some more hill running. 

Hill running when I have a relatively flat race coming up? 

Yes. Hill running is a great way of building up to a race without putting in lots of speed training. And hills are just simply more fun. 

This morning I went out for a run with Susie around the block. Only a 3miler but that’s what we fancied today. 

For me, training isn’t about being Constrained by plans. I do what I like. If I run fast and it feels good then I run fast. (Fast for me is slow for most people!) 

Above all. Running is about having fun and eating cake. 

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