Friday, December 28, 2012

Last Spine training

Went up to Edale again yesterday for a 'bimble'. Woke early so just got up, got going, and was parked by 06:30. As I started it was dark but as I climbed Jacob's Ladder dawn began to break and I was overcome by the sheer beauty of the moment.


I posted the following on Facebook at the time which I think sums up the moment:

"Just reached the top of Jacobs Ladder as the first light of a new day breeches the horizon. Glorious. As I climbed I reflected on the past year - how lucky I am to have such a supportive family, how lucky I am to have loving children that I am truly proud of. But most of all how lucky I am to have my darling Jenny - she has tried so hard to be my support, my strength, this year - and has succeeded so wonderfully well. I am a very lucky man"

23 miles/5:30/great day out....... and that's my in-situ Spine training done........happy days!

Feeling confident, feeling strong.....and ready for The Spine - it's there for the taking

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Spine training in the snow

A couple of weeks ago I went up to Edale for a couple of days and had simply wonderful conditions ideal for some more Spine training.

Heavy snow on the Thursday evening left absolutely pristine conditions the next day. I was in virgin snow from Edale, up Jacobs ladder and all the way to Kinder Downfall. Often up to my knees, and coupled with strong winds, it was hard going but totally exhilarating. From Kinder Downfall, I made my way along to William Clough and down to Hayfield where I picked up the Pennine Bridleway all the way to Rushup Edge. Here, the snow had drifted more and it was very slow going. Met some mountain bikers who informed me it was a nice day to take their bikes for a walk! Along to Hollins Cross then back down to Edale - just over 7 hours in total and a wonderful day out.

Drove to Castleton YHA where I had a very nice meal and an early night!

Up & out on Saturday morning at 6am, I did another 3 hours up and around Castleton and Edale. Conditions were much icier which gave me a chance to try out my Kahtoola Microspikes - what a great piece of kit! Even met Jon Steele & friends on Back Tor.

Then home for a late lunch!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Frostbite 30, 1st December 2012

It was a last minute decision to enter this when I discovered a gimme pass-out due to Jenny & Jade going shopping for the day in Cambridge, James out drinking and Jess at hockey tournament – it would have been rude not to!

It was first-time for this new event starting at Pateley Bridge. Along the Nidderdale Way, up onto the moors, then back down along the Nidderdale Way to Pateley Bridge. I was treating this very much as training for The Spine and after a normal week’s training with absolutely no taper, I was interested to see how I’d go. I was also trying out my new Salomon Speedcross.

An early start on a cold, winter’s morning got me to Pateley Bridge just as the sun was breaking through. The forecast was for cold but clear conditions. The first 200m was ridiculously icy which pretty much set the tone for a lot of the race. Running along the edge of the reservoir I did manage to go “A over T”, bruising my knee and my pride! The views and weather were gorgeous – it was a lovely morning to be out. My legs felt a bit heavy for the first few miles but I soon settled into the leading 4 or 5 as we started the climb out of the valley up to the moors.

I was very much going for Day 1 Spine tactics – walk anything more than a slight hill, run the flats and down. Consequently, I was losing a little distance going up but soon caught it up at the top. The views were spectacular and we made good time across the moors. I moved into 2nd place for a while but there were no significant breaks and I soon settled into 4th. Had a flat spell along the last few miles of the tops but as we came down to Ribbledale again, I gave myself a good talking to, and my legs returned to normal.

A few flattish miles were followed by a good climb and then treacherously icy descent. Saw a mountain biker slide off, but pretty much escaped undamaged myself. After a quick visit to the men’s (!!), I suddenly had a real surge of energy and pushed on into 3rd place.

With about 4 miles to go, I was feeling great – full of running – feeling chuffed – chasing 2nd – running up a hill when I should have been following the reservoir edge!!! Oh no, attack of the missed turns!! Quickly assessing my map, sorted out the error and ran cross country, through a major bog where I temporarily lost a shoe, and back on course – probably a 1km detour, and probably now in 4th

Rather than my usual pissed off thoughts, I got angry at myself and really started pushing it. This was by far the fastest I have ever finished an ultra. I soon reeled in 3rd place again and ran strongly to the finish. 

For my efforts, I received a 3rd place medal in the shape of a Snowman (now proudly hanging on our tree) and a Christmas cake. There were superb cakes for all and a great locally made pork pie.

This was a really fun race – organisation was spot on and really friendly. Lovely route, excellent sign posting (!), and great food both before and after. I’ll definitely be looking out for more events from Rob Jarman and the Never Rest team   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Piece of String "fun run" & distance - a few thoughts

I was following the inaugural Piece of String fun run at the weekend with interest. All respect to the bold few who toed the line. I did apply for entry and was summarily placed on the waiting list - no disgrace given the quality of the field.

When I explained the race to Jenny, she said it was a good thing I didn't get in as it would as it would have really f*cked with my brain. I did point out that that was the idea but given my recent issues, she may well have been right! However, I was reminded of a game in Big Brother a few years ago - the housemates were basically put in boxes and the last person to emerge was the winner - at the time, Jenny said I could beat anyone at that due to my stubbornness (me?) and my competitive spirit. 

After the event, race director, James Adams wrote, "Who knows how far they went? Is it even important?" 

Many people thought it was and wanted to know exact distances. Which all got me thinking whether distance is really all that important. To me one of the beauties of ultra-running compared to road running is that every race is so different. In a road race I always have half an eye on the time or a PB, but in an ultra that is not really relevant. In ultra-running there are so many variables - surface, terrain, ascent, weather, darkness etc - one can only really compare a race with the same race done previously. Lakeland 100 vs a flat 100 - totally incomparible. I recently ran 2 fifty milers (Round Rotherham and Dusk til Dawn) and was pleased with my performance both times. However, the time difference was 2 hours! The former is relatively flat, on reasonably good surface and entirely in the light. The latter was bumpy and totally in the dark.

There is so much more to ultra's than the distance - after all, we all talk about "time on feet" being more important than actual mileage. Going back to the Piece of String, I was reminded of the 2nd section of The Spine last January which took 27 hours from 0230 to 0530 the next day. This epic day was about ice, a beautiful dawn, a tearoom in Gardale, falling over repeatedly on the way to Pen-y-Ghent, a grumpy landlord with a warm fire in Horton-on-Ribblesdale, the cold, the longest "2 miles" ever, friendship & camaraderie. I remember so much about that day but I don't really remember the distance (it was somewhere between 61-65 miles I think).

Ultra-running, to me, is about the experience not the exact distance travelled. Those who started the Piece of String "fun run" had a very unique experience. Congratulations to finishers Wouter Hamelinck & Sam Robson. But congratulations to everyone who was brave enough to start. How far you ran is unimportant compared to the experience and the memories.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A nice little outing in the Peak District

I had an entertaining day in the Peak District last Friday. 

Had planned an early morning run from home but when I went to re-charge my head torch it had mysteriously disappeared - probably in the Hebden Bridge area! Had been considering getting a Petzl NAO so here was a perfect excuse for a visit to my favourite local (relatively) outdoor shop - Outside in Hathersage.

Weather wasn't looking too good when I emerged from the shop with torch, new Sportiva Wildcats (whoops) and Jenny's Christmas presents - low lying cloud and fog. As I parked in Castleton it was looking slightly more optimistic. 

I set off up Cave Dale and ran up out of the clag into the sun - just beautiful. 

Looking down Cave Dale
Looking further up Cave Dale
Had a lovely run across to Mam Tor as the sun fully broke through, then up & over Lose Hill, up to Hope Cross and towards Edale before climbing back to Hollins Cross and back to Castleton.

Had a couple of interesting encounters en route. On the steps up Mam Tor, I had a prolonged chat to a couple who quizzed me about ultra running. Anyone who knows me, knows that I can chat for England! Then, descending from Hollins Cross, I saw a group of 4 older walkers beating their way through the bracken - on seeing me they asked where the path was. I answered that I was on it!! They made their way up to me and asked me further directions. Their leader showed me their proposed route at which point I pointed out that he was currently navigating on the wrong side of the map!! Had to have a wry smile to myself!

All in all, a fun day out - at several points I was reminded of the reasons I run and love to be outdoors

Thursday, November 15, 2012

2013 - My Most-est Quad-Ultra

So…..with entry to next year's GUCR confirmed, 2013 heralds ………..

My Most-est Quad-Ultra

Jan   -  The Spine 268 miles, "Britain's Most Brutal Race"

April -  Marathon des Sables 150+ miles, "The Toughest Footrace On Earth"

May -  Grand Union Canal Race 145 miles, "Britain's Longest Annual Non-Stop Running Race"

July -  Ultra Tour Lake District (UTLD) 105 miles, "The Most Spectacular Long Distance Trail Race In The UK"

Let's not have a debate over the legitimacy of the above claims (especially with regards to the MdS) - I've taken these off the appropriate websites. Anyway, they're all pretty tough. Long & cold, long & hot, long & flat, long & bumpy! 

So that's my challenge for next year - always good to have a goal. Will be setting up a sponsorship page at a later date.

It's so good to be in a positive state of mind!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Spine training weekend

Had a really fun couple of days at The Spine training weekend near Hebden Bridge.

After a truly horrendous Friday rush hour drive, I arrived at Hebden Hey scout centre - last year's CP1 - to be met by a hearty welcome from Scott Gilmour (race director) and a big hug from Gary Morrison (last year's joint winner and one of my companions for my 3 day adventure last January). It was great to see them again - as well as many other familiar faces - Jonathan Zeffert, Philip Hayday-Brown, John Bamber, Stuart Westfield, Conrad Dickinson, Paul Shorrock. Lots of friendly but slightly apprehensive-looking new faces. It was also nice to finally meet Gary's wife, Vicky, who was supporting for the weekend.

The evening was mainly taken up by:
  1. Eating a la Gilmour - baked potatoes, cheese, baked beans, ham, rolls. Almost identical to CP's food in January - so good training!
  2. Chatting - reliving all  those memories and so much else to catch up on too! I could hardly get a word in edgeways (or was it the other way round)
  3. Navigation brief and a kit check
  4. Briefing on Saturday's route - the Mary Towneley Loop, mainly following the Pennine Bridleway in a 43 miles………..loop. Scott described the going as "brutal" - Britain's most brutal loop?
Then off to bed - bottom bunk near door - well, I'm a "mature" man! Except I couldn't sleep courtesy of Morrison's Value Coffee and Britain's most brutal mattress.

Woke early, finished off kit prep, settled on suitable clothing, breakfast, then off just after 7am. Brian Mullan joined us - he lives nearby. Walked a mile or so to the start of the loop where the compulsory photos were taken 

Then it was off, initially along the Pennine Way and it's renowned flagstones. We turned along the Pennine Bridleway after a few miles, where a couple of runners led on. I formed a group with Gary, Brian, Annabel Gates & Guido Huwiler, and we mulled over life as we ran. Gary had a similar plan for the day - to very much treat it as prep for The Spine race, and therefore it was very similar pace to Day 1 pace - ran flats and downs, walked all hills.

A lovely sunny day, superb views, great company - and people wonder why we run!

We met some of the support staff somewhere in the Forest of Rossendale - kit check, water re-fill and a bit of a natter! 

We set off a again and the miles rolled by. We were spotted by Scott and then had bottles re-filled again by Stuart, Ally & Amanda in Whitworth. Had some rocket fuel - peanut butter and jam sandwich! Found out I'd got a place in next year's GUCR!

Soon after this Gary, Brian and I dropped Annabel and Guido - and soon overtook one of the early pace-setters. This certainly wasn't a race - we simply stuck to a plan & pace - it was great to feel so fresh after 7-8 hours out. I was by now a very definite pole convert - brand new Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Poles were very nice indeed!

Eventually along the Rochdale Canal and, as it got dark, towards the familiar Stoodley Pike. Then it was the equally familiar trudge down towards Hebden Bridge, across the main road and up the Pennine Way back to Hebden Hey. This last bit really is a drag at the end of a long day - we all remembered it well from last year! Brian needed an emergency Fudge Bar - he hadn't had any breakfast and had under catered - bad admin, Brian!

We arrived back at just after 7pm after a 11.5 hour outing - all good time on feet. Somehow we were the first people back - I had thought there were initially 2 ahead and we had only overtaken 1?! As I said, not a race but a good, steady outing and I think we all felt remarkable fresh. A great day out - thoroughly enjoyed the company, old and new. 

Vicky had put together a veritable feast, but I had already decided to go home that evening - bath and own bed were calling! However, I did succumb to the vegetable soup which was superb. 

So a fun and well-organised training weekend. Thanks to all. 

Can't wait for the real thing in January - feeling very positive.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Total solar eclipse

A total solar eclipse "visited" the north of Australia yesterday evening - I watched it live on the internet. 

Panasonic's project , “Filming the sun, using the sun”, captured and broadcast the eclipse to the world using only the power of sunlight. Using Panasonic's high efficiency solar power-generating system, “HIT” to generate power with a portable battery back for power storage, the eclipse was filmed from 2 locations, Port Douglas & Fitzroy Island, and then streamed live to the world.

It really was a quite remarkable display of technology and the power of the internet, and I found it strangely moving - almost spiritual. No wonder our ancestors worshipped the sun.

I captured a few screenshots
The Corona or "diamond ring"

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

An uninvited guest......

To anyone who has been awaiting the next exciting episode of my blog, I must offer sincere apologies but I have been "otherwise occupied".

I have pondered long and hard whether to post this blog but have decided that it's a story worth telling. 

For the past 6 months I have been entertaining an uninvited guest - Churchill's black dog - depression. It's something I've suffered with over the years but the last significant episode was back in 2001/02. This time the symptoms - low mood, gross negativity, loss of enthusiasm and interest, and profound lethargy - had on hindsight been creeping up on me for some time, but towards the end of April I was finding it harder and harder to cope with, well, anything. I had 5 weeks or so off work and tried returning but, again on hindsight, this was too soon and probably made me worse. It also made a lot more tired.

I totally stopped enjoying my running from June onwards - stopped enjoying anything if I'm honest. I tried to keep some training ticking over but it was hugely erratic and mainly just made me feel more tired - so I pretty much took a  break. In fact I really couldn't be arsed to do anything much! June and July were not fun at all. However going to the Olympics seemed to really boost my spirits and then I really enjoyed a week's cruise with Jenny and all our children - a few weeks earlier I'd been dreading this. An extra week with just Jenny was great.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I am now loads better. I returned to work in the middle of September on a graduated basis. This is my second full week back. I'm on tablets (fluoxetine) and under the care of a psychiatrist and CPN - I believe I'm receiving some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)! I am getting back to my "normal" self - Jenny says it's nice to have me back. I am enjoying my running again. I've done a couple of races recently which I've really enjoyed - putting no particular pressure on myself, with the goal of finishing, enjoying and not beating myself up either physically or, more importantly, mentally. I'm really looking forward to next year with another effort at the Spine in January and then the Marathon des Sables in April - a couple of months ago I was considering withdrawing from both. I am positive about the future and now the glass is half full, not completely empty! On hindsight, I hadn't realise the depth that I'd fallen to.

I've decided to post this blog mainly to highlight what is a common, but largely ignored and misunderstood, problem. Personally, I have no issue discussing this and being open about it, but society still treats mental illness as a taboo subject. What is needed is greater awareness, early intervention and, above all else, support. With regards to the latter, I can never thank Jenny enough for putting up with me for the last few months and supporting me with her love - I know it hasn't been easy at times!

So here's to happy days!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happiness Is The Road

I will write up a race report for The Viking Way Ultra when I have a little more time. Suffice to say, I DNF’d at 113 miles. That’s a long way to run – but it’s still a DNF.

I rarely run with my iPod as I like to hear the birds singing, the sounds of nature and just the sounds of life. It’s also strangely reassuring to hear one’s own breathing and footfall. I have only resorted to my iPod twice during races. Both times when really struggling and both times the first song to come on has been Happiness Is The Road by Marillion.

“The greatest blessing that we have
Is the dawn of each new day
A chance to finish what we started
And made a mess of yesterday
As day comes out of night
A chance to get it right
A chance to start again
A chance to get it right

The people here
Full of love and comfortable in themselves
Not scared to let go
No fear round here

I met this man
In Utrecht Netherlands
He was a doctor of the body and the soul
He said to me:
Man, there's a book you have to read.
I feel your pain. It makes me cry
But these tears are yours - not mine.

You're focussing on all of your bad yesterdays
The worry lines are getting deeper every day
And deep inside you
No surprise - there's a crisis!
You might have been to blame
But you can't go on this way
Must I watch and pray?

While you torture yourself with what's behind ya
Torture yourself with what awaits ya
Draggin' that guilt and regret inside ya
Anxious of the goals that always evade ya

Your mind will find a way to be unkind to you somehow
But all we really have is happening to us right now


And each baby..
A human sunrise
Each baby - a human sunrise..

Look around you
Feel your soul inside you
Look inside you
Feel the life course through you
The life that's giving In every thing that's living
The plants and the trees
The birds and the bees
And apes like you and me

You're a slave to your mind
But you are not your mind
You are not your pain
Say it again
You are not your pain
Say it again
You are not your pain

Happiness aint at the end of the road
Happiness aint at the end of the road
Happiness IS the road
The road


There are about 180 songs on my “exercise” playlist. The probability of a named song coming up first, twice in a row, is about 1:32,400. Is technology taking the p*ss?!

Oh the irony! “And deep inside you, no surprise - there's a crisis!”

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Viking Way Ultra

Well here it is! The 147 mile Viking Way Ultra starts 7am on Saturday morning, with a 40 hour cutoff.

I'm nervous but also strangely calm and quietly confident. I'm under no delusions that is going to be incredibly hard - both physically and mentally. However, I'm not scared as I was before The Spine. With The Spine there was fear of the unknown and fear of being stranded, lost in the cold possibly miles from anyway. With The Viking Way, whilst I know it's going to hurt (a lot!), I also know a lot of the route and it's never far from civilisation. So yes, nervous but not terrified!!

Weather could be interesting. After a couple of weeks of lovely spring, almost summery weather, this week has brought heavy rain (and snow to higher parts) and a massive dip in temperatures. So major quandary on what to wear - I'm bad enough at the best of time. So basically I'm taking a big bag!

Things I must remember:

1. Don't go too fast at the beginning
2. Keep the calories going in

Let's do it - bring it on!!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Session with Rory Coleman

On Tuesday, I went over to Fitness First in Derby and had a "refresher" session with Rory Coleman. Basically, we chatted for an hour then we did an hour in the gym.

We discussed where I am and what I want to do. He described me as "being in a fog"! He really thinks I can go a long way (metaphorically, that is!) in ultra-running but need to really re-focus and work to a plan. We discussed the fact that I like the adventure but he pointed out window of opportunity for running representatively is small but the events will always be there - very true! He is so positive about my ability - I must listen. He thinks I'm crazy for doing The Spine (but at least I didn't do it all!) and taking on The Viking Way Ultra. Diet was in there as well. He joined with Jenny and my Mum in saying I don't eat enough - I may listen to one of them one day!!

Bottom-line is, after the Viking Way, I going to recover well, then focus on some key races. I'm going to enter the Celtic Plate in July which is an event to get "spotted"at - 100km round a park in Cardiff. To this end, I probably do the Woodhall Spa 10km, and Humber 1/2 marathon in June as build-up - need to work on some speed now! Will have to save the UTLD for another year.

An hour in the gym with Rory is always "fun". He introduced me to some treadmill sessions including The Kenyan which basically involves running very steeply uphill quickly for 2 minutes, then 1 minute rest, to be repeated for 30 minutes. He tried to break me......but no way! Then some weights - 3 minutes continuous leg presses, leg extensions and seated squats. Hello Mr Lactic Acid!

All in all , a really good and helpful session. Rory knows which buttons to push and I have to now re-focus, work towards a goal, and transfer a really solid winter base to some great performances. It's probably going to hurt but pain is only temporary.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ultra Race Grantham, 10th-11th March 2012, 29.3 miles x2

A rather belated write up of the UltraRace Grantham event – 29.3 miles along the Grantham canal on Saturday and 29.3 miles back on Sunday morning. A dead flat route along the canal from Cotgrave to Grantham and back again.

I went into this event mainly as training for the Viking Way Ultra and also to see where the winter’s training, concentrating on some big miles and strength, had got me – quite a long way as it turned out. As such, I hadn’t tapered fully – I normally back off the weekend before a race but had actually done a back-to-back 34 & 18 miles the weekend before.

Day 1
Saturday dawned fine with the recent high winds much lighter. Arrived at the start at Cotgrave, and said hi to Rory and Jen, who assured me I couldn’t possibly go wrong on the route! Met Graeme and Felix from the MdS forum, and had a chat with Andy, whom I’d met at my first ultra, UltraRace Peaks, last August. After much indecision on clothing, I went for a short-sleeved top which proved a good decision.

Having planned a steady start, I soon myself in the lead group of five! After an early discussion on the correct route, Charlie Sharpe hurdled a fence, leaving Richard Quennell and myself running in 2nd. We chatted away to CP1 and 2 – Richard has represented GB and is more at home on the road and over longer distances. I was making sure to drink plenty and keep some energy going in – beginning to learn!! The two if us were joined by Barrie Jones & Toby Froschauer. Toby pushed on but Barrie dropped back again.

With Richard Quennell. I really was having fun at this point!
At CP3, we hit the grass and I quickly dropped Richard. I felt I was running really well – just over 4:30/km (7:12/mile), at a heart rate around 135. My max HR is about 162, and anaerobic threshold about 152 so I felt that from a cardiovascular point of view I was well within my comfort zone. The limiting factor was my legs – but that will come with “hours on legs” – I’m still a relative newbie.

I followed Toby for a couple of miles before catching him. We chatted for a while, he seemed to working quite hard – I always try and uses breathing rate as an indicator of other’s effort and strain. Unfortunately I now had to pay an urgent visit to the woods. Perhaps the brief rest was actually beneficial, but I soon caught and passed Toby, passing through the marathon in just under 3hrs 15. This is actually a marathon PB for me – I have only ever run one straight marathon, the Derby “Ramathon” in 1984 aged 19, finishing in 3:19 from memory. Have done 3:30 in an Ironman though.

Firmly had my sights on 2nd place now and my first placing in an ultra. Surprisingly, I hadn’t found the flat route boring or mindless at all. Living in Lincolnshire helps and race conditions make a difference too. I picked up my pace over the last 2-3 miles and soon left the canal and ran the last half-mile to the finish.

Finishing - with Jade chasing!

I was so chuffed crossing the line in 2nd place, especially with Jenny, James & Jade there to support me. Surprisingly Charlie was only 2 min ahead – I had presumed he was further and must have been catching him. I proudly accepted my first ever ultra trophy. It was really nice to have family there – they were all very pleased for me and very proud too, which was great.

All that remained was to ensure a rapid recovery to enable me to run back again in the morning! Checked into the hotel and quickly dunked myself in a cold bath accompanied by a ForGoodnessShake! Having had lunch, Jenny and the kids left me to my devices, and I had an afternoon replenishing fluids, grazing and watching rugby.

In the evening Rory and Jen held a very helpful and informative Q and A session, then it was off to bed for an early night.

Day 2
After a fairly restless night with a few oatcake and peanut butter snacks, I awoke feeling a bit stiff but not bad considering. Wasn’t sure how the legs were going to cope with another 29 miles – only 1 way to find out!

Someone asked me over breakfast if my legs were sore. I said yes, to which they replied, “It’s nice to know the top runners feel pain too”. Me…a top runner…food for thought indeed.
Soon we were under way in beautiful morning sunshine. Charlie Sharpe and Richard Q set off very quickly as I thought they would. I let them go but was surprised to catch them after half a mile or so. When we hit the grass at about 5 miles, I suddenly hit the lead.

At CP 1, Jen Salter, who had decided to race day 2, was just behind me with Charlie and Richard a minute or 2 down. Interesting. I was feeling great. Jen was obviously running to a set pace and I remember my heart rate being 130/131. At this pace I would finish 3-4 minutes slower than day 1. Having looked at previous results, the lead runners seemed to be about 10 minutes slower on day 2. Doubly interesting. I tucked in behind Jen – knowing that if I could maintain this pace, I would definitely win the men’s race.

Between CP2 & 3, it started to get tough. I was working hard to keep with Jen, and I started to doubt myself. Why couldn’t I just be happy with a good run rather a superb run? CP3 bought welcome relief – last stock up on fluid and Soreen loaf, and on with the last 8 miles.

Half a mile later, I simply had to pay an emergency visit to the woods and, this time, I just couldn’t get going again. My legs were cramping and mentally I think I’d lost my focus. I decided to walk for 2 minutes – no one in sight – but even then my legs (or my brain?) refused to run. Walked for a few more minutes and soon Richard came past, asked me if I was OK and was off. I tried to get running but it was fairly woeful. Hitting the road, Barrie Jones came flying by, looking very strong. It was time to mentally beat myself up – I was still safely in 3rd after all – and this time I settled into a steady jog and gradually watched the miles go down. Back on the canal, I began to properly get going again and moved swiftly towards the finish at the leisure centre, which seemed to arrive rather sooner than expected.

As I crossed the line, Rory declared me the winner of the men’s race – Jen had already finished. I knew that I had been in 3rd and as I hadn’t overtaken anyone then I definitely hadn’t won third. Looking at my Garmin I realised I was just under a mile short. Whoops. Mr Wrongturn had struck again!! I had turned off the canal too short. I was, quite rightly DQ’d. Silly me! Shortly after, Barrie finished in first place with Richard just behind. Charlie finished third.

So was I disappointed? Well, initially, yes, as I’d stupidly lost the chance of a second placing for the weekend. However, overall, it had been a really pleasing weekend. My primary aim was for a solid weekend’s training in build up for the Viking Way Ultra, and I’d hoped to win a trophy! My winter’s training has obviously put me in a good place physically and I had felt strong on both days. Mentally I had run Saturday’s race in a very positive frame of mind, trying to focus on the now rather than the finish. Sunday had been testing – on hindsight I’d probably gone a bit too hard early on, and I need to be mentally stronger to really push when the going gets tough. So came out of it feeling very positive.
I drove home on a lovely sunny spring day, roof down, music blaring!

Roll on Viking Way!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The fickle British weather

Friday morning - a lovely 34 miles in early spring sunshine

Sunday morning - a miserable 18 miles in the rain

Both bizarrely satisfying in very different ways!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Viking Way - another recce

So yesterday I got the 05:57 train from Lincoln to Market Rasen, arriving just as the light did. I managed to find a very pleasant path through some woods towards Tealby.  Some local frost but lovely in dawn's first light.

Once in Tealby, I picked up the Viking Way and immediately found a hill in Lincolnshire up to the mighty height of 149m! On to Ludford where the route wasn't really signed at all but fortunately the map was very clear. Next followed a very pleasant section through the wolds to Donnington on Bain - accompanied only by bright sunshine and the sun of bird song. Gorgeous.

The route on to Goulceby seemed to have a gate every 100 metres which was really annoying and broke my rhythm a bit. The last mile into Goulceby was a bit boggy in places and required some careful attention to the map and surrounding features, as some of the next bit to Scamblesby.

The section to Belchford and then Fulletby was lovely. A short sharp hill up and over to Belchford was again a little boggy in places and another hill before Fulletby. From there, the route was very clear across farmland and down into Horncastle. Checking my Garmin, I had covered 27 miles and felt really good

I pushed onto Woodhall Spa. This section was along the Horncastle Canal, very flat but picturesque then followed a disused railway, very flat, very straight and very boring! Across Woodhall Spa golf course and  arrived in Woodhall Spa 5 minutes before my bus to Lincoln! Good timing!

34 miles, 4:55 hours running. A really enjoyable run through a lovely part of England.

Route-wise all pretty easy to follow and well signed apart from the few short sections mentioned but I kept a constant on my map and knew when turns etc were coming up. Conditions underfoot were pretty good, but this section definitely warranted the trail shoes I was wearing - some of it would have been tricky in road shoes.

I've now covered the section from Tealby to Barkston (near Grantham) and am really excited about the race - can't wait.

Next up - UltraTrace Grantham next weekend. Back to back 29 miles on saturday and Sunday. Treating this more as 2 long training runs and only going to partially taper. Also have to try and pass my fitness test on Tuesday!!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Viking Way recce's

Last Friday I decided to recce the Viking Way from Woodhall Spa to Lincoln. This section may well be in the dark come race day so a sensible bit to do.

I left work early on Friday afternoon, and drove the short distance from Coningsby to Woodhall Spa. Leaving my car there for the night, I set off along the Viking Way and promptly missed a turning after 10 minutes! Map now in hand, I carried on to Stixwould then Southrey where I saw one of our physios driving home. On Monday morning, she asked where I had been going. When I said “Home to Lincoln” it just confirmed my insanity to her!

I wasn’t really enjoying the run at this stage. I often find it takes 60-90 minutes for me to get into my long runs – until then it can be a bit of a drag and a mental battle - “Why am I doing this when I could just drive home and have a rest?”

I was very wary as I passed the “Beware of the Bull” sign. At this point, wearing a red shirt didn’t seem like such a good idea. Fortunately, no sign of aforementioned bull and I safely made it to Bardney. Getting in my running by now and enjoying the sunny afternoon, I negotiated the fiddly route to Fiskerton, then 4km along the River Witham into the setting sun. Lovely. Another fiddly bit into the outskirts of Lincoln, then used my local knowledge to get to the cathedral and then drop down home.

25 miles, 8:43/mile

This of course left the slight problem of my car in Woodhall Spa, so like any good ultra runner would do, I got up early on Saturday morning and ran to Woodhall Spa. This time I followed the River Witham all the way to Bardney which can be boring but I found very peaceful on this occasion. Then took the Viking Way from Bardney back to Woodhall Spa. Car present, unscathed, and with 4 wheels – well, this is Lincolnshire!

I actually felt better during the Saturday morning run which was really pleasing, and I was also faster.

19 miles. 8:27/mile

All in all a really pleasing weekend, followed by 3 good runs this week. Training right back on track.

Taking tomorrow off as leave and will either check out the last section from Grantham to Oakham, or do some of section before Horncastle. Indecisive as ever!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Viking Way

Had a bit of an adventure on Saturday morning – ran from home in Lincoln along the Viking Way just about all the way to Grantham and then got the bus home. The adventure bit was managing to get the timing just right to catch the 11:19 bus from the village of Barkston to Lincoln! Pleasant 27 mile run mainly into a headwind - nice!

You may ask why I would want to run to Grantham. Well….my next proper “adventure” is that I’ve managed to get a place in the first running of the Viking Way ultra on Easter Saturday.
The Viking Way Ultra is a new extreme non-stop 147 mile ultra-marathon that starts in the shadow of the Humber Bridge. The route then winds its way through beautiful historic countryside across the Lincolnshire wolds and down towards the finish at Oakham near the banks of Rutland Water.
It is named the Viking Way because of the strong influence of Viking settlements and Viking trade routes in the east of England”. So there you go!
The route passes pretty close to home so I’m hoping a little local knowledge may prevent my usual trick of getting lost! I’m also planning on doing a couple more recce’s – particularly the section from Woodall Spa to Lincoln which I can do from work, and probably the section on from Saturday’s run, as these are likely to be at night.
I’ve withdrawn from the Barry 40. Due to competing in The Spine and a few calf issues, I’ve done minimal speed work this year. Since this race will be competitively fast, I just don’t feel I could it or myself justice. Plus, the thought of running round and round a track for 40 miles doesn’t particularly excite me! I started this ultra stuff as an adventure to compliment my love of the great outdoors and being in the countryside. Running round a track in Barry doesn’t really fulfill that! However, I have entered the Ultrarace Grantham event in 3 weeks time which is 29 miles on Saturday and 29 miles back on Sunday – good training miles!
I’m also planning to do the Dukeries ultra (40 miles) in May. This around Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire so again fairly local.
So my 2012 race calendar is finally taking shape. Happy days!
Jenny asked me a while back “How far is far enough?” I couldn’t provide an answer!

Saturday, February 11, 2012


After the double high of The Spine and then skiing, the last 2 weeks have brought nothing but frustration

1. Weather
I hate this grey, cold weather - it just makes me feel miserable and with Lincolnshire being so flat it's just not fun being out. Conditions at work have basically prevented any runs at lunchtime. I even had to resort to the treadmill this week.

2. Injured
Having come through The Spine relatively unscathed and then skied without serious mishap, my Achilles mysteriously started playing up. Two runs last week were OK, then I woke in the morning with an acute calf strain - no idea how that happened. Complete rest for 3 days last weekend (aided by snowfall!) seemed to help, solid 30min on the treadmill on Monday, then a completely leaden-legged 10km on Tuesday flared calf up again so no running since.

Particularly frustrated today as it's been lovely and sunny - woe is me! Although......I have actually listened to my body and NOT run which is a minor miracle for me!

Combined running last 2 weeks = 23 miles.


Wanted to really kick on now after a really solid winter's training. Barry 40 in 3 weeks looking extremely doubtful as I only want to do this if I can perform well - not running round a track for 40miles just for fun!!

Frustrated from Lincoln.......

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Skiing in Cervinia

Ok so this isn't about running!

Jenny and I have just spent a lovely week skiing in Cervinia. After The Spine I rested (!!!!) for the rest of the week, then on Sunday morning we set off for Cervinia.

As usual I skied every moment going - had a pass out one day and skied from Cervinia to the far corner of Zermatt and back covering 120km in total - including meeting Jenny for lunch at Plateau Rosa. Skiing beneath The Matterhorn on a daily basis was incredibly inspiring.

Great snow, great skiing, great food, beautiful wife.

My Jenny!
Me & alcohol!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Spine 2012 - race report

Not sure where to start with this one.....but wow, what an experience. What an adventure!

The bare facts - starting from Edale at 9am on Saturday 14th January, I withdrew with hypothermia just short of Middleton-in-Teesdale, at about 3am on Tuesday 17th. Roughly 136 miles up the Pennine Way in 66 hours, with about 4 hours sleep.

Now the detail!

The day before:

Arrived at Lincoln train station having had an entertaining conversation with the taxi-driver on the merits of trying to run up the Pennine Way in winter in 7 days! Got the train from Lincoln to Edale, arriving mid-afternoon in chilly but sunny conditions - a welcome relief from al the grey and windy weather. Checked into the Ramblers Inn. Was already a bag of nerves, and failed to get my planned nap. Wandered down to race HQ, the village hall. Met race director, Scott Gilmour - nice bloke - and some of the other competitors. Compared rucksack weight. Marvelled at Gary Morrison's micro-pack at 6.5 kg. Mine pretty average at 8kg but I still had some food to get in. Lots of us were alternately taking gear out then putting it back in - all in search of a few grammes advantage. I had weighed my titanium spork the night before - it gave me a 2g saving over the plastic version!!

Back to the pub and had tea with Gary - then back to the village hall for the briefing. We had some lectures on hypothermia, hypoglycaemia, navigation , the route etc. By now, I was beside myself and quite frankly not wanting to be there - nervous had become scared as the enormity and potential of the elements became very real.

Checked in drop bags and then we then had to get all our kit out - having meticulously packed mine! - all compulsory kit present, sleeping system and stove checked. Back to the pub for dessert, glass of wine, and a natter. Finally got to sleep at 11.30 but woke at 3ish and then only dozed as my nerves got worse and worse.

Stage 1 - Edale to Hebden Bridge 43 miles, 14+ hours
Beautiful frosty, sunny winter's morning. We all convened at the village hall and then the 16 competitors wandered up to the official start line at the Nags Head.

Absolutely sh*tting myself.
After some obligatory photos we set off just after 9am.

Gentle jog to Upper Booth and along to the bottom of Jacob's Ladder. At the top the field fanned out as we tried to find the best way (not sure there is one!) across the peat bogs which were fortunately nice and frosty. A group of us - myself, Gary Morrison, Steve, Tim, Jon, Andrew Collister and a couple of others - formed a convoy down to Snake Pass. By the top of Bleaklow, Gary, Steve, Andrew and myself seemed to have left the others, with Mark Brooks and Mark Caldwell well ahead.

I was getting well into to the race now - had a cracking peanut butter and jam sandwich going across Torside Reservoir and onto Black Hill. Miles rolling by now -  through Standedge, where, from memory, it was headtorches on. We made our first nav error -  a 5-10 minute "detour" - the first taste of the concentration required when navigating at night. 

Crossing the M62 really summed up to me how far we had already travelled - this leg was essentially the fist 3 days of the Pennine Way walk!

We eventually reached Stoodley Pike, down to Hebden Bridge and then 2-3 miles to the CP1, arriving just after 23:00.

We were met with a warm welcome and encouraging words. Gary, Steve and myself had already decided to fuel up, sort kit out and then sleep for 1-2 hrs, in order to maximise the clear (but cold) conditions and hopefully get to CP2, 63 miles away, sometime the next day. Baked potato, cheese, ham & baked beans, followed by 2 bowls of pasta, some crisps, peanuts, bit of Mars Bar etc etc and I was well fuelled (and stuffed). Left big toe nail a real mess - tried, without success, to release all the fluid under it. Kit prepared for next leg and then it was head down for 90 minutes, getting up at 01:30.

Stage 2 Hebden Bridge to Hawes 63 miles, 27.5 hours
After a quick snack and a topping up on provisions, the 3 of us set off on this monster stage in good spirits at 02:30. We made good time across Heptonstall Moor. The rest of the night passed surprisingly quickly. I remember passing Withins Height, the presumed "Wuthering Heights".

Now light, we had a short stretch along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. The hours rolled by and we reached Gargrave at about 12:30. We had now been on the move for 10 hours with no more than the briefest of stops so we made a tactical decision to stop at a cafe and re-fuel. The Dalesman cafe was closed, but we found a little gem - the White Cottage Tea Rooms and a quick 30 minute snack stop became an hour+ feeding frenzy! Turkey and stuffing rolls and puddings/cakes - 2 for me!! Delicious hot chocolate, then coffee.

Bellies full, off we went, knowing that all the time the tough part of the day would be the last third.

Now followed a lovely stretch along the River Aire reaching Malham as the light began to fade. Approaching Malham Cove, we were asked several times where we going "at this time of day" - nobody believed us!

Rounding Malham Tarn at 18:00, our plan was still to push all the way through to Hawes. With at least 25 miles to go, our estimated 02:00 finish from the the start of the day was looking way off the mark.

Now followed the long haul to Pen-y-Ghent. I think we were all tiring a bit and it was getting quite cold. I donned my First Ascent down pullover (thanks Jenny!) and very cosy it was too. I slipped over on the ice on the descent to dale head 3 times in 5 minutes, the last time landing in an icy puddle getting both gloves soaked through - leading to an unpleasant hour of very cold hands.

We powered up Pen-y-Ghent - it was getting quite windy now - but we were pushing to get to the pub in Horton-in Ribblesdale for a warm up before pushing on to Hawes. Pen-y-Ghent in the dark felt special. Down into Horton, r eaching the Crown Inn at just after 22:30, the landlord informed us that he had just cleaned the coffee machine and that he couldn't boil a kettle for us. Grumpy git! So it double Coke, peanuts and chocolate all round. Got my gloves dry in front of the fire. Changed socks - feet were getting very sore especially my heels. The mesh on my left shoe had split on day one and was now leaking quite badly.

Landlord assured us it was 13 miles to Hawes, we thought 15. Felt great for the first mile or two, then a dreadful tiredness came over me. I could barely stay awake, I just wanted to sleep. The next few hours were really tough. Don't remember a huge amount about this stretch. The other 2 were fibbing about how far we had covered and how far we had to go which I eventually worked out! Gary threatened to poke me with his sticks if I sat down! The last section into Hawes was tricky navigationally. It was very cold - all insulation layers on.

Eventually we arrived at CP2, clocking in at 05:48. Was very relieved to arrive and be allowed to sit down - relieved and very chuffed!

We were immediately fed and watered - soup and super noodles which were strangely nice! Feet tended to - what felt like blisters on my heels was in fact an early case of trench foot. A few smallish blisters. Then it was finally sleeping bags - found a spot on the floor and fell asleep vey quickly for the agreed 3-4 hrs.

Stage 3 Hawes to Middleton-in-Teesdale 33 miles
I woke at 10:00, had a chat with Mark Brooks (winner of the Challenger Class) and Tim Robinson (who had withdrawn the previous day with pretty serious-sounding hypothermia. Got up and amazingly legs felt not too bad. Tim said I'd looked bad last night when we arrived and had been slurring a bit, but that I now looked "chipper" - looked in the mirror - I looked sh*t!! Relaxing mega-breakfast of one of my porridge bags, toast and whatever was going.

The other 2 rose at 11ish and we set off to Middleton-in -Teesdale at 12:30. This was the shortest leg of the race art 33 miles and we were hoping to be in by 02:00 or earlier if the terrain wasn't too bad.

We made excellent time up Great Shunner Fell in lovely sunny conditions - I was living the dream -  and then down through Thwaite, where the light was beginning to fade.

Then the long stretch up Stonesdale Moor, arriving at our planned stop at Tan Hill Inn at 19:30. I was still feeling strong and positive, knowing we were at least halfway through the leg and making excellent time. It was getting very cold but the thought of warming up in the pub had been encouraging us for a while.

Entering the pub the barmaid sadly looked at us and said, "Sorry, we're closed" - our faces dropped, morale dipped and then we heard the chuckles from round the corner - she had well and truly got us! We then had a truly memorable hour in a great pub - the world's greatest homemade mushroom soup, a great bowl of chips, mug of coffee and some squash. We got chatting with the other customers and the barmaid - there were very interested in the event but unsurprisingly though us completely mad. As we we were also raising money for charity (Help for Heroes) the barmaid only charged us £6 each, then one of the customers said he'd pay for the rest. Someone else gave us a donation. It was sad to leave, but we were warm and fuelled right up and ready to press on. The stop had really confirmed our faith in humanity.

We were feeling really positive and expecting to make good time to Middleton - how quickly thing can change.

Sleightholme Moor had some tricky navigation but we were helped by the dog from the pub who followed us for about 5 miles! We safely made our way past Bowes and under the A66. It was getting really cold now. The next section was really slow. The path was very hard to find, navigation really tricky. I cold feel myself getting colder - despite base layer, shirt, down pullover, windproof insulation layer, 3 hats, 2 pairs of gloves. Started eating as much as possible - including a Soreen loaf in one go!

Knew I was beginning to struggle.

A short hard ascent up to a road head between 2 reservoirs failed to warm me and realistically I knew my race was over - I was freezing cold all over and feeling a little bit scared, and aware that I had been slowing the others down. I told them as much - Gary told to put on as much as possible - I added my waterproof top and bottoms, and we pushed on to the next junction 2km away. Although I wasn't getting colder, I wasn't getting warmer either, and worryingly I could feel myself getting confused and muddled.

I called it a day about 3 miles from CP3 at 03:00. I knew I could probably get to the checkpoint but knew that there was no way I could carry on into the 4th leg, and I knew I had to be sensible and not take unnecessary risks. I owed that to Jenny and all my family who I knew were watching the updates avidly and sending me encouraging texts but were also worrying themselves silly.

So I got picked up by Scott and transported back to the checkpoint. I was sat by the heater, given copious amounts of tea, and gradually got warmer.

Steve and Gary arrived shortly. Ironically the last bit had apparently been the easiest bit of the day! After a lot debriefing aka talking, I found a space and crawled into my sleeping bag.

I was disappointed to not be going on but was very proud of covering 135 miles. Scott had reminded me again that my longest previous ultra was 50 miles and that to get this far was a tremendous effort. I had been on the road for about 66 hours with about 4 hours sleep - far more than I'd ever done before. As my dad said later - a brave decision.

I woke up after 3 hours sleep shivering. I put myself by the heater and was lent a big down jacket. This completely confirmed the sense of my withdrawal and all in all I was still on a bit of a high.

Gary and Steve required some fairly major foot treatment and left on the 42 mile leg to Alston at about 11:00. They were to finish the race together in 152 hours - a truly amazing effort. It was a real pleasure spending some time with them and I learnt a lot from them both. Top blokes and really tough athletes - total respect!

The Aftermath

I'm planning on writing some more on kit and lessons learnt later so just a quick conclusion for now!

It's 4 or 5 days since I got home - yes my brain is also still recovering. From a muscular point of view my legs feel great. No thigh pain, no shin splints. Achilles tendons miraculously seem OK. My feet were hideously swollen initially but have just about settled now. My feet and ankles are really aching and restless. Haven't had a good night's sleep yet - having some massive night sweats and waking up soaked through - wonder if that's something to do with hypothermia - will investigate. Big toenail not very pretty! Still a real sense of fatigue.

The organisation was second to none. Scott was a source of constant encouragement and seemed to have endless energy, The staff were tremendous and at times it felt like you were getting bespoke care. Nothing was too much for any of them. More importantly I always felt the back up was there - I felt safe.

I am so glad I entered. I had no real idea what I was letting myself in for - it just looked like a massive adventure. Physically, I still felt good - but mentally I guess I didn't really know what to expect. I now understand the mental effects of going really long and will be prepared in the future. Need to get the fuelling right too - that let me down.

It was a real pleasure to be involved in the first running of The Spine. It has given me a lot of confidence for the future and I feel like I have taken my ultra running to a whole new level and that the door to a whole load more events has opened.

Thanks to all those who supported me during my adventure and also when I finished. It was lovely to know that at 46 years old I can still make my parents proud. Thanks to Jenny for allowing me to be a nutter!! Sorry for all the worry!

So the big question - would I want to do it again? Well I have a place in the MdS next year which I am very much considering binning, saving a wad of cash, and allowing me the time to primarily be able to do The Spine 2013. Jenny just about made me promise never to do it again when I got home - she had been so worried - but within 24hrs she realised the hype I'd got and that resistance is futile!! I think she'll either be my support team or offer to be part of the event support team.

So yes - with any luck, you'll see me on the start line next year - and I will finish.

Thanks again to Scott and all The Spine team.