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!