Category Archives: Training

Blogging delinquency

I have been remiss over the last few months in not keeping up with my blogging.

I cannot promise that is going to change hugely, but I am at least going to try to do an update every month or so, rather than set myself the impossible blog-a-day target that I was managing at the peak of my blogging activity some years ago now.

Muddy Dog
Muddy Dog on the North Downs

My running has been ticking along (and Adastra has been enjoying the ‘mild’ an muddy winter!) and I’ve been looking at my schedule for the year with fresh eyes, mainly because all the major races I have tried to get into have been a pure lottery and I was not selected for any of them! It seems there are more crazy people out there that one would imagine! For the record, I applied for places in the Western States 100, Leadville 100 and the UTMB, but was unsuccessful in all of the lotteries

In fact the only races I am entered in at the moment are the Edinburgh Marathon and the Fleet Half, both road races, and both taking up less than a morning of time. Although we will be making a family weekend of Edinburgh again during the Edinburgh marathon festival in May. More details of that to follow.

In the meantime, I am looking at races in June through to September, preferably with UTMB ‘points’ (which will be required to keep my qualification standard for next year’s application). Many of my colleagues from the 2013 MdS are looking to do the same, so that will be good to arrange.

So, watch this space over the coming weeks for more details

Ticking along nicely

Although the blogging has been somewhat quiet of late, the training has been ticking along quite nicely and dare I say it, I have remained injury free, despite ramping up my mileage over the last couple of months.

The recovery from the ‘exertion’ of the Edinburgh Marathon was surprisingly lengthy it was 2-3 weeks at least before I was getting my pace back to what I would consider ‘normal’. The problem here is that it has also been getting warmer – yes, I know that for those of you in the south of France, the southern states of the USA and Australia, to name but a few, ‘warm’ is not a term that you would associate with the move of a thermometer in a positive direction into the lower 20°C territory, but the UK weather, after a very mild winter, has stayed pretty mild until recently, with only the odd day here and there to remind us that the yellow globe in the sky provides all of the life-giving energy to our humble existance – indeed, sales of sun-cream in the UK have no doubt suffered in 2014 until recently.

Continue reading Ticking along nicely

Back Into The Swing Of Things

Okay. My bad.

I’ve been so distracted over the last 7 months with the modules of the course I’ve been studying in Astronomy and Cosmology, that I’ve barely had time to do anything else. My days have been a succession of waking up, studying in the confined space of a commuter train to London, working, running at lunchtime, more working, studying and reading on the way home, helping with the children until bedtime, then dinner and more studying.

Having handed my last Astronomy module paper in on Monday, I’m now free for a few months though – until October as I’ve signed up for another couple of courses…. 😉

I must thank Liz for all her support over the last 7 months, as I could not have managed it without her provision of food, water, beer and sustenance in general at appropriate times. Thanks ML 😀

Continue reading Back Into The Swing Of Things

And so it begins

My year to date has been fairly consistent, despite the UK weather, I have managed to get out 4-5 times a week, including a nice gentle long run on a Sunday.

However, up until a few weeks back, I did not really have any races booked in for 2014. Those of you that know me will realise this is quite an unusual situation for me, and was starting to become the source of heightened internal anxiety, due to the associated lack of focus and meandering training which it engenders.

Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc

Still, nothing is certain in life except change (and death and taxes, of course), so it was only a matter of time before I made some arrangements. The speed with which everything happened surprised even me though.

Continue reading And so it begins

SDW100 Recce 2

The spring bank holiday in the UK is traditionally the point at which weather turns from bad to worse in preparation for an awful summer – even so, it is always good to take advantage of a long weekend.

Let Sleeping Horses Lie
Let Sleeping Horses Lie

I had been watching the forecast for some days though, and it had actually been improving and as a result, Liz had very generously asked me if I needed to do another training run down along the South Downs in my preparation for the Petzl SDW100 race in mid-June. The timing was perfect; I had 30 miles from last week to ‘continue’, it would be my final long run before tapering and it was a long weekend so I was in no hurry to get back to work on Monday. The weather improving was a bonus, but undoubtedly made things easier for both me, and the family, as they would be able to look for a beach just 5-10 miles south of my route.

As usual, we didn’t leave quite as early as we planned, and after picking up Liz’s mum, who was coming along for the ride, the whole family were on the road, back to Washington (Sussex) just before 8:00am. The journey was relatively easy and I only missed the directions from Google maps a couple of times, but even so we were at our destination before 9:00.

We said our goodbyes as the children continued to watch Star Wars (I) in the back of the car, and suddenly I was on my own again, opposite some cyclists who also seemed to be preparing for their day on the downs.

Seaview from the Downs
Seaview from the Downs

I walked my way back up to the Frankland Arms, where I had finished last week and then back further up the lane to the village hall, where the checkpoint would be in a few weeks time. The ‘hill’ I had remembered from last week, was not half as intimidating as I had imagined, but after 54 miles I think that could be a different matter! We shall see 🙂

South Downs Wildlife
South Downs Wildlife

As I started my watch and my Garmin map, I looked around for the blue South Downs Way trail signs, while turning down to the main road again, smiling as I ended up a mere 100 yards from where I had just been dropped off! The first hill was yet to come and it was a corker, although I had anticipated this from the elevation profile of the course, after the dip down into Washington. I passed sleeping horses and since I was still not into the rhythm of my running took a photo of them enjoying their Sunday lie-in. I was soon at the top of the hill and then down and up the next before I knew it. I’m certain after 54 miles on race day I’ll not be quite so sprightly 😉

The day was a lot nicer than the previous week and as this was only a training run, I was giving myself the opportunity to stop and take photos. For the first time along the whole of this course (including last week) I caught sight of the sea from the top of the ridge. From Washington I had taken a route southward and I assume the city on the coast I could see was Worthing, to where Liz and the Family had headed off – they had a lot planned, in the form of breakfast, church, beaches and so on and I hoped they were having a good time. I was progressing well, after turning in an easterly direction again and descending the next hill I went through the Botolphs village, where the next checkpoint would be, followed by crossing the River Adur which flows south to the sea at Shoreham; even several miles north I was quite surprised at how wide the river was at this point and the bridge over it was correspondingly substantial. For me, the time was passing extremely quickly and I had done my first 10km in a good time and although my average pace had been lowered by the first couple of big hills, after a few ‘calmer’ sections, this was coming down nicely.

Paragliders over Devils Dyke
Paragliders over Devils Dyke

I crossed over the main Shoreham road and then was up back on the ridge in a flash, on the tarmac covered surface to the farm houses, which only finished about halfway up. I had seen a couple of radio masts from some distance away and now spotted them ‘approaching’ on my Garmin mapping, before finally seeing them for real as I emerged from the hedgerows and plateaued the rise.

As with last week, there were many other runners, cyclists, horses and walkers out enjoying the route and they were all very friendly, some even seemed to be walking the route as an organised event for charity, and I wished them good luck and well done as they passed in the opposite direction.

Something I had not seen last week was a whole float of paragliders, and it was about now that I spotted them for the first time, although they seemed to be some way off, probably three ‘undulations’ distant. I took a variety of photos of the human insects hanging motionless in the air as I approached them over the next 30 minutes and eventually peeled off from Devil’s Dyke where the South Downs took a different route from the steep ridge creating the thermals they were using for their sport.

Rapeseed, North of A27
Rapeseed, North of A27

There was then a lovely slow downhill section through trails flanked by gauze bushes where I simply enjoyed the countryside; I would not consider myself an ornithologist but I enjoyed the songs of the birds going down through this stretch to the next road crossing which was followed by a cafe and stopping off area for users of the route at Saddlescombe Farm, which would mark the 66 miles point of the race and checkpoint 9.

From Saddlescombe it was back up again to another peak on the ridge and the initial part of trail was this time quite rough and steep, for once making life quite tough albeit briefly. The slight uphill trail afterwards lasted for no more than a couple of km and was proceeded by a similarly gradual downhill to the busy A23 heading south to Brighton. A short section of Tarmac parallel to the road headed north to a bridge and although the signage was such that I had to stop briefly to check I was heading the right way, when I made it to the other side of the crossing I spotted the now familiar blue acorn pointing me off the road to a small lane through Pyecombe village (which interestingly seemed to have been split in half by the A23, with two almost distinct developments being noticeable).

From here, I had to follow yet another road north to cross to Pyecombe golf course and finally rejoin the ‘trail’. Not that at this point it was much to talk about. Not in comparison to the neatly tended green to both the left and right of the ascending rough chalk track; clearly, upkeep of the trail is not part of the landowner’s great money spinners. It mattered little though, but the distinction was clear.

Pheasant with his Nemesis Cyclist
Pheasant with his Nemesis Cyclist

When travelling from Winchester to Eastbourne, the South Downs Way predominantly follows an ESE direction, but for the last few miles, after the initial southerly turn from Washington at 54 miles, I had been travelling east with a slight northerly component for 8-9miles until I was almost at the latitude of Washington, where I had started out.

The top of this rise marked a detour to a couple of windmills, called ‘Jack and Jill’ where the next checkpoint was to be located. I say detour as I didn’t notice the turning off and so carried straight on with the regular marked trail; hopefully, in a couple of weeks time there will be additional signs to help weary runners find their way. Another long and relatively flat section ended up at Ditchling beacon, apparently one of the highest points along the trail where I enjoyed the views to the north of the North Downs, 30 miles away, and the coast, 5-6 miles to the south. On the way down the other side, there was a car park with many visitors and an ice cream van – I was sorely tempted to ‘Stop there and buy one!’ and on reflection I’m not sure why I didn’t!

The route continued its undulating passage east for another few kilometres before suddenly taking a southerly course again. It was about here, that I slowed down to a walk to take on some ‘food’, i.e. a Torq bar (trying the Rasberry and Apple flavour, which was very agreeable) and as it was after 11:00am I sucked the life out of a Gu ExpressoLove flavour gel, perfect caffeine boost. Nevertheless, I think I had got the timing a little wrong as I felt more like walking and enjoying the stroll and the glorious carpets of rapeseed I was walking through for 15-20 minutes while waiting for the carbohydrates to reach the extremities of my muscles.

Rapeseed from other side of valley
Rapeseed from other side of valley

The southerly course the route was now taking was to take me over the busy A27, and despite knowing that I was now travelling south, and the road runs from east to west, it was still quite disorienting to cross over it in this way.

I had seen a few cyclists following the route south, and a few families playing in some of the more accessible reaches of forest along the route, but up to this point not much in the way of visible wildlife. As I made my way further south from the A27 I passed through another gate but saw a Cock pheasant no more than 6 metres away. I got my camera out and quickly took a picture before he had a chance to disappear into the hedgerow. To my surprise he just strolled to my right.

At that point, the cyclist that was coming down the hill shouted out, “he’s vicious, he is!”, clearly indicating the pheasant was the object of his description, and continued, “he’s already attacked me once.” I found this hard to believe from such a normally skittish creature, and he certainly didn’t bother me as I passed, but sure enough as the cyclist came into the bird’s proximity as he approached the gate, the feathered assassin started to walk purposefully towards his antagonist. I shouted back something about his red top, meaning his cycling top, but this was lost in the distance that was increasing between us, and I left him musing over whether his adversary was a pheasant of the little known ‘killer red top’ variety.

There had been, and continued to be, many fields of brilliantly coloured rapeseed on most of my journey today, perhaps accentuated by the blue skies and the strange and unfamiliar yellow globe hanging in the sky which Britain has not seen much of since last September. The track took a rather tortuous route around a ‘bowl’ valley now I was south of the A27 but as I slowly circumnavigated my way up to the next peak and back onto the ridge, I saw more paragliders. These were much fewer in number and their chosen slope was not providing them with anything like the success of those back at Devil’s Dyke, probably some 10 miles behind me; I came to the conclusion they were learners, and this was the nursery slope. As I continued to ascend I had the opportunity to look back across to where I had just been and took more photos for posterity!

Yellow, Brick Road?
Yellow, Brick Road?

I enjoyed the next couple of miles which undulated along the top of the ridge again and I started to get back into a rhythm, although I had by this stage pretty much decided to stop at the next village, Southease, since I had heard from Liz that their morning had not gone quite to plan due to a number of factors, including having forgotten money and not being able to find a suitable beach on which to let Adastra, who was also with them, roam freely. Having completed nearly 30 miles I felt finishing here was a good compromise and having had a bad patch recently was more than happy to look upon the opportunity as a mutually beneficial ‘win-win’ scenario.

On the final main hill down to a farm track, I encountered some more wildlife in the form of some cows that had decided to ‘occupy’ the trail and I had to slow and ‘Yar!’ them out the way by doing my best Rawhide impression.

As I reached the bottom of the hill there were a few people with metal detectors searching the fields for treasure trove – a popular pastime, especially along the South Downs where there are so many iron age burial sites, settlements and associations. I said hello to them and then carried on and then noticed a group of families up a few hundred metres ahead with horses and carts, making their way slowly along the roadway and then turning off before reaching the main road back up to the trail.

Rawhide
Rawhide

I caught up with them just as they were crossing the road before going down into the village of Southease and took advantage of the stopped traffic  and sprinted across before running down through the village past the church and village green on my right. Since I had decided to stop here, I was on the look out for a suitable hostelery or at least a shop, but no luck this time; this was clearly a one horse town and my only option was to continue running as I tried to contact Liz to find out whether she would even be able to locate the place, let along want to stop there. Unfortunately, when I checked my phone, I had already received a frantic text about getting stuck, crossing railway tracks at the station and having to phone the signalman. Confused, I tried to call and after a few frustratingly fail attempts due to patchy coverage, got through. We were unsure where we were in relation to each other, but after spotting a train passing on the track which we could both see, I continued on down the road and across the river to the Station at Southease, where the barriers were indeed down and required a phone call for vehicles to cross. As a pedestrian I looked both ways and crossed safely to my waiting family.

We quickly got on our way and followed the A27 running parallel to the Downs, further east to Alfriston to at least see the village I was aiming for in the first place, where we had a wonderful roast meal as a family at ‘The Smuggler’s Inn’.

The day had again been a great recce of the latter part of the course which I will encounter in a few weeks time. I had been lucky with the weather and I am sure that the experience of the last couple of weeks will help me no end during the actual race.

SDW100 Recce 1

I am not normally one for doing reconnaissance of routes before races. Merely attending a race with a family of 4 takes up enough time as it is, so to visit an area prior to an event with all the associated children logistics, really doesn’t seem fair.

The South Downs is so close to where we live though, that it was too good an opportunity to miss for my race in a few weeks time.

South Harting from Harting Downs
South Harting from Harting Downs

My schedule has me this week diligently ramping up to just over 30 miles for an end of week long run in preparation for the SDW100 which covers the whole of the South Downs, in an easterly direction starting about 30 miles north of the coast at Winchester in Hampshire and taking a slight southerly path on its way to Eastbourne, right on the coast, some 100 miles later.

Liz had generously agreed to take me down to one of the 14 checkpoints, while her mother babysat for us early on a Sunday morning, and since both Guildford and checkpoint 2, Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) are on the A3, this seemed the obvious choice as a starting point.

With 30 miles to do, my ending point was also a fairly transparent choice, as CP7 on the race course is located at Washington, about 54 miles into the run and 31 miles from QECP. Being the nominal ‘halfway point’ it would also give me the psychological advantage of knowing the majority of the first part of the race. How much of an advantage this actually provides me remains to be seen, as many people would consider that 100 mile races only really ‘start’ at 50 miles.

Tree lined trails - Monkton Copse
Tree lined trails – Monkton Copse

After being dropped off, I took advantage of the park conveniences, then started running in what I thought was the right direction, although there were so many trails and tracks signposted, it was difficult to tell. Sure enough though, the trace of my Garmin eventually subtended towards the track I had preloaded into the memory, showing the entire race course with the checkpoints as waypoints.

The way out of the park was a gradual climb of a couple of hundred feet over a few kilometres, but certainly nothing stressful, certainly not in my fresh, hasn’t-completed-the-first-twenty-miles-from-Winchester state, and this gentle undulation of the sometimes gravel paths, sometimes chalk trails, sometimes roads, repeated over the first hour. If the whole run was going to be like this, I thought, it wouldn’t be much of a problem 😉 I had passed where I recognised the next checkpoint would be at Harting Downs, at about 9km and predictably, the hills started to get bigger after this. Today though, the car park at the top of the hill was full only with ramblers, cyclists off-loading and dog walkers fitting leads.

The route over Beacon Hill looked a little scary, but thankfully the organisers had followed a route around the climb, so I followed it through the fields and pastures where the were a lot if sheep grazing. It is my experience that these animals often look up and stare quizzically when I run past. I wonder what they are thinking? Mad fool? Is the farmer after him too? Why’s he wearing all that gear? How can he still be running in last season’s Inov-8s? There were quite a few walkers on the route and all were very friendly and we acknowledged each other as we passed. One even asked if I was going the whole way and I slightly sheepishly replied, “No, only as far as Washington today!”

Harepath Wood - Nr. Cocking
Harepath Wood – Nr. Cocking

For the next 10km there were no roads to cross, only trails to follow, tree lined copses to pass through and forest paths to negotiate. There were very few gates to worry about either, which I was pleased about. I find it quite annoying when you are in the rhythm of running to have to keep stopping to open gates and jump over fences and styles. I acknowledged the runners and cyclists coming up the hill as I was going down into ‘Cocking’ where there was a road to cross just before where the next checkpoint would be in a month’s time, although given the effort they were putting in coming up the hill, I was not surprised to only receive a smile on many occasions. This was a strange section where the local farmers had concreted the entire roadway up the hill, presumably as a result of the erosion of the steep sloping trail. After the soft bouncy grass trails I had been experiencing for the last few miles, this seemed suddenly quite incongruous and at odds with the rest of the South Downs ethos, but they presumably have their reasons.

I let Liz know how I was getting on at about 22km as by this time she was back home and in church with the children and her mother. Although the route was pleasant and I was enjoying the solitude of it and the time soon passed. There were very few roads to worry about and even less in the way of habitation or villages, had I wanted to grab a snack or a drink. Luckily, I had planned ahead on this occasion and was trying out a few different varieties of route snack, although no trail mix this time! The Powerbar vanilla gels always seem to go down well (sadly, my favourites, the double latte variety are only available in the USA!), but the rhubarb and custard Torq gel I tried later was a very strange taste. I can’t deny it tasted like custard, but it really wasn’t what I wanted at that point in time; another one to chalk up to experience.

Sutton, Nr Bignor
Sutton, Nr Bignor

I was starting to get a little weary without the respite of checkpoints to look forward to, but pressed on anyway and it was at about 30km when I came down one of the few road sections, past a farmhouse to cross the main A285 road. I noticed a couple of other runners up ahead and depressingly they were slowly pulling away from me as we headed up the other side of the valley and I lost them as they turned a corner up the hill. I was then surprised when I turned the same corner to find them walking up what I considered to be a fairly minor hill, so I acknowledged them as I passed and then hoped desperately that their local knowledge of the hills wasn’t going to leave me with egg on my face as I rounded the next corner, to see the remaining slope 🙂 Luckily, I managed to head on up and their voices in the background soon faded.

By the time I had got to 35km I was heading down a serious hill, bordering on being technical due to the slope and the stony and uneven nature of the chalky trail. It was almost the doppelgänger of a particular trail down from Newland’s Corner a mere 5km from home that I again considered myself lucky to live right on the North Downs and to have been able to train for the last few months on what was turning out to be such similar terrain.

As I got to the bottom of the hill I realised this was a relatively flat valley through a village called Amberley, with the River Arun crossing its floor. I also realised, having whipped out my Garmin to check the course, that its batteries had demised. I stopped quickly and changed them and was on my way before I had been caught by a group of ramblers travelling in my direction who I had only recently passed.

River Arun, at Amberley
River Arun, at Amberley

The flat route along the river, soon turned up the next hill and at this point there were some strange noises coming from the valley to the right, of steam trains and through the trees I saw an old tram moving off as well. I subsequently found on the map that this was a museum, one of many sites worth visiting along the route including many Iron Age burial mounds, a Roman villa at Bignor, stone circles and the long man of Wilmington, a chalk figure cut into the hillside 9 miles north west of Eastbourne.

The weather had been kind to me for most of the run and having been forecast as rain, I had expected the worst, but unusually it had not materialised. There was a touch of spitting for my last few Kilometres but nothing to worry about.

I was now counting down the kilometres to Washington, especially since I had seen a trail sign back at the crossing of the River Arun stating that Washington was only 10km in the direction I was heading. My Garmin was a bit confusing when I set it to use the checkpoint as a ‘goto’ waypoint as the line-of-sight distance was significantly shorter than the actual distance of the trail, but soon I was heading downhill and onto the last kilometre.

Frankland Arms, Sussex
Frankland Arms, Sussex

I suspected that Liz would be there already, but there was no sign of her or the car when I reached the village hall, so I stopped my watch, having completed my run and walked further down the lane looking for a shop or a pub in which I could get refreshments! I found both with in a very short space of time, as I found a pub called the Frankland Arms, which had the smallest shop in Sussex as an appendage next to it. I went into the shop first, and bought a couple of apples, a coke and a pint of milk from the dear old lady manning the groceries, who I’m sure was 80 if she was a day. I went back round to the pub and noticing that I had no service on my phone and my texts were not being sent, decided to buy a pint of refreshing cold cider while I mulled over the situation. I was no more than a couple of minutes inside and left with my  fermented apple juice in my hand and sat outside in the empty beer garden (unusual for 1:30pm on a late spring day in England) pondering my next move. As I looked at my phone, contemplating walking back up the hill to get coverage, I could hardly believe it when Liz drove round the corner with the family in tow, and I waved frantically to ensure they spotted me. Perfect timing.

We all stopped for a quick drink and snack and then life returned to normal as we drove back to Guildford to drop Savannah and Luke off at parties!

All in all a fantastic run and one which I have absolutely no doubt will help me during the race itself in 4 weeks time.

Recovery? Don’t talk to me about cross training!

I have been going through what I think are fairly normal MdS withdrawal symptoms.

Getting back from an event which is in such stark contrast to most others, and far removed from anything most of us would experience in ‘real-life’ is bound the have such an impact.

Perhaps less so on those brave individuals in the armed forces, or perhaps civilian firemen, police, etc., who frequently put their lives on the line and who have a familiarity with imposed hardships and the challenges of being out of routine in physically and mentally demanding situations on a regular basis, since I believe that is part of the reason why people want to take up such a challenge.

[singlepic id=710 w=320 h=240 float=right]There is little in ‘normal’ life, in our cosseted modern western routines that can really satisfy what are probably primal urges and instincts to compete with others in physical challenges, where often survival may have been at stake and adrenalin fuelled success would have resulted in the ultimate proliferation of a particular branch of the gene pool.

Sound extreme?

Possibly, but imagine opposing tribes of hunter/gatherers, both chasing after dwindling stocks of wildlife before the onset of the winter season. It is not hard to imagine that the more successful persistence hunters might have successfully ensured the survival of their tribe through the winter while another failed and the impact on them would have been more extreme.

Still, back to the present and my recovery, which I glad to say has  has been going well and I’ve not experienced any extremes; until yesterday, that is.

I had rather more swelling in my feet that I had realised, but I had been able to run a couple of times last week, and despite singularly failing to wake up for a long run on Sunday, I even managed to swim on Monday night.

Then things started to go horribly wrong. Tuesday’s has now transmuted to my cross-training day, and I duly went to the gym and cycled and did some squats and lunges, and although tough, I thought no more of it. Shortly afterwards I gave blood, and felt none the worse for that either.

However, two days afterwards, my muscles are aching an order of magnitude more than ever they were from 150 miles across the Sahara.

In one of life’s little ironies, I can trek my way through the toughest footrace on Earth without a hint of DOMS, but put me on a bike for 20 minutes and I may as well have been poked with hot needles dipped in vinegar for the last 6 months. The aching is starting to die down now, but I’m seriously considering whether my cross-training sessions will become a thing of the past after this week 🙂

The Final Week

As I enter the last week before the first stage of my adventure in the Moroccan desert, the 28th Marathon des Sables 2013, I am pleased, to say the least that I am now over the hump of my training and touch wood, God willing, fingers crossed, etc, etc, I am now pretty much guaranteed to make it to the start line in as good a condition as I can.

Last time it was a different matter.

Coffee - LARGE Latte
Coffee – LARGE Latte

5 years ago, in 2008, I had a problem with shin splints for which I had to step back for 4-6 weeks until up to something like the middle of January, which is really not good timing for a race at the end of March. Having rested for several weeks I was able to make the most of my training, but it was always tentative and although I managed to get an ultra-race under my belt in the form of the Thames Meander in the middle of February, I never felt I really did the race justice.

So for 5 years I have had a desire to improve on my previous time.

I had originally planned to go back to the race with Liz and the rest of the ‘Rosbifs’ team in 2011, but clearly that was not going to be possible having had my leg cut in two the month before 😉 and even deferral to the following year was a slim hope.

Having committed to 2013 though, my training has gone relatively well, perhaps simply because I HAVE needed to take things easy on the ramp up of my weekly schedule, on the incorporation of speed-work into my training and on the increasing distance of my long runs.

Erg Chebbi Dunes
Erg Chebbi Dunes

Even so, my 18 months of training has not been without mishap and I had to take a bit of a step back around June last year when I had a problem with my feet, which Stuart (my physio) and I thought was because they were getting used to my new gait resulting from the extensive surgical amendment to my hip, but since I subsequently experienced a similar problem on the right (supposedly unaffected) foot some weeks after the original symptoms on the left, I am now less convinced of that.

Nevertheless, I have now made it to the end of my training, listening to my body, adjusting my schedule as necessary and ramping up in what I would consider a very conservative, albeit successful, manner.

So here I am. 5 years down the line, and today was my last long run – a mere 14 miles, at a very civilised 8am this morning, finishing off with an even more civilised coffee with Tim and John who were eager to wish me well for my race. They formed part of the team with which I  competed in 2008 and so they also have fond memories of the event and even seemed a little envious of my impending visit to Morocco, although I suspect this has more to do with the sun and heat I am going to be luxuriating in, in about 4 days time, compared to the freezing weather blanketing Britain, rather than anything else 🙂

With only a couple of minor runs to do and no more than a few easy miles to keep my legs ticking over during the week, I am now confident I have done all I can to prepapre for my adventure. To make it to the start line of any race uninjured, let alone the MdS is also a major feat in itself.

After 5 years of uncertainty, dreaming, heartache, revision, committment, disappointment and consistency, the moment is finally here.

My wife has been a pillar of support during all this time, sometimes questioning my sanity, but never doubting my resolve to achieve all I have set out to do and I would not be here now were it not for her support. I thank her, and my family too, for putting up with my desire to achieve all I can in the adventures and chalenges I set myself.

My only hope now is that I can make you proud.

Shoe Update

In one of my previous updates, I gave some details of the work I had had done to my shoes to stitch velcro onto the soles of my trainers in order to attach my gaiters ready to stop the sand getting to my feet where it would cause ‘problems’ in the desert to say the least.

Shoes - After trial and update
Shoes – After trial and update

I went back to Hoxton Shoe Repairs today after contacting them to explain that the initial work they had done had a few problems after my initial trials on the trails! They were more than happy to look into the problem and to rectify the issue. In fairness to them they had not done this sort of thing before so I had taken a chance with them, but having said that I cannot fault their customer service and desire to ensure that the job is correct.

Having explained my concerns regarding the ‘rigours’ of the desert to the cobblers when I arrived, they undertook to repair the trainers immediately, putting extra glue and locking stitching on the areas where the original securing had proved insufficient.

The new repairs seem much better and in the end I was glad that I gave them a trial and then went back for a second bite at the proverbial cherry, as I would not want to get to the desert and start discovering problems.

The guys at the shop have been extremely helpful and have even followed up by contacting me (via my blog!) to ensure I was satisfied with the work they had done – now that is commitment to the needs of the customer above and beyond the call of duty.

I will be getting back to them about their work after the event as they certainly deserve to see how their handiwork faired and I am sure they will be able to use this as testament to future runners who will need similar amendments carrying out to their footwear.

I suspect that their endeavours will last longer than my feet 😉

Desert ‘Heat’ Training – UK Style

Tapering is going quite well. My desire to reduce my weekly mileage has, through necessity though, been easier to manage than I had anticipated.

Bloemfontein
Bloemfontein – Nice and warm!

Liz is away at the moment in South Africa ‘fetching’ her mother, as she is moving back to the UK after well over 50 years. She has lived in the same flat in Bloemfontein for 30 years now, so as you can imagine there is substantial amount of accumulated ‘memorabilia’ to sort through and at 85 this is a significant move. It will be for the best though, as she will be a lot closer for her immediate family to look after her and provide the care she needs.

While Liz is away it has not been as easy to get out and run because of other family duties, even though I’ve had the assistance of a friend of ours, Colleen, for a few days and although she has been a star, I’ve still been working from home but for some reason have not had the ability to wake up and get out the door early in the mornings. Perhaps it’s just the weather or maybe last week took it out of me a bit more than I realised.

Interestingly, one thing I did notice was that after a slow, but ‘hard’ long run last week, which included many hills and a full backpack, I have had a few great pace runs during this week, i.e. runs where I’ve found it relatively ‘easy’ to maintain a faster pace than previously, including one around the City and two with hills around Guildford and I actually recorded my first sub-4:00 km for about 2½ years, so obviously I’m pleased about that.

Guildford - 2 hours into a long run
Guildford – 2 hours into a long run

Nevertheless, cause and effect aside, the tapering or at least the reduction in my weekly volume of running has decreased nicely to about 2/3 of my previous peak week.

On this basis I was planning on doing about 18 miles this morning on my weekly long run, having run every day during the week to keep my legs ticking over, and ensure my body is as familiar as possible with the onslaught it is about to get in a couple of weeks time in the desert. It was not the distance that concerned me this morning though, it was the forecast. Rain is one thing, but snow in March, nearly April at that, is another thing. The forecast was for rain pretty much continuously overnight, but at 7:00am this was purported to be turning to snow – about an hour into my planned run.

Weather forecasters have not been renowned for the accuracy of their predictions, especially in the UK where our climate can be dynamic, to say the least, but this morning they were spot on.

I had decided to keep to the roads because the trails had been getting progressively worse recently while I had been running and I didn’t fancy today’s long run turning into a mudfest with the associated puddle dodging and surface slipping with which I would otherwise have to contend. Although this was a good decision, even the flats were full of standing water and there were plenty of areas of flowing water on the slopes, from the ongoing deluge as well.

Undeterred, I ploughed on, accepting the dampness in my shoes and the cold in my feet, reminiscing it had been a lot worse at the Thames Trot a few weeks ago.

Guildford Snow - March!
Guildford Snow – March!

Surely enough though, about an hour into my journey around the outskirts of Guildford, the rain was beginning to lighten, not in intensity but literally in weight, becoming far more affected by the prevailing winds (which I always seemed to be running into!) and as incredulous as it seemed it was beginning to snow and the meteorologists predictions had been right.

By the end of the next hour, the crystalline precipitation had started to settle, and although damp the roads were becoming noticeably more slippery as I made my way from Clandon back towards Guildford town centre. In fact, the last 5km was downright dangerous to my ankles and I wondered if I might have made a bad decision to wear my Inov-8 255 Road shoes which have absolutely NO tread to them as I slid around on the fine layering of damp snow through which I was leaving my first contact footprints.

I made it home safely though and the children excitedly informed me it was snowing, as I walked through the door 🙂

So, with just 2 weeks to go until the first stage of the MdS, where the other 1000 competitors and myself are likely to experience 35-40°C midday temperatures, I am currently training in an effective -4°C temperature.

Not ideal for acclimatisation, but hey…. Mad dogs and Englishmen 😎