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Less than a day to go now before the start of the race – my first 100 miler in nearly 3 years, the Petzl South Downs Way 100

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

I been resting most of this week, mainly through having a lot of work on (deputising for most of the IT senior management team at the Bank who have all picked various times in the last two weeks to be off, will have that effect!) – Still, every cloud has a silver lining, etc., etc….

I am going through the usual pre-race nerves at the moment! Doubt over my training, elation over what promises to be a great race, concern over my physical state, confidence that I have been here before and succeeded, trepidation that I have been here before and failed, excitement that I will within 48 hours have finished another major adventure – the usual bag of emotions.

There are many checkpoints on the race and there should be ample opportunity to track my progress if you are interested with the LIVE link here – as with all event the updates will rely on the volunteers uploading from mobile phone unfriendly locations, so the updates may be patchy – nevertheless, I am hoping to be at Washington (54 miles) by 2:00-3:00pm.

The forecast is not particularly good – relatively overcast, with intermittent rain, but will probably not be too bad for running, provided the chalk trails do not become too slippery – not brilliant for sightseeing though 😉

See you on the flip-side.


Cycle Circuit

As my foot is still not playing ball, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get out on the bike today.

Looking back, I was surprised to realise it was last October when I had previously carried out a long cycle round the Guildford area, which, clearly, had been the point at which my running had started to ramp up in distance.

Hilly cycling is actually supposed to be quite good cross-training for the legs, for uphill trail running as well, so I felt comfortable planning this for the morning. The only worry had been the weather, which had been good yesterday (Saturday) but was forecast to return to the recent normal inclemency later today. Still, nothing ventured….

Not where I cycled, but pretty anyway

I have tended to stick to the roads when biking, even though I ride a beat up old mountain bike which would be more suited to trail cycling, as it is more the time and distance that I want to cover, with hills thrown in. Today, I planned on doing the 30 odd miles I had done in the past, but with the addition of the few extra miles I had been running over my last few long runs, around the Surrey hills.

When I started out, I was lucky with the weather, and although it was a touch colder than I would like on bike with the wind, I soon warmed up and forgot the cold as I battled to remove the sweat from my eyes!

The route I took today has quite a pleasant warm up section to the south of Guildford before a steep series of hills as the climb over the North Downs is completed. On the other side of this, there is the complementary downhill though, and the route through Normandy, Pirbright and Mayford has a very slight downhill gradient which is interspersed with the odd short rise here and there.

From Send to East Clandon, the trend reverses though, and the average gradient is uphill for several miles, culminating this time in a long slow ride up to the top of the downs, some 10 miles to the east, as the crow flies, of where I had been just over an hour earlier. I was now on the part of the route that I had been running on recently and although my motive force was not quite as I may have preferred, it was still great to be doing the same route under my own steam.

Of course, after the hill, comes the downhill and this one was Coombe Lane 🙂 I have done this in the opposite direction in the past and it is a challenge! This way is much more fun :wow: Unfortunately, the speed with which I covered the descent was over all too quickly and I now had another series of rises to contemplate through the villages I have come to know well in the Surrey hills; Shere, Farley Green and Shamley Green.

Knowing the route well is a huge advantage in my mind, as I’m sure it is in general. However, it is also interesting to notice that the perspective you get, on familiar routes, is totally different when on a bike. For instance, I find I am much more sensitive to changes in gradient on a bike compared to running, presumably because the differential between high and low speed on a bike is so much greater, a similar scalar is also applied to gradient sensitivity. Or maybe I just need to try a bit harder 😉 I also find that the horizon on long straight roads approaches noticeably faster than the foreground when on a bike, almost like a depth-of-field compression effect. Most bizarre.

By the end of the ride, a mere 38 miles, my quads and calves were starting to tell me about it, after over 2 1/2 hours welded to the bicycle my ‘seat’ was in danger of losing all sense of feeling and my unmentionables will have to remain unmentioned.

It was a good ride though, and I was glad to have done it, and will probably end up doing the same next weekend too.

After all, I wasn’t overtaken by any elderly women with their weekly vegetable shopping in their front baskets, so I must be improving.

Marathon Day

The plan today was to do a marathon distance run.

I’d run nearly the distance a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn’t count if you don’t do the whole thing!

So I was ready about 7:00am after the normal faffing around with backpacks, juice and gels. Then I was out the door with my iPhone plugged in and my GPS and HRM strap tightened. On the last couple of my runs the HRM strap has been falling down around my waist all the time; not particularly comfortable, or helpful, as far as recording my heart rate is concerned, so I made sure it was extra tight today!

The weather has been better, by which I mean drier, over the last few days, so I anticipated that the trails would certainly be less muddy that they were a couple of weeks back. So although I wore a couple of tops because of the distance and the fact the sun was unlikely to show it’s face, I still wore shorts.

Marathon Run - 20/05/2012

The run took me first along the familiar Bramley railway line before I peeled off to Shamley Green, after another couple of km extending the run, as I was trying to get an extra bit in hear and there. The hills started at this point, first a gradual climb from Shamley Green to Farley green, then some undulations before the first big downhill to the outskirts of Albury. I normally join the A25 after this, but tried a different route today, across a trail to the edge of Shere, which was much more pleasant, and I found myself at the bottom of the turning up to Coombe lane in no time.

My legs had been managing ok up to this point, but I’d been taking it very slowly and my left ankle was still feeling ‘not quite right’ – I’ll have to talk to the physio about it. I was glad of a 20 second enforced stop at a level crossing (probably for the one train in 2 hours along that branch line) which allowed me a brief respite up the hill.

I wound my way down towards West Clandon, which was about 3km downhill and then across to West Horsley before the final uphill stint towards the top of Coombe Lane again, before joining the North Downs trail all the way home. I added another slight detour to get the extra miles in, out and back along the posh ‘White Lane’ with it’s multi-million pound houses, with their unobstructed views across the rolling countryside, before getting back to Pewley Hill.

It was a great run to have done, and even though it was grey and misty all the way, it was dry and a serious milestone in my training. I was happy to have not walked at all during the run as well.

My heart rate strap behaved itself as well 🙂


Snowy Run

What a fantastic run this morning 🙂

As predicted the snow started falling last night around mid-evening and after a few rather dismal flurries was really picking up and settling by late evening. I planned my run appropriately for the weather and set all my stuff out for an early start.

Gorgeous Running

Sure enough morning arrived and I donned my longs with a couple of long sleeved shirts – I wore my Inov-8 shoes today, for the first time running since Leadville, as neither my Evos or Vibrams have particularly good tread for snow.

When I started out the snow was relatively patchy as the main road had been gritted, but as soon as I made my way up towards Pewley Hill, it was a different story. Swerve marks and abandoned cars laid testament to the attempts of drivers to make their way through the icy streets.

As I made my way up to Pewley Downs, I was a bit disappointed that it was so cloudy and that there were no views to enjoy, so I tried to concentrate on my footsteps which were heavy and laborious through the shin high snow.

Snow from the South East

Going up to Newlands Corner I was the first to go through the snow, which is a great feeling and actually made things a little easier, although I followed many, many animal tracks, probably fox, cats, rabbits, and possibly deer. Just before Newlands Corner (about 5km) I saw my first signs of life as another intrepid soul was out walking his dog.

Normally I would have peeled off to the north and back towards Guildford, but today I planned to do a further loop round to the east and so travelled back down what would normally have been a chalk lane towards Albury. As I went down in altitude though, the view became a lot clearer and I had the opportunity to look around while I was running (and taking pictures!) and enjoy the view. After a short trip along the road towards Dorking, I turned north again and started up towards Coombe Bottom (which always amuses the children :lol:) This was a nice sharp rise up to the peak of the run along silent, snow covered trails and although hard, was really enjoyable. The last little sprint, up Staple Lane to the West Hangar car park brought me back to the North Downs Way.

Running Partner

From there it was almost a straight drag home, through the trails back to Newlands and then Pewley again. I saw another deer around here and just managed to get a picture of her in the distance staring back at me.

All in all, it was a hard run, but seriously enjoyable and fantastic to be outside yet again. I didn’t feel the cold at all, and I wasn’t too warm either, which is often a bigger problem with choosing clothes in this weather, so I guess I got it about right.

Another run planned for tomorrow morning, but the snow it due to be gone by then. I’ll believe it when I see it and will have my cold weather gear ready again.

Back to Back – Cliff Runs

How time flies.

We had last been down to Devon some weeks before and now here we are at the end of October, Halloween pumpkins adorning the streets and the first fireworks making an appearance in the evening skies.

Jacob's Ladder at Sunrise, Sidmouth

We had to travel back down to Ottery St Mary as my mother’s ashes were being interred on the Saturday morning, but we had also decided to make a weekend of it as it was carnival weekend in Ottery. I had decided if the weather was good that I would take the opportunity of a couple of early morning runs along the seafront, taking in the hills. I was not to be disappointed.

On the first of my runs I started out around dawn and was delighted by the sun rise along the cliff edge and horizon to the east. As a fairly substantial wind was coming from the west, I decided to make my way in that direction first, first along the seafront to Jacob’s ladder, past the rock pools that the children enjoyed playing in so much in the summer months. With the tide high and the wind fierce though, the tiny creatures in those rock pools were surely being battered by the waves as the crashed down repeatedly.

Past Jacob’s Ladder and on up the switch-back Tarmac to the start of a long narrow field adorning the cliff edge. I made my way steadily up, remembering how easy running uphill had felt last year, and how much work I still have to do to get back to form, but also how far I have come in the last few months since starting running again. I made it to the top of the hill, hot but happy, and allowed myself the indulgence of stopping to take a photo of the dawn sky before enjoying the view further while on the move back down the hill, retracing my steps back to the seafront.

Seafront Sunrise

I saw a few other runners and walkers, enjoying the brisk air, on my way along the front, as sleepy Sidmouth awoke, and I enjoyed the fact the wind was now behind me, as I prepared to take on Salcombe Hill – hardly comparable with the 1000m of Hope Pass, but for now, it would have to do.

I wound my way up the edge of the cliff, with it’s diversion inland necessary because of the erosion and fragility of the coastline, but eventually found my way up to the base of the open field which marked the final traverse to the pinnacle of my run for today.

How glorious it was to once again be running up hills with gorgeous weather as well! I was suitably breathless by the top of the run, but the strategically positioned bench near the summit was a welcome place to spend a moment soaking in the sights.

As I made my way down again I noted how difficult I now found it to get my legs moving quickly, even with the advantage of the gradient. This was something I would have to work on! I continued to contemplate my future training needs as I meandered my way along the streets back down to the seafront where I could not resist stopping for another photo opportunity.

The smile on my face was evident the moment I stepped back into our hotel room.

My run the next day, although similar, was still enjoyable but for a host of other reasons.

Cliff to Cliff - Coastal Path

I chose to run first through the town this time, but due to the size of Sidmouth, this only took me about a minute 😉 after which a resumed my now almost familiar easterly seafront run. The mist covering the hills on either side of the town didn’t look out of place, given it was the day before Halloween, and put paid to any chance of artistic dawn breaking photos today. As I had come out at a similar time to the previous day, the sea was at high tide again, but seemed ominously more angry.

As I ran once again along Jacob’s ladder, the narrow path at the base of the sedimentary cliffs to the east, the sea seemed intent on revealing it’s power to me and only careful timing and occasional sheltering in the rocky alcoves prevented a soaking.

Up the Tarmac I meandered again and disappeared into the eerie mist at the top of the hill, where I went a little further than the previous day before turning and trying again to test my speed on the soft, downhill , grassy slope.

As I found my way back to the sea, the waves were still crashing over the edge of the curved sea wall as another couple of runners came rapidly round the corner having clearly just missed a dousing. As I turned the corner myself, I startled another runner who, stuck in an alcove, appeared to be trying to judge the timing of continuing her run past this local display of nature’s elements. I acknowledged her and ran on, but five seconds later my luck ran out as my back was drenched by the reach of the latest onslaught. I could do nothing but smile, and ran on past the battered rock pools, now paying a little more attention to judging the timing of the ebb and flow of the waves.

As I continued along the front, the power of the sea was more evident where shingle kicked up from the beaches turned the smooth promenade into a challenge of epic ankle breaking proportions – think marbles on an ice rink. Having negotiated this final obstacle without incident, which was made even more interesting as I was wearing my Vivo Barefoot Evos, I made the short journey back up the cliff path again before turn back to our hotel.

So, in the end two days with similar routes and yet totally different experiences, both highly enjoyable in their own way, and after all, I’m just glad to be back running.

Broken Leg? What Broken Leg?

With everything that had happened in August with my mother passing away, I have been a little distracted and trying to find my voice to express myself again, so my recording of life has had to take a back seat, but here goes.

August 2011 X-Ray

My appointment with Mr Elliot at the Surrey Orthopaedic Clinic was on the 16 August, nearly a year to the day after I had raced at Leadville; indeed, the Race Across The Sky was the following weekend and was won by South African, Ryan Sandes – well done to him.

Another X-Ray and a fairly brief consultation confirmed my hope that everything was progressing as expected with the mending of the bone and he was therefore happy for me to resume all activities including ‘running on hard surfaces’. His only remaining concern was a slight abductor weakness, due mainly to the changed geometry of my hip after the osteotomy, but this is something for me to work on with my physio and although he was reserved, it is not something a think will hold me back. There is also no immediate necessity for the metalwork to come out, unless it starts to bother me, but given it is likely to mean another 6 week break from running, it is likely to be some time before it bothers me 🙂

So it was, on the evening of the 16 August, I sheepishly donned my running kit and went outside for a quick ‘trial’ run to see how things would go.

How glorious it was to be running again, and outside in a brief spell of good weather as well!

Now though, the hard work really starts.

Continue reading Broken Leg? What Broken Leg?

Bogs, bracken and the night of a thousand steps

I had lost count of the number of times I wanted to abandon this race.

In fact, I could hardly believe, after suffering exhaustion in the early hours of Saturday morning, such that I was falling asleep as I was running (not advisable) and also after later in the afternoon lying down on my own in the middle of an exposed fellside for forty winks as it was starting to rain (definitely not advisable!), that I had actually made it to the final major checkpoint at Ambleside, 88 miles into the race.

[singlepic id=339 w=400 h=300 float=right]The Lakeland 100, Ultra Tour Lake District (UTLD) was always going to be a tough one – any ‘100’ mile event is likely to be for sure, but it is the distance I have trained for, so it was not that that was intimidating.  Not really…

The Cotswolds 100 Ultrarace I completed a mere four weeks ago, although the same distance, was a flat, dry, forgiving, tow-path in comparison.  Although the cumulative ascent of 6,971m (22,871ft) is short of the total for Mont Blanc, the vagaries of the Lake District micro climate and the self-navigation aspects around unmarked trails all added to the challenge.

As a result of this, I was stressed at the start.  Seriously stressed.

We had travelled up the day before to have a relaxed time in Coniston, where the race began, and although the journey, arrival and registration were easy affairs, there were nonetheless constant undercurrents in my mind regarding the forthcoming trial.

The start was planned for 5:30pm Friday, 23 July and after a mandatory safety talk from the organisers and a motivational speech from the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor, we were left to our own devices for a further hour, but there is only so much time you can spend packing and repacking a rucksack  so as the children played I tried to collect my thoughts.

Continue reading Bogs, bracken and the night of a thousand steps

Recovery Weeks

The last couple of weeks have been a mix of recovery, endurance maintenance and speedwork in the form of a short race.

After the Cotswolds race, I had no choice but to rest for a couple of days; my quads were stiff from the sustained exertion, and at times, especially in my left quad, I felt a worryingly sharp pain. By the Wednesday following though, my feet were sufficiently twitchy for me to don my trainers once again and pound the streets of London.

Talk about slow.

Continue reading Recovery Weeks

Cotswold 100 mile UltraRace

When you are running through the stillness of the English countryside at 2:00 in the morning after a perfect summer’s day, chasing a full moon with nothing but the bats and badgers, foxes and fireflies to keep you company, there is a lot of time to think and enjoy the views and the imposed solitude of the environment.

So I was more surprised than anything that I found myself concentrating mostly on getting food and sickly sweet caffeine laced carbohydrate juice in my mouth and calculating my time to the next of the 10 mile checkpoints on the basis of my pace over the last kilometre for the majority of the one hundred and sixty kilometres in my latest ultra-marathon.

Not quite the romantic image one might have of a long distance runner but then perhaps I am sadly deluded that ultra marathon running has romantic overtones 🙂

The Cotswold 100 or, more officially, the UltraRace 50/100 was my second Rory Coleman (of seven times MdS fame) organised event of the year but the first of my 3 one hundred milers planned for the summer, so this was the moment of truth. How would my training pay off? How would this compare to Mont Blanc? The next 24 hours would tell – hopefully!

[singlepic id=189 w=320 h=240 float=left]The day had started in a far more relaxed fashion than some of the other races I have done; I had taken the day off and we travelled up to our guest house in Stratford-upon-Avon without incident and the only frustration was the traffic on the M25. The course started and finished at Stratford racecourse with a rather elongated circular 100 mile loop in between, traversing well known Cotswold places such as Snowshill, Moreton-in-the-Marsh, Bourton-on-the-Hill and Chipping Campden and although the hills are nothing like the lake district or Mont Blanc, the Cotswold’s are certainly not renowned for being flat.

44 people in total had signed up for the races this weekend, 34 for the 100 mile and 10 for the 50 mile distance.  Of those on the 100 mile run, 21 people estimated their times as +24 hours and so had already started (during the heat of the day!) at 12:00, and 10 were non-starters, leaving only 3 of us to go at the 6:00pm (sub-24 hour) start.  The 50 milers were to start at 5:30am the next morning from checkpoint 5.

My wonderfully supportive wife and family accompanied me to the racecourse for 5:00pm where we waited for Rory and the anticipated UltraRace entourage to appear and although slightly off-put by the fact that only Rory in his mini-cooper turned up and that there were only three of us starting (having not know about the non-starters at that stage), we nonetheless listened to final instructions (follow the yellow-on-black ‘100’ stickers for 98 miles, then the red-on-white ‘Ur’ stickers for the final 2 miles) and attended to the usual pre-race prep, although this took all of about 3 minutes for all of us.

Continue reading Cotswold 100 mile UltraRace

Fear and loathing

One week to go.

My last couple of weeks have been easy by comparison to the peak of my training schedule, but there is nothing better than having reached and passed that point without having sustained an injury. Nevertheless I have to keep telling myself it’s alright to have a rest, as I feel a bit lazy, a bit of a ‘slacker’ 🙂 having only completed a minimal 50 miles last week and with only a paltry 30 miles planned this week 😮

I will need all the rest I can get as the races I am attempting are only four weeks apart, so with a recovery week after each (to let feet and legs, body and mind recuperate) and a taper week before each race, that does not leave much time for training in between.

I am swinging from feelings of excitement over these races, to fear of failure, to loathing of the challenge I have set myself without fully understanding why I am doing it. I have been ‘training’ for this since the end of August after the UTMB – it is a long time to commit to lengthy Sunday runs and early morning starts.

Continue reading Fear and loathing