Thursday, 31 January 2019

Winter Tanners 2019

This event (not race or run!) is now a bit of a regular fisture for me since I first did it in 2014; I have done the 30 mile version 5 times and the 20 once. Out of those 6, 5 have been really muddy and 2 have been in rain/snow for the whole day. This time the evil Tanners weather fairies had the day off and had obviously been slacking for the previous few weeks as well. That meant I wasn't really concerned about the lack of preparation and not sorting out waterproof running kit. 

The new kit I had was an ultra vest from Decathlon for under £30, which is superb quality and fit for the money and new shoes - Altra Phoenix 3.0. The shoes are really comfortable with a very wide toe, zero drop and well cushioned. They are meant to be trail shoes, but the grip isn't that deep, so reasonably dry trails would be right. I brought along waterproof trousers and a foil blanket just in case of injury and needing to walk slowly out to a checkpoint. 

I was meant to do this run with a club-mate who's aiming for a huge ultra in Scotland (200+ miles!) but he pulled out, though without telling me. Fortunately there were two other people from my club also doing it and they invited me to go with them. Great for transport, but this couple (Dave and Katie) are very experienced ultra runners, so I felt I could be holding them back. I also have a bit of a glute injury that could turn into a proper pain in the arse later. 

We arrived in Leatherhead in plenty of time to faff around with kit and drop bags and have a brief chat with McGoohan and Liebling. Start times were your choice between 7:30 and 8:30 with the proviso that if you turned up at Checkpoint 1 before it opened you would have to wait. We set off at 7:55 at a gentle trot with Dave navigating with the written route instructions and me checking with a GPS tracker.

Heading due south out of Leatherhead you are very quickly in to farm land and the gently climbing trails I had run before, so it was easy going until beyond 3 miles and the climb up to Ranmore Common on the NDW. Down the other side and past Westcott at 6 miles and we are into the Surrey Hills AONB. Weather cold and a little misty, but look up and there were patches of blue sky. Checkpoint 1 at 9.5 miles and there was a big crowd of people who had got there early. We arrived at 9:58 and it opened at 10:00, so I had time to scoff loads of biscuits and cake and get some squash while the crowds got scanned out and by 10:03 the queue had gone and we set off again. 

I left the navigating to Dave as his skills at reading while running and not face-planting where much better than mine. I just managed to catch us a couple of times as we went a bit off route. It's not a competitive run though, so if we went a bit off course there were also other people around calling us back to the route. You do have to watch out you are not just following someone out for hike or jog that are nothing to do with the event. Dave told us about a friend of his doing an ultra in Devon that went close to his parent's house. He detoured off course to drop in and get a cuppa and 20 people followed him! :-) 

13 miles in and up past Holmbury Hill and Hurt Wood and the LDWA founders view point, Pitch Hill at 14 miles and Winterfold Wood at 17. I was coping reasonably well with the route as it wasn't muddy, we were walking alll the hills and the pace on the flat was a reasonable 10ish min/mile. Checkpoint 3 at about 20 miles was one I was looking forward to as they had tea - my favourite restorative pick me up beverage on a cold hilly run. 

From 20 miles to 23 we were running across the valley from the NDW and knowing we had a big climb to come. I was struggling a bit with energy and this section was just not hilly enough to warrant a walk break, but having company really helped to keep the steady pace going. The sun had been out for a while and feeling it on my back with some heat seeping in also lifted me mentally. Just after 23 miles and the climb back up on to the NDW started - one I was actually looking forward to as I didn't have to run, and it was a good opportunity to eat and drink and enjoy the view. 

The final checkpoint at 26 miles was reached with a slippy slightly muddy jog down the lane to the Tanners Hatch youth hostel - more tea, a bit more faffing with kit and then off we went. Four and a bit miles to go and I was thinking I could be on for a 30 mile PB, but wasn't sure about how hilly the route back was. While we were on trail I could keep up with Dave and Katie, managed to trot up the last hill before dropping back to the Leisure Centre we passed on the way out. Still daylight, feeling OK and picking the pace up as I could smell the finish line with only a tricky road crossing to negotiate. 

Finished before 3pm in 7:03 at 30.5 miles, exactly what the route description claimed for distance. A PB by 9 minutes over what I had managed at Endure 24 last year (though I was kind of saving myself for another 45 miles on that day). Compare that to last year, same distance, similarly hilly but shitty weather and horrendously muddy - 9 hours 22 minutes - this year was an absolute joy. Oh, and you get to choose your new hips and knees for your post race goody bag!

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Marathon #75: Broken Witch and Not so Broken Me

Here I am again, doing something I said I wouldn't do - entering a marathon because I was suckered into it because of some fancy bling. Having said that, it was relatively cheap to enter, being a group discount of races races spread over the year. Phoenix Riverside Marathon is the 3rd out of 4 in the Phoenix Icebird series (same as last year's Firebird, but a different coloured medal at the end). You do the first 3 marathons and get plain old medals for them, then the 4th is an enormous Phoenix with places to hang your other three medals on. 

Thankfully this series of events is reasonably close to home and only requires getting out of bed at 6:30. The weather was set to be sunny and cold, but I still struggled to get out of bed due to a load of aches and pains around my hips, glutes and hamstring. 

I arrived on time, got my number and then started looking out for friends in the crowd who I might run with. Club-mate Leon didn't turn up so it was looking like it was going to be a lonely trial of just coping with the pain, but things started looking up when I noticed someone in a FetchEveryone t-shirt. The wearer goes by the Fetch name MovingAlong and we spent a few minutes chatting before the briefing. At least there would be someone to cheer back to as we passed on each of our 4 laps. 

Setting off, I quickly felt overdressed and got rid of the hat, but kept gloves on. The course by the Thames near Walton down to Hampton Court is almost completely flat, not even a little bridge to break the gradient, but I was struggling for the first few miles with tight glutes, hamstring and hips. Time to start badgering other people with running chat to take my mind off the pain. 

So I ran for a while with Jagjit Singh until I had finished about 4 miles and I had warmed up a bit, then kept the pace up around 10min/mile. On the second of the 4 laps David Lewis, chairman of the 100 Marathon Club, caught me up. We have met on several marathons this year and we had an interesting chat about being club chairmen. This turns out to be a far easier job for me than for him, what with members and committee of the 100 Marathon Club being spread all over and also having to deal with the odd few members with very strong opinions voiced on Facebook on what should constitute a marathon, membership of the club, club kit, the shape of medals, the effort or lack of if you happen to be very slow.....It seems there's always something vexing someone. 

For me, it's basically "Everybody happy? OK. Let's run!" 

It is so nice having a great committee who are enthusiastic about their roles and club members who just get on with running and having a nice time. Makes my job so much easier. 

Half way through lap 2 I caught up with Judy, the "Broken Witch", who I think had decided to do a last minute marathon just to keep the legs ticking over, but only found out she was in this one at 10pm last night at a party. Great prep! We chatted about her job - an equine vet, so generally brilliant work, but stressful at the moment - and her marathon challenges. She had been running marathons in Antarctica, North Pole, Falkland Islands, Christmas Island, Faroes and had more exotic, hard to get to places to run while raising money for breast cancer research. Fascinating stuff and nice to while away a couple of hours along the way to the finish. We finished together about 45 minutes quicker than I had expected I would do (maybe I'm not as broken as I thought). Thanks to the people I met it was a very pleasant day out. 

This running journey is so much enhanced by who you meet along the way. 

More details about Judy's current 7 Seas Challenge can be found here:

Friday, 16 November 2018

Crunchy or Smooth? Plain or Milk? Fruit or Straight?

The really important questions that should be answered on anyone's online dating profile? Obviously yes. I mean why do they even make smooth peanut butter? Chocolate? Ok you got me. Plain for me, but you wouldn't have to twist my arm much to get me to eat a few chunks of Cadburys Dairy Milk. 

Fruit or straight? Now we're getting personal. But before you spit your tea out over your laptop, I am talking flapjack. My favourite pre-marathon snack - especially those runs that start early and involve a 2 hour drive away from home, when I struggle to get out of bed for 5am and get my stuff together on time for the drive. I can at least be having some wholesome full fat, oaty, syruppy carbful brekky on the road. 

So fruit or straight? Fruit - and then some. Preserved peel, sultanas, orange juice, layered with apricot jam and finished off with chocolate ganache. 

You need to be a bit careful how many chunks* of this you consume per hour. It goes something like: 

1 = 'at's miyshe! (stop talking with your mouth full!) 
2 = Ooooh, that will probably get me through the first 10 miles. 
3 = I think my heart is getting palpitations now. 
4 = Hello, Mr Boese? Can you tell me where you are? 

This is just before the ganache goes on. Lovely chewy jammy bits bubbled up at the edges.

Sultanas/mixed peel - couple of handfuls 
Enough orange juice to cover the fruit in a pan, warm this for 10 mins. 
300g butter goes in the pan with the fruit to melt 
Add 6tbsp golden syrup and 150g brown sugar. 

Mix 350-400g cheap oats and 150g pain flour in a big bowl 
Chuck all the wet stuff in and mix it all up. 
Spoon half the mix into a deep lined baking tray so it's 1/2 inch thick. 
Warm up some of your favourite jam and spread over the mix, make it fruity. 
Spread the rest of the mix over with a fork 
160degC oven for 25 mins or so till it's nice and brown. 

Take out to cool 
Add ganache if you like 

* a chunk is a decent sized gobful, not a dainty nibble.

Friday, 9 November 2018

10 Runs that Made Me #10 Prospect parkrun 20/10/18

Early autum and Prospect park on the west side of Reading is starting to come in to its best. It is a big park of mostly grass but with big beach, oak and plane trees all around, leaves starting to turn, a heavy dew on the grass sparkling in the morning sunshine. Looking at the finish time gives no clue to what made this run so special, but everything just clicked and came together so well. 

Going back to starting parkrun in 2009 and then again in 2010, it seemed completley natural to offer to help out and just muck in with the rest of the guys setting up and tidying away. Over the years, I've given most things a go on the parkrun volunteer roster and this easily led to leading runs with my running club, joining the club committee responsible for one of our run nights, then stepping in to the club secretary role and finally chairman. 

Some might say that is a lot of giving back to the running community and well done me for doing it. Thanks. But that's not how I see it at all. There is no duty here, no thought of guilt about getting something for free and needing to pay my dues and no "giving back" to the community. 

Volunteering is a great privilage and a great opportunity where I get to meet and make friends who share my love of running. I get to talk to new people every week who are happy to see me. I get to learn new skills and develop others. I get to help people achieve their goals, to gain confidence and realise they can do great things. But outside of volunteering, just talking to someone who is struggling on a run, a kind word, a bit of advice and the reward is special. I've had lots of peole meet me after a marathon and thank me for getting them through it when they were ready to give up. 

Looking for new running experiences and new things to learn led me to try guide running for visually impared runners. I started by going to an England Athletics training course on VI awareness and guide running, although you don't have to do this. I learnt about different forms of visual imparement, techniques for guide running and a bit of practical training leading a blindfolded runner and being blindfolded myself and trying to run - very unsettling. 

A few weeks later, having joined the Basingstoke Guide Runners facebook page, I got an opportunity to guide Tony at Basingstoke parkrun. It was fun; a very slow jog round an easy course with a nice chat with Tony. A couple of weeks later and I was back at Basingstoke guiding Sandra, this time walking. 

Come to October this year and Prospect parkrun had been going for a couple of months and there was a VI runner, Lisa, who wanted to run there. I booked myself in the roster for guiding and got some advice from the volunteer coordinator about what kind of runner Lisa was. Apparently, quite new to running and running in a park, but getting close to 30 minutes for a 5k, didn't want to run with a tether or be in contact with a guide runner. Interesting. How was I going to manage this? 

I got to Prospect park on time, met the volunteers and met Lisa a few minutes later. We discussed her visual imparement, what she could and couldn't see in different light conditions - bright sunshine and sparkling dew resulted in complete white out - and how she wanted to run, slow and chatty or shut up and go for it. It was somewhere in between, although as a guide you have to keep talking, describing the terrain, the dips and rises, cross falls, changes in surface and avoiding potholes, roots and other runners. 

The course is all on grass and gently undulating. We set off near the back of the pack rising up hill to get to a huge oak tree then left along a gentle downslope around the perimeter of the main park, detoured around a bog, a football pitch and turned through the centre of the park, running in step matching her right foot to my left. As a guide there is work to do on this run, lots of sharp turns you count down in to, dips and rises, tree roots, rutted paths. You run over the hazard yourself and guide your runner to the smoothest path. 

It's not up to me to push the pace but I could hear Lisa was breathing hard uphill so I try and keep the effort constant and recover a bit on the downhills. We try and leave something for the climb to the great big oak tree at the top of the course and the turn to the finish. The time? Well the time was just right. 

Blue sky and whispy clouds, diamond dew, swishing through leaves, crunching acorns, in step. Beautful. Running. Joy. 

10 Runs that Made Me #9 Surrey Tops 50 9/2017

Surrey Tops is a 50 mile event run by LDWA mostly for walkers, but that allows runners to take part. It's self navigated too with a start time that is aimed at forcing you to be navigating in the dark. This one also forms part of a Triple Challenge that includes the Kent White Cliffs Challenge and Sussex Stride, all 50 mile events. 

This was my first 50 mile event. I had done several 30 mile LDWA challenge events before and even run 60 miles at Endure 24 the year before, but that was laps and was a pretty relaxed affair and more like back to back marathons with a big sleep in between. I had also run over 50 marathons or ultras so I had learned a lot aboout how to get myself through this kind of event. So here is some knowledge: 

Feet - I get blisters easily between my toes, probably from too narrow shoes for when my feet swell up a bit from hours of pounding. Wide fitting shoes and two pairs of socks with one being a thin toe sock liner works for me. 

Well cushioned trail shoes are like the Holy Grail. Anything beyond about 20 miles and feeling every stone poking me in the foot is seriously annoying. Hoka Mafate Speed 2 work for me and I have done over 700 miles in my current pair. 

Take it easy on descents or expect your knees and quads to be completely mashed. It also helps to avoid falls. 

Drink often and eat often, right from the beginning. Gels are OK for a marathon, but you need real food for an ultra and if you eat real food, you need to be able to digest it, so you have to go slower so your stomach works. If you sweat a lot, then take salt tablets, as your stomach also shuts down when dehydrated and salt helps proper hydration, as well as avoiding muscle cramps. 

Work out what the weather is going to do and wear comfortable clothes that don't chafe. Add to that Sudafed nappy rash cream for those bits of skin not separated by lycra. 

So that is all the physical side covered. I was also used to the route instructions so there should be no problems with just going 20 miles further than usual. All OK then? 

Wrong! Obviously, or why would this be worth telling? The event took place on a plesaant day in September; sunny, warm, nice views from the hills. I got to Elstead Common, somewhere I know and I knew where the next aid station was, but couldn't figure out the route instructions at one point and spent 20 minutes running in circles until I got back on track. This distracted me, made me feel like I was behind schedule a bit. 

This got worse when I lost the route again on Puttenham Common, again somewhere I know and also only a few miles from the next check point, which I also knew. These distractions built up in my mind and that was all I was focussed on and I wasn't eating or drinking as much as I needed to. With tiredness and lack of energy, my mind works against me to make me feel even worse. 

After the 20 mile checkpoint, I was followed out by the tail walkers and I then needed to keep ahead of them and push on. Half way up St Marth's Hill near Guildford I was feeling awful, phoned my wife and had a conversation that went something like: 
"I feel terrible, I want to quit." 
"So you want me to come and get you? Where are you? 
"St Martha's Hill, near Guildford" 
"But I'm watching Strictly with the kids" 
"Oh, well I suppose I could get to the next checkpoint. That's 8.5 miles away" 
"Great, I'm sure you'll be OK. 'Bye!" 

It was getting dark, so I needed a head torch to see the instructions and my way through the woods. I found that and also spotted a bag of sweets, saw that the next 4 or 5 miles was all on the North Downs Way, so just looked out for the marker posts and made my way up the hill, eating and drinking as I went. 

By the time I was on the descent about a mile later the sugar was kicking in and I was feeling a lot better and recovering. Maybe only an hour and a half to the check point and I could quit. When I got there, I didn't quit immediately, but sat down for a hot meal of beef stew and potatoes and apple pie and custard, a cup of tea. That checkpoint saved me. I felt so much better to have food inside me, and this was mostly mental. 

It also helped that I had started to catch other walkers and I wasn't last. The checkpoint cut off times were starting to recede and the pressure to keep pushing was off. Now it was 10pm and there was still a long way to go, but it was only 18.5 miles - being less than 20 miles also helped.

I spent the night part of the race gradually catching up with other walkers and runners, but much of it on trails by myself. I haven't ever used headphones in an event to distract me, I talk to myself.

"This is hard, it hurts. That's not news, get on with it. What's good about this? Look where you are! It's dark. How dark is it really? Turn your light off and see. Wow, pitch black in the woods, rustling leaves, stars through the canopy. Keep going, bats in the headlight, a silent owl, deer shining eyes. Actually this doesn't hurt any more than it did an hour ago - keep going." 

What was nearly a miserable failure, turned out to be a successful finish and a great learning experience about how severly I could fall apart mentally if I don't manage to fuel myself properly. It's true what they say about ultras - they are an eating competition with some running thrown in. It's also true what they say about running in general - a lot of performance is down to your mental state. It's hard work, but there is beauty all around out on the trails and there's more just around the next corner. Just keep going. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

10 Runs that Made Me: #8 Sandhurst Joggers Training Run December 2012

Hands up all those people who have entered the London Marathon ballot and not got in? I'm up to 8 consecutive entries since 2012 and not once have I got in. I even have 2 Rejection Jackets that I never wear. Fortunately I am a member of a running club and England Athletics registered. For the 2013 race I had entered the ballot, not got in, then heard about my running club's draw for a chance to get one of 3 guaranteed places. 

I had my rejection letter and met the criteria for entry, so decided I might give it a go. I got to the club run on a Wednesday night I think, met up with a load of Sandhurst Joggers and got ready to go on a run, that was to be followed later by a curry, skittles and marathon draw in a pub. I had invited a friend from parkrun to come along, but he was late, so I waited while my SJ colleagues ran off to Yateley. Dave turned up and we set of in the general direction of where the others had gone, but never found them. After about 6 miles we got back to Dave's house, then I went home to shower. 

Having missed the club run I nearly didn't bother to go out again, but went anyway and just made it as Thai green curry was served and handed in my rejection letter. After curry and skittles, it was time for the draw. First name out of the bag "Richard (shit that's me!) McCready (oh, no it isn't. So it won't be me then), second name out of the bag was not me either, then "Richard - yes you this time!" I think I said both Yay! and Shit! at the same time. 

Late 2012 I was having treatment on an achilles injury and was due my last appointment a week after the draw, making it mid-December. I had been running only 20 to 35 miles per month around that time. Then I got the go ahead to resume "light training", got myself a 16 week marathon training plan and the next 3 months saw 101, 113 and 151 miles run. Lightly, obviously. 

I was on for my first marathon with a target time of 4:30 and with 2 weeks to go I did a trail half marathon with some quick descents and the next day my foot was really swollen. What the PF!? I managed to get to the start line but with very little running in the taper. My foot was pretty sore for the last 8 miles of the marathon, but then everything was sore not much later. I missed my target finishing in 4:35:55. 

There! Another failure that I kind of beat myself up about. I mean, 4:35 for a relatively new runner in their first marathon is OK, but it didn't feel like it to me. 

If I had beaten 4:30 I might never have done another marathon, but I had a target that I had missed and now knew that I could do a marathon. 

Your life can change on a whim or a chance, like "Oh alright then, I'll go for that curry." Look what that led to: London done, then next marathon in September - Farnham Pilgrim (hilly trail), then Portsmouth in December - flat, windy, raining, had to wade across a beach knee deep with the incoming tide but finished in 4:13:52. Then someone said "You could definitely go below 4 hours." 

And that, Dear Readers, is where my grip on reality was lost. 

I did 5 marathons the next year and 14 the year after that. Marathon/ultra No.75 is just around the corner. Good grief! 

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

10 Runs that Made Me #7 Frimley parkrun 23/6/2012

Another parkrun and another at Frimley Lodge. One of my slowest, but one of the most impressive runs I have seen. I came last, there were no tail walkers, just me and my daughter, 6 and a half years old. About 2 weeks before she had said that she wanted to come along to parkrun and run with me. We managed one lap, then she stopped and I finished the run trying to catch up with other runners - a nice work out! 

On this day in June 2012, Elinor had wanted to come along again, but this time at half way, she said she wanted to do the whole thing. We continued to jog and walk with no moaning about how hard it was, she just took hold of my hand when she wanted to slow down a bit and we finished in 42:39. 

As you can see from the parkrun results above she has continued to run most parkrundays over the the last few years and has over 200 runs. My son also started to run at parkrun not much later and is also on his way to 250 runs and this is along with loads of fun run medals.
Top Bombing by Elinor
Getting my kids to make parkrun a habit as normal as sitting down to Sunday lunch together feels like a great achievement. It makes exercise for them in general so much more fun and opens up opportunities for lots of other activities that they might shy away from if they felt it would be too much effort, or they might look uncool in front of their friends. 

I try to impress on both of them just how good their running is and how unusual it is these days when so much of our lives can be filled with sceen time. Then they go and prove it for themselves - Elinor, best in her year at a recent bleep test and Alfred just got a new PB at Frimley parkrun of 20:04.