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Monday, 22 April 2013

Long distance learning curve.


Long Distance Learning Curve


I'm sat here with so much in my head, so many thoughts, so many questions and feelings.  As the content of my last post stated I have had various injuries that are taking a while to heal.  By "a while" I mean 5 weeks, 5 weeks!! What's up with me? I went years without running more than the length of a bus now I start to unravel after just 5 weeks!  I've told myself to grow up, pull myself together to get on with the multiple jobs that need doing round the house*. Realistically this isn't a long time but for a runner who is actively training for races, its a life time.

At the time of writing, I have just come off a 10 days rest period and I have been on a few steady runs.  While I have been resting, to occupy my mind, I have been filling my time with online research, rehab tips and inspiration.  The internet is awash with sites dedicated to running far, who knew? I didn't when I first got into it.  It all happened when a friend said lets run from London to Brighton, it's only 100 kilometres.  I instantly said yes and here is my race report from the day. and here is the aftermath report.

Most of the quotes used in this post are from a brilliant no frills website that is full ultra stuff.  It can be found here http://www.run100s.com/

Why couldn't Pheiddipedes have died at 20 miles? (a brief history of running a long way)**
The idea of humans running far isn't new, we've always done it. Up until recently (relative to human history) we had to chase down our food and sometimes these chases went on for days.  If you didn't run, you didn't eat, there were no shops to nip out to in the car, no takeaways or restaurants.  Then one some bright spark who was probably the guy who first said "you'll do your knees in running".  This bright spark had brains, he made traps and weapons.  As a result we became farmers and we didn't need to run as much.  We then only had to run to get to or away from something quickly.  We then used our brains again, we invented better weapons so we didn't have to run away any more   We domesticated animals and used them to pull vehicles.  Pretty soon as adults, we weren't running at all.  You'll notice I said "as adults"?  If you look at children playing, they don't walk anywhere.  They're at A they play for a bit then they will sprint to B, play a bit more then sprint to C and so on...  Running is an innate instinct and rather than learning to run, it is in fact the other way round, we are born running and we are taught not to!!!

So - we have an instinct to run but we don't have a reason to run, what do we do? We invent running for fun which satisfies other human instincts (humans are show off's).  Once races were invented we needed something for the nutters to do.  Along came another bright spark who'd read about Pheiddipedes who was some greek guy who ran a long way once and the marathon was born.  The next time you are running in a marathon and you're at the 18 miles hitting the wall mark.  Just think to yourself  "why couldn't Pheiddipedes have have died at 20 miles" you'd be nearly finished by now, it's all his fault.

While i'm on the marathon - A few weeks ago I watched the London Marathon coverage and I was listening to the commentary by Brendan Foster.  He says something every time I watch the coverage.  "This is the ultimate test in endurance running." It drives me mad.  I have nothing against doing a marathon, I've done them and they are hard work.  In a lot of ways they are harder than running an ultra but are they the ultimate test in endurance running?

The longest I have ever run none stop i.e. no walking at all, just running, is 29 miles.  That was my last training run before the London to Brighton 100k last year.  I have since learned that you don't have to run a whole ultra but I'll get to that later.  Back to the training run, it was a beautiful spring morning.  I ran unsupported, carried all my water and food and I ran pretty fast (relative to the distance) and I averaged just over 10 minutes per mile.  The route was a mixture or gravel paths, forest trail and fells and from 20 miles the pain set in.
"Pain is a wonderful thing and now I was feeling wonderful, really wonderful!!!"- Unknown trail runner
I lost my first toenail on this run and it was the first time I'd ever gone above 26.2 miles.  There were no crowds, no aid stations and no medals at the finish.  The weird thing is, it was still just a training run and afterwards I went about my usual Sunday business. It was also the first time I experienced the "runners high".  It didn't matter how much I was hurting because I was buzzing all day long.
"Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes
no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances
on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the
approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted
from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense.
The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that
is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that
the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running
such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of
their being -- a call that asks who they are ..."
- David Blaikie
It's occurred to me that I never seriously talk about running to anyone.  Sure I "talk" about running, I talk all the time.  I'll say "I'm going for a run" or answer something like "just 10 miles" after someone asks how far.  Colleagues are the best, it's good to mess about with their heads.  One was "what are you training for?" they asked "I'm doing a 100k run" I said.  There are usually 3 reactions, there are the ones that hear 10k even though you've said 100k.  They'll say "that's cool, I'd like to do one of those".  Then there are the ones who are slightly impressed but think you're an idiot.  The final reaction to telling someone you like to run far is the realist, the stating the bloody obvious type.  I got this reaction a couple of weeks ago when I first injured my achilles.  I was limping up the office into the area where we make drinks.  "What have you done?" he asked, I've completely shredded my achilles tendon I exaggerated.  "How?" he asked "oh you know... running" I say.  "F*ck that shit man, it can only do you harm at your age, stop it now!" he says.  I laugh and he says "no I'm serious, I'm the same age as you (he's older) and when I want a drink, I jump out of my chair and skip down the office to make one, none of this shit" as gestures at my feet. Well that told me I thought.
"A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well."- G. K. Chesterton
This got me thinking about the whole ultra thing, why do I want to push myself to breaking point?  Who is it for? is it for myself, is it some sort of weird attention seeking thing or is it a mid-life crisis?  I don't know the answer.  All I know for sure is a quick 5 miles on the road doesn't do it for me, never has, never will.  I'd rather wake up on a Monday morning and not be able to walk because of a stupid long run or a punishing outing in the Peaks than be skipping down the office for a cup of tea.  The truth is I like it.....
"My doctor told me that jogging could add years to my life.  I think he was
right.  I feel ten years older already."
- Milton Berle
Most doctors would agree that regular exercise will help most people look younger.  That's all well and good but where is the sweet spot, at what point does the training have a detrimental effect on how you look? Take fell running and I regard fell runners to be some of most talented athletes there is. Go to any fell race, look at the runners, the sunken cheeks, the sinew, the veins like hose pipes.  Do they look younger than their years? Most fell runners look 40 even if they are 20!   Then think ultra, an ultra can add 10 years to your looks in one day.  Not only do you feel like an old man\woman when you've finished, you look like one too!
"The thing I don't like about Western States is that you show up at the
starting line in the best shape of your life and a day later you are in
Auburn in the worst shape of your life."
- Andy Black, on Western States
To be an ultra runner and you'll notice I didn't say good ultra runner or bad for that matter, to be an ultra runner you have to be able to run a long way.  That's it and in most cases to complete an ultra you just need to be able to cover this distance with a mixture of run\walking that and win the battle with your mind.  It doesn't matter that by the end you'd quicker walking than doing the ultra shuffle that you see at so many races.
"The race continued as I hammered up the trail, passing rocks and treesas if they were standing still."- Red Fisher, Wasatch '86
It doesn't matter if you're in last place, all that matters is crossing the finish line.  I've had a DNF and I'm glad it happened early in my ultra journey.  I don't regret pulling out of the race in question, I was injured but I wasn't injured enough.  I lost the battle with my head, my head was saying, you wont be able to walk tomorrow but if I wanted to be able to walk the day after races, I'd do marathons or other fun runs :-).  I think I invented this next quote, i can't find any reference to anywhere.  Me and my mate Karl were going to have T shirts made with it on.
"I run Ultra but I sometimes run marathons and other fun runs." - Loxley Crawshaw, Just before the 2012 L2B 100k
I'm not a seasoned ultra runner and I don't even know at what point I'll be able to say I am but with each race of any length I learn a bit more about myself, how to pace, how to fuel and how to prepare mentally.  I don't intend to do this forever but I do intend to give it my best shot and I have a few things I want to have a go at.  A 100 mile race has got to be on the list as are some multi day races.  So the plan is to stay injury free as much as possible and go on an ultra journey into the unknown.

* I did nothing in the house.
**There is no historical, sociological or anthropology fact in this paragraph.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Injured!!

*Update - My achilles injury seems to be slowly healing but I haven't run for a week! now I have some sort of cold.  I think the Yorkshire 3 Peaks fell race is looking in doubt now.

Well for the first time in almost a year I have an injury that is stopping me running, it's only been 5 days  but it seems like a lifetime.  I'm a typical man and I always self diagnose myself before seeing an expert.  I believe (with the help of Google) that I have a minor rupture or tear in my left Achilles tendon.  It happened during a hill training session last week.  I believe I know the reason why, I wore old trainers because my usual ones were wet, big mistake!  So I know when, I know how but when will I be able to run again?

This is not good, I'm a runner, I need to run! I've turned into a right miserable git and it made me realise how much running is part of my life now.  Not only that but Just last week I decided I was going to make things official and join a club.  I decided at 43, even though I enjoy running on my own that I would benefit from being in a club.  After lots of research (5 minutes) I decided there was only one club for me and that is Dark Peak Fell Runners.  Can you even join a running club when injured? Will they take me on? Should I wait until my injury is healed?  so many questions! I will defer my decision for a few more days.  Until then I need to rest and try to find a cure for my miserable gititis.

Here are my symptoms:

Lethargy
Irritable
Boredom
Tiredness
Lack of energy

Please help!

I'm going to read Feet in the Clouds again to see if that helps.




Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Freedom

Freedom pt2

In my previous post which was aptly named Freedom pt1 I wrote of the romance of running and how we get weighed down with stuff when trying to go for a run.  Most running gear companies will try to sell us the freedom that running gives you.  They give us pictures of smiley people running free, on the trails, in the sunshine and being one with nature.  As most runners know the reality is far from this image.  As a random fell racer once said to me *"I f***ing love fell running, the mud, the cuts and grazes, the sweat, the dried snot and that just the girls!"  He was right, we runners look nothing like what advertising thinks we should look like.  It doesn't matter what we look like though, sometime every once in a while something magical happens on a run that confirms the reasons why you run.





Gate to Lose Hill
Let me take you back to mid February.  A few fellow runners and I went to some talks that were part of the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (ShAFF, you should check out the trailer).  One of the speakers was Stuart Bond who is a local fell runner.  He talked of his training regime and specifically of his hill sessions on Lose Hill in Hope, Derbyshire. I'm cutting a long (but interesting) story short but basically he would run up and down Lose Hill 5 times in one session.  That's 10 miles and 6000 ft of climb!! Anyway this really interested me because I've run Lose Hill loads of times but always from the Mam Tor side.  So I had a plan, the following Sunday I got up at 6am set off for Castleton where I would park my car.  I parked up jogged the 2 miles from Castleton to the base of the hill in Hope.  It was wet, foggy and freezing but I soon got to the start of the trail and the gate that would be the start of my gate to summit speed attempt (I forgot to mention that Stuart Bond does gate to summit in 13 minutes). Although not fully warmed up I set off running. It was still foggy, boggy and very cold but I'd come here for a reason so I ran as hard as I could and after a few hundred feet of climb I noticed the fog was getting thinner. I could see sunshine and knew I was in for a visual treat.  I'd seen inversions in this area before from Kinder but I couldn't  have hoped for what I was about to see. A few hundred feet of ascent more and bang I was out, I literally had my Feet in the Clouds but the rest of me was in blazing sunshine.

Halfway to the summit
Hope is down there somewhere!
I remember saying f**k me that is beautiful.  **I even forgot I was on a timed hill climb as I reached for my phone to take some photos.  I quickly took a few photos and carried onto to the summit where a 360 degree vista awaited.  Words and grainy camera phone pictures cant explain how stunning the view was.

As I looked towards Mam Tor. Castleton was to my left and Edale was to my right.  Not that you could see them, all you could see was a gently swirling carpet of cotton wool covering as far as you could see.  It left me speechless, in awe and feeling very lucky to be alive.

The Great Ridge
It was still freezing so to keep warm I ran along the sometimes icy and treacherous ridge to Mam Tor summit where another 360 vista awaited.  I could see Rushup Edge, Brown Knoll and Kinder all poking their considerable heads above the fog. I took a couple more photos but all to soon I had to descend back to Hollins Cross and head back into the swirling mist.  It was amazing how quickly I descended back into the mist and by the time I was back in Castleton I was back in thick, cold and damp fog. The inhabitants of Castleton had started to wake up and there were a few of them busily going about their morning business oblivious to what was above their heads.  I wanted to grab them and tell them that 15 minutes running and you'll be in another world, I didn't though, it was my secret.

Me taken with the timer.

This brings me back to the start of the post and the image of running we see in magazines and on TV.  As I said before, the reality for  normal, ordinary runners is far from this image but if you get out there and seek it, you'll find it.  The advertising tries to sell us stuff, sell us the lifestyle, they can sell us expensive running gear, some good some bad but no amount of money can buy you moments like this.  It is free if you choose to look for it.

*Thinking about it, I may use the start of this sentence as a tshirt motif "I F***ING LOVE FELL RUNNING" 
**The time from gate to Summit was about 16 minutes but who's counting.


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