Who’s up for an Ultra?

So why would anyone decide to sign up for an ultra? An ultra marathon is any distance longer than the 26.2 mile marathon.

This time last year I didn’t know what that even was. My firm view on finding out was that those people who do them are really not right.

Part of the reason for me is to push myself to go longer, and stay healthy, fit and strong.

You’ll have seen from this post that part of my training incorporates a trail marathon in Cornwall too, another first for me, in May 2019.

I had intended that the ultra would be 50km, which is 8km longer than the marathon at 42.1km.

The race I’ve actually signed up for though, is 100km. That’s 62.1 miles. Although it’s possible to break up the distance by camping overnight on the Saturday; I’ll be completing the 100km non stop.

I decided to do the extra distance to raise funds for Marie Curie, who support people living with terminal illness. I’d already intended to do 50km before thinking about fundraising, so it seemed only fair to up the challenge by a fair bit (or double it, whichever you prefer).

Which brings me to the other part of the reason for signing up – terminal illness is something which I’ve not had to confront in my personal life previously, and to have its spectre arrive in the family was, and is still, a huge shock.

It’s been a few months since we found out and although news was initially closest family only; as the news has been shared with wider families and friends it’s developed a momentum of its own.

By agreement, I won’t identify the owner of the illness in this or any updates.

Planning and practicalities are a part of the processes and arrangements which suddenly, unexpectedly intrude into life. Keeping busy helps to distract us all from having to think about our impending loss, as does humour, but increasingly, that early grief requires attention, too.

None of us can ever know how long we have to spend together, and the news is simply a reminder of that in many ways. The time we do have also needs to include a celebration of that time too.

My plan though, is to fundraise in some part, to feel like I’m doing something constructive in the face of the immenseness of it all, to help those countless others who will come after, and to try and put some time into coming to terms with all that’s going on.

I’ve started a Just Giving page for anyone who would like to donate to Marie Curie and sponsor me to complete the 100km Race to the Stones 2019.

It’s along the ancient Ridgeway path, one of the national trails.

The bumps along the bottom of the image show the hill profile along the whole of the route.

The route starts from Lewknor and finishes at Avebury stone circle, passing numerous bronze and Iron age sites, including the Uffington White Horse, although by my very rough calculation it may be getting a bit dark by the time I get there!

I’d really like to raise £500 for Marie Curie – of course I’d love to raise far more than this, and all donations will be very much appreciated.

For anyone who would like to donate but doesn’t want to use electronic means, please let me know and we’ll sort it so you can still make a donation in a way that feels comfortable to you.

Please do also share away and encourage others to donate.

I’m planning a training updates series of blog posts to the Imerys trail marathon and beyond to the Race to the Stones.

You can follow me and get updates direct to your inbox below.

Further or faster?

It was an experience – achieving my first massive fitness related goal.

For the first two days I was so proud of myself, shattered, stiff and proud of myself, in that order 😀

Then, in the tiredness, it happened.

The post race blues – time when your body is putting all efforts into repair and recover from the pounding!

While still too exhausted to run anywhere I spent some time wondering if I’d go out running again, ever.

It was such a long way from the determination, energy and effort sustained for eight months of training. I felt outside of it all, trying to look in and wondering why anyone would do this to themselves.

Not being able to walk downstairs comfortably for three days would not be helping either!

At the same time, getting restless, wanting to find the energy, determination and the sense of achievement again but not feeling motivated to start.

This is probably a good thing – I think I underestimated the time needed to recover and my body and mind took on the job of not letting me back too early!

A nasty creepy cold has also snuck in, but apparently that’s normal too.

Time for a new goal to get motivated and start over – I don’t want to lose the fitness I’ve worked so hard for by leaving it too long.

The question was then ‘further, or faster?’

Marathon time!

Trail marathon, to be more exact- I’m hoping it will be more interesting, and varied with better views. After all, Cornwall has fabulous trails and footways so getting out to enjoy them has to be top of the list!

Also, I’m keeping it local; some races open up usually private land so a long nosy run is on the cards around the China Clay pits at the Imerys Trail Marathon.

For this I must go shopping for essential things which I’ve not thought of yet but am very much looking forward to buying!

I had so much fun sorting a training plan too – a perfect occupation for a tired evening – colour coded and everything. My plan is a combination of two free ones I found online that together would get me there.

Runners World has a fab tool to use in working out training paces. I’m going to stick to these paces which seems counterintuitive at first, is explained here. Going all out to beat that last segment might not be what’s needed longer term.

I might draw my plan up properly at some point and make it a thing of beauty.

The first part of my integrated plan is focused on building a strong mileage base, before moving on to the trail marathon part.

The eagle eyed will spot the change to miles. I was working my way into the start crowd at Eden and asked a runner what her pace was, to get a feel for where I needed to be. 9 min/miles – had to ask her what that was in km 😳 = went further back in the queue. I hope to feel more grown up, working in miles and the numbers are lower. It all helps (well hopefully!). The bummer is having to convert back to m/km or km/hr for treadmill so the plan has evolved several stages along the way.

Hot tip – Save pace charts for the different run types in both km and mile formats and screenshot them so they’re always ready.

You’ll maybe notice that the plan goes on beyond the trail marathon, and you’d be right that there’s something more. Stay tuned, however you tune 😃

I’m going to try to do a series of posts but there’re some family discussions needed first.

Eden Project 2018 (first) Half Marathon Race

So after 20+ weeks of training, having come from pretty much nothing; today I completed my first Half.

It has proved to me that working slowly towards a big goal makes something which initially seemed unachievable, perfectly possible.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not been straightforward getting to this point, and my posts so far on this blog spend time reflecting on some of the challenges along the way.

The shoe saga, for example, eventually culminated in these beauties, after I found a local running shop that does gait analysis and got my shit sorted – like running on cushions, lovely!

I’ve nothing to compare it with, but today seemed really well organised. The instructions and rules were clear, registration packs and comms went out pre-race. The course was well signed and marshalled by St Austell Running Club and the water and aid stations well placed. It was lovely to be encouraged along by smiley faces and the station with the Croc and the mannikin definitely won the character award!

It was strange to run with other people – all my training has been alone – and with that number of people running I shouldn’t have been surprised that bottlenecks occurred on the trail sections, slowing us all to a frustrated walk as we ducked a tree across the path, or negotiated a narrow muddy corner!

In addition to ducking trees, storm Callum had left us another particularly lovely present – two sections of totally flooded road. I’d got somewhat muddy on the trail but was smugly thinking that I’d at least kept my feet dry. Not to be!

I did end up walking some hills which I had planned to avoid doing, but it seemed to make sense as power walking up the hill wasn’t really much slower than my keep running pace, and it certainly used less energy.

At mile 12 I was confident it was downhill all the way, and started to accelerate, finding to my dismay, that there were still uppy sections left to run! Once they were conquered we joined the downhill zigzag to the finish and I hammered in to find a line time of 2hr 25.05, a fantastic experience to cross the finish line with people cheering!

I earned that medal I reckon – and managed to drop my new white t-shirt on the floor within 5 minutes – but all’s well when a pasty and a pint of Tribune are waiting at the end.

We heard at the awards that an operational hitch (ahem) had affected the leaders and caused some head scratching for the organisers but it was sorted by the time us slower folk arrived……

It’s time to think about the next one – I’ve worked too hard and learned too much about myself to want to let it all go now.

The question now is – longer or faster?

Truro Running

21k / Half Marathon Routes this is a darn good route if you want quiet shady lanes and uppy downy bits near Truro. This is not the official Truro Half route, which goes out south of Truro.

St Clement hill is a nasty final kick though. The link to Strava for more map detail is below.

Alternatively you could head straight over at the crossroads at around 11/12km, near Tregear. I turned right there to head alongside Tregasso woods, but if you carry on over the top signed Probus (road across arable land with no fence or hedges – bit strange in Cornwall) and hang a right for Tresillian later at the bridge, there’s a lovely long gentle climb and the routes rejoin at the junction. That detour gives the extra distance so you can stay on through Tresillian and turn off (after my route leaves the main road) onto either the Devil’s Arch road from Tresillian past Penair school and then pick up Penair lane on the right to return to start, or head up the main road, which has a pavement all the way to the park and ride, and cut through the P+R to start.

Check out my run on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1861281991/shareable_images/map_based?hl=en-US&v=1537736085&utm_source=org.wordpress.android&utm_medium=referral

Going the whole Half Marathon Distance

I went the distance! I know I can do it!

Three weeks to go until the 2018 Eden Half. This will be my first half marathon, since getting the running bug earlier this year.

It’s amazing to have come this far, but having had a few conversations with various people recently I’ve been doing a little reading, and a lot of thinking too.

I do think the real achievement is in getting from 0 – 5k. I’m not trying to minimise my current (amazing) achievement and I will get to that….but getting over that first 5k hurdle was such a toughie. It’s easy to see why people get put off, and never get to the fabled runner’s high.

  • At the 0 – 5k point it was hard going, and without the sound knowledge you can run, there is no confidence you can fall back on, no actual evidence that it is possible.
  • At that time perhaps you also have no favoured pace you know you can hold while recovering from a hill/getting breathing rate or heart rate back under control, to fall back on.
  • I read that our optimum muscle temperature for running is a degree higher than the 37° of normal body temperature. It takes a while to get up to 38° and be properly ready to maintain a work rate and perhaps that’s a factor too, particularly in light of the two previous points.
  • There’s also the breathlessness. It passes (it really does). The beginning of a run is the worst bit for breathlessness. I think that the reason for this is the body needing to catch up and realise that you are working hard running and need more oxygen. By 4-6km the oxygen debt is repaid so it feels easier.

Getting to 5km really is a huge deal, particularly if you’re not aware of the above.

So racking up the extra kilometres from 5 – 21 wasn’t exactly easy either, but some of the factors above still apply, like confidence, knowing it is possible to continue to 21k and beyond. My confidence has come through building up slowly, increasing the long run each week by about 1.5k a time and really sticking as much as possible to my training plan and recording training sessions on my pizza box.

I now know a little about oxygen debt and optimum temperature for the body to work at, and am able to recognise the effects from my own experience. It helps to know that the breathlessness will pass, particularly.

Overall, it will be huge to just get to the finish line uninjured.

I used a race time calculator which suggested a goal time of 2hr 30 – 45 mins might be something to aim for, and my efforts at tempo running have been with this pace in mind, ie. the tempo pace was 25 – 30 seconds faster per minute than my expected race pace (note ‘expected’ rather than goal pace – I thought 2hr 30 was rather wishful thinking).

I was trying to be realistic, but I’ve found I actually ran my whole 21k long run at around my expected tempo pace, but that is a problem. Because tempo pace is pushing at the lactate threshold with a view to increasing the ability of the body to clear lactate from muscles and improve endurance – logic states that it couldn’t have been my real tempo pace.

So the first adjustment is clearly going to have to involve racking up the tempo pace. What an unwelcome prospect that is.

I have found that keeping my watch on to show my pace (ie. the number of minutes and seconds it will take to run a kilometre given current speed) together with a reading for distance already completed is really helpful too.

I can see an immediate change in pace from minimal extra effort down the leggies. Little bit of a reward on the wrist. Nice.

I’m also wondering whether I should aim a little higher on the overall timing front too, maybe try to shave a few minutes off?

Trouble is that I’ve never done this before, so getting all tight about times just isn’t necessary. I want to finish in one piece. That’s it. But…

There isn’t much time either. I don’t expect to get reliably faster in three weeks so maybe realistic improvements are in endurance, and in comfort over the last kilometres. I suffered in the last two but #19 was up a nasty ole hill; I’d just stopped for a loo break (in a real loo I should add) at the bottom and seized up a bit too. Still…

I know I have a belief that I’m extremely slow. It is slowly being challenged by the evidence as my splits come down from 7m range to the 6m range (just), but I’ll be near the back, I’ve little doubt, and that’s if things go well.

So I’m back to the plan for crossing that line uninjured, which is a good plan (but maybe, just maybe…)

If you’d like more info on the route, click here

Up next

I’m feeling a couple more posts coming on – did I mention my new trainers? This follows on from the last – nevertoberepeated trainer buying experience!

Also some race day worries beyond ‘WTF am I doing?’ Watch this space…

Trail Tuesday

Good run out tonight – only the first and last few hundred yards on tarmac and 8k on the Lanhydrock trails.

I had a rest day yesterday but the long run on Sunday was almost all on tarmac, and by 15km I was feeling my hip sockets a little more than I wanted to, so it got me thinking more about surfaces and consciously mixing it up a bit.

My quads were talking to me from the off and I’d planned to go R.E.A.L.L.Y S.L.O.W.L.Y as in, barely moving forward at all – not only to keep rested but to stay in a low intensity heart rate zone.

Those who know Lanhydrock will know it is on the side of a hill running down to a lovely flat stretch of riverbank trail. I parked up top and headed out, having checked with the nice lady in the cafe when they locked the gates. Apparently they don’t, but I was well on my way before a nasty thought popped up wondering if she’d been having me on….

Anyway, I got a bit overexcited and set off at a far faster pace than I should’ve, fairly zooming down the hill.

Plan was to go 4k around the 5k trail and turn round and come back the same way I’d come. I didn’t quite end up doing that- branching off to the carriage drive for a mile or so before heading back in.

On trails, the surface is not generally even, and at Lanhydrock there is a mix of surfaces. The riverside is earth, mud in the wet, and paths leading up through the woods mainly earth covered with small ish stones of varying degrees of looseness, depending on the path. You can often find a softer bit with fewer stones along the side. The trails are mostly wooded, so you get the shade, but this can cut out a cooling breeze too. The wooded paths can offer some surprises as the differences between light and shady patches also require vigilance for where you place your feet. I nearly got caught out but thankfully recovered without a face plant!

Trail surfaces seem less hard on the legs though, as well as being slower. I guess the need to balance and manage lateral hip, knee and ankle movement strengthens a wider range of muscles rather than the more up/down forward/back movement of the road runner.

I have (luckily as it turns out), developed a fair bit of mental fortitude since starting this running thing – doubtless due to the effect of training itself – stamina and confidence – and I have also thought up a few mantras that I find help see me through.

One is to approach every uphill or incline saying firmly to myself ‘every uphill has a downhill and this will be a nice rest on the way back down’. It really helps me to tough out the hills – I get such a sense of achievement every time I run a hill I couldn’t manage previously.

That sense of achievement is there even when my running time up the hill is longer than my walk/run time (WTF how does THAT even happen?)

Anyway, I digress.

Overexcited. Yes.

All the way to the bottom and along. Mmmm. So all the way up on the way back then. Yep. That.

Well, I did it, you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear 😊.

The climb is not, it has to be said, a big one, by most runners’ standards. Fell runners and proper trail runners would scoff, thumb their noses in proper Shakespearean fashion, and get on with the (slight) incline. I prefer to make far more of a fuss about such things, despite my secret ambitions to join the stoics.

I was very slow, and my heart rate climbed as I heaved and puffed probably slower than hike pace, back to the top of the hill.

I talked to myself about not giving up – getting to the turn, high fiving a couple of low branches, both to rest and stretch my shoulders but also to tip water from the leaves over me, setting small goals, getting to that tree, to the weird pumps by the path, tellingyself about how it was flatter up there and in 370m I’d have finished, 355. 337.

Oh god don’t look at the damn watch again!

OK so heart rate. 155 and climbing. Not motivating either. NO looking at watch.

So much for low intensity.

Glorious finish in front of the house. Thought about throwing arms up as if breaking the ribbon. An evening couple wandered out of the gate so my glorious finish became a self conscious drop-to-walk and quick-tap-to-save-the-run. Not quite the same thing!

Next time I may even remember that there is car park at the bottom too (Respryn), and do the hard part first. At least my mantra would make sense😆

Anyway, I got back to the car and my niggling anxiety about being locked in was finally put to rest – the nice lady had not lied to me. I could jump in and head for the far more rigorous demands at home.

Mum! Mu-um… mummy my PE shoes are too tight. Mum!

(Re) jiggin’ it

I got behind with my planned training while on holiday, but that’s OK (repeat ’til you believe…)

It is not possible to change the past.

Obvious I know, but worth stating; feelings of guilt and annoyance can get in the way of moving forward, getting back into your running groove or taking up the training plan again.

I did feel guilty when I got back and looked at my chart though.

My plan is drawn on a pizza box 😂 with the weeks and distances. I tick them off as I do each session.

It’s not a sophisticated plan but then I’m a novice, aiming only aiming to finish my race, not to get a particular time.

Looking at it scares me silly too. My stomach crawls when I think of race day. It’s pretty close now.

So the plan has been updated. Fans of neatness and order look away now.

I’ve picked up where I left off and instead of the luxury of two weeks at each stage I now only have one. Overall the distances build incrementally, but at faster rate.

It seemed unwise, although it did cross my mind, to try to ‘catch up’ to the plan and jump from week #10 to week #13. I think that came from being cross with myself that I’d slipped up so badly on holiday, and a desire to erase the missing runs.

A temptation to avoid!

My long run this week was 14.5k – the aim for the run was to take on carbs and concentrate on staying hydrated. I also found a slow trot that felt like it could be sustained for extended periods.

Something clicked at about 12-13km mark. I now know that I can run 21k. It’s possible.

It might not actually happen on the day though, but that’s OK too.

It’s also a good feeling to be looking at 16k (the magical 10 miles) this weekend when I head out.

Who’d have thought it?

I’d love to hear how you map out training plans and any pics of the real thing would be fab – at least tell me you started with a pizza box and a felt tip?

What do we do this for?

Running hurts.

Sometimes it’s disappointment, disillusion and depression when things go badly. You’re thoroughly put off from even lacing up and getting out of the door next time. It was crap from beginning to end.

Like my long run two weeks back (#6 of my 20 week plan) where I was a couple of days late getting it in. I’d wanted to avoid the heat, and also felt guilty and needed to spend time with my family over the weekend – and it all started to slip….

Anyway, on that Tuesday I’d gone straight from work, probably not well hydrated and feeling drained. It was hot and muggy; as I slogged it round tiny bugs flew in my mouth and eyes (eyes are the worst).

I knew I had under 1km to go and had already done 10k (a flat circuit); I looked up as I reached what I thought was the final bend with a short straight to finish and saw the road disappearing into the distance. I stopped dead. My feet wouldn’t move. I did start up again but it was a struggle. The psychological effects are huge.

When I got back to the car, warmed down and uploaded the run while blasting air con and chugging (warm – eww) water, I found that had I kept up the pace a little I’d have achieved bests in 5k and 10k. It wasn’t that bad though – at least I’d managed to get out there, and it was done.

Sometimes it feels like I really only keep doing it because I’ve signed up for a race, I have decided to stick to a training plan and I’ve told people I’m doing it. Those are positive, but they have a cruel downside too.

It’s my insurance against laziness and inertia. Using the fear of failure, shame and embarrassment. It has to be said, these are not the ideal ways to motivate oneself and I really don’t recommend them as the only ways!

Perhaps they have a minor place in a bigger picture?

Maybe more of a positive motivation could involve

  • The idea of the experience (not necessarily the actual experience at the time)
  • Somewhere, somehow, there will be evidence of change, whether it’s your time/hr stats, size, weight, endurance: whatever measure does it for you, even in a few weeks of trying for consistency you’ll find something has changed.
  • Keep a record, whether in a diary or as an electronic log, then you can see your progress
  • Be kind to yourself. Push when you want to, don’t punish yourself if it doesn’t go right that day.
  • Remember why you started all this, your goal in the long term (usually referred to in the now/ in yoga classes as ‘setting your intention‘)

It’s a sensory experience.

I’m making a bit of an effort to keep it interesting and to vary my routes where it fits with other commitments, so I’m getting to some lovely places I wouldn’t otherwise go, and being rewarded with beautiful views. There’s precious time to think – moving through the air, creating your own breeze. The smells; a honeysuckle that tells me I’ve reached the top of my hill, the lilies flowering at the moment in the cottage garden in the lane opposite the church. The approaching sounds of bellringing practice as I crest the hill in the woods and head for the hill through the village. No shield between you and everything outside. Being in the moment under your own steam.

Some of this starts to sound a bit mindful doesn’t it!

Sunday last week I did my long run, completing week 7 of my 20 week programme, so again it was 11km, and very different, far more enjoyable! See Getting Better.

It went well – and made a welcome counterbalance to my experiences of the previous week.

There’s a feeling afterwards, when the redness and breathlessness recedes. Accomplishment. Wellbeing. Peace. A sense you could do it all again (and the absolute certainty that you don’t have to – at least until next time….)

Merlin MS Fun Run at Trelissick

It is July, and we’ve been in the grip of the heatwave for a few weeks now. The sun bakes Trelissick as the fun runners gather for the 1.5k or the 3k. Fancy dress is encouraged at this event, and race fees and sponsorship go to the Merlin MS Centre

An incentive to gain sponsorship is the provision of a funky purple buff – that’ll do it thanks!

The early team consists of me, Mr T and our reluctant race support, who, despite the heat, sports a hoodie, baseball cap and his tablet. Slumps immediately on a rucksack and groaning that it’s ‘going to take ages’ (accompanying long face). He is reassured that it won’t take long and he won’t have to move anywhere. Welcome to the world of teen.

This is my first actual paid for event, so I have nothing to compare it with, but I’ve certainly developed a view that briefings should be concise and relevant, with a big focus on not losing the attention of your audience.

We spotted loads of families and friends from school as well as from other activities and clubs.

Joined by the second wave of race support, who are enthusiastic and offer to hold bags, as well as providing race photography, thanks guys!

Crucially, they also take on management of teenager, although nothing will persuade hoody removal.

We traipse through past the stables to the start area at the front of the main house. The view down Carrick Roads is stunning. In the video there’s a tantalising glimpse of the view. You can see exactly why the house was built on that particular spot. I’ve only ever seen the house from the water so it was lovely to get the reverse perspective.

Loved the Zumba Warmup – led by superheroes between the colonnades – accompanied by a soundtrack which cut out every few seconds as the system was overwhelmed! A welcome chance to brush up on the old Zumba skills 😜

The course made the most of the view – we had a lovely chat in the first half and said hi to few people before Mr T powered off for his finish while I toiled behind. The Strava snapshot is below – I forgot to turn off my watch until after I’d had a drink and sat under a tree so that is not my time (not that it’s important by the way 😐)- a real shame too that T didn’t have his watch on either as he stormed up the hill for another sprint across the line!

It is more fun joining in – I’m planning to find a 10k to have a go at some point between now and Eden. When the heat has passed maybe….

Getting better

My long run this week was 11km!

It’s not that long ago I couldn’t manage 1.5 km without a walk or two in the middle to get my heart and breathing rate down.

In the meantime all those sessions where I’ve decided to run every hill but bumped out and walked them. All the time spent feeling pretty down about the figurative mountain I’ve set myself to climb. Those runs have been making a difference. The 11k tells me.

When changes are occurring slowly it’s often not that obvious.

Like kids, when they inexplicably grow out of various trouser leg lengths while remaining the same sort of size – then one day they appear in a doorway and block out all the light!

Those changes are still happening though, even when we don’t see progress in the day to day; and as with growing kids it’s cumulative.

Pausing for a moment to take stock and appreciate progress must be as important as looking forward and up.