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.

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?