Running Reflections 2018

I always like to end a year with some reflections on my year of running. According to Strava I have logged 860 miles this year with 116,000ft elevation gain. That’s over 100 miles further than last year and a lot more elevation gain. I feel stronger, sometimes I feel faster, but most importantly I feel more confident.

There have been many low points. Runs that haven’t gone well, runs that haven’t happened at all, and moments of giving up. But I won’t dwell on those. Here are the good bits from the last 12 months of running.

January

Mytholmroyd Fell Race

My first fell race. For some reason I thought I’d throw myself right into the world of fell racing but turning up to my first ever race in a blizzard. I was slow, and it was hard, but I survived. January was about learning to survive on the hills in scary snowy conditions.

February

Whernside in winter conditions

February brought snow, snow and more snow. There was lots of attempts at running which ended up more like attempts at ice skating. The highlight from February was probably Whernside. The first of my Yorkshire 3 Peaks (only Pen-y-ghent left to do now) and a challenging run in snowy conditions.

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March

Chester 10k

March featured even more snow. There were lots of local hilly snow runs, and a few adventure runs further afield as well. I ticked off another Yorkshire peak with Ingleborough, and ran a section of the Pennine Way between Horton in Ribblesdale and Hawes. The highlight for March has to be a new 10k PB at Chester. I finished in 51:29 which was shocking and I’m still not sure how I managed to run that pace.

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April

Marsden Racers Club Runs

I didn’t do any races in April but it was a good month of regular, fairly consistent running, totalling 116.1 miles overall.  My highest monthly total of the year so far. I still don’t think I am good at consistent running so that will be something to improve on for 2019.  April was a month of good club runs and we were able to start enjoying better weather and lighter evenings. I also discovered the beauty of the West Highland Way and Glencoe on a running trip to Scotland.

May

Cake Race

The start of a hot summer of running and my 2nd fell race. The Cake Race organised by Saddleworth Runners is a fantastic local race. This 10 mile race is very popular. It starts and finishes over the hill in Diggle but the route takes in my favourite local routes across Marsden Moor. It was a blisteringly hot day so I was pleased with my sub 2 hour time considering there was 1,557ft of elevation gain. This race features a cake baking competition, so there is an incentive to run faster to get back in time for the best selection of lovely home-baked cakes.

June

Bristol parkrun

Heat and low iron levels marred my June running. I should have been putting the miles in as part of my Snowdon half marathon training but it was a hot and humid month. A trip to Bristol included Ashton Court parkrun which was excellent. An out and back route which literally goes up a hill for 1.5 miles and then back down again.

July

Snowdonia Trail Half Marathon

July saw the first big challenge of the year. I didn’t feel prepared and had no idea if I would survive it. But I think I thrived on the challenge. Reaching the top of Snowdon and then crossing the finish line of this race will be two of favourite running moments of the year.  July was the month I learnt I can run up a mountain, fall over and drag myself to the finish line with a smile on my face.

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August

Ben Nevis

The hot summer continued into August. It brought many glorious summer evening runs. Evening runs on the moors around Marsden is one the reasons why I wanted to move here and August delivered on that front. Marsden Racers got out for some stunning Tuesday night runs on the hills and trails. At the very end of August I finally ticked off a long held ambition to hike up Ben Nevis. I didn’t think it would happen this year, after being put off by potential snow in April. Whilst in Fort William in August however, there was a surprise clear day so plans were changed and Ben Nevis was ticked off.

September

Marsden Racers Challenge – Haworth to Marsden

September has far too many running highlights to sum up here. A trip to Eigg. Marsden Racers Malham to Marsden Challenge. Wineathlon. Utterley Butterley Fell Race. New parkrun PB. The favourite on reflection has to be the Marsden Racers Malham to Marsden Challenge. It was my longest, toughest off road run of the year and much more challenging than the White Rose Ultra in November. The weather was grim but the company was fantastic. It was a gruelling day but car park cups of tea helped me through it. This run will always hold a special place in my memories particularly because there was nothing official about it. No medal, no official time to boast about, no support crews or organisers to rescue us. Just a bunch of runners, helped by lovely people who make great cups of tea, doing something for charity and to test ourselves.

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October

Helvellyn

October was spent trying to get as many miles in my legs as possible in preparation for my first ultra. I struggled with running and was probably suffering fatigue from a very busy September. So October was a month of getting my head down and just getting on with it. I did some walking in preparation for the Ultra, as an alternative way to get more miles in my legs. I went to the Lake District and hiked up Helvellyn, a great day out, if you discount the crying and whingeing about perilous route choices. Not any of the classic Helvellyn ridge routes, just a very steep slippery grass slope up the side of Dollywaggon Pike.

November

White Rose Ultra 30

My first ultra. This is what most of my year running was building up to although I wouldn’t say I specifically trained for it. It was painful and I learnt a valuable lesson about the importance of training but also determination and persiverance. I loved this run because of the companionship of other runners. I set out on it alone, but found company around the route, thanks to many friendly runners taking time to make conversation and keep my spirits up. The biggest thanks will always go to Sheldon, a complete stranger who ran with me and kept me going.

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December

Illness, rest and recovery

December was about learning to rest and listen to my body.  I pushed myself during 2018, both with running and at work, and definitely paid the price in December. A lingering cold is still with me now, nearly 4 weeks later, wiped me out. Running has been a struggle, yet somehow I’ve still managed to log over 60 miles for December. Some may call that foolish but I love the opportunity for daylight running offered by a long Christmas break from work. After a couple of months of running in darkness, who could ignore the chance to get out there and see the world in daylight. I certainly can’t! Also Christmas lights make December running a little bit more fun. My running highlight isn’t actually running but running related, a night in the pub with runners and cyclists from Marsden Racers to celebrate our achievements this year.

 

White Rose Ultra 2018

I am officially an ultra runner.  31.8 miles in 6 hours 53 minutes and 20 seconds.

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Advertised as 30 miles. In reality it was 31 and a bit. I did almost 32 miles due to a navigational error. The moment I realised that the course was going to be longer than 30 was a tough one.  Thankfully the weather was beautiful, and the conditions excellent apart from the wind. It was windy which made it hard work at times but I feel the weather was on my side for a November ultra.

Rather than write a mile by mile race report, I’m going to reflect on some of the things I learnt by running my first ultra.

Things I learnt:

Chatting to other runners makes a huge difference on an ultra run. I owe a lot of special thanks to a lovely runner called Shelton who ran a couple of sections with me. Early on in the race I was feeling a little bit wobbly and daunted by the enormous task ahead. We started chatting and before I knew it we had reached 10 miles. Shelton and some other runners helped me out of the dark place towards the end of run. Having people around me in those last couple of miles, spurred me on towards the finish. The kindness of other runners is a wonderful thing. I have learnt that the company of others is important to my mental state on a really long run.

It will hurt but it is only temporary. Running an ultra will hurt and that’s normal. Obviously pain from an injury is something that you need to pay attention to. I was certainly being very mindful of making sure old injuries didn’t flare up.  But the ‘normal’ aches and pain that comes from being on your feet for 32 miles are going to happen. Sore feet, seized up quads, stiff hips. It’s all only temporary. That can be hard to remember when you want to lie down on the pavement and give up because your legs hurt. But that pain soon goes away once you’ve reached the finish line.

Training is important. You can’t get away with winging it. Related to the pain, training is key. I didn’t spent enough time doing long runs and getting used to being out on my feet all day.  It started hurting quite early on because I hadn’t done enough training to cope with the distance.

Get your nutrition correct early on. It seems that eating from early on in a race is important for me. I’ve read others online who say they don’t eat until a couple of hours in. I tried to practice eating during my training runs, even though I mainly shorter ones. Cheese sandwiches, crisps, flapjacks, and plenty of sweets. During my longest training run I discovered the joys of a cup of tea and pork pie. I took plenty with me, and ate most of it, so I can’t comment on what was available at the aid stations. I’ve seen photographs on Instagram from other ultras that have massive tables full of all the food you could dream of. That would have been nice but I was fine with everything I’d brought along in my bag. Tailwind was a huge help but foolishly I forgot to put a spare sachet in my race pack. I remembered to give one to a friend however left my own extra supplies behind at race HQ. Real food is good. I don’t need to rely on gels and artificial products. Will definitely need to improve my eating strategy if I’m going to survive the 50 mile Manchester to Liverpool Ultra next year.

When they say you should walk the hills, you should definitely walk the hills. I normally pride myself on my ability to run up hills. But to do so in an ultra is not always going to be wise when you need to conserve energy for later in the race.

Time and pace doesn’t matter in an ultra but I will still care about it. I’m proud of myself for running my first ultra marathon. Under 7 hours is a decent time and I was always in it with the goal of finishing and enjoying it. But as I reflect on the experience, I can’t help but think about where I could have pushed myself a bit harder. Next year I’d like to do better.

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Goodbye 2017.

In some ways we are very much into the New Year now. Back to work and back to school for everyone, although I still feel in something of a period of transition. I’m still eating Christmas chocolate for starters.  But January is definitely here with the gym adverts, diet programmes and good intentions all round.   I’d say this means it is time to get back to the running but I did a lot of running over the Christmas holidays. 47 miles during my 10 days off work which for me is a lot of running. I’m feeling comparatively lazy now that the new year is here and life has returned to the normal routines.

Before I write about my plans, or should that be lack of plans for this year, I want to stop and reflect on 2017. For all of it’s faults and my problems, it was a good year for life and running.

I ran 732.5 miles in 2017 with 79,334 ft elevation gain. I’m very happy with that elevation gain. I didn’t realise until I checked the stats from last year but I did 100 more miles this year compared to 2016.  I’m never going to set myself a target number of miles for the year because injury and illness get in the way.  Considering I’ve had both injury and illness in 2017 those numbers make me very proud.

Here are some of my highlights:

  • Bought a house and moved to the most amazing part of Yorkshire which happens to be dream trail and fell running country.
  • Running my first Wainwright, Place Fell during a camping trip to Glenridding.
  • Finished the Snowdonia Marathon in just over 5 hours despite thinking I wouldn’t even make it to the start line.
  • Made new running friends and had some excellent adventures. 2017 was the year of post race pub shenanigans, good run chats and car shares to further away races.
  • Trip to Mull and actual views from the top of a Munro!
  • Survived my first multi-day event, completing all 4 Tour of Tameside events. I came 8th out of 23 finishers in my age category which isn’t that impressive but it means a lot to me as I gave those races every last bit of energy I had.

 

 

Running through the Snow

We didn’t get as much snow up North as the weather warnings initially suggested at the weekend. However living out on the northern edge of the Peak District we did get a light covering of snow which made for the perfect weekend for Christmas tree decorating and mine pie baking. It was also great for running.

I hate ice but snow is a completely different beast. As long as you have the correct footwear!  My shoe of choice this weekend was the Salomon Speedtrak (used to be called the Fellraiser). For me these are perfect snow running shoe.  Great in proper snow but also grippy on that rubbish light snow you get on pavements and also horrible slushy ice.

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Speedtraks enjoying the snow

Friday was cold and icy. Saturday brought light snow during the day, with a lovely dusting on the pavements with the snow showers easing off in the evening. We were all set for great snow disappointment however it snowed lightly all day Sunday as well.  Saturday I decided not to run as I wasn’t feeling 100% and was worried about falling on ice and doing myself an injury. But Sunday I couldn’t resist the temptation of the snow covered hills.

I did a solo run up Pule Hill in Marsden. You can read more about a walking route (or running route!) around Pule Hill on the National Trust website. This route doesn’t go up Pule Hill but I’d definitely recommend exploring some of the higher level paths on the hill too. I feel incredibly lucky to have all of this beautiful countryside only a mile from my front door.

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I’ve not enjoyed running much recently for various reasons so a little solo snow adventure was exactly what I needed to find some love for running again. Stunning views, apart from at the top of Pule Hill, which was shrouded in clouds.  The climb up was tough and I got a little lost in the old quarries but once up on the top I had lots of fun running along in the snow.

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Some people might have used the snow as an excuse to stay indoors at the weekend but for me it was the perfect opportunity to get back to enjoying running.

Snowdonia Marathon Eryri: It helps if you like hills (part 1)

Race: Snowdonia Marathon
Location: Llanberis, Snowdonia
Distance: The big 26.2 miles
Time: 05:04:07

At the end of August I had given up all hope of making it to the start line of this race, nevermind the finish. Here I am now, a Snowdonia Marathon finisher with a slate coaster to show for it.

Registration and Pre-Race Nerves

We arrived on the Friday to collect our race numbers in advance, after a train from Huddersfield to Manchester, then a train to Bangor, followed by a bus to Llanberis. We didn’t actually stay in Llanberis, opting for Caernarfon instead.  I had the foresight to make reservations for dinner Friday night, lucky because Caernarfon was busy. Once fuelled up on pizza, pasta and chips, it was off to the pub for a quick half before bed (I gave up on no alcohol before a run after getting my half marathon PB the morning after two glasses of prosecco!). I didn’t sleep much Friday night thanks to nerves…

Getting to the start line

After much fretting on my part about the bus not turning up or breaking down, we caught the 8.30am bus from Caernarfon to Llanberis. I was surprised that no other runners were getting the bus actually, but I guess most people do drive to this sort of race. Looking at the traffic queues for parking I think that is a good assumption. The bus is brilliant. It only takes 30mins and costs £2.50 return. Cue all the usual pre-race faffing about in a very chaotic race HQ. Took us at least half an hour to find the bag drop as you could barely move for people. Then it was time to walk up to the start line for a 10.30am start.

Miles 1-6

We are off and its all up hill from here for the next 4.5 miles to Pen-y-Pass with about 900ft of elevation gain. So it’s a tough climb to start a long race. So important it was important for me to remember to go easy on the first section.  In reality I went off a lot quicker than planned, but felt reasonably ok and just wanted to get up the hill.  As most of my running involves hills I didn’t find the climb up to Pen-y-Pass too horrible or tough. The scenery was fantastic and the atmosphere amongst runners was jovial.

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Miles 7-13

This section of the race started off fun with a wonderful downhill trail section. Unlike other runners around me who were complaining about the terrain I could have happily stayed on that for the rest of the race. Give me rocks, stones and trip hazards any day over boring tarmac. Fair enough it was steep and road shoes are not ideal for trail running but at least this section was a dry one. One runner I chatted with said they hate this type of terrain as it means you have to pay attention to running. I  think that’s why I like it as it gives the mind something to focus on other than the fact there are still 20 mile to go.  Alas, it was back to the tarmac and this time on open roads. The long plod to Beddgelert. This section was saved by the friendly runners that I chatted with to pass the miles and the family handing out orange segments. Running through Beddgelert was awesome. Another runner described it was a Tour De France moment. I’ll agree with that. The huge crowds lining the streets cheering everyone on gave me such a boost as the halfway fatigue and pain set it.

In part 2 I’ll write about the 2nd half of the marathon and the aftermath…

Running after dark: the rural edition

I have never been that put off by the dark winter nights when it comes to running. I’ve generally lived in very urban areas where street lights are in abundance and pavements are wide so safe routes are easy to come by. I used to think that head torches were a bit over the top unless trail running and all you really needed for night-time running was some high vis clothing so cars and pedestrians can see you coming.

Then I moved to a village and got a taste of what the dark winter nights mean for runners living out in the sticks.  The arrival of dark evenings means altering your route choices because those favourite winding country lanes become a lot more dangerous in the dark.

Even though dark evenings are only just arriving, my new running group doesn’t meet until 7.30 so I have already experienced after dark running in my new village.  Night running in a rural setting has so far proved to be lot of fun, at times exhilarating and other times a little bit scary. We’ve done running up on the edge of the moors, busy unlit main roads with no pavements, wonderful undulating dark lanes, and some rather terrifying muddy trails.  There is something quite exciting about running in total darkness with looming Pennine moorland all around, although the other week I was a little freaked out shapes ahead that appeared in the road until I realised it was just some sheep.

As this photo illustrates, there aren’t many lights down there in the village where I live!

I wouldn’t ever go out to run some of the routes we have done on my own. It would feel too mad and dangerous. This isn’t about being afraid of people lurking round dark corners like I used to sometimes get with urban night running but fear of speeding motorists on country roads. Running with a group provides extra visibility and gives me the extra freedom to run routes that would otherwise feel impossible in the dark.

Living in a village with one main road in and out, the dark nights definitely limit route options. Tonight I went out for a short couple of miles to stretch my legs out but forgot my head torch and wore the wrong top which wasn’t bright and reflective enough. Even though I stuck to the village residential streets and main centre I felt anxious at times.  Pavements kept ending, road junctions involved sharp corners with poor visibility and there were cars everywhere with it being early evening. It wasn’t an enjoyable run.

Note to self. Always remember to be prepared!

A head torch is a must, quite literally to be able to see where you are going. Reflective clothing is also essential. I have a running tights with reflective patches down the legs, a reflective running bag and usually a reflective jacket. I need to remember to get a light for the back of my running jacket too so cars can see me up ahead.

Marathon training is back ON!

I didn’t want to speak too soon but I’m finally starting to feel confident about marathon training again.  Especially after a wonderful long hilly run in the rain this weekend. If I can do 2300ft of hills over 17 miles then perhaps Snowdonia will be achievable after all. This weekends hills have given me much needed confidence.

It’s been a month since my doom and gloom post about sprained ankles and low iron levels getting in the way of training. But my ankle made a good recovery and I’ve managed to fit in a couple of long runs, regular week night runs and even some trail running.

Since the ankle disaster caused the training schedule to be thrown out of the window I have done a 16 mile run and a 17 mile. I didn’t even need to resort to a run/walk plan for either. Hurrah. Definitely did not expect to get through those unscathed.

The 16 mile run which I did 3 weekends ago was hellish. I don’t recommend stepping up from running an average of 10 miles for a long run to 16 miles in one go, especially off the back of an injury, but I needed to do it. I was hurting by the end.  It was mentally tough as well as physically tough.  Running an unfamiliar route along roads and ugly industrial canal paths did not help matters. But I did it.

This weekend I ran 17 miles and it took 3hr 13mins with a lot of hills. Snowdonia has a cut off of 4hrs at 18 miles. My goal in training was to feel comfortable with that time limit so I am ready.

Bring on the hills and the Welsh rain.

When marathon training goes from bad to worse

Clumsy runner plus broken stile equals busted ankle.

I’m having the most disastrous lead up to running a marathon ever. I thought last year was bad but this is getting ridiculous. Marathon at the end of October and my training has so far been quite pathetic.

I signed up for Snowdonia at about 10 minutes past midnight on New Years Eve. Normally I’d be up the hill watching fireworks but this year I was glued to my laptop, eagerly trying to secure two places at the Snowdonia Marathon. I was full of good intentions about running my best year yet and I feel like the whole year has been one long battle against various problems.

The latest saga is this. We were out for a long off road run over the August bank holiday weekend.  Along the Kirklees Way between Marsden and Holmfirth there is a stile in a bad way. The side we were on way falling apart and very wobbly. The other side had no ladder left at all. I’m rubbish at climbing over things so this was never going to go well. I landed badly on the other side and twisted my foot.

The pain was terrible but I got myself up, tested it and thought I’d be ok to carry on. Well I was going to have to carry on being a few miles from home and a few miles from the destination.  Somehow I managed to hobble 4 more miles to Holmbridge where I was able to inspect the damage and put a support bandage on (what good luck to have one of these on us!). Then get a bus onwards instead of running any further. The rest of the weekend was spent with ice on a swollen foot. I did go to A&E after the bank holiday weekend however they took an extremely brief look at it and sent me away again.  I think I set a record for being in and out of A&E within 5 minutes.

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I wish we had gone to find an alternative way round but these things happen. I feel like an idiot for messing up marathon training over something so silly. Two weeks on and I’ve not really run since. I’ve been walking and swimming and yesterday I took on the role of tail walker at parkrun. However I really don’t think my ankle is ready for running yet which is worrying with a marathon fast approaching.

The ankle is just one in a serious of misfortunes this year. First my stupid foot pain. Then the anemia which still isn’t fully resolved and I still don’t know what is causing it. Over the summer I’ve not done as much running as hoped due to getting ill a couple of times and the stress of moving house definitely hasn’t helped.

I’ve been obsessively reading race reports about running Snowdonia with an injury and running in general after this kind of injury.  Trying to reassure myself that I can do it because I’ve got nearly 500 miles of training in my legs already this year. Going to need to decide very soon if I should be offering our places to other people. It’s a tough one as Snowdonia has been a big goal this year and I don’t want to give it up if there is a chance I can do it.

At the moment I feel like saying roll on 2018…

Did Not Start

Tonight I did not make it over the start line of a race.  I’m not injured. I’m not broken. But I didn’t feel I had enough in me to race and feel pleased with the result. So I didn’t run.

Was that a weak and lazy option to take?

Probably.  But I’ve run a lot of races recently and pushed myself hard. Tour of Tameside, Round Sheffield, that trip to the Lakes, King of the Hill. Lots of big runs. Work is proving busy and stressful at the moment plus we are dealing with never-ending house buying anxiety.  I’m tired and run down. Everything is a bit of a mess.

I was contemplating running up until yesterday. Although I knew I probably wouldn’t after feeling exhausted and achy all day at work.  By last night I could barely move thanks to a headache that was on the verge of straying into full-blown migraine territory.  My neck and shoulders were seized up and painful. I spent the evening lying down on a hot water bottle, rubbing my head with a menthol stick. I’m completely worn out.

Choosing to look after yourself instead of doing a race isn’t always the weak option. It is the sensible option.  Rest is what I need.

Of course I felt guilty for not running. So I went for a little 3 mile plod down the road and back. Nothing exciting. Nothing groundbreaking but it was enough.  Maybe I’ll go out tomorrow and go a little bit further. Not far but far enough.

Time to put my feet up, drink a beer and try to not to beat myself up over that did not start.