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.

Tour of Tameside Race 3: Hero Half Marathon

Race: Hero Half Marathon

Date: 17/06/17

Location: Longdendale Trail, Hadfield

Finish Time: 02:18:55

The third race of the Tour of Tameside was definitely the toughest. Up until this race I would’ve said that half marathon was my favourite race distance. This race changed my opinions on that. It was hot, it was long (read as slow) and it was boring.

Getting out of bed on the Saturday morning was the first challenge. My lower back seized up after the Friday night race, probably because I do not have enough core strength for running fast down steep hills.  I went to bed covered in deep freeze gel and with an ice pack for comfort. I just about managed to stretch out, force down some breakfast and get myself ready for day 3, whilst wishing I was still asleep.

The race start is in a big field (that doubles as a car park) on the edge of Hadfield somewhere. Thankfully a running friend gave me a lift meaning I didn’t have to attempt to get there on a train and two buses! The queue for the toilets was massive and they probably could have done with more toilets for the number of people.

My legs didn’t want to work for the first mile or so. Very painful and stiff.  However once warmed up, I settled into a comfortable pace and tried to just focus on ticking off the miles.  The course was reasonably flat and although it was trail it was a good solid path so no need for trail shoes. My feet were thankful for the cushioning. The main problem was the heat. I am not a fan of running in the heat so dropped the pace and just tried to get through it.

The course is an out and back down the trail, towards the end of the Woodhead Reservoir before turning around somewhere and running back. It is such a boring, straight route that the race website doesn’t even have a full route map! I think I reached 5.5 miles before the lead runners came back the other way. Then it was a long stream of people running back the other way  for the next 2 miles. It seemed to go on forever and was very disheartening. Turning around the run back was the best feeling and provided a short term boost.

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Proof that it was hot! I don’t usually wear shorts for running

One the return leg, I ended up running alongside a guy from Liverpool for a few miles. We definitely kept each other going. My pace probably would have dropped off at that point due to fatigue and the heat, however having someone to run with kept me going.  I couldn’t keep up in the end, but we met up again afterwards, and both expressed our gratitude to each other.

Eventually the finish line arrived.  I’ve never been so happy and I’ve never felt so broken after a race either. The heat took everything out of me. I kept standing up and realising I should probably just sit back down again and sip a cold drink.  Tough going and very slow compared to my best half marathon attempts.