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.

Tour of Tameside Race 2: Hell on the Fell

Race: Hell on the Fell (6 miles)

Date: 16/06/17

Location: Stalybridge

Finish Time: 01:01:51

First thing to say is that race number two in the Tour of Tameside is not an actual fell race.  It was about 3.5 miles of up hill on road. Then a mix of lanes, tracks and fields with a  bit of steep technical downhill terrain for the last mile. So that’s 5 miles up and 1 mile down!

After getting a 10k PB the night before my legs were feeling surprisingly good before the race.  I didn’t take the Friday off work, instead getting the train straight to Stalybridge after work and walking a mile or so up to the race start from the station.  Another good venue for the race, making use of a local leisure centre, meaning good toilets beforehand (although the actual start line was 10 mins walk away from the leisure centre).

It was a strange race due to the mixed terrain and it all passed in a bit of blur to be honest. I remember some angry car drivers during the road section shouting abuse at us for daring to be using the road. I’m not sure if it was meant to be closed roads or not, but there were lots of cars out intent on getting to where they wanted despite all the runners. Motorists aside, there was good support out along the pavements from pedestrians.  The road section was relentless up and up and up some more. So it was wonderful to hit the trail section, even if that was still going up.

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The downhill finish was my favourite and I was able to over take a few people on this section to make up for my slow road running. I’d been warned the night before my other runners that this was the worst bit of the whole event.  Definitely not that bad! Tour of Tameside is more of a road event so I think a lot of people do find the steep technical downhill quite difficult however I was in my element and went flying down. Or at least I felt like I was flying.

Starting to think I should be brave and enter an actual fell race.

 

Tour of Tameside Race

Race X-Trail 10K

Date: 15/06/17

Location: Ashton-Under-Lyne

Finish Time: 00:53:20

Day one of the Tour of Tameside. After a day at work quietly fretting about the challenges ahead, I ended up arriving at race HQ ridiculously early after over estimating the amount of time the bus would take but thankfully so did lots of other keen people.  At least I had somewhere indoors to wait.  A race HQ with a proper building is always good. Somewhere warm to wait with seats, and proper toilets with hot water are a welcome sight at races.

The race took place in two country parks, mainly on proper footpaths.  I didn’t know the route though so opted for trail shoes to be prepared. Error! Most of the run was on hard paths and even the bits in the woods were very dry. My Saucony Peregrines are an ok choice of shoe for hard trails but my dodgy foot was hurting before we even reached halfway. But I will save the story of sesamoiditis for another day. I was trying my best not to worry too much about potential damage whilst running  and thankfully there hasn’t been any lasting pain or discomfort.

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It was a warm, humid evening but pleasant enough for running. A little rain shower provided some nice relief halfway round. It was a nice little route, a couple of steep hills early and only one short out and back section. The killer though was the slightly evil surprise of lots of steps to run up in the woods towards the end. I feel even happier with my massive PB taking those into account.

Afterwards it was back to the race HQ at a local rugby club to quench our thirst at the pop up bar from Tweed Brewery. We athletes take our post race hydration seriously! Then home for a late night supper of cheese, bread and oven chips before bed. I might have done a little bit of stretching too once I remembered that it would be helpful.

Round Sheffield Run

I’ll get back to writing up Tour of Tameside soon but first I want to share my most recent race experience.

No idea why I thought that was a good idea to sign up for a race, one week after a four day event, but everyone else was and it sounded like fun. It probably should have been fun, however in hindsight I was a little too broken to enjoy the experience fully.

Sunday morning we set off early in the gloomy low cloud and drizzle to drive over to Sheffield. Not a view to be had over Snake Pass so spirits were damp as the weather looked awful until we reached the suburbs of Sheffield.  This was not a race I wanted to run in wet and cold conditions due to its unusal format.

Described as a multi-stage trail running endurance race, it was about 15 miles off road round the trails of Sheffield however broken up into stages. The running part was about 20km and the total distance about 24km.  Lovely trails and lots of hills. I used to live in that part of Sheffield but never realised there were so many wonderful trails.

11 timed stages with unique character totalling 20km of great trails & Parkland.

 

9 liason stages in between timed stages that allow recovery – 100m-750m in length

 

600m of total vertical elevation

 

Such a great concept however one I really struggled with. I’m a slow plodder. I enjoy running at a steady pace and I’m good at it. Running for short bursts of no more than 2.8km, and then stopping for a walk was more challenging than you would expect.

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Amazing views over Sheffield and beyond…

I found it hard to work out how to pace myself and definitely went off too quick at the start. It was difficult to work out what to do with the recovery stages. Some had more time allowed than others, and if you stayed too long there was a time penalty. I didn’t use all my allocated time for these and often started again straight away, even at the food station with a 15 minute time allowance.  I think this was partly just wanting to get it over with and partly not wanting my legs to seize up.  I messed up my timing on my Garmin as I couldn’t decide whether to record the recovery stages or pause my watch. I also forgot to change my watch from miles to kilometres so had no idea how far I was running.

The organisation of the event was fantastic. Friendly marshalls and a good pre and post race set up.  At the start and end of each timed section, we had to use a timing device to clock in and out. Sounds complicated but it was really simple in reality.  Over the finish line and straight to the timing tent for a print out of the results. Very impressive.

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My total running time was 01:55:22 and I spent just under a hour on the recovery stages. Pretty pleased with that off the back of Tour of Tameside.

Tour of Tameside 2017

Today I finished the apparently iconic Tour of Tameside. I’d never heard of it until last year when running club people put themselves through four days of racing, and I thought they were a bit mad and very brave.  I have since learnt this race has a long history, founded by the legend that is Dr Ron Hill in the 80s, and relaunched in 2015.

As it is a local event I couldn’t let the opportunity to run it pass by.  I must have been keen in signing up as I was number 84 out 300 and something running numbers. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. The event is a multi-stage event over four day, totally 32 miles on trail and road.

  • Thursday night – X-Trail 10k around two country parks in Ashton-Under-Lyne
  • Friday night – Hell on the Fell 6 mile race (a mix of road and fell) in Stalybridge
  • Saturday morning – Hero Half Marathon along the Longdendale Trail from Hadfield and back again.
  • Sunday morning – The Dr Ron Hyde 7 road race

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I’m going to write about each race separately as a full race report but for now these are my overall reflections after a gruelling and emotional few days.  Looking at the overall results I came 8th out of 23 finishers in my age category across the four races with a total time of 05:24:49. I gave it my all and I’m made up with that as a result.

I’ve learnt a lot about how amazing the human body is and what it can achieve if you really want to go running day after day.  I don’t think I have ever run for four days in a row before and certainly not at the intensity of four races in a row.  But I did it and at times it wasn’t as awful as I had feared. Even after Friday night when my back was seized up and I definitely did not want to get out of bed.

I already knew the running community is great. But seriously, people are amazing. The running community is amazing.

Thank you to all my fellow Greyhounds, and others from local clubs, taking part in the full tour or the individual events. Without those wonderful people the experience would have been a lonely affair. Thank you for the generous offer of lifts to and from the more difficult to get to races saving me the stress of ridiculous public transport journeys.

Thank you to the Greyhounds out and about around the course for each race to cheer us on. Seeing friendly faces pop up in the most unexpected (and sometimes remote of locations) was such a boost.  When you are battling up a never-ending hill and look up to supportive faces cheering you on, it really does help. And believe me, the Tour of Tameside has more than it’s share of seemingly never-ending hills.

Thank you to the random strangers running the race that became friendly faces over the course of the four days. Thank you to those who were there when some run chat distractions were needed, and thank you to those who were there to keep me going at a good pace rather than fading to a stop. Thank you to those who remember your face or your running vest and offer words of encouragement when passing by each other during a race.

Events like the Tour of Tameside really go to show how many fantastic people there are in running.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a runner and as a person doing this event. I know that I am capable of more than I previously believed.  It was exhausting and there were some very low moments (half marathon I’m looking at you!) but also some big highs.  I managed to get a PB in the 10k. An all time PB on a hilly trail course! I learnt that I can run in hot weather and survive. I have also leant that deep freeze gel is essential, as is booking time off work if possible.

Right now I’m actually feeling ok physically. It is more the emotional toll of back to back races. Now it is celebration time.

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