Some runs count triple

Its last Wednesday, just after lunch. I am having one of those days where I have tonnes to do but am getting nothing done. Sometimes it just goes like that. It’s been raining non-stop in England for what feels like forever. I genuinely can’t remember the last time that I saw the sun shining. Its grey, damp and depressing.

As I look out of my home office window onto the street the rain is coming down sideways. The wind is howling and it looks very much like there might be a bit of thunder. Another joyous winter day in England.

My motivation to do anything is virtually zero. I am moping about the house, trying to get my work done whilst figuring out if I need yet another coffee, something to eat, to do 1000 press ups or just to slack it all off and go to bed.

I am grumpy, and I am getting increasingly grumpy just about being grumpy. Fed up and I’ve just had enough. It is starting to get dark outside, but then again, it is pretty much totally dark even during the daytimes when the weather is like this.

Thinking back on my running career, I realise it is time to take action. To sort my life out. I wearily troop upstairs and dig out some running gear. Waterproof running top on, I stash a headtorch in the pocket and head out into the rain. ‘My god this weather is awful’ I think to myself as I head out the door.

Off I go on my usual 7ish km route that I regularly run. Out along the main road I plod, but quickly after I get going I start to feel better. Running can have this effect on you. Luckily, I am running with the wind, so as the rain lashes against my back I get a little boost. It is always easier running with the wind. That being said, the rain is so hard that it is stinging my calves as I make my way down the Havant road towards Langstone Harbour.

Right on queue, the thunder starts. A huge flash of light, followed very quickly by an enormous boom that sounds like the heavens are splitting in two. The storm must be right on top of me. I can only imagine what the car drivers are thinking as they see some lunatic runing down the road in a thunderstorm, their wheels sending up huge waves of water, soaking me through as they drive through the enormous puddles on the roadside. The thunder and lightening continues, flashes lighting up the dark clouds as the sky rumbles above me. Whenever I am out running and there is a thunderstorm, I always think back to the ancient people of earth. How scary it must have been for them, not knowing what is causing this apocalyptical noise. The Gods were definitely angry.

Soon I make my way through to an offroad section which leads to the harbour. I am sliding around all over the place in the mud. My road shoes have zero grip and I am forced to stop and turn on my headtorch. It is dark as hell.

The mud gives way to more tarmac, and as I turn along the harbourside, suddenly I am straight into the wind. The rain lashes at my face, stinging my eyes. My waterproof jacket is useless in this weather, having been soaked through by the car splashes, and I can feel water leaking through my shoulders and chest.

This really is the most horrendous running conditions, and I am absolutely LOVING it.

I am grinning like an idiot as I turn and make my way back across the M27 bridge and turn back for home. This is not some sort of massochistic joy, though you would not be mistaken in thinking that it was. My smile is because I know that runs like this are worth so much more than just the exercise itself.

Whilst I am always hopeful for good weather at the races that I run, good weather is far from guaranteed. Thinking back on it, I have run Beachy Head Marathon in the strongest wind I have ever been outside in. I ran the Mouth to Mouth Marathon during a horrendous hail storm, and the marathon at the end of my ironman triathlon was rain very similar to today (you can see this for yourself in this video of me and my mate Bushy crossing the finishing line). I even completed the Owler half ironman when literally half of the field had to stop on the bike leg because the rain was so hard you couldn’t see where you were going. I didn’t stop of course. Why would I? I finished last in that race, but at least I finished.

So I am no stranger to completing races in shocking conditions, and there is absolutely no guarantee that when I run London Marathon in 14 weeks time the weather will be good.

This is why these runs count triple. Firstly, you are out there running in the first place. Secondly, nobody else is mad enough to go out in these conditions and I could have easily just stayed in the house and done something else. Finally (and most importantly) Iare building up my mental reserves. These mental reserves are vital, cause if it is shocking weather on the day of your race at least I am conditioned for it. Preparation is vital, after all.

Getting home from the run, I felt great. After a quick shower I was able to focus, get on with my work and turn what would have been an unproductive day into a very productive one. This is the power that running can have, especially running in conditions that no sane person would even go outside in!

During this run I had a couple of phone calls. My wife rang me to see what I was up to, and wasn’t even slightly surprised that I was out running in the torrential rain. She is used to these sorts of antics now, and after a short conversation she just said “I’ll leave you to it, see you at home later.” No “take care, the weather is awful” or “what the hell are you doing out running in this”. This really amused me. I know that she is always worried about me when I am doing this crazy stuff, but I always make it home in the end and she knows the value of runs like this and how much I need running in my life.

I also briefly spoke to Vicky from Daisy’s Dream, the charity that I am running London Marathon for. She was substantially more shocked than my wife that I was out running in the awful weather, but when I caught up with her the next day she too understood the value of going out in all conditions.

I suppose the moral of the story is that when you are in a funk, sometimes a bit of exercise is all that you need. Not all of us are lucky enough to be fit enough to run. Every day I count my lucky stars that I am in good enough condition at the moment to do some exercise. I have spent long periods of time injured and unable to exercise as I would like. But right now I am feeling good. Fitness is improving and I am proud that I went out in the awful conditions and am even more proud to be running for Daisy’s Dream.

My next post will be all about them and my fundraising endeavours this year. London Marathon is just the start of things for me. The first in a series of events this year to raise money for some very deserving charities. Times are hard in the UK right now. Most of us are cold at home cause the heating bills are so high. We are struggling to make ends meet. I know that. But at these times charity becomes even more important. This is why I will fundraise hard this year, because charities are hit the hardest during tough times. The work that they do is so very vital and so many people rely on them, and by proxy, they rely on people like me to hopefully motivate people like you to donate some of your hard earned money to keep them running and enable them to maintain the vital services they provide to those less fortunate than us.

Anyway, its a nice sunny day today (the first one that I can remember). Blue skies are shining outside my window and the world seems like a better place for it.

Even better, I am going out for dinner tonight with the lads from my NCT crew. We met during NCT classes when our first kids were all due to be born and have remained friends since, so I am excited to see them and catch up.

Hope all is well with you guys who are reading this. For all your runners out there, next time it is awful weather and you don’t want to run, think of me grinning my way round a 7km run in a thunderstorm and perhaps put your shoes on and head out yourself. You never know, you might just enjoy yourself.

TTFN

Snooky

PS – here is the link to my fundraising page. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/runsnookyrun

I promise you the money goes straight to Daisy’s Dream. I will be using my own money for dinner tonight ūüėČ

The wheels have already come off.

Just writing this sentence makes me sad, dear reader, but write it I must. The three words no runner, cyclist, swimmer, golfer, tiddlywinker or any other type of sportsman wants to say.

I AM INJURED

Sadly not just a little niggling injury. It appears to be an actual proper injury. Its my knee. My right knee to be more precise. As somebody messaged me the other day, “When you are in your 20’s you have a right knee and a left knee. When you are in your 40’s you have a good knee and a bad knee.”

Well in my case this is very true, and my bad knee is my right one.

I can run about 8km (5 miles), and then at that point my knee really starts to hurt. I was once told that on a scale of 1-10, pain above a 4 means you should stop. I am easily at a 7 by the time I have done 8km.

Being as incredibly stubborn as I am, I could probably keep going (all be it a bit slower) and run further on this bad knee. But I can’t escape the thought that I am probably doing it more damage than good by doing this.

This is all fairly disastrous news when it comes to the London Marathon in about 12 weeks time, but fear not dear reader, all is not lost. Cause when the chips are down, you need a crazy plan. And I am the KING of crazy plans.

Step up somebody who has featured on my blog before. Mr Trevor Payne. Trevor is an ex-professional Ironman, who is now one of the leading biometric coaches in the country. I am also proud to call Trevor a friend. I have attended countless training sessions with him, seen him for physio assessments in the past and there is nobodies judgement I trust more closely than his when it comes to all things endurance and physiological.

Limping back from a failed run recently, I gave Trevor a call. Realising I was not helping my knee one bit by carrying on running, I had already hatched a plan, but wanted his approval. The plan goes like this.

  1. No more running for a while. Worst case scenario, one run a week of up to 8km (stopping before my knee really hurts)
  2. Perform the majority of my marathon fitness work on my bike. Utilising the turbo trainer as much as possible with perhaps a long bike ride outside at the weekend.
  3. Plenty of strength work (prescribed by Trevor) to work on stabilising this dodgy knee.
  4. Keep up the yoga and flexibility work, cause this always helps.
  5. No panicking.
  6. Re-introduce some extra running closer to the marathon date and see how it feels.
  7. Turn up on the day, man up more than you have ever manned up before, and get that marathon done.
Trevor runs APT. Click the image to visit his website

Trevor has endorsed my plan with flying colours. So, the wheels have come off for “traditional” marathon training, which involves a lot of running, but the wheels are very much back on for this alternative marathon training plan.

So my friends, here we have it. I will still be at the start line of London Marathon. But I am very likely to be there having run less that I have ever done in preparation for a marathon before.

Many people, especially seasoned runners, would consider me insane for attempting to run a marathon with only a relatively small amount of running miles under my belt. Conventional wisdom has you running up to 20 miles on your longest run, with some running plans having literally 100’s of weekly miles required. But who cares about conventional wisdom? Not me!

I am very likely to turn up on the day having not even recently run a half marathon. But I will be in good shape by then. I am determined to get as much cardiovascular fitness as possible. And Trevor will make sure my knee is as well recovered as it can be.

Bloody mindedness and sheer determination will take care of the rest.

As a great endurance athlete once said “how hard can it be”.

TTFN

Snooky

And so the story begins……..

City dweller, successful fella, thought to himself “whoops I’ve got a lot of money”……….

At this point, you have either been ear-wormed by the wonderful Country House by Blur, or you have absolutely no idea what the start of this post is all about.

Either way, my training has begun in earnest. Ran intervals yesterday. Out for a long hike early this morning with my mate Ant, and I have a 10 mile run scheduled for tomorrow. I will probably actually run about 14.5km (just over 9 miles), just because this is a nice route from my mother-in-law’s back home.

This morning’s walk – hilly!

Combining running back from places I have been with the family is one of my little tricks for getting some decent long runs in, whilst not missing out on family time at the weekend. If you have gone further afield than your run dictates, just get dropped off at the right distance from home then run on back.

As the distance in marathon training increases, you start to face the quandary of fueling and hydrating yourself. As a rule of thumb, I tend to be able to run for about 90 minutes with no food or hydration at all (depending on the temperature). When we get up towards the 10 mile region, I am likely to be running about 2 hours as I will be going at a nice slow pace. This means I am likely to require both some fuel and some hydration.

And that’s when I developed my drinking problem

Fuel is usually in the format of gels for training runs. If you are reading this and are a non-runner, these gels are essentially a thick sort of sugary paste in a handy foil pack. Nice and easy to carry and you can wedge a few in your pockets and don’t necessarily need to carry a backpack. Very good for fueling on the go.

Water is not so easy, as to carry a reasonable amount you need to either carry a bottle in your hand (it tends to get warm and not very palatable if you do this), carry it on some sort of waist belt (I have never gotten on with these) or carry a backpack with water in it.

My main issue with backpacks is that I find that they warm me up, a lot. Not being able to lose heat through my back means that I tend to run a lot hotter than I would like (one for the pun fans).

So essentially, for these “shorter” long runs (in my case ones under 2 hours), there is not really a good option for me. As it happens, I don’t have any gels and am not going to go out and buy any in the morning, so will probably just run carrying a bottle of water tomorrow and see if I can hang on with no fuel. It is only 10 miles, so should be possible.

At the same time as the marathon training, I am also trying to train for the 3 Peaks Challenge. For those of you not familiar with this, The 3 Peaks Challenge involves trying to summit the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales respectively. These are Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. You have to try and do all this in 24 hours. Usually this is about 13 hours of hillwalking with 11 hours of driving in-between.

In my usual style, I have just decided to randomly do this with my mate Ant. Neither of us has any hill walking experience to speak of, but he is a fit fella and good company so we just decided to give it a go. I am far behind him on fitness, but reckon I should be able to keep up. We take on this challenge at the end of July.

I am hoping that the hiking and hill walking training for the 3 Peaks Challenge compliments the marathon training, but there is a real risk of me doing too much and getting injured if I push the training too far. On the other hand, if I do not do enough training and I get in trouble on one of these mountains due to a lack of fitness, that would also be bad.

I feel that as an endurance athlete (and it is a real stretch calling me any sort of athlete, but please just indulge me) this is the tightrope that you are always walking. You need to push hard enough so your body adapts, but if you push too hard you get injured.

The good news is that the human body is capable of some phenomenal things when needed. Training for a marathon is tough. Chucking in the 3 Peaks Challenge in the middle of this makes it tougher. Plus I have a 100KM through hike with my wife at the start of September.

If there is ever going to be a time that my body decides to be phenomenal, it needs to be over the next 14 weeks.

Wish me luck. I think I am gonna need it.

TTFN

Snooky

It is time to move to DEFCON 4

If you are not familiar with DEFCON statuses, then you have clearly not seem the 1983 film War Games. And if you have not seen the film War Games, then you should immediately stop what you are doing, go and watch War Games, then come back and read the rest of this. Because you clearly have not lived.

Now you have seen War Games and are familiar with the DEFCON statuses, you will understand that DEFCON 4 is not good. We are very close to full blown panic here people. And this is precisely where I find myself. Let me tell you a little story, dear reader.

War Games – Its got Matthew Broderick in it

So today is Good Friday. Which is something to do with Jesus. Anyway, it is a bank holiday which means that you don’t have to work. Except in my case I did do a bit of work this morning. Even though it is bank holiday. But that is not the point so I will shut up about it.

Anyway I woke up, did a bit of work, tidyed up the garden and got ready for our friends who were coming round for a BBQ. Now usually this would be a good opportunity for me to relax and have a few beers, but I wanted to go for a run, so no beers for me.

We had a lovely BBQ, the kids played in the garden, it was warm (but not too warm) and all was well.

After everybody had gone about 7.30pm it was time for my run. A simple 35 minute route that I have run 1000 times. I was happy with myself for eating well during the day and not having any drinks and was ready to run.

No sooner had I set out of the door and started running that my right hip flexor immediately screamed out in pain. Now I had warmed up properly and was running slowly, but it instantly hurt, a lot. Now this is nothing new for me. My hip flexors fail all the time and they hurt a lot when I run, but usually after about 20 miles or so, not 20 metres.

On I plodded, hip flexor screaming with every stride and then I started to feel like I was running through treacle. Like the air itself was thick. Like running in a swimming pool. Goodness me it was hard. My heart rate was way too high for the pace I was doing and I could not get any air in. I checked my watch, I had run 800 metres!

Slowing down, I kept on going, hoping these early run niggles would go away and I could get into my stride. How wrong I was. The hip pain was then joined by knee pain on the same side. I could not shake the thought in my head spinning round and round. “You are going to have to walk” it kept saying to me. Walk. Fecking Walk! I had done just over 1km and I was having to walk. But walk I did. I had absolutely nothing in the tank.

Now this was not a great situation to be in. I am not the best runner in the world, but I can run a bit. Under normal circumstances I can easily run for 35 minutes, but this is clearly not normal circumstances.

I was angry with myself. Angry that my lungs seem to have packed up and not get any air in. That my muscles and body seemed to be as tired as it would be at the end of an Ultra Marathon. Understandable in an Ultra Marathon. Not so understandable after 1km of running.

Now there is nothing wrong with walking. In fact, I walk a lot during my marathons, but this was not a marathon. This was a 35 minute run that there should be no walking. So I decided to run again. And run I did, slowly, for about 100 metres, and then I had to stop, again. And this is how it went for a while. Run for a bit, get exhausted, walk, run for a bit, get exhausted, you get the idea.

20 minutes into my “run” and I had covered just over 2km. Not good. I felt awful. I was very sad and angry and I did not understand. A mental checklist went through my mind.

  • Am I overtrained – No
  • Did I sleep well last night – Yes
  • Any boozing – No
  • Diet decent – Yes
  • Did I run recently and that is why I am struggling – No

There was no obvious reason. As the time wound on I was just getting more and more upset. I felt so sad I could cry. How the hell am I ever going to be able to run a marathon for Daisy’s Dream if I can’t even run for 35 minutes? I am a better runner than this. But clearly that is not the case.

40 minutes into the run and the 5km distance clocked up on my watch with a unceremonious beep. The beep almost felt like it was mocking me. Stupid watch. I was about 1km from home and it may as well have been 100. There I was, in my full run gear with running vest, cap, shorts and trainers walking down the main road back to my house. Like an overweight fella who thought he could run but clearly could not. Shuffling along like a useless blob. I was sad and angry in equal measure, so I forced myself to run. I can run 1km. Just run. Run Snooky, run.

So I ran, for about 200 metres and then my back started to hurt. So now I have the following things wrong with me.

  1. My right hip flexor is agony each time my foot hits the groud
  2. My right knee is hurting me
  3. I cannot get any air into my lungs at all
  4. I feel like I am running through treacle
  5. My back hurts

All this after 5km of “running”. A marathon is 42km. I have done many of them. I quickly worked out that at the pace I had run I would be looking at a 6hr 30 minute marathon finishing time. You can walk one faster than that!

So I walked, again. All the way home. It took me 55 minutes to complete a loop that normally takes 35. For those mathemeticians amongst us, that is an increase of 57.14%.

And now I am sitting here, writing this blog. My hips are aching me. My shoulders ache. My left knee is now a bit sore. From a 6km walk with a bit of running. Absolutely and completely pathetic.

I know what I am going to do about this. The same thing that I always do. But I will tell you what that is another time.

Enjoy your Easter weekend people. Hope that the sun shines and you get lost of nice chocolate eggs to scoff down and that if you do go out running, it is better than mine. Though you would do well to make it worse.

TTFN

Snooky

Project 80 – 133rd times a charm!

So, only one week and one day later than planned, Project 80 launches today.

Project 80 is simple. I need to weight 80kg or less by the time I get to run London Marathon. Ideally, it could do with being closer to 75kg I think, but 80 is probably more realistic.

Before we get into why this is important, I am aware that some of you cannot figure out kilograms (kg) and may prefer weight measurements to be in stone and pounds (st, lbs) or just pounds (lbs). I will do my best to do the relevant conversions for you as we go though this.

How we weigh ourselves in stones in the UK. This fella is around 1 stone!

So, a long time ago I wrote a blog post explaining why weight is particularly important in running. At the time I was training for a 100 mile ultra marathon (which I never even made the start line of) but if you want to read this you can find it here. Time to Address the Elephant in the Room

The basic premise is this.

  • When you run the ground force through your joints is 2 – 2.9 times your body weight each time your foot hits the ground
  • A marathon is 42,000 metres. Assuming I travel a metre per stride, that is 42,000 foot strikes
  • If I weight 100kg (15st 10lbs, 220lbs) then this is 100 x 2.5 (if we take the average from the first point) x 42,000 which equals 10,500,000kg of force my legs have to absorb over a marathon distance.
  • If I weigh 80 kg (12st 8lbs, 176lbs) this number reduces to 8,400,000kg of force, a reduction of 2.1 million kg of force my body has to absorb
  • The largest bull elephants weigh about 6000kg, so the reduction in impact force is around 350 elephants worth. Thats quite a lot.

Then things get even more interesting. According to a podcast I listened to a long time ago (which I now cannot find to reference) athetic performance increases roughly 5% for every 10% of bodyweight you drop, assuming that you only drop fat and maintain muscle. Now bearing in mind I want to drop about 20-25% bodyweight (I currently weight more than 100kg (220lbs or 15st 10lbs) I could be looking at a performance increase of 10% or more. This would mean that my current marathon speed of around 12.5 minute miles would improve to possibly sub 11 minute miles, which would improve my marathon finish time from 5hrs 30 minutes to around 4hrs 48 minutes.

Now all of the above is just based on weight alone. It does not factor in improvements in fitness that can be made from training. It is only taking into account my current level of fitness and my current weight vs my ideal racing weight. So if I get the training right and the weight loss right I could be closing in on 4hr 30min marathon, or perhaps less.

Whilst marathon running is not all about finishing times, believe me being out there for an hour less is a good thing. Marathons are hard. Really hard. You usually feel OK up to around mile 18-20, then you face 6-8 miles of pain and suffering to get over the line. If that pain and suffering can last a bit less time that can only be a good thing.

My knees hurt!

All things considered it is a good idea to weigh less than I do when running. Quite a lot less in fact. So, for the 133rd time of trying, I am going to have to lose weight. Something that is relatively easy to do in your 20’s, trickier in your 30’s and very hard to do in your 40’s. Combined with the fact that endurance exercise is not actually that good for weight loss (I will blog about this another time) and the fact that too much training tends to break my body anyway, basically I am just going to have to eat a lot less.

I really like food though. That is how I got into this position in the first place ūüôā

Then again, if White Goodman can succeed on his weight loss journey and almost lead the Cobras to victory against Honest Joes in the American Dodgeball Association of America International Dodgeball Competition then I am sure I can do the same, and run London at a weight substantially less than I am right now.

It’s a metaphor.

So off we go. Not only do I need to train hard and rest and recover, but I will be needing to do this on a calorie deficit. Should be fun.

Next post will be about running and not about being overweight, I promise.

To track Project 80 and see how well (or not) I am getting on please use the Project 80 page

TTFN

Snooky

Shall we try again…..?

For those of you who remember this blog from before, or even the previous incarnation (known as Iron Snook), you will be relieved, excited and all round thrilled to learn that the blog is back.

For those of you who are reading my blog for the first time, please let me bid you a hearty welcome.

I have decided to start writing this again as we are living in rather crazy times and I wanted to provide a little oasis of sanity, and perhaps hope, as the world falls apart around us.

OK, perhaps this is a bit overly dramatic, but certainly modern Britain looks a lot different than it did a year ago. That being said, some things have not changed. Crucial to this blog, the things that have remained consistent are:

  1. I am a very very very bad runner.
  2. I still have the innate ability to gain 1 or 2kg in weight by just glancing towards a piece of cake. That’s right folks, I don’t even have to eat it any more. I just need to look at cake to absorb its calories. Rather a shit super power, but I guess you don’t get to choose your gifts.
  3. My reach still exceeds my grasp (more on this later).
  4. I am still terrified of failure.
I'm out of it a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur. - Han  Solo DOG | Meme Generator

Remember when Han Solo gets defrosted from the carbonite in Jabba’s Palace? In fact I have no idea why I am asking, of course you remember that. One of the best scenes in Star Wars. Anyway, after he is unfrozen and chucked in a prison cell Chewbacca tells him that Luke Skywalker has become a Jedi Knight. Han exclaims in disbelief “I am out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur”.

Well “delusions of grandeur” perfectly describes my current project, trying to run the South Downs Way 100 in June 2021. I have already failed twice in 2020 to complete this race. Luckily for me, Covid came to the rescue and the 2020 summer race was postponed until November, to then be postponed again to June 2021. I was not ready for either of the 2020 races and would not have made the start line.

Despite the fact that I failed to avoid injury and train up to make this race twice before, my “delusion of grandeur” allows me to think, for some unknown reason, that this summer might be different. That for some reason, though I have been physically incapable of making the start line twice before, that history will not repeat itself. That this time it will be better.

You never know though, I might just get away with it. I wrote a training plan back in December and have stuck to it so far. I am trying as hard as I can to get a bit of weight off. I am doing Yoga and mobility work 3 times a week minimum. I am lifting weights regularly to maintain core and muscle strength. I have even given up beer!

Yoda pie chart | FlowingData

So now all I have to do is train. Probably harder than I have ever trained before. I have to eat clean, look after my body, try and improve my mobility, get plenty of rest. I have to maintain a positive focus on my goal, realising that there will be slip ups along the way. I have to enjoy the journey. And as long as I do all of these things, there is a very good chance that I will arrive at the start line in Winchester on the 12th June 2021 in the best shape I have ever been in.

As Master Yoda says, “Do or Do Not, there is no Try”. So I will do the training. I will do all the other things I need to do. Then I will run from Winchester to Eastbourne along the South Downs Way. 100 miles. 30 hours to complete it.

I will succeed. Despite my doubts. Despite the fact that I am a very shit runner. Despite the fact that I have no right what so ever to be on that starting line. I will complete this race.

So here is to the journey. To running in the dark, in the rain, in the freezing wind. To running when you are tired and your body aches. To getting up at 4am at the weekend to run so you don’t impact the rest of the day with your family. To the struggle and the pain and feeling like I am never gonna make it.

I hope you will join me on this journey as I chart it here. I promise not all of the posts will be about Star Wars.

May the Force be with you.

Snooky

It’s all becoming a bit real……..and very very scary

So as I write this , it is 26 days until Race to the King.  26 days until I lace up my trainers, and alongside my good friend Freestone, start to run/walk/trudge/shuffle my way along 53 miles of the South Downs Way.

2017-05-20 07.28.38
Me and Freestone. ¬†We are handsome fellas…….right?

I have been doing a fair amount of training.  Concentrating on a double run every weekend (either a shorter run followed by a long one, or the other way round) I am training my body to run on tired legs.  I have made sure to train on the South Downs as much as possible, to simulate the conditions on race day.  I have even been out running in the midday heat.

All of this is well and good, but I do seem to have developed a bit of an injury.  It was
inevitable.  I have no running pedigree.  No years of running experience to fall back on.  I have only really run any endurance type stuff for the last 4 years, and only regularly trained on long runs in the last 6 months.  The injury I have is an overuse injury of some
2017-05-07 08.46.20description.  The pain is in the area highlighted in the photo on the right.  I have consulted the good old internet doctor and think it might be a metatarsal stress fracture.  This seems the most likely option anyway.

Now the injury only hurts me once I have run for more than 2-3 hours, but consistently at around this mark it kicks in and hurts like hell. I will likely be running for around 14 hours at the Race to the King, meaning that I will have to run in pain for at least 11 hours.  This is going to be a bit tricky to say the least.

I now need to decide what to do.  I could just ignore it and keep going.  I could rest and avoid all running for a couple of weeks and see where I am.  What I really should do is go and see a physio, so I think this is what I will actually do.

Am worried that they will tell me no running, and that really I should not be doing the race.  I am doing the race regardless, so my thinking is that going to see the physio can do no harm and might actually do me a bit of good.

You never know, they might just give me a magic pill that not only sorts my foot out, but also turns me into the best ultra-runner the world has ever seen.

Stranger things have happened.

TTFN

Snooky

Marathon 2 of 13 – The Three Forts Challenge

It’s 0700 on Sunday 30th April and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Three Forts Challenge.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will already know, I was a bit nervous about this marathon.  The Three Forts Challenge has the tagline of “the tough one”, and this is for good reason.  With over 1000m of elevation over the marathon distance, this was going to be very hilly.  Run amongst the beautiful South Downs, whilst being tough this marathon also had the added bonus of having a cut off time of 6 hours.  Bearing in mind it takes me 5 hours to run a totally flat marathon, I was very concerned I would not make it through the course within the 6 hour time window.

Now the best advice is to always prepare your gear the night before a race and I would strongly recommend that anybody follow this advice.  In my case though, I never ever do, so was scrambling around trying to find all the gear I wanted to take with me.  Having eventually located it all and scoffed down a bowl of porridge, I bid a fond adieu to my wife and kids and headed off to Worthing, where the race would start.

Arriving at the race car park I was faced with the usual group of fellow runners.  All whippet thin, with legs like gnarled tree trunks, my nerves were getting worse not better. I found a space on the grass to sit down and started to organise my race pack.

I was trying something new for this race.  Having had a recommendation from an old golfing buddy turned ultra-runner, I was trying out Tailwind.  You simply add a sachet of tailwind to your water bottle and there is no need to take on any additional food or electrolytes on your run.  No gels, no sandwiches (a personal favourite of mine), no jelly babies.  Nothing.  Having used it on one training run with great success, I was keen to see what it could do during a long race.

Having sorted out my pack, I started upon my pre-race warm up routine when Bushy and Marie showed up.  I knew they were coming to support me and it was great to see them.  Both were very encouraging and said they had ultimate faith in me getting through the race before the 6 hour cut off.  There were going to drive around the course and meet me at various points.  It was brilliant to have some support along.  Especially brilliant that it was Bushy, who was at my side for the vast majority of my Ironman race and without him I would never have finished it.  Shame he was just at the sidelines rather than running with me, but he is joining me later in my 13 in 12 journey for the Midnight Man Marathon, so will look forward to running with him then.

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After a few pre-race photos, it was time for the off.  With the local town crier announcing the start of the race, we were away.  I started a the back (as is my custom), and received hearty cheers from the crowd as we made our way out of the playing field and immediately started to climb up a wide dirt track.  The first climb of the race took us to Cissbury Ring, one of the three Iron Age forts the Three Forts Challenge is named for.  I felt my usual nerves at the start of the race, but quickly calmed down and concentrated on not tripping over as we made our way up single track alongside Hill Barn and Worthing golf courses.  I have played both golf courses, and couldn’t help but think that perhaps I would be better with my 5 iron than my running shoes.  Too late though, the race was on.

As the route continued to climb it opened out a bit, allowing the pack to spread out.  Due to the undulating nature of the route, you could often see way into the distance and I was impressed to see runners already way ahead of me, despite being going only about 20 minutes.  Just before the 5k mark we found ourselves on the top of the first hill next to Cissbury Ring.  There is no fort there, just a circle of trees where the fort used to be, but it was cool to think of an ancient fort being there and I found my mind tracking back to what it must of been like 100’s of years ago.  No road, no power lines, no fences.  Just rolling hillside and probably a lot more trees.

Turning away from Cissbury, we were treated to a beautiful view of Lancing College, with its gothic architecture.  I have always loved how Lancing College looks, but had never seen it from this vantage point.

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Lancing College – not taken from the run route!

The course then made its way down into the valley of the River Adur.  This was the first point that Bushy and Marie were going to meet up with me and I knew it was at the 7 mile marker.  To be on track for finishing in less than 6 hours, I would need to be at this point no more than 1hr 30 mins from race start.  Amazingly, as I jogged towards the aide station after the river crossing, I was only at 1hr 5 mins of race time.  25 minutes ahead of schedule.

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At the 7 mile marker

Emptying a package of Tailwind into my water bottle and filling it up from the aide station, I exchanged a few words with Bushy and Marie about how good I was feeling and how much I was enjoying the race and then I was off.  Bushy kindly pointed out to me “the hill is that way”, gesturing towards the next challenge, the climb up to Devils Dyke.

I genuinely felt great at this point.  I was consuming 500ml of water with Tailwind in it per hour and was bang on this schedule.  I had died not to look at my heart rate whilst running this race and just run “on feel”.  This is something that Tufty (triathlon coach who I owe a lot of my Ironman success to) had encouraged me to do on occasion.  Don’t be slave to the gadgets, just run based on feel.  If you feel good, keep going.  If it gets tough, slow down a bit.  Just keep going.  I had been following this mantra and the race was unfolding nicely.  That being said it was a long way to go still.  The Three Forts Challenge is actually 1 mile longer than a normal marathon (27.2 miles rather than 26.2) so at the 7 mile marker I was only 1/4 distance into the race.

Making my way across a main road I was then on a steep single track towards Devils Dyke.  Walking up this single track, it flattened out a bit into a field which then turned into a road.  This road was fairly steep and most people around me were walking up it.  I fell into step; however I felt good, so almost immediately decided to run.  Starting running, I was overtaking a few people.  This hill was relentless, going on and on and on and on, but I kept running and kept on overtaking others.  I really was feeling strong.  Far stronger than I expected to.   I kept on sipping at my Tailwind and just kept on running.  We then reached an undulating section, where I was confronted with a runner coming the other way.  This was the race leader, who had already reached Devils Dyke (the race turning point) and was on his way back.  I made mental note that this was after 1hr 40 minutes of running.  I wanted to see what time it would be when I was at the same race point on the way back.

After the undulating section there was more climbing across fields where I managed to keep on running and quickly found myself at the turn around point, where once again, Bushy and Marie were waiting.  They both commented about how good I looked.  I must admit I felt great.  No need to get anything from the aide station (due to the Tailwind) so I had a quick cup of water from a very friendly race marshall, bid Bushy and Marie farewell and was back off the way I had come.

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Devils Dyke turnaround point

I knew that Bushy and Marie would make their way back to the River Adur aide station to see me again, so I decided to try and beat them back.  Other than the undulating big, it was almost entirely downhill and I wanted to try and run hard down this section.  Making my way back towards the downhill, I noted the point where I had seen the first placed runner and I was 40 minutes behind him.  “Not bad”, I thought to myself, though tis was less than halfway.  Reaching the downhill I picked up my run pace and flew down the hill, again overtaking many fellow runners.

Picking my way down the final section of single track, my quads were on fire from running downhill for so long, but as I got to the aide station I was very happy to see I had beaten Bushy and Marie there.  They had probably been for a coffee and a bacon sandwich in that period of time, so there was no real victory, but I had been quicker than they expected me to be which I was pleased about.

At this point in the race the route does not follow the same route we had run out, and diverts off into unknown territory.  Finding yet more rolling hills, I once again was overtaking people on the uphill.  Approaching 3 hours of running, I still felt great and was beyond the half way point.  I decided to give Cat a ring at this point just to say hello and let her know I was getting on OK.  I phoned her at the 26km point.  I had been running for 3 hours at this point and had 18km to go.  It was great to chat with her and she was delighted to hear that I was getting on well.  After a quick chat, it was back on with the running.

Climbing again, at around the 28km mark my hip flexors started to really hurt me.  This is common on my long runs and I knew I just had to keep going and it would hopefully pass.  There were very few runners around me at this point.  The race had really spread out and I seemed to be mostly on my own as I wound my way uphill, past a pig farm and onto yet more rolling Sussex hills.  The route of the race is simply beautiful.  I am lucky enough to have been brought up and lived the majority of my life close to the South Downs.  Despite this, I am consistently overwhelmed by their beauty, and today was no different.

During this point in the race I was reflecting back to some chats I had had with other runners earlier on.  People had noticed my Chestnut Tree House vest and asked me if I was fundraising for them.  I mention my 13 in 12 challenge, which was met by all who had asked me with equal praise and admiration.  To all of you who may be reading this who chatted with me about my fundraising, it was great to get your support out on the course and lovely to meet you.

The race climbed on and on up to Chanctonbury, the final of the three Iron Age forts and the highest point I the race.  Reaching this was a great milestone and forcing myself to keep going had meant that I had pushed through my hip flexor pain and was once again feeling strong.  I had kept up the regiment of Tailwind (one sachet in 500ml of water per hour) and I must admit that it seemed to be working an absolute charm.  Having reached the top of Chanctonbury, it was downhill for a while, then we had to climb once again up to Cissbury Ring before dropping back dow to the finish.

At the 4 hour mark it had started to rain a bit.  I didn’t mind.  The fresh rain had that amazing smell that you get when it first starts raining.  It wasn’t raining hard and I was enjoying the run so it took nothing away from the experience.  Reaching the low point before the climb back to Cissbury, I was making my way along a farm side track where I saw Bushy and Marie huddling under an umbrella.  This was totally unexpected as I thought I would see them again at the the finish.  I stopped for a quick chat.  As you can see from the photo, I look a bit the worse for wear, though I felt great.  Hip Flexors were playing up a bit, but otherwise I was in very good spirits.

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Saying goodbye to Bushy and Marie for the final time before the finish, I knew that I had only 8km to go.  Once final climb and then it was mostly downhill to the finish.  The climb up to Cissbury was steep and as usual I was walking it.  It started to level off a bit and I started to run.  My legs felt good.  I was passing other runners again.  This never happens to me, and especially not after being on my feet for over 4 hours.  “This Tailwind really is magic stuff”, I was thinking to myself as I rounded the back of Cissbury and knew I had about 4-5km to go.

Unbelievably, I decided to run hard for this final stretch.  My body felt willing and I had a chance of coming in at around the 5 hour mark which would be brilliant.

Running through the final undulating sections I eventually found myself on the single track past the golf courses towards the finish.  Due to being within 2km of home, there were other runners around me who were also pushing themselves.  I kicked hard and managed to pull away from them.  All of them.  I was flying as I went down the final hill, turned into the playing fields and crossed the line.

5hours and 5 minutes according to my watch.  Far beyond my wildest expectations and also only 3 minutes off a marathon PB (set on a totally flat Brighton Marathon course).  Hang on a minute.  The Three Forts Challenge is 1 mile longer than a normal marathon.  Looking back at the data from my running watch, I was through the marathon distance in 4hrs 55 minutes.  So that is officially a marathon personal best on a super hilly course. I will take that any day of the week.

Finding Bushy and Marie straight after the race, I was simply delighted with my run.  I loved every second of the Three Forts Challenge.  The Tailwind I used for nutrition was excellent.  The course was superb, all the marshals and volunteers were outstanding.  My fellow competitors were friendly and supportive.  All in all a brilliant event in simply stunning surroundings.  I will definitely be running this one again.

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5hours and 5 mins of effort and I am done – and very happy.

One final thought from me before I sign off this blog post.  For the first time ever, the first time in my life, I finally feel like a proper runner.  I was able to enjoy and entire race.  I got my nutrition right, my hydration right, my gear right and as a result I loved every second of this race.  It may seem strange to some, but I had never thought of myself as a decent runner before this race.

There may be a bit more at play than this, and I am indebted to a college at work and his NLP (Neuro-Lingustic Programming) skills, but I will leave this for another blog post.

So I will sign off here.  One very happy runner.

TTFN

Snooky

 

Marathon number 2 of 13 is in a few days time, and I am having a PANIC!

On Sunday 30th April I am running the Three Forts Challenge, a 27.2 mile off road marathon.  The second of the thirteen marathons I have planned over the next twelve months.  This is going to be a hilly one people!

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From the title of this blog post, you would be right in thinking that I am a bit nervous about this race.  This assumption would be perfectly valid.  In fact, I had an anxiety dream about not finishing the race last night.

This is not due to the distance, or due to the hills. It is due to the cut off time.  I did not check this when I booked; however upon reviewing the race website over the weekend I noticed that the race must be completed in 6 hours.  That is 27.2 miles (or 43.5km) of tough hilly off road racing in 6 hours.  Bearing in mind that it took me over 5 hours to complete the totally flat Brighton Marathon just 3 weeks ago, and you can start to see why I am feeling nervous.

Over the weekend I met up with my friend Tom, who is running the Race to the King (my 53 mile June Ultra-marathon) with me.  We went out for a 3 hour run on the South Downs, starting and ending in Amberley.  The terrain is extremely similar to what I will face at the marathon.   The Three Forts Challenge has 1050 metres of elevation spread across the race distance.  On Sunday, we covered 22.7km in 3 hours, with 554m of elevation.

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Using simple mathematics (thank you Mr Hyden and GCSE Maths), we can work out that if I match the exact same pace I managed on Sunday at the Three Forts Challenge in 6 days time, I will cover 45.4 km in 6 hours (allowing for 1108 metres elevation).

So the race itself  is 43.5km in 6 hours with 1050 metres of elevation, and I am theoretically capable of 45.4km in 6 hours with 1108 elevation.  Easy, right?  Nothing to worry about.  I will be back with plenty of time to spare (well at least 10 minutes).

Except sadly there is plenty to worry about.  I will need to stop at aide stations and get water and perhaps some food.  Though this will not take long, it will eat into my time.  As will the inevitability that I will not be able to maintain the same pace I would run for 3 hours over 6 hours.  This is twice the distance, twice the hills and twice the time on my feet.  Alas, I am more confident of returning from the race on Sunday with a DNF (Did Not Finish), than a medal.

This will mean two things.  One, I will need to fit in another marathon over the next 12 months to make sure I hit my challenge of 13 marathons in 12 months.  Two, the realisation of how far away I am from being able to run 53 miles non-stop (on the exact same type of terrain), will hit me like a tonne of bricks.

That’s it for this blog post. ¬†Very cheery I am sure you will agree. ¬†I am going to finish my glass of wine, watch a bit of TV and then go to bed. ¬†Perhaps overnight I will metamorphosize into Scott Jurek, or Charlie Engle, or one of my other ultra-running heroes? ¬†Or perhaps¬†I will turn into somebody who simply doesn’t bite off more than he can chew and knows his limits.

Whilst both of these outcomes is equally unlikely as the other one,¬†what I do know is that the human body is capable of some remarkable things when it is pushed. ¬†The Three Forts Challenge will push me, probably right to the edge, but one thing is for certain. ¬†If I don’t make the 6 hour cut off time, it will not be through a lack of effort!

TTFN

Snooky