Rebuilding The Runner

Nothing seemed to be working, physically or mentally. I was trying to mentally dig in and get a grip but there was no feelings of energy and the legs when heavy and tired when trying to run.

Only 2 weeks after the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race and I had the Monster Ambit 24 hour. It was a mistake to turn up so soon after and I clearly hadn’t recovered. Only 5 laps in, about 34 miles and I was burnt out and at a standstill. I felt disappointed but it was clearly far too soon to be going in for a big event again. I needed to have some more time off.

Ahead in July I had the Kennett and Avon Canal Race, another 145 mile race this time from Bristol to London. I needed to give myself a chance to complete that race by backing off a little and recovering, small miles, long walks etc. I had 3 weeks of lower miles and some gym cross training and on 29th June took part in a club 5k league race clocking a time of 19m 46s. My fastest time this year and getting closer to my PB time of 19m 11s. The rest, cross training and eating well was beginning to have some effect. I was now 4 weeks away from KACR and needed to have a long run to get the ultra legs back and instil some confidence in myself so entered the Essex30, a 34 mile race on the Flitch Way Near Braintree.

 

I had the Stort 5 mile to run in Hatfield Forest on the 2nd July and my fast 5k gave me some confidence in doing well at that event. I run the forest parkrun most Saturday so know the course and conditions. On the day I set off hard treating it like a fast parkrun. The 5 and 10 mile race were both run at the same time so I didn’t have much idea who was in what race without trying to glance at people’s race numbers at opportune moments. I kept a high pace and felt I had a chance at a team prize and kept a club member in sight. Team prizes were given to the the fastest cumulative time of the first 3 from each club. While running I was trying to work out my position and thought I was the 5th person from our club. I finished in a time of 34m 10s, 10th overall and the found out that I was in fact the 4th placed club member…the 3rd man only being 30 seconds ahead of me!! doh! But another good result.

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The following weekend was the Felsted 10k, again hopes high but it was a really hot day. A huge field of 328 people had turned out for the run on the roads around the Essex village. I set of well again and managed to keep a reasonable pace with a chance of a PB if I could hold on. I couldn’t. The heat was too much and at mile 5 I cramped and had to slow the pace and finished in 44m 28s the PB still standing at 41m 11s.

Again, 1 week later it was time for the Essex 30. Really not sure how the legs and body would cope with the longer miles I made a decision to try and use gels for the first time in over two years thinking they may help. They didn’t. I took one around every 8 miles and after having the second gel actually binned the other 2 I was carrying. I was feeling really sick, spinning head and struggling just to keep a steady pace going. I went back on the real food and drank water and cola and finished the race in 5h 50m, my 50k time stands at 4h 43m by comparison. It was a good amount of time on my feet training so something positive to walk away with.

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Time to get ready for KACR.

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With the hotel booked and single ticket to Bristol purchased I took the remaining couple of weeks taking it easy feeling it was better to be recovered than try and hammer pointless miles into the legs. After the long journey to Bristol and registering for the race I caught up with friends and went and had some dinner and had the opportunity to meet some new faces too. One restless night and a 04.30am alarm and it was time to get the race going. Breakfast and a long walk to the start. Bags in the van, a talk from Dick Kearn and we were on our way. I was determined to run a good race at a better pace than Gran Union where I had to slog through with a sprained ankle. The pace was good, I felt ok and the miles were ticking by nicely. constantly keeping tabs on the pace and mindful of a few turns and crossings along the route. Slowly passing towns and villages, Keynsham, Kelston, Weston, Bath, Semington, Devizes. Through all of the checkpoints I kept the time to a minimum. Fill water, add Tailwind. Access bag, eat some food, snack food into ziplock bag, leave checkpoint. 5 minutes in the early stages. From previous races I have lost time at checkpoints. 15 minutes at 10 checkpoints, 2h 30m, that could be anywhere from 10 to 15 miles further along the race. Up and over the Caen Hill locks, a series of 29 locks rising 237 feet over 2 miles, a 1 in 44 gradient, not much but enough when you are 35 miles into a race. The pace was comfortable and I was feeling good eventually arriving into CP5 the mid way point at 19.28pm, 2h 15m ahead of GUCR and bang on my target to finish in around 36 to 37 hours. After leaving CP5 I had my first major dip and began to feel quite bad very quickly. I had to march fair way and settled on a walk 0.5 mile then run 0.5 mile to cling on to a reasonable pace. I arrived at CP6 feeling pretty ill and had developed bad kidney pain so decided to use my time to eat and drink well and gather my thoughts before heading onwards. After leaving the checkpoint now 86.5 miles into the race I was trying to cope and hoped things would improve, they didn’t, now feeling worse than ever at mile 90 I pulled over and gave myself a few minutes. I decide to walk off the canal route, now in Reading, was I truly ill or just making excuses in a tough race. With the kidney pain not subsiding I took the decision to withdraw from the race. Gutted but it it was the right thing to do. A later GP check up and the Dr was happy it was down to dehydration with blood tests being clear and only poor lung function being identified possibly due to an allergy.

After KACR it was recovery time again. Just a few easy weeks. Looking for some races to do and what time I had available I joined some runners from the ‘Wednesday Nights Headtorch Runs’ FB group for a run on Box Hill which was a good workout! Also I had a Sunday free which meant I was able to join Mark Thornberry for his Grand Union Canal Cancer Fighting Fun Run. Mark should have done GUCR145 back in May but was unable to due to being diagnosed with liver cancer. He has since been told it is terminal so decided to go ahead and do the 145 mile route anyway! What an awesome mindset!

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Various runners from across the nation joined Mark at varying locations and joined him on his epic journey. I joined near Northampton on day 2 and ran 40 miles to Tring. Mark is being treated by Kings College Hospital and is well on his way to raising 50k for them.

donations can be made here: Mark Thornberry

I have a string of marathons and a 30 miler booked for late October, 4 in one week and as ever looking out for something extra to stick in the diary.

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Why?

Since GUCR last weekend i’m still getting asked the age old question by friends and work colleagues about my running and in particular, ultras. Why?. Why do you do it? Why put yourself through that? Why bother? Why not just put your feet up?

Those that know me well enough know I pulled on my running shoes again 5 years ago after three lifelong friends passed away in the space of 5 months. A hard, difficult and emotional time. Trying to make sense of life’s cruel ways. I dealt with it through running, running harder and faster the feelings of guilt and remorse replaced by exhaustion and burning lungs. It took many months to feel better but grief was replaced with an acute sense of life’s finite value. I don’t want to have regrets, wishing I had at least attempted various things. I’m not saying anyone should bankrupt themselves to achieve a life event, but, within your means, do as much as you are possibly able. Take that course you’ve wanted to do. Learn that language, trade, skill. Save for that dream holiday. Get in touch with that long lost friend or relative. Start painting or taking photos or walking…or even running. Whatever the thing is. Do it. Now. Today. Immediately. Don’t put it off. Wonder what an ultra is like? Sign up, train up and turn up. My three friends (Andy 34, Darren 36 and Charlie 42) never had their tomorrow to achieve their hopes and aspirations. You do! I do. So when I am in the midst of a tough ultra, hurting in a darkened corner of my mind I am grateful for those sensations and emotions because they are instantly reminding me I have the good fortune to be alive as they do not. And I get myself together and move onwards.

 

That is why.

Grand Union Canal Race 2017 – Part One

I was struggling badly, such excruciating sleep deprivation. Something I need to learn how to cope with. I was on the approach to CP9 and the time was evaporating fast! I shuffled into the checkpoint at 23.58.41….the cut off was 00.00. My GUCR 2016 was over.

In the week following it was a given I was going to apply for the following year so I could rectify my mistakes and make it to the end. My friend and ultra runner who finished GUCR in 2016, Mike Abel, made a remark that he would crew me in 2017 if I got in. So when the entries opened I had the form filled in and sent back within about a minute! I hadn’t realised at the time but the first 15 applications were given automatic entry to the 3 race canalslam series. I had thought it was the first 15 drawn from the ballot so went along to the draw meeting Gin Lawson and Mark Haynes only then to be told by Keith about the automatic entry. Soon after I then contacted Mike to see if he was still willing to crew as he had said. Thankfully he said he’d change some of his plans and help me out. My cousin said he would drive for us so Mike could buddy run.

I continued through 2016 injury free and mainly running marathons, half marathons, club events and small ultras like the Stort 30. Heading into 2017 I wanted to up my training and races. In 2016 heading towards GUCR I had only done 2 half marathons, 1 marathon and a 40 mile training run…and made it to 133 miles. In 2017 I ran 4 ultras, 4 marathons, 2 x 10ks plus the training runs in between. I was happy for how most of them panned out and began to write up a pacing plan based on those race times. The aim became a 35 hour plan with the realistic view this could slip to 36 or 37 hours depending on weather, injury and tiredness.

As we got closer to GUCR coming around my cousin announced he’d booked a holiday over GUCR weekend..I was pissed off to say the least. There was nothing that could be done so started asking around for someone to step in. Mike said worst case scenario he would still drive so all was not completely lost but still a major spanner in the works. In the last couple of weeks before GUCR Ed Jones who was a finisher in 2016 said he could step in to buddy run from the Wolverton area and Adrian Eeles, an online Twitter acquaintance said he would be able to buddy run from the Hemel Hemstead area. A load of kit and food shopping and I was finally feeling ready.

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On the Friday I drove over to Mike’s to get him, checked we had everything and set off to Birmingham. The drive to his had been twice as long as it should have been due to an accident and the continuing journey to Birmingham was just as bad but we finally arrived, parked and checked in around 17.00pm meeting Nathan Taylor in the foyer. Then soon after down to registration where the weekend buzz begins to kick in, meeting friends, acquaintances and familiar faces exchanging stories, training progress and expectations for the weekend. Always a fun and exciting part of race is meeting like minded people that are on your wavelength and being able to glean information and tips from people is all part of the ultra running learning curve. I have massive respect and admiration for these people, some of whom I’m fortunate to be able to call friends. Theses are my people, sporting legends in the ultra community and unsung warriors that most people wouldn’t know. Off to O’neills pub for dinner and a few nerve calming drinks, more meet ups and chat with the likes of Michelle Payne, Colin Barnes and paul Ali before heading to bed for a 04.50am alarm.

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Race day. Breakfast eaten, kit on and a bit of limbering up and it was time to head down to the start. check in. A bit off chat and trying not to think about the monumental task that lay ahead of us all. The weather was looking to be hot and humid, nothing to be done but deal with it as best as possible. We made our way off of Gas Street onto the canal basin and after a few words form Dick Kearn we were off. I set off at a comfortable pace around 9 minute miles soon making sure I slowed a little to 9.30 a mile, CP1 lay 11 miles away.I was instantly feeling the humidity and the only way to really cope was to drink and douse my head and shoulders with water, a shower started in the early stages and helped cool the air but it was fairly short lived. I didn’t use the maps at all during the run and did as last year using a crib sheet with water points, checkpoints and any bridge crossings or junctions noted. I was planning on using every water point available, this didn’t happen overall as some of them were hard to spot or plain missed as I probably had my head down. Stopping at an early water/toilet point I saw Wendy Shaw and Jaime Russell who were both looking strong. I had been cat and mouse over the early miles with Cat Simpson who I think most people had as the favourite to be first female. At mile ten she suddenly took off and I never saw her again! I arrived a t CP1 at 7.44 am..bang on my plan to the minute. Trouble was I should have met Mike at a bridge by now and hadn’t seen him, after a quick call he arranged to meat me closer to Knowle locks. I topped up on some drink and some people, probably friends of other runners gave me a fun size milky way to see me along. I continued on eventually meeting up with Mike, topping up drink and collecting my pre packed bag of food which had grapes, biscuits and raisins and continued on. I was still keeping a 9.30 a mile, the sun was up and it was already getting hot. Thankfully everything else was good. I was in the rough area of other friends at this point, Paul Mason, ian Brazier and Paul Adams. I had been texting Mike on the approach to let him know what I was wanting and asked for an ice lolly..but he was a touch further along from the shop already. So I made my own pit stop in the shop..well worth it!! More drink, another bag of food this one containing a porridge mix with waxy maize starch and protein powder as well as the biscuits and other pieces, some more encouragement from Mike and I was on the way again. CP3 Birdingbury bridge is about a 14.5 mile section. I was really feeling the heat and burning up badly but I was mindful of last year and wanted to make good time to CP5 Navigation Inn hoping to arrive somewhere between 19.30 and 20.00. So I pushed onwards, eating, drinking and trying to stay relaxed. I had forgotten how stony and muddy a lot of the path was and made sure I was lifting my feet enough so I didn’t stub my foot and trip. I think it may have been this stretch that I saw Michelle Payne, she’d run into abridge and busted her nose badly. Her crew had cleaned her up but Michelle being as tough as she is was carrying on and soon went ahead of me. I arrived at CP3 just after midday, about an hour ahead of last years time. As expected at the 36 mile point the aches and pains had started but nothing that wasn’t bearable or manageable. On to CP4 at Weedon. Still back and forth with a number of runners apart from dying in the heat nothing that notable happened along this stretch and I arrived at CP4 somewhere around the 16.25 mark, slightly off my plan but 1 hour ahead of last year so I was still looking ok. Another top up of water and food and I was on my way again to CP5 Navigation Inn, the point that is just shy of the half way point so great incentive to get on and finally feel that you’re getting somewhere. the path was still rough in parts. Then somewhere around mile 56 /57 I turned my ankle quite sharply, gave it a moment and assessed it. It felt like i’d had a lucky escape and could run ok so carried. Within 2 miles I turned the same ankle sharply again! this time it was really painful and obvious i’d damaged it. I tried to run on but this time I couldn’t, every step was sharply painful so I walked for  a while wondering what was best to do. Again i tried to run and found if I stayed as flat footed as possible I could get some momentum going, any flexing of the foot just caused immense sharp pain. I put in a call to mike to let him know he needed to get out to me and strap the ankle and agreed he’d meet me at the parking point at the top of the slope leading off the canal path to get up and over Blisworth Tunnel. I started to lose time being down to around 14/15 minute miles and had some time out once meeting Mike to have the ankle strapped and taking some pain killers. I got on my way again following the road way that is undulating and heads up and over the tunnel, onto the track way and back down onto the towpath. the ankle was still fairly sore but began to ease a little as the painkillers did there job. I knew I wasn’t that far now from Navigation Inn and wanted to get there in daylight and although off my plan still be ahead of last year. As the canal wound it’s way I was waiting for the sight of the pub lights to come in to view..and eventually it was before me and ran into the checkpoint at 21.45. I was pretty disappointed as I was now 1 hour 45 minutes off my plan and only 40 minutes ahead of last years time at this point. If the second half went as badly as last year it could all be over again….

The Punishment And The Prize

After the improvement at St Peter’s Way it was back to training out on the local roads, trails and gym sessions. The gym sessions have moved away from the heavier weight sessions as I felt they were slowing me down a bit. I have moved to a lighter cardio based session switching between bodyweight and light weights. A general session will be as follows.

Treadmill – up to 5k at 16kmph

press ups – as many as possible,usually around 70 to 80…still can’t hit the 100!

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v sit ups – as many as possible

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chin ups – 10

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bodyweight Squats – 25 to 50, depending how achy I am

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pull ups – 8…one of my weaker moves

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pistol squats – 10 each leg

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straight arm plank alternating raising each opposing arm and leg

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lunges – 20

Treadmill – up to 5k at 16kmph

This round will usually take about 55 minutes, it’s working pretty well. My next bit of running was a bit of fun and charity raising doing the Vertical Rush for Shelter the homeless charity running up Tower 42 central London. WHAT. A. KILLER!!! That was one of the hardest bits of all out cardio I’ve done! I heaved myself up the 932 stairs and 600 feet in 7m 40s and finished 257 of 1099 entrants. By comparison my friend I went down with managed 6m 16s and finished 47th overall…what a result!

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 The next race booked was one of the Enigma Week At The Knees marathons on Wednesday 15th March at Willen Lake, Milton Keynes. I knew Steve Edwards was running and chasing a record of 700 marathons at sub 3h 30m. I have been trying to break 3h 30m with my PB standing at 3h 34m. After setting out from home early the day was starting to warm up already. After finding my way to the event and the registration and talking to a few people I introduced myself to Steve and told him of my plan to use him as a pacer for the day. We were soon ushered to the start were a few words were said and an award given to Tiago Dionisio who was running his 500th marathon, then David ‘Foxy’ Bayley set us on our way! I set out at the front with Steve and another runner as planned. Willen Lake is a lapped course and after the first lap I was a little concerned that the pace was a bit high running 7m 30s a mile. sub 3.30 only needed an average 7.55 per mile. By time the second lap came around even Steve dropped back a little and I mentioned to the other runner with me we needed to ease up a bit. By the fourth lap in hindsight I should of picked up my drink and didn’t..even Steve pulled me up and asked if I was going to drink. By mile 16 his words and the early fast pace came back to haunt me. I began to cramp badly, my legs began to lock up. I’ve fucked it for today!  It was all I could do to walk, let it pass, carry on for a bit, lock up again…so on. From being at the front I began to drift back with Steve eventually lapping me and finishing in 4th place in 3h 58m…what an embarrassing disaster. Steve had completed his 773rd marathon, Tiago in 2nd on his 500th and Frenchman Denys Baudry had something like 408 marathons to his name…me on measly number 18 inclusive of ultras..I didn’t feel quite so bad. Punished for not doing enough threshold long runs.

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Back to the drawing board and continued with the training. Next up was Canalathon 100k organised by cannonball events. My goal this year is to complete GUCR after failing at the 133 mile point last year so Canalathon was not just about finishing but time on the feet and kit testing. In a useful way I would be running this race tired too. I managed to get about 4 hours sleep and was up at 2.30am to drive up to the start at Sowerby Bridge West Yorkshire. The race started at 7am and headed along the Rochdale canal into the edge of Manchester and then turned back to Sowerby Bridge. The first 10 miles was gradually up hill passing loads of lock systems before gradually dropping down towards Manchester then a return of 20 miles gradually up before the final 10 down to Sowerby. I ran with a group early on which held a good pace and helped time pass. we slowly filtered apart and getting on towards the turn the legs were hurting so I made full use of the aid station filling up as much as I could manage. I headed on the return not feeling great but it happens often in long races and you learn to work through it as it invariably passes. about 35 in and I freshened enough to get a move on again…40 miles and back to a struggle. I had in mind the last 10 was down hill so forged on towards the 50 mark and the final aid station, again filling up for the final push. I used every bit of downward slope to gain momentum and kept myself going..I was picking a few people off. I love this part of a race when people begin to tire, it fires me up to push on really hard, see if I can pass them and turn it into what it’s supposed to be. A race. demoralise their efforts as I run on strong and cheekily egg them on to see what they have left ‘come on mate, stick with me!’ A couple of younger fellas were having a good day of it..I hadn’t once see them walk, just a steady well paced plod. After initially passing them, around mile 57 or 58 they caught me up and put me on the spot! The legs were protesting but I pushed and stayed with them..on..and on. Come on. Don’t let these youngsters do you! closer and closer. How far lads? ‘about a mile’…hold on to them, hold on to them. The finish line beyond the final bridge…half mile tops. Come on then lads lets see what you’ve got left. Giving it the 5k parkrun effort I left them behind. Not a great time by any means finishing in 12h 25m but a good distance on a route and surface very similar to GUCR. A real fun event and well organised, I’d certainly go back and do more of their events.

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After recovering from Canalathon I was feeling really strong, injury free and felt I may be getting back to some reasonable form. The next race up was Ranscombe Spring Challenge, an 8 hour enduro event. I’m not the fastest of long distance runners, I don’t claim to be, my Strava is open for anyone to see. Looking at previous Ranscombe results there only seemed to be around a half dozen that went for an ultra distance..I thought I’d have a good chance of finishing in a decent position if I could hold it together on the day. I know Naomi Newton Fisher having been in a few races together and asked for a bit of info as to how hilly it was. Another early start and a cold foggy morning lay ahead as I made my way to Kent. I found it fairly easily and got kitted up and made some conversation..little did I know what lay ahead!! The start soon was upon us and off we went on the first lap. The course curved around and onto a downhill section, so far so good. It then began to rise up across a field, slightly down again then a long rise that went some way, across an open meadow, turn right through a gate, across a ploughed field then onto a hill within a wooded area…shit!! this was a steep kick..slightly down again then even steeper still! eventually up on to a track way turning right and thankfully a long downhill section that slowly dropped down and about 1.8 miles back running parallel to a railway line through some woods and back to the start finish. After the second lap the first half of each lap was mainly uphill and the steeper arts of that were killing me. From the 3rd lap on I had to walk the steeper sections. Fill up at the aid station, out for another lap, fill up, another lap, fill up, another lap. Most people enter these events to rack up another marathon and drop once they reach that target..leaving the foolish amongst us to forge on to what ever ultra distance we can manage. The 7th and ultimately marathon lap came around. A large amount of people were beginning to drop as they completed their target. I didn’t know at the time but there were 17 of us eventually moving on to an ultra distance. This is my second enduro event and you easily lose who is on what lap, distance and how long they’ve taken. The more I pushed on the more I felt I could finish top ten. The rules are that the 7th hour is the cut off for completing another lap, arrive 6h 59m.head on for another lap..arrive at or just after 7 hours it’s race over! I began calculating how much more I could cram in. If I pushed had on these next few laps it would by me enough time I may just push myself up into a top 5 place. I arrived back on my 10th lap in 6h 45m. ‘Are you doing any more?’…’As long as there’s time I’ll keep moving’..out for the 11th and final lap..i arrived back in 7h 33m having completed 41.1 miles. Traviss came over with my finishers medal, ‘well done’ ‘I’m pleased to tell you you’re today’s winner!’. WHAT! My first out right win since being at school! I want this win to show people that tenacity and determination can count for a lot. I didn’t win because I was particularly fast but because I kept forging on as long as there was time on the clock. And on that day it was enough by 1 lap, 3.7 miles.

What a boost for the confidence and self esteem. Still cracking on injury free, strong and coming back into some form. Another race was needed. The only options I could fit in around work and pre GUCR were marathons. The next available option was Barrow Good Friday, Chocathon Easter Sunday or Boston, Lincs Bank Holiday Monday. Chocathon had sold out, Barrow or Boston. Steve Edwards had told me he was going to be at Boston..let’s see if i’m any closer to that 3.30. Another early drive and 1h 30m later I was up in Boston, Lincs ready for another race. I knew a few friends and online acquaintances were going to be there and kept an eye out for those I knew. I saw Richard Hayes who’s fairly easy to spot with his mohican, introduced myself and had a chat. I saw Steve Edwards again and had said I’d get a copy of his book. Typical! No book as he’d sold out. I also managed to catch up with my friend Gin Lawson from Sudbury Joggers, Alison Davidson and Colin Johnstone who introduced me to Haroon Mota. After chatting in the market square I made my way towards the front of the marathoners ready to see if my form was truly building and that 3.30 marathon was any closer. Boston, Lincs is flat as a pancake with Garmin ultimately telling there was 0ft elevation. A good course for PB hunters. The course heads out around fields and along the edge of the marsh land so can be empty of support. I was ticking of a perfect pace, 7.42, 7.55, 7.41, 7.54..right on target. On my previous PB i had stopped 3 times at aid stations and clocked 3h 34m. In hindsight if I hadn’t stopped that may have been the 33.30 there. Today I wasn’t stopping. Through the aid stations, grab a bottle, Freddo frog chocolate and some Tailwind. Through half way in 1h 43m..still on target. The day was warm and I was glad I went with my club vest to run in. Through mile 20 in 2h 39m, the pace had slipped a little now an average of 7m 57s. Still inside a 3h 30m marathon and well inside my PB of 3h 34m. This was looking to be a good day! 21, 22..I didn’t feel great at all!! I started getting awful stomach pains. I tried not to stop, I kept moving forward but I was slow holding my stomach with one arm and trying to keep momentum with the other. Maybe I had drunk too much water and was a bit bloated, I don’t really know but it wasn’t comfortable and I couldn’t run properly. My pace was dying. The 3.30 was slipping away rapidly. 9.22, 9.23, 9.52. Mile 24, it had eased off the 3.30 was dead in the water, I was now clinging onto the slim hope of a slight PB improvement. 8.08, 8.06..i’d picked up the final couple of the miles…too little too late! 3h 35m 42s, a minute slower than my PB. It was a disappointment that yet again a 3.30 was there but circumstance cruelly saw to my time being eroded away. I came away happy with that effort, It was a good effort, an on form effort and realistic of my current ability.

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Now sitting here I am 4 weeks away from GUCR, 145 miles from Birmingham to London. That nagging demon that has been hanging over my head for the last year. As mentioned earlier although capable of holding a fair pace I rely on tenacity, determination, sheer bloody mindedness. It’s a discipline where being a stubborn bastard can count for a great deal. I really don’t have a care for smashing myself to bits. On GUCR I was still positive in mind to the end, it was just a matter of the body had stopped responding to what I wanted it to do! I learned a lot about myself, how I may tackle this differently. For one I will have my friend, motivator and experienced ultra runner Mike Abel crewing for me. He has full permission to give me as much abuse and arse kicking as is necessary. I have had some great help and advice from some very experienced and knowledgeable people in the ultra running community. I thank them. They will be in my thoughts. I will not let any of them down. Least of all myself.

St Peter’s Way Ultra

Over Christmas I had given myself a couple of weeks off running. In part as a much needed rest for myself but also to give my long suffering wife and children some personal time over the festive period. I had signed up to the Flitch Way 100k  on 29th January 2017 and had to get back into the training post Christmas..and it wasn’t going well. Up until Christmas I had been following a high carb, low fat diet and had been in keto and running well. Christmas and all the lovely food that it brings had put an end to that and post Christmas I was struggling to get back into a routine and finding training very difficult. My longest run pre race ended up being 13 miles and this showed on race day. I managed to haul myself to 44 miles before my knees protested from the lack of training. Not too bad considering but still noted as a DNF. But it was a good kick to the training and helped get me going again.

Next up was the St Peter’s Way ultra, again one of Challenge Running’s races on February 26th 2017. The runs in the weeks leading up to it had been stronger and I was feeling much better and more confident. On race day I drove down to Ongar giving a lift to local runner Robin Challacombe and parked near the start which I know fairly well as it is also the same area that incorporates the Essex Way Relay which I have taken part in the past 2 years. The weather was a little on the cool side and damp. The race is listed as one of the muddiest race in the UK! so was expecting it to be quite bad on the field crossings involved. I had my kit check done and registered then sought out some friends and had a chat and catch up. Lindley then gave a briefing and soon after set us all on our way. I’m not great on races that rely on notes and navigation and was expecting to get lost at some point! As well as the maps and notes I had the route on my Garmin and in the early stages planned on following the masses hoping that, surely, the majority couldn’t all go wrong.

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The early miles were pretty good and straight forward with people moving in large groups with only a slight bit of weaving over fields and finding the way. As usual I was sweating fairly heavily but wasn’t too concerned, I was moving at a good pace early on around 8.45 per mile. I had set myself a time of 9 hours after the 100k effort and subsequent training, not knowing the route and also aware there were field crossings and hills involved. CP 1 same came around were I didn’t stop for long at all just topping up my water and continued on wards. I soon came across Nathan Taylor who I had met at the 100k and we ran together for some way. I know Nathan is a stronger runner than me so wasn’t sure how long I would try and keep to his pace. He has run St Peter’s a number of times so it was great just to follow him and not refer to the map or notes. We passed the A12 and then onwards passing a railway line. It was only a few days after storm Doris and along this section there were a number of huge trees down which meant a small bit of climbing over or ducking under. Shortly after I fell behind Nathan and made my biggest mistake of the run missing a turning he had taken which left me back tracking and trying to find the correct turn. A fair few people had managed to pass me at that point and I ran with or near to another set of runners passing alongside a golf course and narrowly being missed by a wayward shot through Stock and on towards Hanningfield.

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The route then leads on to the A130 and following this is a long incline which I had to take a walk on as it seemed to drag on for ages and got to my legs. Fortunately once it was over I was able to pick up the running again, I’m not sure in hindsight what my pace was at that point but I know it was good and better than I had been hoping for. It was now a matter of how long it would last! There were some reasonably rough field crossings but the weather had been kind to us and I managed to run across them. They certainly would have been far worse in a downpour. I had developed a bad backache mainly due to not running regularly with the waist belt I was using. Heading on to Maylandsea and beyond was a good section and the legs were working well and I was still! yes! still! holding a good pace. As I headed on to the final checkpoint the wind was really picking up, no rain fortunately but it was really strong. As the final checkpoint came into view I was feeling really confident and just wanted to forge on to the sea wall where I knew the end was near. On leaving CP4 I pushed on fairly strong and was determined not to let the few fellas behind me catch up and overtake. I kept looking back but had lost sight of them. I think it was just before Tillingham I noticed that someone different had also overtaken them but was making good ground on me!! I pushed on “when is that bloody sea wall going to appear!” I kept looking back and I could still see a fluorescent yellow t-shirt some way back, maybe half a mile. After passing though a small farm and over a couple more fields the bank of the sea wall was in sight. on top and looking out the chapel of St Peter was in view. The wind was howling and the strongest it had been now open to the sea. I got a bit carried away and belted along the wall. As the crow flies the chapel looks quite close, about 2.5 miles but the wall loops around and is closer 3 possibly 3.5 miles. I slowed a little and kept a strong pace…it just didn’t seem to get closer. Then it was standing before me..passing through a small copse and on through the finish line.

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I finished in 7h 42m well inside my target of 9 hours. An average pace of 10.45 a mile which was 15 seconds per mile faster than my effort at the 100k so a good improvement. All of my races in the coming months are all training for the Grand Union Canal Race  which I failed to complete last year missing the cut off at CP9, 133 miles.

Thanks to Lindley and all of the volunteers who made it a great day, a great scenic and historic route. It’ll certainly be on my list for next year.

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Running – Past 5 Month Update

Since the Grand Union Canal Race back in May i’ve continued to be fortunate and stayed injury free. The next race after GUCR on the May bank holiday weekend was the Saffron Trail race which I did two years ago. I was hoping to improve on that run, which I did do knocking 2 hours off my previous time but still finishing in 5th place. This blog post is an update of races and results over the last few months and what may lay ahead.

2nd July 2016 – Saffron Trail – 17h 1m – 5th place – PB

25th August – Club 5k league – 20m 12s – 6th place

4th September – Essex Way Relay – 1h 15m – 14th place

11th September – Thetford Marathon – 3h 51m – 5th place

18th September – Bath 50k – 4h 43m – 19th place – PB

25th September – Ely Marathon – 3h 34m – 4th place – 3rd Male Trophy – PB

9th October – Peterborough Half Marathon – 1h 30m – 342nd – PB

23rd October – Chelmsford Marathon – 4h 12m – 329th

30th October – Stort 30 – 4h 51m – 99th – PB

16th November – Stevenage Half Marathon – 1h 34m – 60th place

I’ve entered the draw for GUCR 2017 along with KACR. The LLCR is part of Canalslam but it doesn’t look like I can get the time off work to get all three races in. I recently had a day out for a run in North Wales a good 200 mile drive out from home. The weather was pretty harsh and a Spring or Summer re visit is on the cards. It’s a great route and definitely can be covered in a quicker time without the wind, rain, hail and snow. I put together a very amateur video using my mobile phone, it is very shaky but gives an idea of the route.

 

No races are booked at the moment for the rest of this year. The GUCR draw is taking place Friday 11th November which I hope to attend and training will continue trying to stay at least marathon fit. I have now completed 8 marathons and 8 ultras so am thinking of doing more marathons and start heading towards the 100 club.

Thanks, Baz

Grand Union Canal Race 2016



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I had been looking in 2015 to step up to a 100 miler after previously having done the 70 mile Saffron Trail but was unable to find anything that fitted in with work. By coincidence I saw a tweet that said it was the last day for GUCR applications, quickly checked the diary and put in my application. This is a ballot race so I just had to sit back and await the draw. When the draw came around in December I had a chronic chest infection, had time off work, could barely function and then had an email to say I was successful on getting a place in GUCR! flat on my back and having been away from running for a number of weeks I was going to have a real task to get my fitness back.
I needed a plan.

In the new year I slowly got myself going again. I had some marathons lined up and would like to have done a 40 or 50 mile event but there was nothing that fitted with my time off. I ran Cambridge Boundary marathon, 3h 55m 51s, Brighton marathon, 3h 51m 27s and the Flitch Way marathon, 3h 51s 19s. I first met Lee Kelly at Cambridge boundary marathon and overheard him talking about GUCR and met Mike Abel at Flitch Way after recognising his name from the GUCR start list. apart from those runs I was doing regular weekly runs and had a long run out of 40 miles which went well. I was self sufficient over that run and covered it in 7 hours averaging 10m 30s miles which I was really pleased with.

So, time passes, the training has been done and the race looms on the horizon. The race pack had arrived in the post and some loose plans of timings and nutrition had been put in place. A small shopping list of items was drawn up,anti chafe cream, zinc oxide tape and sun-cream among other things. The week before the race and my wife and our family’s lives changed for the worse as my father in law passed away. Final race prep plans went out of the window as I went about consoling my wife and helping her and my mother in law where as much as I could. I have to give huge thanks and endless love to my wife for being so understanding about race weekend so close to her Dad’s passing.

I had booked myself a night at Jurys Inn literally 2 minutes from the start on Gas Street. I got a train from Audley End via Cambridge to Birmingham on the Friday 27th and was in town by 13.30pm, found the hotel and checked in. I then had a walk around to get my bearings.

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I made my way to registration, caught up with a few familiar faces and then went to dinner, later catching up with Mike Abel for a drink before bedtime.

Race day.

I hadn’t slept that well, more to do with an unnecessary worry that the alarm wouldn’t go off and i’d miss the start! I was up at 4am, for myself this was to make sure breakfast had plenty of time to go down before setting off. 3 sachets of porridge, banana and an energy drink and I was all set, I just needed to stop pacing up and down the room thinking about what may lay ahead. For during the run I had various foods with me. My drinks were made up of either Tailwind or Skratch Labs hydration powders, I had Soreen oat bars, crisps and a concoction of oats, rapeseed oil, waxy maize starch and electrolyte powder to see me through along with what was made available at checkpoints.

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I made my way down to the start, handed my bags in and said a few hellos. The weather forecast from the midlands down to London had looked good for the 2 days but the heavens had opened. That was the first initial pain to deal with as I had to make a choice to go with or without my jacket on. I chose to go with it which was probably wise as it kept me a touch warmer. 6am and we were seen away from the start, some 120 people had begun what was to be an epic journey, some multi time event runners and complete newbies like myself. The initial few miles were straight forward and I was running with or near to Mike Abel for quite a while. The pace was high but it was to be expected while fresh and trying to settle into a good rhythm. the path slowly wound it’s way out of Birmingham towards Bordesley, South Yardley and the first checkpoint at Catherine De Barnes. Being fresh and carrying enough drink and snacks to see me through to checkpoint 3 I didn’t really stop, just long enough to grab a couple of snacks and a drink and continued on my way. I was away from CP1 at about 07.45am (times will be approximate as I haven’t seen the check in, out sheets). Heading on to CP2 at Hatton locks I wasn’t feeling as comfortable as I hoped I would and stopped at the checkpoint for a breather. The weather was a little humid and now the sun was up it was going to be warm, I put the jacket away. Heading onto Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa I had settled into a far steadier pace, everything was feeling good, my nutrition choice and hydration was working out and I was making good time. It was early enough that I was mindful enough to look around and admire some of the great countryside we have, some truly beautiful views about. The brain isn’t to clear on the times but I still certainly had a good few hours in hand at CP3. My water and snacks had lasted me as expected, topped up, thank everyone for their help and continued on. I’m not exactly sure from memory but it was around this point I spent some time with Ian Shelley who was great company. I was now truly in ultra running territory heading on toward 40 miles. I had written notes from the maps supplied and so far everything was straight forward. I was moving on to Braunston and the first of the tunnel sections. I kept expecting the wheels to fall off and be hit with a huge struggle early on but fortunately things were working out…for now. After the tunnel section and heading on towards 50+ miles I saw someone in jeans running towards me…my mate Tony! He had driven from his home town in Haverhill, Suffolk all the way out to somewhere near Weedon just to see how I was getting on.2016-05-30 17.38.18

Things were still comfortable and there was a lot of cat and mouse running with other runners back and forward. My average speed was around 4.6mph still inside the 3.3mph average needed to complete the run. I headed on to Blisworth Tunnel. As a training run I had travelled to Wolverton a few days after Brighton marathon and ran from Wolverton, up and over Blisworth Tunnel and back so was familiar with the approaching ten miles.20160420_112219

The legs were starting to hurt now and the climb up from the towpath onto the main road was quite a long up hill section and walked to save energy. I was with a German runner, Tommo, we were matching each others pace.It was good to have someone to take the mind off the aches and also be able to encourage each other to keep the pace up. At checkpoint 4 I had got my headtorch ready as I didn’t expect to get to CP5 before it was dark.

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reaching Navigation Inn 70 miles, it was around 22.40pm, things were still going ok, there was time in hand and although my calves were tight I had no cramping issues. Also since the early days of my running, having gait analysis and changing my footwear I have been very fortunate not to get blisters when running even in marathons and previous ultras…so far so good. having had some soup, bread, coffee, cookies and sweets (it’s true what they say, we’re just an eating club with a running disorder) it was time to crack on. The second half awaited and I was heading into a running distance unknown, new territory. heading on passed Wolverton, Milton Keynes was the next point on the journey.20160420_140506

On the far side of Milton Keynes Tommo was still with me it was now early hours of the morning in a place I didn’t know and we heard shouting. Shouting and whistling got louder and looking back there were a few men shouting abuse and coming after us. Bloody good motivation to get a shift on I can tell you! Arriving at CP6 I saw Naomi Newton Fisher who I have seen at races before, not taking much note of where I was and my senses numbed by the cold night I asked if we were near Hemel Hempstead….wrong question! we were miles away. I put an extra layer on and layed into the food on offer. Naomi commented that I was still moving well, the feet were good having been up for over 24 hrs tiredness was the one thing starting to affect me and the self motivation was hard. Some time after leaving CP6 my feet started to hurt, I had strapped them from the start but my feet had got wet on an earlier section that was unavoidably wet and muddy and the slog through the night was now taking it’s toll. Things were kind of bearable but tiredness was making it difficult to stay motivated and the mental game of ultra running had really begun. How far could I push myself.

I had started my Garmin from around 50 mile mark to keep an eye on distance and average speed, it was reading 4.3mph still well above that minimum 3.3mph average needed to complete. That 100 mile barrier lay ahead. The pace had started to suffer as the feet were quite painful, I could feel I had blisters and they would need attention at the next checkpoint. At CP7 it must have been around 10am or 10.30am as I remember still having that couple of hours or so in hand and that chance was still there to finish. Tommo decided to leave the checkpoint before me with his German friend. I took the time out to put more strapping on my feet and to change my socks. Sausage roll and beans, 2 cups of tea and more biscuits andit was time to move on. The following 20 miles to CP8 was the worst part of the entire race for me. 20 miles on any given day would usually be done in around 3 hours, on Sunday it was about 8. I was so dead tired on my feet that occasionally at a lock with a good patch of grass i’d lay down and get a 10 minute snooze to try and freshen up. It did help but obviously cost me time. The weather had warmed up and it was a really nice day with plenty of people out and about on the canal with a few curious as to what we were up to. The sleep deprivation coupled with the blistered feet was taking it’s toll and it was sheer bloody mindedness, stubbornness and a refuse-al to quit keeping me moving along.  The more soul destroying part was how long the miles took to pass I was moving forward but felt as if I wasn’t getting anywhere. Pass Berkhampstead, Hemel Hempstead, Kings Langley, Rickmansworth, mile after tedious mile. That voice was there,”you could stop, have a hot shower, chill out with a curry and a beer”. I was tempted.

Every step was searing pain, the feet were blistered. I couldn’t see me getting to CP8. The close time for CP8 was 19.00. I kept clock watching and as long as I was inside the cut off time I would keep moving. I was having huge rollercoaster ups and downs of energy and emotion. One minute I was enthused to shuffle on other moments I could hardly move and considered quitting. I wasn’t concentrating on my notes properly and had to keep re-reading where I thought was and hoping every lock that came into view was the next checkpoint. But finally in the low evening sunlight I could see CP8 ahead, got there and struggled over the lock gate and crashed in a chair. 18.15. 45 minutes in hand. Not wanting to waste time I had some tea, scrambled egg and sausage and was on my way. 18.30. 30 minutes in hand. I left CP8 refreshed even if still in discomfort and got shuffling again within half hour I was feeling bad again. This really was it. At the next bridge 183 I was going to call in and quit. The next 45 minutes was a mental argument, “you’ve had a good crack, give it up”, “F**k that, get your arse in gear”, “you can’t do it, what’s the point?”, “have faith, you’ll freshen up, the legs will come back”. Agonising.

At bridge 183 there wasn’t an access road. Shit. The next bridge was about a mile further on. OK, walk to that bridge and quit. I carried on and just felt a rise in mood. I felt ok. Check the watch. If I could get to the checkpoint by 23.30 at the latest i’d give myself the slimmest of chances and hoped adrenaline and realisation I was almost there would carry me. I crossed bridge 188 and around mile 125 a fella on a barge asked what I was doing, I had it on the notes as being 4 miles to Bulls Bridge but he was trying to tell me it was 6. Fuck!! I hoped he was wrong otherwise I knew I wouldn’t make CP9. A huge panic and adrenaline rush and I belted off (my daughter had been tracking me and told me my pace shot up to 7mph)  I must of kept it up for a couple of miles tops. 22.50. About 3 miles to the checkpoint. OK, 1 hour 10 minutes to cut off, 3 miles to go, if I wanted to get there by 23.30 I had 40 minutes. OK, think again, 20 minute miles, get there at 23.50, in and out and see what I’ve got left. I got down to Bulls Bridge and I was absolutely dead on my feet. 23.25, the surge in pace had bought me the time but ruined my energy. It’s a bad place to be when you give your self a verbal talking to, you feel positive in your head but the body has completely stopped responding. 35 minutes to CP9, still time, just move, you’ll freshen up, the legs will come back and you can push on again. It wasn’t happening. Pigeon step after pigeon step, the feet were ruined and my head couldn’t deal with the pain. 23.50. I could see a high vis vest and torchlight ahead, I was now close to CP9, I still couldn’t move. No adrenaline, no surge of energy, virtually immobile. I was met by someone who’s name I didn’t catch through tiredness. CP9 23.57. 3 minutes to eat, drink and sort my feet out. I couldn’t do it. Timed out 00.00, CP9 133 miles. 12 miles from the finish. Just another 30 to 45 minutes and I would of continued, another hour and I may of finished inside the cut off time of 03.00am. My GUCR was over, I didn’t even have the energy to be emotional about it. I had taken myself to a distance I had never been to before, i’d had an amazing weekend amongst the greatest people and proven to myself I am capable of pushing through some severe endurance and worthy of standing on the start line of an ultra.2016-05-06 11.02.41

I was shuttled to the finish line to collect my bags, shared a cab with Mark Gibson who was dropped off at his hotel and made my way to Liverpool Street to get a night bus to Stansted Airport to then get a cab home. I had an hour to kill so went to the 24 hour cafe to re fuel.20160530_015834

I had to smile to myself when crossing the road to get the bus. The lights changed, I shuffled on my way over. The lights were fitted with a count down timer, 6, 5…I was barely half way across the road before the lights changed again! beaten by a cut off time twice in one night! feet

A bit of recovery time and i’ll be looking at races again.There is the possibility of a race on July 2nd but it will dependant on the feet. Thanks must go out to all of the volunteers, helpers, organisers, Keith, Dick and anyone else I crossed paths with whose name I don’t know.

And yes, I would love to have another go!