Paris Marathon 12th April 2015

I headed toward the Paris marathon with some trepidation. Having had a lingering injury for some months I took November and December off to recover. I started back running on January 8th and the left leg was feeling far better and started right back at the beginning running just a few easy miles and building up slowly. The trouble was I was 2 months behind most other people training for a spring marathon. All I could do was not panic about the situation but continue to slowly build the miles up week by week. In the weeks building up to the marathon I managed a 17.5 which was extremely difficult, a 20 miler which went really well and a 16.5 again where I struggled. I could do no more other than give what I had on the day.

We departed for Paris on Friday 10th April so we had good time to explore Paris before the race. Leaving on the 13.31 from London we were in Paris at 16.50 and headed across town on the metro to the Arc De Triomphe which was a short way from our hotel, literally 3 minutes from the start and finish area (http://www.elysee-etoile-paris-hotel.com/) That Friday evening we headed for a walk about to get our bearings heading around the Arc De Triomphe along some side streets and down to the river with the Eiffel Tower standing on the opposite bank.

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We then headed under the Eiffel Tower and along the park to a restaurant we had booked before leaving home.

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A fantastic seafood restaurant http://www.vin-et-maree.com/ which we can both highly recommend. The staff were very polite, friendly and understanding of our poor French! I was hoping to have a couple of early nights before the race which was looking to be impossible eventually getting to bed around midnight.

On Saturday we made use of our Carnet of metro tickets to venture around town. First off on the Saturday I had to make my way to Port De Versailles and collect my race number and goodie bag. while there I bought some electrolyte powders to carry with me during the race in an attempt to stave off cramp. After finishing we headed across town on the metro again to Notre Dame.

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We looked around the Cathedral and the area shops and headed along to Pont de L’archdeveche and placed our own lock upon the bridge.

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After having some lunch we were running out of time. Three lads (Tim Mcmahon, David Johnson and Chris Bushell) from the my running club, Saffron Striders, were coming over on the Saturday and we had a restaurant booked for that evening so we had time to either go to Musee D’Orsay or head up the Eiffel Tower. before when visiting Paris we have been to the Louvre and the top half of the Eiffel Tower was in fog! We decided to head over to the Eiffel Tower. Saturdays weather was overcast and a bit breezy and by time we got to the top it was blowing a gale and had started to rain a little, but we still had great views across the city and could see the entire course laid out before us. We had run out of time so headed back towards the hotel and met up with the others and soon after went out for our meal and had a reasonably early night.

The morning of the Paris marathon had arrived. I had started to feel the nerves, the weather was warm already and the forecast was for a warm day of around 18c. I had a continental breakfast of coffee, croissant with jam and orange juice. We then headed out and had a photo close to our hotel.

 

close to our hotel
close to our hotel

We were staying very close to the start and finish area so only had a couple of minutes walk. After talking about plans to meet up after the race we made our way down to our starting area. Having a current PB of 3h 59m for the marathon I was hoping I could improve a little and opted for the 3h 45m Violet start pen.

Top of the Champs Elysee near the Start
Top of the Champs Elysee near the Start

The start pens started at 08.45am and headed out in 15 minute blocks, ours leaving at 09.15am.

The Violet start pen
The Violet start pen

After a while of stretching and jogging around the cramped area we were moved down toward the start line and eventually away! I started out comfortably and always take the first 2 to 3 miles to get into a steady pace. The Champs Elysee is cobbled and didn’t know how much of the course was going to be like this. The weather was getting really warm and it was only around 09.45am, it was going to be hotter than forecast. I didn’t really take a great deal of notice of landmarks at the start, I do remember passing the Grand Palace and then Place De La Bastille. My pace was right on where I wanted to be to better my PB and was well on a 3h 45m marathon. As I started to warm up I knew I had to slow my pace a little I had my head down and was working away and before I knew it we were looping around the park at Bois De Vincennes. I was now down to 8m 30s per mile which was still on for bettering my PB. Next I was just looking for Notre Dame I knew this was well passed half way, cobbled sections kept appearing here and there and was uncomfortable on my lower legs. Around the Notre Dame area the roads dip down and go into subterranean tunnels which you then have to work up hill to get out of, these really affected my ankle that  have had problems with and around mile 16/17 I felt my left Achilles ping and really began to burn and sting. There was no way I was going to drop out unless I was in danger of missing my train home. I took some Ibruprofen to help with the pain. I had been taking my electrolyte powders and so far had no issue with cramp at all. I was now passing the Eiffel Tower and had around 8 miles to go my pace had now begun to dip significantly and I was barely on for knocking a few minutes of my PB, as long as cramp didn’t hit I thought I may scrape a 3h 57m time.

There is another park, Bois De Boulogne which you pass through before heading to the finish. I had just about entered the park after mile 20 and I felt my thighs tighten and the beginning signs of cramp coming on. I knew then that it was going to be a tough 6 miles back to the finish. There had only been water on the course and  I could have done with some energy drink as well. I had to walk I knew if I cramped fully I would be stopped for minutes trying to stretch and  relax so it was better to walk and let the legs relax a little. I can’t remember where it was but there was 1 Isostar stand with energy drink so I had 2 cups which helped and picked me up so I could jog along again. The heat had been burning on my back for over 13 miles and I was starting to feel sick, I had been drinking plenty and wetting my head so although it was bit of a late thought I turned my cap around to protect my neck. I was so close now and counting down the kilometeres…38…39…40. I knew my PB had well and truly slipped away but I was running the last mile of the Paris marathon, in pain, but with fantastic weather and great crowds. With a last surge I passed as many people as I could manage without cramping up and finished. Initially I made it about 4h 25m, 26 minutes outside my PB.

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All things considered it was a great experience, I was disappointed that I didn’t do better but I was at least 4 weeks behind on training and I’m not really good at running in hot conditions so that was more than a fair time on the day.

It started so well!
It started so well!

Now I know what to expect, how to travel around and have a good hotel to use I would think about signing up for next year. I have nothing else booked at all for this year so I’ll have a couple of days to get passed the worst of the soreness and pick the running up again later this week.

Au Revoir for now.

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Schneider Paris Marathon

Soon be time for the Paris marathon, training has gone reasonably well and the worst of the injury I had has passed. A fuller blog post and report will done after the race. In the meantime I have the following I need tweeted on Twitter, thanks to anyone willing to help.

 

 

If you could include #BelievewithSE along with #Run42! and @Traindriverbaz. Every tweet equates to an amount of distance and the target is 42k. These three bits would equal 400 metres of distance so to reach 42k I would need around 105 tweets!!

 

24 Hour Treadmill Run For Children In Need

After coming out of the Saffron Trail I was happy with the fact I had managed to cover 70 miles in pretty good shape and felt OK at the end of it all. Having done a few ultra events I was thinking about the 24 hour type events that usually run in a loop of a few miles with a rest area where you can rest, eat and drink as you please during the 24 hours and the total distance accomplished determines the winner. There wasn’t anything that fitted within my work diary so thought of another way I could do a 24 hour run..the dreadmill!! Looking through my work diary a gap that looked OK was also coinciding with the UK charity night of BBC Children In Need. So I had a space in the diary, a plan of what I wanted to do now I just needed to get a local gym onboard.

I approached 3 local gyms, Lord Butler, Just Gym and Wilburs all based in my local town of Saffron Walden. There was quite a delay in hearing back from them so started to ask around for help. I had a couple of offers via the running club to use a home treadmill, I also contacted Ernie Jewson at www.wombatfitness.co.uk down in Chalkwell, Southend to see if he would be willing to help. Fortunately himself and Debbie were willing to help so I told them I wouldkeep them as a back up if things fell flat locally. I heard back from Lord Butler first and explained what I wanted to do and they set in motion some staff meetings to discuss my proposal. Just Gym within days also contacted me, I told them as Lord Butler had stepped in first I was giving them first refusal. Wilburs to this day have never replied to my email. Beckie Reynolds at Lord Butlers was really enthusiastic and hopeful it could go ahead, just one issue, they needed 2 members of staff to stay overnight. Over the course of a few weeks asking staff and meetings 2 members of staff, Alex and Holly volunteered. 24 hours on a treadmill was all set to go ahead so I set up a just giving page and started to contact local media.

The local area papers put small articles in, regional BBC Look East said they would be interested in either putting some pictures on TV or visiting with cameras if they had a gap in their busy schedule as well as tweeting various organisations and people about the event. My training had been leading me toward the Stort 30 in October so I only had a few short runs in the couple of weeks between the 2 events. I wasn’t too concerned with distance just the amount of time and throwing myself into another unknown. Staring at a wall for 24 hours, how hard would the treadmill be on my legs and tiredness. With events like this you can’t dwell on the unknowns too much you just need to be open minded and deal with any issues as they arise.

treadmill

I started on Thursday 13th November at 20.30pm and planned to continue through to Friday 14th November 20.30pm finishing while Children In Need was on air. I had Electrolyte tablets which I have now found invaluable, Crisps, cupcakes, jelly babies and fruit smoothies to get me through. I was planning on going at a very slow pace with no idea how long I would go until needing to walk or take a break. I set out at 5mph, the gym was busy and I had 1 1/2 hours until closing time. Things were going fine, slowly people finished and left until eventually it was just me. The TV’s and music were left on so I had something to occupy my mind, everything was going fine. After around 4 hours I had to ask Alex to turn the music off as it was on a loop and was driving me mad!! My head was already telling me it was bedtime..I had 20 hours to go, so I started on the first of many coffees. every 45 minutes or so Alex or Holly would check if I needed anything and topped up my water bottle for me. Early hours of the morning I was dead tired already I was snacking regularly trying to keep salts and blood sugar up but I was still drowsy. Then around 05.30am after 9 hours of jogging…BANG..I hit “the wall” just out of nowhere my energy went off a cliff edge and I had nothing. It was about an hour until opening time so was a good point to take a toilet break and top up on food and drink. The next 3 hours were really tough trying to recoup some energy and get back into a jog again. Once the gym had filled up and more people were chatting to me about what I was in the midst of doing I began to feel better and managed a very slow plod of just over 4mph. During the night at 00.30am I had had Will Leonard from my running club drop in with snacks and some encouraging chat to keep me going, when the gym reopened in the morning more friends form the club dropped in to offer their encouragement and bought a top up off snacks for me. They are fantastic friends who I am eternally grateful to. I also had a light massage from my physio in the morning to loosen my legs up,

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Getting on towards midday my feet were killing me and becoming really painful and I was having to start taking more regular breaks. It was really frustrating as my thighs and calves felt fine and my energy was far better with the activity around me and my brain back on daytime mode…but I just couldn’t run as it was far too painful. Heading into early afternoon the pain in my right foot was extremely sharp and my energy had faded again. I was falling asleep on my feet at regular intervals and I still had some 6 hours to go. It was no longer about trying to attain a large ego massaging distance but grinding out the last few hours and not quitting before the full 24 hours were up. I was now down to grinding away at a literally painful 2 mph. minute by minute, hour by hour all I could do was keep pacing away and taking the occasional toilet break. With 22 hours done I was well and truly done for, I had nothing. I had to employ a 15 minute on 15 minute off strategy to see myself through the last bit. I got myself to 62 miles 1600 yards, gave myself a rest and spent the last couple of minutes doing the last 100 yards to rond it up to 63 miles completed in 24 hours.

The challenge was easily the hardest thing I have ever done and far harder than the Saffron Trail from back in the Summer. The firmness and unchanging nature of the treadmill had destroyed my feet, the monotony was also crucifying. I certainly won’t shy away from future ultra events but I will NEVER do such a stupid challenge on a treadmill again and would actually advise anyone not to do more than 10k on a treadmill.

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The following day I couldn’t initially bear weight on my right foot and had to take painkillers to get myself moving. As well as being bruised it was sharply painful and knew it wasn’t good. I booked myself off work and headed to A and E. After hours of waiting I was told I had a stress fracture of the Cuboid bone, they were really good at the hospital and I was provided with a plastic boot which would enable me to keep more mobile than plaster would thus losing less strength in my leg. I have to keep as long as the pain is too much to walk on. Once I feel I am comfortable to walk in regular shoes I can ditch the boot so although the full healing will be a few weeks I am hoping to get rid of it after this week.

Treadmills are bad for your feet, no more!!

Stort 30 Ultra 2014

Since the Saffron Trail in July running has been a struggle both physically and mentally. I came out of the Saffron Trail with an ankle injury which still hasn’t completely gone even now. After the Saffron Trail I had 10 days or so out to rest then tried to get back running but was held back on any double digit sessions because of the ankle. I then had the Essex Way Relay with the club to aim for. Being despondent with my efforts I didn’t even write a blog post about that run. I did a 10.5 mile section which was about 1 hour 40 minutes effort, 25 minutes off good form. It was a great race and enjoyable and hope the club can get a team together for next year. It was just hard running on an injured ankle. So, my next booked race was the Stort 30. Last year I ran in new footwear, got cramp and suffered in the return 15 miles finishing in 6 hours 5 seconds. This years attempt was to better that time and avoid the cramp. Having switched my footwear to the Brooks ASR 10 shoe, I have had no problems and think they are a great trail shoe.

Stort30route

My long term problem has been getting proper long runs in, the 15 or 20 mile runs. My longest heading towards the Stort 30 was 14 most others being 6 or 8. I have had a couple of sports massages in the past 3 months which doesn’t seem to have done much to help the ankle heal. All I could do was take the run step by step. The day couldn’t have been any better and was a huge improvement on last years gale force conditions. It was mild and dry so I ran in shorts and t-shirt, none of the leggings and rain jacket of last year. I also ditched the race vest and went with a light weight Nike waist belt that has 2 small 300ml bottles and a pouch that I filled with Jelly Babies. Having done some other ultras there were a few people that I have met before there. Nicki Edwards, Colin Harper and his partner Sharon, Paola Peroni, Gin Craig and her friend Lisa.

Stort30Start

 We have had some rain lately so I was expecting the first 5 miles to be very muddy but it ended up being pretty good. I settled into a comfortable pace making sure I didn’t use too much effort, didn’t chase anyone and let those that passed me go. At the first 5 mile checkpoint I carried straight on to save some time and purely to make use of what I was carrying.

CP1

After the 5 mile Sawbridgeworth checkpoint the path returns to a gravel or stony surface. The route as well as following the river towpath is also mirrored by the Cambridge to London rail route. The stations run from Bishops Stortford as Sawbridgeworth, Harlow Mill, Harlow Town and Roydon which along with the checkpoints helps to break down the whole route into smaller 2 to 3 mile sections. Harlow Mill soon came around only another 2 miles and I’d be at CP2. Everything was holding together and I was keeping a good pace around 7mph, 8 minutes 30 seconds per mile. As the narrow boats came and went passing longhorn highland cattle and even some pigs on a far bank Harlow Town checkpoint came into sight. A very quick stop for a drink and some banana and I headed on to Roydon station. No aches, no pains just steadily purring along. Too good to be true. 20 minutes later I arrived at Roydon only a couple more miles and I’d be at the half way turn around point. At Roydon there is a tarmac section, you then pass Roydon marina before crossing a weir and turning right onto the river Lee. Another half mile and I arrived at mile 15 checkpoint 3 in 2 hours 11 minutes! The lead runners had passed me at about 14 1/2 miles and were sailing along. I hoped the return 15 would be just as good.

 Mile 17 and I started to cramp. I just need to be straight up honest with myself, I was majorly under trained. The pace eased up and I had to adjust to make sure full on cramp didn’t lock my legs up. Mile 19 my ankle was killing me again, I was feeling sick as hell and my energy had vanished. I had bought some Ibruprofen with me for the ankle…and left them in my kit bag! Somewhere around mile 20 I had to stop, my mental strength was eluding me as well, I was trying to dig in but I couldn’t get my head straight. Then Colin whom I met at the Saffron Trail came along, I tagged with him and Sharon a short way and had to let them go as I could feel my legs seizing again. I had to break the small 3 mile sections into further small chunks of 1/2 mile blocks of running with a short break to let the legs relax. As I started to feel better and the pain eased off I could hold some kind of pace better and surprisingly mile 24 was my fastest at 7.27 for the mile. I couldn’t keep it up and the pace soon died again. Back at the Sawbridgeworth checkpoint again I was only 5 miles from the finish. There was no doubt I was going to better last years time it was just a case of by how much. Each 1/2 mile block came and went and approaching the last mile I walked a little as the last section is up hill to the finish area on the field were we had started. I was determined to run the hill and finish running. I plodded away up the hill with my thighs stabbing with each foot drop. Onto the field for 1 lap to the finish, my legs started to lock and other runners were hot on my heals. No way was I stopping now with 200 yards to go and I wasn’t going to be passed either.

Another ultra finished.

I timed it at 5 hours 30 minutes 38 seconds..30 minutes quicker than last year so a good result.

The simple lesson from this year is not to underestimate even short flat ultras with perfect weather. The ankle injury couldn’t be helped but if you don’t respect the training ultras will hurt you.I’ll be back for more next year.

Stour Valley Path 100km

I had gone in to the Saffron Trail with a mild ankle injury that only felt slightly bruised. The race, although starting badly turned out great. The downside being that a mild injury was now a serious injury. I had bad sharp pain on the medial side of my left ankle. I took a week off after the Saffron Trail to recover then went out for an 8 mile run, the ankle was agony and I had to keep stopping. Another 10 days off, icing and massaging then a 4 mile tester, still no good. Then we had a family week away to Tunisia, no running but some gentle exercise in the swimming pool. On return I had 3 days until the start of the SVP 100  race. I was injured and unfit, common sense would scream to most people to take a DNS and nurse the injury. Myself on the other hand thought I would give it a go, the worst outcome being a DNF. I would personally give it a try and clock up 1 mile than stay at home wondering “What if?” and clocking zero.

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 Newmarket is not that far from where I live but having to get the train I decided to go up the evening before so I could make the 7am start and give myself a good chance of being able to get my train home from Manningtree. Thanks to Rich Cranswick for pointing out a spot out of the way to stick the tent up and only 5 minutes from the start. After arriving in town I made my way to the White Lion pub where registrations and kit check were taking place. Thankfully all of my kit was in order, I took down race race director Matthew Hearne’s  number in case of emergency. There were only a few other runners about and it was fairly early in the evening. It was about 19.30 so I decided to have a pint before heading up the road to pitch my tent. A couple of locals asked what was going on, I told them and in conversation all of the usual clichés spilled out about being “crazy”,  “mad” and asking “why?”. We’ve heard it all before and although you can give reasons you can’t make people understand. Around 20.30 I headed off to get some sleep. My first navigation error and the race hadn’t even started yet! I was heading the wrong way to the camping spot and by time I made a u turn it was after 21.00 and the light was fading. Tent up. Ear plugs in. Kit ready. Sleep.

 At 5am my alarm went off and I couldn’t believe how cold I felt! I think my body was still on Tunisian 100F temperature setting! Although the sky was bright and fairly cloudless there must have been a small shower overnight as the tent was wet so I was expecting the first part of the route to be slippery. After getting ready and packing away Rich Cranswick was also camped nearby with some lightweight kit he was trying out. We chatted together while making our way to the start. I was feeling quite apprehensive, I had the injury strong in my mind and I didn’t know the route at all. I knew a couple of acquaintances would be about for the run, Naomi Newton Fisher who was running and Gin Lawson Craig who was helping at checkpoint 3. I couldn’t remember if Naomi was starting at 7am or the later 9am start so just kept an eye out for her. A few nerve induced toilet trips later I spotted Naomi and introduced myself and had a chat. 06.45am, time for the race brief and a walk to the start area. A quick group photo and at 7am we were away on the Stour Valley Path!

 A pretty straight forward first section along a footpath heading South out of town until turning left on to the Devil’s Dyke. The Dyke was damp and slippery and had loads of tree roots to skip around and over. despite this I had settled in to a small group of about 7 people and we were running at a steady 6mph or so. About 4 miles in and the first navigation error happened. We had missed the first right hand turn off the Dyke. After a chat we looked at our position on the map and after an extra .5 of a mile we were back on track again passing Stetchworth. The group began to split a little and I was pretty much on my own, mistake number 2 of the day! The Stour Valley Path has yellow markers along it’s route. The SVP route guide in my opinion is dire and the detail awful. I took a right turn that also had a  yellow marker and seemed to end up absolutely no where with 2 other runners who had followed my turn. Damn! What to do? go back?, head the way I thought the map said?  I decided to follow a road. This brought me to a signpost that helped me locate my actual position and where I needed to be. I back tracked along the road until coming back in to contact with the route. It cost me 30 minutes! I could really have done without that. I was under time pressure as well. My last train home from Manningtree was 22.02. I had to finish by 21.30 at the latest, 14 1/2 hours. More than possible…if I wasn’t injured AND kept making mistakes. Feeling pissed off already I pushed on to the first checkpoint at Great Thurlow. I arrived at around 09.15am, 21 minutes inside my set schedule. Not bad considering making 2 mistakes.

 Having learned from the Saffron Trail I waste too much time at checkpoints I had a drink, something to eat and was away again with some time in hand. Psychologically The SVP is good in that each leg gets progressively shorter. The first is 12 miles and then 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, and 5 miles. The weather was warming up as I headed out on the next leg to Clare. I had to take some painkillers to cope with the ankle, but considering my lack of fitness my energy was good and I was keeping myself in the race. This leg passed without any fus or mistakes. I was approaching mile 23 and wasn’t using any energy gels just jelly babies and fruit pastilles. I was due in at no later than 12.05pm..it was 11.45am, still on target. I seem to crave sweet tea or coffee on long runs and was hoping CP2 had some. CP1 had none but CP2 were good enough to help out with a tea. Some more food, more first bladder refill and I continued onto leg 3 to Long Melford. Things started to get tougher! This was a really hilly section. The up hills killed my ankle and the downhills were now sending pain through my knees. More pain killers. I had the incentive to crack on to CP3 to meet another acquaintance Gin Lawson Craig. We follow each others running exploits online and she is an inspirational runner. I was hurting badly, I knew the day probably wouldn’t work out so I was preparing to throw in the towel at CP3. I was joined by another runner and we pretty much stayed together on the run into Long Melford which helped take my mind off the pain. I could see Gin ahead at CP3 and almost collapsed on the poor woman as we greeted each other. 33 miles in I arrived at about 14.15, my target time was 14.18 so my time in hand had slipped and I was on the edge. I took a good time out. I had a chat with Gin’s friend Lisa, a visit to the toilet, more food, drink and evaluated things. Gin pretty much told me to carry on. I got my kit back on and headed out on leg 4.

 I felt like shit! About 2 miles into leg 4 I almost turned around to go back tp CP3. I didn’t, I kept going. I was struggling badly and now doing more walking than running, the overall pace was suffering. Along leg 4 you pass the town of Sudbury, I made another mistake. Another 30 minutes lost. I was now well and truly fucked off! I hated the SVP route guide and should have gone with an Ordnance Survey map. I couldn’t use my .GPX file as my phone battery is ruined and has been draining in as little as 2 hours. I back tracked and got on route…again. That mistake killed my chance of holding up the necessary pace.  Somewhere along this point I came across Paul,  he was having a really bad time himself suffering periodically with cramp.  I stayed with him knowing my race was dead incase he needed some help.  We both forged on as best as possible.  Paul did some math and worked out he was still just,  only just by a few minutes,  inside the cut off time.  That put me in the same place but my issue was getting my train home which put me 1 hour behind time.  Paul dug in and put in an awesome effort leaving me behind.  We battled on to CP 4 at Lamarsh.  Just approaching Lamarsh I was caught by another runner.  It was the sweeper for that section clearing up the back runners.  There were 2 runners behind me.  Another 1/2 mile and I arrived at checkpoint 4 Lamarsh at 17.40.  I was 1 hour and 20 minutes behind my own set schedule so even if I felt fit I would have missed my train home. I was now in pain and the pain killers had stopped helping. 42 miles in and it was time to call it a day.

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 The SVP route is fantastic and I would consider it for next year.  I can take some positives out of this race as well in that I had no sickness at all, I used no gels and the compression shorts fixed the chaffing problem I had during the Saffron Trail.  Some things I would do differently next year are that with the Saffron Trail I recced about 90 % of the course in advance, wrote my own route notes and spent about 6 weeks on google maps trying to memorise the route.  With the SVP I dod none of these.  I’m sure that a little more homework would pay dividends.

 Thanks to everyone who I crossed paths with, all the volunteers at the checkpoints and to Matthew Hearne for a great race.

An Ultra Learning Curve

This past week I have been recovering from the Saffron Trail Ultra which is 70 miles across the county of Essex in the UK. As with most races it has given me time to reflect on the event, how it went, the mistakes, the people and of course the positives.

First up..I can do it! I have never been further than 35 miles in training which has always been tough and if someone told me at the end of one of those runs to turn around and do it again I feel I would have folded! I think the balance of running an ultra is about 80% mental and 20% physical..others may disagree or have their own perception of the balance but this is how it felt to me.

Second..I don’t need gels to get through a long run. After consuming about 3 gels in the space of 20 miles and being ill I reverted to eating normal food. So I covered the last 50 miles without a gel..no more gels for me! Maybe I was drawn in by the marketing hype and had a fixation that i’d be doomed with out the magical elixir. As long as I fuel up at regular intervals on anything available from savoury snacks to sweets I’ll be fine.

3rd..cutting down on the mistakes. Recceing the route helped hugely, obsessing over Google earth for 6 weeks and repeatedly testing myself to mentally remembering the route saved time by not referring to the map and notes. I still made some mistakes but reasonably minor and am sure I would have made more without putting in the homework.

Fourth….ahem! The rather personal chaffing! I plan on buying some Under Armour Heatgear Sonic shorts To help cut down on the thigh rub. During the race I didn’t feel a thing and put this down to adrenaline and endorphins, as soon as the race was over and especially dunking into the bath..ouchy!!! Utterly red raw and bleeding.

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Lesson five..my feet are pretty tough! Only started to get blisters appearing in the last 5 miles. One small one on the sole of each foot. I used 1000 mile compression socks and along with Balega socks they are fast becoming my favourite socks to run in.

6th..Don’t hang around too long at the checkpoints. It’s good to stop and refuel and hydrate. It’s nice to be social, polite and have a chat. But it shouldn’t turn into a mini party of scoffing and nattering! I reckon I may have wasted as much as 1 hour 45 minutes at checkpoints. I need to set a routine, fill water bladder, grab food and take a drink then move on..5 minutes tops.

I didn’t realise I was learning so much! I wonder if they do degrees in Ultra Running..they do other weird degrees so why not! anyhow..

lesson seven..electrolyte tablets are invaluable in my opinion. In the London marathon I cramped badly at mile 20 which hampered the last 6 miles and stopped me getting a better time than I achieved. During the ultra I didn’t cramp once and I put that down to adding the electrolytes to my water. I just need to choose a more palatable flavour next time. Cherry/orange! what the hell was I thinking! Citrus or blackcurrant will be fine next time I think.

 So I learned a fair amount from this race alone and I can’t wait to do more! I have the Stour Valley Path coming up soon and at the moment the Stort 30 booked in October. I am toying with the idea of signing up for the Cotswold way..102 miles! For no better reason than I have the time off work and my sister lives in Bath, so she can peel me off the Abbey floor and shovel me into her house to recuperate. Also to any other ultra beginners and aspirer’s, you do not need to do more than 30 miles at a time in training, that is plenty enough. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and i’ll see some of you soon on the start line.

From Disaster to Triumph Over 70 Miles

Previous to this race I had only run one official ultra, the Stort 30 last October. I had been looking for another ultra to do and www.challenge-running.co.uk who run the Stort 30 also have the Saffron Trail ultra. Saffron Walden is my local town 4 miles from where I live, the ultra has the final checkpoint in my village and being born in the county of Essex it looked like it was meant for me to do. After completing the London Marathon in April I began trying to increase my runs again visiting Scotland for a 35 mile run. I also made a point of getting out on the course to help cut down on navigation time and had a 30 mile and 35 mile run on a couple of different sections. Knowing that certain sections are really wet and muddy I was hoping the weather would stay dry for a few weeks and dry the course out. This is the UK! no such luck, for the 3 weeks leading up to the start it had been raining. So from then on my hope was it would at least be dry for the run and make things reasonably comfortable.

Saturday July 12th 2014…Saffron Trail Ultra day. I had all my gear packed making sure I had all the compulsory kit plus anything else I thought I would need.

Waterproof Jacket (not just wind proof), My Berghaus Gore Tex jacket

Spare baselayer top and bottoms

Good quality headtorch with spare batteries, LED Lensor H7R.2

Working mobile phone (fully charged and on so we can call you if there are any changes or emergencies)

The capacity to carry 1lt of fluids either in bottles or a bladder.

Full size space blanket (not cut down), I took an emergency bivi bag

Hat or buff.

I also took a battery pack to keep my phone charged up, gels, cake, gloves, my own race notes (not used in the end) and electrolyte tablets.

I left home at 13.43, an hour into London, 10 minutes wait for my connection and then another hour out of London to Southend. The weather forecast was looking pretty bad with a storm moving in around 16.00, passing through, followed by another around 2am. I arrived in Southend at 16.00 and the weather was dry and very humid, no storm as forecast and took a slow walk toward the start area and was there for 16.15…no one in sight. The registration didn’t open until 17.00 so obviously I was a bit early and Lindley the race director hadn’t arrived yet. 16.45. 17.00, 17.10…something’s wrong! 2 other runners had turned up. I tried Lindley’s phone, no answer. A few minutes later one of the other fellas got through to him…the registration had been set up a couple of hundred yards back along the road. Panic over we made our way there, had all of my kit checked, registered and collected my number. I then just took time to chill out and keep calm and got talking to another runner. before long we were given the race briefing mainly safety, responsibility for litter, sensibility and looking out for other runners etc. 18.00, the magic moment, everyone was away! I took off really slowly as I set my GPS and Nike+.

My plan had been to make good time over the first 3 legs which was 28.2 miles, effectively get time in the bank for when I tired later on and helping to keep a reasonable average overall. I was pleased with the opening effort with my pace fluctuating between 8.0 minute miles and 9 minute miles. The county would be described by most as undulating, the hills maybe small but pretty damn steep! With the weather so warm and humid I was sweating heavily, I made sure I drank regularly and ate my cake. I had pretty much memorised the course and had no need to refer to my notes, little more than 2 miles in at Raleigh Castle Thunder was raging over the Thames Estuary, the storm was on it’s way in. I arrived at the first checkpoint in Hockley around 19.45, 45 minutes ahead of my set schedule. The next leg was a shorter 6.6 miles a quite straight forward heading North onto the banks of the river Crouch and then following it West to the village of Battlesbridge. I was taking 1 Torq gel per leg to help with electrolytes and energy. When I got onto the river for the first time I started to feel tired, still sweating in the humid air and moving at a reasonable pace maybe I was setting out too fast. I pushed onwards, the rain had started and lightening was streaking all around, It was a picturesque sight along the river. I wasn’t feeling good, another runner caught up with me and told me that the checkpoint was only a couple of miles away, he left me behind. I eventually came out onto the main road that follows into Battlesbridge and the checkpoint. I felt ill. I had some drink and something to eat, I couldn’t hold it down. Only 17.7 miles in and things were going downhill quickly, I couldn’t understand why! Was it the heat, humidity, not eating enough or the gels. I had some soup some more drink, topped up my drink bladder and added electrolyte tabs. Another group of people had caught up with me, Debbie, Graham and an American in the country on business who thought he’d give it a shot, Tre. While I tried to get my head straight they refuelled and I set out with them.

The next leg was 10.7 miles from Battlesbridge to Danbury slowly heading North through the county. I felt a little better and matched the pace of the group, it was comfortable if slow around 12 minute miles. It was good and I needed the time to recuperate. As we headed out across fields, railway tracks, through woods and along roads I was feeling comfortable again. I took another gel. About 3 miles in nearing East Hanningfield I started being sick again. The others moved off ahead, I tried to move after them, sick again. This continued for a few miles, I felt like I had been clobbered with a hangover from hell, I had around 50 miles to go…I was going to quit. I pushed on again and caught up with the group and helped navigate our way, I didn’t let on I was thinking of giving up. It was dark now as well and 2 thoughts from other experienced ultra runners were going through my head, never quit on a low point because invariably if you take your time you will start to feel better and never quit in the dark because the dark makes things seem gloomier and worse than they are. I would decide at CP3.

grave1

grave2

 Before entering East Hanningfield village you pass through an abandoned graveyard, the church burned down in 1883. Debbie had arranged for her husband to meet us prior to reaching the official checkpoint to fuel up. He met us in Danbury only a couple of miles short of the checkpoint, I can’t thank him enough for his help. He gave me some eno salts, vegetarian sausages, cheesy biscuits and fruit pastilles. It really picked me up and made me feel better. We headed on to CP3, there were a couple of runners there and I overheard one of them dropping out, I filled by water, took on more food and filled my pockets. I wasn’t going to quit, I felt better. The next leg headed around the south side of the city of Chelmsford following the river Chelmer for the most part before turning North to Stacey’s Farm near Broomfield. We crossed over fields and could see the city lights, over a small bridge and onto the towpath passing under the A12. I now had a terrible backache and had to stop and take some Ibruprofen and adjust some kit, the rain was taking it’s toll on my gear. They all headed off. Got set and carried on, I couldn’t see them, no bother just stick to the river path and I should catch them. A little further I thought I could see head torches and knew they couldn’t be far. I just couldn’t seem to catch them, and headed on into Chelmsford. Passing through the city centre was a bit surreal with everyone spilling out of pubs and clubs drunk and drowned rat me running by. Heading along something didn’t seem right, I had taken a wrong turn, damn!! I hadn’t used my notes and realised I failed to take a left and was on the wrong stretch of rivers, I had turned along a subsidiary stretch. I turned around and made my way back onto the correct stretch, with my mistake they had to have a good 30 minutes up on me now, I was going to have along way to go on my own. nearing Stacey’s Farm I was met by Maxine one of the checkpoint helpers. There had been an altercation with a farmer and they had to move CP4. I filled up my water with her and changed my torch batteries and carried on to the checkpoint. I’ve never felt so hungry!! I had piles of cupcakes, chocolate cookies, sausages, sausage rolls, sweets, crisps and a couple of coffees! Food never felt so amazing! I probably waisted 15 minutes there and was told the other group were about 15 minutes in front at my arrival, so about 30 minutes by time I got going again.

 Leg 5 was up to a track named the Flitch Way which runs along the site of an old railway line near the village of Great Dunmow. I was having regular walking breaks by now and being sensible walking up hills to conserve energy. I found the section straight forward with no mistakes or dramas. There were a lot of overgrown areas so I was getting badly stung and scratched by brambles. I was wearing 1000 mile compression socks so it minimised the worst on my lower legs but my knees and lower thighs were getting a beating. After plenty of twists and turns, field crossings and roads I came up to the Flitch Way and made it along to CP5. The group were now 50 minutes ahead of me, I didn’t think I had much chance of catching them now. I was still inside the cut off time and was beginning to feel really good to the point I was doing far more running than walking. I didn’t stay long and cracked on, I was heading into home territory and feeling more confident. The following leg was going to be a tough one and headed to CP6 at Broxted. Coming up to a wooded area and farm building I could see runners, I caught up with them, they were feeling things and starting to find it hard going. They told me the group were only a short way ahead, I charged on. Rounding some trees The way ahead sloped up a slight hill across a field, I could see the group I had been with. It really boosted me to keep working and after 10 minutes or so I had caught them again. They were tiring as we headed into Little Easton, I was feeling strong again and decided to leave them. I had now passed 5 people. following the paths along I saw 2 runners way off course as I headed along the correct path I whistled to them, got their attention and waved the right way, they seemed to ignore me. I carried on, now I ‘d passed 7 people! A touch further along they made up the half mile and we discussed they way to go, I was happy with the direction we were going, they weren’t, again I left them. Following on to Tilty and through a field with Abbey ruins out across the fields I saw the same 2 runners heading towards me! They had taken some wrong turns ended up on the right track but in the wrong direction. Yet again I left them and pulled out another half mile lead. Making the CP6 2 other runners were only 100 yards ahead. Ernie was there again and I had another dose of eno salts, I was told they were tiring badly and slow so I grabbed a banana and carried on after them. within half a mile I had caught them, it was Colin I had been speaking with at the start plus one other. I told them I was on home ground and to follow me. Again I began to pull out a lead on them and began to play Psychological games with them. Every time they came into view I made sure I was running, as soon as I was out of sight I would take a walking break. I had about a 1 mile lead on them. At Henham they had obviously put a good effort in and I saw them about 1/2 mile behind. I started running again told hold the lead charged through a really muddy and slippery woods which I was hoping would slow them down some. Flew downhill on painful legs and had to walk uphill again. As soon as it levelled I started running again, downhill for about 1/2 mile and onto a road section. Some more woods and into Widdington, across the fields, along  some track way and into my home village of Newport. Along the High Street to the last CP7…65 miles done and 5 to go…I was going to make it come hell or high water. Took on more drink and grabbed a banana to take with me, I was feeling absolutely dead on my feet having now passed 9 people over the last 2 legs. I forged on having to walk large sections, there are some steep hills in the last 5 miles. I wanted to run into the finish as well not walk. Now filled with paranoia I kept checking over my shoulder expecting them to have caught me, it didn’t happen. I followed the road up to a cut through on fields, through parkland on the edge of town and was running again. I passed a couple out for a jog “You can go ahead of us you look faster”, “I don’t feel like it, i’ve run in from Southend 70 miles away” queue flabbergasted expressions. out of the park gate, along to the traffic lights, cross, 200 yards and into the finish at the town fire station. I had made it..all 70 miles under my own steam, from throwing my guts up and thinking of quitting to digging in, grinding out the pain, discomfort and making it. And not just making it either but finishing in 5th place which amazed me, I thought I would be middle of the pack at best.

2014-07-14 11.41.50

I am now recovering, my legs generally are no worse than doing a marathon but my thighs are red raw and bleeding which is the most painful thing to deal with at the moment. I have some more ultras planned and am supposed to be going to the south downs on Friday 18th July to run 35 miles, it may not happen. Thanks to Lindley at www.challenge-running.co.uk and everyone that I met along the way.