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.

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….

What A Difference A Week Makes!

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I’ve had some niggly injuries recently and think i have managed to shake of the worst. I had been working on getting the miles in again and also trying to find a bit of speed. Last Bank Holiday Monday (6th May) i had Ashdon 10k in North Essex. I had been for warned by club members that this was a hilly course…an understatement if ever i heard one! The route felt like one permanent hill, my legs were struggling and it was a real grind. If you can imagine the start was on a street about 100 feet lower than the finish point higher up on a hill. So from the start you were slowly but surely making your way around a loop finishing at a higher point. The time for Ashdon came in at 47 minutes 46 seconds, which seems slow against my previous times but for the route wasn’t all that bad! I felt disappointed at the time as i felt sluggish and slow and not particularly fit, in hindsight it was a good run. I didn’t stop at all even though my legs quite often were telling me to. Also the course was a good tester of mental strength as well as putting some good miles in the legs.

During the week i had a six mile run and a 5 mile run much closer to my average times i achieve. My lower legs have still been aching quite a lot and i really need to book in for a sports massage to get some of the slight tightness out and help them feel more relaxed. The diet hasn’t been completely strict, i have been eating all the good stuff as usual but with plenty of the  junk added along the way. It hasn’t affected my weight but i do think it may add to my sluggish race feeling. This last week i have been making a bit more effort on that front and have started drinking beetroot juice again which i feel helps even if it is a placebo effect. Heading into Sunday just gone i was feeling quite good. The Clapham Common 10k in South London which i took part in yesterday (12th May) is fairly flat. It is a mix of tarmac paths and grass tracks and only has a very slight elevation rise. I went into this in two minds, one knowing i had run a slow time last week but also that it was flat and i could get a good time if i could summon up the effort. A perfect day for running with it being dry, warm and breezy i got of to a good start and was almost unsure as to how i should pace myself. I decided to try and warm into it for the first couple of miles, it was a two lap course so as soon as the first lap was completed i began to push harder and found a good rhythm. I tried to catch someone that had been about 30 yards ahead of me for the whole race but i just couldn’t get them. It was a good way of sticking with a high tempo pace though and i was rewarded with a time of 44 minutes and 49 seconds which is my second fastest time finishing in 37th of 311 runners. It was really pleasing to have such a good run and i have more races soon as well. Henham 10k in North Essex on Sunday 19th May and then Hatfield Broad Oak 10k Essex on the next May Bank Holiday 27th which i am told is a PB potential course. So all being well that will be the race i will try and improve on 43 minutes 27 seconds.

 

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Hope you’re having some great runs in the warmer weather, Baz.