A Runners’ Dictionary (for the non-runner)

Blowing – not as fun as it sounds. When your respiration rate is far higher than it should be for the speed you are running.

Chicked – when a male runner is passed/beaten by a female – probable running far more comfortably while doing it (chauvinistic). For the record, the last group run/race I did I was the first man back – but was still chicked by three women.

Condom Jacket – a packable waterproof jacket with little to no breathability – keeping the rain out, but your fluids (sweat) in.

Detonate – usually in a race, but not exclusively, where you push hard for a target time and cant hold it until the end, resulting in a catastrophic loss of pace. Can also be caused by naively running too fast at the start.

DNF (Did Not Finish) – think of it as DFA (Don’t Fucking Ask)

DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) – soreness to major muscle groups hours after the event, usually just before you want to go to bed. Usual tell tail sign is the sufferer will emit a noise similar to that of a badger with its testicles caught in a gin trap.

Doubling Up – running twice in one day.

Dropping The Hammer – running faster over a tougher part of the race, or near the end, to gain an advantage. Can also be done on a training run to put the hurt on your running buddy.

DQ’d (Disqualified) – think of it as SDFA (Seriously Don’t Fucking Ask)

Fartlek – from the Swedish for ‘speed play’, basically it’s a series of random speed intervals in a run. Think of it like trying to do a food shop with a toddler with a sugar habit – it’s either glacial pace or quicker than a stabbed rat.

Fasted Run – usually an early morning run before breakfast. Basically, running while hungry.

Garmin – data is the new religion of the modern runner, and Garmin is the go to collector of data. May also be used as a watch.

LSR (Long Slow Run) – exactly what is says on the tin, a long, slow run. A staple of endurance training.

Lung Buster – a long or steep (or even both) climb that puts you into physical difficulty.

Micro Litter – when dirty bastard runners just drop their gel wrappers on the trail. If you are that runner, stop. If you know a runner like that, have a word.

Naked Running – the atheist of the running community. No it’s not running with your giblets out (mores the pity) but running without the means to collect data. Not for me thank you very much.

Negative Splits – not actually a negative at all. Where you manage to run the second half of a run quicker than the first; usually as the result of a favourable wind or a downhill finish.

Oh, just a 10k this morning – really means “That was grim, it was all I had, but I used to be able to run much further”.

Pacing – using a faster runner (usually running within themselves) to eek out a personal best over a set distance. It’s a bit like winning the local pub quiz on a team with Stephen Fry and Prof. Brian Cox, you may have contributed but it wasn’t all your own work. For the record I have used pacers in races.

Quad Buster – a long or steep (or both) descent that destroys your legs. Arguably worse than a lung buster.

Race Bling – big, cheap and shiny ‘medal’ used to make the eye wateringly expensive race entry appear more reasonable. Runners all know this to be true but love their race bling anyway.

Run Camp – like a holiday but less rum cocktails and more run intervals.

Runhole – someone who only seems to talk about running, and will drop their family and friends in an instance for a race, or even just a run. Probably writes a running blog too.

Runners Trots – the sudden and uncontrollable loosening of ones bowels while out running. If you are unfortunate enough to be afflicted you will need to cease running and plunge your rear end in a wheelie bin promptly.

Running Buddy – someone who you run with, a runner will probably spend more time alone, in the dark and out of breathe with their running buddy than anyone else.

Sandbagging – the art of belittling you training and/or kit before absolutely smashing a race and/or your running buddies. This is not to be confused with being modest.

Singlet – it’s just a vest to run in.

Strava – if data is the new religion, then Strava is the New Testament. Think of it as runners Facebook, but rather than your friends’ pictures of cats its maps of where people have been, and they’re usually in a hurry.

Streaking – not nudity related.  Running for a number of consecutive days.

Taper – the period of restless grumpiness when the training eases before a big race.

Threshold Run – also known as a tempo run. It’s a horrible mistress, running at a speed that feels comfortably hard. I’m still not sure what comfortably hard is (insert any number of innuendos here), but it should be quick enough that you can’t talk easily, but not so fast that you can’t finish.

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But Why?

Since telling friends and family I had entered an ultra I’ve been asked the same few questions – over and over in some cases – and it’s was getting tedious. So, here are the questions I keep getting asked, and the answers – as honestly as I can.

• But Why?
Because I can; because it’s there; why not? These are my go to, if slightly flippant, responses to the why question.  While that is the bare bones of it, it’s not just that. There is more. It’s about finding where the limits are in the distances I can cover – both physically and mentally. I still like to run fast (a relative term) and I would still love to run a sub 90 minute half marathon, but at the moment I think I am more interested in far Screenshot_20181112_215334rather than fast. I may live to regret that decision when fast is no longer an option. Even if fast is a relative term.

• Isn’t it just a form of sadomasochism?
Well, yes I guess it is; just without the inconvenience of needing whips, ball gags and a sex dungeon. I know it sounds weird, but there is a cleansing from the suffering. It resets the stresses and tensions of modern life – whatever modern life is, it’s just life isn’t it? I honestly feel like I’m a better person, but more specifically a better parent and husband, when I run on a regular basis. So I really feel for my wife and kids when I’m injured, I must be a nightmare to live with – even more than usual.

• You must run a lot!
Well I should, but I don’t. Not really. Not compared to proper runners. I ran much further while training for Boston Marathon (still not that Boston Marathon). This is mainly because for the marathon I had a ‘proper’ target to aim for, where as for the Gower 50 and Hope24 it was all about the distance rather than time. However when I return to the distance, and I am sure I will, I guess the time might become more important. Might? Will

• You ran 50 miles?

Yes! Well no; sort of. I ran some, maybe even most of it, but I certainly didn’t run all of it. But even the guy who won it must have walked some of it. Well I bloody hope so anyway.

• Didn’t it hurt?
Well, yes it did. At times it was grim, but all races are grim at times. I maintain that 5km is the most disgusting distance to race, it’s essentially 2km at full gas then 3km of just clinging on hoping for it to finish before you see your breakfast again. It might only last 20 minutes or so, but its bloody horrible.  The Gower 50 might have been grim at times, but there were also huge swathes of enjoyment. Running at a comfortable pace, taking in the vistas, chatting and eating. What’s not to like?

• So, what next?
I don’t know actually (other than a couple of shorter races before the end of the year), but I think I want to race ultras again. In fact I know I want to. On the Monday night after Gower 50, Tom and I were sending links to 100 milers to each other like naughty schoolboys passing pornos around at the back of the bus. Hope24 is on the radar for next year too, but this year I can see a distance target being laid down to gun for (100km, 80 miles, something like that). If it fits in to the grand scheme I would love to finally run the full Man Vs Horse route, but it’s the week before Hope24.
So what’s next? *subject to approval*
o Spring Marathon/shorter ultra (30ish miles)
o Man Vs Horse
o Hope24
o 100 miler

• Have you always been a runner?
Hell no. I don’t really consider myself to be a runner now. I run, but I’m not necessarily a runner.

50 f**king miles!

Some races you enter with great expectations on your performance, and you build up your training over the preceding weeks and months building up to the event. Other races – although still important – you never really get going and its race day before you even settle into training. This was one of those races, except it wasn’t it was a 50-mile ultra-marathon.

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We (as in Tom and myself – the way things are going this blog may need to be renamed “Ross and Tom do increasingly stupid shit”) arrived at Gower Cricket Club at half five, and I am so undercooked I am barely even defrosted. After a few nervous poos and a last-minute bag repack its time for the race brief – which barely registers – and time to get going. We leave the warmth of the clubhouse and enter the cold, wet darkness. As the rain teems down we are sent on our merry way out into the inky unknown. Almost as soon as we start the nerves dissipate and my bowels feel a little more secure. I promise this will be the last reference to my bowels/movements. Definitely, maybe.

The route is split into two distinctive sections. The first is mainly on tarmac, and the second mainly trail – and conveniently there is a bag drop at the checkpoint between the two sections.

The race starts with 500 metres of meandering single track before hitting a made path along the coast, after a short distance we cut off down a path and down a series of steps and behind a block of garages before coming out on to the main road through Mumbles. As we make our way through the Mumbles the lights from the shops and bars dances off the wet surfaces and puddles, its almost beautiful. Actually, it is beautiful; but I am slightly preoccupied by what is in store.

After about 6km, we turn off the road and join a cycle route that will take us up to the northern side of the Gower. As we gently climb we begin to try and incorporate a few walking breaks as we try to manage our early efforts. At this point I try to eat one of my breakfast burritos (which consist of banana, Nutella and peanut butter – it seemed like a good idea while I was making them), but after one bite I had to put it away again; it just wouldn’t go down, even after excessive chewing. Over the next few km I try to finish the burrito one bite at a time. I don’t even entertain the second one.

After an hour or so of tree lined cycle path – in the rain – we come out into a housing estate to find a group of runners waiting for checkpoint 1 to open, and after a short wait we give our number over to a marshal and make our way along the road. By this time the sun has begun to push away the gloom and we are treated to the kind of wonderful glow that you can only really appreciate when you get up disgustingly early in the morning – it is however still raining!Once out of the housing estate (think new build rather than Trainspotting) we spend a bit of time running along what I imagine what might be a main road at a more civilized time of day. I won’t lie, I found this section far tougher than I thought I would. Having not managed to eat much – neither before starting nor while running to this point – and knowing there was still 60km to go didn’t really help that matter. Most of the remaining stretch to checkpoint 2 is a montage of snippets. Quiet village here, another tree lined cycle path somewhere else and a long coastal road somewhere near the end.

I am relieved to reach checkpoint 2, if you ignore the hike-a-hill to get to it. Not only are my (well broken in – at that perfect balance between done miles but have miles left in them) trail shoes waiting for me, but also food. After changing shoes and socks I pack all the new food and grab a few Jaffa cakes and a fist full of frazzles on my way out. Once out of the checkpoint and onto the trails I feel much better. I’m still not sure what was the cause of the improvements. Shoes, terrain, the recently erupting sunshine or the frazzles; or just rose-tinted glasses. However, from where I’m sitting now this is the point where I begin to feel like I’m comfortable with what I’ve let myself in for. After a short stretch of wonderful single track and a bit of country lane we start to climb through some woods, before taking a spur into an open grassy field. Once across we go through a gate into a second field. This one seems to have been churned up by a battalion of cattle on special manoeuvres. It’s along here I brave my fist savory burrito, and I can’t relay how relieved I was that it went down like a dream. Happy days. We continue to pass fields and thickets before coming out on a lane. We climb along the lane before dropping down to the salt marshes alongside the estuary.

Once alongside the estuary the route seems to flatten out for a while, with a series of paths running alongside each other with the odd path spurring off towards the estuary. It’s along this section that we are passed by the first of the late starters – making an hour and a half in 30-35 km. it’s easy to tell that they are the quicker runners from behind rather than someone from our start time having a good few minutes. It’s the way they glide, as smooth as butter hardly looking like they are having to work. Its sickening, they could at least pretend to be trying. I was feeling good (read not dying) at this point, but Tom later tells me he really struggled with this section.

Its not long before we reach picture postcard Gower, as we come to the end of the marshes we take a hard right through a gate (with the help of a rambler who has watched several runners pass it and come back) and up a climb steep enough to make

your eyelids fill with lactic acid. We top out and pass through another gate – where there is a miscommunication with a runner behind us and he nearly poleaxes himself by running straight into it. After a little plateau we climb again, coming out at the coffee shop in Llanmadoc. It takes a large amount of will power to run past the coffee shop -and associated cakes – and on to checkpoint 3 a few corners away. This checkpoint stop is probably our quickest; Electronic dib, top up drinks, bit of coke, handful of Frazzles and off we pop down the hill and off to the land of imposing sea cliffs and surf beaches.

This is the Gower’s money shot. We start running along a glorious stretch of single track atop of the cliffs. By now the rain has stopped and the sun is beginning to win the

weather war. As we come around the headland Rhossili beach comes into view, but there is still quite a bit of running before we even start running down towards the beach – never mind running along it. The descent down is so much fun, a few tight corners and switchbacks without being too technical. When we finally make contact with the sand we walk across the soft dry stuff in search of something a bit more compact. Once we find it we begin to run again.

This section is tough going mentally. As beautiful as this stretch of coastline is, the lack of features to act as distance markers took its toll. After a while it began to feel like the start of the beach was getting further away

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but the end wasn’t getting any closer – like a bloody mirage in the desert. Finally, the end of the beach is upon us and we begin the climb up the other side. Rather than the wonderous switchbacks on the way down, the way up is a trudge straight up on a man-made path before tacking along the contours of the cliff to the top. Once topped out it’s a short run to checkpoint 4.

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While at checkpoint 4 I finally take off my waterproof coat – having been using it solely as a wind shirt for hours (probably not actually hours). Once my coat is repacked and Frazzles are eaten we head off and carry on along the cliff top towards Worms Head

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Watch Station, and as we turn to face the south coast proper the views are incredible. Cliffs, coves and golden beaches; people spend a fortune going abroad in search of places like this – calling it paradise. And here it is. Just outside Swansea of all places. We spend the next 10 km or so running along the rolling cliff top paths. This whole stretch is a real joy as the sun shines and the views seem to go on forever. That’s not to say its not tough because it is, but it managed to be both physically tough while mentally joyous.

While enjoying the flowing paths and the wonderful views there is a little nagging doubt. The first compulsory clip is coming up. I have been nervous about missing this unmanned check points since signing up for the race. As we get closer, we become more careful with our navigation – double checking our route choices. In reality the clip point is fairly easy to find. Maps carefully clipped, we make our way down a rocky path towards Port Eynon and checkpoint 5.

Before we get to the checkpoint there is a wonderful surprise waiting for us by the beach, the WAKs (that’s wives and kids) are waiting for us. The psychological boost from a quick kiss and a cuddle can’t be overestimated. After a quick chat Tom and I make our way to the checkpoint. This is the one we’d been looking forward to for a while (or I had at least), it was the hotdog checkpoint. We got our chips dibbed and made our food and drinks orders as the WAKs walked in. We probably stayed longer than we would have otherwise done – partly for the food but mostly the company. But there comes a point where we have to drag ourselves away.

Once we get going it’s a short stretch of rough road before we are running along a boardwalk through the sand dunes. The boards aren’t the nicest to run along, but they are certainly better than the dry soft sand. Before long the dunes end and the road is back. But then; the pretty is back. This section of the path is very reminiscent of the coastal path back home (between Plymouth and Wembury). Tom is obviously feeling pretty good along here and I just have to let him take the lead and try to hold his pace. This whole section seems to go by fairly quickly. It seems to go quickly anyway, but that could be due to a combination of amazing views and staring at the back of Tom’s shoes. Before we really realise we are close we come across two runners at the second compulsory clip stamping their maps.

Shortly after the clip point we enter a glorious stretch of wooded single track, and this time it’s my turn to feel good. There is absolutely no reason why I should suddenly be feeling the stronger of the two of us, it’s not all that long ago I was being towed along by Tom and nothing has changed. Except, now we are in the woods and I love woodland trails. I don’t run them very often, but once I’ve got my eye in I feel really comfortable spotting roots and winding around trees. After an initial section of flat, we climb a huge block of uneven steps before the fun, flowing wooded descent really starts. The flowing descent continues until we reach another set of rugged steps – this time down. Once down we pass a beautiful church nestles between the sea and the woods. Now, I’m not really a church goer, but I could see myself there on a Sunday morning.

To our right is the vast expanse of Oxwich beach, which we have to make our way across. We drop down to sea level and into the beach carpark to see our very own support crew waiting for us. After more hugging I get rid of the breakfast burrito that I have been carrying since 6am, and rewrap a piece of Tom’s Choco Mocha Cake, and off across the beach we head. Once again we head down towards the sea in search of firmer sand, and

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once we do we’re off and running again. Unlike on Rhossili beach, we aren’t treated to hard sand all the way across, and before long it becomes a trudge along the beach. It begins to feel like the epic Trans-Saharan scenes from Ice cold in Alex. We cross a small bridge, about half way along, and continue our trudge through the sand. I think this is probably my lowest ebb of the whole day, as the going slows and the point we are aiming for doesn’t seem to be getting closer. We finally reach the point where we leave the beach and head into the dunes – missing a turning so we end up going further in than we should. What makes this worse is that there is a compulsory clip point in the dunes, which if we miss we will have to retrace back to the beach and start again. Luckily, after doing a large loop we end up at the clip point from a different direction. Major cock up averted, possibly due to luck rather than judgement. As we reach the point a group of 5 lads who we had been passing and been passed by for a good while reach the clip too – having come the right way. After chatting for a couple of minutes, one of the guys declares “I’m off for a piss or a shit, and at this point I don’t know which”. Much laughter and the low ebb of the beach and the sand dunes are behind me as we set off before discovering which option he went for. Once off the beach the path improves and we make our way to the 6th checkpoint. At the checkpoint we dab our chips and top up our water, and have a cup of the nicest cream of tomato soup I have ever had. After a bit of a chat with the 5 lads, who came in to the checkpoint shortly after us, we head of along a rough rocky trail and into another stretch of forest.

Before too long we come out of the forest, cross a stream before following it back towards the sea. It started off as a grassy meadow, but the sand pockets grew in size and frequency. We follow a sandy track, but turn off too early and end up having to cut across a golf course. Heavy of limb and slow of mind the risk of a golf ball to the head was probably reasonably high, but thankfully we traversed the pringle minefield in one piece.

We find the coastal path again and follow another boardwalk section through the sand dunes, until they stop at the bottom of what the north face of the Eiger would look like if it was made of sand. Up we trudge, the euphoria of the first beach sighting seems a very long time ago (mostly because it was a long time ago). With only 5 km between checkpoints 6 and 7, it’s not long after scaling the Eiger that we are at the final checkpoint.

The now time honoured protocol of dibbing my chip, then filling my face with Frazzles and Jaffa Cakes it followed by a cup, actually two cups, of coke. I don’t normally drink a lot of coke – or fizzy pop in general – so the surge from the sugar hit way pretty noticeable.

We leave the final checkpoint buoyed by how quickly we had got to that one, and set of in search of the final compulsory clip and the finish line. This final leg starts with some rolling commons, with swaths of gorse and paths fracturing off in every direction, luckily the main coastal path is obvious. As we get closer to the final clip we, once again, become very deliberate about our navigation. The clip points are strategically placed to prevent people from shaving the course – and I don’t want to shave the course especially not because of shit navigational decisions. There is only one place where we could have gone wrong, but with the daylight beginning to fail and our pace dropping we – definitely I – become unsure if we have missed it some way before we have reached it. After a few premature stops to double and triple check the map we find the last clip and mark our maps. With all the compulsory clips done, now it’s just the run in to the finish line.

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The daylight finally fails – or more accurately we finally accept we need to put on our head torches again – as we are running along a technical part of the coast line. Once we get them on we are back at the races, the sense of being close to the finish line has given us both a bit of a lift. We continue to make steady, if slow, progress along the cliffs as we reel in and pass the odd headlight we can see in the distance. It’s a funny thing the effect of a rabbit can have while running; I am under no illusion that had there not been lights ahead of us our progress through here would not have been as quick. This happened entirely subconsciously too, neither Tom nor I mentioned trying to chase people down we just began to up the pace a little and take our turn with our noses in the wind. Tom may well read this and point out that is total horse crap and it was all me – and that wouldn’t surprise me, I can be a competitive soul sometimes.

This continues until we reach Caswell Bay – the penultimate bay in the race. We follow the high tide route that goes up a crappy little path out to the road and around the bay the long way. As we plod along the road we see the head torches of other runners who have missed the turning and taken the low tide route, coming out just ahead of us.

The rest of the way to Langland Bay is a blur, as we begin to feel the effect of exuberantly chasing people down when we felt like we were almost home and hosed. The finish feels a way away now and as we push on through the darkness. Once passed the sea front at Langland Bay it’s a hardtop path most of the way back to the finish. Usually I would be running on the edges of the path to try to preserve the tread on my trail shoes, but not now. I seem to be feeling a bit better than Tom is at this point so I try to set a steady pace. We are both pretty much out on our feet and make ridiculous decisions – like running up the hills and walking down them. This section feels like it takes forever, it’s completely dark by now and we seem to be running the same bit over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day in trail shoes.

Eventually we reach the bit of single track that started the whole thing, and that was it. So, 500m or so of trail running to finish off the Gower 50 ultra-marathon all to the backdrop of pissed kids somewhere in the darkness. We get to the last corner to find the WAKs waiting for us, round the corner and into the finishing straight with my kids, crossing the line in 14 hours, 14 minutes and change.

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I’m not usually one of those happy clappy everyone’s a winner types. I like to see where I stack up in a race, and while I accept I am unlikely to ever, ever, win a race I think it’s good to see how you stack up. Not so much with this, I don’t care that I took nearly twice as long as the winner. Nor that it took over 2 hours longer than I had hoped. To be perfectly frank, with the amount of training I did in the run up I’m bloody ecstatic I got round under my own steam. Don’t get me wrong, if (when) I do another ultra I want to see some improvement, but at the moment I’m content. At the moment!

End Of The Road

There are some relationships that you hope will last forever – like the one with your best mate at school or your loving wife. There are some that last longer than you expected or even dared to hope, like the rebound from a nasty break up that you end up marrying. Then there are the relationships that you know from the start have a definite expiry date – when a greasy boy on a moped knocks on the door to take your daughter out.

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This week saw the end of one of those relationships, and even though I know it’s coming to an end and things are beginning to get painful, I will always have the memories. This loving partnership began as

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the long runs were beginning to build before the Boston Marathon. The relationship began in haste as I realised my old loves were beginning to fail on me, and we needed to bond before the big day in Lincolnshire. It didn’t take long to feel the connection, I had been running with your sister for a long time before you, but now we’ve run our course.
After 564.6 km we’ve run to the end of the road. Over time you have begun to let yourself go at the seams, you’ve become less forgiving, and above all else you’ve begun to give me blisters. This can’t go on. I don’t want this to sound like a bitter breakup because it isn’t; we have just gone as far as we can. We’ve had some rough runs; we’ve had some good runs. There has also had a few PBs along the way.
There is an upside to this tale of woe. The new love, the next journey, the next run.

dav

4 adults, 3 kids, 2 dogs and a trailer

Sometimes when you head out the door for a run or a ride, you just know it’s going to offer something to write about – whether that’s due to distance, conditions or breaking new ground personally. This was not one of those rides; this was just a gentle ride with the kids and some friends. It seemed like a good idea at the time – it was a good idea – but maybe not as thought out as it should have been.

We had gone camping with our friends Hannah, Tom and their two and a half year son, for the weekend just outside Exmouth. Where we were staying had all the credentials received_686074208437045needed for a good campsite – namely it was close to a traffic free cycle route. The plan was to go for a bit of a ride as Hannah is riding from London to Cambridge in September to raise money for Bloodwise. So that’s 4 adults, 3 kids (2 on bikes one in a bike seat or on his balance bike), 2 dogs, and a bike trailer off for a relaxing ride along the Exe in the sun. Terrific.

I’d like to say it all started so well, and it did for about 20 minutes. One of the reasons for the ride was for Hannah to get used to riding a road bike and using clipless shoes. Yep, that’s right first time on a drop bar road bike and first time clipped in. If I was to tell you that Hannah’s first ‘clipped in’ moment happened fairly early on, you’d probably assume it was one of the dogs or a child cut across her or hitting her front wheel. You’d be wrong, it wasn’t. It was her husband. All was going just fine, a bit stop start as we battled to control a pair of excitable dogs.

As we got to a point where a spur comes off the route to go to a National Trust property Tom decided fairly late on to pull over to the side to see where it goes. Rather than pulling in on the left, he swings across Hannah’s line to read a sign on the right hand side. Being unable to get unclipped quick enough Hannah is a jumbled mess of human and road bike in the middle of the path (probably at the busiest part of the route) to a chorus of ‘ohhh’s. Luckily she was unhurt – and so is Tom, I wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for my wife’s first clipped in fall (but I kind of am, gravel riding not long after the wife got ‘clippy shoes’ was not my finest idea). To add insult to tarmac impact the route Tom stopped to look at didn’t really go anywhere.

Once separated from her bike and to her feet we carried on in the direction we were headed – I can confirm from a clipped in incident a few weeks ago (which did include a child) getting unclipped while your arse is on terra firma isn’t all that easy and certainly not with an audience. It isn’t all that long before I need to stop again.

This time not for a clipped in calamity but for a dog based one of our own making. With our surrogate dog beginning to advance in years, we are conscious that she can’t run at cycling pace – even kiddy cycling pace – for too far. She can out run me – easily – for about 7 km or so but much more than 10k she starts to wane, this becomes obvious when she is happy for me to be at the front. With this in mind, plus the stress that she could cause a pile up worthy of a road closure at any moment, we decide to put her in the bike trailer.

At this point I become that person, the person who you see on pretty much any traffic poppy square.jpgfree cycle route – usually middle aged, usually a poodle – towing a bloody dog in a kid’s trailer. After a bit of faffing shortening the lead and doing up the harnesses – in an effort to prevent her from stepping out – we are on the move again. It’s been a far few years since I towed this trailer – not enough for my daughter to stop reminding me how I all but rolled it with both kids in it going down some (3)stairs – and I had forgotten how jerky it was. There is a very definite lag as the bike rolls over the top of a hill before the trailer tops out and you begin to speed up. We start of not much quicker than walking pace to make sure she is happy to stay put – which she is for a while.

Before too long I begin to hear a bit of noise from the trailer, which could either be “I would like to run for a bit now” or “I really need to poo, let me out NOW”. Not wanting to received_288708548607142risk option 2, I stop and let her out for a bit of a run. At this point we decide to try and put Tom and Hannah’s dog Baxter in for a rest. She jumps in after a little persuasion and is secured in the same manner as Poppy (no that isn’t a typo she is a girl dog called Baxter; I assumed I had misheard her name for quite a while before asking – rescue dog that had already been named). However as soon as we are moving she tries to jump out the back of the trailer, so we stop calm her down again and once she is lying down I go again. Again she tries to escape out the back. At this point I abandon the attempt at ferrying Baxter and we are back to having two free range dogs, and all the chaos that brings.

Thankfully the trail is a bit quieter now and we don’t cause a multi bike pile-up. It’s no less stressful however when bikes do come the other way, especially when the kids – with good intentions – call the dogs too. This just seems to confuse them as to who to listen to, and they just stop dead right in the middle of the path. When I say them I mostly mean Poppy.

Before too long we reach a section of road, so Poppy goes back in the trailer (she is blowing again by this point and appears to be happy for a lie down). We negotiate the section of road, which includes a little drag up and down into Lympstone, before climbing back up onto the traffic free section. The use of ‘drag’ feels poignant as I dragged the dog laden trailer up and over the rises. The trouble is I couldn’t just keep it in the big ring and just get out the saddle as that would probably been a bit too jerky for the passenger, so I just found a gear and span my way up – I’ll be honest though, as we came down the other side I really wasn’t looking forward to coming back up it again.

Just as we get to Exton, Tom decides that he and Baxter had better start heading back. It’s starting to get fairly warm and with Baxter‘s reluctance to stay in the trailer means she has had to run a fair way and will have to run back again too. So that leaves three adults, two kids and a dog (still in the trailer) heading on.

We carry on without incident to Topsham, and after a quick strategy meeting we decide that rather than carrying on up the Exeter and back down the other side of the estuary to a foot ferry (that we didn’t know took bikes or dogs) back to Exmouth we could retrace our tracks back to Exmouth.

A few kilometres back and I need to stop, again. Poppy is becoming a little restless in the received_880543588808696trailer, but as we are at the start of the longer sections of road I can let her out. I tell everyone to carry on as I stop and spend a bit of time giving Poppy a bit of attention. She soon settles down and so begins the most ridiculous attempt at catching other cyclist I have ever been a part of. Normally it a case of going hard on the flats and hills and squeezing out as much speed as possible on the descents. Not in this case; gently pootling along on the flat, going as quick as I can on the climbs without fully attacking them – I’m still a bit cautious about the dog in the trailer – and braking (heavily) on the descents so I don’t freak the dog out and make her want to exit a la Baxter (i.e. try to jump out a moving trailer). Think OJ Simpson on the 405 and you won’t be far off, but with less waving (but plenty of “oh look how cute” which I assume was aimed to the dog not me) from passers-by and no police presence.

I finally catch up with everyone just before the scene of Hannah’s introduction to riding with idiots while clipped to a bike and we roll back to where the cars are parked together. Amazingly I can report that no dogs, children or adults were harming in this pursuit of cycling pleasure, and we have agreed to do it again – but we may (or will) leave the dogs at home next time.

For more on why Hannah is riding from London to Cambridge, or to donate click on the link below:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/James-Deacon11

 

Hope for the best

As a follow up to a flat road marathon, Hope24 is a pretty special way to go about keeping the legs ticking over.  Hope24 is a 24 hour, multiple 5 mile lapped race in the Newnham Park, just outside Plymouth.  The aim is to do as many laps as you can (or want) within the 24 hours.

IMG_1876Not being brave enough to tackle something so far out of my comfort zone, which this most definitely is, on my own I formulated a cunning plan.  I got Tom (who has quickly become my running wife, i.e. when I see a race I think I fancy I run it passed him for authorisation that either he is coming too, or I’m allowed to run it without him) drunk.  Once he is a few drinks in, I planted the seed of doing it as a relay team of two.  I promise you it wasn’t as manipulative as I have made that sound.  After coming to terms with the idea of relaying it, it occurred to me (via my actual wife) that if we soloed it, we could run together, so I broached the subject with Tom – without getting him drunk first.  So, it was decided, we are doing a 24 hour race as soloists.  Shit got real.

The build up to Hope24 had been fairly ordinary.  I had planned to train for this like it was another marathon, but my mileage has been hovering around the 18 miles a week mark.  With no actual target to focus on I was just going out for a run when I fancied it, rather than working towards a goal.  Apparently it’s just a bit of fun.

Over the weeks leading up to race day, I began to allow myself to daydream about what I might set as a target. 30 miles? More? Or just the ability to walk on Monday morning?  Race weekend comes along way before I think I am ready, but there isn’t much I can do now; just suck it up get on with it. 

We (as in the wife and I) arrive at Newnham Park a little later than we had planned, and found TomIMG_1869 already set up.  We quickly put up our tent, but then have a three man battle with the gazeebo before collecting our race numbers and change into our running kit, and make our way to the start/finish arch.  At this point I’m not sure how I feel, the usual pre-race nerves aren’t really there its just the journey into the unknown.  I’m not sure what started the race. Could have been a klaxon, a gun or just a mild mannered “Go!”; but the runners in front started running so I went too. 

Lap 1

We trundle off, conscious that it’s a long way to go, along the grass starting straight and round onto a gravel road which runs back the other way past the start/finish line.  The first kilometre and a half is a flat affair as we turn and double back on ourselves as we go around the camping area, cross a stream and to the bottom of the first climb of the route.  At this point we join the only bit of tarmac as the route rears up for the first time.  The tarmac only lasts for 400 metres or so, but that consists of a ramp to start, before the gradient slackens and goes up again.  We turn off the road and the gradient eases dramatically, it’s still a climb but it’s not much more than a false flat with a few banks along the way.  As it is the first lap, and we are both novice idiots, we decide to go against the grain and run the whole climb (and subsequently the whole lap). 

Once we reach the top we turn off the 4×4 dual track and on to a short stretch single track which weaves its way between the trees.   Before the single track has really started we are taking a hard left and running up a gravelly little ramp to join another 4×4 track as we pass through the woods.  We spend the next 500m or so running along wide tracks in the woods before coming out into a glade of massive ferns – it could have been a set from Jurassic Park, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a runner in front taken out by a velociraptor.  Once through the Jurassic period we are back into the woods, but this time the trail is much tighter as we weave through older woodland, rather than the managed woods previously.  This is a lovely quick section as we continue to drop down the other side of the first climb.

Once out of the woods again, we are back onto the forest tracks as we continue to descend further until we hit the final bit of woods on this descent.  The best section was definitely saved until last as we hurdle rocks and tree roots, navigate tight turns plus a few short sharp climbs and steep dips to keep the legs awake.

Once out the woods we, once again, join a gravel road which we follow for a while, gradually climbing until we hit the second proper climb.  It starts off with a short dig, before slacking off to a longer drag of a climb.  Once we top out it’s an even descent to a tight right-hand hairpin and across the stream on a little bridge.

IMG_1873Once off the bridge, it’s up a little scramble up a rooty bank and along a track towards the finish line.  Just as you can see the field that the finish line and camping area all that hope is torn away as the route takes a left hander up another short, but sharp, ramp.  The hill then flattens and rises for half a kilometre.  At the top we come out into a field above the finishing field.  We contour across the field, gradually descending until we turn and drop down to cross the first gravel road and through the main camping area.

As our race progressed the back straight through the camping area as we approached the finish line was christened ‘The Prick’s Parade’ by Tom.  This, he tells me, came from the way I, subconsciously, would speed up as we passed the camping area towards the end of the lap.  I guess that makes me the prick of the parade.

At some point around the first lap I ask Tom if he has goal for the race and – serendipity would have it that – we both had the same internal secret target; 50 miles.  50 miles, when neither of us have really trained properly – we really are perfect for each other, we are both bloody idiots.

Lap 2

After a quick burrito and coffee stop we head out for our second lap. It starts pretty much the same way as the first as we run comfortably within ourselves, but as we get to the bottom of the big climb we have a decision to make.  Walking in a race is an uncomfortable topic, and I have never chosen to walk in a race before.  I have walked in a race before – after I had detonated at my first marathon and getting caught at the back of a group on a narrow, steep climb at a trail race – but it’s never been a conscious, tactical decision.

As we hit the bottom of the climb we slow and look at each other, slightly uncomfortably as I don’t think either of us want to be the one that walks first.  It was me; I shut it down and walked first.  Once we areIMG_1871 off the tarmac we begin to run again and we run the remainder of the climb.  We continue to run until we hit the second climb of the lap.  At this point we shut it down again – with more awkward sideways glances.   As we reach the top we both – seamlessly – start to run again.  This, again, continued until we reached the last climb at which point we walked the steepest part and then ran again once the gradient had eased.  We dropped down to the finishing field and I seemingly continued my proud ‘prick of prick parade’ tradition.

We continue the strategy of grabbing a bite to eat (and a cuppa) between laps and head back out, although these breaks began to lengthen as our discipline began to wane.  As we go further into Saturday the laps seem to merge into snapshots of other runner’s backs and the odd incident.  At some point during these transient hours, as we are making our way through a section of winding single track through the woods I hear the god awful combination of stumbling, swearing and other runners gasping.  I spin around, half expecting to turn just in time for Tom to land on my face.  Luckily for me, as I turn he appears to be half way through an advanced yoga position (while in mid-air) as he heads for the nearest tree.  Somehow, and I still don’t know how, he manages to sort his feet out, not implant his face into said tree and carry on running – it seems barely braking stride. 

We planned to get six laps in, then stop for some proper food and then reassess.  We finished our 6th lap at about 9 o’clock and returned to find my – long suffering – wife, who was crewing for us, sat in the gazeebo chatting to another runner.  We sit down, grab a drink and join in the conversation.  The other runner did give us her name, but I’m rubbish with names at the best of time.  She was using Hope24 as a training race for a 100 mile race later in the year.  Even with my merging memories of the later part of Saturday’s events I remember being impressed by how fresh she still looked and how far she had already gone (I’m still massively impressed by her efforts).  We finally got round to having food at all but 10 o’clock, once we had eaten our gnocchi it was getting pretty close to 11, so we decided the best course of action was a beer and bed (with a 5 am alarm call) rather than knocking out another lap.  The one advantage, I think, to spending that time sat around chatting before eating was it gave us a chance to rehydrate which we might not have otherwise had.

After several snoozed alarms, I manage to get out of my sleeping bag before the (small) sensible part of my brain continues the snooze cycle.  Bleary eyed I clamber out of the tent, expecting every fibre of my body to be screaming at me.  I straighten up, have a stretch and put the kettle on.  Regardless of how I feel, coffee will make it better – a lot better.  Tom’s up, and thankfully looks as sleep deprived as I feel (and probably look).  Somehow I don’t feel like a rusty robot; I daren’t try to touch my toes, but I feel amazingly good considering.   Breakfast of burritos and coffee is chowed down and we are good to go.  On a side note, I will try to remember that dinner type foods go out much better than breakfast type when you have to drag yourself out your pit at a disgusting time in the morning.

Gingerly we walk across the camping field towards the start/finish straight.  I really am expecting it to take a lap, maybe even more, for the legs to free up and move in a way that even resembles running.  After a couple of paces it felt good, not fresh as a daisy good but good enough to instil a bit of confidence that I would be able to keep going.

By now there is no more little looks of ‘Are we going to walk this hill?’  We continue to run the majorityIMG_1872 of the lap but the three big climbs are walked, along with the gravelly ‘hidden hill’ just after the first bit of single track. 

I think it was at some point during the 8th lap where I mention that if we manage to ‘sneak in an extra lap’ we would have done a double marathon.   This goes down surprisingly well – I think Tom had also had the same thought – and the goal post seems to have moved.

The rest of the 8th lap and the majority of the 9th go by without incident, until we reach the second stream crossing.  As I try to bound up – in my mind it would be an elegant bound – the rooty bank back up to the gravel track.  As I lift my right foot at clear the first set of roots I just catch my toes, and whether it’s because of the lack of sleep or the miles in the legs I can’t react in time.  Before I really manage to process what is going on I’m on my hand and knees scrambling to get up the bank and back to my feet.

We finish lap 9 and head back to camp for a bit of food and recruit an extra member.  Sian, my wife, had entered the Hope5 (which is a single lap of Hope24) and I had been looking forward to this lap all morning.  We head back out and run the loop around the camping ground to the first hill.  We stop to walk it.  It’s at this point I realise how slowly we are now walking up the hills, as Sian walks up chatting away,  I realise how hard it is to keep up with her.  We get to the top of the tarmac and begin to run again as we turn onto the rocky track.  We get about half way up and Sian rolls her foot off a rock, jarring her foot.  After a bit of run/walk she tells Tom and I to, well, she told us to go our own way so she could pace it how she wanted to, rather than feeling like she had to force herself to push harder than she wanted for our sake.  After a couple of prompts I give her a fist full of sweets and we push on, trying to get back in time to start the 11th lap before midday.  I won’t lie, I felt like a bit of an arsehole for the remainder of the lap, but with a deadline looming we seem to get around the lap at a fairly respectable pace.

We cross the line with 13 minutes or so to spare.  I dash back to the tent and make a couple of burritos and fill up my water bottles.  We trot across the field and re-join the race in time to do the extra lap.  As we do I see Sian coming across the grass bank above the camping field.  I give her a shout and a wave, and to my relief she waves back.  We continue to walk as we eat our burritos as Sian makes her way along prick’s parade and around the last bend.  I cut across to reach her on the home straight and she looks like she has really enjoyed it.  I watch her run off down the finishing straight, both proud as punch but also thoroughly relieved that she isn’t pissed off with me.

We’ve finished eating, but still walking.  Without the time constraint still on us it suddenly becomesIMG_1870 really hard to make ourselves run.  We pick a point a few metres ahead as the point we start running.  We hold a run all the way to the bottom of the tarmac hill and instantly drop back to a walk.  Once off the black top we run/walk the rest of the way to the top.  We try to run the flat and down hills, especially the bits through the woods.  Once we drop out the woods we walk the flat to the second climb and begin running again on the other side.  We then manage to hold a run all the way to the final climb, but this time we decide to walk all the way to the top, not just the steepest section – I say decide, we didn’t decide we just did.

We did, however, have the where with all to start running again before we came out onto the field IMG_1874above the camping field, just in case anyone was still there to see.  We get across the field, and make our way along the prick’s parade for the last time.  I tell Tom that when we get round the corner I am going to ‘go for home’ and dip him at the line.  As we round the corner I feign to go and get no reaction from him, I guess he really did mean it when he said he couldn’t care less.  We cross the line together, not quite skipping and holding hands but after pushing each other all the way it would have felt wrong to race one another at the end.  I’ll have him next time though, I can only give him one bye.  It’s a testament to Tom, that despite running together for the best part of 10 hours at no point did I have to resort to listening to my iPod – in fact I didn’t even carry it with me at any point.   He is a seriously upbeat kind of guy – and I’m aIMG_1867 grumpy old bastard that has a habit of getting pissed off by people I spend a lot of time with – and seems to have a vast array anecdotes for any situation.

According to my Garmin we covered the 86.58 kilometres in 9 hours 43 minutes and change (moving time rather than total time – total time was 22:36:47).  To be honest if I had been offered that on Saturday morning I would have bitten your hand off at the shoulder, so I really should be happy with how it all went.  I am hugely proud with how Sian got on with her first race.  Especially as she was worried that she would finish last.  She didn’t but more importantly she loved it – and doesn’t hate me for leaving her.  We have also talked about racing together again, which is a right result.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1644597737/embed/a80dbe681c17ca4b902a070016fde896a8802e23

All photographer (other than the last two) taken by AG Images

Cashing The Cheque

The problem with setting targets – especially when you then begin to broadcast them – is that there comes a point when your body has to cash the cheques your ego has been writing.  For me that day came at the Boston (UK) Marathon. 

The race starts in Boston’s market square before passing the finish line and out of the town and into the countryside.  The first few kilometres were just about trying to find whatever rhythm I could while the IMG_1428field thinned out.  By around the 5 km mark the race had thinned into clumps of runners and I found myself with another runner from ‘somewhere or other’ Spartans running club (I didn’t even catch her name, but I think her running vest had Ruth on the front).  At this point we were running at around 4 minute 45 second kilometres, which is a bit quicker than target pace, but it felt very comfortable and having never run very far on the flat I didn’t really know what pace was sustainable so I decide to just go with it. The race route is unbelievably flat – as advertised – and I can honestly say that the only gradients that I noticed were a pair of bridges over Hobhole Drain.  Out of Boston the route take us through field after field of arable farm land – some fields big enough to be considered counties in their own right.  Despite most of the route being rural, the support from the side of the road was brilliant.  Even as the race began to stretch out there was always a chirpy spectator, marshal or water station to shout (encouragement) at you. IMG_1462

I run through 10 km, and then 15 km still holding the same pace and still feeling comfortable, it’s somewhere around this point that I separate from my run buddy as she appears to need to drop her pace a little (I accept it is unlikely she will read this, but I hope you got your GFA time).  I try to carry on at the same pace without trying too hard.   

As the morning mist finally began to lift the never ending horizon of this part of the world began to show itself.  I have lived in Devon for over 15 years now, but spent 6 years before that in Suffolk and I thought that was flat before I arrived in Lincolnshire.  I’m still not entirely sure if the Lincolnshire horizon is where the sky meets the ground or just where my eyesight is beginning to fail. 

Ross 2 (1 of 1) (1)

As I pass the 20 km mark I begin to start doing some time extrapolations along the lines of “if I carry on at this pace I’ll finish in…” and so on.  Now this is all well and good while the going is good – and it was good up to and just passed the 30 km mark but it can come back to haunt you if you find yourself locked away in the hurt box. 

All the way to 30 kilometres all had felt reasonably comfortable, but soon after it became decidedly uncomfortable.   I began to feel my pace dropping, not too much at first but it definitely began to feel Ross 3 (1 of 1)more of an effort as I passed from the distances I had run in training and the fatigue began to bite.  By the time I got to 35 km my quads were screaming and my pace had disintegrated.  Every time my feet hit the ground 10,000 volts of electricity was sent straight to my quads.  Anything more than a survivor’s shuffle felt impossible. The only thing that kept me running was the guy about 20 to 30 metres in front of me.   Although I felt like I was hardly moving, he wasn’t pulling away from me, so I just concentrated on keeping him in sight, and slowly (emphasis on slowly) I began to try and reel him in.  Now, I’m aware that this makes me seem like a bit of a wanker but it wasn’t about beating the guy in front it was just about getting everything I could out of myself.  I just had to keep telling myself that I only had to run another 3 miles, then another 4 km and so on.  Mentally I think this 5 km was the hardest thing I think I have done, stopping myself from chucking in the towel and walking.  I’m not sure I was exactly running in the truest sense, but I didn’t give in and walk. 

As the route takes me back into Boston I began to feel better.  Not so much physically, but mentally I feel a boost.  The finish was almost in sight.  As the finish draws closer I have never been happier to see a row of road cones as they funnel runners to the right hand side of the road.  I begin to pick up the pace again, trying to hide the last four miles of dark suffering from the runners who have already finished and the spectators giving up their Sunday morning to cheer us on.  I round the final corner andIMG_1511 across the finish line.  No celebrations and certainly no dabs.  Barely even a smile through gritted teeth. 

Reflecting on the training, I felt that it had gone reasonable well.  I followed the same training plan I had for my only other marathon, at the Eden Project.  This time however, I tried to include more hilly runs, and more off-road running to help mix up the training and to vary the load on the body.  The biggest advantage I had this time was an actual proper running watch.  While training for the Eden Marathon I had to track my runs using my Garmin Edge bike computer in my pocket.  This was fine in the most part where I just wanted to run for a certain time at an easy pace or a tempo block. The issues came when I needed to do specific efforts and distances. This time I just needed to program it into the watch and it would beep, bing or vibrate whenever I needed to change it up.   

The one thing I don’t think I trained well for at all, nor am I sure how to train for, is pacing.  I get the feeling that you can only learn to pace a marathon properly is by running more marathons, but after feeling like I was comfortable for over 30 kilometres I was in the suffer box with my guts beginning to protest and my quads shot.  I haven’t got the pacing aspect dialled in yet, but if I am going to be able to push on and find how fast I can go I need to find out how to manage the race better – but then maybe nobody can pace a marathon and you just learn to suffer better.  That’s not to say I am disappointed with my time, but I would like to be able to finish a marathon feeling that everything went as well as I could have hoped.  I think that’s the marathon dream. 

So that brings me back to time.  I set out targeting a sub 3 hour 30 minute finish time, and if I was offered this before I started I would have bitten your hand off at the shoulder. I got in under that, at 3 hours 28 minutes and 56 seconds (knocking over 30 minutes off my PB), and while I am pleased with the time, it also leaves me with a tinge of disappointment.  This is mostly due to the way that the wheels came off towards the end.  I don’t know if it was just I went off too strong, or the unfamiliar terrain – running on the flat is harder than I thought it would be – but I didn’t anticipate my legs objecting in the way they did.  Fatigue yes, but an actual revolt was not a part of the mental preparation, but this hasn’t put me off marathons so I guess I will have more chances to perfect the art. 

IMG_1513

On a personal note, I would very much like to thank my wife for spending the better part of 2 days to travel half the length of the country to watch me run away and then run back a long time later, and also to my parents for performing grandchild sitting duties and the biggest (and best) roast dinner upon our return. 

Picture Credit: Pictures 3 and 4 taken by Market House Photography Group (http://mhpgls.wixsite.com/mhpg