It felt like an odd week last week, after the disappointment of a DNF at Preseli (yes I still count the beast finish as technically a DNF) it left me kind of flat for a few days. All sorts of thoughts were wandering around my head as if looking for something to do. At times I was even thinking Christ perhaps I’m too old for this ultrarunning shit and hey why do I even need to put myself through it anyway. I could take it easy, laze around a bit like I see everyone else doing. Just be … normal or something.
But when I thought about it and I mean really thought deep down about it I couldn’t be happy returning to the lazy way of living. Something changed back in 2015 (have I really been running 7 years?) and I don’t think its ever likely to change back until something really derails me and I don’t think coming up short a few times counts as a derailment. It’s more of a pull your head out of your ass issue.
So back to the running I went, easy at first, a few miles here and a few there as I recovered from Preseli. Then a series of slightly longer runs over the weekend. It’s time I was a little more consistent. They all count not just the long ones. I need to keep remembering that.
I also invested in some poles, giving me plenty of practice time to see if they will make a difference when things get steep. All i need to do is to go and find some very steep terrain where Murph can also be off lead as I’m not sure I can pole and hold him at the same time.
I was up this morning at dawn to run to the beach and back. only two or three miles but it makes such a difference. It’s never particularly easy getting up, lacing up and going straight out but I have never once failed to be glad I did it.
One of the beauties of ultrarunning and I guess life is that you live and learn. And they say you learn as much of not more from failure than success. And I think I agree.
Yesterday was the run “over the other side” for a 40 odd mile run along the south west coastal path in Devon. It was all planned, I had my friend Claire as my support crew, the two dogs were going to spend the day traveling with her to various support points. All that could go wrong would be my legs giving up, or I could fall off a cliff or something.
The landscape was beautiful and so much fun to run through. As I had never been there before it was like exploring as I went. The photos below really don’t capture the scene.
I set off around seven and was in a groove much sooner than I expected. I was expecting hilly and I certainly got hilly, with a mix of long drawn out drags and really steep stuff. It was all technical and I was loving all of it. I was alternating between shirtless down in the wooded valleys and a waterproof jacket up on the highest hills as it was drizzling up there.
Then the derail began. Not with the legs, not the heart or the head but upon reaching combe martin to meet Claire and pick up more food and water it was clear murph was an unhappy dog. He’s been on crew before and was fine but yesterday he wanted none of it. He was crying and whining all morning while I was gone. He was barking at people when parked up. He is a nervous dog because of his rescue past and it displays in ferocious displays of false bravado which to the outside world can be quite intimidating and frightening.
I continued on and at the next stop they met me on the path so he was happy to be away from people but as I stocked up and then moved on his crying broke my heart. Suddenly the joy of running where I was became joyless. I turned it all over through the next section which as it turned out got me near halfway. This was because Claire couldn’t get the van near enough the path which stressed her further. I was oblivious as there is no mobile signal. It seemed like a long leg but as I pulled into the next stop I could hear murph barking before I saw him and the decision was made. It was over there and then
The time to think on the last leg brought me to the only possible conclusion. I could continue in my own world and selfishly push for the 40 mile achievement I wanted so badly but only at the cost of the happiness of the others.
It was a no brainer. I checked how they all were and climbed in the back with the dogs and called it a day. I’m not going to lie it was disappointing. I was having the day of my life as far as running goes. It was all clicking along. I had a few back issues with the downhills but not enough to stop things. I was driving the uphills hard, too hard perhaps and who knows if the wheels would have fallen off eventually. It doesn’t matter because in the end it turned out not to be a day about running. Ultrarunning is about making decisions, hundreds of tiny decisions throughout the day all leading to success or failure.
In the end I only had to make one decision yesterday. And even if today I feel like a failure I know deep down making the right decision was the only way to really win.
We have just over 2 weeks left in the countdown to the run over the other side. Battling a sore back at the moment that just seems to tweak nastily every now and again. But then again when have I ever run a race without an injury so it’s going to be a fingers crossed and hope its ok on the day kind of thing, even if its not perfect I reckon it’ll be good enough.
So crew is sorted and we have a vague plan, its handy to have a friend who is willing to spend all day driving and meeting up with me and listening to me moan about how everything hurts. She’s seen it all before in my first 50 miler and doesn’t really give a shit as long as she gets to spend the day with the dogs.
Its a two dog adventure again and Murph will get to spend the day with his new best buddy Dug. We’ve been getting some training in but also enjoying the chance to to walk too with Dug, he’s a Romanian rescue and although not quite as damaged as Murph he has some issues that are being ironed out. Judging by the photo avalanche below you will see what I mean.
We were pinned at home by the storms over the weekend, nothing long was really possible so we made do the best we could. Sunday was utterly dreadful and it doesnt take long for cabin fever to set in. But this week is half term and so we took our chance on monday. Although we didnt mean to – I have a slightly dodgy back at the moment, I felt it pull while lifting but I figured a few miles to see the folks and back wouldnt hurt.
So off we went and although the wind was still strong it was just fine. We extended a little and then some more and then figured well we might as well go a little further which led to us covering around 10 miles or so and we got to see the damage to our forest – which turned out to be surprisingly little just a few trees here and there.
I’ve lived alongside the Bristol Channel my whole life, it’s always been there and part of my life whether I’ve actively thought about it or not. Where I have always lived has been bounded on one side by a wide strip of water, I’ve never really thought about it, it’s just there. Being able to go to the beach just a mile or so away has always been part of life and I’ve never considered actually how lucky I am.
And for all my life the opposite side of the Bristol Channel has been called “The Other Side” and I’ve never thought about that either. People around here will say something like “It was such a beautiful day, you could see the other side so clearly” or “You couldn’t see the other side because of the fog” and everyone knows that the other side is simply the other side of the Bristol Channel.
I see the other side a lot as it’s visible from not only my home but also from the beach where I run a lot and the fields where I walk Murph. As I say it’s just a geographical feature on the horizon but lately I’ve started thinking about it a lot more. Like what does here look like from over there? And what does Foreland Point Lighthouse actually look like up close? I can see this lighthouse – or rather in the early morning or late evening dark I can see it’s distinctive repeating 4 flashes followed by a pause.
And how much of over there can I actually see from over here. And can I run the length of all the other side that i can see? In a day?
So the blue dot is Monknash beach and the two red arrows mark the section of the other side I can see from “our side”
Luckily (or not) the South West Coastal path runs along this section of coast too – in fact Minehead which will be my finishing point is actually the end of the SW path too. So the plan is to run from Bull Point Lighthouse in the west to Minehead in the east following the coastal path. A handy SW coastal path calculator tells me it’s around 43 miles with plenty of ascending and descending – One thing I learned about the SW coastal path while running an ultra on it a few years ago (on the south coast) is that it is rarely flat and there is a lot of steep climbing up and down into the coves.
17 hours is the walking estimate so I would be thinking closer to 10 or 11 but as ever it depends on so many factors.
Timing wise looking at spring 2022 because it’s the best weather for both myself and Murph to be doing this kind of thing – He cant do the full distance but he could do sections maybe. Well he could probably do the full distance but I would never make him try. I can make the choice to stop but he cant communicate that to me and I know he would just keep going. School holidays run from the 8th April 2022 to 25th. Easter weekend is the 17th so that’s one to avoid. Preseli is the 7th May this year and I’d like some recovery time between the two as I want to run the ultrabeast this year as it’s been a while and I know how hard that one is with the elevation too. I need to get some hills under my belt!
So it’s some consistent winter training coming u – Plan is to get after it avoid injury and stop the weather watching – Murph fetch your rain gear!
Our weekend runs always include a visit to see Murphs friends now. Today we saw them first and then headed for the fields and the beach.
As the sun rose the day just got better and better. It was one of those runs where you never want to go home. 9 miles later we eventually finished – mainly so we could eat, drink and go out again later.
On Sunday we trotted out for a few miles of running, I wasn’t intending too much as it was midday and on fine weekends the coast gets busy and we don’t like busy. But as we sped down the lane after a quick parents visit it just felt too soon to head for home. It was just too nice out and the legs were feeling like they had many more miles in them so we set off towards the clifftops. In the distance I could already see people walking the coastal path but hey ho in for a penny and so we turned right instead of left which led us along the cliffs away from home so we could drop down at Witches Point to do the full stretch of the beach where hopefully there would be less people.
Along the cliffs we passed a number of walkers and you know what? Murph coped. He wasn’t happy about them but he coped. He didn’t growl, bark or pull too hard to get past them.He just put his thousand yard stare on and bravely (for him) just got past them without a fuss. On the beach I let him off the lead and he stayed right with me, we ran within 50 metres of people and he plain ignored them and stuck to my heels. I didn’t even need to put him on the lead until we hit the singletrack path off the beach and even then he behaved impeccably. Pulling slightly as if under tension but controlling his fear.
For those that don’t know Murph was a mess when i got him. Scared of his own shadow, he had obviously been mistreated and no way could he have got past all these people like this back then. He used to panic and run in the opposite direction to people. Eventually he found his voice and learned to bark at them to stay away but he has always been so scared it’s been heartbreaking sometimes.
But on Sunday I was so proud of him, I could tell at times he wasn’t happy about being close to strangers (once he knows you he is fine) but he soldiered on, gritted his dog teeth and kept going. I told him so in the last field on the way home, he got a 10/10 mark from me on Sunday – never happened before.
It’s taken over three years and maybe we have reached peak Murph rehabilitation but even if it is then it warms my heart to know I’ve made a difference to his life, replacing fear with love.
Not the golf club three wood but rather our small three woods challenge. On our regular runs there are three seperate woods that we visit just not on the same run. Murph loves woods as there are furries to hunt and things to sniff. So I figured why not do a run that links up all three so he gets to visit them all in the same day. I had a vague idea it would be around half marathon length and would mean we could take in the fields, woods, cliffs, beach and the lanes.
Plus it was an excuse to take sandwiches and extra dog treats. Of course everything is easier in phot form so here goes the story of the day (spoiler its not that exciting)
You wait for ages for one but you just want to get off it as soon as possible. Luckily the runs aren’t like that these days. With it being half term we have a full week to get out and about and so after waiting for the rain to stop we headed out for a bit of variety. We hit the beach, followed by the forest then ended up in the lanes where Murph was most pleased to meet his best friend by pure chance. In fact his friend was so happy to see him he ran off with us instead of his owner and we had to backtrack a bit to return him
10 miles of dog joy and things feel just right at the moment, the only injuries are nary but niggles and the cardio side of things is just fine. More miles in the legs and some hillwork and we’ll be ready for more mountains.
It’s odd, it might be 6 months away but just having an ultra to train for it giving me unexpected motivation
Last saturday we marked the spring equinox with a run. An ultra in fact. Due to pandemics etc I hadn’t run one since the 50 miler back in 2019 so I figured it was time to get back on the horse and why not do it by marking the beginning of my favourite season. I’ve learned that a bit of preperation goes a long way in running ultras even in your own local area so although I didn’t plan a route I left a drop bag at my parents and left gear and food at home so I had two “aid stations” to visit when I needed.
Now I was pretty sure Murph could do the whole 32 miles but I didn’t want him to. After all I get the choice to stop if I have to, I can call it quits but he can’t or won’t. I know he will just go as long as he can and that may be too far, he has no real way of communicating that. So the plan was to drop him off for a few hours rest and then I could pick him up for the end.
We set off at 6.30 on our adventure!
As usual the first miles fly by. Murph did his usual run about like a lunatic thing, probably covering twice the distance I do. We raced the tide along the beach and were having a whale of a time.
Our plan went perfectly, as we looped back into Wick at around 9 miles we met our friends who go walking their dogs every morning. Murph loves a blast with his friends so it works out perfectly if we hit the field at the right time. It was also a chance to grab some food and water from my parents
After a while spent playing with his pals we set off again in the opposite direction making up the route as we went along. We found ourselves in the woods around Atlantic College and followed the new footpath through the college and back around toward home.
By the time we hit home for the first time it was 17 miles in and after a quick break for sustenance it was time to distract Murph with some treats and set up on my own for a few hours. He was probably doing better than me at this point as the legs were finally showing signs of tireness but he seemed raring to go still. The next 11 miles were …. ok I guess. I was at that point where things were starting to hurt so it was a case of grinding out miles plus I was missing Murphs company. Although its easier and faster to run without him as you dont have to constantly monitor him it was kinda sad to not have him there for part of the journey. But part of ultrarunning is just the mentality of “getting it done” and I certainly was going to get it done no matter what.
It was odd to run an ultra without the normal race setting, no people, no other runners, no defined course, no finishing line and I admit there were “why am I doing this to myself moments?” but I knew there would be those moments and I had prepared myself for them. You get them in every ultra but it’s just easier to drop out when there’s no-one else around. So if I thought about dropping I thought about something else instead. Like picking up Murph at 28 miles!
Although things were certainly starting to fall apart in the legs (and oddly back spasms) releasing the hound certainly gave me a boost for the final miles. As did stopping briefly at my parents house a few times where I could have a chat and get some food and water down me. Where would we be witout aid stations!
As we trotted home I checked my watch (I actually wore one for once) and realised I could still break 8 hours which considering the terrain, dog minding and various stops. But to break 8 we would have to put a final charge on. So after 31.5 miles it was time for a sprint – Sprint being a relative term but we gave it all we had down the road and hit our original starting point and 32 miles later in 7′ 59′ 30
All in all the whole day was a success. As with all ultras I’ve run there are parts I hate while im out there and then I look back and say I loved every minute. It was certainly different to run one with just Murph for company and I was so happy that I could motivate myself to stick at it. I wonder if there will be more …