Again it’s been a long time since i last posted, been busy busy busy, Well when I say more too lazy to post to the blog. If it’s a choice between writing about doing things or actually doing things its no choice at all. So we spent the summer running at dawn before the sun kicked in and then strolling through the fields once it did. It works well for us, neither of us particulary likes running in heat and I always feel its my choice if I do so but Murph would just follow me until he collapsed and thats not fair.
Between all that running and walking we’ve seen a bit of an increase on the old Murphometer.
Thats right we are around 1800 miles – which means I think we’re going to be done with 2000 miles this year a few months in advance – I’m sure we’ll keep it ticking over though. I’ve been pondering it and I think next year I’ll forget about logging mileage – it’s an interesting thing to do but I want to also just wander without having the numbers clicking through my brain. After all that the reason I don’t train with a watch anymore.
We also started exploring the Brecon beacons again now we can go back out there in preperation for some plans I have a long way down the line and of course it’s always great to get out there with murph for a day.
And some sad news is that we lost little Trouble the cat after 21 years. The little dude just got too old in the end. Weird to spend almost half your life with an animal and then he’s gone. I still look for him waddling about in his old routine and find myself still saying morning to him first thing as he headed for his food bowl.
However onwards and upwards. The sadness fades and there are always happy memories and many more memories to make with Murph. It just brings it more into focus.
Firstly I apologise – I havent been here for months. Then again I havent really run properly for months. As some of you know when you cant run its easier to not be involved in running things at all, so thats where I’ve been – its nothing personal! I had the Eddum 50 miler planned for August the 3rd and I also had this niggling butt injury that wouldnt go away. So all I’ve done over the past few months in preperation is a lot of walking with murph and the odd jog here and there. Hardly ideal for my first 50 miler.
But as I was doing it for charity and had already raised money not starting the race wasn’t an option so last friday my friend Claire, the two dogs Murph and Tilly and I packed up the car and went on a camping/ultrarunning trip! Yes the leg still hurt but there was absolutely nothing I could do at that point it was to be sink or swim.
The campsite was perfect, just a quiet farm with few people to freak murph out. Didn’t have the greatest nights sleep before the race but we were up at 5 to get ready and drive to the start.
The usual registration stuff, kit checks (thankfully we didnt have to take waterproof trousers, I need a lightweight pair) and lots of nerves, But eventually at 7AM we were underway. The Epynt way runs around the edge of the Sennybridge MOD training area so were were warned about gunfire and explosions and told not to touch any ordanance left lying around. We were also given the MOD number as they were aware we were out there and would be able to reach us in event of an emergency much faster than the race organisers. A nice touch from the MOD really. Its a permissive route that they have created by placing yellow topped posts every few hundred metres or so for the whole 50 miles.
The first few miles were the usual adrenaline fuelled thing, probably going a little too fast but not as bad as usual. I knew I was injured and probably relying on base fitness from the last few years and so I had decided that my best chance of finishing was to have a plan and stick to it. I was going to walk everything uphill apart from smaller inclines and run from aid station to aid station and take them one at a time. Experience told me I had to do better with hydration and so I was planning to drink both bottles between each station and eat something between too. I stuck to that all day until I couldnt eat the last 6 or so.
The injury hurt after a few miles and I could feel the rising panic that it was going to go south and I was going to be done much sooner than even I thought. The trick was to just run through it, fight the mental side of it off and simply ignore it until other things started hurting too. It’s something I’m learning – pain isnt necessarily catastrophic, every niggle , every ache doesnt mean that the race is done. They come and go, and come back … and go again. After a while you stop noticing them so much and the panic subsides. I cramped around 12 or 13 miles in which was early but again managed to calm the panic, accept it and limped on for a while until it cleared.
I was lucky and fell into a group of 5 runners and we all seemed to have a similar plan and pace. And I was grateful for that as the navigation at times was hard, it was like it all day, although the route is marked by the yellow posts and some signs they can be very hard to spot and I was thankful for the extra eyes. Although i usually like to run alone the company in this case was nice as we clicked off miles slowly and steadily.
The course itself is a brute – as described by the race director (who it turns out has run Badwater) Its got 8000 feet of ascent and descent but it feels like so much more, apparently this this the 3 peaks total. Or so someone told me halfway around. As it turns out for much of the route there is no path at all, just the marker posts to navigate to, one to another and picking the best route. It means that on the climbs and descents youre beating your own path through the grass which adds to the …. fun? We didnt pass a single walker all day in either direction – It really does seem barely used which is amazing as its so beautiful but also understandable as the terrain is such a bitch.
But I love running the hard stuff as its always more interesting than the gravel paths and I was enjoying myself despite the growing heat and aches and pains. I was growing in confidence and that was helped knowing I had a crew out there. For the first time I had an official crew! I was so so so lucky to have Claire following me around all day with the dogs in the car, she would stop, walk them and chill with them until I reappeared and I could pick up whatever I needed from them (I also had a dropbag at mile 28) so I changed shoes and socks at halfway and that felt great! I also had a few blisters but they neve got much worse and im grateful for that.
We were down to three of us now, one guy had gone ahead and one had dropped behind. I know we all felt bad about him dropping off the back but it’s just one of those things in ultras I guess, he wasnt keeping up on the hills and stopped catching us on the downhills and so we had to stop waiting for him. That felt odd as it almost felt like we were letting him down but he knew the game well enough and it’s one of those things.
I hadnt run more than 32 miles before so this was new territory, we were still running well on flats and downhills but it was so attritional. The hill going up to the 5th aid station was utterly brutal. But claire and the dogs were at the top and with 10 miles to go there was no way she was letting me drop. As I ran from that station I could hear Murph crying (the only time he did it) which broke my heart and almost broke me but I managed to not turna around and just ran on.
That last 10 miles will stay with me a while. It was hard, physically I was pretty shot, climbing was just an intense effort which just went on and on, my quads were blown out so downhills were incredibly painful but we still found we could run whatever flats we could find – simply because somehow it was less painful than walking. Mentally I was very low by this point, looking back its easy to say I should have tried to be more positive but all I could think of was the end and why weren’t the miles going by quick enough. 10 miles sounds nothing, Ive knocked it off in training so many times. But when at the end of a race you realise 10 miles is pretty much 3 hours more of suffering its hard to take in.
But as dusk fell we climbed a final fence (literally had to haul ourselves over it) and hit the road which would lead to the end. 4 of us finished together as we had caught and passed a few people in the final miles including the guy who dropped us 30 miles before.
As we rounded the corner to the finish it was such a fantastic feeling, mainly so the pain would stop, I passed claire and the dogs and finally finished in 14.09 in 29th place. I’m not usually emotional at the end of races but this one felt like it had meant a lot to me.
It had also meant a lot to others. Claire had crewed me and been up supporting me from 5 that morning – 16 hours plus and she still had to drive me to the campsite. I had turned live tracking on my phone and the village back home had been watching my progress all day in the local pub as had my mum and dad at home (keep getting well dad!)
And as we drove back I had the news from the pub that I had topped £1000 in my charity fundraising for the dog sanctuary I adopted Murph from.
So although the racing between start and finish was I guess all about me, the day taken as a whole was more about a lot of people who got me there one way or another. I couldnt have done it without them.
The race itself is superbly organised, I cant recommend the races run by Pegasus Ultrarunning enough. Rhys the race direction is a lovely guy and the whole thing is so professional. The aid stations were amazing and the volunteers manning them were so supportive. They really made for a great day.
The next day we walked the dogs a lot, I was sore and stiff but it did me good to keep moving, looks like I didnt even aggravate the injury – So who knows whats going on there but its not worrying me anymore lets put it that way.
So thats the story of my first 50 miler. It’s a bit of a long report but I wanted to get it written down as memories inevitably fade. Everytime I run an ultra I learn something new. I learned a hell of a lot from this one. I learned not to give up even before you start. I learned that not all pain is significant (I stole that line from somewhere) I learned that fitness is great but a plan and executing that plan is just as important. I learned that I have the mental strength to overcome my physical weaknesses.
But most of all I learned that with belief and the help of your friends you can achieve things you’d never have thought possible. Summer 4 years ago I couldnt run 200 yards. This summer I ran 50 miles.
Something different for this year as I’ve joined the WFRA (Welsh Rell Running Assocaiation) and decided to run some fell races this year. Not just the long ones I’ve already done such as Preseli but the short ones too. To see what it’s like as much as anything. i’ve never run a race less than 11 miles so I have no idea how to pace myself in races such as the one I did yesterday up in the Brecon Beacons near Llangorse. It was 3 miles and pretty much straight up and down – around 1000ft of climbing and descent.
As seems to be the case with races when you turn up everyone looks extremely fit and serious and in the majority of cases younger. Everyones got the kit and does stretching and stuff and looks like they know what theyre doing so instead I went and bought a coffee and sat with Murph (Everyone needs a co-pilot for map reading) in the van until the start time.
Lining up I considered my options (never plan too early it brings on self doubts) and as the start was literally stright uphill through fields at some crazy angle I decided the best plan was to go full gas until the wheels came off. I figured that 3 miles is a short run for me and it would be worth going nuts to see what happened. So off we went and to my surprise I found myself able to hang with the lead group as they charged off at some suicidal pace straight up. After a while it levelled out into a flatter climb and I found I could hang on there too. Then came a bastard of the main climb as per the image above and I dropped back a bit as eventually the wheels started to come off and although the legs felt really good I simply couldnt get enough oxygen in to keep up full speed. This is what comes of long long training with little speedwork I guess.
Up at the top it was foggy, windy and mercifully not as steep, we hit the trig point (kudos to the marshall up there!) and started the steep and in places slippery descent. By now I was running alone and was guessing the best lines to take (fell running allows you to pick a route in many sections) but made it down as fast as I could without blowing out my ankles. I did miss one turn slightly which cost me 20 seconds or so and 2 places but finally the line was in sight and its a joyous (yeah right) bound through the line.
I didnt really have a clue what time I’d done or where I’d placed, there were the serious looking runners milling around the finish so more coffee, went to watch the presentations and then off out with Murph to give him some time.
And here’s the mad bit – when I saw the results later on their website – I was 17th in a time of 28′ 06′ – Which I’m utterly astounded by. I had no idea how to run the race and out of 70 odd runners came in the top 20.
So what did I learn about short races – go full gas and redline it until the wheels fall off and then pray that no-one catches you on the descent. I really enjoyed it as a change to the longer stuff, less time to think and more time to really hurt – for a shorter time. Mynydd Ddu who organised it did a superb job and it was a great event to kick off the year, I’ll see what happenes next – Might even do some speedwork in training …. or not
Went away to Newport in West Wales for a few days to stay with friends who had a cottage there. of course it pissed it down for the two days – apart from early Sunday morning whereupon Murph grabbed the chance to go run up Carningli which forms part of the Preseli beast route. It was great to run up there without having already covered 13 or so miles but even on fresh legs its a killer.
It was also good to appreciate the area, when you’re racing you miss so much and so being able to take the time to stop and look was great. We bounced off along the beast route and then cut back to follow the track back to Newport. It’s odd how although I’ve only run this stretch twice in races it feels comfortable and familiar. I cant wait to get back out there in May to give the ultra another go. I’ve been toying with the idea of running the 24 mile version with Murph who would cope fine with the physical side but I don’t think would cope so well with other runners and bystanders. We shall see May is still a fair way off.
A week afetr running the ultrabeast in Preseli I went back with Claire and the dogs to walk in the hills. To be honest I dont think i’d get bored of that place. Was strange in a way to walk the paths I’d run the week before and a damn sight easier. We actually ended up doing the Beast Bach 11 mile route with a bit tacked on so we could reach a rocky outcrop so a 12 mile walk in the hills on a sunny day – cant fault it. The dogs had a whale of a time plus (and this was intended) we didnt have to endure a single second of anything royal wedding related – Win Win!
I also realised yesterday Im doubly blessed – I loved running the ultra (Yes once again a week later I’m no longer saying never again and I’ve forgotten all the pain) and I loved walking up there with the dogs. I can do either happily and not miss the other. Thats lucky
Today I felt like running again, the legs have been a bit wrecked this week – monday was horrendous/hilarious depending on whether you were me or watching me. But today although they are still a little tired I could feel the spring is back and I can drive again rather than shuffle. Murph loves running – well he trots at a gentle pace, I think he’ll make a pretty good training partner.
Yesterday was Preseli Ultrabeast day. 2 years ago I ran the Beast Bach 11 mile race linky and last year I ran the Preseli Beast 24 miler linky and yesterday I completed the hat trick with the Ultrabeast. I was to be honest a little concerned about it as although training has gone well and I feel in good form, breaking a toe on a baby gate 2 weeks ago was going to make it a different proposition plus I know what the course is like – as Carwyn the organiser puts it “As if the original wasn’t hard enough for you! And if the 32mile route doesn’t grab you enough, then what about the 6,000ft of ascent it now has! Be warned this is no easy walk in the park. This is proper hardcore fell running terrain. This route really does take it to the extreme and those thinking of running this one really must be physically and mentally prepared.”
32 miles, 6000 feet of ascent (and the quad shredding descents which by the end are worse) through fell country, not much of this is run on any sort of trail and most is barely a sheep track. It had pissed down constantly during the day before and there was a lot of mud, the evil black sucky mud you only seem to get on the beacons (Preseli is the westernmost end of the Brecon beacons). There were moments when you went up to your knees in it, at one point up to the groin. You just could tell until you hit it. All part of the fun but it just sucks and sucks at your legs.
For the sake of the marshalls (who were superb as ever here – especially the one dressed as a lobster) the ultra started the same time as the 24 miler. This made pacing tricky as everyone set off around the same lick and it was hard to judge what the extra 8 miles would be like.
The option was also there around 20 miles to skip the 8 mile extra loop out into the wilds and still get a qualifying finish in the 24 miler. You make this decision at the top of the longest steepest hillside there is and apparently quite a few took it and I cant blame them. By then things were really hurting and the thought crossed my mind but not for long. Those extra 8 miles were beautiful singletrack and took us out to parts i’d not seen before including a monolithic hillfort. There were more climbs, more descents and more pain than I care to think about now but by then I had grouped with 3 other lads who were in a similar boat and were happy for me to tag along and for once I was happy for the company. Sometimes its ok to suffer in silence and sometimes misery loves company. When its not just you stepping into knee deep freezing mud for the hundredth time it makes it easier to bear.
The last peak was finally done and all that was left was a 3 or 4 mile descent on busted up everything – Sometimes its that last drop that kills. But finish I did in 7 hours which I’m well pleased with considering the toe and the terrain.
Dunno where to go next …. who cares
Anyway if you read all that you get the photos – Beauty of ultras with fuckoff big mountains is you feel better about stopping occassionally for a photo op.
I was down in West Wales yesterday and as you do figured I could add an hour or two to my journey to get to the Preselis and have a bit of a practice ready for the Ultra there in May. I know most of the course and only intended on running the Beast Bach course which is around 11 miles and I was fairly sure I could navigate that. By the time I got there around half two I noticed that the clouds were covering the peaks. Ah well let’s go up and see what happens.
Ok going back in time …. these two runs were the friday and saturday before the Fan Brycheiniog hike. Around 10 miles each time and incorporating a nice little loop I’ve found which tacks on as many miles and hills as I like. Along with the hike thats over 30 miles in 3 days so today is most definitely a rest day.
Google finally synched all my photos to the cloud so I don’t have to manually drag them here like the last post so have some more fan brycheiniog hike photos
Went up the Brecon beacons yesterday. Out into the bits people don’t tend to go and just hiked around a bit with the dog. It was pretty cold, then hot, then windy then not. Hey im a poet! We didn’t follow the paths mainly as there weren’t any. Its quite liberating and definitely fun to just go where you please. This did mean we spent a few hours or so falling in bogs, marshes and swamps (we havnt worked out which is which yet) but wet feet is a given these days. Plus Tilly the dog loved every minute of it even if she couldnt see over the grass much of the time I guess.
Ok so in the aftermath of the Preseli Beast last weekend I promised to follow up on a few of the thoughts I had. This might not be as interesting as I’ve used up all my photos of the day (well mostly) but will act as a useful reminder next time I’m running this event or similar so bear with me.
I used my Inov8 Xtalon 212s and they worked superbly – I was pondering which way to go with shoes as they don’t have the most cushioning but I love them for the grip and stability they provide – They turned out to be comfortable all day and the grip while climbing and descending was fantastic. I always trust these if I want to do a technical run and they never let me down.
I used an Inov8 10 Raceultra pack with soft flasks at the front. I was originally going to use my Inov8 Racepak but at 4L capacity it couldn’t hold all the kit required for fellrunning plus enough food and water so this was an investment for the future. It’s an extremely comfortable pack, I didn’t even notice it was there most of the time and it didn’t chafe or bounce at all. My only gripe with it is that the softflasks come with long drinking tubes which can slip out of their shoulder holders while on descents and bounce around in your face but I just slotted them under the chest strap and no further issues.
The rest of the kit was standard stuff, asics tech shirt, sturridge baselayer shorts (although I cricket manufacturer in the main I find their shorts are super comfy) and hilly monoskin socks (no blisters no chafing)
Hydration and nutrition
As noted earlier I took 2 inov8 500ml softflasks with me, normally I run with a bladder in the back but I preferred this as the weight of the water felt better off my back and didn’t contribute to pack movement. Plus i was able to judge how much I was drinking and was able to refill easily at water stations without removing the pack. I remembered to keep drinking all the way which was easy when it was hot lower down but once up on the peaks it was much colder with some wind so I was happy I remembered to keep sipping away.
I took a fair amount of my homemade energy bars with me which always seem to do the trick and tucked into the jelly babies on offer at the aid stations – after all why not! As with hydration I judged this pretty well I think, probably could have eaten a little more and need to teach myself to eat when feeling shit on climbs.
I had a plan which I was determined to stick to and it worked out pretty well in the most. I started out deliberately near the back and just hung around there so I didn’t get caught up in the excitement and hare off too fast. I knew there was single track through the forest after a mile or so and moved up in front of the slowest runners so not to get bottlenecked there. This left me around two thirds of the way up the field which I stayed around most of the day. After around 5 or 6 miles I was chatting to a few guys around me and they were also there just to finish and I almost just stuck with them but realised it was just a mental comfort zone I didn’t really need and struck out at my own quicker chosen pace.
I read somewhere some great advice – Never run something at the start that you wouldn’t run at the end. I had to modify this slightly as otherwise I wouldn’t have run anything over a 1% incline but its solid advice and keeping it in my mind meant that I didn’t overexert on the ascents.
Descending gets a section of its own as it could well have been where the race was nearly over for me and was a major cause of pain and slowing down later on. I love descending, just as I love running quickly over rocks on the beach, it’s a thrill and a joy to speed along just at the edge of what my reactions and body can cope with. However I’m not used to descents that last over a mile over rough terrain and so although it felt fine to fly down (And trust me I made up a lot of time and places doing this in the first 10 miles or so, everyone who went past me going up was caught going down) and it was sooooo much fun to descend quickly at the limits my quads simply weren’t used to this sort of extended pummeling. By about 10 miles I had a pain in my left quad that was making me start to alter my stride and the longish descent into the town suddenly switched to tarmac and I couldn’t sustain any sort of pace without serious pain in my legs. This was then repeated for the next 14 miles – every descent was as painful as the climb. No rest for the wicked!
So I know I need to really work on my downhills to build up the muscles there that tend to get neglected. The next race in August also has a lot of climbing and descending though its coastal nature means shorter bouts of it. I intend to identify places where I can do repeat hillwork – And everytime I get fed up of it then remember the pain and problems my quads caused last weekend and do it again. If I hadn’t suffered so badly with the quads I could have knocked a fair amount off my time and although the mission was simply to finish it’s always nice to give it a real go!
I will quite happily admit I was nervous going into the race. I hadn’t run 24 miles before and certainly not in a fellrunning environment. However I was coming in with a gameplan and a goal – finishing. The race had cutoffs too which was new to me and they added a little to the stress but in the end were happily immaterial. There were many times, especially once the quads were hurting, that I thought “I cant do this for many more miles” and each time I told myself to suck it up and keep going. I cramped badly in my calves after the penultimate climb because it was so steep I was constantly on my toes and at that point I thought I was done (I’m not used to cramps) but I didn’t panic and just slowed to an amble and figured I could get by with a weird shuffle step until it passed – If it didnt pass I was on top of a bloody mountain so I was coming down one way or another anyway. People passed me at this point and it didn’t matter, it was me versus my legs and the mountain. After a while and a bit of stretching the cramps faded and I could pick up pace again.
So if theres one thing I learned its DONT PANIC. Things will hurt, things will feel like they are so broken that you cant possibly finish. Get the pain under control until its managable, if you cant run then walk a bit. At one point I had to sit on a rock to remove stones from my shoes, I sat for less than a minute. When I got up my quads were miraculously cured – for a short distance but it took a while before they reached def con fucking arghghghghhhh again.
Its a long day – its a long race and at the end of the day when you look at it time and places are immaterial. If you need to stop to regroup do so. There are no medals for running every step, there are no medals for breaking yourself to achieve a time or placing.
I hope I remember to read this and remember it before the next race. If I can do that plus add some hillwork I might just get away with pain instead of agony