A little bit of that. Where does the time go? I swear it was only a week since I last posted and its more like 2 or 3. In between we’ve been covering some miles – walking and running. I was being so careful this time to not rush back and just continue the injury cycle – and then i go and roll my ankle in a field anyway. But one of the joys of owning a dog is that you don’t get to really rest up – you always get to do active recovery. So whatever the weather or how the body feels I make sure Murph gets his exercise. Injuries are frustrating but I’ve learned a lot about coping with them. Mainly by signing up for more races. Well i couldn’t not sign up ofr the Preseli Ultrabeast – I had to reluctantly pass on it last year as I was just a little too injured with the 50 miler I had planned but this year I’m aiming to start a race uninjured (some hope)
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.
Never give up.
Last saturday was the first “proper” run for a while, it was still a test run in essence although the leg has been feeling better lately. oddly enough the saturday morning when i should have been running in preseli the leg seemed to be better and has improved from that day onwards. Which makes me wonder – Its quite the coincidence that once I’d resigned myself to not being able to run the race and had informed the organiser that the leg started to really improve. The mind and the body are so closely intwined was the bodys constant reproduction of pain a warning to the mind that no it wasn’t ready to run that race and once the decision was made then it simply stopped generating so much pain as it no longer needed it’s self defence mechanism.
Who knows. All i know is that I can feel it improving little at a time and on saturday I ran seven miles to Witches and back without the “its gonna go” feeling of the previous weeks test run. Don’t get me wrong it ached but not in a “you’re screwing this worse way”
Then that afternoon I walked with some friends to the next village for another 7 miles and yesterday it was a little sore but not much – and what do you expect when you cover 14 miles the day before no matter the speed.
Well today I should be running the Preseli Ultrabeast as I did last year. Sadly I won’t be. The last few months have been a race in themselves in an attempt to rehab the left leg. It’s been a process thats been tortuous with good days and bad days, I honestly believed I could run it up until the middle of this week. I did a 7 mile test run on tuesday and it felt ok. And thats the kicker it didn’t feel good it felt ok and I knew I was favouring the right leg instead. It felt a bit like running on a glass leg – I was expecting it to break at any point.
So really then on wednesday when it was aching badly I knew deep down it was over for this year. I was going to give it a go but I knew deep down that it was going to cause much more damage, 7 miles is not 32 and not 32 over extreme terrain. Not going to lie I’m gutted. I love the Preseli races and look forward to it so much every year. I told a friend a while ago it’s like my late christmas day seeing as I dont like the real one much. And now I sit here writing this instead of running out on the hills all day. Sometimes I feel like saying to hell with it I dont need to run anyway, I have Murph I can walk with him and its as good, it would remove all the disappointment and frustration of not running and racing.
But you know what, that’s feeling sorry for myself, thats giving up, thats taking the easy route and this whole thing was never about taking the easy route. It’s been a long journey and I need to remember there are lows as well as the highs. Otherwise the highs would be meaningless.
So I’m going to finish off this post with some photos of the walks we’ve done recently. I’m going to walk back out the door and start again. I’m not giving up, this was always the long haul.
And by no time I mean im not running with a watch at the moment. Its a concious decision rather than I forgot to wear it. I figure all it does really is encourage me to look at pace and distacne etc when that really doesnt matter as I come back from injury. A watch can make you feel guilty about walking and right now I need to walk every now and again to rest the soreness. Its actually surprising what a few minutes of walking can achieve in relaxing the muscles again. If I look back I had reached the point where because I could run anything and everything I just did and at faster and faster pace – because I could and it felt good. Then i’d look at the watch and think wow 7 min miles – thats awesome – as my body slowly broke apart.
Sounds so sensible but the newfound commonsense (we’ve been here before I know) isnt quite there yet as I did 10 miles or so this morning through the rain and mist – but I loved being out again and actually running. I guess Murph did too …
Im still about, I just cant run much, or at least I could but I know its not going to do me much good in the longer run. The arse still hurts .. glutes are, legs whatever. I know when its not right and there are days I can hardly feel it, Its healing just taking its damn time. I did run/walk on saturday or rather walk/run and it was good to get going again but I cant really drive off it so Id rather wait until Im confident in it.
Perhaps its taking its time to heal as I’m walking on it so much. Murph needs long walks and Im happy to oblige so I’ve donned a headtorch and he has a flashy new collar with LEDs and we’re not letting the darkness beat us. I’m reckoning we’re doing around 40 miles of walking a week still which I guess is keeping me at some sort of level of fitness. Its frustrating but there you gp – that it seems is running half the time. Either injured or in the process of injuring myself. Still if youre gonna have a layoff this is the time of year to do it. I feel bad that I dont keep up with wordpress and you lot while Im injured … I turn off from running altogether, its easier when I dont think about it so sorry about that!
So the bit you all come here for instead of me whinging about injury – The photos – in no particular order
Have been taking it easy since last weds as I did this.
But yesterday I thought let’s go – tide was out around 4 and the blazing sun buggered off (I prefer to be cool, sun is not really my friend)
So when did 6 miles become a “short” run for me. This has happened really without me noticing. It used to be 2-3 but now I don’t even consider stopping at the beach and always go further. It’s lucky as today it took me towards Witches Point. In a cave near the waterfall I spotted something bright red. I’m like a magpie when it comes to pretty colours and thusly distracted off I went to investigate.
The red? Well that was a boring traffic bollard thingy but what’s this I spy …..
What the hell do you do with a 5ft inflatable shark apart from photograph it. Well what you do is to spend ages learning how to deflate it and then run home carrying it in your beachcombing paws. I have long since to ignore the stares of people on the beach (MY beach you tripper types) as I hurtle (cough cough) past holding my latest bit of booty.
So now I have a a deflated inflatable shark too. Not sure what I shall do with it but I will think of something I’m sure!
Sadly I didn’t have my proper camera as I can’t find my flipbelt but I took this dodgy photo for you scenery types