Over the years I think I’ve read about, listened to and absorbed a vast amount of information about running. How to do this, how to get better at that, 2500 simple tips to improve your stride length etc etc and if I’m honest the vast majority of it has been meaningless waffle. Running clickbait in the main. Of course there have been many useful articles and books but how many can be applied to my very amateur level of running?
I think I’ve belaboured this point before but training plans don’t work for me – I’m sure they do for others who like the structure and like to see the metrics of progress. Having to do this or that on a certain day may well increase performance but to my mind it decreases enjoyment. I’m only revisiting this because I thought about it while running earlier.
The thought process went something like this. I was reading a book regarding the central governor theory and how the brain judges percieved effort based on how far you still have to go and regulates effort so you get to the end with something in reserve. Whether it’s scientific fact or not isn’t the point here but it got me thinking as we tootled along the beach that three times this week I have set out for a run with Murph and had no idea how far we would go and how long we would be out. The only determining factor being the weather as I don’t run murph when it get’s too hot.
I was musing that therefore my brain has no idea whether I have another mile, 3, 5, 7 or 10 miles to go and also has no clue how much longer I will have to maintain the effort for. So does that mean my central governor is off or muted. Who knows? It’s certainly a way of thinking that appeals to the way I train. I simply go out to have fun with Murph and before we know it we are a dozen miles into another adventure, tired and happy.
In the name of unstructured training we have expanded our lack of planning to include direction … thus
The pebble of chance – Get to the beach, flip a pebble and it determines whether we go left or right – either way is fine by us.
I had a plan. It was a good plan. I tried to execute the plan. I failed. Maybe.
The plan was to run overnight on the solstice weekend between dusk and dawn, so from 9.34 PM to 4.57AM. I would do it mainly on the beach as the tides were right for most of it.
So I packed a drop bag and set off with Murph last night at 9.34 on the dot. We left the bag hidden on the beach as dusk set in and off we went. It was fun, it was different but something was off. I didn’t feel like the running was right, once it was totally dark it was harder than I thought to keep going over the rocks with a headtorch only – and to do it safely I was slow – which was fine by me. but something was off. Just a feeling. We covered 14 miles or so with a few rest breaks at the bag. but something was off. The ankle played up worse than normal and I think the battering it took on the rocks, the stumbles and incorrent foot placements had blown it. It was no excuse I’ve run through much worse pain than that.
After I while I realised that I wasn’t going to do the full seven and a half hours and once I came to terms with that then the pressure – albeit pressure only I had placed on myself – lifted and for the last few miles and the trip home through the fields and woods I was refreshed. I took the time to think about the whole experience and realised that in failure I had learned a lot more. Once we were off the beach I could turn my headlamp off and just move without having to cooncentrate fully on every step. I no longer had to worry about Murph (in his led collar) as the fields hold comparitively few dangers compared to the beach. I realised that much of my stress on the beach was worrying about him in the dark, I couldnt see what he was doing or exactly where he was. It struck me that in the total darkness I couldnt see him enjoying himself – Thats why i love to walk and run him – And in the dark I couldnt.
It was a good plan and it failed not because I failed but because it was a plan I came to realise didn’t matter. The failure would have been to not try in the first place. We got home around half two, I could I suppose have stuck it out for two and a half more hours in the fields but I would have done that just to make up numbers. It didn’t matter anymore. We woke at 7 and walked to the beach – and I could see him loving it, having fun and because I could see that it made all the difference.
I may have failed at one thing but I suceeded at a lot more last night.
Last few weeks have been a holding pattern – for much of the world I think. I was musing on the run the other day – last week was my birthday and that morning I planned to get up early and do a long run. I didn’t have much of a plan, it was more a case of throw some food and water in a pack and head out with Murph to enjoy the day before anyone else was awake. As it turned out we did 17 miles and were out for 4 hours plus – which I was happy with, much of the route was beach and much of it was rocky so progress was slow but we loved every minute. Even when with an hour to go the heavens opened and the chill cut in.
I digress – I was musing about the lockdown and how I felt about it. I have friends who are frustrated, depressed and can’t wait until its over – Which is understandable. So I was trying to work out why I feel so relaxed about it all, of course I can get out with the dog that helps but I genuinely am content to sit and wait and sit and wait and sit and wait. You can’t rush this thing, you can’t fight it, you might as well punch fog. No point in being angry it just needs riding out.
And then I figured perhaps I cope because it’s similar in a way to ultrarunning. You grind through it, you chop it down to step by step, you don’t look at the ending, you can’t look at the ending because it’s so far away and that distance is overwhelming. So perhaps ultrarunning has taught me patience and how to deal with living in the moment and taking one step at a time. The goal will come, we will get through this, you can’t rush it, the finish line comes when it comes. You might as well do what you can to enjoy the ride. In last years 50 miler there were moments I wished for the end, 10 miles out I was praying for the line to come, it couldn’t come fast enough. I look back and I see the mistake I made. I concentrated on the end not the journey. It’s inconceviable to me now I did that, I would give anything to be out there right now 40 miles into a race but out in the mountains and in pain. To try to enjoy that last 10 miles instead of wishing them to end.
No those last 10 miles weren’t pretty but they could have been if I’d chosen to embrace them not hate them. It might be a poor anology with people dying out there and losing jobs but times pass and we get one shot, embrace it all, even the shit bits.
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)
I wasnt intending to run much this weekend, y’know the old let things heal thing but it was just so glorious out what else could I do? Those crisp mornings at dawn are irresistable and not just for me they seemed to entice Murph into a world consisting of zooming around like an idiot. I was happy for him to zoom while I plodded, 5 miles on saturday and 10 today and I feel fine. Sometimes all you need is zoomies (and a plod)
We rocked out this morning at dawn as I was under the impression it was going to be a really hot day (it wasn’t really) and I wanted to get a good run in with murph before it got too hot for him. I don;t mind a bit of sufefring in the heat but i wouldn’t want to inflict it on him, its just not fair. So off we went on an adventure which as I am lazy i will recount in photo form. It was a great run, we were out for around 3 hours and it’s time on feet in innterested in these days not distance – plus im not wearing a watch but im guessing 11 or 12 miles over cliffs, fields, roads and forests ….
So its less than two weeks since the Eddum 50 miler and I think I got away kind of lightly. I had a few aches and pains but they faded pretty fast and within a week I could jog gently again. Today I was able to knock out a happy 8 miles in the sun and cool breeze, We took it easy – I always need to make sure Murph doesn’t overheat and although we went up over Witches Point i didnt run all of it. The legs still feel a little dead on the uphills.
I have that “so what next” feeling at the moment. I swore that before the race I would just be happy running the beach again. The preperation (or lack of) for the race, the injury worries, the sponsorship stress all added up and I’ll be honest I didn’t enjoy the build-up to it. I was happy once the gun went and we were off but the rest was stress.
But I do like having a purpose to my running as well. I already know what I’ll do though because it will be fell running. I enjoyed the one short race I did back in january but after than injury and prep for ultrarunning took over. So maybe just stick to the shorter hills for a while. For a while…..
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.
Trainings picking up very slowly but very surely which is a good thing because on the 3rd August I’m running my first 50 miler! Been planning it a while and it’s one of the reasons I didnt start the Preseli Ultra last month. The injury has been a knockback on the trianing front but I’ve still been walking Murph 30 odd miles a week and now back to running.
The raace is around the Epynt Way in Mid Wales and as I say is 50 miels with around 8000 feet of elevation gain and loss. Its a big challenge for me but one to look forward to. There will be plenty of walking the ups no doubt! Link to race details is here https://www.pegasusultrarunning.com/the-eddum/
Plus here is the good bit there is extra motivation – I’m doing it to raise money for charity – specifically the dog sanctuary I got Murph from. Its a really special place that homes dogs no-one else will take, sometimes for life – they call these “the forgotten ones” which breaks my heart. They rehome dogs like Murph that people generally don’t want because they are emotionally scarred – Murph is still very scared of people (but improving slowly with lots of love). They always need funds as it’s privately run and recently they’ve suffered terrible flooding so need money to repair and strengthen flood defences.
Any donation is appreciated, much of my fundraising will be done in the local village and in all my schools that i work in but with the kindness of everyone off and online I hope to raise £500. It’ll actually be odd not running purely for myself, Im expecting to feel some sort of extra pressure to finish but I’m also expecting it to act as an extra spur to get to that finish line no matter how long it takes. If I have to walk it I will. Luckily I have a friend coming to crew me and she will also be bringing Murph and his little pal Tilly so I’m sure seeing them at aid stations will be a great boost.
So for now I’ll leave you with some pictures of the reason i’m doing this… If it wasnt for lizzies Barn this little monster wouldn’t have a life like this