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.
Last Saturday was the Preseli Ultrabeast run. As those who have followed the blog for a while will know I love the races in Preseli, I’ve run the shorter versions of the Beast Bach (11 miles) twice, the Beast (24 miles) and the Ultrabeast. As this was the first year the Ultrabeast has been run since covid and the first time I’ve been able to run it since 2018 due to injury I was very excited to be going back out there.
I got my ass kicked.
That’s the short version – you may want to scroll down to the photos as the rest is just a post mortem for future reference.
I’ve spent the last few days trying to work out what happened and what went wrong. But first I need to explain what actually went down on the day. Although I don’t think I’m quite sure myself.
The Ultrabeast is a 32 mile race through the Preseli Mountains, I don’t think there is a flat section over 200 metres in the whole thing. A couple of the climbs such as the one up Carn Ingli feel vertical and the top of that climb is a rocky scramble. Put simply it is indeed a beast of a course. And I think I forgot just how hard it was.
It was a hot day too. And I don’t deal with heat well being fair skinned. We started at 10 and it was already feeling like a temperature I wouldn’t normally run in. And I’ve not run in any heat since I got Murph as he doesn’t like heat much either.
So from mile one things already felt off, I seemed to be putting out far more effort than I needed to just to trot along. I was already sweating profusely and had a feeling it might be a long day. Then after 7 or 8 miles my stomach went south, by now I had already removed my shirt just to try to keep cool. I started getting stomach pains low down, especially on descents and any water I was drinking was either just sitting in the stomach causing more pain or making me feel nauseous and coming back up.
All I could take were small sips every now and again. Unfortunately with the amount I was sweating out I knew I was going to dehydrate. By now there was a lot of walking involved. There’s a lot of a walking on that course anyway so the difference in pace wasn’t really noticeable anyway.
Things improved temperature wise at around the 12 mile mark as we climbed to the tops and mist fell, I was able to cool off a bit up there but the legs were now having none of it. The really steep climbs were feeling much tougher than I remember and I think the hydration and sickness issues were taking their toll in general.
At this point I’ll admit I just didn’t want to move anymore. It made no sense at the time in my head, I had been flying on the South West Coastal Path only a few weeks earlier with similar climbs and today I had nothing, zero. It was hard enough just to get to the top of Carn Ingli and there was no respite on the descent for as soon as I started going downhill the pains would return. And of course as soon as I descended into the valley the heat returned. Going from cool mountain mist to baking hot sunshine in a matter of minutes probably didn’t help my confused system either.
I wish I had an answer to what really went wrong, I could maybe blame undertraining but I should have had enough in the bank, especially after the South West Path. Perhaps I went in sick, perhaps it was just the heat and definitely some dehydration. Perhaps we are looking at a combination of everything going tits up at the same time. The next day the sunburn on my shoulders and face was pretty impressive and painful which is a definite clue. I don’t run with a hat as it chafes and makes me even hotter – that’s something I need to reconsider for sure. Same with running shirtless, ok it cools me but I burn so easily its dangerous.
It was unfortunate I couldn’t drink enough to stay hydrated, the plan was there and I tried But I just couldn’t keep enough down. I have no idea where I was at medically but I’m guessing looking back I had some sort of heat exhaustion or minor sunstroke going on, certainly I had a headache which I put down to dehydration at the time.
One of the quirks of the Ultrabeast is that it is the same route at the Beast race run at the same time, the ultra route adds an 8 mile loop near the end and the option is there if you are running the ultra to not do the loop and claim a Beast finish. I spent the miles leading up to this point trying to work out what to do for the best. Oddly enough the choice to just DNF and get a ride back from the aid station didnt actually cross my mind. Just switching to the Beast was a hard decision but one I reluctantly made.
It was incredibly disappointing at the time and in the immediate aftermath. It felt much like a DNF as even though I completed the 24 mile Beast race I hadn’t achieved what i set out to do. But after feeling wiped out for 3 days and now 5 days later I’m still sunburned it was the right decision to make. At least another 8 miles and 2 or 3 hours in the sun would have been a stupid decision and I’m glad now I made the right one. The last 5 miles once the decision were made were bad enough. There’s no shame in failure but there is in being a prideful idiot and having to get carried off mountains.
So that’s the tale of the Ultrabeast. But by writing this and spending some time looking at the lessons learned I think there are many positives to take from it. I can’t do much about sickness if I carry it into a race but I can do something about heat. I can make sure I’m trained for hills and not just hills but steep hills – I intend to take a look at how poles will work for me. I may not have run the 32 mile but I got through the 24 version which I guess most people would be more than happy with. I also learned once again when to call it a day at the right time.
So I have 2 Beast Bach finishes, 2 Beast finishes and 1 Ultrabeast finish. I have a year to get ready to make that 2 2 2.
I cant finish without saying how special this race is. The work of Carwyn to put it together and of all the marshalls and helpers out there on the day is incredible. Plus the support from the local communities. It makes it a carnival feel at times, the moments when you run past an accordion playing lady riding a red dragon at an aid station you don’t forget in a hurry. (No that wasn’t sunstroke). The support, encouragement, kids with supersoakers and smiles were probably all that got me through some parts. If you ever get chance to run one of these races, please do, you won’t regret. I don’t and I had the day from hell out there.
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!
I’ve never run with consistency, if I was to be honest it tends to be boom and bust. Periods of high milage and then injuries so I’m trying for some consistency this year – And right now i’m on a 14 day running streak. Some of those days are only 3 or 4 miles and I have this thing in my head that tells me it’s not far enough – and this time I’m going to listen to the other voice that tells me that if I am consistent then it is plenty.
Back to work tomorrow and the streak will end soon enough but let’s see how it goes as once again I have plans for this year – all to be revealed soon. But if I can stay healthy and get a decent winter training block in then all will be good.
So I hope everyone had a good xmas and all that stuff. Always remember that the days grow longer now, imperceptibly but they do and spring will be on the way soon enough so things are on the up even when they don’t seem like they are.
I got to thinking after xmas. My nephew brought a virtual reality headset with him on boxing day and it started me thinking about reality. I can see the use of VR in education – you can fire pupil’s imaginations like nothing else with it. But what concerns me is the disconnect from the real world and actually experiencing things.
I thought about this while running this morning, it was still semi dark, the wind was howling and then it started to hammer down rain too. And as I ran through it all I thought about how although some may consider it a miserable experience to me me it wasn’t. I could feel the lash of the rain on my face, feel the water running down my face and mingling with sweat and stinging my eyes. I could feel the salt in my mouth as I sucked in air. I could smell the wet earth beneath my feet, the aroma of wet grass. I could sense the freshness of the storm, the wind blasting over and around me, pushing me this way and that, making me drive into it.
I looked down to see Murphy trotting alongside me, as usual when i transfer attention to him he looks up at me and seems to grin. I know deep down it’s just the way we percieve and anthropomorphalise animals but it seems like he grins and smiles at me, sometimes its almost as if he looks up to agree how utterly ridiculous the situation is, why are we running ankle deep through streams of water into a biting wind anyway? Not that he cares because I know at that moment he feels alive, no matter the weather he is out doing something he loves with someone he loves – and so am I. Because right now we are alive.
And can VR give this? Of course not. But corporations will tell you it can. Because they want to sell it to you. And all the attendant “experiences” they can sell you too. They want you at home, sat in your lounge where you are comfortable, malleable and ready to part with cash. How can they sell things to someone stood ankle deep in mud in a field? So they will tell you be comfortable. There is no need to leave your home. Be safe. We can bring the world to you.
I say no thanks, I’d rather be cold, wet, tired … and alive.
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.