Isle of Wight Challenge 2017. The rerun.

The Isle of Wight.  A small island of the Southern coast of England.  Picturesque.

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A popular holiday destination and when the weather is good is stunningly beautiful.  The picture postcard looks are there for all to see.

However, when the weather turns it’s not quite as nice.  The wind gusts off the sea and temperatures can plummet and the rain can chill you quicker than you can believe.

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In April 2016 this is exactly what happened.  3 hours of glorious sunshine, perfect running conditions and then, almost without warning, the weather changed.  Freezing rain, hail stones and gales force winds battered the island.  It only lasted for a couple of hours but the damage was done.  Fields that had been firm underfoot became glutinous mud traps, trails became mud slides and runner after runner limped into aid stations with blisters.  For some this was the beginning of the end and the island would continue to take its toll throughout the night as temperatures dropped.

For me this was my first trail run, my first Ultra and the first time I’d experienced blisters from running.  When the bad weather hit I was between aid stations and the two hours I spent trudging through muddy fields with wet feet was the time it all went wrong for me.  The blisters had formed and despite fantastic work from the St John Ambulance crews and regardless of treatment and padding, I spent the next 15 hours running and then walking on very sore feet.  Ironically it was my knee that took me out of the race, just too many stairs up and down the cliffs.

After 21 hours I could no longer generate body heat and with sore feet and a knee I couldn’t put pressure on I made the decision to withdraw with only 6 miles to go.

Now in 2017 I’ll be going back to finish what I started.  I know the course now, I know when to push and when to be careful and hold back.  Nicer weather would be nice but this time I will learn from my mistakes and complete the island.

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It’s 90 per cent mental. The other 10 per cent is all in your head.

As you may already know, distance running is a mental sport.  Sure there is a physical side to it but if you can’t get the mental side right then you’re not going to do very well.

It’s 90 per cent mental. The other 10 per cent is all in your head.

Sounds silly doesn’t it?  But it’s true especially in Ultras.  There is, on average, a 25% drop out rate before the start of most Ultras and at least 10% of those are just too plain scared to start.  It’s a truly daunting prospect standing at the start line of a 50k or a 100k  race for the first time.  No level of training can prepare you for the hours and hours or running ahead.

I was lucky in the way my brain refused to acknowledge the distances in all my training.  I’ll try to explain that.  When I first started on C25K and was running my first kilometre, the thought of running 10k was just about imaginable but a half marathon wasn’t something I could comprehend.  The same happen when I moved up to 10k; a marathon was an impossible distance so I didn’t think about it.Once I switched up towards the marathon, 26.2 miles slowly, over 8 – 10 weeks, became a distance that my mind allowed me to realise was possible.

A 50k race is just that little bit further than a marathon so a little more training and you are there.  A 100k race is a different beast and takes a totally different mind set to complete.  Imagine your last marathon, or your first if you’re still training for one, and remember how you felt when you crossed that finishing line at 26.2 miles.  You’re tired and your muscles are thanking you for finishing. You can slump into a comfy chair or sit in the bath and relax and congratulate yourself with a glass of bubbly and then take a few days off.  Well this is a 100k race and you’re not even halfway, you drag yourself up and you start running again and hours later you finish your second marathon.  Wow!!  At last you can sit down and rest, that cup of tea looks pretty good now!  “What do you mean I still have a half marathon to run?”  Yep, sorry, on you go.  Just 13 miles to go now!!  Mentally that’s tough.  I’ve done it and it’s mind blowing but I can just switch off my mind and trudge onwards, ever onwards.

Looking forward to the long races I plan to do next year my brain just can not understand 5 1/2 marathons or 9 1/2 marathons back to back which is probably a very good thing right now.  🙂

How far should I run?

I’ve run a marathon and it hurt, it hurt a lot.  I’ve run 60 miles and it hurt a lot but surprising not as much as the marathon.  My feet hurt more but not my legs.  I know I trained far more for the Ultra and I was more mentally prepared.  I know if the weather had been better I might have survived the whole 66 miles.  Maybe, maybe not.  I don’t know really.  I’ve since learned more about taping my feet up which should help me going into the future.

There are a few races I would like to do next year, ranging from a simple marathon, how crazy does that sound?, a simple marathon! all the way up to a 250 mile race.  Mentally I can face anything, any distance, I know I have the capacity for that, I know I can just shut off and trudge on regardless.  Whether my body can survive a massive endurance endeavour like a 250 mile race is debatable but I think that I have to find out.

I’m not young, in fact I will be 50 in 3 months but I think that I have to try these crazy things.   I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, I never have done and I never will do.

So my hopes for 2017 are to compete in The London Marathon, but only on a ballot place, redoing The Isle of Wight Challenge, just to finish those last 6 miles, GUCR, 145 miles from Birmingham to London and the Thames Way 250, a monster of a race.

Are they all possible in one year?  I have no idea but you never know until you try.

Preamble

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I sometimes wish that I’d started all this running nonsense when I was reasonably fitter way back in my 20’s but I didn’t.  Nor were my 30’s the decade of exercise.  My 40’s were almost over and then I started.  Great plan.

I was a 40 a day smoking, horribly overweight, beer drinking, fast food addict when I was challenged in April 2014 to run the London Marathon. I had never run before and, to be honest, had no real inclination to run, but a challenge is a challenge after all and it was for Charity.

In April 2015, after training through the winter I did run the London Marathon just squeaking under 6 hours by a couple of minutes.  And I realised two fundamental things:  I run slowly and I hate running.  Okay, hate is a very strong word, I..um.. dislike running but at the same time get a weirdly satisfying satisfaction from it.  I did write a whole blog about it and I’ll put a link to it if you want in a link page.

It was at this point a decision had to be made: stop this crazy running lark and return to the good old days or take it to a whole new level, for me anyway.

I chose to enter the Isle of Wight challenge 2016, a simple matter of running around the coastal path of the Island, all 66 miles of it.  The first quarter of the race was wonderful, my first ever trail run and the sun shone with a slight breeze.  If this was Ultra trail running then I was a converted man, no more road running for me.

And then it went wrong.  Snow, hail, rain, mud, swamps, more mud, blisters upon blisters, rain, steps up and down, so many steps.  And it got cold and windy and wet and I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I gave up.  I did manage 60 miles and it was slow and I hated parts of it but it did give me a taste of Ultra running.  I loved the camaraderie, the food and the sense of belonging to a group of people who just want to push themselves that little bit further.  These are Ultra runners, the ultra crazies in the crazy world of running.

This wasn’t just about times, this was about beating the odds and this was about finishing.

Now I have entered this unique group this is about my journey forward..  I’m going to be 50 years old in 3 months, I’m still overweight but I don’t care, so join me as we run slowly but go ever further and further.