Isle of Wight: The Rematch

In June 2016 I wrote about my Isle of Wight 2016 attempt and I finished the report with this sentence.

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.

That was my first ever Trail Ultra and I got everything wrong and everything seemed to go against me.  Now here I am, one year later, and the Isle of Wight was to be my second Trail Ultra.  I don’t like mud or dirt or hills or stiles or fields or countryside. 🙂

Just like last year I stayed overnight in Southampton and arrived on the Island on the first Red Jet in the morning.  I caught the shuttle from Cowes to Chale and arrived 30 minutes after my allotted start time which wasn’t really an issue as groups left every 20 minutes.  For some reason I have a little brain freeze if I feel rushed near to a start time, even if I have time, in my mind I don’t and start skipping pre race routines.  I also don’t realise this until 5 – 10 minutes into a race.  This time I’d forgotten to go to the toilet. Never fear readers this wasn’t one of the three necessary visits but an additional one because of pre race hydrating and then having to wait.

I looked around at the group I had started with and it comprised of about 20 runners and 40 -50 walkers so in my head I could stay with the runners, get a good distance from the walkers and then stop for a toilet break.  For those of you who haven’t been to the South of the Isle of Wight there is no cover, no bushes, no trees, nothing to get behind for a bit of privacy.  So while I’m working out how far ahead I needed to be from the walkers behind me I start to realise I have a different problem; I’m catching the walkers from the group that started before mine.  As luck would have it a dip appeared and I used that opportunity to relieve myself. 🙂

My two biggest issues in 2016 were blisters and the weather.  The blisters were caused by wearing new technical trail shoes which ripped my feet apart and the weather was wet and cold.  I choose this year to wear road shoes for the extra cushioning and to carry full waterproofs for the rain and the cold.  While the road shoes could have been a risk, the weather had been dry on the Island for over a month so I was sure that I would be okay on that front.  I’d worn the waterproofs on two previous long training runs and I enjoyed the coziness on a cold night.

So the plan was simple, take the first third of the Island, mostly trail, slowly and carefully and then enjoy the road sections on blister free feet.  I even did a rough workout of when I might be arriving at checkpoints.  I’d never done this before as I’d never been confident enough in myself to even consider it.  Maybe I was maturing as an Ultra runner?  The plan kind of went like this:

Start time should be around 8.20am ( I knew I was going to miss the start time I’d been given)

Check point     Planned           Actual

1.                        9:45am             9:33am

2.                      11:45am            11:23am

3.                        2:00pm              1:47pm

4.                        4:30pm               4:51pm

5.                        7:30pm               8:46pm

6.                      10:30pm              12:32am

7.                         1:00am                4:25am

8.                         4:00am                7:28am

 

As you can see in the first half I was there or thereabouts on arriving on schedule but, and there’s usually a but, it went a bit wrong after that.  I’ll explain.

2 weeks ago I was tapering badly, and went for a gentle 5k stretch of the legs, nothing fast just a gentle jog.  Well, I did the first km quite fast and held it and then the last km I pushed a bit and suddenly I’m almost racing, going way too fast.  The next day the pain in my leg started, a sharp pain which I knew was caused by pushing too hard, I’m not a fast runner and bad things happen when I try to run fast, usually falling over.  I did run one more time before the Island but I managed to keep that slow and pain free.

So back to the Island and I was going along comfortably, not quick, not slow, having some great conversations with other runners when I tripped.  I have no idea what I tripped on but I knew I couldn’t go down, my knees couldn’t take another impact hit so subconsciously I threw out my left leg and stopped my fall.  When 100kgs moving forward suddenly stops there’s a lot of forces going on and they all seemed to hit the same point that had hurt two weeks previously.  This was at about 42km into the race and by the time I hit halfway the pain was settling in to stay.  I had a great massage and a good meal and read some Facebook messages of which I seemed to have hundreds off.

I was blister free and apart from the leg pain okay to continue so off I went.  Running was a little painful at that point but I knew 15 of the next 20 miles were on road and I could still move at a reasonable pace.  It was only when I went off road that my pace crashed dramatically but I was moving checkpoint to checkpoint by this stage.  From checkpoint 5 to 6 I had slowed enough that it took 2 hours longer than planned to travel, taking almost 4 hours to move 15km.  I tried not to stop for any length of time in the checkpoints as I knew my energy was fading and I couldn’t take food or gels down at that stage.

Between 6 and 7 I was having trouble walking due to the pain but each time I got close to just stopping and sitting down, someone happened to catch me up and ask how I was doing.  Each time unexplainably this got me going for another km or two, if only everyone could be as nice as people in Ultra races.  4 hours for 13km this time and suddenly I was at Ventnor, the scene of my failure the previous year.  In 2016 I arrived in Ventnor a beaten man, I could hardly walk and was so cold that I couldn’t feel half my body.  When given the chance to get on the failure bus I leapt, figuratively as I couldn’t move, at the easy get out.

This year, at Ventnor, I hurt even more than last year, only one small blister but with a leg rapidly swelling I left before the medical staff got a chance to look at me and pull me out.  Only 11 km I thought, how bad could those 11km be?  3 hours it took me.  3 hours at 2 mph, at times I was walking asleep but again it was other racers that spurred me on.  Of course there was no way that I wasn’t going to finish, not this time and at 7:28am,  23 hours after starting, I crossed the finishing line and the race was over and my demon had been laid to rest.

The organisation of the race is superb, the marshalls and all volunteers were a credit and all the Islanders I met clapped and cheered us and I was handed water and oranges from complete strangers on the street.  I guess they knew better than most how tough their Island is.

Isle of Wight, I’ve obsessed over you for a year and almost killed any chance of beating you before I began.  I knew I can’t claim that I’ve conquered you but you know there was no way you were going to beat me again.  This year I had to finish.

I have been to Hospital and it’s shin splints on my left leg.  The extra 60k I travelled on that certainly didn’t help but as someone once said “Pain is temporary, Victory is forever”

Overcoming the fear of failure.

This morning was only my 3rd run this year and one that I’ve been putting off for weeks.  I suffered an injury back in November and was advised to take the rest of the year off to recover.  Amazingly I didn’t gain any weight over Christmas and then, after another check up, starting on my running plan for the next Ultra.  Second run in and a sudden hamstring pain stopped me in my tracks. And that’s when the fear kicked in.

What if this pain comes back every run and I can’t run anymore?  What if I am stuck running 5k races and can not get back to long distance again?

Safest thing is to rest and recover. Right?  So I did and I kept coming up with excuses convincing myself that it wasn’t the right time, it was too cold, too wet, etc. The worst thing was I knew I was making excuses and still I couldn’t get out of the door.  Day after day went by and it got easier and easier to not put my kit on and go out and run.

I’m not like a lot of runners out there who enjoy running, the best I can achieve is I tolerate it.  To be brutally honest it bores me but I do have the ability to shut off my brain and kind of blank out.  If nothing else it makes the distance and time go faster.  🙂

So why go running if you don’t enjoy it?  I guess it’s a personal battle to push myself further than I’ve done before.  It’s not really a challenge if it’s fun, is it?  The next event for me is The Isle of Wight Ultra again.  We have unfinished business the Island and Me.  I had to come back and complete the whole circle as not finishing the last 6 miles last time has prayed on my mind.  Only time will tell if I manage it this year and I know that I won’t be able to move on without finishing even if I have to crawl over the line.

Hopefully the 4 miles this morning will be the catalyst to get the training plan back under way.  I’ve lost 2 weeks already and have to get my base fitness back up again before I get to long distance training again.

New Charity this year: The Princess Alice Hospice.  A very local charity this time and one that I know will inspire me to push myself.

Why push so hard, so far?

There are people who don’t understand runners and running.  For many it is an alien sport, a form of torture and where are you running to anyway?

There are also runners who don’t understand runners.  You see runners come in all shapes and sizes.  There are skinny runners who can run short fast distances.  Different skinny runners can run slower long distances.  Almost all runners can run a 5k usually in the form of a parkrun on Saturday morning.  Most of these will progress up to doing a 10k or maybe even a half marathon.  And these are good distances to run and race.  Far enough to be a challenge but short enough to be able to really race them.

The marathon distance is the bastion of the Charity runner, the bucket list runners and the serious distance runners.  Whether it is in London, Edinburgh, Brighton or Manchester, tens of thousands run the marathon each year, the majority of which will be participating for their one and only try at the distance.  It’s a hard distance to run and I admire anyone that steps up to the start line of one.  When I did London Marathon in 2015 I really did think that I would never finish it.  The last 2 miles seemed to go on for hours.

 

281178_193373696_XLarge(1)

Running further than a marathon has to be a conscious choice and a bold choice.  For starters an Ultra, officially anything further than a marathon, is not as big an event as a marathon at least not in the number of participants.  The organisational setup is usually very similar in it’s professionalism and it must help that almost everyone can run and has usually trained for the event.

An Ultra is a mental event in that you can only go as far as your mind will let you.  The moment you think that you can’t go on your body will just shut down.  In my one and, so far, only Ultra I watched people give up when the going got tough and even succumbed myself with only 6 miles to go when I convinced myself that I couldn’t continue.  At that moment my body shut down and I could not even get out of my chair when the Failure Bus came around to pick me up.  My only DNF and something I hope to never have to deal with again, it took weeks to get not finishing out of my system, though to be honest it’s probably not all out.

tumblr_o1vbnyATkz1v6p1h0o1_500

For me, running further came from the premise that I have one speed and it isn’t a fast speed but for Ultras that is kind of what is needed.  The ability to shut your mind off and plod ever onward, come what may, until the finish line is reached.

How far can I go?  Well that’s what we’re here to find out.

 

Isle of Wight Challenge 2017. The rerun.

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

2016-04-30 08.47.21

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.

2016-04-30 16.43.50

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.

2016-04-30 10.29.01

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

2016-04-30 10.28.58

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.