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”

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An Escape too far!

Escape from Meriden 2016

I’ve started races before not entirely fit but only short ones, I’ve hobbled and stumbled around a few 10k’s in the past knowing that if any pain came it would be over in about an hour or so.  I’ve usually run those even when slightly injured as it was for Charity.  But I’ve never before taken on a long run when not completely fit and ready.  Ten days before this race my IT Band went and despite a lot of rest, foam rolling and massage I knew it was a case of when it would go on this run not if it would go.  All I could do was adopt a run/walk strategy and try not to push at all.

I traveled up by train, first to Coventry and then to Hampton in Arden, a small village 3 miles from Meriden.  I had expected to find a taxi company at the station but nothing.  After a quick check on my GPS I set off walking to Meriden, already slipping and sliding on the frost covered pavements.  As I got to Meriden another runner stopped to ask directions and then gave me a lift for the last 4oo metres.

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Race HQ was in a community hall and possibly the strangest I have ever been in.  An amazing collection of runners all who looked both calm and almost bewildered to why they were there and what they had gotten themselves into.  I checked in and was given my number and race drone tracker.  Everyone was in really chatty moods and I had great conversations with many of the runners.  A few words from the Race Director and we left as a group to walk up to the start line.  With temperatures at just above freezing there seemed to be some nervous tension as people discussed plans for their race.  After five or so minutes and a quick countdown we were off.

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A large number of runners headed off in the same direction as me and for the first twenty minutes it was like running in a fire parade with all the twinkling lights ahead, around and behind me.  Spirits were high but the temperature remained low and I ran in a small group for about forty minutes.  At this point I experienced the first sign of my IT band going and decided to walk for a while.  I stopped at a garage for drinks and had a great conversation with the attendant who had seen other runners passing by.  Her look of incredulity as I explained what the race was all about was amusing and I was soon off and moving again.

Two more hours of run/walk that was turning more into walk/run as I went along and then I slipped on a patch of frosty road and down I went.  As I lay on the road I knew I’d damaged my knee but the one thing I’ve learned is that I can deal with pain to a certain degree so I got up planning to just continue.  The pain was so bad plus with the muscles around my knee already misbehaving I knew my race was over.

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And this is where Escape from Meriden differs from all other races I’ve been in.  There was no Aid station a few miles away, going forward or backward, there was no-one I knew who would come out at 3am to pick me up.  I knew all this before the race so it helped in making the decision I did.  It helped mentally anyway, and running long distance is so much of a mental game.  I did have a SOS button on the tracker but, to be honest, it didn’t cross my mind until just before I got on the train and I went to turn the tracker off.

So I did what I knew I had to do, I walked to the nearest train station so I could get home.  I walked through the night and into the glorious sun rise.  According to my tracker I walked for six hours and eight minutes after falling at an average speed of 3.5 mph.  I knew Banbury was on the London line and would be both the closest and best station to head for.  I had no idea how far it was and that was immaterial really, I just had to get there.  I wasn’t helped by the fact that the route I had chosen may have been the most direct but it didn’t pass through any towns or villages almost at all.  The last 3 miles into Banbury were by far the slowest and the most painful but I had all the time in the world to make it.  🙂  I bought out half of a Greggs bakery on arrival and after a small wait started my multiple train journey home.  Three hours later I arrived home, sank into a hot bath, ate and slept.

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Total distance 53km in about 9 hours so not fast at all.

Injury is something that happens and I’ve learned to deal with it.  I had trained well over the previous three months and I have suffered from IT Band failure before.  I knew it would go but had convinced myself that I would be okay.  I didn’t want to miss out on such an intriguing race after all.

I’ve learned from this race as I’ve learned from them all.  I’ve learned a bit more about my capacity to deal with pain and next time I might do things a little differently but I doubt it.  🙂

I will come back and do another one like this, I loved the format and the organisation was spot on.

The Great North Run – an Experience.

The Great North Run is so much more than just a race, so much more than the World’s largest half marathon, it’s also one of those occasions where words might not be enough to describe the whole thing.  I shall try.

Of course it isn’t just about the race itself, it’s a whole weekend event.

For me it started at 11am on Saturday morning when, bag packed, I set off on the start of a six hour relatively pain free three train journey including lunch of champions at Kings Cross Station.  I met up with Miriam, a fellow runner from Running The Distance, an online Facebook running group, and we spend the whole journey chatting away.  On arrival in Newcastle we walked to my hotel, a few minutes from the station, checked in and then, after checking the map, decided to walk to Miriam’s hotel it being only one mile away.

This was to be my first experience of the hills of Newcastle.  That one mile to the hotel was all uphill and seemed to be much longer than one mile.  After checking Miriam in we retraced our steps back into the city centre on the look out for fellow RTD members and needed food.  We were unsuccessful with the members but food and beer were found in the Wetherspoons.  Good food and cheap beer always go down well I’ve found and a few beers later and we were flagging.  Miriam went off to her hotel by taxi and I returned to my hotel.

In hindsight, and I could have said this many times about things after this weekend, I would have paid a little more for my hotel.  The Albatross, where I was, was a clean hotel but was really a backpackers hostel, twelve to a dormitory room, shared facilities and noise, oh so much noise.  From squeaky beds to snorers, very drunk Irish lads sliding down the bannisters and party goers coming in at three am, it all combined together to not a great night’s sleep.  In fact I gave up at around six am and went for a run.  Cold and breezy it was to be the best part of the day, I always love running early before most people have got up.  The city market was just setting up and the smell from the bakery was divine.  I ran up to the start and watched for a while as the marshals and security arrived and set up.  Breakfast of Champions followed by returning to my room and chatting with fellow runners while changing for the race.

I collected Miriam at her hotel and we walked back up to the starting area to drop off bags and find our starting pen.  At this point the sun made its first appearance of the day.  Not in the weather forecast it caught a lot of people without sunglasses or sun cream, there would be a lot of red faces and shoulders by the end of the day.  We arrived at the pens early, thank you Miriam  🙂 , and found some shade and took loads of photos.  Although loads of people walked past us there wasn’t really a sense of the huge numbers that partake in the GNR and we were on the lookout for fellow runners.  I spotted the T-shirt footprint of RTD and Jason joined us for a while.

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At around 9.30am we entered our starting pen and the waiting began.  The sun blasted down and the entertainment started.  A massive TV screen near us showed pre race stories, interviews and charity stories, some very emotional ones too.  I did my #22pushupchallenge to applause in the pen and got to explain what it was all about.

And then at 10.40am we were off!!  Well Mo Farah was off, we wouldn’t start to move for 30 minutes and it’s only then that the scale of the GNR starts to sink in.  On the big screens we could see all the runners crossing the start line and still we waited and waited, slowly shuffling along listening to the commentator shout out name after name of charities being run for.  After 40 minutes it was our time to start racing, unfortunately the sheer number of people meant that for the first 200 metres nothing faster than a shuffle was possible.

We got into our stride and then the hills began.  I’ve never taken Newcastle to be a hilly city but it is, not big hills but long continuous inclines and they all seem to go up!  Miriam send me forward after 3 km but, in hindsight, I wish I’d stayed with her.  I chat to anyone when I run and I spoke to, among many others, a man with a fridge, a man in a dustbin, many superheroes, and people from all over the country.  The encouragement from the runners to each other was no less of that from the spectators who were out in force from start to finish handing out water, orange slices, jelly babies and much more that I didn’t partake of.  And those hills just kept on coming and coming.  It was tricky keeping a good rhythm up as people would suddenly stop running and start walking with no notice, I crashed, as did many other, into quite a few people.  I knew I wouldn’t be getting a good time when I found myself walking at around the 10km mark.  It was a long incline and I found myself with a lack of energy that never really came back.  At some point I caught and passed Jason who was visibly struggling, we had a quick chat and I pushed on.

Long story short and I came down the steep hill to the sea front quite tired and with heavy legs.  That last mile was a long one but I plodded on and overtook hundreds of people who had resigned themselves to a long walked finish.  Eventually the finish line came and that was that, quite anti climatic really.  A long walk to get medal and goody bag and then I waited for Miriam to finish so we could get back to the city.  Being on the sea front on a hill the wind blew hard and it was only the fact that it was still sunny that people didn’t start suffering from the cold.  Once Miriam arrived we collected her bag and found a bus back into the city.  Because of traffic it took an hour to travel the 8 miles and I slept most of it.  Another fantastic meal at the Wetherspoons before heading off to the station for the journey home.

Virgin Trains, you are shocking.  One train cancelled previously in the day caused chaos for all trains following.  We had reserved seats but no reservation slips were on seats and people from previous trains filled our train.  We found did find seats but the train was packed with people sitting on the floor and in the corridors.  Of the eight toilets on the train only four were working at the start of our journey, by the end none of them were, and the train guard could not have cared less.

I eventually arrived home at 11pm, 36 hours after leaving.  I was tired, hungry but full of the satisfaction that comes from overcoming difficulties to achieve something.

Is the Great North Run worth doing?  Absolutely.  Will I be doing it again?  Absolutely not!