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”

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.

2016-11-18-23-39-39

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.

2016-11-19-04-23-27

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.

2016-11-19-08-10-20

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.

Sports Massage?

For months people have been extolling to me the benefits of having a sports massage.  So I did some research and went along to a highly recommended physio pretty close to where I live.  I have the big race this weekend and having a massage five days before seemed about right.

anna-wallin-01

I met Anna, my masseuse, and after a quick chat I lay down on the massage table.  It all started quite gentle as she felt my muscles to see what needed doing.  She explained everything quite clearly as she went along and I started to relax.  And then it began.

“Try to relax” Anna said.  “I may be able to if you take that knife out of my calf”  I thought to myself while willing my body to relax.  This lady had fingers of steel and time after time they thrust into my legs.  “Try to relax” became a mantra and momentarily I think I managed it a bit. At times I was actually unable to talk through the pain but I knew from what I’d been told that the pain would reduce as my muscles relaxed.  And slowly the pain did go but of course that just meant moving those fingers onto the next area.

Calf, Calf, Hamstring, Hamstring and Glutes.  Each area received the fingers of steel treatment and survived.  My IT band had been bothering me over the last few weeks so she worked on that too.

30 minutes later and it stopped. The fingers of steel stopped prodding me and it was all over.  I stood up on shaking legs, put my trousers back on and stumbled out.

As I write this 3 hours afterwards my legs still hurt, as I was told they would do, but it’s a warm kind of pain, I sincerely hope that this helps a little bit at the weekend.  The last time I had a massage this painful was in Thailand 20 years ago when a Thai lady walked up and down my back but I think that was more about being drunk than for any therapeutic value.

I won’t know whether this massage has done any good until after this weekend but it has put me in a great state of mind which may help me through 24 hours non stop racing, 15 hours of which will be in the dark.

Escape from Meriden Kit Check

It’s been a month since my last post and that’s because I haven’t really done much.  Sure I’ve put in the miles but I’ve also been listening carefully to my body and my body kept on saying rest.  So, for probably the first time, I listened and I feel great because of it.

I’ve also been planning for my next big race.  The Escape from Meriden in a couple of weeks time.  It’s just too far and crazy a distance for my mind to understand which is perfect as it hopefully will mean no pre race nerves.  I’ve planned my route from the start to my finish point and apart from a few small sections it looks good for running on.  I’m a road runner so the route was always going to be a tarmac one, less chance of mud as I really hate mud.  People keep asking me how far I think I will get and the answer is always the same.  I will run 105 miles to get home.  How much of that I manage in the 24 hours of the race is a different matter, I’m hoping for 90 miles, as the race finishes at midnight Saturday night and I still have to get home.  Of course after midnight I do have the option of public transport or a taxi or any friend who is foolish enough to have their phone on, doesn’t drink and has a car.

Laid all my kit out on Sunday just so I can see it all and so I could take photos for Addey.  It looks so much when you lay it out but in reality it all squishes down in size.

ultra-kit

ultra-kit-guide

I’ve decided to do away with the bladder for this run and go with a water bottle belt instead.  It allows me to pack more equipment in the back pack but without increasing the weight that I’m used to carrying.  Whether that decision is a wise one only time will tell.  I’ve also doubled the front and back safety lights I wear: Be seen. Be safe.

The Charity vest is not a vital piece of my kit but I’ve always run with it from my very first race and it’s like a comfort blanket.  I’ve also found that people are more willing to help you if they know what you are doing is helping others, and that includes use of toilets, filling up water bottles and cake.

I normally don’t taper well at all but this time it’s different.  This time there’s no back up, no aid stations, no 1st aid help on the race.  I have to get to the start line in the best possible physical shape, I’m even having my first sports massage next week.  Mentally I’m already there waiting to set off, hoping there is a toilet near to the start.

How do I choose races?

Sometimes you choose races and sometimes races choose you.  Great examples of this are my next two races:  Great North Run and Escape from Meriden.

The Great North Run on Sept 11th is one of those iconic races, never good for a PB but for me it is a “tick it off your running bucket list” kind of race.  57,000 people can make a great atmosphere  but I can imagine it will be terrible for running it.  Too many people to be able to keep a nice pace especially for the first few miles, but it’s a race about fun and charity and I’ll be going up there just to have some fun.  It’s also one of the races that non runners have heard of.  🙂

On the other hand, Escape from Meriden, 19th November, flashed up on my Facebook feed and immediately I had to book it.  This is a race as far from GNR as it is possible to go and fits more with my style of running.  So what is it?

Escape from Meriden is a simple ultra race, Meriden is the traditional centre of England by the way, 100 runners start the race and have 24 hours to get as far away as possible.  There is no route, no plan, no aid stations, in fact there is nothing at all.  There is bling though and what you get depends on how far you manage to escape in the 24 hours.

Meriden to my house is 104 miles so even if I didn’t make it all the way there at least I would know that every step would be taking me closer.  All you mathematicians out there very quickly worked out that if I ran 0.8 miles more it would be 4 marathons.  🙂   4 marathons in 24 hours?  Why not?

Of course with this race being different, it comes with its own obstacles; no aid stations so food has to be bought along the route, the same goes for water.  Everything you need has to be carried, there’s nothing in the rules about not being allowed a crew but I can’t imagine any of my friends coming out for a 24 hour crew as none of them are runners.  One major thought:  If I have to stop through injury there’s no backup at all.  I bet all my friends and family turn their phones off that night.  🙂

24 hours on your own.

Not many people ever do that by choice, you have to be extremely at peace with yourself to want to be on your own for that length of time or extremely pissed off at the world.

24 hours running on your own. 

Very few people want to do that.  It’s a physical thing but it’s also a mental thing.  The desire to stop can become overwhelming and you need a reason to continue.  Running that kind of distance can hurt, I know that all too well and there’s not much you can do to stop it hurting.  Sucking it up is part and parcel of Ultra running.

2 races in 3 months, totally different but the same really, I mean it’s just running.  🙂

Training Marathon run report

I train slightly differently.  I have no training plan so I can choose to run whenever and for as long or short as I want.  This week I knew I wanted a long run at the weekend so ran a 10k on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as easy warmups and then took Thursday and Friday off.

The only plan for today’s run was to get to 30k and see how I felt.  I knew that I would be passing close to a few Superstores and a few smaller shops I’ve used before so I knew that extra water and food would be easily available.  I started with 2 litres of Tailwind in my backpack, it just works for me, and headed off.  The weather was calm and the sun was just rising as I headed off.  I rarely see any other runners on my morning runs and I didn’t expected that to change, at least not in the first 2-3 hours, maybe as I got further into the morning and headed into areas with more housing I might encountered other exercisers.

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1st Aid Station

At 15k I entered my first aid station.  I knew this had to be a quick stop and I was in and out within 5 minutes, orange juice, water and a bag of crisps.  The guys inside knew I was rushing and helped me out finding things.

At 22k I felt a hot spot forming and, knowing how quickly they can develop into a blister, I immediately stopped to change socks and use a Compeed plaster.  This was the moment that I realised that I hadn’t repacked my backpack after washing it this week.  No plasters, no spare socks, no spare buffs, no spare gloves, nothing at all, not even toilet paper.  So I readjusted my socks and thought I’d be okay as long as it didn’t rain.

Then it started raining.  I did have my waterproof with me so that went on pretty quickly and off I headed again knowing my next aid station was at 30k so I could check again then.  I always thought my waterproof jacket was in fact waterproof but it seems not at least not in that amount of rain.  I do have another one but it’s not quite as light. Sometimes running in the rain is refreshing but at other times, like today, it’s as much I could do not to drown while running.  Of course shorts get wet in the rain and thoughts automatically turn to the possibility of chaffing.  I do use Body Glide and I always use what I think is enough and then put more on but today was the first heavy rain test, it just about passed the test.

2016-08-20 09.51.45

2nd Aid Station

Again at the 2nd Aid Station everything went like clockwork and again I was out within 10 minutes.  The rain continued to pour down but my feet felt okay so I decided to continue.  Up to this point I had been using a run/walk program and it did become a bit more walk/run at this point.  Because I’m not in training for a marathon my thoughts are always monitoring my body to make sure I’m not expending too much energy too early.  There’s no point me finishing a marathon distance with no energy left when I’ll normally have at least one or more marathons still to go.  That’s when the mental stage of my running comes in I think.

So a marathon run, my feet came out unscathed, I have now repacked my backpack, schoolboy error, I’ll now have to do some runs in a new waterproof jacket but it’s nice to know that mentally at least I am ready to run some long distances again.

Great North Run in 3 weeks time, it’s a long way to travel for a half but it seems to be more of a fun carnival run, so I just plan to go up and enjoy it, no racing just to have fun.

Anatomy of a Run

What really happens when we run (maybe): NASA Style
Brain: This is mission control we are at T minus 5 minutes, let’s have a Status check.
Head: Covering on.
Ears: Plugs inserted.
Chest: 2 Layers on.
Left Arm: Music device in place.
Left Wrist: Timer in place.
Hands: Gloves on
Legs: Covered.
Knees: A bit sore but within parameters.
Feet: Ready to go. Shoes on.
Brain: Listen up people, this one’s for Addey so no mistakes, make it a good one. Here we go!!
Left Wrist: HOLD ON!! Still waiting for a signal mission control.
Brain: Legs move us around a bit to help Left Wrist.

moon-walk-49807-lw
(2 minutes later)
Left Wrist: Okay, ready to go.
Brain: Activate music, activate timer, Legs take us away.
Legs: Okay we’re off, feet keep up please.
Brain: Ears keep us informed of the information the lady tells us.
Ears: Roger mission control, just passing through ½ km now and she says we’re going a little fast.
Brain: Concentrate now don’t let this get away from us, we can’t have a repeat of last time
Eyes: Feet! Puddle ahead, please avoid it.
Feet: Thank you eyes, legs ready to jump?
Legs: Ready……….and GO!
Brain: Good job everyone, looks like we’re about halfway.
Ears: Confirmed mission control, halfway point and on schedule.
Left Knee: Excessive soreness occurring. Checking
Brain: Can you continue, without you it’s all over?
Left Knee: Permission to use mouth to vent, it might help.
Brain: Permission granted, area is clear of civilians, proceed with venting.
Mouth: $***@£&$ %$££$ $£%$%$%$
Left Knee: That seems to have worked a bit, will continue with movement
Ears: Lady reports 4 km completed on schedule, Irene Cara singing about Fame again.
Stomach: Mission control we have a problem! Experiencing pizza problems.
Brain: Elaborate Stomach please.
Stomach: Pizza had not completed full nutritional circle before mission start.
Brain: Can you hold it together for 3 minutes. Legs, we have a CODE RED. This is not a drill, I repeat this is not a drill. Move it, move it!
Eyes: I see the docking station, hands get unlocking device out of pocket.
(later)
Brain: Well done everyone, we learned a few things today but overall a good job.