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.

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.

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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.

Do Runners Inspire runners?

I’m a member of a few Facebook running communities, most have a mixture of very good runners and more beginner runners and the combination works.  Most Sundays are full of race results, pictures, medals and self congratulatory posts seeking approval from their peers.  I’m not knocking it as I have done exactly the same thing. They are in a safe place, a runners place and runners do understand runners and they know they will get a nice response because their real friends don’t care or understand about running.  I still post every run on my Facebook page as it’s an easy way of recording them if I ever want to look back again.  I even have a few runner friends who like my posts.  🙂

I have to admit that I tend to gloss over the very large majority of these posts as I only fleetingly “know” these people and even then it’s only on the Internet.  The posts I do look for are those of people I know and have met or members of my online running team as we actually communicate more than just race times and results.  There are also the posts from runners who have struggled or are struggling, the ones carrying a few extra pounds and the runners who just find it hard work.  I like them because I can relate, I was them, I still am them, I’ll probably always be them.

I can feel the pride of a first time 10k finisher, or a half or a full as I’ve been there and I remember the pride and relief of finally reaching a magical target.  For them time is immaterial, the finish line means more than anything else.  I celebrate with these people and congratulate them, it’s a mighty achievement.

Where I have issues are the runners who go online to tell everyone how they failed in achieving a certain time when that time “they failed at” is faster than 99% of the time all the runners could ever achieve.  The “failure” runner knows this and posts and waits for all the posts telling him/her how awesome and amazing they are.  STOP IT!!  We know you’re faster than us, belittle yourself somewhere else.

Do runners inspire runners?  Everyone is inspired by different criteria and no one is the same in thinking what is good or bad or inspiring.  Elite runners don’t inspire me, what they do, they do easily, it’s hardly an effort or so they make it seem.  Fast club runners and their 1:30 halfs don’t inspire me.  I can’t run that fast and never will be able to.  The runners that inspire me are the ones that push themselves but at a level I can relate to.  I know what a 6 hour marathon feels like, I’ve felt that pain that goes on for hours.  I can relate to someone who runs 50 miles and it takes half a day.  These are the runners who have to push themselves, they go to the start and know it’s going to hurt and hurt for a long time.  These are the runners who don’t realise they inspire other runners, they do it because they feel that they have to, they usually do it to raise money for great causes and sometimes they do it just to show other people that they can do it.

Who inspires you and why?

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!

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.  🙂

Recovery Run? Do I look Recovered?

I first came across the term”Recovery Run” when I was training for my first marathon and I remember thinking when I saw it that I really needed an easy day.  Training was getting tough, the runs getting longer and I was starting to really not enjoy running.  The plan I was doing came with instructions for each day; how far, how fast, etc. but I only glanced at the entry after I saw “Recovery Run, 5k slow and easy”.  This is my type of run, slow and easy, I can do that.  Of course I later read the rest of the instructions when I was struggling to climb the stairs.

“Recovery Run, 5k slow and easy, after the long run yesterday you’ll be running on tired fatigued muscles.  This will hurt”

Back then I was young and naive, I thought I knew it all, I could run 5k slow and easy without breaking a sweat.  Oh how wrong I was.  After 20k the day before, the longest run up to that date, I set off with enthusiasm and, to be honest, completely unaware of what was to come.  1k in and I thought I was dying, muscles were already screaming, I could hardly catch a breath and I was sweating like a fat girl in a cake shop.  I gave up that day and had to walk home after less than 2km.

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Jump forward 2 years to today and not much has changed.  I did run 22km yesterday and today was a recovery run.  Only 6km but knowing that this time I could run the whole distance even with legs screaming to stop didn’t make it any easier.

It’s all about training on pre-fatigued muscles and training this way allows shorter runs but at a higher fitness benefit.  Or something like that.  All I know is I hurt and feel really tired.  Excuse me I must go lie down.

A memory of me and Technology

This is from 2 years ago and popped up in Facebook memories and still makes me smile.

New phone app on trial today, well new for me anyway.  Nike +.  Looks snazzy and loads of friends use it so I thought let’s give it a go. Has some features that Runkeeper, my usual app, doesn’t have so I’m all excited.  Signed up online and changed the settings to match me and I was ready.

August 22nd 2014, 5.00am

First run off we go, I had set the voice to female and she was a little sexier than the runkeeper lady so waiting for that first interval was tantalising.  “Your pace is 4 minutes 40 seconds” she read out. WHAT?  Am I suddenly an Olympic athlete?  I mean I felt good but that’s just crazy.  Next interval “Your pace is 4 minutes 32 seconds”  WHAT? WHAT? Oh by the way these are minutes per kilometre not minutes per mile:-).  I am on fire this morning, can I go faster?  “Your pace is 4 minutes 5 seconds”   Well everyone had to know about this.  “I AM A RUNNING GOD!!! I screamed out in the quiet street, “LOOK AT ME!  LOOK AT ME!”  A few lights went on in local houses as I moved past at my new incredible speed.  How fast could I run, I thought to myself.  “Your pace is 3 minutes 37 seconds”  SHUT UP!!  I looked back expecting a trail of fire behind me, but obviously the rain had put it out instantly.

As much as I wanted to believe this was actually happening there had to be another explanation, I couldn’t have turned from plodder to elite overnight.  I have been feeling ill for a few days, maybe I was dreaming.  No I wouldn’t dream of running in light drizzle on a cold morning.  Then it struck me.  I was running on my favourite route and I knew where I normally am when the pace splits come up and I was way off, a quick glance at my Garmin confirmed that the app thought I was 0.5 kilometre further ahead than I was. Damn! I knew it was too good to be true.  I was no longer a running god but recalibrated, my run was a 6:00 min/km pace overall, my fastest ever.  So not all bad news.

I’ll give the app another shot, she does have a sexy voice after all and it was my fault that it all went wrong.  Turns out that I had the nike+ app set to treadmill instead of outside, so it was with deep regret that I had to delete that run.  But one day I’ll hear that sexy voice say “Your pace is 4 minutes 30 seconds” and once again I shall become a running god!!

I still run hoping to match that time but now I have other priorities in running.