Sunday, 22 May 2011

And then there was one... event left to blog about, and that's not till September.  But that means that another one has been ticked off - the marathon, which is a big, big relief, as it's the one that I would have predicted at the outset was going to be the most difficult.

The basic facts are these:  yesterday I ran the White Peak Marathon, organised by Matlock Athletics Club.  It runs from Fenny Bentley near Ashbourne up the Tissington Trail and then down the High Peak Trail to Cromford Meadows near Matlock.  I finished the course in 3 hours 50 mins, 76th out of 198 finishers.  (The fastest runner did it in 2 hrs 58, the slowest in 5 hrs 25.  That gives you some idea that it's a pretty slow course, primarily because a) almost none of it is flat, as the first 18 miles are very progressively uphill, and then there's three massive descents after 21 miles, and b) it was windy yesterday.  I think it probably explains too why I was 5 mins outside of my target time of 3 hrs 45).
The other fact is this, and excuse the shouting:  IT HURT! 

In more detail: quite unusually for a marathon I think, runners were required to register at Race HQ, and were then bussed to the race start some distance away.  Whether or not that was the reason for the comparatively late start of 11 am I don't know, but it certainly meant more reasonable getting-up and departure times than I'm used to on event days.  After the obligatory porridge I was very kindly driven across to Matlock by Andy, my nominated supporter of the day, and ideal candidate for the role with six marathons under his belt.  Even an hour's worth of prog rock (Genesis live album c. 1977, couldn't tell you the title) couldn't spoil the fantastic countryside and sunshine on the way across. In fact, truth to tell, it enhanced it.  Oh God.

Registration was a cursory affair, warm up even more so, coach was stuffy and cramped, portaloos were as portaloos are.  Delightful.  After some megaphone instructions that were totally inaudible to all but the front two rows, we were under way at 11.03 (v important to note in case the timekeepers tried to claim an 11-on-the-dot start).  The first 10 miles or so passed pretty much in a haze; there were plenty of runners around me, the countryside was reasonably engaging, and nothing much was hurting.

The recently-acquired inner right knee random pain started shortly after 10 miles, so a couple of Voltarol pills were popped.  Apart from the slightly bizarre experience of having to go up a trail for half a mile after a turn-off point to come directly back down it again to make up the full distance (how Mendip Rouleur would have hated that), it was then all quiet again till about 16 miles, when both knees began to make their presence felt.  Another couple of Voltarols in blatant disregard for the dosage instructions (as there might have been...ahem....another couple popped on the coach too), and the discomfort was manageable.

It was noticeable that all chat between those running together, and who had apparently been having some full-on debates about life, the universe and everything, stopped abruptly at 18 miles.  It seems that even for seasoned runners, that's about the mark when you have to retreat into yourself and just focus on blanking out the discomfort.  My sterling supporter was there to greet me just after the water stop at 19 miles, and a very welcome sight that was too, though whether his pictures of me at that point will be as welcome to their viewers is debateable.  I was beginning to cramp at this point, and frankly had no idea how I was going to get through the next 7 miles.

And do you know what?  I still don't.  The knees were going crazy, my quads were sore as hell, and my toes, calves and shins would take it in turn to cramp up momentarily.  I had to walk a couple of times, but somehow the head coaxed the legs into running again.  The downhill sections at miles 21, 22 and 24 were sheer torture.  I honestly think I'd rather have been going uphill at that point.  Anyway, the last mile and a half were along a canal towpath, and then, really abruptly, turned back into Cromford Meadows for a final downhill 50 yards, to hit the fabuluous finish line, complete with cowbells and whistles, Andy, and my sister Claire who'd turned up to see me finish.  Thanks to both of them - it's really great to have people to chunter on to when you cross the line.

I actually didn't feel too bad after I finished.  I didn't sit down, had a bit of walk, and supped from my White Peak Marathon commemorative mug, awarded in lieu of a medal.  Useful and attractive (IMHO).  Ticks all the William Morris boxes, though that opinion doesn't appear to be shared by the good lady wife.  I fear it might meet with an "accident" before the month is out.

And now?  Well, I've been on some running websites today, and apparently the day after a marathon it's common to be depressed, stiff and have food cravings.  Two out of three then.  I suspect the depression's holding off till tomorrow morning, but right now fish 'n' chips would go down a treat.  Got to put up with roast chicken and trimmings instead.  :-(  And as for the stiffness, oh yes.  No sniggering at the back - it's in my legs.  Thighs and knees mainly.  Ho hum, it's the price you pay I guess.

To summarise the event, I'd confirm what the runners' forums say, viz. this is a runners' marathon (ie great scenery, not too many cheering crowds, no-one dressed as Elvis or a funky chicken), it's really well organised, and it's a pretty tough course.   Personally, I'm just delighted to be able to say "I've run a marathon", and though, of course, it's way too early to be making predictions for the future, my head's where it was last Sunday - running is fun, and I'd like to keep doing it, but marathon's aren't fun, and I don't feel as though I've been bitten by that particular bug.  But you know, when the aches and pains have worn off, who's to say that little voice won't start up...."you could do 3 hrs 30, couldn't you?"......

But come what may, that's for the future.  Six weeks today I depart these shores to go and watch the Tour de France, and over the week we'll be riding the best part of 200 miles to the stage starts and finishes, so it's time to get in shape for that.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

I hate you so much right now...

...running that is.  Not that I've done that much of it recently.  None during the week, just a trainer session on the bike and some core work, then 13.2 kms of very hilly stuff yesterday, which took 1 hr 15 mins.  It was a nice enough run, through a combination of Teggs Nose country park and Macclesfield Forest, ascending gradually into cloud at the top of the Forest, then descending through it again into countryside as I picked up the Gritstone Trail on the way back.

However, two problems emerged: a very stiff and painful right knee, which started to bother me last Sunday, and a real lack of energy.  Neither particularly helpful a week before your first marathon.  I have no idea what's causing the former, though it seems worst when running uphill.  I can't think of any remedy other than rest and painkillers on the day, so that was the last run before next Saturday.  As for the latter, I can only assume that Maggies and the near-marathon length run I did last Sunday have left their mark.  Fortunately, rest is probably the best cure for that too, so pre-race prep this week is looking like more core work and a good diet, and not much else.

And that is why I'm not enjoying this running lark right now.  Whilst the actual feeling of running can't be beaten in many ways in terms of the adrenaline rush (as it's not accompanied by a strong sense of your own mortality, which can take the edge off rapid mountain descents on the bike), having to constantly manage yourself to avoid injury and exhaustion is a bit of a bore. To be fair, that really only comes in to play over longer runs, which I'd categorise as 10 miles plus.  So, whilst it's dangerous to draw conclusions before a big event, at this stage I think a) I'm going to do the marathon, and b) carry on running (for duathlons, enjoyment and winter training), c) I can't see me getting into distance running as a regular thing.  I'm looking forward to getting back to bike training, where worries about injury and exhaustion just seen so much smaller.  Different challenges replace them of course - running is very time-efficient from a training gains standpoint compared to cycling for example.  But there is, I think, a reason why so many old geezers stay on their bikes compared to the number that you see pavement-pounding.

Two more things this week.  First, speaking to t'eldest this week, she didn't realise that "La Manche" element of the title of this blog related to a planned London to Paris bike ride this September.  Well, it does.  There's 4 of us doing it, raising money for various charidees, and there's a separate blog started for the 4 of us to contribute to.  I'll provide a link and more detail in future blogs, but even though that'll be the one remaining blog event after next weekend, this one will remain the main one, as I'll have lots of other things to report: riding in Brittany to watch the Tour de France, a long weekend of non-stop climbing in the Pyrenees with Mendip Rouleur later in August, and probably other things along the way.

Talking of Mendip Rouleur, I was at his house when last year's Eurovision Song Contest was on, taking part in the Tour of Wessex.  He's doing that event again this year, I'm not.  But this part of the blog is about Eurovision, not sportive-riding.  We had a Eurovision party last night, me, the missus, t'youngest and 5 friends.  Complete with union flag-adorned cup cakes (Liv), copious amounts of chilli, 1970s flared jeans (me), and officially-sanctioned scoring sheets (BBC) it was a darned good laugh.  Aside from the nakedly political but ultimately futile political voting, and assessing outfits and dance moves as instructed by said scoring sheets, the best entertainment was to be had with the Moldovan entry.  I'm sure you'll recall the men in pointy hats if you had the good fortune to witness them yourself, but if not, imagine an amalgam of men in those very large pointy hats singing/rapping a soundalike Beastie Boys song, accompanied by a performing fairy on a unicycle and a head banging brass section, and you'll be maybe 50% of the way to capturing the true genius of their performance.  Wonderful.  I urge you to discover that wonder through the medium of YouTube.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Midweek bonus blog

2 reasons for this: post photos from Maggies Monster Bike & Hike.

...and the other.  Whilst I did my early morning exercises today I was reflecting on this blog, and the practice of people seeking sponsorship generally.  What struck me is that by and large we seek sponsorship for things we enjoy doing, or that at least are going to provide us with a feeling of personal satisfaction when we've done them.  We don't seek sponsorship for things that are going to be manifestly unpleasant, or provide very much wider benefit, other than the raising of the cash itself.  That's clearly not to be sniffed at, but I think that donors are probably getting to the point now of thinking that there's not much in it for them.

Might things change over the next couple of years so that sponsored events move away from being "nice" things to do, to things that are less intrinsically rewarding or achievement-oriented, but provide benefits that are more widely spread?  A sponsored litter pick?  Graffiti removal?  Community centre / village hall decoration?  Respite care provision? 

I ponder this when I hear about people cycling round the world to raise money, or rowing oceans.  Sure it raises funds, and it gives them another chapter in their life story, but it's not actually that constructive is it?  Or would donors not be captivated by the glamour and romance of events that were much more mundane, but provided what economists like to term 'utility', and so the funds simply wouldn't be raised?  I'd like to see James Cracknell's next adventure not be the Marathon des Sables or the Race Across America, but 2 weeks volunteering at a drug-rehab centre.  I wonder how that would go down with potential backers?

So, this might be the last year I ask for funds for things that ultimately, I like to do.  This isn't a public commitment, but I'm certainly going to have to think about it...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Doggy delights

It's been a fairly quiet week exercise-wise, probably not that surprising after our efforts at Maggies last weekend.  A couple of mid-week runs followed by a long one today.  It was a bit odd really - when I went out on Tuesday I absolutely flew round the 6 miles, whereas on Thursday it was a pretty laboured 4.5 - it was like the fatigue from last weekend took a while to materialise.

And it was certainly there today still.  Admittedly I did my longest run yet - 24 miles - but the last 3 to 4 of those were completed using the head much more than the body.  It's rare for me to say this, but I genuinely didn't enjoy those miles; bits were hurting, I was bored and just wanted to be home.  My mood wasn't helped by the preponderance of dogs on the canal tow paths today.  Most dogs, and indeed their owners, are fine - they stand aside, I acknowledge and thank them, and we each go on our way one positive interaction to the good.  However, there are a few who indulge their canine companions like parents of unruly kids.  "Don't do that Fido" is said with such a lack of conviction that ruddy Fido then proceeds to stand right in the middle of my path/try to trip me up/accompany me down the next 200 yards of towpath, or some combination of the foregoing.  I suppose it's better than being bitten, but at least if I was bitten I could have a proper go at the owner, whereas as it is I get the distinct impression I'm supposed to smile sweetly and admire their oh-so-clever child substitute.

There, that's better.  My thoughts actually began to turn today to being back on the bike in a few weeks time.  I mustn't forget about the marathon a week on Saturday though - the danger of doing long-ish runs is the same as doing loads of revision for an exam, then opening the paper and realising that you can answer all the questions - you've still got to actually get the answers to the damn things on a piece of paper, or in this case, run just over 26 miles.  However, there'll be no more long runs - 10 miles perhaps at some point next weekend.  And I'm mountain biking tomorrow night on quite a challenging course at Llandegla.  Not sure that's wise, but hey ho.  Other than that, the usual stretching and lunges, a bucketful of protein in the next few days, and plenty of rest.

What else can I report?  Not much - the weather was great again this morning after the overnight rain (you can tell I'm running short of news if I'm turning to the stalwart topics like that), and three months ago I'd no doubt have been raving about it.  We've been so spoiled by the warmth and sunshine of the last 6 weeks however that it didn't feel remarkable. 

One of these days I shall go off into philosophical meanderings about the benefits of running, of music whilst you're doing it, but I'll wait until there's truly very little going on before I resort to that.

Monday, 2 May 2011


And so the weekend of Maggies Monster Bike & Hike 2011 rolled around, and a great one it turned out to be.  Stand by for a long blog...

It started on Friday morning, leaving home at 845 for the 350 mile drive to Fort William.  Even that was fairly memorable too, as wifey sat in the passenger seat of the car searching for internet connections in the least likely places (Shap, Beattock) to be able to watch That Wedding.  She did connect from time-to-time, and I found myself, despite being wholly uninterested in the build up, snatching glances at the Archbish (thanks Boris) and the happy couple.  Though I didn't realise that John Peel had been reincarnated as the Bishop of London.  The most impressive bit for me overall were the onboard cameras in the planes involved in the fly-past; brilliant.

Complete coincidence of timing meant that the 3 parties travelling to FW (us, Bill & Kirsty, + support team of Gordon & Emma) met at the world-famous-in-Scotland Green Welly caff about 45 miles short of the destination, and we did the last bit in convoy.  A wild fire by the side of the road en route, and then another just outside the centre of FW, both being battled by fire crews, gave us an idea of how dry and dusty it was going to be out there.  At the end of April!

The pre-match routine followed the usual course: registration, pasta party, uplifting live music from a group with more enthusiasm than talent, and a briefing from David "Flasheart" Fox-Pitt, the lead organiser on behalf of Maggies (weather, bike, nutrition, course, emergency procedures, that sort of thing), followed by a couple of pints of strength-giving Guinness.  More Royal Wedding on telly, and then bed.  But no sleep.  Well, a couple of hours, but that was pretty restless.  I'm not sure why, but excitement and a head full of cold must have played their part.

Up at 5, covered every part of my body in either vaseline or suncream, or both in some cases, and out to the bike.  I'd elected this year to ride the couple of miles to the start and leave the good lady wife in her bed - it was going to be a long enough day for her as it was.  We left the start at Banavie at 6.32 for the 31 miles on mountain biking to Fort Augustus.  Those 31 miles break down something like this - 70% very straightforward, nice and flat, canal towpath, no stress.  15% long draggy climbs and dips, sapping if you overcook them, but not too stressful otherwise, and 15% quite technical single track.  For those with little MTB experience that latter 15% must be hard going.  It was a fairly straightforward run.  The wind was in our faces, and for a while was horribly reminscent of the day on the Lands End-John O'Groats ride a couple of years ago when we had a 20+ mph north-easterly coming at us for all the 106 miles between Connel and Inverness, one of the most draining days I've ever had on a bike.  Fortunately this time, the course zigged and zagged a bit, and we got 5 miles of shelter sucking the wheel of a big geezer.  I'm not sure he knew we were even there.

The fastest guys got the bike-walk transition in 2hrs 15; we were in 12 mins later in a very respectable 9th position.  We then had the first of 3 fabulous transitions in Fort Augustus (our support team of 4 - Gordon, Emma, Kirsty, Hazel - had been well briefed beforehand, but rose to the occasion magnificently; you know the Wallace & Gromit cartoons when Wallace gets of bed, and through a series of processes and contraptions is deposited at the breakfast tabled washed and dressed 20 seconds later - that was what it felt like), and were out walking 12 mins later.  I say walking, it wasn't long before we took to our run-walk approach, which had always been the plan to get to Bronze.  I guess we expected to start being overtaken at this point, as many others (we thought) ran a fair bit of the course, but to my astonishment we rolled into Bronze in Invermoriston at 11.07 (9 miles) a place higher up the overall, in 8th, out of 610 starters.

But then the really hard work began - the sun was high in the sky, the temp was 18-20c, and we were climbing hard for a couple of miles with no shelter at all.  The pace slackened a little, but not enough to stop us going past a few cyclists.  The first half of that section to Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit is pretty unforgiving, as the contour lines on the official map of the Great Glen Way map indicate.  What they don't show of course is the underfoot conditions, which are equally hard work in many places; small stones, big rocks, sharp-edged flinty things, all of which really test out your balance, footwear, and selection of where you're going to actually walk.  Anyway, we KBO'd (qv W. Churchill) till 15.07, when we hit the Silver finish (24 miles) at Drumnadrochit, accompanied on the run-in (literally in places) by Gordon, who'd come nearly 2 miles up the path to meet us, which gave Bill a nice break from my inane ramblings.

We'd dropped down to 13th by now, but we didn't care - we were ahead of our schedule and target, which was to get to Gold in 15 hours.  Hastily scoffed hot food, the inevitable sock and vest changes, and we were off again, going through plenty of tourists as we hiked the first couple of miles out of Drumnadrochit up the side of the A82.  Being at the front of the field this year completely changed the feel of the event - normally at this point all the tourists have retired to their campsites or hotels, and you're alone with fellow participants and the marshalls.  But on Saturday we barely saw any other participants, going for hours at a time without a sighting, the transitions were all but deserted, and the grockles were out in force, at least in the tourist honeytraps.

After those couple of miles along the A82, some gentle climbing was rapidly followed by some brutal climbing, or at least it feels that way when you've effectively got a marathon in your legs already.  A word here on Bill.  He started the day with his feet not in the greatest of shape (ie with plasters on in place to cover previous war wounds), and they got progressively worse.  We had to stop a couple of times outside of the transitions for him to tend further to his plates of raw meat, but not only did he a) keep going, but b) he kept going quickly, and most impressively c) he didn't moan.  I'd have been squealing like a cornered pig if I'd had to have contended with what he had to (and I mean his feet rather than my company, though God knows that can't have helped), so a special medal for British stoicism should be minted for BLW.  That said, he did pop enough painkillers to down a 2-ton bull, but I can't believe they're very effective at masking the pain of blisters.

The disappointment of missing out on a haggis-burger at the penultimate checkpoint was tempered by the knowledge we were still well ahead of schedule (note to Maggies organisers for next year: this wasn't the only ill-prepared waterstop - people at the front of the field need hot drinks and food just as much as the folk further down).  Texts exchanged with H saw our support team having to cut short their 5-course feast in Inverness, and hurry out to the finish to cheer us in.  I haven't really done the 18.5 miles between Silver and Gold justice here - it's hard, walking/running is just getting boring at this point having been out on the course for 12+ hours, and as you descend off the hills you can almost see the finish line in Inverness for a tantalising 45 minutes before you arrive at it.

But arrive at it we duly did, just after 20.30, to give us an official time of 14 hours and 1 minute, though by my timing it was 13 hours 59.  Either way, we did the course in 14 hours, an hour less than our target of 15 hours, 3 hours faster than last year, 5 hours faster than 3 years ago, and most surprisingly, of the 323 people who made it through to Gold, we finished 14th and 15th.  More stats - we were the 3rd fastest team that actually finished as a team (ie together), we were the fastest walking team, and the people that finished immediately behind us came in 1 hour 6 mins later.  I'm really proud of our performance.

I'm less proud of my performance after I finished however - it seems that I just haven't got enough blood in my system to cope with a combination of champagne, a deep tissue massage on lactic-laden legs, digesting hot food, AND keep me warm.  So for the second time in 3 years I ended up in the care of the Red Cross, this time with mild hypothermia.  My body temp was about 1.5-2c below normal, and it took nearly 90 minutes of being swaddled like a newborn to get it back to acceptable levels.  Oops.  How embarrassing.  And on a day when other folk were coming in with sunburn.

The better news however was that I completed the course totally blister-free and without losing a single toenail, both firsts for me.  There's not too much stiffness either, and I'm looking forward to resuming training tomorrow for the marathon that's 2 weeks on Saturday. 

Post-event reflections?  Well, if you want guaranteed good weather for a British-based holiday, go to the Highlands at the end of April - this was the 8th year of the Monster, and every year has been fine, and in most cases, glorious.  Second, it is a great event; you can make it as hard or as difficult as you wish, the scenery is fabulous, and the support is excellent.  Third, a good support crew is vital - not only is the good cheer and efficiency necessary, but being to look forward to those breaks gives you little intermediate rewards that are really important.  Fourth, you can always do more/go faster than you think you can!  Which leads me on to next year's event......hmmm, probably best to not take a decision for a few days.  I've got the date the Early Bird entry discount ends marked in my diary though! 

And finally...thanks again to our support crew, all named above - we obviously couldn't have done it without you, and I'd love you to give it a go - but mostly thanks to Bill, because this is a team event, and he was my team, both on the day and beforehand in the prep.  The event, the location, the weather, the team; all made it a fantastic weekend.   
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