Calderdale Way Ultra Marathon 2019

My first ‘proper’ ultra.

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My Strava route of the Calderdale Way – don’t look too closely or you’ll see my mistakes…

The Calderdale Way is a 50 mile 1970s creation – not as I’d assumed some ancient right of way – but a route designed to have you see the sights and visit the locations in the area, from the tops of the hills to the centres of towns and villages. The race takes all of this in with a little extra to and from race HQ in Todmorden for a total of just under 53 miles and an elevation total of over 9,000ft. You can run it solo and navigate the whole course by yourself, or run in pairs male/female/mixed and take it in turns or navigate by committee. I think it’d have been nice and reassuring to have run this with someone else by my side the whole way, but it was time to do one of these proper ultras, on my own, and I’m glad I did.

This was my 2nd Cannonball event this year – I’d chosen to run 3 of their distance events partly because booking them all together offered such good value and also thanks to a decision to make their checkpoints Vegan-friendly. My choice of goodies: hummus wraps, Bourbon Creams and salty boiled new potatoes. Despite running their Canalathon 75km earlier in the year when not long back from injury, I felt this was my first real ultra marathon as I’d have to navigate – something I’d obviously never done on the handful of time-limited lapped route races I’d run and something that wasn’t necessary on the Canalathon as I just had to follow the canal until someone turned me about face. That race was a pleasant way to get some miles in, ran most of it with someone else and we chatted and trotted the miles away, but it didn’t feel very “ultra” like the kinds of races my brother attempts.

So Calderdale Way. There were recce weekends I believe but I wasn’t free for those so I relied on a quick google and scan of wikipedia. I saw lots of moorland, quaint trails and old stone flag paths. All looked my sort of thing. I grabbed the GPX of the route from the Cannonball site, stuck it on my Suunto, figured out how to follow a route while recording an activity at the same time (after failing at Canalathon when trialing it out the first time, d’oh) and that was going to be that.

My cousin was also down to run the race with her OH – he’d bought their entries as part of her birthday gift. They’re both personal trainers, regular IronMan competitors and run RnL Fitness Now together, so I suppose that’s the kind of lovely surprise gift you get each other in those circumstances – entry to 50 mile Ultras… yikes. On the day, they rocked up with what seemed like minutes to spare as they’d already registered the evening before. I OTOH turned up well over an hour early, probably 2nd person to pick a spot in the empty car park, and had far too much time on my hands to stress over the contents of my belt bag and how shit my legs felt.

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Wandered about a lot, visited the toilet several times, strolled along the canal and eventually got to listen to the first part of the race briefing, getting in all the important info, before having to dash off for one last nervous toilet visit. I was a bit nervous about the race now, but hadn’t been at all until this point, mostly because the race wasn’t the thing occupying my thoughts in the weeks before 1st June – that was the Champions League Final. Race started at 6am. Football at 8pm. So if things went well I’d be home in time to see it. If they went a little awry, I’d find a local pub and watch it there. If I was having a shocker, I’d find a pub on the route. There was no plan that included not finishing the race or not watching the game.

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I decided to celebrate the day by wearing a load of kit I’d never worn before, which is obviously silly on race day, but it had to be done. As we had to carry a spare shirt, I chose to wear a last season long-sleeve LFC base layer I got in the sale, very clingy, very hot, almost compression, and a new ’19/’20 training top. For shorts I went with non-matching LFC lined shorts with two zipped pockets (I cut the lining out obvs). I wore my gloves ’cause carpal tunnel syndrome is my new friend and I’ve yet to receive treatment, so they help keep that numb/tingly deadness for a few eatra miles. My idea to not wear a vest, but instead use an Ultimate Direction belt + stuff my shorts pockets to fit in all the required kit + my Clif Bloks was… probably a bit of a fail. I never really got comfortable with the belt sitting on my hips but riding up a lot, the velcro fastener created endless faff and resulted in the whole thing falling off a couple of times as I adjusted it and fastened it wrongly, and the stuffed pockets kinda pulled on the crotch area – oops!

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Those shorts don’t look comfortable! But I’m wincing ’cause my legs feel TIGHT

Before the day, I took a look at a friend’s Strava from the previous year when he ran it. He grabbed the GPX of the route from the Cannonball site and used his Garmin eTrex to navigate. Only once did it let him down, when the signal got lost in the woods after crossing a road, so I was ready for this (or so I thought, more on that later) – cross a road, go into trees, lose signal, hard right back on yourself – job done. The rest the watch should manage (plus they also gave out laminated maps of the route with full directions). I have one of those little hand-held Garmin GPS devices, a little colour screen every bit as good as an ancient Nokia 3200, odd controls via a little nubbin joystick that also clicks to select, and a screen refresh that’s more seconds per frame than frames per second. I didn’t fancy carrying mine when my watch could give me the route, but maybe that was a mistake. Or rather, not learning how to drive the watch properly was the mistake – I didn’t know how to (or even if I could) zoom out, and the default zoom level on the watch proved to be too close in giving very little warning for change of direction. So I spent a lot of time looking at my wrist and not where I was going :/

The first few miles were painful – and this isn’t something uncommon so I didn’t panic. I remembered back to the first day of Hell of a Hill in November, and it was an identical scenario. I knew as soon as I got a good hill to climb, I’d be good. And that proved the case. I ran some with my cousin and Russ, then Russ left us for a while. I caught him up shortly later and when I found a good downhill I was off – in the wrong direction! He called me back, and here’s where I realised the watch was showing me only a tiny little range ahead. I couldn’t realistically go fiddling to find settings for zoom level, I could easily mess up the route if I wasn’t careful, so I decided to just constantly keep my eye on the watch.

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For the most part is wasn’t so bad, there were well worm paths and trails. There were surprisingly more road sections than I’d imagined, even through housing estates, little alleys between houses, back streets in town centres, but I got into a good routine of constantly keeping an eye on things, and quickly learned I had to angle my arm towards myself to get the watch square on and offer a worthwhile view. Hassle though, meh.

The route definitely had a few surprises. One section seen below in my cousin’s photo shows this fun little part with lots of clambering over rocks and on slightly iffy trails.  There were also a few good rocky downhill sections I really didn’t mind. That’s the kind of stuff I enjoy most, where you can be fast and crazy, having to think about where every foot is going to land, but somehow sorta not think about it at all because it all happens too fast to consciously plan.

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I’d started in the middle of the pack and dropped a lot of places in the first few miles, but as the day wore on I picked my way through the field quite consistently, often passing people on the downhills because that’s where I save any real effort for – a little bit of effort on a steep downhill and you’re flying, it’s alll “free”. I can’t run up hills for toffee, so they are always walked when the incline feels like over-exertion (which unfortunately isn’t very steep at all, hah).

I hit the half way/27ish mile point almost exactly on 5 hours. That was bang on where I’d guessed I’d want to be if everything was going perfectly. And considering I’d lost my belt a few times and had to strip off and pop just my shirt back on I was more than happy with that. Not struggling with taking on food & Clif Bloks, showed no signs of anything weird like blisters, very slowly catching and passing people – all good.

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There was a nice bit of a breeze on the tops, which was welcome as it was a really muggy, energy-sapping day. There was times the sun peeped out for a while, and the odd bit of rain to cool things down. Making my way through the checkpoints was good, wasn’t hanging around, got my belt bottle refilled and sometimes drank the whole thing before getting another refill, and lots of hummus wraps and salty potatoes were consumed. I’d written the distance from the start for each of the 5 CPs on my arm in fat green marker, but by the 2nd one it’d been sweat and wiped away. It wasn’t really necessary – they were something like 10 or 12 miles apart with an extra one with 5 miles to go to see you home. Before I hit the 3rd one I did manage to fuck things up though.

After heading into a town there was what felt like a long section along the canal. I didn’t enjoy this at all – I wanted uphill climbs to walk and eat on, or downhills to take off down… not boring flat miles that you feel obliged to put a little effort into that give too much opportunity to worry about pace and stupid stuff like that. At least the locals and visitors were friendly, lots of support. This felt like it went on forever, but in reality it was probably only a few miles. Turning right on to a cobble street, a group of cyclists ask about the race and when I set off, I told them 6am and they tell me I’m doing great. I have no idea if I am or not, but it feels good to hear and I’m moving away from the canal so that’s good, too.

Now remember the bit where I said you cross a road, head into trees, lose GPS then take a hard right? Well I kinda preempted that one a little. After Brighouse, coming off the canal, I crossed a road, went into some trees, lost GPS and managed (thanks to not wearing my glasses) to misread a sign so I did what I thought was that magic hard right. Clever old me! It wasn’t that hard to follow, I’d been worrying about nothing.

Nope.

Following this path, things got odd, it was curving away and winding, got pretty steep, and seemed to be fading away into nothing… more like somewhere local kids go to play and smoke crafty cigs than a famous well-walked path. It didn’t feel right at all and the watch was flipping 180s so I either had to go back the way I came or continue until I hit another trail or marker. Panic! I scrambled through some trees, down a bank, over a wall and what I eventually hit was a road, with no sign of the Calderdale Way and only a vague glimpse of the route in the corner of my watch if I turned myself a certain way.

Fuck. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU…………….

I swore at myself a lot and loudly. I had three choices – scramble back the way I came or head either left or right along the road. Going left would have been a big mistake. Although it would have gotten me back on track with the route fairly soon, it’d effectively have cut off a large trail section – the distance might have been good, but it’d be run on road and not on route. Luckily I decided to head right: down hill, it was steep and fast, and wherever it was going I’d get there quick at least. Just over 6 minute miling, shouting and swearing at myself again – let it all out, lol! A few minutes later I turned a corner to rejoin the route and find I was…. urgh… right back at the road where I’d left the canal, and to my left I saw someone I’d passed an hour ago.

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More naughty words were uttered and back up the trail I went. As I got to the Calderdale Way sign, I realised how I’d misread the direction of the arrow and gave myself one last talking to. And in the distance I could see some other people who looked familiar from about an hour back. Well over 10 minutes wasted, an extra mile hiked and run at a stupid pace I had no right reaching on a 50 mile ultra.

I’d arsed it.

Except I hadn’t really. This is an all day thing for most people – a mile here and 10 or 15 minutes there, that’s nothing really. This slowly sunk in as I got my head down and ticked off some more miles. I relayed the tale of my little additional loop excursion, the lady on the CP knew the path I’d taken and was kind enough not to call me an idiot for taking it, even though I was… I mean that section is just a straight run up a very wide, well marked path. All thoughts of that ill-fated right turn vanished and I told myself to just get on with it.

Which was a bit silly, because coming up shortly was the actual dodgy right hander, but that had been popped from my stack and I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore.

A long downhill and half way down I find someone running the race who has been in front the whole time. We get chatting, I guess he’s French from his accent, and he’s keeping up on the downhill, he’s fast. I get that he’s having trouble navigating, he’s got got a watch with the route plan and he’s not got his map out. We catch up to some other guys and it seems he’s seen them previously… and so have I, they must have passed when I did my extra bit. Urgh, more places I realised I’ve given up. Anyway, they all seem to be struggling for a route near the towpath and I get us through and keep them from heading into the woods. Then they all leave me behind very steadily as my flat pace isn’t quite good enough.

A bit further on, over a road, right into some trees… can you see where this is going? All good, I follow the route on my watch, there’s a trail in front of me. It kinda feels like I’m going back on myself as it’s a very sharp right. Then my watch is going 180 degree flips again and I don’t know which direction I should be going and which is the bit I’ve run and which it the bit to do. Faff once again, I turn around and – oh, there’s the three guys who left me behind, only now they’re behind me? They’re struggling, too. I ask a young lady and her mum if any runners have been through “yes. no. maybe. I dunno, probably” and then get given a look like I’m a fucking idiot. Yeah, cheers for that.

The others are also faffing. the French guy seems to want to try his luck with my watch, the other two are off in 180 degrees the other direction. Strava tells me neither of us was correct, and the small trail I initially found was the right one. Ouch.

So as it turns out, after 5 or so minutes doing the headless chicken thing, the path we take is parallel to the correct one, only a lot higher up but soon joins up and the watch is telling me we’re back on track.

The guy with me is trying hard to stick with my pace as he’s not navigating, so we take it easy going up onto the moors and I tell him I’ll get him to the end if he needs it, but he says he’ll just hang around as long as he can. Not too long after the other two guys catch us up and I get chatting and hear how they found the right path shortly after leaving us. Looking over my shoulder the guy I was with had stopped running and as I stopped and gestured to him to see if he plans on catching up he returns with a wave of both hands to tell me to continue and leave him to it. Feels shit, but gotta get back to it.

The jeffing along previously had got my legs ready for more, and there had to be a downhill soon as it’d been pretty steady climbing for a while. It felt good to get moving at a nice pace again and there’s some decent downhills to the next checkpoint. I lose the trail a little, add on a slight detour and get a full-face plant into some springy heather, but ZFG, jump up and I’m off again and tearing along.

Checkpoint sees a guy come uphill from the direction of the route, says he’s been lost for an hour or so, can’t find the route and is going to call it a day. The guy on the checkpoint tells him he’s not the first person to climb that hill the wrong way and say that – I don’t know if he means today or in previous years, but it makes me want to be extra careful about what’s coming up and wonder how many are left in front by now.

Take off on a really fast road downhill towards Riponden, I manage to miss the turn off to the right onto a track and have to jump a fence, avoid some sheep, and leap barbed wire to get back on track. Yep, missing that would really mess things up as the road bends away massively – dodged a bullet there and spoiled some sub-7 minute miling, but it’s nothing really. Weaving through the town is OK, GPS is working fine and takes me through to a road and it looks like another climb. Quick chat with an old local guy, he’s just seen someone else come through and a young lad sat on a wall tells me he went up… beside him I spy a Calderdale Way sign on a bench. gotta be this way.

Some nice trails through farmland, getting a bit more remote and back onto a road. Far more tarmac than I’d expected, but these vibram-soled Altra Olympus shoes aren’t hampering me, they eat up macadam just as readily as loose rocky trails and slimy wet stones. Just ahead I can see the guy in front. Now I look back on Strava I can see I was a minute or so behind before my loopy detour. It’s a relentless climb, but not one that isn’t runnable right now, so I go at it. It’s taken 3 hours but up on the tops I pass him as he’s walking. I bob on and there’s some good flat open ground where I decide to sing quite loudly then a nice downhill so I’m flying again. Then an uphill. There doesn’t seem much point attacking this one – it’s on road and seems endless, with just that kind of gradient that seems like hard work. Glancing over my shoulder I see the guy I passed who was walking – he must have set off running not long after and he’s pretty close. So I put a little bit in and run up to the last checkpoint. I feel shitty now. I don;t want to eat any more. I’ve necked all my Clif Bloks and water seems like effor to take on.

The ladies on the CP tell me I’m 3rd male solo runner.

Fook. Now there’s some pressure, I’m in with a chance of a position. Probably even a prize…. in an ultra, what?! Well that’s it. As shit as I feel and as much as I’d rather just walk it out for the remaining 5 miles, I’m determined to make this stick. I take off before the guy following reaches the CP. Gotta maintain the gap. Thinking all the time about the football later, Mo Salah with his t-shirt in the Barcelona game…. NEVER GIVE UP.

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I’m doing OK getting up and away from the CP. I meet a couple who are following the race, they tell me well done and confirm my place. I think they held a gate for me and it felt good not to have to figure out yet another weird or wonderful fastening mechanism. I pay it back in a short while as a cyclist I’d seen earlier comes at the next gate I’m going through, holding it wide open for him to pass and comment that we’d met earlier 🙂

The way to the finish is very clearly marked now – I’m glad as I’ve got a real wobble on. I’m doing what I can on the downhills and thinking of Mo’s shirt on the ups – running a few strides when I can and walking as fast as possible when I can’t. It’s really fucking hard work. The hardest thing I’ve ever done? I certainly can’t recall anything that tough. I was constantly pushing my limit now.

It feels like the climbs are done and I’m over the hill. Then I hear footsteps behind me… and they’re fast. Really, really fast. Someone is coming through as pace and I’d better make way. Crap, feelign deflated, I’ve not got the energy or will to try to race with what I hear coming, but luckily it’s not the guy behind, it’s the first place runner on the Marathon. She’s won it with plenty to spare from the looks of things, dancing downhill with grace and style… as I’m lumping down hoping my knees don’t fail me but once again trying to get this done without losing my place. She’s soon gone from view, but the canal is within sight – and that means the finish.

I can’t really remember how I got on the other side, there must have been a bridge… there were bridges we went under near the start so that must be it. Along the canal a little way and I arrive at the steps up to the HQ, it’s maybe 100m to the finish. A couple of ladies deciding whether to ascend or not give way and I bounce up. The finish line in sight, I put on a bit of an excited sprint (I’m sure it didn’t look like one but it fucking felt like one) and that’s it, job done.

Stopping at the aid station it hits me hard and I feel like I’m going to keel over. The RD is giving me the good news – 3rd place male solo, 4th solo overall and 8th including teams – but I’m in no state to converse… he does a really nice thing and gets me a chair that I can barely lower myself into. In front of me is a huge tub of large hummus wraps. The lovely girl at the CP grabs me an energy drink and I sample the flat coke for the first time today. Within a couple of minutes I’m back in the room – feeling fine and actually good! There’s a lot of people finishing now – the guy I passed, the two guys I ran with for a while, they’re all only a few minutes behind – they would easily all have caught up had it been just 1 mile more, we were all pretty much in at the same time I was just lucky to be the first in this group – well behind the first 3. Running almost 55 miles in total, I might have wasted 15-20 minutes doing a stupid extra hill loop and scratching my head on which way to go, but I’d take that time and definitely position any day 🙂

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I clap a few more people home and chat tot he two I ran with, thank the staff on at the finish, stretch my legs a bit and it’s time to get home, shower and settle down for the footie! Russ & Louise do great and make it back in time, too.

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What a day! 😀

THESE ARE NOT THE HILL REPS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR… time2run events Hell of a Hill – 5 marathons in 5 days

tl;dr: I ran, I finished, I got a little something in my eye.

The Hell of a Hill event is now in its 7th year, and as of the completion on Sunday November 18 2018, that’s a total of (quick mental arithmetic) 35 very hilly marathons up and around Rivington Pike on the outskirts of Chorley (although being the right side of the motorway and reservoirs, it’s often thought of as being in Bolton – Horwich being the largest town within walking distance). One hardy soul, Colin Wood, has completed every single one of those 35 marathons, and as the race director told us at the presentation on Sunday evening, he himself even ran it once – and had to make sure he won as he was the sole marshal and time keeper on the finish line!

From what I can gather via bits of old Strava activities etc., the race was originally an 8-lap course. The route was then modified with a shorter loop and a small lead in and out for 2015 and 2016, and is currently 5 laps with a longer loop and out & back from 2017. It’s always been hilly, but now it’s traded a little of that elevation and some twisting steps for more runnable sections from what I can gather given my so-so knowledge of the Rivington paths and gardens, so the loss of some elevation isn’t so bad when it’s in the form of arduous steep steps that aren’t all that wide for passing in places. Fortunately all the current renovation work underway around the Rivington Terraced Gardens is on the old route, so the event wasn’t in danger of being cancelled.

I made a video walkthrough of the lap loop before the races this year, conditions on the race days were pretty similar bar the gales that blew particularly at the weekend.

Bibby’s Farm Scout Camp & Activity Centre is the current event HQ. The facilities here are excellent and go beyond what you might expect from a hard and hilly trail marathon set to punish and break you, it’s all quite pampered. There’s camping facilities (no hook-ups afaik), shower and toilet block (newly renovated) and some form of proper brick & mortar accommodation. The HQ itself is a decent set-up in a converted stone farm building. Here you sign in each day, receive your tracker/chip, and get to meet your fellow runners and supporters over hot drinks and breakfast, all part of the package. After the race there’s hot food (soup & beans/toast) and plenty of biscuits and the like to help recharge for the next day. this is one of the best aspects of the race, the social side with a room full of like-minded folk each with their own motivations and causes driving them to take on the challenge.

Round the back is the start/finish area – the time2run trailer blasting out upbeat music, the start/finish stanchion and timing mat, and currently a load of sticky mud thanks to contractors and their machines ploughing up the track as they completed works on the new outbuildings. Thankfully that was pretty much the last we saw of any real sloppy muck all week as the course was in as good a condition as we could have hoped for.

That’s the boring background stuff, on to my boring personal experiences over the 5 days:

Day 1

I can’t do this… I feel rough.. I’ve had a chest cold since half way through my half-term holiday (missing out on a couple of days of lovely coastal Cornish running – bah!)… this is going to be horrible! My 7yo boy hugs me, wishes me luck on my first marathon (not my first ever, it’s my 5th, but the first of the week), and I instantly feel a bit less fragile and a lot more confident.

I get there way too early. I’m one of those annoying people who’d rather be 2 hours early than 2 minutes late. The marshals are surprised to see me, I’m surprised to be first, but glad when I go to sign in and there’s not actually a number and chip for my name. There’s two 26s and I’m 27. A bit of rummaging and some cross-checking and I’ve got my stuff. A few more people pop through the door and I feel less of an impatient dick sat on my own, but it’d given me a chance to get to know a couple of the marshals I’d be seeing through the week.

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Mark from Burnden RR arrives and we have a chat about what we’re up against, nervous excitement, trepidation, confidence, doubt, a bit of everything. I suppose that’s healthy looking back. We’d been psyching each other up for the past few weeks, blocking out the negative thoughts and planning our way into the unknown. Mark ran 2 HoaH marathons back-to-back last year – the 2nd on a whim – so he’d at least got to experience consecutive races, but for me it was something I’d yet to experience… and after attempting to run distance over multiple days in training earlier in the year, then waking up unable to walk followed by 5 months out from running, there were definite dark thoughts in the back of my mind. I got to say hi to well known local Iron Man, Wonka, from Team Deane, who I’d met at the 6 hour challenge earlier in the year. He looked in good spirits as he set out to raise cash for Bolton Hospice by running all 5 marathons. Lots of smiles and banter around but also a few like myself who looked like they didn’t really know what to expect – phew! Of course I knew what was coming, I’d done one last year… but that was one… I had to do this and be ready to go again tomorrow. There’s a guy from BBC world service interviewing people about their epic endurance, ultra and multi-marathon running exploits… I hear someone say he should talk with the 100 marathon club people next, and there’s someone over from the USA who’s attempting to run the most marathons ever, he already holds a record for the most within a year or something… holy shit do I feel massively out of my depth right now.

Outside to stretch those feet, limber up and get a feel for the temperature. It’s a bit iffy, I’m going to play it safe and chose to wear a 2nd shirt and the heavier rain jacket, the one that doesn’t pack away to nothing – I could always stash them at the water station. Mooching around and wanting to take my mind off things I start making up some stupid rhyme that wouldn’t go away all week: rule number 1: discipline. keep it in check; reel it in. haha, wtf that was all about I don’t know, but it stuck with me whenever I felt the urge to tear off and have too much fun 🙂

It’s not a heavily attended event, especially on day 1 (face it, how many people are you going to find daft enough to come out mid-week in November to run up & around Rivington Pike?!). But 25 5-in-5ers and around 15 others make their way to the start line. Some local media are here and the RD gives us a briefing before hopping on his bike to lead us out and the compere gives us the count down 5…4…3…2…1… here we go!

OMFG, my legs feel like shit. Someone pass me a lump hammer I need to tenderise these calves. Everything from the knees down is screaming at me to stop. Masses of negative thoughts start flowing – forget finishing all 5, how can I even get around just one? Tapering to 5 miles and some dog walks might have been going too easy, WTF have I done?!

So easy out we go. The legs aren’t easing off yet, the weather is a bit grim, but the winding lanes and leafy trails between and around the reservoirs at least offer some pleasant autumnal sights. It’s easy to forget how stiff and steep a few of the little climbs are on the run out… I’ve got all week, I’m doing this another 4 times, I’m not too proud to walk already. I don’t run any of the climbs on the run out today or any other day… I’m happy to make it to the checkpoint feeling as fresh as I can. I don’t think you can win the race bombing off on that first section, but it’d be easy to throw it away burning yourself out because it all looks so easily runnable.

Half the field seems to be taking the same approach as myself – reassuring! As we cross the mat I’m at the front of a big bunch of runners and can see my friend Mark a minute or so ahead, so I’m feeling confident that he’s paced that out well so I should be OK, too. Now it’s the big old climb time. It’s hiking for me. Throughout the week I saw a few running just the one day throw themselves at this section on lap 1, only to often see them a few hours later as I bobbed past doing the same old thing of just putting the effort in where if felt good value. Of course, some did that each lap, but after my 1-off last year I knew it was best to save it for later, at least for me.

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Hiking up the hill is good fun. The riverbed in the middle, when it’s dry/not raining, is nice to negotiate and gives a really good stretch to the calves and ankles. By the time I’ve wound around to almost see Pigeon Tower my legs have woken up – all I needed was a 5 mile warm-up, and considering it was a plan for 130+ miles in 5 days, that’s trivial – GO! Bouncing along towards the workers at the first tower feels really good, but I’m already getting a little warm. The workers have moved around a little from 2 weeks ago when I was last here, but it’s no big deal, I find a nice way past and along towards the pike climb.

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Up to the top, feeling fresh, I’m all set for my favourite 1.5 miles anywhere – bring it! I say hi to the lovely marshal I’d met in the morning and it’s time to bomb the uff down! It’s technical, winding, has a few gates but is just pure running pleasure. Fast feet, fast thinking, some of the fastest trail running I’ll ever do, just as long as the wind plays nice! It’s the purest, most thrilling ride and I get to do it another 24 times this week – bliss! Thank God for Altra Olympus – without that 30mm of rubber under my feet I’d be feeling every one of those lumps and bumps, but I’m oblivious, I’ve learned to surf the bumps in these boaty platforms, my ankles are strong now and know how to deal with being thrown around in them… it’s just a complete shame they’re the most horrible boring clogs to pound out the miles in otherwise, but there’s no other shoe I’d rather have with me today for the 7.5 miles of this marathon I’ll be screaming dooooooown in.

Race Director on the switch back, a long straight lets you see who is ahead, but right now that’s unimportant. The next few kms are standard trail stuff, switch off and ease back in after the rush of the downhill. There’s sections along here I choose to walk pretty much every lap every day, not much, just a little here and there that’s very slightly uphill or too technical to risk with all the fallen leaves, but a couple of little breaks along here does everything for recovery. That little rhyme is coming in handy ’cause I just want to let rip, but that would be silly. Along to the last little climb that I affectionately call “the shitty bit”, and a bit more of a hiking stretch out leaves me feeling ready for anything. A brief bit of a fun downhill drops me back at the aid station. I think I dump the jacket now, I can’t afford to lose the fluids in sweat and it doesn’t look like the weather is going to be too bad at all.

The team at the van/aid station/timing mat are brilliant – really encouraging and helpful. Getting to know the crew over the week results in even more support and lots of reassuring relative position info. New lap, new fuel. Clif Bloks Shots – alternating between 2x black cherry with caffeine and 2x margarita citrus with extra salts each lap. Right now they’re yummy (a few days from now they’d less appealing, but manageable).

Hiking back up on lap two goes well and at the top I meet Gaz Ayl, a mate of my brother’s from school and fellow trail running fan. We do a pleasant chatty lap and I take a little more care on the downhill, talk about our race plans for next year, speak about food and ethics and generally get to realise we’re very much of the same mind when it comes to running, why we do it and what we get out of it. Gaz heads back to Moss Bank and I’m out on my own again, sticking to the plan of keeping it all feeling easy and pretty much just doing the same thing every lap. My mate and club-mate Paresh joins me and we do some miles together – he’s attempting to do 10k+ every day this month so miles with me is handy and local. I catch up to a few people ahead of me, mostly thanks to the fast downhills and steady climbs, not really concerning myself with what anyone else is doing, just obeying that rhyme.

My plan is to scoff a whole Banana Soreen loaf from the start of lap 4 before I reach the pike summit. It goes down well, the birdies get the last few crumbs as I tumble down. They sit surprisingly well on the stomach the first few days but later in the week are simply not doable – nothing is.

I check with Mark’s friend at the switchback – she’s told him in no uncertain terms to stop running fast and enjoying himself too much – he’s got 4 more days to go! He might slow down but he won’t stop enjoying it, anyone who knows him understands this (and everyone knows him, so…).

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All the laps done consistently as they’ve all been completed to the exact same plan. Run the same bits, walk the same bits, hike the same bits. I could do this all day, it’s a shame I missed the days this race was 8 laps. Anyway, Paresh says he fancies a run back to the finish with me. I tell him I’m feeling really lively, I’ve been far too conservative, the sun is shining and that little rhyme is forgotten for the first and last time this week. Err and so is my mate – I leave him trailing as I bomb off back to finish, snagging the Strava CR for the segment on the way. Oooops! That wasn’t the plan, but wow did it feel good to be that up for it despite knowing I’ve got 4 more to do… I just run free and enjoy every second of it. I think only Gareth runs it faster all week as he sets the new course record, not even Matthew goes faster as he sets an even faster record the following day. It was worth it. I’d allowed myself a little indulgence and as my mate Mr. Ciderspiller says, and I quote regularly – you make a plan and stick to it! But more than anything it’s a huge psychological confidence boost and I think that does enough good to outweigh burning my legs a little. I now know in my mind I can get through these marathons in a fairly decent time with more in the bank. Well… one at least. I’ve got to get up and do it again tomorrow.

In the overall standings my 2nd place leaves me 13 minutes behind. The idea of being up there when doing all 5 never occurred to me. Very happy with 2nd place after day 1.

What am I going to do to recover? I don’t feel that I need to, but that’s just silly! I need some more cough medicine so have to pop out, I’ve seen some plastic tubs in a discount store, I’ll go get one and make a half-arse ice bath! I jog to the shops… I feel like I’ve done nothing today. All those hours dog walking and the longer slow runs have paid off… even if it was only for a few weeks 😉 The plastic tub I buy is actually small bin. I fill it with cold water and throw in some ice packs from the freezer. It’s hellish for 20 seconds, but I stick my phone on and forget about it. I manage about 30 or 40 minutes. Apparently 10 is good enough I learn the next morning.

Day 2

Bring it! Briiiiiing. It. I’ve never been more up for a race in my life. Well, I’ve only been doing races for 2.5 years, but whatevs, you get my point – I’m firing! I chat with Mark and he’s also in a better place than he imagined, but I just cannot wait to get out there. I think it’s a Banana Soreen high. Or the cranberry juice was particularly sweet. Or the peppermint tea and Yorkshire Tea combo means I’ve invented running rocket fuel. I just wanna get gone!

So I obviously go out far too fast. It just feels great to be doing that section freely unlike yesterday. Would I pay for it later? Bah, maybe, but let’s just get to that van and see how things feel because this is good running and I’m not here for that, I’m here to be punished, so it’s time to bring the pain, lol.

I run a bit with Paresh again today, he’s keen to keep me moving efficiently and trying to do helpful stuff like shield the wind(?!) and pace me, but I’m only looking to keep it steady now and don’t want to work too hard at all. No value.

The laps are the same old fun, I know what I’m doing now, it’s just a matter of sticking with it. The RD comments about working my way through the field again. I’ve not looked at it that way, it’s not so much me passing them as them going slower than they were, ’cause I’m just doing the same old thing. Effectively it’s the same result.

I see Mark out on the course. He doesn’t look entirely happy and I’m feeling a bit shit about that… we were talking about fighting through this together over the week and I consider dropping in with him for a bit. But I think if that were me I’d not want some idiot in my ear when I’m fighting hard, and it was the right choice as when I see him after he’s more than recovered, it was either just one of those moments we get through or I’ve read it wrong.

I start to feel really icky… feel like I’m going to be sick everywhere. The shirt I’m wearing seems to very slightly strangle me every time my arms move forward. It’s got to come off! I get one arm past my Garmin, half my head out and the other arm I just lose the hand… what a sight! We’re half way up the “shitty bit” and Paresh is trying the most unusual ways to remove this thing from me, or maybe he’s trying to simply remove my head – both seem equally likely at this point. It’s off. I feel really self-conscious, but there’s no way past it and I feel a lot better for the cool air and lack of strangulation, but still feel iffy.

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I make my excuses at the aid station, I’m not sure anyone believes me but I’ve hardly got an upper body worth showing off so they’d better, lol! Running half naked through Rivington in November that’s a first for me 😦

I know not to run back too fast, as I was only going to get that for free the first day. I already feel as tired as I did when finishing and I’ve got the run back to do. I know I’ve currently got a small lead on the day over John who won the previous day, his legs aren’t 100% after the previous day’s exertion, and Paresh offers to pace me back to see if I can extend it a little. I don’t honestly feel like I want to work for it this early in the week, but this was never meant to be all fun & easy, so I decide a little graft now to re-balance the standings might be a good plan. I’d never thought I’d be in this position, so attempting to at least keep in with a shout by Sunday wasn’t too much of a gamble.

The run back is hard. The bouncy free running of yesterday is replaced with some typical hard 20th+ mile marathon grind. Again, it’s not the plan, but the plan can’t be so rigid when I’m in with a shot. This is the hardest I’ll run all week.

Beaten by two one-day runners, I’m one position lower and one minute slower than the previous day, but overall I’m now in a tiny lead. Yesterday felt like an easy training run, today went up a little.

Somehow I’m convinced to have my photo taken, as crap as I feel and post-marathon tired, before a shirt goes back on. I know I’ll regret it but zero effs given at this point, lol.

Paresh has to get back to his car where he stashed my bag. I decide to jump on my single-speed MTB, flat tyres and all, and make my way back. Maybe it’ll help my legs giving them a little spin? Yeaaaah NOPE! It’s 3.5 miles and a little bit hilly and you’ve just run a hilly marathon… wtf are you thinking?! I have to get out of the saddle a lot. Bell end.

I realise I’ve forgotten to re-freeze the ice packs, I’ve faffed about doing lots of non-HoaH crap. I need to sort my kit… urgh, so unorganised.

Day 3

Here’s a hot tip – don’t drink 1l of granny-spec lucozade at 10PM – it contains caffeine. That might not be a big deal for most, but I’m pretty sensitive to the stuff. I’d gone to bed at 10:30 and promptly woken up *PING* at 12:00 wide awake. The hours passed, the crap I watched on Netflix seemed worse by the minute. At around 4:something I felt like I could get my head down again. I adjusted my alarm clock to give myself an extra 20 minutes, and off to sleep I went. Not the best nights sleep, but lots of sugar at least.

Day 3 begins proper with me placing my head in the toilet. I throw up hard. Not sure if it’s the chest and throat thing or my body telling me how unimpressed it is with my activities and choice of fuelling. I get there feeling rough, such a low after the highs of the previous morning. Doubt sets in and dark thoughts everywhere. Urgh. I know this is a challenge event, but it shouldn’t feel this challenging when you’re not even on the course. But the coughing has really eased off so maybe things aren’t so bad.

Mark is buzzing again. Yay! He was fine the previous day, just one of those moments when I’d caught him. He’s got friends running laps with him and having the time of his life, and he’s getting stronger by the day if anything.

4 people have had to drop out from the 5-in-5 so far, but Friday being close to the weekend means we have a lot more one day runners with us today. With about 10 minutes to the start I’m not really doing my usual thing, I’m wandering around and not warming up properly. The RD’s wife, also a marshal, comes over and asks if I don’t want a time today? I don’t really follow. What do you mean? “You haven’t signed in and picked up your chip…”. FFS. It’s gonna be one of those days.

I set off from the start line today and after only a few strides someone comes flying past and is off down the lane – whoa! Then someone else rocks up, asks if he’s a one-dayer, and when we confirm he is he’s off after him – double whoa! Myself and John take it easy and don’t even consider keeping up and have a chance to talk about the race. We’re almost half way through the week but it still feels like there’s a lot left to do.

The day continues its gloomy start as I feel like I need the toilet for the fist 8 or 10 miles. I have to let John crack on and end the conversation, I can’t maintain the effort comfortably enough. And speaking of comfort – no, not a quick pee, I need the other one. I consider taking a tablet for it, but know that can wreck your body’s ability to manage fluids; I’d rather shit myself than balls this up right now! Not really, I’m just angry ’cause I don’t feel like it’s something I did wrong… just one of those things.

It passes as the laps tick over, luckily I don’t have to dive into the gorse and sacrifice my buff. Again, at the switch back, the RD comments on my plan of picking through the field – that all depends on everyone else, I’ll just keep it steady and keep doing what I’m doing, and if it pans out that way so be it 🙂

Paresh arrives surprisingly – he’s supposed to be on his way to Brighton for the club AGM, Brighton 10K and his own birthday celebrations. He’s only going to be around for a bit, though but it’s nice to see him if only briefly… I’ve never had as much company running ever before. After he goes, at the aid station I have to request help opening a Clif Blok pack – my fingers don’t want to work. The guy helping also struggles, he’s got a condition with his hand – I feel shit asking him now – d’oh! [EDIT, June 2019 – Having just received initial treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, I now know why I was having difficulty opening the Clif Bloks – daignosed a couple of months ago, both wrists have caused havoc both with work and running since an epic 17 day stint working away over Easter ].”Gelled up” and off. By mid-to-late race I’m feeling really good again, phew! I catch up with John on the hike. He’s struggling a little and effectively concedes the event to me which we go on to discuss is a bit premature given the nature of the terrain and distance we have yet to run. I point out that both he & I could yet pull out and whoever is in third would be in with a shout, too. I bob on a bit and head up the pike, I’ve not got my glasses on so can’t really see clearly but it seems he’s not keeping up and that feels conflicting: this isn’t a race, we’re all in it together, all doing the same challenge and testing ourselves over this nutty course day after day. Everyone out on the course is massively encouraging to one another. It’s hard to feel good about extending the lead, but it is what it is. I get back to the aid station and chat with the marshal I’ve got to know, tell him to give John a boost as he comes in and keep him on it.

And here we go… right on cue I have an issue. On the last lap I have to stop because it feels like the pack of gum I have tucked in my outer sock has made its way into my left shoe. So off comes the shoe and the sock and… no, it’s not that, it’s just a horrible pain on the top of my left foot. I’ve had it before during Equinox24, it’s a bitch and took a few days for the swelling and pain to go last time. It’s not huge, but it’s a bit more than just a niggle and these can do strange things to your head. I’ve also got a feeling a problematic toe nail is well on the way off – the little sharp jabs I’m getting remind me of the last time and I’m just going to have to put up with it for now.

Electrolytes might be low or my arms are just bored of being at right angles now as I’m shaking my arms out and getting electric shock pains down to my finger tips. I’ve had this at the end of long races before when I stop suddenly, but not during. But then this is 3 days in so it’s probably just one of those things. [EDIT, June 2019: as mentioned above, it’s not just one of those things, it’s Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and it’s thanks to my job – but distance running and endurance running brings on the symptoms just the same as working consecutive long days can]. But stopping is the worst, getting going again even after a brief pause is rubbish. Every time my left foot hits the floor I’m hurting. The fun downhill isn’t fun this time.

Bah, stop being a soft arse, ignore all that and just get it done.

Before the week started Friday had been my main worry – I had to be “fast” in order to get back to pick my son up from school at 3:30 – a 5:45 was the limit I’d have to live up to and I was hoping I’d still be good for it by the end of the 3rd run. As the week worked out, it was never an issue. I had time to relax in the HQ, get something to eat and have a nice chat with the other runners who were home and as they came in. I came in a distant 3rd place behind two lovely chaps Gareth and Colin. Gareth runs with Wimdledon Windmillers (try saying that fast three times) and sets a new course record. He looks very lively and could surely have smashed a good few more of them at good pace if not the whole 5 days if he’d entered, but he shakes his head at the idea. We play guessing games on 10k times and chat about his parents out on the course. Colin, from over Ilkley way, is a walker turned runner approaching 60, and has been running for just a couple of years. I’m sure he’s picked up a few vet prizes already though, he’s speedy. It’s unfortunate they both turned up on the same day, if Colin had come sooner he’d have won either of the first two days with that time of just a few seconds over the 4 hour mark – a full minute a mile quicker than myself, the sort of pace I think I’d have for a one-off if I were to run it right now instead of all 5. We’ll see next year!

John makes it back around 20 minutes behind me in 5th. The last couple of laps and the run back have been harder for him today and I’ve now got a good lead overall, but there’s still 2 days and 2 slightly long marathons to go.

I rip off the dangling toe nail, clean it up and treat the toe to a nice Savlon plaster. It feels surprisingly comfy to walk on. Check Runner’s World for advice what to do now and it says don’t rip them off in the first place. Ah well, whatevs.

Day 4

I can barely stop coughing today, maybe I should have forced myself to be sick like yesterday? D: Nice thing is I feel like I know everyone today, it’s a big HoaH fam day! My brother is here for an expensive training run. He’s not keen on lapped races, but I’ve convinced him he has to give this one a crack. My cousin Louise and her other half Russ are running, Russ hasn’t got back to full fitness after injury yet so he’s going to see how it goes, Louise looks up for the challenge, very bright and on it and says she’s up for a best time on the course – BAM! Their mate Sweeney is here, I’ve seen him at loads of races now including this one last year. Louise points out her friend Matthew who she insists is going to smash the course record. I recognise the name from race results and do not disagree… the beard is also all the confirmation I need – a proper ultra beard to be feared that one 🙂 My wife’s best mate Kate is here, should be running with her husband but he’s out hurt, so it’s a solo run vs the hill, but she’s local, knows the terrain and isn’t new to marathon running. Paul from Bolton Tri Club is here, I stalk his Strava closely! Tim Green is here, I met him at parkrun recently but followed his progress at all 5 races here last year, as he’s a parkrun regular. Loads of faces I recognise. One of those spectating all week is running – it seems she’s the other half of a 5-in-5er and he’s surprised her with an entry for today – wow, that could have gone one of two ways! This really feels fun, Saturday is the best and busiest day, I have to make sure I’m here every Saturday. Lots of people here to smash it and the whole place has even more of a buzz about it.

We’re warned the wind has picked up yet again, it’s apparently ferocious up on the tops – oh dear!

So I feel meh, just real nauseous and I’m coughing regularly again, but it’s not affecting my breathing and my legs still work. I’ve not been able to use my inhaler all week (it actually makes the coughing worse), but luckily not had any issues. I use it as a prevention as it’s exercise-induced asthma I sometimes suffer with. Cold November days are usually the worst, but I’m lucky there’s no foggy mist as they are the very worst of the worst.

I set out steady, there’s a lot of people really going for it and most of those here for the 4th day sit back and watch them vanish into the distance. I settle in with a really nice bloke from Radcliffe AC and we have a good chat about the race and Radcliffe’s races. I can’t live with him for fear of going too hard, and I’m not risking running up any climbs on the way out, so he’s off and wished good luck.

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As expected I’m way down the field – Saturday is when most people come to do a good one-off time and give themselves Sunday to recover before getting back to work on Monday. I’m going to just do what I’ve been doing all week, keep within myself and keep that rhyme ticking over in my head.

The wind at the top is insane. It had been tough enough running into a headwind all week up from Pigeon Tower, but today there’s a side wind going up the pike that’s almost able to have you off your feet… and the blast as you reach the top around the tower… that’s as wild as I’ve ever felt it up here. Running into it is almost impossible, it feels like you could literally let go, lean into it and not fall. The worst of it is the little switchback that winds back around the pike, once the angle is just right the wind picks you up and throws you down, just as you reach the worst of the loose stones. If nobody fell here all day then that was incredible luck.

On the second lap I don’t think I’ve made up a single place, but the downhill is here and I’m having fun with it. At the bottom the RD comments again about picking them off – it seems I’ve got plenty to go at anyway! Maybe I’ll get found out 4 days in, but this just feels routine now, I’m not being dismissive by saying so, but there’s no effort to this at all, it’s just like ultra plodding. I could do these laps like this all day every day. It’s the out & back getting out of the routine that messes with my head if anything. As I trot off I’m joined by the guy who was chatting with Phil. Oh! It’s Simon from Bolton Harriers & my club Vegan Runners, I hadn’t recognised him (I’ll blame the lack of glasses once again here). Yay, I’ve been joined by one of the best runners I’ve met so far, he’s done this before for Bolton Harriers club-mates and he’s taken the time to pop out and do a few laps with me… how cool is that?!

Over the next few laps I keep it steady, doing the same thing but not really feeling like I’m gaining places – but maybe that’s to be expected today. Simon and I talk about all kinds of fun stuff, I get some real good training advice and we generally enjoy a decent paced social training run away from the fast downhills and hiked climbs. Simon has on his Walsh fell shoes and I’ve got my house-sized Altras. Probably the only time in my life I’ll leave him behind, even just for those few seconds! We talk about the overall standings and how it’s looking good, despite John’s lead over me on the day at this point. After another fast downhill top section I catch up to John. He seems surprised to see me and thinks I’m a lap ahead, but this is the last lap. We figure out he must have mistaken my brother for me earlier on as he’s running in the black and green of Vegan Runners today, too. Can’t chat too long as the downhill is there to be eaten up. The pain on the top of my foot is ever present. I’ve not whinged about it so far, but it’s there constantly. The toe nail I lost has been fine so far, but suddenly I’m getting a weird pain as if it’s digging in a again… when it’s not actually there. Urgh, it has to be the plaster rubbing – that could be a problem. As Simon pops back to his car for a gel and leaves me alone I feel I need to take off my shoe & sock to check on my foot and toe. Bah, nothing worth stopping for, nothing can be done. Back on goes the outer sock and into the shoe and… wtf, I dropped my gum in the bottom on my sock, so off it comes and I reach down inside wasting time. Knob. I know silly stuff like this can really mess with your head, so I take a deep breath, call myself a few names but with a smile and a laugh, then pop on my shoe and get back to it. Simon gets some live stats from his phone. By the end of 5th lap I’m still good, only the top three in the race have put in a faster 5th lap – except a 5-in-5er who’s well behind but putting in phenomenal laps as good as the first place runner. Whoa.

The run back is straight forward stuff. Don’t feel tired and don’t want to get carried away, so it’s just a matter of getting it done once again. I catch up with the Radcliffe runner from earlier, we have a chat and discuss the route back. I offer to run with him but he’s good – it is well signed and as long as the light lasts and you remember it’s a long marathon, it shouldn’t be an issue. I make the back section in 30 minutes for 7th place on the day after being 17th after the first checkpoint. That’s the 2nd fastest return leg today, only Matthew’s course record-smashing run had a faster one. John and the other 5-in-5er, Richard, who had just been smashing laps also put in good return runs. I’m more than happy with 7th and the same kind of time once again.

My cousin gets her course PB, her OH gets back unhurt but the injury from earlier in the year and lack of training don’t help him beat his own, but he soon gets to work on the microphone, trying to out-compere the compere! My brother had slowed for later laps, wasn’t out to hurt himself before next weekend’s 80-miler. He really loved the course which was surprising in some ways but not others – I know he doesn’t get on well with lapped races but this one, with its varied terrain and many challenges, was right up his alley. Wife’s bestie got a great time she was well pleased with, but I never managed to say hi to her husband who was there cheering her on – the checkpoints are always a bit hectic. Had a nice chat with my uncle who was there to see my cuz, he was a great runner bitd and I think misses it dearly. He knows his stuff and the kind words he offered really meant a lot. He’s such a nice chap and a gentleman, love my uncle Eddie.

Overall I’ve got a lead of over half an hour now. That’s a lot going into the final day. I never imagined I could possibly be in this position but it weirdly makes me feel nervous. There’s almost an expectation now and a feeling of it being mine to throw away. I’ve won nothing this week – a second, two thirds and a seventh place… screw it up now and I’m going home with nowt, and I’ll never get this kind of opportunity again, so… yikes! Pressure!

I make some awesome brown rice, mixed veg and hot salsa wraps. It feels good to be eating nice proper food. I hit the foot massager hard then one final go in the ice bath? Can’t face that – noped out.

Day 5

Sunday is the 2nd busiest day, so plenty of people out for one run when we’re on our last. Smooth Tri are out in force to support their friends. The sun is shining. It seems like the perfect day. Along comes news that it’s just as crazy out on the tops as yesterday, if not worse. Oh FFS!

Keep it sensible, another repeat of the same thing you’ve done every day and it’s job done. Two shirts today though, it’s going to be chilly.

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The guy out in first disappears. It looks like John is going to go with him and they’re both soon out of sight. Suppose that’s the best plan for him with how things are. There’s a good bunch of us together as we near the aid station. A few that arrived after me set off up the climb at a pace I couldn’t live with, I just do the same old power hike thing and watch them slowly disappear, thinking there’s a good chance I’ll see at least some of them again as I have earlier in the week. By now these laps are like auto-pilot. They’re very low effort and not particularly exciting bar the screaming downhills, but they’re doing the only job that needs to be done and nothing more, to see this through. Simon joins up a little later than he’d planned thanks to Narcos and wine, hah. It’s not hurt his running, he’s all over me coming down the hills, I’m struggling to keep up with him – yesterday’s practise has paid off 😉 He knows these paths well, he’s local. I catch up with John after some laps and from then on he keeps his laps steady.

I think I can see people in front who passed at the first checkpoint and it’s not long until they’re in sight at “the shitty bit” and we pass on the climb. Last lap done, that long fun scream down for the 25th time this week, and it’s all plain sailing to the finish now. Simon checks the standings. I’m a distant second. He chooses not to tell me that Richard, a 5-in-5er, started steady and just got faster and faster making the most of it being the final day and nothing to save up for. He’s not that far behind, maybe 2 minutes by the time I set off home. I do faff about a bit but slip out of my Altras for the first time, and into my New Balance 1080s, the comfiest roads shoes I’ve had so far. It feels sublime. The run back feels every bit and free and fun as the first day’s. It’s not fast, but at about 28.5 minutes it’s around a minute quicker than the guy chasing me. If I’d known he was there I’d like to think I could have gone faster if needed, as I didn’t have Thursday’s tired legs, was fresh and raring to reach that finish line… but I really don’t know if that good feeling was all adrenaline and I was cruising on empty.

It always seems a long way back. That’s probably because it is! When the line was in sight I could finally celebrate something – I’d not allowed myself to show much emotion each day crossing the line as I didn’t want to get into the wrong mindset (no seriously, I had to keep it in check ’cause it’s all been such a lot of unknowns) but I jumped it, fist in the air, five digits held high and let out a roar! Next thing I get is an unexpected high-five from a fellow Vegan Runner – not Simon who was waiting there for me over the line, but Paul the photographer from Mick Hall – we’re everywhere! 🙂 I don’t remember much then, something about the microphone not working – I hadn’t heard anything anyway, I was in my own head 🙂

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Time for BEANS! And bourbons! TBH I felt a bit icky again so didn’t have much. After a few more runners came in Simon got off, he’d been such a great help and just having someone along who knows so much about running and has such ability for support was awesome. I chatted outside with Paul as he captured the magic moments as people crossed the line, it was great to meet another club member so unexpectedly. I watched as Mark completed his 5 runs from a distance. Later I got a photo with him under the finish line stanchion.

We’d done it! It was starting to sink in a little. As the light faded I got a bit chilly and went inside to roast myself by the marvellous toaster machine.

The presentations came in reverse order. Oh no, people are saying things, wtf am I going to say? Crap. I’m so rubbish at public speaking! Seeing some of the people go up there, you could see the moment got to them, standing there taking the awards and watching as the emotions came out. Some took their trophies with a nod and a thanks, others such as a great guy I met called Craig from Smooth Tri were doing this with a reason beyond the challenge itself, and you could see how much it meant to them. Craig was the most supportive guy out on the course. *Everyone* was really supportive , friendly and urged you on, but with Craig it just seemed that bit more like he was really willing everyone else on as much as he was himself. Team effort thing. When a tough guy like him got up and said his words and his voice broke up a little, I knew I might be struggling myself.

Seeing Mark take his award was special. He had his family present and when he was eventually called up (he finished quite high so had a wait!) he said it had genuinely been the best 5 days of his life. I don’t know anyone who loves running as much as him and neither do I know of anyone who is as well thought of in the community as Mark, it was a genuine pleasure to see, I hope his OH filmed it 🙂

I remember John saying some words and mentioning his wife he’d asked out at HoaH 2 years ago, how they’re now married and have a kid, but the nerves were getting to me and it was nearly my time.

I knew I’d crack. When I went up there in my VR shirts I’d had on all day I felt grimy and tired, and my legs went to jelly. It was such a good feeling and also weirdly terrifying at the same time. I made some half-arse non-joke about making friends and losing toe nails, but when I went on to thank the marshals and all the other runners for their support (they had been incredibly supportive – high 5s, handshakes, words of support and compliments I didn’t feel I deserved) my voice cracked and my lips started trembling. I knocked that on the head and attempted to pose for the photo without crying – haha. I nervously stuck my tongue out, which prompted Paul to say “..and I thought I was the one that was going to mess this up” which made people laugh, made me smile, and somehow that made it possible to have a photo that didn’t look like I’d just been given bad news 😀

hoah5-in-5-win

Holy shit I’d won it. Now it sunk in. I remembered back to when I started parkrunning 3 years ago, hearing about this crazy Rivington marathon people did – some people even did it 5 times! I looked on Strava and the zig-zagged graphs and it all looked incredible/impossible/idiotic! A year later I ran a marathon. Another year on I ran _that_ marathon. And now another year on and I’ve run all 5 and been lucky enough that nobody turned up to run them quicker this year.

hoah5-trophysatontable

After that ordeal, I sat and had a little chat as the beers came out. Colin Wood, the only person to have entered and completed every HoaH marathon since it started in 2012, came over and asked how long I’d been Vegan. Three years – a few months less than I’d been running. He’d gone Vegan 2 years ago. That didn’t just make my day, it made the week very special indeed.

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Training pains: 5 hard trail marathons – 5 days – 20,000+ft of climb and very little in the legs – what to do?

That’s the problem I was left with recently – how to go about attempting that after spending most of the year out and unable to run, even unable to walk for a time, after properly breaking myself by doing too much.

Probably the most sensible option would be to just do a couple of them, maybe 3 with a day off in between, but I’d only frustrate myself and regret not at least having a go.

time2run’s Hell of a Hill is a 5 day marathon event. You don’t have to run them all, you can just do one on any day from the Wednesday to the Sunday. The route consists of a 3.5 mile slightly uphill (350ft) run out from Bibby’s Farm Scout Camp via roads through the reservoirs, 5 laps of a Rivington Pike loop that’s just under 4 miles, and the 3.5 miles back. It’s a slightly long marathon course, as some of the best trail marathons are, coming in at just over 26.7 miles, so 133.5 miles Wednesday to Sunday in total.

Scroll to the bottom to see my video walk/jog/run-through of a single lap of the race.

Originally the plan was, after running just the one Hell of a Hill marathon last year, to train sensibly all year with lots of multi-day consecutive running to get myself ready and give the 5-in-5 a good go – try to be up there with the fastest running 4 hours or so a day. But injury caused a rethink.

Around a year ago I was spending a lot of time up on the moors, planning a route for a bizarre nighttime point-to-point race called The Howling Trail Chase. I think I’ll have to explain this one a little before going on as it’s worth the mention and might help explain why I spent so much time up in the hills beforehand. That race had everyone set off from Point A and head for Point B via whatever route they fancied. Being a trail race, sticking to the roads wasn’t really part of the fun (although the first 3 all ran it 80%+ on the road – bah!). But there’s more to it than just the race. Between the start and finish are two towers – Rivington Tower and Darwen’s Jubilee Tower. Run up to both these and at the finish, not only do you get your amazing bling, but an added pin for pinging the towers. As you can imagine – the towers are high on prominent hills, and here’s where another challenge comes in – the 10 runners with the least elevation on their run got a Wooden Spoon! Sound like more than your average trail run? Yeah, it was, but then I still didn’t mention the fact that 15 minutes after the start a group of local very good fell runners set off to hunt you down before you make it to safety at the finish 🙂 Evade the chasers and another pin is yours.

So that thing intrigued me, I was dead set on doing well, plotting a fast & safe a route as possible and having a load of fun in the process. Trouble was a few weeks before the race I was feeling a few niggles – heel/arch issues that had sporadically interrupted my running came back to spoil things a little, and as usual I downplayed them in my head and carried on regardless. Come race day I wasn’t in great shape, was tired from over-doing things and went over a few times in the dark thanks to the snow and fog.

With that out of the way I had one race left – Ribble Valley 10k. So I went from doing the long hilly stuff, gained a few injuries, and dived into some pacey 10k training. That made things worse and I picked up a nasty cold for the brown icing on the shitcake, so sacked the idea of running the race and didn’t do much for the rest of December, just a piss-poor attempt at a parkrun I think.

Into January, new year and new goals, all eagerness and load of free time on my hands. But also still the niggles in my foot, which I continued to ignore and mask with painkillers, and a massive increase in running volume far to quickly. Wanting to get fit and ready for my first proper Ultra – Liverpool 2 Manchester, I was back at it trying to get to a point where running felt good again, but doing too much and ignoring warning signs. After a week of nothing early January, I was off… 7 miles… 10 miles… 15… 23… 26… I was running nice long trails every 2 or 3 days, lots of dog walking and lots of ignoring pain.

Heaton park Half Marathon was coming up, but I was in a mess. So with calves that felt like Accrington Bricks and nagging heel/arch pains, instead of skipping it because I couldn’t really go for it, I made the really clever decision to run there, do the half, and run back. Over a marathon distance. No idea what I was trying to prove there…

Idiot.

This is where I went to the GP, got seen by a specialist, found out it was Plantar Fasciitis I’d been suffering with all this time, and spent the next 5 months doing physio to get myself working again.

So half a year gone, lots of nice and big races paid for and missed, the stuff I had in for the end of the year was looking pretty daunting. But strength training and lots of hard graft at work kept me in decent physical shape otherwise.

V3K Half Marathon was a testing comeback but went well finishing 6th. Leigh track 6 hour challenge finishing 1st was awesome 🙂 Equinox24 was a different kind of a challenge to last year, but I somehow managed a better distance with 160k and 12th place. Anderton Boat Lift Half Marathon trail was a great new race, with a top 10 finish and a big confidence boost for me. All good stuff, but not nearly enough to get me prepared for 5 massively hilly trail marathons over 5 days.

So the plan changed to this: run them like an ultra. One big 5 day staged ultra… just one that doesn’t really go anywhere and sees you run the same hill 25 times 😀 On race days, if it feels like any kind of effort at all, stop running and walk. Don’t even think about running or jogging up the climbs, steps or anything that’s not just downhill or flat. the plan is to finish all 5 in the best time I can, not finish 3 in a great time and be broken by Saturday morning, not wanting to get out of bed.

It’s entirely possible I’ll still be broken Saturday morning and not want to get out of bed, but if I can stick to this plan I reckon I can get through it and maximise what I’ve got in me given the task. After a solid 85 mile week, with 12,000ft of climbing, all pretty much run really easy and walked, I’m fairly confident I can do this… I might even end up doing it better overall than if I’d been better trained and tried too hard. Probably not, but gotta keep the thoughts positive 🙂

Here’s a video from last week of a single lap of the marathons:

If I’m not too tired and can stick sitting in front of the computer for 30 minutes each day, I’ll write them up one-by-one to record my progress. 9 days to go…

parkrun – egg on their face or blood on their hands?

parkrun is wonderful. I fucking love parkrun. I began a semi-regular Saturday morning routine by going to my first parkrun just under 3 years ago; a few weeks before I became Vegan and a few weeks after I first fired up Strava and decided to see what all the fuss was about with this running thing (thanks wholly to my brother who was already a runner, parkrunner and Vegan Runner.

I remember the call my brother made to me, inviting me to the first one. He was in the area that weekend and my local run happened to be just a couple of miles away and in its 4th year… but I’d somehow never heard of it or witnessed it taking place. I initially said a quick and hot NO! OK, it wasn’t going to cost me anything, all I had to do was fill in some deets online and print off a barcode, show up and then run for just over 3 miles – it sounded too much like a race and with all the stress and potential embarrassment that might entail I couldn’t put the phone down quick enough.

Luckily my wife was there, stood beside me, and by some miracle offered her first and only ever encouragement to get out and run (that’s material for another post, lol). So I called back, digested the info and got myself ready for the run the next day – no turning back!

And obviously, once I was there, got around the course, realised I wasn’t nearly the slowest and nobody was going to be stood laughing and pointing at my noobie efforts, I was hooked. I’d run a timed 5k in about 25 minutes! I actually enjoyed myself! Everyone else seemed to enjoy themselves from what I could tell! People stood around wearing bright yellow vests weren’t laughing and jeering, they were encouraging and supportive! Holy fucking shit I was in love!

And from there I went when I could, when I hadn’t broken myself from doing too much too soon. I made friends. I began getting there early and volunteering. I felt like I belonged on every level. I gained the confidence to consider entering actual paid running events and a little self-confidence that I’d never really had the chance to explore. parkrun, what have you done to me?!

Fast forwards 3 years and I’ve managed to attend around 1 in every 3 parkruns, gaining my 50 milestone t-shirt, and bagged a volunteer ratio (despite being forgotten from the roster and write-ups on numerous occasions – I gave up reminding them I was there too, lol) of 4:1 runs to volunteer. Go me! Go parkrun!

But then Happy Eggs happened.

What exactly is a Happy Egg? How can an egg be happy, exactly? Well it can’t, but to say it is isn’t in breach of any rules… unlike for instance saying your hens are happy. Now the Happy Hen Company, that would have to go out of its way to prove such a claim, and in the Noble’s case (parent company of Happy Egg Co) that would be torn to shreds in an ongoing basis – but more on that later.

So parkrun then, who claim to dismiss 90% of all potential partner sponsors/business funding partners on ethical grounds, will now receive an undisclosed sum over an undisclosed period in return for promoting the eating of “Happy Eggs” via PR, social media and presumably logo branding on their paid-for shirts and throughout their marketing endeavours. parkrun don’t actually publish their code of ethics and criteria they expect a potential partner to live up to, so we’ll have to take their word on that 90% figure and simply let our minds run wild with just who and what products might have been a worse fit than the Happy Egg Co.

Why? Because the Happy Egg Company, “free range” egg brand of Noble who have other premium-priced brands and non-free range brands, have a detailed history of breeches of rules and guidelines and some seriously horrific video and photographic evidence going against their practises in what is an inherently cruel industry. See Viva!’s ongoing investigations throughout the first half of this decade amongst others for examples.

When parkrun broke the news regarding the partnership it didn’t take long for many plant-based parkrunners and those who know of the horrors of the egg industry to begin to question the move. Why did parkrun choose such a partner? Why were they now allying themselves with the egg industry and promoting the eating of eggs as a good, natural source of protein and vitamin D when they have never before chosen to dictate or advocate particular nutritional choices and now presumably are not in a position to inform or discuss alternatives? How much were they receiving from Noble for doing this? In the same week we’re told we’ve got a mere 12 years to buck up and save the planet (see the UN report into climate change) parkrun chose to effectively go back to the 50s with a 2018 take on the archaic “go to work on an egg” rhetoric the Egg Marketing Board used, but go to parkrun on an egg. Happy Eggs and Happy legs? Really? parkrun, you do realise that kind of marketing was rejected as long as a decade ago when plans to re-broadcast the original ads were refused by the BACC as they didn’t meet current standards. I guess The Happy Egg company found a way around that one as they did with their name. Bravo, Noble.

So parkrunners, parkrun volunteers, race directors and event directors who had thoughts on the matter got to work in letting parkrun know just how they felt on the matter. Their facebook post received hundreds or replies. Happy Egg got so much adverse response they choose to delete their own posts.

And then Nick Pearson, current top brass at parkrun, formulated a message to all event managers that sometimes bordered on nonsense, at other times paranoid and at others simply incorrect. This, understandably, upset a lot of the plant-based parkrun crew who devote masses of their free time to making these events take place and run as smoothly as possible.

First of all, Pearson offered this by way of an opening gambit: “I would like to provide you all with some more background as to why we chose to partner with Happy Eggs, and reassure you that, despite concerns that have been voiced, the overwhelming majority of the parkrun community, and of the UK population in general, choose to eat eggs

Ummm… we’re being reassured that you believe the majority of people eat eggs? I’m sorry, what? Okaaaayyyy…. exactly how or in what way is anyone supposed be be reassured by such a statement? But fine, do continue Mr. P…

“…by partnering with Happy Eggs we are confident we are working with the UK’s leading free range egg manufacturer, with all Happy Egg farms exceeding standards set by the RSPCA farm assurance scheme Freedom Foods.”. Really, Nick? You’re that confident are you? So I’m sure you’ve conducted research into not only Noble’s Happy Egg Company, but also all the other “free range” egg brand providers to assess their current and past record in regards to ethics and standards? Is that honestly the case, CEO Nick Pearson? Because I honestly can’t think of a consistently lacking and more offending example of such company the The Happy Egg Company – see above re: Viva! investigations and others.

And too be frank, Nick, whoever the “leading free range egg manufacturer” might be, and however distasteful such a statement might be (I mean, come on… the company do not manufacture eggs – the hens kind if handle that side of the business) the entirely of the industry is laden with cruelty, harm, suffering and premature death. Why partner with such a business in the first place? Were you tasked with receiving funding from a range of egg or animal agriculture industries? No. Your job description has you “create a global strategy and business plan that supports growth, and respects and protects the fundamental beliefs and principles of parkrun’s founder. parkrun needs a financial plan that pays for growth while retaining the community feel that has always existed.”.

Can you not see how there’s something a little at odds here, Nick?

CEO Nick then took the gloves off, offering this statement that is as baffling as it is dismissive and wholly inaccurate:

“Importantly, it is evident that there are currently a number of activists, that are not from the parkrun community, who are using this story as a platform to further their agenda. It is critical therefore that we take the views of our own community seriously, whilst retaining some perspective about where the majority of criticism is originating.”

I witnessed the reactions Nick is referencing here and being in a position to count many of those posting concerns as friends, fellow club members (Vegan Runners UK) and pure parkrun enthusiasts and volunteers, I have to disagree with this dismissive and insulting retort in full. Surely the CEO of parkrun has to be better than this and held to a higher standard? Basically “fuck those guys and their opinions, they’re not parkrunners they’re no better than trrsts out to undermine and destroy my employer”. I don’t think I’m being too far out of line here, Nick, when I kindly point out you done fucked up, son. A ridiculous and pathetic statement by any standards.

It’s quite obvious from these statements so far the CEO Nick does not intend to budge on this issue. A line has been drawn. parkrun is effectively now a shill for the egg industry.

He later posited “We simply ask that everyone respects each other’s point of view and the choices they make.” Well I’m sorry, Nick, but do you expect people to swallow that bile when you’ve basically dismissed their own opinions as militant rabble-rousing and of a non-parkrun bandwaggon-hopping nature? I’d tell you to go fuck yourself at this point, but I’d only be lowering myself to your gutter level, so instead I’ll nod politely with a look of both disbelief at the sheer gall followed by a sigh at the inevitable turns this saga will no doubt take down the line thanks to such deplorable hypocrisy.

So then, sad times…

How can parkrun be so far out of touch? As someone else pointed out quite rightly, parkrun will be judged on this and likely be on the wrong side of history.

Between the dismissive stuff and the can’t-we-all-just-get-along trite rhetoric, he wombles on about some other stuff as clumsily and ill-informed as the rest of it. “There is a view, amongst some, that a partnership with a free-range egg company somehow dismisses their right to be both vegan and a parkrunner — but this is not the case. We support the right of all parkrunners to make whatever personal lifestyle choices they feel appropriate.” No, Nick, just no. It doesn’t dismiss anyone’s right to make their own decisions… but you have in fact imposed such decisions with an alignment to a destructive and cruel industry, one that hides behind clever marketing and premium “guilt tax” pricing for an organisation many of us hold dear.

He then rambles on about health, eating, well-being, and how parkrun has a minimal staff and needs huge bundles of money if they’re to continue to expand (and no doubt continue to afford his salary) – and here we see the crux of the matter. Happy Egg clearly paid a premium to align themselves with parkrun, and parkrun are of no mind to let that cash slip… I mean Nick CEO wages, bonuses and future financial health are directly dependent on this deal that is now in place, as are all future opportunities to jet aroudn the world on parkrun’s back with his cronies performing vital “research”. Well good luck with that, Mr Pearson, I think you’ll find the ongoing opposition to be more resolute, organised and innovative than your own narrow-minded views alluded to in your above statements. When you dismiss people’s genuine and heart-felt concerns, people who are at the very heart of the ongoing success of your organisation, you’re going to have to expect a push back.

The facts of what goes on in the egg industry are not really common knowledge, and I’m almost entirely convinced Nick Pearson & Co. have not researched them to any real extent. In some ways that’s not entirely unexpected, apart from them being in a position where they absolutely should know every detail and every aspect inside out before accepting bags full of cash and preaching dietary advice, because most people don’t know and don’t want to know. Cognitive dissonance is a thing. Most would rather continue scoffing their fried eggs and dipping their soldiers without hearing the unpalatable truths of the matter. But it was certainly parkrun’s place to research and inform themselves just who they were getting into bed with before welcoming the bankroll with open arms and now promoting the Happy Egg Company’s product.

One of the worst things for me, personally, is the whole “free range” marketing tactic thing, a happy hen myth that enables people who don’t know or don’t want to know what really goes on to make poor, cruel and uninformed decisions, and to do so with a smile on their faces ’cause they let themselves believe they’re doing it right – paying a little conscious-easing tax to purify their souls and chong down the whites and the yolks. Do they know what goes on behind the walls of he Happy Egg Company and others like it? How they play their part in murdering half a million UK baby chicks per year at one day old – either by suffocation or live maceration (thrown, alive, into a grinder and spat out as “chicken” dog food). Oh yes, that actually happens. Why? Because they’re boys. Males are useless, they can’t lay eggs, they have no value beyond being minced alive or post-suffocation and added as an ingredients to some wholesome stuff as chicken dog food.

Are the girls lucky to escape a day #1 death? Maybe they’d wish they had been offered that mercy. Instead of gassing or grinding, they get to have their beaks mutilated – chopped down to a tiny stump. Just enough to let them feed but not enough to do masses of real harm to themselves or each other – because they most definitely would in the conditions they are kept. Then spend the next 2 years (should they survive) firing out around 520 eggs before they’re deemed inefficient to keep alive as they’re tired (their wild cousins only lay around a dozen or so in a year in the wild), stressed (chickens form a hierarchy naturally, kind of like a group of primates might – a pecking order, and they can’t do that in their luxurious free range accommodation that affords them a an effective personal space no bigger than a large ipad, and they can’t deal this mentally being “cooped up”) and far more prone to disease. So they’re shipped off for slaughter for the next cycle to replace them. This process is constant, it’s not just every 2 years, but happening in an ongoing basis constantly with different batches. This is the life of an animal that would live maybe 7 or 8 times that in allowed to live a stress-free, more natural life.

As a form of protest, myself and others chose to rename ourselves on the parkrun database as a way to promote thought and discussion on the Happy Egg situation. Unfortunately, parkrun HQ decided to trawl their database and remove anyone who did so from the results:

How petty.

They also censored a Run Director’s comments on the situation, effectively silencing her and refusing her the right to discuss the matter in an official capacity. Other RDs and EDs have resigned over the issue. This won’t go away, parkrun, we can’t let this slide…. you are our parkrun and accountable to us, parkrunners and volunteers – all of us – you are accountable to us, not the other way around.

What to do when you got the manflu…? Seek inspiration from a couple of Charlies.

Some Vegans will have you believe they are super-human. From the day they dropped the knife and fork over their last Sunday roast, they’ve been miraculously and wholly transformed into plant-powered uberbeings, unable to catch a cold and immune from sore throats; simply walking-and-talking pictures of health and wellness.

Yeah, bullshit. No offence, like, but kindly eff off with that shit 🙂

I’ve got a young son who goes to school with one set of friends. He goes swimming with another group and plays football with 2 other sets of friends on different days of the week. I’ve got a mother-in-law who lives in a granny flat complex of 50-odd similarly old, frail, cough-and-cold-ridden darling dears. There’s no escaping it. I’m exposed to every last thing that’s making the rounds, and eating hummus and avocados and dropping Vegan Society VEG-1 after my morning coconut milk porridge does not mystically offer an impenetrable bubble fending off snot-rifled bugs from getting at me and doing their worst.

I’m always getting ill and, when you’re fit & strong and graft hard for a living, having to mope around and feel all meh is, well… meh. I think that’s how this manflu term came into being, for miserable sods like me. Not much you can do but sit back and hope for it to be over, but make sure to let everyone around know just how put out you are by not being able to be your usual self.

Well, today I’ve been suitably miserable and lacking the energy to give a fuck about anything much, but thanks to a chance ebay purchase and an excellent video posted to youtube this afternoon, my spirits are lifted and I’m already making plans for next week when I’m sure I’ll be over this nonsense and back on my feet proper!

So here we go, thanks to a couple of Charlies I’m thinking positive and forming some ideas about where I want to go with my running as a V-45 Vegan builder with a bad back and knees that apparently rival those of the Gruffalo’s according to a line my son recites any time he so much as glances at them…

First off, check out the video above. So much in there resonating with me. I’ll never match the performances and results of Charlie Sharpe obviously, lol, but I can totally sit here and nod along when hearing about a background of grafting away at work and coming into running with nothing more than a fair basic level of fitness, little cardio ability and carrying a bit too much weight to be really effective. A few years on and I’m finding what I like best in running, and the trail/distance stuff is certainly more appealing than the usual short, sharp and painful attempts at road races when I’m pushing what my current ability allows. This video was made today as he nears 100 ultras. A hundred ultra-marathons, in around 8 years. I don’t tire of hearing from someone who loves what they do and takes time out to share their thoughts and experiences, making themselves available to assist via youtube and social media. Awesome.

generic-charlie-spedding-the-autobigraphy-from-last-to-first-p305-857_image

The other Charlie is Mr. Spedding. Bought his 10 year old book for pennies on ebay on a bit of a whim, a guy I’d honestly never heard of (because, well, I’d never taken even a passing interest in running before my brother started working on me 3 years ago, oh and I’ll document that at some point soon before I forget it forever *makes mental note*). Anyway, the book “from last to first”. Lots of powerful stuff in here detailing everything from being last in a handicap race at school to winning an olympic medal, which is where the book actually begins like one of those Hollywood movies that hits you with a BAM from the off, only to go back and build the story up to that point for the following hour.  Only sniffled and sneezed my way to the half way point so far, but it’s compelling stuff. The point I got up to most recently was where he decides to take things to the next level by rethinking his thinking with help from a biro, a sheet of paper, a pint of ale and a spot of evesdropping. I can’t think well enough to put that better, but it’s very interesting protosportspsychollogystuff if we’re inventing german-style glumpy mouthful words to smear over a simple concept.

It’s massively inspiring and also reassuring reading the words of these kinds of people, people who are able to and understand how to push on and push on. I’m not like them, I don’t have an innate talent for a start, hah, but I know myself well enough and have an idea of what I could be if I set my mind to it, and where I might improve if only I set my mind to it. And keep away from the Biscoffs. Maybe not so much on the physical side, because pushing hard, especially on shorter races, is really, really unpleasant. but mentally, and I think with distance stuff this is just as important, I have an inner belief that I have a determination and drive that can override aching muscles and nagging thoughts of easing off and jacking in. A little something in the bag that’s been tested and honed over years working physically hard day after day, being my own boss and forcing myself to kick on when I could simply down tools, go home, get warm and sit with my feet up in the company of a PlayStation or my game dev setup. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done exactly that at times, because I love both those things, too, so maybe I’m not single-minded enough to truly go at it? I dunno, I’m now rambling. I do know that I’m not one, especially in recent years bar this past year when I’ve been injured and unable to run, to work for the sake of working – if there’s an opportunity not to and I don’t need the money, well sack that then – I’m off up in the moors, see-ya! But no, I’m not saying I’m definitely going to improve or find I’m completely happier doing this longer stuff – Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis say “hi!” – but I’m certainly more confident and open-minded about it all when exposing myself to this kind of reading and viewing material… and the reason I’m writing it here is the same sort of reason Mr. Spedding wrote down his words and underlined them three times.

Advice for race organisers: how to make your event more vegan-friendly

Well-informed post intended for race organisers, to help when choosing their aid station foods.

Adventure and Cake

Dear Race Director,

I really appreciate all of the hard work that you put into events. You must get so many emails enquiring about various things, including food – an email asking what food you provide that’s suitable for vegans might just seem like a whole lot more work. Here’s the good news: you probably already provide plenty of plant-based options, whether you’re aware of it or not… Here’s a guide to help you stay ahead of the curve with a few simple tweaks so you can keep all your plant-powered runners happy.

Let’s dive straight in with a few items you can make available at your next event without any extra bother or cost, that vegans and non-vegans alike will consume.

Salted peanuts

Ready salted crisps

Fruit (runners love bananas)

Jam or peanut butter sandwiches (no spread)

Dark chocolate (most doesn’t contain milk)

Biscuits (e.g. Lidl digestives, bourbons…

View original post 1,219 more words

2016 flashback: THE BIG STOCKPORT 10K – VEGAN RUNNERS TAKEOVER

This is a club blog post I made back in 2016, shortly after our first mass attendance at the Stockport BIG Event 10K race. The following year we’d more than double these numbers. Re-posting as it’s almost time to once again descend on Mersey Square, for this our 3rd mass attendance at the event – looking like we’ll once again have 150+ runners on the start line! #seeyouinstockport #veganrunnersuk

Usually you’ll be there, eagle-eyed, checking the shirts, looking for those distinctive colours. Was that a Vega…? No. Oh, what about …? When you finally spot a wild Vegan Runner at a race it can be quite a big moment, especially if you’re not lucky enough to be in one of the areas with a really active local group.

There was none of that on Sunday September 18th – a warm, sunny morning in Stockport, Cheshire, a few miles south-east of Manchester. On this day it was difficult to go anywhere without seeing a group of VRs.

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It began as an idea to find a race the Manchester group could turn out in numbers for. After a little searching and checking, a local race with a date that worked for a number of the group was found – a 10k so as to be suitable for most abilities and with a cheeky £10 entry fee if registering teams of 5 at once. Could the group fill 2 teams, or perhaps 3? As the teams filled, more were created, then more and others outside the group began to show an interest (let’s not ignore the fact that the race fell on the same weekend as the Manchester Vegan Beer Festival). This was no longer just a local gathering, VRs signed up from London, Hertfordshire, all over the North East, Leeds, Huddersfield, Merseyside… the list goes on.

There was quite a bit of organising and planning required to keep things on track and some members joined other local groups and spread the news. In the run up to the event, Jonna, Manchester group local contact, managed the teams. This became particularly hectic during the closing days as people had to pull out due to injury etc., but these were quickly replaced by yet more eager Vegans wanting to share the day with their club mates. Another task Jonna set herself was to secure a sponsor in the form of Unicorn, a local co-operative grocery, who offered a generous supply of fruit (organic, of course, as they offer nothing else!). And let’s not forget that banner flag, designed by Jason and to be heroically carried throughout the morning by Tom!

By race day we had 14 teams of 5 and a number runners registering solo, all ready to don their black and green shirts (some for the very first time) to run the streets of Stockport, promote a healthy Vegan lifestyle and do our club proud.

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Meeting on Mersey Square, opposite the Plaza, our numbers rose steadily, hugs became more frequent and smiles grew larger. Thanks to a borrowed shirt from here, and a pair of shorts from there, one of those intending only to cheer and spectate had a last minute change of mind and took a place – who could blame anyone for wanting to jump in and be a part of this BIG day – the vibe was immensely positive and compelling.

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With just over half an hour to the start of the race, around 60 Vegan Runners descended into the Bear Pit. Fortunately, being around 200 years too late to witness the kinds of activities that gave this area its name, instead it was the first club photo opportunity. With the photos snapped, a particularly memorable moment took place as Verna stood, faced the terraced crowd and said a few heartfelt words regarding the occasion and the history of the club, followed by a round of applause for Jonna and everyone else involved with making the day possible. It was OK to get a little misty-eyed at this point.

With little time left for anything resembling a meaningful warm-up, the gathered runners headed off past the theatre and up the hill to the start area – a hill they would each soon get to re-tread around 9.9km later. Outer layers were shed, toilet queues began looking unsurprisingly lengthy, bags got dropped, and the nerves began to kick in as the start time neared.

600 entrants – over 1 in 10 being Vegan Runners – queued at the start. After a short delay the race began, with the hosts commenting on all the Vegan Runners whizzing by mere seconds later!

The course itself wasn’t bad at all, although it did have its fair share of climbs, twists and turns coupled with occasional changes to the terrain. Not everyone enjoys a route that doubles back on itself down the same track but, just after the half way point, running beside the River Mersey in both directions offered a great opportunity to see, wave, high-five, cheer and encourage each other while the race was in progress. Wonderful stuff!

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As people completed their runs they joined the growing group near the finish line. Another chance to chat, cheer home the remaining members, sample the post-race fruit and stretch out some sore limbs.

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After the prize-giving, another photo opportunity presented itself before the group began to disband. Some had trains to catch, others had an appointment at The Allotment with the talented Matthew Nutter, local chef and runner, as he opened his doors to a lucky few dozen or so VRs for a post-run breakfast. It was said a hardcore few even made it back to the Beer Festival.

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Among those earning new 10k PBs were Alex Hinchcliffe and Bob Neill, finishing 2nd and 4th overall, setting up an easy win for the Soy Division VR team, with 5 Vegan Runners finishing in the first 20 places. Alex is more often found high in the hills around Sheffield, Bob is more at home in the vast wilds of the North East, running more substantial distances such as the Ultra Marathon he recently placed first in. For them both come travel and take part in an event that’s not really their prefered running format is something we’re all thankful for, and their placings really helped with the message. But, having said that, their efforts were equally matched on the day by all those Vegan Runners stepping up to the 10k distance, pushing for PBs and even taking part in their first ever events wearing the shirt. All commendable stuff!

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There are far too many stories to tell: PBs earned, friendships made, hangovers burned off. One thing is for sure, everyone did the club proud. It seems clear that, with the club being inherently different to regular running clubs and with all the difficulties that presents, yet expanding rapidly and gaining more and more attention, the local groups will play a vital going forwards. This kind of event brings us together just like our weekly training runs but on a grander scale and with a more accessible and inclusive format, bringing in members from further afield, maybe the kinds of people who cannot attend the training runs or have none in their areas. Yes, it was probably a record turnout for Vegan Runners at an event – but this record will be smashed soon enough, and again and again – it’s only natural as the club grows stronger in numbers by the week. What’s sure is the buzz generated by an event like Sunday’s will only seek to strengthen us as a club and bring us closer to the day the local groups take their place alongside their neighbouring local running clubs in their own right. Until then, more like this!

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It wouldn’t be right to end this without mentioning Sam Barton, Community Sport Officer at Life Leisure, the event’s organisers. Always available for advice regarding the teams, bag drop etc., and ensuring that *all* goodie bags handed out contained vegan-friendly snack bars, Sam made us not only feel welcome, but a valued part of the event. From all of us at Vegan Runners, thank you!

Leigh Weekend on the Track : 6 Hour Challenge

This event looked useful – 6 hours running 400m laps of a running track. It ticked so many boxes for me at this particular point in my comeback. I could get some distance in the legs without risk of tripping and falling and with no pressure to race or keep running if I didn’t fancy it. I could try out the new shoes – New Balance 1080W V8s – and have a spare pair of old reliable on hand if things didn’t work out. Get to test out 2 varieties of Clif Bloks, Blackcurrant with caffeine and Margherita Citrus with 3x salts without risk of being stuck miles from anywhere with a gut-bomb. All good stuff working towards getting myself as ready as possible for Equinox 24 after being out so long.

Here’s some of the fun comments from local club mates before the race when I was attempting to drag some along, for some reason I just couldn’t convince them of the benefits of the race, instead they preferred to make fun:

“Sounds horrible 

How awful for you 😂

Not exactly positive, was it?! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And this is from people who run Ultras and Spartan Beast events… people who casually just rip their kecks down and shit in the wild when out for a run… people who roll around in mud on kids playground toys and call it challenging fun. I’ll take my ton of steady miles in a controlled environment anyday, kids – so much more to be learned!

Luckily I know them well enough to know they weren’t entirely serious with their jibes, and I’m glad to say they were wrong, and by a good margin. If they thought it wasn’t nearly gnarly enough for their tastes, well they didn’t see the weather we had before the race even began – torrential! But I loved it because, as any runner worth their electrolytes knows – rain running is the best running.

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Leigh track on a quieter and less-wet day

So it’s an hour before the start and it’s pouring down, the event team are all set up as they’ve been here all weekend for the track Marathon and Half the day previous. As I head over to check in, I see the usual fine spread you’d expect at a Time2run event – masses of goodies to eat with plenty I can go at being Vegan (bananas and bourbons, well with those two you make a friend for life), electrolyte drink, water, flat cola, hot tea & coffee, and the usual sweets and cakey things I’m not compatible with for the non-veegs with a sweet tooth.
Plenty of time now to check out the facilities – in the main building above, just down an exit/re-entry funnel over the start/finish line, there’s toilets that are a big step up from the portaloos you have to put up with on many events. One of the many benefits of being at the track! During the race I’d dash in here no less than 4 times, all those freely available drinks keeping me super hydrated, or was that over-hydrated. As I’m on my way I see I guy I think I recognise… but from where? The cogs turned, slowly. Somehow my addled brain picks it out, from a post a friend made about a guy she met at an event, a Big Issue seller who had an amazing past. I drag his name Stefan out of nowhere and, yep, he confirms he’s the guy I’ve read about on facebook. Follow that link and read about him, it’s impressive stuff!
Back to the van, sorting out my Camelback that’s going to be loaded with Clif Bloks, my inhaler and a full slab of Soreen Banana Loaf that I plan on devouring at the half way point. Through the rain teaming down the windscreen I think I spy someone I know from Bolton parkrun and Strava, so off I hop to the aid station. And yep, there’s Mark and we look at each other like “what are you doing here?!” as we’re both on the recovery trail after some time and both probably think there’s a few unknowns regarding distance and endurance if we’re to be out there for 6 hours. Fun times!
Then I see Charlie Sharp. Wow, I know he has close ties with Time2run, but didn’t expect to see him here for this one. Anyone who came with idea of winning probably had a little moment of realisation and downgraded plans for at best a 2nd spot 🙂
Back to the van to check & re-check the pack, get it comfy, and strip off the layers to just the shorts and a cheap and actually-not-very-waterproof, “waterproof” cycling jacket. It fits over the pack nicely though and I don’t really care to remain dry, just wanna be a little warmer, so it’ll do a job. Plus I got the good old one-size-fits-all-even-me Atari baseball cap to keep the rain out of my eyes. /|\
Five minutes to the off and we assemble near the start line for a quick briefing. It’s clear the inclement weather has put off some of those who entered from turning out – a shame, but a few more come in their place and there’s a respectable number on the start line if not nearly the maximum possible 50. We’re told there’s no completing your last lap when the timer runs down, it’s whole laps only within the 6 hours. Not much more to be said other than help yourself to the aid station goodies and we’re off. Or at least we were told to be off, but almost nobody moves and it takes a cry of “well, go on then!” until we spring into life.
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Charlie Sharpe doing what he does and opening up a lead instantly.

The plan was to keep it simple, run well within myself and get as much useful info out of the day as possible. Running with the pack on might have been a tiny hassle, but it’s going to be there in the 24Hr race so I need to train with it so I know what to expect. While it’s raining, though, it’s a little bit of a faff to unzip and reach around blind and squeeze out a few Bloks.

So there’s a couple of people in front of me and I’m happy to try and sit behind 2nd placed Mark as I ease in. It’s not long until we all begin to get lapped though! That guy is so fast and makes it look so effortless. It was a real treat to check out the form and some food for thought, not many people get the benefit of having someone of that skill and talent repeatedly run past and show you how it’s done. A real bonus.

It seemed like I’d settled down to something like a 9 minute per mile pace, which given the easy and forgiving terrain, not really too fast for what I was training towards. Something like 2:10 per lap. Chatting to one of the Team Deane runners we complete a number of laps together at this comfortable conversational pace and discuss running, football, Ironman (they’d all completed the Bolton event just a few weeks ago), swimming (I can’t – he couldn’t a year before his first IM – there’s hope for me yet) and when to pee. Ah damn… did I really go there? I said the word… a few laps of discomfort but there’s nothing for it but to duck out already after only 5 miles – when you gotta go you gotta go – bah!

After a quick pitstop I’m feeling really good, the freshfoam New Balance are ridiculously comfy on the artificial surface and it’s hard to resist the urge to rip off the jacket and pack and try to do a few laps at the leader’s pace! Instead I opt for something far more sensible and just up it a little to 8+ minute miles, just under 2 minutes per lap. It feels good but it’s not really useful pace for the 24hr training, no matter how easy the running is.

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The rain soon cleared up, about an hour in it was just splashing in little puddles

Now this “boring” race I’d been told to expect wasn’t happening, it was fun, felt great and I’d already enjoyed chatting to a few total strangers. Stopping for drinks and quick loo breaks, the event staff exchange words of support and encouragement – and it can’t have been easy for them in those first couple of hours when it was belting down. Lapping the slower runners, most of the time they step over and give you track position, something I’d regularly be doing looking out for the leader after he first caught me out on I think just the 2nd lap. That was possibly the hardest aspect of the first half of the event in fairness – not wanting to impede someone running so fast, so fair play to all those running in lanes 2 and 3 constantly, clocking up quite a few more metres than the rest of us with their wider laps. Of course, not everyone did this, a couple of people stuck hard to the white line of lane one to minimise their effort, and fair play to them it’s not Formula One and there’s no blue flags, they’re just doing their thing. As I wasn’t racing I didn’t mind taking a wider lane, often running out to the 4th and 5th lanes to pass a cluster of runners. No big deal.

The rain didn’t last too long. I would happily have taken the full 6 hours in the downpours, but the jacket came off – and for the leading runner even the shirt – as the sun baked down. And yes I managed to even get my close-shaven head a little sunburned! Wasn’t expecting that.

3:00 hours in was the time I’d been looking forward to – Banana Loaf o’clock! No, not a huge sandwich as someone thought I was devouring, but that big old Soreen loaf. 1PM is late for my lunch, and banana loaf doesn’t quite match the usual hummus/tomato/gherkin/pepper/feisty picked onion wraps I regularly devour in threes, but a big lump of sugary squidge would have to do on the go. So I walked a lap and stuffed as much of it in as possible before reaching the aid station and a chance to wash it down. I’ve got a feeling the rapid-fire Clif Bloks has been a bit too much every 20 minutes before this, and there was a little argument in my stomach between the two for 30 or 40 minutes, nothing dire but something to remember and beware of at Equinox.

At about 3:30 the leader had put in 110 laps. During these he’d run fast, some slower as he chatted to other runners and some at practically walking place as he gave tips and support to to a young lad who had only just been bought his first pair of running shoes the day before, had never really run, but continued to put in the laps. Some walked, some Jeffed, some run. Impressive! With an ultra-qualifying distance in the bag, he called it a day and left us to it. Well, he hung around for quite a while, shouted words of support and even cheered me on as I matched his total over half an hour later, but couldn’t be persuaded to come back out and give me something more to aim for 😉 It later turned out he was just looking to tick the Ultra box as he rapidly approaches 100 Ultras. Lucky for those sitting behind, as 10 of us would get the very rare opportunity to say they finished a race in front of Charlie Sharpe! Some would pay the entry fee just for that 🙂

So this turn of events had made me reconsider what I was doing here. Knowing that his place was just a matter of time to leapfrog, there was only really one person in front of me going off the last time I’d checked the standings on the big TV at the aid station. I didn’t know who it was or how far in front they were or even how long ago it had been, but I knew I’d been in 3rd place. So there’s this opportunity to win a race, something I’d only ever done once before in my very first event back in 2016, a charity 6 miler for Sports Relief in Chorley’s Astley Park where myself, my brother and my brother-in-law filled out 3 of the top 4 placings (which probably says it wasn’t really well attended by club runners, just lots of lovely people gaining that sponsorship money). But this is a proper race, and a distance one at that, and despite the low turnout it seemed you don’t get that kind of opportunity too often. So instead of keeping it steady and within a very comfortable threshold, I decided to try to maintain a pace and see how long I could keep it up and where it might get me.

The announcer also picked up his game from the half way point, letting everyone know the standings as this info was increasingly useful as time went on, and I was getting plenty of info on how many laps I was up to approaching 100 and then closing in on the leader at 110. From then on there was loads of encouragement from the guy as he repeatedly called out my name, my club name (which really did boost me, I have to admit) and often commenting “and he’s still going strong” which it actually didn’t feel like, as I was just putting in the laps and while it was getting increasingly difficult to maintain, it wasn’t really tough and I didn’t feel at all strong in what I was doing.

One lap I did choose to take it easier on was when I had the privilege to complete most of the young lad’s final lap with him and others including the Team Deane runners – his last laps being number 54 – i.e. over a Half Marathon distance! I’m not sure if it was for charity or just his Dad encouraging him to do his best, but he got (I think) £1.50 a lap for each of those 54 laps, and I’m sure the very next day he regretted every single one of them 😀 But now, looking back, he can say at age 11 he ran his first race and completed a Half. BAM! The thing that impressed me as much as his efforts was seeing the Team Deane guys, Charlie Sharpe and others doing plenty of those laps with him – heartwarming stuff and proving the TD motto of “nobody gets left behind” isn’t just a catchy slogan, it’s for real. I know if I ever get this swimming thing in the bag and want to join a Tri club, there’s only going to be one name on the shortlist. Mad respect.

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Young Ben getting the 54th HM lap in with Team Deane and others

What I also appreciated as the laps clocked up was the words of support from others in the event. I can tell you it’s quite fun and humbling to be referred to as “a machine” as you’re just trotting around putting in the miles, the words of encouragement gave such positive vibes and I returned them in kind, it really did feel like we were all aiming for that 6 hour mark in the best we could or dared, and doing it together rather than against each other. I think there was only one guy who I didn’t speak with the whole race and he was so in the zone hugging that inside white line that I didn’t dare risk putting him off!

The last hour was relatively tough, and I think after 6 hours at any pace that’s understandable, especially on the road to recovery being out for so many months. I’d already decided to knock the Bloks on the head and go with what was left in the tank – I’d hardly been killing it after all, they just weren’t necessary, more a matter of seeing how I stomached them when taking them on way quicker than I will at EQX. The lap times had been sitting around the 2:15s from hour 4, but into hour 5 they were stretching to 2:20s and more with only the occasional 2:15. I wasn’t sure how much of a lead I had until I lapped around the same time as 2nd place when the announcer chose to call his stats. It was a good lead and I could probably have stopped with over half an hour to go and been fairly certain of staying first. Now that might seem like it’d be a reassuring fact to know, but when you’ve been on your feet for 5 and a half hours, the last thing you need is some stupid excuse to go stopping or wildly adjusting pace. That last half hour was more of a struggle than I’d have liked to keep on it and keep moving, but at least I knew if I did it was mine to take – yay! The funniest thing I heard around this time was from Mark, he was in 4th and working for it, and we were discussing about keeping on it as you never know when someone has to drop out or decides to call it a day in these kinds of events, to which he replied “yeah, I was hoping you’d drop out… well… not hoping…” hahaha, I knew what he meant and it was spot-on, you have to think like that I suppose 😉 And he stuck to it and got his 3rd place!

As the 6 hours approached, it looked like I could finish on exactly 160 laps – a nice round number. But… as I just mentioned, those demons and their little ways of convincing you to do things you don’t necessarily want to do… well one whispered to me it’d be safer to complete 159 laps and walk the last one as a warm-down. Eff you, demon… that 159th walked lap was horrible! Fair enough a fast 160th could have been equally horrible and might have led to getting hurt, but I hate that you won out. The good thing was I managed to chat to the guy in 2nd place as he was walking the last lap, too. He’d kept at it knowing he couldn’t catch me from maybe 30+ minutes out, but still kept on. I had to get my legs moving properly though as I felt I might get stiff just walking, it just felt so wrong. So I hobbled then jogged on to the line and called it a day with 50 seconds to spare. Event director commented that I probably didn’t have a 50 second lap in me, heh, I agreed.

What I’ll say is that this event was the most social I’ve ever been involved in, and that’s a really good thing. I’ve done Endure 24 Reading the year it ended up as Ebola 24 with the plague of illness, I’ve run Equinox 2017 that was a super-friendly and welcoming event, but nothing comes close to this one I think because it was such a small event and everyone got to see a lot of everyone else throughout the entire duration. It really did feel like we all got through it together. Getting to stand up and receive a prize (red wine, wife guzzled gladly) was fun stuff, and seeing Mark do the same was great, he loved that,  and also Team Deane winning the team prize being the only qualifying team present got a laugh and a cheer. Another nice touch was the announcer from Time2run coming over to me personally afterwards and saying some really positive stuff – he didn’t need to do that but it was a classy move and I really appreciated it – top guy.

63.6km, just over 39.5 miles, in 5:59:10.

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So yeah, every dog got it’s day, this was mine – woof bark!

v3k half marathon – welsh vegan 3000s lite

Probably not the ideal choice of event to come back to, given the distance and 3,500ft of climbing, but I really wanted it – a test of where I was at and to get my head right in terms of what i could manage… and, damn it, I’d seen too many paid-for races pass by and this one wasn’t getting added to the list!

So I sought permission from the amazing NHS physio who had taken me from someone who was reluctantly walking and still not quite able to work to someone who was beginning to get thoughts of getting back at this for real. I’d been building up comfortably over the previous few weeks with a slow and a moderate 5k trail that both felt surprisingly great once I got moving, a 2k dash that felt as good as any i’d done on my little loop around the block in the past, an 8-miler and 11-miler on the trails, a hilly trail parkrun and a 16 mile bike ride. I might not have mentioned the elevation or gone into detail on the terrain of the race, but I got the OK I wanted after making that progress- BAM!

Dat self-doubt doe.

TBF, it was no more or less of an issue than that first 3.1 mile trail run through the local woods. It wasn’t difficult to come up with excuses to try to put that one off, but being up early for work meant bobbing out at 5:30am would ensure nobody would be around and if it ended in a walk of shame, no witnesses! That went well, but here we are again on a race start line – it’s a bit different. An 11am off and a mini coach trip to the start gave plenty of time for doubts to creep in and for the sun to continue to bake down. An hour to waste before the coach and not much around to keep me distracted.

The trip to North Wales isn’t one i’m unfamiliar with, but dipping off the main road to instantly find the event HQ had been easier than expected. Nowhere to park, though, as the ultra runners and campers had been here the day before, so the van got parked up on the side of the road and my handy VEGAN RUNNERS banner slipped under the wipers to attempt to keep the sun off a little.

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The bananas I left out show this didn’t exactly work to plan 😉

Not untypically, I managed to introduce extra difficulty to the race by doing something daft. Instead of simply wearing a hat with a neck-guard, I’d be clever and wrap a white t-shirt around my head as I so often do at work – it works well there when I’m digging, lifting & shifting as it guarantees to keep my neck covered at all times, so why not in a race? Well, the t-shirt I chose was a very silky-smooth running shirt of my own design, and the thing became loose if i as much as dared to look around to either side too rapidly. Oh the joys of having to re-tie & re-tighten the knotted sleeves of the shirt around my head over and over and over. What. An. Idiot. But another lesson learned 🙂

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Tim Glasby’s fb photo near the start of the half – t-shirt hat fail issues yet to make themselves known

A very hot day for someone who actively dislikes sunny running – where was the infamous clag?! Nothing but blue skies for miles – so glad I wasn’t running the ultra in that. As was mandated by the event organisers, I had over 2 litres of water in the backpack (one bottle frozen solid – that was nice later on!). Garmin e-trex in my palm because i have no idea of the actual route. A big fuck-off hill to climb straight away. Any doubts and concerns about what might happen instantly vanished when faced with the task at hand. We back at this!

After a pleasant speech from “T”, we were off. Starting near the front but to one side, probably sat in around 20th place as we begin the ascent proper. Only a few were actually what you’d call running up here, this was effectively hiking, and it was impressive to see how much progress the leaders were making. All went well, a few places picked up here and there while keeping it really steady. After a while there wasn’t anyone to follow, the speedy runners were gone, those in front were not in view. I occasionally spied the odd red flag course marker, but found myself looking down at the Garmin a lot to make sure I wasn’t doing anything silly.

Every time it seemed like I might be nearing the summit, around a bend or over a brow and… yeah, there’s a bit more… and a bit more…

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Plenty of climbing over the first 3 miles, but then we got a chance to actually run.

Eventually I’d gotten to the top – wahey, some actual running at last!

I don’t honestly remember too much of the following sections, only that it was fun, fast-ish and I fell twice 🙂 Passing hikers and walkers, everyone had a smile and said hello, same for those crazy Ultra runners I managed to catch up with. Having a good long view of the route ahead and those in front of me was great, it gave me something to aim for and slowly but surely pick up a couple of places. No PF issues at all so far, running in an old pair of clunky but comfy Brooks Adrenalin road shoes unlike almost everyone else all inov8’d up.

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One thing I remember is one of the faster half runners coming screaming past me before the half way point and tearing up the last big climb. How had I managed to get in front of him? Unfortunately later I realised what had happened – he’d followed an Ultra runner up the extra climb that was not part of our Half route, but it didn’t seem to be having much impact on his pace.

The last climb is an out-and-back up to a trig point, nice in that you get to say hi to those a bit in front and a bit behind as you pass. From here I remember back to watching Alex’s blip on the previous year’s Ultra race. He ripped this section up and I was looking forward to doing my V45 lolrunner version of just that. But it didn’t quite work out that way, hah. The guy in front seemed to be backtracking too far, I shouted him as I remember my brother doing an extra few miles doing exactly that the year before. He said no, his GPS was good, the route turned further up. I couldn’t see any sign of a red flag and my GPS said I should already have turned. Bollocks.

So I half-arsed plot a path that’s not the same as my route and leaning somewhere towards his… but there’s no paths here, just sheep and heather. Oh and missing bits with rocks and stuff. FFS.

Deciding to just follow my own GPS route as closely as possible, I spy little sheep trails and give those a go. Nothing seems to be going in the right direction. Grumpy Kevin is grumpy. My own fault, I didn’t learn the route and couldn’t make it to the reccy runs the club held a few months earlier. Deal with it, this isn’t some shitty little local half marathon on well-worn paths, this is proper fell business, git gud or go home!

Well I didn’t get good and the paths continued to elude me. The guy in front was nowhere to be seen, he’d gone further over and was presumably working with a GPX file that was better than my own.

Then I spy to runners to my left, maybe 80-100 yards away. I’m knee-deep in heather and they’re bombing down a nice trail. ^&!*^ but I’ll have some of that! 😛

Then someone appears to my right, he’s seemingly been doing the same as me only further over. Later he tells me he’s not seen a red flag for near half the race 😦

Someone passed me after a while, or maybe I dropped in behind, but with my fitness levels I couldn’t live with the pace at all. The screaming downhill I’d dreamed of just wasn’t here for me just yet and there was a little climb I just didn’t fancy. Reluctant but sensible walk. Soon I could see nobody in front and nobody behind once again. Yeah, that’s not really my kind of thing, I’m not in my comfort zone here at all, oops!

Now though, it’s all proper trails, it’s a clear route down and the pace can be picked up to an enjoyable wee tumble. I see the winner making his way up to join (I think) his gf, he gives me some tips on when to turn, but the Garmin got me covered on that. Hopping onto the open road I see a farmer and he asks how far we’ve been running – not as far as some I tell him. Then I hear the noise of vehicles and can’t quite bring myself to really open up on the last downhill to the finish as I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. It seems the big white van isn’t too willing to let me run the last few hundred yards behind me and I have to stop and let it pass. Cheers, fella! But no big deal really, I’m not going to sulk as I’m hardly breaking any records and nobody is going to pinch a place from the looks of things.

At the finish I’m approached by a smiling Alex and he informs me I’ve finished in 6th place, a fact that seems pretty unbelievable at the time as I’d originally thought I was further back to begin with. I’ll settle for that on a first race back, no danger!

I decided to change the footwear and clothing before nipping back for eats. Not looking forward to how hot the van will be as I plan a quick change in the back.

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You had a sneak peek at the result of the heat in the van on my bananas – well here’s the Altras that literally fell apart – the glue on the soles melted!

Feeling a bit fresher, now comes the food. Joining the other Half and Ultra runners, I think my plate leaned more towards the Ultra crowd’s in terms of the mountain of food I’d shoved on it. Maybe the 2nd time up as well. In hindsight I wasn’t really that hungry, but it all just looked and tasted so good. And the cake – yummy Vegan cake. I don’t eat cake, but apparently you gotta allow yourself to odd slice now and again when you’ve earned it, so I did just that.

But I was soon to pay for this indulgence, as sat around watching others cross the line my heart started pounding, my chest got tight and I began to wheeze and cough a little. I know this one: effing peanuts, it must have been. Yeah, I can’t have those because they make me ill. I don’t go into shock and risk death like those who are allergic, but in even small amounts they give me have a tight chest, a wheeze and a cough. Check, check, check. Any more and they kinda make me shut down and go into low power mode, I’m just not compatible. Time to head home while I can, if it gets really bad I know I’ll go jelly-wobbly-weak and spend the next few days or even weeks feeling listless and thoroughly meeeeeh. I’d say another lesson learned, but this is one I continue to trip myself up with. Derp.

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Speaking of tripping up, here’s some scuffed knees. And the haul – lip balm, coaster, medal, tent meal, and stuff with peanuts in 😉

All in all, a brilliant event – lovely, super people and the food truly was exceptional… I just need to do that ingredient check thing and not assume that food that looks like the stuff I eat is anything even similar, no matter how tasty. What a way to make my comeback to running proper ❤ ❤ ❤ Next year I’m going to volunteer there and party instead, then do the Ultra the next year 🙂

eventually…

october… well it’s now 10 months later. i originally decided to create this blog as i thought it could be a place to document my running without having to subject people to walls of text on facebook or strava. there had been comments 🙂 then i got injured. then i came to terms with the fact that i’d really been injured for some time and there had been a pretty obvious reason i was having to take pills just to get through the simplest of runs. denial is a powerful thing and this is a really shitty first post, but i have to purge before i can get on to the good stuff (if there happens to be any good stuff…).

so i had months to think about all this, try to make sense of it, figure out what i actually wanted to get out of it and put things in some sort of perspective. the good new for me is that, after 5 months out, a trip to the GP to see a practise nurse, a referral to a foot specialist and then several really helpful nhs physio sessions with my saviour ‘band 6’ – physio and something of a running mechanics expert – and i’m finally back out putting one foot in front of the other.

there’s no magic fix. i’ll probably always have some degree of discomfort in my left heel/arch area, but i have a better understanding of what’s going on down there and when i need to back off and give it a break. i’m also now equipped with an array of strength and well being exercises i can use to minimise the restrictions pf will have on me and my running.  being told “no, you really shouldn’t run the 50 miles of L2M next week” when you’ve been looking forward to your first real ultra event is tough. seeing your club mates come away with a team prize, knowing you could have been part of that – that’s not easy to take. having other paid-for events come and go is quite some food for thought. it all adds up to wanting to go about things in a more sustainable, realistic way.

september 4th 2016 was the first (and so far only) race I dnf’d during an inaugural local  half marathon. roughly half way out on the loop my left foot was already numb (i’d describe it as kinda like running in a plaster cast, though never having run in a plaster cast of course that was only a rough idea. it was something that had been plaguing longer runs in various footwear pretty much since i began running 5 miles or more) and now the arch was feeling increasingly sore. this heel/arch pain i’d gotten acquainted with some months earlier on a long run, tearing downhill, pulling up sharp and having to hobble home and rest for a few weeks. that one i blamed on new shoes with an aggressive arch support (the arch support was perfectly fine – it was obviously my arch that was not – but unable to admit the problem might be my own, i gave away the £110 pair of new shoes – d’oh!). back to the half… due to some really sloppy organising on the behalf of the event holders, there was no contingency for dealing with injured runners. you might think this would be top of a list of potential issues they might have to cater towards, but apparently not. a guy who pulled up moments before myself, vomiting profusely, was, i later found out, sat in the back seat of a marshal’s car with no way to contact his relatives and no hope of going anywhere until the tail runners had passed by. wtf?! so the best i could hope for was accompanying the sick guy in the car or making my own way back to the finish line. i was given the general direction of the nearest main road via a golf course and merrily set about hobbling my way back to the town centre. luckily for me, an off duty police officer and ironman athlete spotted me while walking his dog, nipped home and ferried me back into town. superstar. for completeness, these occasions are where i now know plantar fascia issues had first come to ruin my running plans. it’s also where i began the long process of ignoring them and pushing the problems to one side thanks to strong painkillers (prescribed after an unrelated operation), anti-depressants (prescribed after an unrelated trapped nerve in my shoulder) and regular, good old, over-the-counter vitamin i. this went on for some time until the events in the first paragraph took place.

so now i’m making like ciderspiller and making a plan and sticking to it. the plan doesn’t have hard an fast rules, in essence it’s to not be stupid, not be shit and go about everything a lot more sensible. of course, this opens the door wide to the kind of flexibility that could have it all ending in tears once again. c’est la vie… yolololol.