Like a line from The A Team

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Anyone who has only even loosely been following my training will know that the consistency/frequency of my running could only be described as sporadic at best. There are many legitimate reasons for this, but rather roll out a long list of my personal mishaps and commitments, it is suffice to say I will wrap them all up under the one heading of Life. And Life does have the nastiest habit of jumping out in front of us and scuppering the best laid plans of any of us.

This penchant for Life to get in the way has left me feeling that my long runs are nowhere near where I believe they should be at this point. When I think of how long my long runs should be – then my  “time on feet” is lacking somewhat I feel. To date this year my longest run in mileage was 50k and the longest time  I have spent on a single run is 6 hrs 40 mins. And they were both  way back in early March on the Imber Ultra. Since then I have managed a few runs of between 3 and 4 hours, but when I consider that Chapter 2 is now only a matter of 2 months away, then 3-4 hours now, this close to the event, just doesn’t cut the mustard I’m afraid!

So rather than go daft and attempt to build up my long runs by hugely increasing the hours of them (that won’t work – overtraining and injury can be the only result in that situation) – I have set myself “target” runs. I have calendered 4  specific runs over the next 7 weeks, each with an increase in hours than it’s predecessor. This will allow me to build my “time on feet” up to 12 hours, and affording a 2 week taper period prior to Chapter 2 commencing.

As Col John “Hannibal” Smith would say – “I love it when a plan comes together” 🙂

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Shorter than expected

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Today’s run was a bit like when you meet Tom Cruise in the flesh –  a bit shorter than expected.

My aim for today was to have “time on my feet” with a bit of elevation for good measure. So I had planned to do nothing more than a long slow hill session up and down my favourite hill for between 4 and 5 hours.That didn’t happen though. From the moment I set off I felt lethargic and sluggish. Now, any of us who run know that we can, more often or not, push past this point and start to feel good again. So I kept on going.

After an hour I still had no sign that a purple patch was awaiting me any time soon and I continued to struggle somewhat. The walking up hill bits, whilst still being methodical were also very laboured as well. The running downhill bits offered no respite as I never quite gained any comfortable momentum.

After 2 hours nothing had improved. The entire session to this point had just felt awkward and uncomfortable with each and every step. I took stock and made the decision that as this was only a training run that I would call it a day there. I was not willing to push myself and risk jeopardising the training runs that I have planned for around the corner. So after only at least half of my original intended “time on my feet”  I had completed 5 reps which equals an overall total climb of 3,090 feet.

So I came home, drank coffee, and blogged instead 🙂

Ham & Lyme

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I debated with myself where I should publish this post. Should I put it on the “Home” page along with all of my non specific posts? Or  should I stick it on the “Events” page? It was an event after all – it’s just that I didn’t do it. That is if you think of “do it” in the typical sense of “running it”. However I was there. In fact I was there for almost 13 hours. I just didn’t run. I “did it” in an alternative way as I had volunteered to help out behind the scenes. So I chewed this over in my mind for a short while. It wasn’t a massive, long winded, and protracted mental battle, and I quickly settled on the “Home” page. I will save the “Events” page as the preserve for when I do actually run.

I had the pleasure, and pleasure is the right word, of volunteering at The Ham & Lyme 50/100k on Sat 11 July. This event follows the Liberty trail beginning at Ham Hill in Somerset and culminating at Lyme Regis in Dorset. This is the inaugural year of the  event which has been organised by Dave Urwin and Natanya Joy of  Albion Running. Now Dave is an interesting character – a tad off centre, intelligent, humorous, articulate, and visually not unlike Rasputin in appearance. He is also a published author having chronicled his journey into the world of ultra running in his book “Everything will work out in the long run”. If I had to restrict myself to two descriptive words for Dave they would be interesting and quirky.

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Rasputin/Dave

Having made my decision not to run in this event, with my thought process being based on not being aware of how “match fit” I would be post op , I contacted Dave and offered my assistance to help out instead. He very kindly accepted my offer. As the day of the event neared I was surprisingly excited about it. I was genuinely looking forward to helping as opposed to running. All events, no matter how big or how small, rely very much on volunteers. The equation is an extraordinarily easy one:  No volunteers = no event. I run in events and fully intend to continue in doing so. Time for me to give something back then eh

I awoke on the morning of 11 July at 0445 hrs. A quick wash, coffee made, and departed for the journey south. I arrived at 0615 hrs at the start point in Ham Hill Country Park and met up with Dave. We chatted for a bit before setting up the registration room and awaiting the arrival of the runners. Dave had individual cards that were hand written by Natanya containing inspirational quotes for each and every runner. These were handed to each runner as they collected their race numbers – which added a very nice personal touch I believe. This set the tone and was very much in line with the entire spirit of this event. As registration became busy some runners unfortunately did not receive their cards but Dave assured me that he will post them on. I did joke with a few of the participants that they had the carry the card with them and show it when they collected their medals at the end – “Failure” I stated “to have your card will result in a DNF”…………..I hope they didn’t take me seriously………….. They laughed, or grimaced, or just thought to themselves “daft bugger!……… so I don’t think they did!

0900 hrs arrived remarkably quickly, and after a quirky race brief from Dave, the runners set off. At this point I often enter in to my usual waffle as I describe the route and  – I would love to be able to describe the route – I understand from those that did run that some of the views were outstanding – but I am not capable of doing so I’m afraid. I now had a bit of hanging around to do as Dave had told me that I didn’t have to be at the 50k point until about 1130 hrs as that would  give us be plenty of time to set up. So after I had loaded my car with all the drop bags and the gazebo, I grabbed myself another coffee and sat in the now still after quiet.

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There is a gazebo under that lot somewhere!

Dave departed Ham Hill before me as he was collecting a few friends from Taunton, and I made my way down to Lyme Regis, arriving at The Marine Theatre some 50 minutes later at 1100 hrs. At 1215 hrs I was still awaiting the arrival of Dave, as also were the sports massage ladies. I now began to worry a bit (I am actually playing it down a bit now – I was worried a lot in truth) that perhaps (A) we were in the wrong place as perhaps Dave had to change the end point after we had been informed, or (B) Dave was just well behind schedule. I had images in my head of the first runners arriving and nothing being in place for them – no food, no drinks, no drop bags! In theory it was possible that the first runners could run the 50k between 0900 and 1230 hrs. I needn’t have worried though – the route and the topography of it meant that a 3 hr 30 min 50k was unlikely. I just didn’t know the route however so was entering in to “flap mode”. I fired a quick text to Dave, who at that exact moment, walked around the corner in his neon yellow RD’s vest and blue shorts, reading my text as he did so.

We  quickly mastered the skill of erecting a gazebo whilst battling with the sea breeze at the same time. Another of Dave’s friends Luci had brought along some large batches of home made soups – vegetable minestrone or spicy lentil. I of course tried both and can testify that they were both sensational. Between Dave, Natanya, Luci, and myself, all the food was laid out, all the drinks were laid out, and we chatted, and we waited, and Dave received regular updates on his mobile as to the current location of the lead runners.

We didn’t have too long to wait as the first 2 runners,  Michael Robinson and Shane Nesbitt arrived in that order. Michael is now the current course record holder with a time of 4:46:48. This time itself is testimony to the difficulty of the course (a 3 hr 30 min 50k – what was I thinking!!!) Third past the post – well no post really – third past Dave in his neon yellow high viz vest was Nick Sale. Runners continued to arrive in singles, in pairs or trios, or one batch arrived in a group of 8. First lady to finish was Jane Allison, with Sarah Baker and Sarah Frost grabbing the 2nd and 3rd places respectively. Luke Elliott breezed in, had a few gulps of ginger beer, a handful of pretzels, a couple of mouthfuls of soup………….and shot off back the way he had come. One word for him – machine. Ultimately he went on to win the 100k overall. I topped up water bottles, fetched food and drink, handed a few medals out, shook the hands of runners, gave words of congratulation, and gave words of encouragement when I thought needed.

I met up with two friends of mine who had been running, Rich Corp and Steve Carroll, both of whom professed to me how hard they found it as well as how much they enjoyed it. I spent the entire afternoon speaking to  runners who all without fail, only had positive things to say about the entire day. Listening to these runners made me believe that Dave has not only put on a successful race……. he has also provided an unique experience too that has been enhanced by also managing to capture the quirkiness of his personality as well.

Do I wanna run this next year? That my friends is a resounding “YES” 🙂

Thunder, rain, lightning, and planting seeds

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Friday 03 July.

The storm was predicted. It did not come out of nowhere, unannounced, to take all of us weather obsessed Brits by surprise. It was expected. Neither should the ferocity of it have taken me by surprise either. However I was not safely tucked up bed, listening to the rain lash against the window and the loud claps of thunder interspersed with bright flashes of lightening. I was outside in it (now that’s an oxymoron)-  but it did!

I had a relatively busy day on Fri, which was no bigee or precursor to not running that night. In fact when considering that my intention and aim is to run for 24 hrs, then running at the end of the day, and into the night when I am already tired is a bit of a must do really. So I set my stall out early in the day with the plan of runnning that night. I paid a visit to the hospital to see my new born second grandson in the afternoon, and then almost immediately upon returning home, I set off again to watch my stepson play in a football tournament. By the time I eventually made it home again it was close to 9pm.

I began my run from home just shy of 9.25pm underneath a dull but not yet angry sky. I made my way along the country lane through Dunge and on into Bratton, before following the Lower Westbury Rd (this is actually a bridleway) into Westbury. Once in the town I began my first climb of the night up Newtown and towards The Whitehorse. I turned off at the equestrian centre and made my way down Bridleway 35, through Wellhead Woods, and along Wellhead Drove. It was as at this point that I saw the first illuminations in the sky of lightning in the not too far away distance – in the same direction that I was heading towards.

My second ascend of the night began on the bridleway (my favourite hill) leading up to the Ridgeway/Imber Trail. The wind, which was actually still quite a warm breeze,  had picked up considerately by now.  As I reached the hard track of the Ridgeway at the top,  I was met with a strong wind and the very impressive sight of electric bolts racing earthwards over Salisbury Plain. I also heard the deep belly grumbles of a far off Giant. Well……….it was either that or some early indications of the thunder to come. Now I think I am correct in thinking that lightning always takes the shortest route to ground, but as  it was still somewhat in the distance, I wasn’t overly concerned at this point. Whether my thinking is actually true or not  – that seed was planted in my brain and grew into a real belief as I continued along the Ridgeway.

As I headed in the direction of the Whitehorse, making a steady but none the less consistant climb, The Giant must have had something to eat because his belly was no longer grumbling and he appeared to be occassionaly clapping his hands with glee now………………… And the lighting was getting closer…………………… And the seed in my head continued to grow.

I made way around the back of the Whitehorse as the rain arrived. It didn’t so much arrive and  more accurate description would be unleashed. There was no pre warning of  a few gentle splatterings. It was just dumped out the sky with the velocity of a rocket and the copiusness of an ocean. I startled a lone motorist taking shelter in his car,  who must have been highly confused and amused in equal measures at this fool, running at this time, in this weather, up here…………… And the lighting was close now………………..Really close………………..And the seed was sprouting big massive strong branches of “F***k” in my head.

I continued on my wet way, stumbling along the Ridgeway as I attempted to put my earphones in and listen to a bit of music to distract me. Sadly one earphone was completely water logged and had stopped working. I can’t for the life of me fathom out how that could of happened. The Atlantic Ocean continued in it’s attempt to drown me. The Giant must of been exceptionally happy with his dinner cos he continued to clap……………..And the lightening was directly above me now. On at least 4 occassions I found myself suddenly completely blinded by white light for a split second at a time. Afterwards I was left with diminished vision in the same way a high powered torch will rob you of any night vision if flashed in your face……………………….And now the seed had become an entire plantation. My thought process was something along the lines of ” I’m on the edge of Salisbury Plain. There is no one or nothing else around. I am HIGH up. Lighting always takes the shortes route to earth. It is right above me, right now. It’s ok I have rubber soles. Yeah but I am HIGH up and lighting always takes the shortest route to ground. Always Neil. Always.” I didn’t know it at the time but I actually was at my highest point at that time – 748 feet. I had originally intended to make my way along the Ridgeway until I reached Tinhead Barn and then drop down into Eddington. However as I reached Vedette Post 6, another blinding burst of white light in my face convinced me that discretion really is the better part of valour, and I turned down The Imber Road towards Stradbrook/Bratton. I will of course deny this at any later point and profess that amid the wind, and the rain, and the thunder, and the lightening (did I mention the lightning ?), that I merely became disorientated and simply took a wrong turn.

I reached the relative safety amongst the much lower level of Bratton, not unresembling the proverbial drowned rat. I continued through the centre of the village before turning and retracing my steps back out to Dunge and reaching home just after 0130 am – 4 hrs and 7 mins after starting. About 2 miles from home the rain stopped (you gotta be kidding me!!!!) and  I was struck by an alternative light from the sky. It was the moon shining through a break in the clouds – mocking me because the storm had moved on further afield but I had turned tail and headed home before that.

Does lightning always take the shortest route to earth? I don’t know and I haven’t Googled it yet. But up there it felt like I was the highest living creature in the entire United Kingdom……. and  I believed it to be true 🙂