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 🙂

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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 🙂

Not like putting a man on the moon……………..

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I have never run for 24 hours before and the thought of doing so excites me. It also means that I will be journeying into the unknown. Not in the same way that Neil Armstrong did when he travelled to the moon and went for a lil wander. That had never been done by anyone before. I will not get drawn into all the ins and outs of whether the whole thing was a conspiracy or not – that is a debate for an entirely different kind of blog all together. However, taking it all at face value – then it’s an incredible step into the unknownNor will my journey be on the scale of Columbus’ sail across the Atlantic Ocean and the  discovery of America (or was it actually a Norse called Leif Ericson – another argument for another entirely alternative blog). No, my venture into the unknown has in fact been achieved by many many people before. But not by me…………..not yet at least. Running for 24 hours could well be considered as being beyond the norms of conventional running. That fact makes me curios to see how I fare.

I have lost vital training time due to my recent but much overdue surgery. Now I am  not complaining about that. I needed to have the op, and now that I am fully recovered I am glad that I had it. But it did rob me of a few crucial months of training. I can’t make up for those lost sessions now and it would be fool hardy of me to attempt to do so. If I tried to leap frog and “catch up” with where I would of been –  then I would only end up over training and suffering with the associated overuse injuries, niggles, and ultimately……………… burning out. The only end result in that equation is one where I don’t even make it to the start line.

But there is an inner conflict that ensues. One between my internal push the panic button self and my more mature rational it will all work out in the end – somehow, someway – just be sensible self. Panic Button says “Ooh that’s a nice 100k that you can do. It’s a week after that 100 miler that you fancy. Do both. Do both. Do both. Hold up, I found this too – a 12 hour event on the same week. Do em all. Do em all. Do em all. You have some catching up to do if ya wanna get this done and not fall flat on ya face Neil”. Sensible then chips in with “No. Don’t be so bloody daft. You know better than that Neil. You have a plan – of sorts – stick to it.”……………….. Sensible is right of course.

My plan (of sorts) then. What does that entail. Well first and foremost it accepts that I have lost miles and there is absolutely nothing I can do about that. Nothing. I will still get “miles in my legs”. I have time. It won’t be as much as if I hadn’t had the op – but it will be what it will be.

Next is a bit of mental training.  This element has two parts to it which is underpinned by the fact, that in my event at least,  “miles” mean nothing. Most events are measured in distance, be that 5k, a half marathon, 50k, 100 miles,etc, etc. They all have a very specific distance orientated finish line. And most runners will at least have a rough idea of how long it will take them to complete that distance. Thus most  training plans use mileage as the primary measurement as well as a tool for preparing with.  I am preparing myself for 24 hours of sustained effort – not any pre set mileage that determines where the finish line is. So in order to train my head to think “time” not “miles” I am not recording how many miles I have ran. I am not even using my Garmin. The temptation to have a sneaky peek at how far I have done would invariably win – and I would look. No, I am leaving the Garmin at home and just running with a normal stopwatch. This has allowed me to change my thought process from “miles in legs” to “time on feet”.

The second part of my mental training is tied up with the first part. The Holy Grail in terms of 24 hour events is to achieve 100 miles and many ultra runners set this as their goal.  I thought long and hard before I even wrote that last sentence because the other half of my mental training is “Miles don’t matter”.  I am not setting myself a mileage to aim for which, should I not achieve, will leave me feeling like I failed. And even more importantly I also don’t want to give myself an early opt out option. I know when running an ultra that it can hurt, can be horrendous, painful, and tiring. Odd that. I also know that the pain and discomfort passes and is replaced with feeling good again. It is very much like a roller coaster – with highs of purple patch running and lows of “I can’t go on”. Now should I set myself a mileage that I would be happy to achieve then I could find myself at Silly O Clock in the morning, after 18 (or whatever) hours of running, feeling low, tired, sore, grumpy, sorry for myself, and in a slump of “I can’t go on”, when I hear myself saying in a narky, whinny, nasal voice ” I said before I started that I wanted to run at least XX miles. I’ve done that now. I can’t go on. I’m stopping. It’s over “.  So I have only 1 objective, there is only 1 target…………24 hours.

Finally (sighs of relief from those that have read this far) I am attempting to compensate for some of my lost miles (time on feet) by incorporating hills in as many training runs as possible. Each individual lap of Chapter 2 has a climb. The entire route is undulating but there are 2 particularly more predominant hills, one is a steady long climb, and the other is a short, very sharp incline. Over the course of 24 hours the cumulative effect of the elevation of each lap  will add up – in both the tiring effect it has on me and in the total overall ascend. Hills have therefore now become my friend.

So I am not going to the moon. I am stepping into my own unknown. And that is how I plan to get there. 🙂

4 laps of a white horse

Starting as the sun was setting

Starting as the sun was setting

So without any further undue I will tell an account of last night’s travels.
I went to Westbury again and parked up opposite the Whitehorse Equestrian Centre. I arrived slightly later than I had originally intended having taken Joshua for a County Football trial first (well done Bosh). My first step along the bridleway was therefore not until 9.20 pm (2120 hrs in proper money). I actually know the name of this bridleway – bridleway 35 – and I followed it along, through Wellhead Woods, and then out on to Wellhead Drove. When I reached the next bridleway I turned left and ventured up my favourite hill. At the top I turned left again and ran along the Imber Trail/Ridgeway until I reached the quarry. I then turned left again (there is a clear pattern forming here) and down another bridleway. This particular descent is fairly sharp and very precarious underfoot due to the running surface being predominantly a series of large pot holes in the clay with large stones and boulders protruding through. When it was fully dark this section was actually the most challenging. At the bottom I turned left for the final time and was back at my starting point.

this view alone made the ascend worth it

this view alone made the ascend worth it

I repeated this pattern for 4 circuits in total and was back at my car at 0035 hrs (or alternatively – 25 to 1 in the morning) after 3 hrs 15 mins of effort.With each circuit having an elevation of 675.72 feet I had a total ascent of 2702.88 feet 🙂

Slow that mustang down Sally

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I met my friend Martin O’Neill at Shear Water yesterday evening. Martin is a mad as a box of frogs Irishman who just happens to also be as fit as the proverbial fiddle. He will be running with me during the deepest darkest coldest wee hours of Chapter 2 (when I am invariably at my slowest and lowest) in order to cajole, encourage, and kick my ass in an attempt to keep me keeping on. To that end he was keen to learn the route beforehand.

We set off and ran a lap, chatting as we did so about this n that ( the running variety of “this n that’s” of course) and finished the lap just shy of 1 hour. I really enjoyed having company whilst I ran for a change. Up until yesterday every time I have run “The” route, or any other run at Shear Water………….. then I have always done so by myself. In a strange way it felt nice “sharing” my route with someone else. Almost like showing or telling someone about something your child has done that makes you proud. “The” route is “my” route and I am proud of her/him (I haven’t decided upon a name yet let alone a gender).  We chatted a bit more in the car park, agreed to meet up and do more laps in the dark together, before Martin headed off home and I began my second lap. I ran laps 2 and 3 listening to my I Pod and singing, sometimes quite loudly, on the by now very quiet trail. In total the 3 laps took me 3 hours and 13 mins.

Now by anyone’s description 3 hours to run 15 miles is far from a blistering pace. But it was still too fast. Yep………I  said too fast. I know that come Sept I will not be able to keep that pace for a whole 24 hour period. I have never ran for 24 hours before, but I do know that I need to be conserving energy from the get go. Each lap has an overall elevation of 483 feet. That in itself is not huge, but cumulatively each lap and elevation will add up. For example – the highest Mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis with a height of  4409 feet (1344m). So if come Sept I manage to run at least 10 laps (whilst I genuinely have no targets whatsoever – I do hope to achieve 10 laps) then I will have ran the equivalent of just over the height of Ben Nevis. Some runners at 24 hour events prefer to go out hard and fast and “bank” miles before taking a rest period. Others prefer to maintain a much slower pace that is manageable over a longer period and take shorter  rest breaks. I have never been a fast runner but I do know how to pace myself and I will burn out and slow down disproportionally if I set off too quick.

Tortoise and hare

Think the Tortoise and the Hare. 🙂

Discovering my “favourite” hill

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Bottom of the hill / my start point

Today was only my third post op run, but I wanted to go a bit harder than I had originally envisioned that I would of been doing at this point. With that in mind I made my way to Westbury and parked up at the bottom of the bridleway in Wellhead Drove. Those that have run the Imber Ultra will know this is the first climb that is encountered on the day.

I duly made way up the bridleway until I reached The Imber Trail / Ridgeway at the top some 618 feet of elevation and 0.83 miles away from my start point. It took me approximately 12 mins to get to the summit before I turned around and immediately began a slow, steady descent back down again which lasted approximately 8 mins. I repeated this cycle for a total of 3 reps which took me 1 hour (and 1 minute) and equated to a total climb 1854 feet.

On the way up

On the way up

Still going up

Still going up

At the top - yah!

At the top – yah!

Heading back down again

Heading back down again

If I am being entirely honest……………….. then I am feeling quite chuffed with myself. Not because this was a hugely enormous and massive hill, nor because I set a new land speed record with my pace. This time 8 days ago I just wasn’t expecting to be running any hills at this point. The fact I am is an unexpected bonus 🙂

Just like a retired sheep farmer

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This morning I did my very best impression of one of my ultra running heroes – Cliff Young.  No I didn’t run 544 miles non stop and then give away all of my winning prize money to other runners. Not at all. What I did was chase errant sheep! Now admittedly Cliff had 2000 sheep scattered over 2000 acres and I was only chasing down 2 sheep over a 1 acre field………but those pesky lil lamp chops didn’t half give me and my good lady Donna the run around. We eventually managed to herd them into an empty stable, which is not where they are supposed to be, but safer than the loose condition I found them in this morning. They have their own field to be in…….they just weren’t in it upon my arrival!!

So I arrived at Shear Water a tad later than I had anticipated this morning. I duly ran one solitary lap of the route for Chapter 2 in the grand time of 52 mins. Ta dah! I worked hard too. It was anything but a blistering pace (1 lap is just over 5 miles) but a combination  of the terrain and topography (there are several mean climbs), with one section still being decidedly very muddy, and my own reduced levels of fitness (this is only my second post op run after all): meant that I worked hard for the whole of those 52 mins 🙂