Transkernow : my life and times as a runner

Hello and welcome back to this blog
It is now Sunday 10th June. I sit on a train on my way out to the north Downs.

I sat down to write about crossing cornwall a month ago, it took me a fortnight to pen my thoughts. It meant a lot – it became a memoir of sorts.

I’ve not been sure how to share this but here goes. If you’re here for something snappy, I’d advise you not to waste any more of your time. If you’re curious and are ready for a long story, put the kettle on.

This is a story for anyone who has ever lost themselves. This is my journey on the saints way. My life and times as a runner…

 

The sun hung high in the mercilessly blue sky, the weather unusually warm for this early May bank holiday, far beneath a single figure pressed on up the hill and over st Breock Downs. A sweaty hand clutches close a map but it was little use. The sheep in the field weren’t able to provide any guidance on which way to turn, five hours in the tiredness was starting to settle into my muscles, a bead of sweat seeped out from beneath my baseball cap and my mind wandered back to the journey which had taken me here…

To live with my mentality is to walk a constant tightrope between pride and self sabotage. I’ve found myself on many occasions reaching a #lifegoal and feeling disgusted with myself for the pathetic conformity of it all. After two and a half years of carefully whittling down my marathon time to three hours and twenty two minutes it was time for the other side of my personality to take a turn in the driving seat. Out with speed, and time altogether if I could get away with it. Doing away with measured courses, tarmac and conforming to someone else’s plans… from day one this was going to be MY adventure, I was going to do what I wanted on my own and reclaim my running. There was to be no proclaimers, no energy gels, no fanfare and no finishing line. This was to be wildly and flamboyantly my day!

Eight hours earlier the familiar electronic beep demarked the end of sleep and the beginning of the day. Throwing open the roof windows and gazing out it was a truly perfect day by all accounts, a beautiful sunrise was working its way over the horizon and it was going to be a scorcher.

New Year’s Day 2015. A sharp jolt as the 15:17 cross country service pulls out of Birmingham New Street station, I slunk back into my seat, the effects of the night before had me reduced to a wretched state. Cocktails, beers, spirits, jäger bombs, chicken and chips. It was always going to be a big night. Somehow somewhere along the way it had gathered the momentum to become truly apocalyptic. As the train sped through the suburbs through the Worcestershire countryside and into a new dawn the next five hours were going to be difficult. The slow realisation dawned on me. I was trapped. I was doing all that I was supposed to do, working a demanding professional job and socialising with a large group of friends in my limited spare time. On the outside I was the life and soul of the party but inside something was wrong. The last two years I had thrown myself into work, I had moved many times from London to Birmingham and back, life was becoming transient. Where there was pressure or uncertainty I sought to bury it by spending ever more time out, anything to avoid thinking.

Back to the present, after a pickup at the services at Tiverton we had made great progress. cruising down the A road we passed the edge of Dartmoor a thin shroud of fog clung to the edge of the valley in the morning sunshine. The dog rested in the footwell, she was going to undertake the first half of the trail from Fowey north to Lanivet along with The rest of the family. Traffic was light and before long we turned off of the main road and into the car park at St Benets abbey. The building loomed large, a fifteenth century stone masterpiece complete with crumbling belfry, rising out of the sea mist you could almost forget that you were in the 21st century. The atmosphere was thick with the history of those who had come before, a pilgrimage. In some ways this was to be for me too a pilgrimage.

January 2nd 2015. On the banks of the camel a biting wind swept through the hedgerows and fields. We were out for an afternoon walk. After the long train back from Birmingham the previous day, discussion was frank. I wasn’t who I needed to be and things needed to change. I have always thought that there is something in the winter winds that cuts deep to the soul. A bracing walk through a gale in the countryside leaves nowhere to hide ones indiscretions. Inside I was numb to the core. The last 48 hours had dismantled me and the long journey to rebuilding my life was just about to get underway.

After carefully laying out my drop bag at the midway point and a quick switch of cars, we set out for Fowey. As we wound our way through the industrial landscape towards the coast my imagination wondered to think of all those who had worked the land. Cornwall has always been a working landscape, from the early slate miners and quarrymen through to the Victorian tin miners. Hardy men and women who were ostracised from society before Wesley, his Methodist tradition a fitting message with spartan chapels lining the industrial landscape alongside crumbling chimneys from long forgotten industry. Simple values; hard work, self discipline, humbleness and honesty. I am filled with admiration for those hardy men and women whose efforts seem now long forgotten. The Cornish nation their inheritance. It was a pleasure to see this landscape, beneath the ice cream cones and flambards here is a Cornwall that most will never see in their rush to jump back onto the A39

 

The harbour at Fowey is an idyllic sheltered spot, the wooded banks of the Fowey river rise steeply from sea level providing a myriad of inlets. The harbour town itself a cobbled street toy town with bakeries and shops catering for the tourists. The harbour teemed with activity as hobby sailors set out in their craft. There was time for a quick team photo with the river as our backdrop and then just before 10am we were off. The adventure had begun!

September 2015. Seven months had passed since that painful windswept discussion on the banks of the Camel. I was on the move again this time from West London to Greenwich. After turning up for a viewing I had taken a room with a stranger. A running fanatic, his quiet dedication to the sport was something that I admired greatly. A month later on the 11th October we set out for our first weekend run together. I was still new to the area so was filled with wonder at the new sites as we wound our way around the peninsular and out towards woolwich. We paused for a while at the ferry and I looked back at Canary Wharf. The building where I had spent so much of the last year and a half was a miniature dwarfed by the expanse of the Thames. We turned back on ourselves and finished up in Greenwich park overlooking the city. In the bright autumn sunlight I felt strong and excited at what this new practice could bring to my life.

Back on the Saints Way I crested the first Hill and ran down the other side. The trail turned off road over a couple of farmers fields and into a pretty wooded descent. With the sounds of the birds singing in my ears I skipped over the loose stones and let gravity guide me down to the banks of the Fowey river. At the bottom an idyllic secret boathouse shrouded in the trees. Three miles in to the trail and it was already so very scenic. The trail crossed a wooden bridge and then a short sharp climb up some steps and through a bluebell wood before dropping down into Golant.

April 17th 2016. The streets of Brighton are packed three deep with spectators for the annual marathon. Since the previous autumn training had been going well and I had decided that it was the right time in my life to go for the big 26.2. I had stuck with my training and was consistently including all the right ingredients of a marathon build up; speed work, a long run and plenty of easy paced mid week sessions. The final few miles turns back from shoreham power station past hove lawns and with the pier finish in your sites you know that it is not far to go. I had never run this far before in my life and my legs were starting to give out. Unaccustomed to the mental game I pulled up and started to walk dejectedly. At that moment a stranger in the crowd singled me out. With a roar of enthusiasm he looked me straight in the eye and told me that I could do it. How can you refuse encouragement like that!? I knew what I had to do, put my head down and got the job done.

A steep climb out of Golant and you leave the water behind. For the next 20 miles it was to be a myriad of farmers fields, ancient droves and access points and country lanes. By this point I was an hour and a half in. After a long hot climb up a farmers drove I came across a couple who were looking for the route south in the opposite direction.
“Where have you come from?”
“Fowey, I left an hour and a half ago”
“Where are you stopping tonight?”
“Padstow”
Well that was a bit of a shock to them, it turns out that they had left three days to hike the 50km trail, they wished me well with a thinly disguised facial expression indicating that they thought I was completely mad. I have to say I am entirely in agreement.

September 2016. For my parents wedding anniversary they took us all away for a week. We rented out the old lifeboat station on the banks of the camel estuary. A stunning building surrounded by acres of beach at low tide and water at high tide. With the south west coast path running through the back garden this was trail running paradise. Across the other side of the estuary I was now looking back at the lifeboat house. The trail leaves rock through the sand dunes and winds it’s way over the edge of the golf course past st enedoc church. After a dramatic cliff top section you pass through polzeath and start to climb up to pentire point. Finishing up the long climb and coming over the brow of the hill the force of the wind hits you. The great landmass laid out beneath me like the bow of an almighty ship and beyond that the wild North Atlantic Ocean. My breathing still laboured from the climb I laid back on the grass and closed my eyes. In that moment my human concerns melted away. All that remained was the wind on my skin, the sound of guls and waves crashing far below.

I am now almost ten miles into the saints way. After leaving Golant behind, the trail weaves through Milltown and I am now out on the open moor on the approach to Helman Tor. Following the trail along the ridge I think of the geology of the region. The great granite tors a remnant of an ancient granite batholith defining the landscape today by the sheer durability of this ancient igneous rock. Turning left off of the ridge I climb up to the trig point summit. Climbing the tor from the back, the view affords an incredible 360 degree vista. From the rolling fields and villages in the south up to St Breock Downs and the wind farms further north. It is a hot day so I pause a while to take on some extra water. Conscious of the forecast I had picked up an extra soft flask the day before. Dehydration was a major risk and on a self supported route like this I needed to be confident that I could carry all that I needed to see myself through.

It is 2017 now. On a still Wednesday evening in April I round the corner of the royal naval college in Greenwich. I am on my way to Goodgym. Two months prior I found this group of people. A simple concept, run to a task and volunteer in the community before returning back and doing a workout. The group brought together people of all ages and backgrounds. The group huddled in the quadrangle and our leader introduced the task for the evening. Each Goodgym introduction has a set format before getting down to business The leader calls out any news of runners completing events in the week or two before. The group leader mentioned Brighton marathon, my second now in as many years. A round of applause came from the community and from deep within me I felt an upwelling of pride. By this point in my journey I was coming to realise that this journey was bigger than me alone. I had found my community.

The uplands of Helman Tor were now several miles behind. The saints way passes under the main road and you begin the long sweeping descent into Lanivet. Coming back onto tarmac again the ashen mud was drying in the sun and falling from the bottom of my red saloman trail shoes. These shoes had taken me far and wide, adventures from camping out in Dorset last summer, tackling the dramatic fells of the Lake District and most recently carrying me all day across the rolling chalk hills of the South Downs way en route to Eastbourne. All of this had come at a cost. The mesh upper was wearing thin and the mud of the previous miles had seeped into my socks. In a strange way this was no irritation and I was glad of it. Another aspect of the experience that strengthened my link to the landscape that day. Now back at st Benets abbey I said hello to the owner before picking up a quick refill of water and my makeshift lunch from the carefully placed drop bag. As I retraced my steps and then started the steep climb out of Lanivet I laughed to myself. My partner often says that I like ultrarunning because it is basically a day long picnic. Tucking into my sandwiches I had to acknowledge that this is certainly true!

Once at the top of the lane the route takes a sharp right and turns down a farm lane. I proceeded down this track for a mile or so before I was confronted by a huge puddle. From hedge to hedge the trail was swamped and there was no alternative but to wade on through. It was still warm and before long my feet had dried out.

The route wound on through the country lanes before dropping suddenly through a wooded copse and crossing a field at the base of a valley. Shortly after this point the trail fords a river and the official route heads over a stile and through a field of four bullocks. I started up the style and in formation they trotted over to have a look at the stranger entering their territory. As I paused atop the style they snorted and stared at me, not unlike a group of teenagers I thought. After a brief standoff I checked my map, I was going to head up the farmers access lane instead and leave the four boys in the field to their own devices. The lane skirted the edge of the field and through the hedge the four bullocks followed me round just to let me know that they were still there.

My mind wanders back to 2015 again. It is now a week after I ran through south east London. The weather unseasonably warm for the last weekend in September and in the market town of Taunton the annual 10km run is underway. Having worked my way round the first 8 kilometres at my best pace I was now starting to flag just as the unforgiving tarmac road climbed up again towards the motorway bridge. The sting of salt in my eyes and the heat radiated up from the blacktop. I dug deep and finished the race at the blackbrook sports centre. This was the first time I had lined up at the start line since I had taken up running again, although I had done this half a dozen times prior in my life, today it somehow meant something more. Finishing the race, I glugged back a bottle of water and picked up the phone to My partner

She and I met through work way back before this tale begins. A compassionate kind and understanding creature from Northern Ireland, her unassuming demeanour masked a fierce yet quiet determination to be true to herself. We had been friends for two years at this point, initially companions, kindred spirits through tumultuous times and latterly lovers. It was a big day for her too, she had taken the train down from London and was about to meet my family for the first time. As I cleaned myself up after the race, so much in my life felt new and exciting.

And suddenly my consciousness needed to be back in the present. Atop St Breock downs I wound past the fields of lambs, homesteads and onwards through the wind farm. I paused a second for breath and there was nothing. Far below you could hear the distant sound of machinery but all around me and as far as I could see there was calm. I afforded myself some time to sit back and appreciate the environment before pressing on down. I had passed the top of the downs and laid out before me below were the familiar sites of wadebridge, the royal Cornwall show ground and just about discernible in the mist, Padstow.
It was an important moment. The size of the task remaining was still large and yet somewhere far away over the hill was my end destination. I pressed on cross country towards St Issey.

From Trenance you can start to see the tell tale finger like inlets of tributaries to the river camel. It was now by my reckoning only a couple of miles to Little Petherick. I was 40 kilometres in by now and was really enjoying the challenge of spending a day out in the country. One of the Privileges in my view of ultrarunning is getting to experience a day come and go in the great outdoors. “Outside” has become somewhere we visit infrequently, ten minutes out of the car here, perhaps a fifteen minute walk there. We are deeply psychologically connected to the earth as land mammals and despite the fatigue brought on by being out running or hiking all day I always return with a part of my soul somehow recharged. This is something that I let go of as a graduate, my life was played out in its entirety in a number of set scenes, the office cubicle, the bar or my bed! No wonder the malaise I felt, that small boy that once rode on his fathers shoulders through the granite tors of Dartmoor could have shown me the remedy, it just took a little more work for me at 25 to get there for myself.

By now it was mid afternoon the sun was starting to dip in the sky. Following the little Petherick creek the trail went through a number of tree lined fields and wooded sections. After a steep field you climb abruptly to the road and then make a sharp left down to the village of Little Petherick.

It is January 2016. A year since the trip back from Birmingham, we are travelling down the road between Bodmin and padstow. After a train from London, we are bouncing along the roads in Dads 4×4. It had long since gotten dark and the twinkling lights of padstow soon arrived before us out of the night. I have always enjoyed Padstow in the new year. When the Christmas markets close down the first week of January offers up a quieter out of season town. The winter weather comes in sometimes for days at a time and a long country walk is followed by a cosy evening in front of a log fire. We spent the following week down at the lobster pot living simply. Walking, running, pottering about and enjoying some time away from the city. We were joined for the final few days by My brother and his partner, venturing out across the estuary and out into the storm we set out from Rock only to have to admit defeat and find a hot chocolate in the cafe before heading back across the estuary.

Back in 2018 I pass the holiday lets which front the creek at little Petherick and the trail rears up abruptly into a wooded climb. In the peak of the May season the wood was ablaze with colour. A dappled mix of lilacs and whites from the bluebells and wild garlic. I closed my eyes and inhaled. the pungent mix of flora hit the back of my throat. Shortly after this the trail descends and crosses an inlet to the creek on a wooden walkway. Waders and curlews were starting an evenings work ferreting around in the mud for bivalves and grubs.

Leaving the estuary behind you climb steeply to the top of the town memorial. Set out on the summit of the hill over 150 years earlier, the proud stalwart stone monolith stands dour, a sentry looking out to sea and along the river towards wadebridge. I drew myself up to stop here for 20 minutes, it had been on my mind all day and it was important that I made time to stop here. It never ceases to amaze me the power of places to turn back the clock. I sat up on the hillside looking down over the camel trail below. Less than three and a half years before I had sat dejectedly down below in that very spot, a broken soul. Here I was atop the crest of the hill in 2018, so much had changed in me, it felt like another lifetime had passed in that relatively short space of time. I have written in the past of the power of running to be truly transformative in ones life but somehow in that moment this explanation alone was inadequate. This journey may have started and now be ending with running but along the way it became about so much more. It was about compassion, dedication, commitment, resolution and the journey to rediscover myself. Each one of us awakens each day into a world of our own making. We choose each day who we want to be. Through our quiet dedication and commitment to our community, friends and family we can achieve incredible things. It’s not the fact that I’ve completed eight marathons now, or that I’ve run a self navigated ultra marathon through the Lake District. These are all impressive feats alone but they are merely delicately placed strokes on the canvas of life. Looking down on the frame from high on that hillside I came to realise that the value is in the journey. Each one of those experiences taught me something about myself, lessons which I applied to the rest of my life. Running has helped deepen my compassion, improve my focus and become more discerning about the influences I invite into my life. That in and of itself is the true value. Perhaps it’s nothing more than having a positive outlet for my excess energy but deep in me I knew that the man on that hill in May 2018 was living a different existence than than the ghost of the man who shuffled along the trail on that windswept New Years three years prior. Having been able to make that change in my life I know now that anything is possible.

Each one of us retains the power to reinvent ourselves. If I was lost, it was only ever for a little while. A calm came over me and I knew that my journey was over. It was time to come down off of the hill and run the final mile into the town. 20 minutes later I was sat amongst the hubbub of tourists on the harbour side, I laid out my map and my soft flask in the evening sun and took in the vista. I had finished the Saints Way. That day I had run 48km across Cornwall but my mind had run a great deal further. It searched far and wide through the landscape and through time to make sense of the last three and a half years of my life. For the first time it made sense, how the man that had gotten so lost rediscovered himself and found his place in an adult world. Coalescing complete, it was time to order an IPA, sit back in the Cornish sunshine and plan the next adventure.

 

 

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Transkernow – North to south – coast to coast on the saints way Part one

Adventure has always captivated me. From an early age I would live through the week in excited anticipation of a weekend moorland kayaking trip or a long bike ride in the hills.

As an adult the excited little boy has never left me. Now, in the arena of running my passion for adventure remains stronger than ever. I have an idea and it grows ever stronger until I just need to go out there and make it happen. The delicious anticipation, planning and execution of such exploits brings me joy beyond measure. It was to this background that I dreamt of running across Cornwall.

Cornwall, the wild & Celtic coastal nation. A land which seems at once so untameable and so familiar. It is the land of Hardy, slate mining, sir Beville Grenville and myth and legend. It is also the familiar land of beach holidays, ice creams and rainy day walks. I have been coming to Cornwall since before I was able to walk and have many happy memories and a deep connection with this corner of the country.

The saints way is a 50 kilometre waymarked footpath named after the early Christian pilgrimage route to the continent from Ireland. Travellers would portage at Padstow in the northern coast and hike across the county before continuing on by sea from Fowey in the south. My plan is to run the route in reverse from Fowey in the south North to Padstow.

I have done the planning, trained and prepared. I know the route and I know the terrain. My plan is to complete this over the May Day bank holiday weekend to set off around 9am from Fowey in the south and to leave a drop bag at the half way point with additional water and p food available for me. I am going to get hold of a couple of OS maps which will show the entire route in full in order that I can follow the contours of the land. All being well I anticipate that this will take me between six and eight hours to complete and I hope to arrive triumphant in Padstow on Sunday evening to finish with chips on the harbour

 

It is a slightly mad plan, undoubtedly the question remains as to why I want to complete this. Running has always been for me a way to get out and explore. Running should be a free spirited activity about getting out and about in the world connecting us with our landscapes and culture. I have taken the decision this year to forgo the narrow minded performance based approach of running a big city marathon. Going faster on an identical piece of flat tarmac for the time being holds no appeal to me. Instead I want to experience planning and executing my own self supported adventure. What better place to complete this than a landscape which I have grown to love and always returned to through my whole life

See you on the other side

X

The South Downs Way 50

The South Downs National park is nestled along the Southern coast of Sussex & Hampshire running some 80 miles from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the East. The national park is predominantly chalk downland with a steep escarpment dropping away sharply to both the north and south offering staggering views over the sea and the surrounding countryside depending whether you look North or South from the ridge. The ghostly shapes of the hills rise out of the Sussex countryside like the backs of ancient monsters who fell asleep there millennia ago. Bisecting this unique landscape is the South Downs way. The South Downs way is a winding national trail which is 99 miles long leading hikers from Winchester all the way over the downs to Eastbourne.
The centurion South Downs Way 50 race is held on the eastern most part of this trail starting in the sleepy seaside town of Worthing, climbing up into the downs and following the South Downs National Trail all the way to Eastbourne. I gained entry to this event in replacement of the Chiltern Wonderland 50 which I had entered before realising that we had a wedding to attend that weekend in Spain (Oops!) a quick addition to the waiting list, and luckily I had been offered a space. I cancelled CW50 and put in for the South Downs. I was excited to explore a new corner of the country which I had heard so much about but had spent little time in. The last time I was up in the South Downs was around 7 years ago with my friend Tim shooting down the chalk single track on mountain bikes in the depths of winter. I remember the woodland, the climbs and the barren trig points on top of the hills.
Full of anticipation I took the train down from London immediately after work on the Friday night. I had booked an air b&b near the start in Worthing. My host welcomed me in and showed me the ropes before I settled down for the night. I readied my kit before getting some shut eye. The following morning I arose early and quietly left the flat I had stayed in overnight. The start line was at Worthing college a couple of miles walk to the start. The sky was angry and the threat of rain loomed large. I wolfed down my makeshift breakfast en route. I had picked for myself the previous night an M&S cheese and tomato sandwich and a packet of crisps. Eating this at 7:30 on the way to race HQ, I thought to myself I am definitely acquiring some Dirtbag points here!
Centurion race entry is always slick. First up is Kit check, head torch, secondary light source and waterproof jacket were checked. Passing kit check you then receive a token which you present in exchange for your race number. I got through all of this quickly and effectively and was free to take a seat on the floor and listen to the hubbub of the other runners chatting away. The ultra running community are a lively bunch and there was plenty of banter being bandied around alongside the normal running topics which have become ubiquitous (Kit, Injuries, Diet, Shoes)
We were led out at 8:15 for a short briefing and at 8:30 we passed under the inflatable gantry and we were away.
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The course starting at the recreation ground leads you out for the first 5 miles climbing steadily through a golf course before you intersect the South Downs National Trail. The gentle chalky climb was my first taste of what was to come. We were all close at this point jostling for position on the single track between the hedgerows. The trail continued like this for the next four miles gentle ups and downs with the occasional sharp incline which we hiked up. At this stage in the race many people were running up these sharper inclines. My strategy with ultra marathons is to always hike the uphills from the outset. It can feel disheartening to be passed early on but experience shows me that things tend to even out. We hit the South Downs Way just south of Steyning and were rewarded with amazing views south across Cissbury ring to the wind farms out in the glistening sea and West along the downs. The section from here was gently downhill, soft grassy underfoot and really enjoyably runnable. We remained on the windswept ridge and the panorama in all directions was incredible. Before I knew it I had descended through the pig farm off the downs and into the first aid station crossing the river Adur just south of Bramber. I refilled my water bottles and grabbed some cookies to munch up the next climb.
The trail rises sharply at this point rising 180 metres over the course of the next four kilometres to summit Truleigh Hill. The scenery here is desolate, what looks like the remains of an old mine in the valley and reminded me of some of the valleys you see up on Dartmoor. The trail continued in an undulating manner along the ridge past Fulking Hill and out over Devils Dyke. The views from Devils Dyke are incredible. The chalk escarpment narrows and drops away dramatically on either side. To the south you can see Brighton a toy town on the horizon. I have spent so much time in Brighton over the years looking back up at the downs so it was really cool to be here on the downs looking over at the bustling city in miniature from the windswept ridge. Descending from Devils Dyke we came into the second aid station at Saddlescombe farm. The picturesque youth hostel and cheery volunteers had me turned around and back on my way. The following climb out of Pycombe and a couple of road crossings hit my spirit and I let my mind wander and shuffled up Ditchling beacon. Ditching Beacon is famous in the cycling community as the last major climb on the route from London to Brighton and there were a couple of hardy roadies topping out as I skipped past the summit.
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By this point my mental strength was starting to ebb. So much of ultra running is in the head and it can be very easy to let it all get on top of you. I walked along the flat track for a couple of kilometres shuffling and cursing. How could I feel this bad inside 20 miles! I gave myself a stern talking to. You can do this. You have gotten through much worse before. A new mantra ‘I am strong, I can do this, I am brimming with mental fortitude’ Corny but it did the trick and within a couple of kilometres I was running again. The descent from Ditchling Beacon was enjoyable and springing through the scrubland bounding down a nice curving descent felt great. The trail then takes a sharp turn to the right and one of the best parts of the course. A long sweeping descent for around four kilometres, gentle runnable springy turf to the base of a valley, this is followed by a short climb up through a wood and then you are at the third aid station.
Sarah a volunteer kindly clingfilm wrapped three peanut butter sandwiches for me and after a refill of fluids I was underway. The sun had burnt through the clouds and the threat of rain had evaporated. With the temperature above 12 degrees avoiding dehydration was going to be a major task. Crossing the A27 you then embark on the twisting climb up Castle hill. This gave me the opportunity to eat drink and make sure that i had my energy strategy in check. The south downs way is categorised by long sweeping climbs and descents. By this point in the day my quads were starting to feel the impact of the long descents so climbing was bizarrely a welcome respite. Peaking out of this aid station I met John who I would run with for the rest of the race. We got chatting about running, life, ultras, work everything and we managed to keep one another in good spirits as we focussed on the task in hand.
From the top of the hill the descent into Southease forms one of the more runnable sections of the course. Starting on a concrete access road the trail follows the contours of the land downwards. There is a steep descent down to a road which was a good respite. By this point the sun was beating down and I could feel myself a little more dehydrated then I should be. I drank a lot and then managed to use the loo before Southease The aid station at Southease was important psychologically, it came just before the 55km point. John and I agreed, Just a half marathon and a park run to go. Its funny how in Ultra marathons you break down the distance into understandable chunks which relate to other running experiences. In previous races I have been desperate enough before to visualise the athletics track when I have been struggling. 400m is still progress. Everything is progress unless you stop!
Climbing out of Southease I wolfed down a couple of Jam wraps and the route headed up the hill with a couple of switchbacks along a flinty path. The next ten kilometres of windswept ridge gently undulated following farmers field boundaries and connecting trig points like a dot to dot. This section was very runnable so John and I upped the pace and got into a great rhythm. There was a carpark at 62km which was a crew point for runners. The cheers and applause through this section provided a welcome boost after hours of windswept ridges. Shortly after this you drop off of the ridge on a steep descent down to Alfriston. Alfriston is a quaint old world Sussex village with tudor houses, a delight to run through. The penultimate aid station was here in a local chapel. 66k in there was less than 10 miles now to go.
Leaving the aid station I felt surprisingly good, tired but without the feelings of despair I have had in other races at this stage. We set out on the penultimate climb up Windover hill. The scenery was dramatic with a natural basin channeling the breeze off of the coast and views out over the countryside and the sea. We made good time up this hill and were joking about different ways to describe gradients in ultra races. AR (annoyingly runnable) vs. FTIW (F*ck this I’m walking) A gentle descent and then climbing to the final trig point was psychologically important. A park run left and a kindly volunteer stood by to boost your spirits.
The final descent into Eastbourne was glorious. The town laid out below you as you wind your way down the technical chalk singletrack for the final time that day. We picked up the pace in this section and were in high spirits. Passing through the backs of housing suddenly you are in the town. The route takes a large arc at this point along a footpath for a couple of kilometres before you make the final turn into Sussex Downs college. The race finishes on an athletics track. I was off, this was my western states 100 moment. I had been visualising this all day and now I was ready to savour it. Coming through the gates of the college the crowd cheer you on with incredible enthusiasm. Then it was onto the track. in my tired state I almost tripped over the lip demarking the innermost lane. I rounded the back straight passed under the inflatable gantry and I was done. Incredible. I beamed as the race director presented me with my medal. It had been an incredible day out.
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I sit here two days later, my legs are still sore, it was a long day out and the weekend flew by like a blur. But it is no exaggeration to say that these are the moments we live for; the chance to explore and experience adventure over the course of a day with such an incredible bunch of people. Centurion Running, thank you again for another amazing experience see you out there again sometime soon!
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Over and out

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Learning to Climb – The joy of trying something new

Hello and welcome back to my blog. Today I am going to talk about climbing which is something I have taken up in the last six weeks and am really enjoying.

I have always been a huge advocate of trying new things. As a single man, long before I got into running I always thought that you should go for a job interview and go on a first date with someone new each year. New activities keep our brain fresh, keep our interest in being active and give us a way to appreciate our bodies in a new environment. In order to prepare for the OCC I have been eager to build in new cross training activities to bolster the core running plan. In my last entry I spoke about cycling, core workouts and stair climbing.

Kerry and I were looking for something new to try together and both being quite active we settled on bouldering. We had both wanted to give this a go for a while and booked an induction session at the Arch climbing centre in Bermondsey. The induction was on a Sunday afternoon. We arrived, signed a safety waiver and it was over to our instructor to run through the basics. We went upstairs and did the warm up session, learning about how to activate the main muscle groups before heading downstairs. Back on the floor of the climbing centre we learnt about the etiquette and safety of the sport. Routes are marked out on colour coded handholds. To climb a route successfully you must place both hands on the highest hold of the route. Climbing down you can use any route which is safest and fastest. Climbers must leave ample space  around other climbers and should never start on a route which crosses another climbers route on the wall. The etiquette reminded me a little of surfing with climbers on the mats below waiting to take their turn in the line up. Following the etiquette lesson we then learnt how to fall off of the wall safely. After that we were free to climb.

The centre we climb in is on the biscuit factory complex in Bermondsey, it is converted warehouse space with a box of different wall environments, slabs (not quite vertical), vertical, corners, overhangs (of varying dimensions), step ups and other routes. The base of all walls is covered by large crash mats to soften the blow should you fall off. The routes are graded with the easiest handholds being white and green, followed by black and followed in turn by tiger patterned handholds. There are many further routes but we haven’t yet gotten good enough to climb these.

Following the induction session we were free to climb. I started out on a number of the easiest overhang routes. Overhanging ledges are fun to climb but require a different technique. In order to conserve energy you should keep your arms straight and effectively been a squat position against the wall. To move upward you engage your core and glutes in a fluid push for the next handhold.

We have now been to the centre four times and spent around 90 minutes on average. I feel like we have learnt the basics of the sport and have progressed nicely from the easier handholds to some slightly more difficult routes. One thing which I enjoy about bouldering is the problem solving aspect. When you are on the wall you are effectively working out with each move how to position yourself to reach the next point on the wall. It requires a lot of mental concentration and is a really good way to clear the mind. It has been really fun to go along with Kerry and together we can explore different routes and solve the problems in different ways.

In terms of fitness, I feel like climbing is improving my upper body strength and core. It is also great for improving balance and awareness of body position. I enjoy the mental aspect of picking out new routes and definitely want to continue.

Over and out

Running (& climbing) geek x

March 2018 – The Big Half with Goodgym, Cross Training & Getting back onto two wheels

Hello and welcome back to my blog

It has been a while since I have sat down and penned my thoughts and provided an update on what has been happening with my running and my life in general. In this instalment I am going to mention a few key areas; my cross training regimen, running the Big Half with Goodgym and getting back out on the bike.

Cross Training

As you will know from previous posts, my main focus through this year is training and building up the strength to run in the French Alps in August. A big part of this involves getting out on technical trails for long runs, practising hiking up and running down the steep escarpments which we have available, but I am also implementing a cross training routine to help build strength and core stability to give me the best base to run my ultra races later in the season.

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The first activity which I am trying to incorporate weekly is stair climbing. I work in one of the tallest skyscraper buildings in the country and happen to be 27 storeys up above the ground. I am trying to incorporate this into my regime once a week usually immediately after a run commute to work. The stair climb usually takes me around 5 and a half minutes to complete and is a great way to build strength in the hip flexors, glutes and quads. It is also a rare opportunity to practice the technique of ultra hiking (using the hands on the top of your quads to provide extra power) I find that the key to this is setting off at a sustainable pace that will get you to the top as efficiently as possible but will not require any stopping halfway up the stairwell. You know that you have got this just about right when you have nothing left to give at the top. Early rising colleagues have been very much perplexed at my bursting out of the stairwell looking flustered after a sustained climb!

The second key exercise which I have been incorporating into my training schedule is a simple core workout. I usually perform these simple exercises which take around 20 minutes twice a week and borrow Kerrys yoga mat to do so. This is a complimentary exercise and is best performed on rest days or easy days. My current core workout is as follows;

20 reverse sit ups

20 single leg extensions

2 * 20 glute Bridge’s

2 * 20 superman’s

3 * 30, 35, 40 seconds progressive forearm plank

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I have deliberately kept this simple in order that it will become entrenched and once I have built it up for a couple of months I can tweak and increase its complexity.

Running the Big Half with Goodgym 

The organisers of the London Marathon have introduced a new race for 2018. This race is held on the London Marathon route with closed roads and finishes at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. Initially I was hesitant to enter as my main focus was trail running for the first half of this year and I didn’t think that I would be in a good condition to take to the roads for a fast half marathon effort. The week leading up to the event the weather was appalling with a big dump of snow as soon as two days before the race. This didn’t leave me overly excited ahead of the race. To enter the race at full cost was around £45 but through the Goodgym race team Sarah managed to arrange a reduced community entry for £10. Closed, roads, a high profile field and a flat course all for £10. Oh Go On then, the temptation won out.

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The morning of the race dawned and I awoke excitedly. The previous evening we had had Ben, Vickie & Sarah over for a late birthday celebration. Rushing to the start line I didn’t have time to grab anything to eat save for a coffee which I made hastily before leaving the flat. Upon arriving at London bridge I needed the loo and it was a number 2. Schoolboy error. After navigating the toilet queue for 15 minutes (runners on race day seem to have the worst bowels of any group alive) I was running slightly late and made my way hastily to the starting pen.

The race organisation was effective and efficient. The elite race started at 9:00 and by 9:02 I was crossing the starting line and getting underway myself. The route was a section of the London Marathon course run in reverse heading east from St Catherine’s docks, through the lime house link tunnel, poplar and canary wharf. The race then follows the VLM route through the cobbled streets of Wapping before crossing back over Tower Bridge. The back half of the route is south of the river running through the Rotherhithe loop road before tracking through Deptford and finishing at the Cutty Sark.

I try not to succumb to starting line delusions these days but on this morning I couldn’t resist. The cold snap which had brought the snow had disappeared and the day was dry and bright. The increase in temperature was much welcomed. The first couple of miles of the course through the east end were spent warming up and getting up to speed. I had a vague idea in my mind of the pace needed to sustain a PB effort but had done little preparation for this. In my head, it didn’t matter. Heading into the bowels of the London Clay through the lime house link tunnel the gradient dips and I felt strong opening up my stride and making the most of the cushioning of my Hoka road shoes. I had worn these shoes for some 600km and was now giving them a shot for the first time in a race format. As the runners disappeared into the tunnel there was a great whooping and hollering, most uncouth!

Coming back out of the tunnel and into daylight you run along the main carriageway which I overlook from my desk at work. It was cool to be running along here with the road completely closed. We passed to the North of Canary Wharf before passing the roundabout and heading up the ramp past billingsgate fish market. I was feeling strong at this point and had ticked through the first 5km in 22:45, a decent effort. . It felt great to be running through Canary Wharf with the streets empty and crowds cheering. Wearing my Goodgym shirt, there were so many people cheering who recognised the organisation and it felt great to have so many strangers wishing me well on my route. Things got faster on the next 5km, the route ran through Canary Wharf back west again, down the ramp at Westferry and then through Limehouse. Psychologically at this 4 mile point I knew that all I had left was basically one of my long run commutes home. The run through Limehouse felt fast and as we neared the end of the highway the route turned back away from the river and we caught a glimpse of the runners disappearing into the LImehouse Link as we had done about half an hour earlier. I spotted Nina from Goodgym HQ and shouted across to her! The shallow climb up and descent back down on this section is always tough but I kept my pace here running this kilometre in 4:11. The route then takes a left and runs through the historic cobbled streets of Wapping. I stopped here to take a water bottle form a volunteer and kept my pace up as we rounded the corner past a number of historic pubs. I came through the 10km point in 43:27 having run a negative split of 3 minutes on my previous 5km split. Coming back over Tower Bridge the roar of the crowds was fantastic and I was feeling on top of the world. Coming over the crest of Tower Bridge the adrenaline kicked in and I clocked a very fast split which almost came in under 4 minutes for the kilometre.

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The course then took a left hand turn after crossing Tower Bridge and you head back on the loop through Rotherhithe. I run this route regularly after work and was feeling strong at this point. From Tower Bridge through to the end of the loop it was four miles. In conjunction with another chap I ticked off these four miles at lightning speed all under seven minutes. I was now 11 miles in, two more to go! Less than a park run. Coming back along the long drag through Deptford was where things started to go a little awry. I caught up with renowned ultra runner James Poole who heads up Advent running. I said hello. He asked how I was doing. I said

‘I’m running a little balls to the wall here so it won’t be a pretty one’

Right on cue from deep inside of me came an upwelling. There was nothing for it, I pulled over to the side of the course and started to dry heave. Lovely! After a brief interlude my heart rate started to fall and I was ready to get back to it. The vom episode had put pay to my attempts to break 90 minutes but I was still in with a chance of breaking my PB over the half marathon. I pushed on and came in in 1:30:49 around a minute faster than I ran at Ealing in September. I was surprised as I hadn’t been focussing on speed work and had instead been building strength, core and trail running prowess since the start of the year. I guess it all counts.

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My Goodgym friends did amazingly also, Ben Cooper ran the course with a replica time ball on his head, which managed not to drop until late in the race! Alex and Steve Murtough may have broken the identical twins half marathon record both coming in in 1:32:07! Nice Work! Gareth came in in a lightening quick time of 1:21 and Vickie and Sarah came in in 1:40. We had a lovely pub trip and debrief afterwards. What a great day!

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It may be controversial to say this but after two rejection letters in quick succession from the London Marathon Events co (London Marathon & Ride London 100) It felt great to get a PB in their event for the bargain price of £10

Getting back on the Bike 

Late February and March have provided a couple of opportunities to get out on the bike and explore the country lanes. I am ashamedly something of a fair weather cyclist and my last real cross training rise was back in October. With the unseasonably cold weather and focus on running, it was hard to fit a bike ride into the schedule. One February morning I decided it was time to head out. There was a break in the weather, it was bright and dry and not as cold as it had been before. I got into my new thermal cycling long john shorts and added a base layer long sleeve top under my jersey and set out. As it was my first trip out in a while I wanted to ride a shorter route to make sure that the bike was okay after the winter and ease myself back into riding again. I saw a 40km route on the Dirty Weekend (Cycling club) website, plugged the GPS into my bike computer and set off. I rode out over the top of Blackheath early on a Sunday morning to avoid traffic. As I crested the hill I was with a group who I stayed with for the next few miles south until we reached Bromley Common. This route was a lasso shape which headed out climbing up the roads heading out through Keston before taking a left turn to Farnborough. The day was dry and bright and climbing up to the top of the common it was great to feel the rush of fresh air again as I left London behind me.

The route then took a left and shot down a hill between two hedges out to Farnborough. It was great to be descending again on the country lanes and i let out a loud wooohooo as I picked up speed. The route then came up into Farnborough and turned back towards Bromley again. Here I picked up the main road again and this led me back along a gentle fast downhill back to the crossroads to close the loop. I made it through the 42km ride in an hour and 38 minutes, enjoyable and surprisingly quick given that it was my first trip out again for a while.

In mid march the weekend after the Big Half race I went out again on the bike. I had switched my long run to a Saturday and had a day off of running planned for the Sunday. It was a perfect opportunity to shoot for a longer route. I had taken a 65km route from the Dirty Weekend site and plugged it into the bike computer. It was a long loop which headed south over Westerham Heights on the north downs and down the hill into Westerham before climbing back North again via Brasted hill. The conditions were still a little wet underfoot as it had rained the night before but the road was still clear. Despite the relatively dry conditions the recent snow and resulting salt grit made for a slippy film on the road surface, so I rode more conservatively than I would perhaps of otherwise done.

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The route has out over the downs via Bromley, Keston and Downs before climbing up to Westerham Heights (The Highest point in Greater London). I love the country lanes on the Sevenoaks/Bromley border, little homesteads dotted around villages, churches and common land. It feels as though you step back in time. coming over the top at Westerham heights you join the main road and the big descent begins. With the wet conditions on the main road I didn’t dare let go fully of the brakes but got up to a decent 50km/h on this section before crossing the M25 and heading into Westerham. I had planned to stop at the Westerham Cyclery for coffee & Cake but I think it was closed, Bummer!

Leaving Westerham behind, the route then combs Brasted hill. Brasted Hill was the site of the 1931 hill climb championship  and has its place in Cycling history. The lane climbs 118m over 2km getting progressively steeper. I stopped at the base of the hill to take this picture with a fast disappearing snow drift from 10 days earlier.

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The climb starts off gently and then ramps up as you get further up, two final S bends provide a vicious gradient and then all of a sudden you crest the summit. With the hill behind me the next section was a lovely downhill trundle back into Cudham. I was joined at this point by three other riders who were out for their Sunday Jolly. I arrived back from this ride feeling strong and enjoyed exploring some more countryside.

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So there you have it a quick canter through some of the things I have been up to over the last month.

Over and out

Running Geek

Getting underway for the year and the Thames Trot

Hello and Welcome Back to my blog. January 2018 has felt like a long, cold and miserable month. But running doesn’t wait around for good weather and I have had the chance to get out and enjoy some fun adventures as part of my training.
We rang in the New Year at park run with Ben & Sarah. New Years Day offered the opportunity to run later at 10:30 rather than the usual 9:30. This was greatly appreciated and we made our way down to Southwark. I managed to sneak in under 20 minutes which felt like a good way to start the year.
For the last three years Kerry and I have elected to take some time off in January. It is a time of year that can be difficult and it is always good to have something to look forward to. You can also get some fantastic deals if you book ahead as few people are looking to go away at this time of year. We booked a trip to Prague and went out for three nights to explore the Czech capital. After a day of getting our bearings we set out for a run on the second morning. We meandered through the streets, over the river VItava and into the Petrin Gardens. My usual approach to running somewhere new is to find a high point and try and figure out how to run up to the top. This was no different. We ran up the hill following a series of switchbacks racing the Funicular railway up to the Petrin Tower observation point before a nice descent along the city walls. We then crossed back over the river through the old town and finished back at the hotel.
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On the final morning of our Prague trip the ballot for UTMB was announced. With the points from various ultra races I had put in for the OCC event. I wasn’t expecting to get a place because only around one in five people who enter the ballot are successful. To my surprise I had secured a place. The end of August is shaping up nicely. Now time to consider the travel and accommodation options.
I also got started on my plan to run the North Downs way. On the sunday after our trip to Prague I sat out with Ben Sarah and Vickie to run the first 23 miles of the trail from Farnham to Box Hill. We set out in Bens car, parked up at Box hill and then took a cab from Box Hill to Farnham. Starting out from the station at Farnham the trail darts behind the back of a residential housing area before heading up over a number of hills and fields. This section of rural Surrey is a mix of golf clubs, farmers fields and little villages. The section prior to Guildford follows the undulations of the downs and takes you variously through heathland, farms, golf courses and country lanes.
The trail really gets going after you get past the southern outskirts of guildford with a sharp climb up to St Marthas chapel. We stopped at the top to admire the view out over the Surrey Hills. Ben stopped to do some Snapstagramming and then we enjoyed the descent over the sand covered hillside down to the bottom of the valley. The route then climbs up again and remains over 150m in elevation going through a number of wooded sections interspersed with open hillsides. The trail continues like this for around 12km. By this time we started to press on as we were conscious of the early winter sunset and needed to reach box hill before dark (none of us had packed a head torch) After the final descent through the Denbies Wine estate we came out at the bottom of the hill at the main road and jumped back in the car and headed back to town. It felt good to complete the first 40k of this trail and I am looking forward to getting back out there in March and doing the next section.
Thames Trot 
 
Last year, Ben and I ran the Thames Trot. It was my first ultra and I had good memories of completing this race. We agreed to go back this year with Sarah and Vickie experiencing the race for the first time. Ben pulled out as he is now focussing on Marathon training ahead of Manchester. Sarah found us a lovely air B&B not far from the race start and we arrived after work on the Friday night. It was nice to have a base the evening before. We went to the local supermarket and prepared some nice wraps for pre race dinner before watching a movie and heading to bed.
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On the morning of the race we awoke at half six and got our kit together before heading down to the race HQ for 8. The weather was challenging bleak drizzle and this would set the scene for the backdrop of the day. At 8:30 sharp we were underway. I was prepared for the mud from last year but this year the clay was on another level. The first section to abingdon of around seven miles was an exercise in managing your own centre of gravity. Quick steps to stay upright and I focussed on balance imagining a small hula hoop around my centre of gravity and trying not to step outside of it in any direction. This seemed to do the trick and I managed to finish this year without hitting the deck like last year.
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At Abingdon I managed to stay the right side of the river this year. My family friends Paul & Niki now live in Abingdon and Niki had turned out on the river path to say hello. It was a lovely surprise and really nice to see her for the first time in years. I headed on with renewed determination. Coming into the first aid station I tasted familiar flavour of the cool moist fruitcake which I remembered from last year. Delicious. Freshly imbued with fruitcake I pressed on and felt strong until mile 18. Managing body temperature and staying dry was difficult. I ran the early stages of the race with my waterproof unzipped and as I slowed up or the rain came down more heavily I would zip up the jacket. As the temperature fell I put my hood up to eliminate windchill and for the final section in the dark i put on my gloves, and hat which made all the difference.
The second checkpoint was at the marina at Benson at 19 miles. I wasn’t drinking enough here so made sure that I had all but emptied both of my soft flasks before arriving. I refilled my flasks and picked up two slices of fruitcake. Slowing up to eat them I learnt an important lesson about running an ultra in these conditions. Walking is harder than running as you get cold very quickly. Not long after this point, Vickie caught up with me and we ran the next couple of miles together. By Moulsford at 40km into the race I was starting to struggle. The odd thing about running an ultra for the second time is that you anticipate which sections will be the most difficult beforehand. I can’t help but think that this is not particularly helpful as it almost wills you to struggle in certain sections. As regular as clockwork I struggled in Moulsford walking along the river and through the marsh. Taking on baby food sachets at the same point as last year. I was feeling rather glum at this point and the freezing cold was starting to seep in through my jacket. I gave myself a stern talking to. In conditions like this you really have to arrive into the aid stations warm otherwise the short walk to digest food after will just add to the cold.
At the aid station at Goring I met Laura who had travelled up from Chichester to run the race. We ran together for the next section through Pangbourne and into Reading. Goring was also psychologically important because it was the start and finish of the Chiltern Wonderland 50 which was by far my strongest 50 miler to date. I was now riding on the tail of a brilliant second wind and the steep climb through the gorge was my favourite section (Probably because it was a brief respite from the clay slip and slide) We ran together chatting about running and it was great to have some company at this point. At the fourth checkpoint I refilled with some GU electrolyte and some water in the second flask. The route goes up through a housing estate leaving the river and then drops down at the back of a pub to rejoin the river. The section through Reading is probably the best underfoot so we ran through the town for the next 8km which was great. I started to struggle at this point and dropped back having a little walk through the easter part of Reading. I then ran through to the next aid station and picked up two pieces of Fruitcake before heading out from Sonning. Sonning to Shiplake heads out into the country again and is very muddy and very boggy. I remembered from last year that this is not a place to hang around at this stage in the race so fresh from my two pieces of fruitcake and final baby food sachet I decided not to mess around and crack on.
The upside of slowing down at this point in the race is that you lack the velocity to slip around as much and it actually counter intuitively becomes easier to plough through the mud. Before I knew it I was past the sign at Shiplake college which was psychologically important. Although unlike last year I was in no illusion that there was still around 5km left to go. Leaving Shiplake, I was later than last year so the head torch came out. Here I got chatting to Elliot who was running his first ultra. We plugged on together through the final couple of miles before we knew it we were past the weir and on the boardwalk. The twinkling lights of Henley came on the horizon and we ran through the finish gantry coming in in 9:26.
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The finish felt good. Although I was 15 minutes slower this year it felt like a bigger achievement given that the cold, wet and conditions underfoot were more challenging than last year. I got changed in the loos in Henley and met Vickie. We waited for Sarah to come in and not long after 10 hours she arrived at the finish line. After grabbing some hot tea from the organisers at the public loos we jumped on the train back to London. It had been a tough day out on the trails, no PBs but great experience. First ultra in constant rain and first ultra run in cold conditions with the temperature remaining below 5 degrees all day. It was great to meet fellow ultra runners. (they’re a friendly bunch) and also to run with Sarah & Vickie. I learnt afterward that the tough conditions had led to over 50 runners dropping out (around 1 in 5) I was pleased to finish in those conditions. I am sure that this race, the cold, the rain, the mud will be invaluable in building mental resilience for the future.
Over and Out
Running Geek x

Looking Back on a successful Year, Advent Running and Looking Forward to 2018

Hello and Welcome back to my blog. It is January the first, traditionally the time for new resolutions and moving forwards into the new year. I thought it would be a good time to sit down, gather my thoughts recap on Advent Running through December 2017 and discuss some of the ideas which I have for 2018 to keep my running fresh and to build on the successes of the past 12 months.
2017 in Review 
 
2017 was an incredible year for my running. I started out off the back of my 6 in 2016 marathon challenge and moved to take on the ultra distance with the Thames Trot at the start of February. After completing this, this focus was on Brighton Marathon and my attempts to break three and a half hours in the marathon. My training became more structured and more social with long runs, track sessions and a level of dedication which I have applied to precious little in my life before. I kept going through the winter and Spring months exploring new places and visualising the magic number (3:29) at the finish line.
And like that, Brighton was done and dusted in 3:27, without fanfare I had achieved my road running target. What the f*ck was that all about! Haha it felt good to have worked so hard, so consistently and to have achieved my goal. Now it was time to have fun… Or so I thought. A couple of pieces of bad luck, being knocked off the bike by a careless driver at a T Junction and going over on my ankle out on the North Downs were to put pay to that. Cue a stint in the sidelines instead of competing in the Leeds half. A month of light running, stretching and exploring on two wheels. Frustrating at the time but actually this mid year set back gave my running some real impetus in the last six months of the year and more importantly introduced me to the fun of cross training, shooting down Kent hills on the bike and building strength in the quads. There is nothing like a gutsy climb on a hot summers day to build core strength and quads.
As the Summer turned to Autumn it was time for adventure with friends. First up was the Grand Tour of Skiddaw 44 mile ultra. It was my first visit to the Lake District and I floated through the day on a groundswell of excitement and euphoria, being in this dramatic but stunning environment for the first time. We summited High Pike and Skiddaw, ringing the bell from the heavens was one of the highlights of my running journey. Then it was to the Chilterns for the Centurion Chiltern Wonderland 50. This was the first true 50 miler which I had completed, running through ancient woodlands, villages and along two national trails. It was also the first ultra which I raced in the traditional sense of the word. As my tiredness grew I adjusted my pace to accommodate. I reached the end in the top 45 of nearly 200 finishers. Completely spent (I nearly missed the finish line altogether!) A week later it was time to try my hand again at the shorter distance. I raced the Ealing Half marathon taking three minutes off of the PB with my GoodGym friends and inching closer to the 90 minute boundary. Another month flew by and it was time for Amsterdam Marathon. My first overseas. I ran hard through the unseasonably warm October day through the Dutch streets to take another five minutes off of my PB.
It has been one hell of a year running, from roads to trails and from the Dutch Capital to the Hillsides of Cumbria life has been one big adventure. It has also been the year that my running has gone social. Previously a lone wolf I have discovered the joys of running with groups, being pushed by my group at Advent Running on the track and taking part in 30 GoodGym Sessions, making friends and going for more adventures on foot or bike. This has added another dimension to my running and I am really glad to have met so many amazing generous, talented and kind souls through the year.
Advent Running 
 
Following Amsterdam, I took some time out to just enjoy running again. To tune out from the goal obsessed and high stakes world of racing and instead get back to basics, exploring and having a laugh with friends. Advent Running fed into this nicely to finish off the year.
The rules of the Advent Running Challenge are simple. Throughout the Advent Period when life is pulling you left right and centre, you must take some time to be active for the 24 days from the first of December through to Christmas Eve. That can be any sport or practice and must be for at least 30 minutes each time. It was going to be a tall order. The consistency appeals to me, I have always preferred the quiet dedication to a random fleeting extreme act. I had no fewer than six colleague and client Christmas dinners, parties and lunches to look forward to as well as three personal appointments. In the middle of the month I had a sudden business trip to Prague overnight, all sent to try me!
I am pleased to say that I made it through the Advent Running period and managed to be active throughout apart from a single day when I could not get out. 22 runs, 2 Yoga sessions and an Ice Skating session (it still counts right…!?) It was a really fun time to get out and be active. Here are a few of my personal highlights;
  • The launch party, running up through the city on a  Friday night to Camden up Primrose hill and then sinking a few pints and having some lovely drunk chats with people.
  • The Marmalade Run – Running across London to visit Paddington Bears with Matt who I met at Amsterdam in October, meeting some lovely people and having fun along the way.
  • Heading to GoodGym Lewisham, Meeting the lovely Adele and her Lewisham GG Gang before helping pack food parcels for the Big Red Box initiative.
  • Random workout runs including two progression runs; five miles on the 9th and 5k on the 23rd before catching the train home for Christmas.
  • Exploring the Docklands and running the Herepath with Kerry on Christmas eve getting very muddy and lost.
  • Having my first experience running in the snow, taking part in the (little bit too) christmassy runthrough 5k in a blizzard.
  • Two Yoga sessions on youtube (not yet confident enough to go to a class) in the front room with assistance from Kerry to get things right.
Each of the above activities has reminded both how diverse a community we have here in this corner of the world and also has shown me a glimpse of the different things that this season can mean to different people.
So to 2018 
 
As I sit here and write this, 2018 is 20 hours old. It is time to think about what I want to achieve with my running in the next year. 2017 has been a crazy year both in trail and ultras as well as setting two new PBs in the marathon and another in the half marathon. What could be on the wishlist for 2018. 2017 has shown me that I love adventure and racing, so I have chosen to break my wishes down into both categories. There are still a couple of ballots that I am waiting on so this will solidify over time
Adventure
  • Run Across Cornwall on the Saints way – Coast to Coast.
  • Run the North Downs way in smaller sections through the year, making a commitment to get out on the trails for a long run at least once a month.
  • Continue to explore the way-marked trails in my backyard running sections of the London Loop.
  • Train for and ride a Sportive on the bike (Hopefully Ride London 100 mile).
Races
  • If the ballot comes off (1 in 4 chance) I have entered the OCC 56km race in Chamonix. Would love to take part in this dream race, the little little UTMB in the Alps.
  • Complete my first 100k Ultramarathon
  • Break 1:30 in the the half marathon (race to be decided)
It looks like there is enough there to keep me out of trouble. As always I will keep you posted on how things pan out through the year. The most important thing with running is the same as in life to keep learning, exploring and having fun.
Thank you to all my awesome friends who have helped me reach my goals and share in my adventures in the last year. It has been a blast. I look forward to taking things to the next level in 2018.
Over and Out
Running Geek x
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