Friday, February 26, 2010


Yesterday's supposed hill sprints session at Malvern turned into something resembling a farce. It hadn't occurred to me that, however well I think I know those hills, I've never actually run the Beacon 10k route. So a lot of time was wasted trying to figure out which paths were the right ones, and of course taking the wrong path several times.

Not to mention that my 'hill fitness' is absent. I did a fair bit of fell-walking and not a lot of sprinting. In the end I reckon I covered more than seven miles and my time on the hill was an hour and twenty nine minutes. Bah...

My road shoes are finally beginning to cause me problems too, as I burst an air insert about 60 miles ago. I should know better but, being skint, I carried on regardless. Dumb ass...

From that to the May Hill massacre

The weeks following my return from Dorset saw a little more hill work, and then a switch to speed sessions. It was four weeks until my next race – the 4th May Hill Massacre near Gloucester.

November had seen a weeks hill walking in the Lake District cancelled by heavy flooding in Cumbria before the Beastly Feast and, strangely, another lay-off occurred in the build up to this race. A week of tempo work and a 13 miler in heavy snow, from North Hill to Gullet quarry, gave my body the excuse it needed to call a halt to such excess. I was struck down with a mystery stomach bug and prescribed medication for the duration.

I was soon on my feet again. I even managed to get out onto a great local MTB route for half a day. The route has fun technical descents and lung shredding hill climbs. It’s pretty mucky and makes for an enjoyable couple of hours riding / 25 miles.

The 7th of February rolled around eventually. I’d borrowed my sisters’ car to get to Huntley and parked up an hour and a half before the start. The weather looked good – cool and overcast, unthreatening. A marshal explained that race HQ was a fifteen minute walk across fields, so I figured I go and scout it out.

In a sense this seemed like my first ‘real’ race, as the Runaround event featured man made obstacles and features that I felt hindered running progress. It had a novelty value because of that. This was a more straightforward race, with a greater number of participants. I got a feeling that, even though it was a race to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis, the competitors would be more…competitive. In the end this presupposition turned out to be partially correct; it seems that running races attract all sorts of loonies that defy my na├»ve attempts at classification, but the overwhelming presence of vast numbers of fit and prepared looking runners was totally refreshing and exciting. I collected my timing chip and turned the volume up – Black Flag in the toilet queue!

435 people took part, across 8.75 miles, with 1,000 feet of ascent, over all sorts of terrain from muddy clag to the smooth grassy top of May Hill. The few road sections were brief and tolerable and the downhills were fast and consequently exhilarating. The mud wasn’t too bad although I remember someone swearing loudly as I passed them at one point. I think they must’ve lost a shoe!

I was having a cracking race. My pacing was good. I wasn’t going too fast to be unable to pay my debt, and I’d stuck fast to the shoulder of a bloke that I thought was running at a level slightly above the race that I was running. I figured that would give me the encouragement I needed to push myself a little bit. It worked well.

Quite a lot of people were gathered at significant points along the course to give support. The crowd on top of May Hill, the great bunch at the top of the second hill spring to mind.

I had an unexpected splash-about in a deep rut that I failed to avoid but that was the only set back in the first half of the race. The second hill caught me out completely and my hands stuck fast to my thighs as I switched to fast walking.

This was the start of my ‘troubles’.

Me and a mate went down the canal once, down near Perdiswell, with fishing line and some bread, and made a half arsed effort to ‘fish.’ That’s the extent of my fishing experience. I’ve seen A River Runs Through It though. Brad Pitt makes it look easy whenever he lands a big ole’ fish on the riverbank - the fish flops about, trying to touch its head to its tail, its fishy mouth opening and closing. Then he puts it in the wicker basket on his hip with the others. Nothing to it – a cinch.

Both my calf muscles went into spasm at the top of the second hill. The worst cramping I’ve had in ten years of running. They were flopping around on the riverbank, trying to touch their tails with their heads, and my my fishy mouth was opening and closing. From then ‘til the finish line my stride was reduced to a hotchpotch of comedy running styles, walking and stopping to stretch. I tried downhill hopping at one point.

It was infuriating to watch all the people I’d worked hard to keep up with or pass as they stormed past me. A few runners asked if I was ok and offered words of encouragement but I was face to face with my latent competitive streak and not a happy bunny.

What do you do about cramp? Bananas? Oats? Nuuns? Elete? Do more training? Run more hills? People that I spoke to after the race were saying that even if you take all the precautions known to mankind you still can’t predict for cramp. It’s just a matter of bad luck. I don’t know about that.

The supporters around the last mile or two were great. It’s a pity I felt so ragged. The road section back was torment and I was passed by a Gloucester runner about two hundred metres from the finish.

I joined the queue for my souvenir T-shirt. Someone had to cut the time chip off my ankle. I stuck around afterwards, talking to MattR until the prize giving ceremony.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the marshals and the organizers, the people that staffed the water stations and every one who played a part behind the scenes.
It took a day or so for the results to be posted on the webpage and I was pleased with my placing – 96th with a time of 1 hour 13 minutes.

“Gimme gimme gimme
I need some more
Gimme gimme gimme
Don't ask what for

Sitting here I'm a loaded gun
Waiting to go off
I've got nothing to do
But shoot my mouth off”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Training - 1,200 metre intervals at 08:21 per mile. This was a hard workout, going south along the west bank of the river. Pretty much max'd out so I might have done these a little too fast. It's good to be adding a little speed work to the schedule. We'll have to see how hill sprints feel on Thursday at Malvern. They  still have plenty of snow on the tops so that'll be interesting. I'll be using the Beacon 10km race route for training, from now until the Brecon Fans race weekend in July.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Late November to early January, 2010

I had a pain in my leg. I was running in Inov8 280s which, though perfect for the muddy sections and the steep up and down of the wooded hillside, offered little forgiveness on the Tarmac road at the end of the middle third of the race. I put it down to bone strain – the result of a too much, too soon, oops, too late training schedule – and the best thing to do was to ignore it. Only at that moment did I have any trace of doubt during that first racing experience.

Nonetheless, I love those 280s. I’ve had them for years and I’ve still not managed to put more than forty miles on them. They used to rub the back of my heel so I always passed them over in favour of my Walshies*. These days I use them without the foot-bed. They have been promoted - for Summer use only.

I’ve only a vague memory of the pain after the Beastly Feast. Once the euphoria had receded and I’d got over the contents of the finishers goodie bag, and I’d stuffed my face with junk and had a bath, I recall the exhaustion as substantial. But I can’t gauge it at all now. If I had to place it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘no bother’ and 10 being ‘oh heck’, I wouldn’t be able to. Nature has its way of obscuring the recollection of past distress and discomfort that works independently of you and me.

I was still getting the same pain a week later, so I tried some different strategies in training and switched to doing hill runs on the bike.

I figured that the impetus behind running up hills at that time was to strengthen my leg muscles and improve my form, not simply to become better at running up hills. That requires a session of its own, as Kevin Shevels seems to suggest in ‘UPHILL TECHNIQUES FOR OFF-ROAD RUNNERS’.

The bike sessions meant that I could keep my heart-rate at the correct level for the entirety of the exercise. This had a great effect, both in terms of giving my legs a break and leaving me with enough energy to perform a couple of quality runs later on that week. There is no mention of pain at all in the Diary over the following few days, and so began the inexorable climb up Mount Increased Mileage.

I tried a Plyometric session. Something called P90X. An hour of leg lifting over imaginary tires, and make-believe baseball whanging, and other ridiculously exhausting stuff. I’m sure we had to play rounders at middle school but baseball simply does not compute. I might return to P90X in the Spring, if I can, but hopping across a football pitch on alternate legs and running backwards to the beginning is more my style.

The G and I did a few less weights sessions at that time, no doubt due to the Xmas build up. Eventually the festivities came and went. With a whimper, rather than a bang.

I spent a week down on the south coast at New Year, with some good friends and, as expected, the old demon was unleashed and allowed to ravish the local population; scrawled across four days of the Diary are the words “right off” and “got fucked up on booze and ‘ting’”. Sometimes the endorphins addiction looses out to less demanding options. I still managed to do 23 miles during a week of revelation, wonder and lung abuse. Running along that beautiful coast line, now in needle sharp rain and now in bright sunshine, got me thinking about a holiday.

Considering the weather that broke in the first weeks of 2010, eventually to cover the length and breadth of the British Isles with a fall of snow that, once more, saw local government and public transport providers accused of near incompetence, the thought of a weeks training somewhere hot and bright was, and still is, uppermost in my mind.

It isn’t going to happen.

*I regret leaving my Walsh PBs in a Hebridean rubbish bin. They had plenty of miles of running still in them but circumstances conspired against me and left they were, along with a stack of good books and surplus clothing.*

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Don't hang about...

So I got into this running thing quite late, though from what I've heard I had the same experience as a lot of people - a misspent Youth, laden with the assorted physical baggage of mischief and the good type of bad fun, gets to 30 years of age and all of a sudden feels the unseen hand of years of abuse smack him upside his Punk-ass head. Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was Millenarian paranoia and the after glow of the New Years shenanigans - "I don't Believe It!"

What ever it was I was prompted to buy some trail running shoes, and engage in other, less life altering behavioural alterations - like saying 'I'm not smoking any more' and switching to a lighter brand. I began to explore the local countryside.

Wild Park, Moulscombe, Brighton. East Sussex.

The woods down there are great, as far as I recall. They were perfect for the sort of introduction that really benefits a new runner, who knows instinctively that running on the roads is a bad idea - varied, hilly but flat if you want, soft under foot and full of wildlife, colour and sound. I'm sure it's also full of much less salutary content too (like a weapons factory actually) but I don't recall ever having any bother in the couple of years that saw me regularly biking up there for an early AM or late evening run. The parkland is also a gateway to the broader South Downs and, once I'd built up my mileage and injury resistance, I'd regularly set out from there to the Downs for the day. And, as inclement weather only strikes East Sussex once every five or ten years, the days were long and filled with charm and fine views out over the English Channel - 'dyllic. An antidote to living on Western Road if ever one was needed.

And it certainly was

Where am I headed with this rambling? No need to list every run since the year 2000, so we'll fast forward, quickly past 9/11, past a long trip around South America, past the Cowley Club. Past Leeds and Bradford (though I am sure to return to those fine cities), past the suffering and the misery to one day last November. Sunday, 29th 11am - 163 mad people stand in front of the start line, on a cold and overcast morning, for the inaugural Beastly Feast; an off-road 10km 'adventure' type race on the other side of the river near the Wu. It's my first and I have no idea what to expect. 52 minutes (and 47 seconds) later I cross the finish line, after another ground level scramble net and a nipple high stream crossing, coming in 21st.

Hooked. Should have tried it years ago. Shouldn't have left the North. Have to rejoin the FRA. Have to move back to Leeds. *Where are the hills around here?* Why don't I have a job? Why is my car off the road? Train? Train! More training! And so on...

Until the next time.

*Thankfully we have a wonderful chain of hills, not 11 miles away by bicycle. One of the finest North to South ridges in the country, and for all it lacks in height it makes up for in most total excellence.*

A quick hello and a whatever you say!

I've been thinking about doing a fanzine for a while now, having done a few in the past, but to be frank I really don't have the inclination to do it justice. Which is a shame but such is life. So I guess a blog might satisfy my need to spiel and make sitting in front of this screen a little more...productive.


The general idea is to incorporate a fair few different things. I'll learn as I go along (if I go along!) and it will either develop or crash. 2010 is the year of the race for me. I'm a runner who has always had aspirations towards running on the fells. I never managed to do any races when I lived in West Yorkshire and the last few months has seen this ambition rear its head, and open its all consuming maw, once again, now that I live in the West Midlands. 2010 will see me running a few races, none of which are over 10 miles in length but all contain a great deal of elevation, certainly for a novice such as myself. High point for this year will be at the Brecon Fans Race weekend in July, with 2200' feet of 'up'. You gotta love it.

I'll probably keep a journal of training here too, although I'll try to keep the trivia out and the quality training to the fore, assuming I don't get injured, or have a horrendous change of mind and take up my subscription to the dark side again. That'll be the fags. And the booze. And the rest.

So running and mountain biking takes up most of my training time, along with free weights and hill walking.

I might put up some book reviews here, as that's definitely something that I enjoy doing. Maybe some music, some chit chat ladida, etc. etc., and general blogage. Interviews maybe...

There you have it - the why and the wherefore and the what ever you say!

Until next time