Sunday, 4 December 2011

I have been writing this blog for ages…it has been a really uneventful few weeks following lots of read about the adventures

I was really nervous. I love this race and this year was going to be my third year in a row, so I knew what to expect. I guess that’s why I was nervous. I knew what to expect. I knew the good bits, the fun bits, the tricky bits…

Likey’s Brecon Beacon Ultra 45 – Saturday, November 19th

This was my very first ultra back in 2009. The atmosphere is always great, the organisers are super friendly and supportive and the scenery is amazing. The first year I did it, I was innocent to the toughness of the terrain. In some respects, this innocence and inexperience made me power through and without knowing it I did quite well. Last year was an entirely different story. The week before last year’s event I decided to do XNRG’s Druids Challenge; 80+miles along the Ridgeway path split into 3 days. Believe me, that it’s a much ‘easier’ route to do when tackled in one stage rather than split up into about 27 miles each day! Anyway, needless to say, my legs were a bit lacking in any sort of energy by the time last year’s Brecon Ultra rolled around. I had battered them so much all year (well, it really hasn’t stopped this year either…).

So, at last year’s Brecon adventure my legs were extremely tired and this was majorly compounded by the weather; it was a total white-out all day of blinding fog. This proved to be really disorientating. I think I ended up finishing 2010’s race nearly 3hours slower than 2009. To me, races are never so much about the racing as they are about experience.

Having completed 105 marathon distance events – 40 of them have been ultra’s – since May 2009, I have gotten used to taking things more easy during events. That said I didn’t want to be quite as slow as I was last year. It’s not the loveliest thing to be out in the wildness of the Brecon Beacons in the dark and the cold and potentially/ likely bad weather. However, this year, although it did get colder later in the day and it was quite misty on higher ground it never rained once and I never needed my thermal layer or waterproof. This was really great. They were really good running conditions this year.

The first year I did this event it was pouring with rain and on the second lap some of the rocky pathways were submerged under torrents of running rain water. And there are tricky bits on the end of the lap where it’s really not a good place for rocks to be submerged under water…I believe that the tricky little bramble lined pathway strewn with huge rocks and obstacles was nicknamed ‘Death Alley’ the first year I did this, due to the fact that you could really twist something on this bit if you don’t take it easy. This year’s race was pretty much dry underfoot, but once we reached higher ground the mist/ fog did set in somewhat. It wasn’t a constant presence on lower ground though so all was good and as expected. This year’s race was much friendlier, not that this race is ever anything but friendly.

It just seemed that little bit more lively this year. Perhaps it seems this way because I wasn’t majorly at the back like I have previously been. I can’t really explain how thankful I am to the organisers of this event, I really can’t. They’re all so smiley and lovely, driving around the roads of the course with a big smile and a hello; remembering your name and shouting words of encouragement. Just really fantastic race organisers...and they also happen to have an awesome running gear website at ;-)

Nutrition-wise, I really should have taken more food supplies with me - a bit of a mistake on my part. No excuses there really, as I should know how important getting those calories in is. I’ve been getting paranoid that with winter on its way and less races to look forward to that I will end up putting on loads of weight and so I have slightly been underestimating the food needed for these events – well partly that and partly I am just a bit disorganised sometimes. That’s not to say that I have a problem with getting the calories back in afterwards haha…yup, fast food and all sorts become my best friends after events like these, so I certainly get those calories back in! However, during the event itself I really didn’t consume enough. I took on bits of a ‘Boost’ chocolate bar on the first bit and some seedy ‘9 bar’. I had a mini-packet of Haribo on the second lap and a carton of juice on the big hill. I also had a packet of Worcester sauce crisps on the beginning of the second lap, but this really wasn’t enough. I did feel I needed more and was rationing a bit too much. Seeing those guys on the hill with their picnic of sandwiches made me wish I had brought something more substantial. You do learn some lessons.

As a really experienced running friend said to me afterwards with regards to the GUCR 145 miler that I have planned for 2012: If you don’t eat on something like that then you don’t finish, as simple as that! I have to get into that mentality more. Quite frankly, you need to be taking in calories quite frequently, because as I have found in the past, if you leave it too long until you literally feel nauseous because you haven’t taken on enough, then you really don’t want to ingest anything at all and it becomes a vicious cycle of wanting to eat but not being able to get it down.

The main climb within the first 4 miles or so of the event is really brutal. In reality it is just a very big continuous grassy hill…but you really feel it. Even if you have encountered it before, you still don’t remember exactly where it ends and where the ‘summit’ is…that hill just seems to go on and on with many false little peaks. Eventually you get there like you knew you would, but you often have to stop yourself from pausing for too long as your ascend it. This sounds dramatic, but it is a sneaky ‘little’ hill. It is definitely the worst part. It gets you first time around and you conquer it, but it’s bad because you know that in almost 20miles time you will have to conquer the hill yet again! Some guys made me giggle on the second lap; they paused for a bit half way up to eat their sandwiches. They were in really good spirits and explaining that they had an agreed ‘picnic point’ to give them energy for the rest of it :) wish I’d thought of that! I just had a carton of juice, but it was the BEST carton of juice that I have EVER had at that moment in time…I could have drunk a gallon of it. It was really rather thirsty work and although it wasn’t necessarily baking out there, I felt so warm from the climbs that I was roasting up that hill!

Ultimately I had a really great day. I love the spookiness of running through pitch-black muddy fields and forested areas and then finding civilisation again at the end of it. The t-shirt we received at the end is just awesome!

Cornish Marathon – Sunday, November 20th

I had been warned that the Cornish marathon was going to be a hilly one – hilly, but beautiful. I just wanted to take the beautiful bit. It was clear from the outset that this was going to be a real struggle for me after the previous day’s exploits at the Brecon Ultra 45. I was pretty stiff and I was pretty tired, but I wasn’t yet defeated.

I love Cornwall and we always used to visit Cornwall when I was little…Michaelstow, Bodmin, Newquey…Its quite far from where I live, but because I had done the Brecon Ultra the day before, this knocked a couple of hours off that journey, so I took full advantage of it. This was to be my first marathon in or around Cornwall.

It didn’t all start off so great. The race support seemed fantastic as we first did two small loops of the local village…but it was attention I could have done without…I just wanted to get into my stride and with all eyes initially watching, I felt a bit under pressure. And I was really struggling from the beginning.

I felt so stiff and there were hills to contend with straight away…it was definitely going to be a fight to the finish. I really didn’t ‘find my legs’ and conquer some of the stiffness until after the 15 mile mark…this may have had something to do with the rather annoying St. John’s Ambulance vehicle which was ‘stalking’ me. I understand that health and safety is paramount during these events, but there was me with my 100 Marathon Club top on, so as not to appear too pathetic or inexperienced in my mega slowness. I had obviously survived a lot of previous races and although slow, I wasn’t actually going majorly slow.

The entire field was really very fast. They sped off and kept going. I was quite surprised by this on such a hilly course. Good on them. I just didn’t have the energy in my legs. So, I plodded on along the quiet country roads. The problem with the quiet country roads was that the presence of the St. John’s Ambulance vehicle up my bum was all the more annoying and loud.

The engine was so loud and I hated the prospect of these people observing me…I just wanted to run dammit. And it made me feel really uneasy and pressurised. I’m sure they could have dropped back a bit and then caught me up…I’m sure that had I really been in some sort of trouble that nothing bad would have happened, since people were actually using these roads and I wasn’t in the wilderness somewhere. It really annoyed me. SO that’s pretty much all I thought about for the first 15 miles of the event – how to shake off the presence of the medical support vehicle! I did shake them off, however as I overtook a gentleman and further along I managed to overtake a few more people. I became more mentally relaxed and eased myself into a stride that I was able to maintain and before I knew it the end was in sight. Ultimately, on completely trashed legs and a hilly course I managed just fewer than 5 ½ hours…I am not complaining. This wasn’t the best and it certainly wasn’t the worst. There was cake and champers at the end to celebrate a friend’s 100th marathon and a Cornish pasty! All was well and about 72 hilly miles were clocked up that weekend – Woooooo :)

So now, I find myself with not much to do in December. That is not to say that there is not much out there, there are a lot more events this December than there have previously been, but alas, funds are low and organisation has waned on my part and the majority are now full, so I have missed out a bit. I know the rest will do me good but I am getting serious withdrawal from marathons and ultras. I need a massive challenge now to sink my teeth into. I’m impatient. I know the next adventure will sneak up on me sooner than I imagine. Until then, I am throwing myself into the gym and training…effort in = performance out :)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Full of cold...but lots of stories to tell, yarrrrggh!

I need a good old blog update. It feels like something is majorly missing when I haven’t managed to get an update out there…like there’s a few jigsaw puzzle pieces missing or something along those lines! I have been a bit full of cold (still am…)! However, lots of adventures have been happening in the meantime between the cold and general goings on. So there are about to be a good few blog updates all at once. So here goes….

Foxy’s Staffordshire Marathon - 27/10/11

My first marathon back following the 100th and man was I having withdrawal symptoms, seriously! It was only a few weeks off running a marathon, but I was really feeling it. Mentally I felt unfocused and jittery and in need of a challenge to focus on and look forward…an imminent event to get my teeth stuck in to. Physically I felt ‘fat’ and unfit and not quite myself. It just doesn’t feel right when I’m not doing something. However, sometimes I just have to admit defeat and realise that I’m not superwoman. 

I mean I can do them and feel fine…but I’m not superwoman in the logistics and money sense all of the time. Sometimes it just can’t be done and funds will not allow and in those instances you’ve just gotta’ put it to the back of your head and go out on some training runs and bask in some gym endorphins. Anyway, it was really nice to do this one and be amongst friends. It was a tough course though! The route consisted of 4 out-and-back sections. We would run down the canal approx 3 ½ ish miles and back and out again and back and out again and back and out again and back. It was a very narrow canal path and pretty muddy in sections and the slight camber of the path definitely made me ache a fair bit. The repetitiveness was tough, but the friendliness of the people I know and some of the people on narrow boats – two men on a boat gave me a round of applause that made me smile – made it more enjoyable. Overall, I had a nice day out and finished it off with a lovely pint of Guinness.

Snowdonia Marathon – 29/10/11

Wales is beautiful. The weather is always unpredictable, the scenery is wild and mysterious and the surroundings are just spectacular. Obviously Wales is a very big place, but no matter where you go, there tends to be something of natural beauty to write home about. Snowdonia is of course famous for its mountain :) And there are a fair few hills – to say the least – in this tough ‘road’ marathon. In fact, some dub Snowdonia Marathon as one of the toughest road marathons in the UK – although there are two sections that are off-road; it is largely on road. Starting in Llanberis, the route follows the A4086 and climbs to the top of the Llanberis Pass (Pen y Pass 1,100ft). Therefore, the first 6 miles really do get your legs a bit. Having done the race in both 2009 and 2010, I knew what to expect from the tricky bits and the weather was certainly very wet and windy (especially up this bit) last year. Yet, this year, the weather seemed to be even worse. 

The wind resistance up this first 6 mile stretch was ferocious…really biting chilly wind and rain. However, I do believe – I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this – that without this notoriously awful weather, Snowdonia Marathon wouldn’t be quite the same…its almost part of the challenge. Dropping down to the Pen Y Gwyryd junction, the race then follows the old road along to the campsite until it joins the A498. The first 2K are track, downhill, then the surface returns to tarmac. There is a short, sharp uphill back up to the main road at the campsite. The route then continues to Beddgelert (200ft) and then continues along the A4085 to Waunfawr. From here it is a rapid climb to about 1,200ft at Bwlch y Groes (a short length is unmetalled) and then downhill to the finish in Llanberis.

Now the first year I did this, when I first began the marathon madness I managed to get 4 30ish something. Last year I was very very slow and got in just under 6 hours. This year I was a little faster than last year and got in just over 5 hours. I’m happy with that because I did Foxy’s Staffordshire marathon two days before. I also managed to get a 7ish minute mile in coming down the off-road section after the first tough climb…I’ll take that! It was also a lovely day as it was Rob Bishop’s – a fellow marathon nutter – 100th marathon. So, at the end of the race we were all stood around to congratulate and eat cake and drink champagne. The only downside was that I had forgotten to pack my normal clothes to change into after the race and only had my hoody to put on over my wet running gear. I was pretty freezing and shivering…brrrrr

Rutland Water Marathon - 06/11/11
I was feeling pretty bleurrggghh. Ok, I was feeling really full of cold. In fact, as I write this, I am so full of cold that I haven’t exercised all week, gone the gym, run or anything much at all. It is a full-on horrible nasty cold and I am totally bunged up and without energy. I always feel sorry for myself when I’m like this. I can see mad runner friends on facebook racking up the marathon numbers and theres me, all stationary and not up for action like my usual running self. But last weekend I decided to put the cold to one side and run as planned…that is maybe why I can’t do so now ha!

It was early morning and the alarm went off about 5am and got ignored. Eventually I got up with not much time lost. I was getting driven to the event, so I just needed to be up really with a little breakfast and some coffee. I didn’t really have much to eat at this time, so we got a Costa on the road…I was fuelled around by coffee and a lemon and poppy seed muffin. Yum! When we arrived at the event HQ car park, we were told that the race start was a 20min walk away. I laughed because I thought he was joking, but turns out he wasn’t. I did feel a bit disorganised, but I wasn’t going to rush to the start. I still needed to pin my number on, get my shoes on and go to the loo and also, fill up my water bottle. I figured, there were still lots of people wandering to the start and it was chip timed anyway, so it didn’t really matter if everyone had started when I got to the start. I finally swaggered over to the start line within about 10 seconds of the race starting. 

My stomach wasn’t great, I had snot all over my face and my cold was getting to me. Amazingly, I had a lovely day. I popped some charcoal tablets to settle my stomach – fantastic tip really, especially if you think you will become quite bloated…it really does help! I also tried out some Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem Solids – a chalky kind of energy chew. I don’t love taking gels and the only ones I can stomach properly are High 5 and SIS ones. I felt like these really helped. I ran the entire race with one of next year’s Brathay 10in10’ers, Davey Green…it was lovely to chat to someone so excited about doing something that I have experienced this year. It’s good to pass on advice and to share the excitement all over again. 

Overall, I felt good; even though I definitely needed to stop and walk a few times to wipe my nose and breathe properly…I hate colds. Even so, I felt energised in the last few miles and managed to leggit. I overtook about 5 people :) and finished in just over 5 hours. I was so happy about this, because after battering myself solidly for the last 2 years non-stop, I feel like some of my ‘speed’ is finally coming back. None of it was a struggle – apart from the obvious cold – and in better circumstances I feel like I could ramp it up more and get back into the 4ish hour territory again…something that has seemed so impossible for quite a while now. However, it was a very chilly day and my cold has now worsened…eeeek. I have sniffled my way through the entire week and continue to do so, but I am drinking lots of fluids and relaxing and hope to hit the gym and sauna tomorrow to try and entice some of the cold out of me. After all, I have Likeys Brecon Ultra next weekend :) and I know how tough and wet and chilly weather-wise this event can be…so I need to be as well as I can be. This reminds me, I also need to get the zipper on my OMM jacket fixed pronto…in time for next weekend.

GREAT NEWS is that I now have yet another goal for 2012….I got a ballot place for the GUCR…or Grand Union Canal Race 2012…145miles from Birmingham to London along the canal network…exciting and terrifying all at the same time. There is going to be A LOT of training and running of canals to make them my friends. Generally, I don’t mind canals and they can be quite interesting, but they can also be extremely tough and I know it’ll take hard work and dedication…but I’m up for that!

GOOD NEWS – because I have an awful cold and an event that I had really wanted to do was full this weekend, I got to spend yesterday with two of my favourite people who I haven’t seen in years…Simon has just come back from Aus and Sophinda is still living in my old uni town, but due to work, commitments and lack of money and organisational skill we haven’t really seen each other in so long. It was so amazing to catch up really and I laughed like I haven’t done in so long. I forgot what it was like. A fantastic day was had :)

So now, it just leaves me to say that I am going to go and drink lots more tea and take horrible cold killing stuff

Saturday, 22 October 2011

It's my birthday & I'll cry if I want to (well, tomorrow is...)

I got to thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot this week. And I don’t think I’m alone in some of the thoughts I tend to get around my birthday.

Wow, that sounds dramatic.

But, I always used to think, ‘how can anyone get miserable around their birthday?’ It’s a day that is yours, for you; a day of celebration where you get presents and get treats and it should be fun. Now, I think I’m getting to THAT age where everything just seems a bit gloomy and instead of seeing your birthday as something to celebrate, you kind of sort to view it as a benchmark for all your shortcomings and everything you haven’t achieved by that age.

So, as my birthday approaches (tomorrow) I have tried to see some of the positives, whilst looking out for other popular opinion that might compare with mine. I hit the nail on the head with one opinion I came across: it’s all about the expectations and what’s expected of you and what you expect of yourself. And now were all growing up, why can’t we just sit back and enjoy that? Why can’t I just let my hair down and party and enjoy the day?

It seems that over the past few years – probably much worse since having finished uni – that I have become rather emotional around birthday time. It doesn’t seem special anymore or happy or something to be celebrated. There’s no party and friends are scattered all over the place.

A good friend of mine told me that this birthday (he’s just turned 25 also) will be a contemplative one, a reflective one and that, quite frankly, it can be a bit dreadful if you really dwell on it all too much. So, I am going to try and not be so miserable… It doesn’t help that I used to be a drama student for many years and I would consider myself a bit of an extremist and someone who thinks far too much about literally everything. I was also born on the cusp (Oct. 23rd) between Libra – well balanced – and Scorpio – a sting in the tail!

I guess I have to see this milestone as a positive and use it to propel myself forward in some sort of career with a definite purpose. I know that’s what I am missing and lacking and that is why I’m probably so sad at this birthday, because I have achieved random things, but I haven’t achieved my independence or a stable direction or a good job.

Other silly things that shouldn’t bother you, but that serve to exasperate the feelings of sadness on your birthday:

1.) Its only Twitter & facebook, but if someone doesn’t make the effort to wish you happy birthday and you notice it, it can really piss you off

2.) You’re a bit of a perfectionist and you want the day to be memorable and amazing and then you come to the realisation that it’s not going to be.

3.) All your best friends live so far away and you’d give anything to have a good old fashioned party with them

4.) As you’ve gotten older, the family don’t really seem to care so much and make much less effort…you still want the celebrations and all-consuming importance that you had as a child.

5.) You dwell on all the things you haven’t done and look around at similar people your age and compare yourself to them and what they might have achieved that you want to achieve.

Reasons to man-up and stop crying

1.) It’s just a day. It is just one day out of the year – how can it make you feel that miserable. Smile, be happy and make the most of it.

2.) You have built yourself up for any disappointment and therefore should know what to expect, so hopefully it can’t be nearly as bad as you think it might be…?

3.) In the future, when you do have a good job and more independence and friends are more accessible, you can look back at this with your new-found 'wiseness' and laugh about how silly it all was to have felt so sad.

4.) It is mandatory to eat some sort of cake…lots of cake…so there :)

Wow. I really cannot believe it has been FOUR whole years since my Tim Burton themed birthday party, where I dressed up as the corpse bride and got ridiculously drunk and tripped over my wedding dress :) It is such a long time ago now.

Anyway, I intend to banish this sadness, use this blog entry as a therapeutic rambling and have a good day…hopefully :) I will raise a glass to tomorrow > still jealous of all my fellow runners out there doing all the cool marathons though ;-)

And to all you ‘older’ and wiser people out there reading this…Shhhh, I know, I know, you were all young once too :)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Alton Towers is the ultimate test of an OMM running jacket – never mind ultra’s…

After the big 100th my schedule has been rather empty on the marathon front, which is really unfortunate. That dilemma kind of boils down to me being a little bit penniless and my car being broken. Therefore, last weekend and this weekend (the birthday weekend too) I have zero marathon running fun to keep myself occupied. Ok, so this weekend, my dreaded birthday weekend was also disorganised from the start, but the lack of a good race does come from a lack of money and too-far away marathons. It is Beachy Head marathon on the day before my birthday; 22nd October, which would have been absolutely perfect. I entered it last year and everything, but in the end I was unable to make it = big waste of an incredibly popular marathon entry. It sells out so quickly that this year I was simply unable to afford to commit to entering it in advance = no birthday fun :( and serious withdrawal symptoms from running a decent marathon. Roll on next weekend and hopefully, the availability of a car of some kind, because I might just go insane. I have also been unable to get to my far-away gym, due to car issues; grrrrr.

Soooo, Alton Towers was an attempt to fill the void. Alton Towers proved a very successful attempt to fill the empty void that has been left from the absence of absolutely nothing exciting happening in my life. It has been one of those weeks (and a bit). Much to my joy, I discovered that from 15th October – 30th is Scarefest at Alton Towers…which means that it is open until an amazing 9pm at night, woooooo! I love Halloween and I am quite sure that I would feel so at home in America on a pumpkin farm with all the hyped up celebrations that they have over there; quite at home indeed. This is exactly what it was like when we visited the towers on Tuesday – fully decked out with pumpkins and everything creepy and scary and ghoulish. I absolutely loved it. What’s more, there were no queues for literally anything. We went on Thirteen so many times I lost count, subjected ourselves to the crazy speed of Rita over and over, log-flumed it, fired water at people in Mutiny Bay and went on silly ride after silly ride. We also got absolutely soaked in Mutiny Bay, but it was worth it to fire water at unsuspecting children. I came to the conclusion that even when you’re not running an ultra or off-road marathon, an OMM running jacket is the perfect essential in the war against getting soaked at theme parks…I was so right; at least my top half stayed dry :) The only major downside of the day was simply how freezing the weather was. I definitely should have taken more layers with me. It was bitterly cold and after a while, I started to get a headache. Its excellent having so long in a theme park, but after a while it does begin to take its toll on your head and a bit of achiness does set in.

I also absolutely loved the Terror of the Towers tour, which was a kind of scare-maze inside the scary old buildings, featuring live-action-actors whom basically tried to scare us as much as possible. You went in the haunted house-type set-up in groups of 8 or so and it really was such a scream and a giggle. The same can be said for the zombie maze; a brilliant idea. It did make me think, however; I would make a really good zombie and it would be so much fun to get paid to scare people all day – yep, the drama student in me still exists and I always did like playing the weirdo characters the best.

There we go then – Alton Towers has been my excitement this week and I think it’s fair to say that we did quite a bit of exercise walking around the theme park for eleven hours or so. I still need a good marathon though. I have my list and with my birthday approaching, hopefully I will have a bit of money to put this list into action and get some good events booked to finish the year on a high. There are some good marathons to look forward to and a few cheeky ultras. Standing around in the freezing cold on Tuesday at Alton Towers, I had a thought to myself about ultras: sometimes I really must be mental. In the winter and bad weather I will willingly spend 10+ hours in the freezing cold and often the rain to complete an ultra and will do so again in November with Likey’s Brecon Ultra – which was my first ultra back in 2009 and my third year in a row. It is hilly, rocky, often foggy, rainy, freezing and 45 miles long and I will be back :)…and possibly back in the Brecon Beacons again in early December to do an ultra that I couldn’t do last year due to the unrelenting snow. So, lots to look forward to – I just need to put my patient head on, ignore all the running shenanigans I’m missing out on this weekend and just look onwards towards events that I will be doing :)

Patience. Which reminds me, we went to see Damien Dempsey at the Liverpool O2 Arena on Sat 15th October as part of the Irish Music Festival. This was another great thing that I have done to fill my temporary running void and how can I forget the lyrics (although I’m not religious),

‘Patience, give me some of that sweet patience, Lord, I
will keep my eye on my goal…'