Friday, 23 March 2012

RIP Garmin 310xt...?! (though hopefully it wakes up...)

Ohh no :( My much beloved, ‘can’t live without’, trusty (well, not so much at the moment) Garmin 310xt seems to have died! It has been struggling on and off for a while now and the pixels have been faltering on the screen. Sometimes the screen will flicker, have distorted lines, the image won’t be in sync with the screen or will freeze and finally, now, sometimes when I switch it on there is no image on the screen whatsoever; it has started going blank. It will make a beepy/ vibration noise to let me know it has switched on, but no image presents itself. 

I’m really sad :( because it has been just great. I got rid of my Garmin 405 a couple of years ago because I never got the whole bezel thing and I didn’t care that it looked smaller or ‘sleeker’ because the battery life was rubbish (7 hours…although I rarely got that) and it seemed so complicated to use. My Garmin 310xt has gone with me everywhere since I got it and the battery life has been excellent (I’ve had over 18 hours out of it) and I have never been worried about the rain or crazy weather conditions up on the moors or on mad ultra’s because it is a tri watch and waterproof/ submergible. 


So yup. It was a great watch and now it seems to have had enough. But I can’t afford to replace it. Hopefully I will be able to send it to Garmin to get it repaired or something somehow. In the meantime, I’m going to feel like a part of me is missing (haha, so dramatic…but I rely on it a lot for pace and motivation). It’ll be interesting to see what my pacing is like on upcoming marathons and things without it. Or maybe it might change its mind again and decide to stop going blank and maybe co-operate for a little bit before it dies again…it does do this!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Major planning for GUCR 145 Miler

Run when you can

Walk if you have to
Crawl if you must
Just never give up.

There is something very alluring about the Grand Union Canal Race. It seems like a silly idea to run from Birmingham to London along the canal network for 145 miles non-stop, but that’s why I like the idea of it. It’s a simple idea and a grand adventure. And I’m really looking forward to June (although obviously pretty petrified too) to find out for myself.

So planning must commence. The things I really found helpful on the tp100 were having an endless supply of coca cola, chicken noodle soup and mainly savoury foods. It also really helped me to run a bit with someone later on, just to chat and run a better pace. It’s nice to not be with your own thoughts all of the time.

I’ve not run a lot in the last two weeks since the Thames Path adventure because I seemed to have picked up a bit of an ankle niggle in my right ankle. It is easing up a lot now and I’ve been applying the trusted old technique of ‘RICE’.  There’s just been a niggling stiffness and tightness to it. I think I must have strained it ‘somehow’. At first I thought it was my Achilles, but it was maybe more of a sprain. Anyway, I have been hitting the gym in a big way and doing a lot of cross training & weight/ strength work and I’ve been really enjoying that.

"Pain is only temporary, but quitting lasts forever." (Lance Armstrong)

So all is good! This should be an interesting year :)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Thames Path 100 Adventure

No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness. (Aristotle)

I’m not sure if I’d call the idea genius or madness, but wanting to run 100 miles seems pretty sane to me in a mad way. If you can, why wouldn’t you want to get out there and do something so exhilarating? Such dreams and adventures make life interesting.

I don’t really know where to begin, so I’ll start with the fact that this was a big deal for me. I have wanted to run 100 miles for a long time and I’ve attempted it twice before. Ok, my previous attempts may have been a little half hearted in the planning division and silly. I didn’t organise well. I attempted to run them off the back of multiple marathons and just didn’t give myself the best chance to at least finish. One day it would be nice to do a little more than just finish, but that’s all I was concerned about with the Thames Path 100 and all that I’m still concerned about. And I really look forward to building up experience at this sort of distance and becoming stronger with it.




Start: Richmond

Where it all began. To say we were in a rush to make it to the start is an understatement. Why am I NEVER on time? I am seriously always late for everything even if I try or plan to be on time. In all fairness, that motorway and roads coming into London are manic.

Ironically, we has stayed in Lechlade-on-Thames the night before, which is regarded as the traditional source of the River Thames. On the way out of Lechlade we came across many road signs for the country of Oxfroshifre. It was hard to believe that I would be running back in this direction to Oxford on my adventure. I also saw a religious sign by the side of a road declaring that ‘There is a heaven and a hell’. I would figure out that this is certainly true over the course of the weekend. 

I was seriously panicking in the car. I remember distinctly panicking about my lateness, needing to drink a bit more water, desperately needing to go the loo and sort my number and myself out. Contemplating the imminent prospect of running ONE HUNDRED miles is scary enough, but adding my lateness into the mix really had me stressed out. I arrived with about 30mins to spare. An aid station guy would later tell me that I was literally a few seconds away from missing out on getting my no. as they were about to pack registration up. As I was arriving, a tonne of other runners were descending the stairs that I was about to climb. They were all leaving the race briefing that I had happened to miss. Oh well, I hope it wasn’t important. I don’t believe I missed anything. I’m still in one piece. Ignorance is bliss. And before I knew it, we were off…loads of us. People cheered. I felt scared. This was it.

Aid 1: Walton On Thames 12 

I had been really worried about the cut-offs in the run up to this race. I was really very worried. I have the strength of mind to know I can do it, I think. Well, at least I know that if I focused more I could be much better, but my will to run ultra’s and see them through is quite strong. Anyway, that has nothing much to do with cut-off’s. All you need gather from that ramble is that I was nervous about my speed (lack of) and not making the cut-off’s for each Aid Station, even though I know deep down that I am damn well capable of such.

Well, I comfortably made Mile 12 & the first aid station in just over 2ish hours…so quite a good pace for me. Obviously, I wasn’t planning on keeping that up, but I thought whilst the going was good, I’d better get going! Although, I must admit, it did start to get rather warm out there and I was feeling quite toasty. I remember drinking a lot of water and feeling quite thirsty. I made sure I kept on top of electrolytes and food from early on. I was eating small handfuls of trail mix and taking an electrolyte capsule every hour. I think this was a good thing and served me well later on. Well, I like to think it was the sensible thing to do.

Aid 2: Wraysbury 22

I don’t remember the particulars exactly. I don’t think there will be a lot of detail in these earlier stages because my memory is rubbish. I’ll save the stories for the juicy bits… I don’t think I was feeling particularly good around this point. By no means was it boiling but I just felt really hot and I hate feeling warm whilst running. And obviously when you run you create heat and so there’s a bit of a vicious cycle thing there. Maybe some of it was mental because we were still so early on, with 3 whole marathons left to do. That sounds a bit mad when you put it like that. My insides just felt really sloshy, but my mouth felt really dry. I needed refreshment, but I didn’t need lots to drink.

Aid 3: Windsor 28

My mental state started to feel a bit better as I contemplated the prospect of reaching the 30 mile mark. I also got talking to some really friendly people and it was nice to feel ‘awake’, not that I was tired already, but my mind was whirring from thoughts of the tiredness that would come and I had been alone with my own thoughts for too long, so it was nice to have a little company. I was still sticking well within the cut-off times, but I had slowed a bit. I still felt a bit nauseas.

Aid 4: Cookham 38
I think it was around this bit that we might have gotten a bit lost. Loads of people seemed to have gotten lost at the exact same place. The Thames Path seemed to just end and there was no obvious diversion route to follow. Some guys decided to jump the fence and back onto the cordoned-off tow path. I would have, but I didn’t want to do so and then be faced with a barricade a bit further down. Luckily for those guys, this wasn’t the case and there was merely a mesh fence that was really easy to sneak around. Me and some others decided to carry on down the central reservation of a rowing lake and eventually emerged back onto the Thames Path with the help of some Race HQ arrows. I heard later that some others hadn’t been so lucky around this tricky bit and had gotten really lost and ultimately didn’t get any further in the race. 

We definitely wasted a bit of time; maybe around 30mins. It is a pain, but the main thing is to think about a logical solution to getting back on track. We were able to ask someone local and he assured us we were going the correct way. Even so, it does add a bit on unwanted pressure to ‘the game’ when you lose precious time. You begin to worry about making future cut-offs.

Ten miles between these aid stations felt like forever and I had begun to really look forward to reaching them. They served as little milestones on our journey. I had also become addicted to Coca Cola and took the initiative to down a few cups at every aid station. It gave me a bit of a lift.

Aid 5: Marlow 44

It was good to get to Marlow. I particularly remember Marlow from September when I took part in XNRG’s Toad Challenge, which involved running 90 miles of the Thames Path over 3 days. It sounded familiar and it was that step closer to half way, so I was feeling quite chirpy at this point.

Aid 6: Henley 51

I had made it to half way. Woooo. I was in such a better mental place at this point than I had been at the start. I had been worried about making the cut-off’s all the way along and I had gotten to this point with over an hour to play with. It had all become a numbers game. Unfortunately, a guy I had been running with for quite a while decided that he was going to retire and so I found myself alone again and contemplating a dark tow-path. I decided to wait. I didn’t wait because I was scared. I waited because I knew that I would be in a better place if I were to run along with others at this point. I was happy I waited almost 20 mins or so. The guys I ran with now it was dark were great. One of the guys was racing and his friend was pacing him for the next 30miles. My pace picked up, I felt perkier and I ran faster than I had for most of the day. They were also very kind and leant me a brighter torch…my head torch is rubbish, but I had blown my ‘race budget’ on new shiny trail shoes, so I had  just settled.

Aid 7: Reading 58

We ran across fields and before I knew it, we had reached Reading. We still had a little time to play with, but the next bit was a real toughie. The next bit was something I had worried about for weeks. Long before race day I had printed off the check point destinations and the cut-off times for each and I had written how any miles in what time period I needed to be reaching. This one stood out. If I was to reach Reading near the cut-off of that aid station time then that would leave me with 9 miles to do within the space of 1hr 45min, in the dark after having covered 60+ miles. Not being the fastest of the fast I was worried. I had wondered why such a tough cut-off existed at this point, when we had safely gone past half way. 

It seemed so disheartening to think that if we missed the next check point time then we would be disqualified from the race after all that effort and in the knowledge that I knew I could do this. I was a little bit angry and emotional and stressed out. I kind of still don’t think it was too necessary to have such a strict check point cut-off here. Ok, it would not have been strict to a lot of people, but I do know a few others were a bit aggrieved to.

We had just left Reading and the guy who was being paced by the pacer who was now pacing me (I felt bad for seemingly hogging him actually) decided to retire. It was a really sad moment and a reminder to how quickly things can change in an ultra. I felt a bit bad that his friend may have felt obliged to still run ahead with me, but I will be forever grateful to him for pushing me forward to the next tricky aid station. 

Getting to that next aid station was mental torture. Would I make it? Would I be timed out? I could not afford to get lost and I kept getting paranoid we were going the wrong way. Then we lost time because a boat yard obscured the tow path and to us, it just seemed like it had ended abruptly. We meandered around for a little while and I felt sure my game was over. Even when we carried on along a path we discovered to the side of the boat yard, it didn’t seem right to me.  I didn’t recognise this bit from my run in September. I tried to reason with myself that it had been daylight then, but negativity just filled my mind. I felt miserable and that I had failed yet again in my dream to run 100 miles.

I had all but given up and then like finding gold, there was an arrow and tape and it was our Race HQ arrow and tape. I love that feeling of finally discovering you are on the right track. It is the BEST feeling.There was a moment of great happiness before it was replaced yet again by the urgency of reaching that dreaded checkpoint. We arrived with minutes to spare. I was knackered from literally sprinting to make the cut-off (grrrrr) and I really needed to pee. I didn’t have time to. I had to have left the aid station by the time the cut-off was reached. Here is where my stolen pacer bid farewell. I can’t thank him enough. I still greatly need to thank him. He let me borrow his torch to continue on. You meet some of the kindest people on long distance runs.

Aid 8: Whitchurch 67

Now this next section should have been easy, but I remember it from the time I ran it in the daylight and oddly enough for a pretty flat ultra, this bit has hills. There were no mountains, but these hills were very much unwelcome at this point. This was the longest 4 miles I had encountered in a very long time. I remember feeling so lonely and sad all of a sudden. I couldn’t help but feel a bit hopeless and I remember thinking ‘Why am I so useless as an ultra runner, how would I ever finish, how could I ever attempt to do so again, was I really cut out for it?’ But it can be like a rollercoaster on a long run. One minute you’re feeling amazing and the next minute you can feel so low and everything seems to be going wrong even when it’s not necessarily going wrong. My mind started to wander off into negative territory and thoughts of sleep. I suddenly felt so drained and my energy had really dipped. As I ran down a narrow dark trail, I felt like I was swaying. Around this time it also started to drizzle a little and I put on a waterproof layer. I felt sure that if I made it to the next aid station, I wouldn’t make it any further.

Aid 9: Streatley 71

I finally made it to Streatley, which seems an odd thing to think since it was only 4 miles since the last check point. Believe me, they were a really long 4 miles to me. I didn’t have a lot of time to spare and so it was just a case of grabbing some food and getting out of the aid station as quickly as possible. Happily I came across some other runners who I hadn’t seen for hours who were only just leaving this aid station. We didn’t run together, but it was lovely to know there were people out there, as we ran into fields and along pathways. Food-wise I had gulped down some tinned peach type fruit and grabbed a jam donut, literally running out of the aid station with it before they could tell me that I was all a dream and that maybe I hadn’t made the cut-off times after all. All was ok.

Aid 10: Benson 79

This took a really long time to appear and I even believe we may have been late to get there. In fact I’m pretty sure we were late for the cut-off at this one. All I remember is that a few miles back, as the daylight emerged, I suddenly looked around and ahead of me in this field were more runners that I hadn’t seen all through the race. I was so happy. There were still people out there! There was quite a few of us. Hurrah! 

At about this point it really began to piss it down and it didn’t stop. It didn’t stop at all. At first it was kind of refreshing and almost served as a bit of a morning wake-up call. However, the presence of the rain soon became a bit troublesome. Quite quickly, the ground became muddy and hard to navigate at any speed. You really had to be careful where you put your feet and even with rugged trail shoes on you couldn’t help but slip and slide everywhere. I think we all agreed that this section, from Streatley to Benson seemed to take forever. Once we had finally got past the muddy fields, we were then faced with what seemed like a HUGE diversion, literally ‘around the houses’ and down some roads. We were maybe 10 mins late for the cut-off, but I don’t think we could have moved much faster. Lucozade awaited me here and I think it woke me up a bit and hopefully made me move a bit faster.

Aid 11: Little Wittenham 82.5

This was a random little aid station just before a weir crossing and into endless fields. I was in high spirits here. It was raining a lot, but I was still going. I had made the cut-off’s and I had plenty of time to finish. It was all homeward bound as far as I was concerned.

Aid 12: Abingdon 91

This 8 ½ miles to Abingdon took FOREVER. It may have been the endless fields and the muddiness and the rain, but it took a long time. I don’t know how much time it took because my Garmin had long since died and I didn’t want to get my mobile out to check on the time for fear of water damage. I think I had another watch somewhere, but the aim at this point in these conditions was just to keep moving forward. Besides, I didn’t want to go rummage around in my rucksack as everything else would have got soaked. I stopped every now and again to take my shoes off and itch my feet…they were so hot and tired. My feet were literally steaming. Anyway, it provided a bit of relief to take them off. I put on my mp3 player and tried to focus on the end goal. Somehow I had managed to select a few tracks and it kept on shuffling those few…so I ditched the mp3 in the end as the repetitiveness was making me feel that little bit crazier.

Through mud and sweat and freezing wind and driving rain we got there. Absolutely soaked to the skin. I was most happy to get indoors at the aid station and got to use the loo. Although, it was a funny experience trying to get my shorts back on afterwards…it was like trying to wriggle into a wet wetsuit. Lots of people changed clothes here, but I didn’t have a drop-bag and I wanted to get out as soon as possible. It may have provided momentary relief to change into dry clothes, but I knew that as soon as I stepped outside they’d be soaked again in a matter of minutes. Even though we were indoors, I could feel myself cool down so quickly once I had stopped moving. I wolfed down a hot dog so fast it gave me the hiccups and I had a bit of tea. I managed to retrieve my fleecy buff from my bag and would use that to put over my nose and mouth when I got back out there. It’s amazing how something as simple as a fleecy buff can make all the difference in the world. Just as I was about to leave I looked out of the window and saw snow coming down. Just to check I wasn’t imagining this sight, I asked someone: ‘Is it just me, or is it snowing?’ They started to say that maybe it was just me, oh no, wait, oh yeah it is snowing! Next thing I know I was darting out of the checkpoint and back on the river path.

Aid 13: Lower Radley 95

I must have looked like a right weirdo with all my kit on. After all, it’s not like I was out running in the wilderness, this was the Thames Path! I tried to make as much forward progress as I could. Ultimately, the path became like a swamp. There was so much mud and I’m used to mud. However, at this point in the proceedings it was a bit of a nuisance. I just wanted to get to where I needed to be as fast as I could and this was slowing me down significantly. It was making me even colder than I was. As the sleety snow continued to come down I just tried to keep some sort of focus but it seemed like madness. The wind was adding to the freezing temperatures. What should have been a relatively pleasant 4 miles to the last aid station had turned into a bit of a pain. I was happy to be so close to the end, but annoyed at this obstacle that Mother Nature was throwing in my path. It’s like it was doing it on purpose haha. However, I was so intent on finishing this race I think I would have done anything to finish. Nothing else seemed to matter.

I finally neared a corner in the path and was approached by a race official. They were cancelling the race. The race had been pulled. Conditions were too dangerous and the wind-chill had added to the seriousness of the plummeting temperatures. A few runners had been hospitalised with hypothermia and others had shown signs. I had made it to the last aid station with 3 hours left to make it to the finish and with 5 miles to go, at NINETY FIVE miles into it all, the race had been cancelled :( 

Well, all I could say was OK. I didn’t really know what to say.                   

Finish: Oxford

Ok, well I didn’t make this…not really. But I have no doubt that I would have done and at the end of the day, when everything else was out of my hands, that is good enough for me. I had around 3 hours left to do the last 5 miles in. If the race hadn’t have been cancelled due to the deteriorating weather and hypothermia concerns then I would literally have crawled to the finish if it meant I got there. Yet, I could still run fine and maybe that added to my anger a bit at the annoying weather, because I was still good to go. Thankfully, at the end of the day I finished in good health, with unblistered feet and just a bit drenched and sleepy. I was upset though and I had a bit of a cry once I had gotten home and thought about the eventfulness of the weekend. 

I fully respect the race director’s decision. At the end of the day the safety of the runners is paramount and I couldn’t even imagine being faced with ensuring the safety of so many people, especially in such bizarre weather conditions where the forecast seemed to change so unpredictably and suddenly.

However, I was upset and it’s something that goes around in my head a bit. If only I was faster on this bit and that bit then I could have gotten to the last aid station quicker and left quicker and therefore could have gotten to that finish line. Yet, on the flipside, there were moments where I felt so low or a bit nauseas and things weren’t going great where I thought that I simply would not make it much further than 70+ miles and I did. 

I guess, overall I will look upon this as a great learning experience. I don’t feel like I failed, because that was totally out of my hands. As far as I’m concerned I didn’t see that finish line but I did finish. Us ‘back of the pack’ runners dealt with so many added obstacles along the way and faced all those obstacles head on. I worked hard for that finisher’s medal and I’m proud to wear the t-shirt. And after all the negative thoughts, all I can think of right now is, ‘When is my next 100 miler going to be?’

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A whole week has passed.....

I can't believe an entire week has passed by since the Thames Path 100. Time has absolutely flown by! I still haven’t figured out in words how to describe it all yet and everything that happened or I felt about it. I will do though. I'll have a blog up by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, my inov-8 trail shoes are still in the car with half of the Thames path stuck to them. I really should clean them. I always do this! They’re new too. And they were great for the ultra. I couldn’t decided whether to wear road shoes or trail for the 100miler and in the end I went for trail because of the many fields you have to run through. In deciding on trail shoes I thought it might leave me more susceptible to foot issues, with less cushioning.

However, my new Roclite's were really great. I had no blisters, no manky toenails...well, no more manky than they already are anyway. I had no rubbing. No issues. Only sore, tired, steamy hot feet from being on them for so long, but I can deal with that...although at the time they were really quite hot and tired and I kept taking my shoes off after the 80mile mark to itch them.

Anyway, so it seems I have found a lot to say about my feet so far, but I know I have a LOT to write about the actual experience in general. So, watch this space...

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Continued Quadzilla rOaaawr

And here is the ‘…to be continued’ bit of the Quadzilla adventure. I thought I had better be quick getting this up here before it gets squished out of my very limited memory capacity. And there have been so many recent developments on the running shenanigans front that memories are escaping me. Ok, it hasn’t been very quick getting it up here at all, but here it is now…

Day 3 of Quadzilla – Sat 11th February

I decided to start earlier at 8.30am. I figured, why delay? So even though I am really not too much of a morning person and I am even less of a morning person when it is so freezing cold outside, I managed to drag myself out of my cosy bed (I really could have stayed there) and brave the chilliness of the outside world. And chilly it was. In fact, it was absolutely freezing. Literally. The car thermometer recorded it as being somewhere in the region of -11 and I believe that. Quick stop off at MacDonald’s (for coffee & bagel fuel) later and I was ready to rock! 

When it came to starting off on Day 3, words can’t describe how cold I felt and I love the cold. I would pretty much choose colder running conditions over more moderate temperatures almost any day of the week.  I think this day was covered under the ‘almost’ clause. I just could not get my breath and so I resorted to running around like Rambo or some crazy runner ninja with my fleecy buff pulled firmly up over my nose and my mouth! [PLEASE note: Any piccies of a person resembling a ninja with buff pulled up over their mouth and nose on this post is not of me…but a friend modelling the method of breathing warmly :)]

Oddly, I still found my icy slushy water in my water bottle rather refreshing. I think I like ice cold drinks a little bit too much, even in the coldest of weather (weirdo).

Fortunately, I did begin to warm up as the day went on. I was glad to have started earlier and relished finishing with more time to chill out afterwards. I was glad I had brought my super massive padded jacket with me for afterwards too, as it does begin to cool down just a bit once you have stopped moving.
That night I kept it simple with food and had fish and chips with lots and lots of extra salt and vinegar.

Day 4 of Quadzilla – Sun 12th February

The first thing that pops into my mind on day 4 is that I awoke to read the news online, which I do every morning without fail and was bombarded by the fact that Whitney Houston had died. I think that is the most memorable part of Day 4. Oh, and the fact that it was our last day around that lake (not so sad news).
I started early again. This was a good plan, as I wasn’t in the best of moods with the lake if I remember correctly. I just kept running on past the checkpoint/ eventual finish line/ place where all the goodies are, with my head down. I wanted to get stuck in and get finished.

It was rather chilly, but the cold bothered me less than the previous day. This was probably because I knew it was the last day. It’s all psychological…sometimes. Still, bad mood aside, I had had a lovely four days of seeing like-minded running friends and soaking up the atmosphere that they always create. I love that.
My left foot was no longer hurting me, as I suspect it also knew that the end was nigh. I just kept on going and mentally ticking off those miles. I knew it’d be ok. It can just be a bit down heartening on a lapped course when you see a friend run past you and they’re on their last lap and running for the finish and you may have several to go. However, your turn soon comes around and mine did.

I love that last lap. I almost savour it. I mentally say goodbye to all the little landmarks that pop up along the way. Goodbye geese. Goodbye bridge. Goodbye particularly icy bit near bridge. Goodbye little hill. Yep, running can seriously make you think you’re going crazy. But without it, I probably seriously would. I had an awesome weekend. 

I don’t know, eh? The things you do for medals and a hoodie….