Sunday, 26 February 2017

Slackers Guide to a 100km

Slackers Guide to a 100km

As many of us gear up for the running season ahead, and training is in full swing for our ultra's, the question :
" how far should I run in training?" is on the tip of everyone's tongues.

After  DNF'ng the Plague in 2015, I was determined to complete it in 2016. It was my mission,  a year in the planning. But in December 2015 I began to get a recurrence of a foot injury and couldn't run for several months.

Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Bugger.

Towards the end of March 2016, I began to run again. Between April - July (four whole months) I only managed 364.9miles running. When training for an Ultra, that's not a lot, especially when it is 100km of the Cornish Coast Path.

For the sake of fairness, I should add I had a reasonable fitness base (having completed several 50km runs the previous year in 2015) and was also cycling and walking, as well as doing 1 session a week of circuits and 1 session of yoga per week; I also ran some specific step sessions and recceed some of the route on the coast path; but running wise I was averaging around 100miles per month.

  And if you want to do well in a running race- you need to run. A lot. Especially when that is an Ultra.

And I wasn't.

But that's the way it was. Family. Dogs. Time. Commitments. Work. Couldn't be arsed days.
They all conspired against me.

But I started the Plague; and I finished the Plague.
100km of Cornish Coast Path.
It wasn't fast, and wasn't pretty, but I enjoyed it; and I finished.

And here is how I did it:

Sunday 27th March -- First run for nearly 12 wks --2.78 miles
Total distance covered: 146 miles  (run /bike /walk) of which only 7 miles total run

In April  71.9miles of running
Longest single run 10 miles
Total distance covered: 202 miles  (run /bike /walk)

May 107 miles running

Longest single run 19 miles
Total distance covered: 158 miles  (run /bike /walk)

June 104 miles running ,
Including a 15 miler followed next w/end by Giants Head Marathon (27.2 miles)
Total distance covered: 117 miles  (run /bike /walk)

July 89.miles running
Longest run being Ham-Lyme 50km
Total distance covered: 178 miles  (run /bike /walk)

August 12miles week before Plague in 3 runs,
Followed by The Plague 100km (64miles)
Finishing time 19hrs 5mns.
Not fast
But I felt comfortable all the way around and finishing was never in any doubt

So there you have it boys and girls.
How to run a tough 100km Ultra on an average of 100 miles a month.
Now, although I finished, and I enjoyed my race, and it was never in any doubt I would finish;
 I knew my limitations.
The winner that year was Dan Lawson in 10hrs 55mns.
Over 8hrs quicker than me.

But here's the thing.
If you're not injured
If you've got the time
If you're more dedicated than I was
If you have no other commitments
If you have the talent
And if you run more miles
You can run faster than I did.

But if you don't
And you can't
You still can run 100 km
All on less than 30 miles per week.
You just need to know when not to stop.
And you don't stop until the end.

Happy Running,

Friday, 17 February 2017

Salted Potatoes, Rice Pudding and Dirty Socks: 34hrs in the life of an Ultra runner

Arc of Attrition

Views from a support crew

It's all about the bling.

Lands End on a February night time is an unforgiving place and it was blimmin' freezing. I was part of the team crewing for Rachel Wood and from the relative warmth of the vehicle, I was drifting off to sleep watching the 'bob, bob, bobbing' of a slow stream of torch lights coming into CP3 at Lands End. I wanted to be outside cheering them on. But it was cold. And i was tired. Rachel was not due in until about 03.30hrs and it was only just past midnight. It was a stunningly clear sky, with a large full moon. It was cold, but it could be worse. It could be raining!

I had just drifted off to sleep, buried beneath layers of clothing , sleeping bag an duvet, along with fellow crew & driver, Jo, when:

Bang! Bang! Bang!

"Wake Up!"


"Wake up, your runner has dropped out and he is being brought back to the check point."

"But she was doing so well, what happened"

"Don't know, but he will be back soon and will need you"

It was about 02.00hrs, Saturday 11th February, 14hrs into the Mud Crew Arc of Attrition, a 100mile point to point coastal run around the Cornish Coast Path and we were being woken up by the terrible news our friend and ultra runner Rachel had dropped out.

Bang!Bang! Bang!

"Wake up please"

I was awake now and untangling myself from the layers of warmth it had taken so long to accumulate. As Jo opened the car door to speak to Mud Crew, an icy blast blew through the door, ensuring I was now fully awake.

"So what happened- is she OK?"
"Yes, we think so, he just can't carry on"
"He? We're supporting a 'she'. Rachel"
"Is this a blue Mitshibushi Shogun?"
"No. Our runner is Rachel, 115. What number has dropped out? "
" Not 115, it is 70something. Oh, shit. Sorry.  It's dark and cold and we are tired as well !."
"Don't worry. Sorry to hear about the other runner, but we're glad Rachel is still in it"

(NB: To be fair to the MudCrew Marshalls, we were in a dark coloured Mitshibishu 4x4 truck-style vehicle. Just not a Shogun or the one they were looking for! It was dark, and they had probably been up since dawn on Friday themselves. Hope the other runner was OK; and no hard feelings. It wasn't a very comfortable sleep anyway!!! )

So we settled back down and watched the runners lights snake their way along the coast path, making sure our alarms were set for 03.30hrs.

Thankfully, that was the most drama we had that night.  So let's retrace our steps a little, and go back to the very beginning. Because that's a very good place to start.

Team Weirdchicken
Actually,  I lie. I wasn't at the start. Along with Jo, I didn't get to the race until about 19.00hrs Friday, a whole 7hrs in. But here is the story of Team Weirdchicken at the Arc of Attrition, as far as I remember! Gilly was team leader. She drove Rachel Wood (the star of the show and the one actually running!) down on the Thursday night, ensured that pre-race faffing was kept to a minimum and that Rachel got to the start on time.

The start was at Coverack at mid day on Friday 10th February, and along with Gilly at the start were Martin and Hillary - who had a luxury motor home. This meant that along with moral support and  their kindness, there would be hot drinks as well along the way .  Gilly, Martin and Hillary would take care of Rachel for the first 7 or so hours, until Jo and myself got down after work.

As with many long distance races now, runners had tracking devices; which meant that 'dot watching' on a screen was becoming a pastime in itself. So during breaks in work on Friday, I was able to monitor Rachel's  progress, and along with Facebook updates from the support crew on the ground, could see Rachel was doing well. Time at work always drags on a Friday, but 16.30hrs couldn't come soon enough as I finished what needed to be done at work and waited excitedly for Jo to pick me up and the week end adventures could begin.

Food Anyone?
Now, we at Team Weirdchicken take our crew responsibilities very seriously. While there were checkpoints along the way, for this race, it was very beneficial to have a crew as well. Unlike many 100 milers where checkpoints / aid stations were about ever 10 miles- at the Arc, they were about every 20miles. It was possible without a crew, but a lot easier with one. Rachel had a 5 person & 3 vehicle crew. And a lot of food! There was also fancy dress and kazoos, but that is a story for later on. Perranuthnoe was the first place

Jo and I actually saw Rachel at about
20.30hrs. The whole crew of Martin & Hillary and Gilly were also there. They had been doing a sterling job of looking after her for the first 8 or so hours, but I was excited about seeing her for the first time.

Weidchicken Crew & Vehicles at CP2, Penzance.
As we waited, we caught up on how Rachel had been doing so far today (very well), chatted to other crews and cheered on other runners. This is one of the pleasurable social sides of ultra running - meeting other people and runners. As  Rachel trotted into the car park she still looked quite fresh and we all cheered. We also made sure she ate and drank, whether she wanted to or not. It didn't matter whether is was sweet or savoury. You need to eat and drink. In the early stage of a race, you can give your runner a choice; after about 40 miles or so, your runner begins to lose the ability to think properly and then they get what they are given; which in Rachel's case was nearly always salted potatoes or pizza.

Rachel had been running with another runner, Lisa. They looked to be a good team and ended up running through the night together.   So throughout the first night, Team Weirdchicken Support Crew leap frogged each other (figuratively speaking; not literaly!) through the various car parks that had access to the coast path. As we stood around in said car parks, we got to know Lisa and her support crew quite well, and they became part of our team. As the night got on, it got colder. The wind was bitter. At around 0c it was cold; with the wind chill factor, it was approaching -5c.
The Darkness, takes its toll!
Or maybe it was a constant
ear worm of Moonlight Shadow
(L-R) Jo, Me, Gilly

The sky was clear and bright. the full moon was imposing and the moonlight shadow meant my ear-worm for the night was the Mike Oldfield tune. ALL FRIGGIN' NIGHT. Round-and -round-and -round my brain......

But enough about me. This is about Rachel and the other AoA runners. We are but bit players. But hours waiting, in the cold and dark, can change a person.

And so we moved around the coast, the southern bit of the 'Arc' until we reached Lands End, before the runners headed north and east, to complete the 'Arc'. I've never been to Lands before. It was starkly beautiful, exposed and cold. And the buildings looked very , very tacky. Cheep theme park tacky. But Mud Crew were in town and the cafe was rockin'. Albeit rockin' with Angels, broken runners and those who don't know one Mitsibushi from another (!). There was an air of organised chaos. The warmth of the welcome from the CP Angels (as MudCrew call them) , the sweet aroma of hot food, all mixed with the pong of sweat and wet muddy feet. Runners were waited on and kindly cajoled so as not to get too comfy and waste valuable time. Rachel & Lisa rocked up just before 04.00hrs and Team, Weirdchicken swung into action. Food, change of clothes and change of socks, all taken care of. Hot, sweet tea and hot rice pudding. Water bottles filled up. Hugs all round and then Rachel and Lisa disappeared once more in to the night. The cold, windy, moonlight night. On time, and well within the cut offs.

The next 20ish mile stretch to St Ives is tough, and remote. There would not be be the frequent contact we had had during the day.

Sunrise at Pendeen

Cape Cornwall is apparently quite stunning. I'm sure it is on a balmy summers day. As the night began to turn a lighter grey on a February morning, with a bitter south westerly wind, it is a bleak old place. Thank goodness for Martin & Hillary's kindness of heart, hospitality, camper van and hot tea. At 07.30hrs, a little behind schedule now as they got lost, Rachel & Lisa came in to view. It had been a cold night. Quick warm drink and off. There was time to make up now.

Morning Tea!
(L-R) Gilly, Rachel & Jo
At Pendeen, the sunrise was spectacular. There's nothing like a good sunrise to lift the soul after a long cold night. It's what I look forward to when running all night anyway.  Fresh as a daisy, all be it a little behind time, Rachel and Lisa ran past about 09.00 ish. No time for stopping now. The second half of this section was brutal and they really didn't have a lot of time. About 5 hrs seems a lot, when you're fresh, to cover about 13miles. But after 21hrs of running it's a big ask. And anyone who knows the coast path, knows it is anything but flat. It is very, very, unforgiving. They would have to dig deep now. Very deep. If they do not reach St Ives by 14.00hrs, they will miss the cut off. And that's the end of their race. Mud Crew are a nice bunch, but their races are anything but nice- and the time keeping is strict. Miss a cut off at the check point and it's over.

The wig blew off- but I'm still in a tutu!
Lisa, Me, Rachel

Rachel In Red
To surprise them and offer some additional moral support, Jo and I decided now was the time for the fancy dress and kazoos, and a little further up the coast from Pendeen we dressed up and walked to the coast. I mean, after over 100km of brutal coast path running, who wouldn't be cheered up by the sight of me & Jo in a wig and a tutu, blowing a kazoo?

So as Rachel and Lisa came into view, they got a right sight and a rendition of "Damn Busters" on a kazoo. What a great start to Saturday. Except all was not well. Rachel knew the cut off was tight and for the first time doubt was creeping in.  Self doubt is a terrible, terrible thing in an ultra. If your mind is strong, you can push your body through almost anything, but the slightest doubt and your mind begins to unravel. Maybe the kazoo was ill- conceived.  Worried now, that for the first time Rachel & Lisa were struggling, me and Jo decided on another coastal jaunt. Parking up at Zennor we trekked from the road onto the path. Before long we saw Rachel. But not Lisa. Disaster. Lisa had dropped out. Gutted. Over the course of the past 23hrs, it felt like she had become part of our team as well. Hope you are OK Lisa if you are reading this. But we told Rachel she wasn't dropping. Or we would get the kazoo out again. Now pull your finger out jog on to St Ives, quickly, we told her. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

There were no more easy access points again until St Ives, so Jo and I drove to St Ives, with Gilly following. Martin and Hillary were there already. We got our shit together, got Rachel's kit together, and we waited. And waited. And waited. Where was she?  Tracker said she was close. The clock counted down. We spread out over St Ives looking for her. Martin & Hillary on the cliff tops, Jo & Gilly in the town, I was at the CP. Tick-tock.  Tick- tock.  I was getting worried.  At 13.56, with four minutes to spare, Rachel came into the Guildhall (CP4), cold , tired and wet - for it had been sleeting - and she had 20mns to get back out again or she would be timed out. Gilly was close behind and got to work. It was emotional.

" I can't go on " Rachel said.
Shut up and sit down, we said. ( although I think we may have been a bit more tactful)
Socks, dry shoes, change of clothes. CP Angels fed her rice pudding and sweet tea. Whilst Gilly actually did practical stuff like take off Rachel's dirty shoes and socks, dry her feet and put clean kit on, I faffed , gave words of encouragement (whilst being inwardly concerned) and kept a close eye on the time. And in essence, that was how the race crewing went!

Banner. Don't forget the banner. Luther, Rachel's son, had made her a banner. We unfurled it,

"Don't Give Up" it read in big, colourful lettering.

And she didn't. And it was all down to Luther's banner. You saved the day Luther.

The last cut off at St Ives is tight, but she now had 8hrs to do the last 20ish miles. No worries. Even after 80miles and 26hrs of running.

Feeling very emotional (and that was just us, her support crew!), Rachel headed back out. Mud Crew crew and Angels cheered the loudest, because that's how they are,

Breath And Relax. The hardest part was over. For the crew, at least. Rachel just had to dig deep and grind out the last few miles.

There were a few more points along the way where we bumped into Rachel. Team Weirdchicken caught up and chatted. Loitering in remote, cold dark car parks along the Cornish coast had become second nature to us. Salted potato, officer!!

Rachel had new people to run with. New people to thrust salted potatoes and pizza upon (I have to get rid of them all!!) but no real drama's. Rachel was cruising now, finishing was never in any doubt. She was fully focused and as strong as at any point in the race, so we retired to the finish to have a well earned pint at the Blue Bar, Porthtowan. It is, after all, stressful and thirsty work crewing.

At 22.21hrs, we were waiting for her as she crossed the line. Over an hour and half to spare. By the end of the race, over 50 % of the field had either retired or been retired. But not our Rachel. She had finished, and deserved all the praise & applause. Job done!

Well Done Rachel!

And relax!
Laughing with co-crew Martin & Hillary
The Blue Bar, Porthtowan

Look what I got!
Looking a bit too fresh after 100 miles.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Plague 2016: Closure

Roseland August Trail
The Plague
Infected Until You Have Finished

Scared? Not me!
It was 00.05hrs Saturday 13th August and I am lined up at Porthpean, on the Southern Cornish Coast for my second attempt at the Plague, a 100km of the South West Coast Path. Which is basically a 100km / 64miles of running up & down steps.

Navigation is easy, you run out from Porthpean to St. Anthony's Head (32miles) and then turn round and run back. Made more interesting by the strict cut offs. The whole event is made more bearable as Mud Crew have a superb team and there are also other runners out there (setting out at various times during the day on Saturday), doing other R.A.T distances, which are conveniently colour coded; BLACK R.A.T is 32miles (St Anthony Head- Porthpean); RED R.A.T is 20miles (Portloe - Porthpean) and WHITE R.A.T (Goran Haven-Porthpean).   Last year did not end well , but this year I was better prepared. I had unfinished business. I had a race plan. I had a positive mental attitude. I hadn't had alcohol in two whole weeks. I was ready. I was not going to quit. I WAS GOING TO FINISH.

Countdown; 5-4-3-2-1-GO! And we were off. The first 5 miles were incredibly fast for me, and made Pentewan in under an hour, on some of the toughest and roughest terrain of the course. I knew I would pay for this later, but I got carried away (!), however, within the first hour, I already had a 45mns cushion regarding the cut offs. Result. The rest of the night didn't go too badly. It was very humid, and at times I did have trouble eating and drinking, I felt a bit sick. I mean, it's not natural to be running at this time, is it? But following the troubles of last year, I made myself eat & drink. History would not repeat itself. Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress.

Mevagissey, Portmello. So quiet & calm at night. No problems, keep going. Goran Haven check point, 11miles in. In & Out. Fill up water bottles, drink of coke, slice of melon. GO!  Focus on the positives. The night was stunning- bright and starry and the steady progress of fellow Plaugers' in the night, head torches weaving up & down & around the coat path, bathed in a blood red moon, resembled a troupe of Wood Elves. But where were they headed. Mordor! Or rather St Anthony's head and back.  Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress.

The runners were spreading out now, and I suddenly found myself running alone. No one in front. No one behind. All alone on the coast path. Up down, around. Up, down, around. Oh look, more steps. Repeat. All alone on the coast path. Up, down, around. Up, down, around. Oh look, more steps.

It was around here my race began to unravel last year, and right on que, The Voices started.

"You're all alone again. You're going to fail AGAIN. Just like you did last year. You're rubbish"

I'm not having this again.  I'm finishing this year. " SHUT THE FUCK UP!" I told them. And to be fair to the voices in my head, they did shut up, and I didn't hear from them again for some time. Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress.

Somewhere along this stretch of coast I bumped into Paul &  Juliette (?) from Plymouth coastal runners. A lovely couple of runners, who were fantastic company through the last hours of the night. And we shared the most fantastic of day breaks.. As black skies rapidly turned to cobalt blue, with streaks of orange of red, a new day dawned. The night was over. Torches off. Now for the day race. In and out of Portloe. Still time in hand. Bottles filled. Drink of coke. Piece of Melon. Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress.

The front runners were passing now on the way back. Words of encouragement all round. Oh, to be that good!

Round the Roseland Peninsula. Still going strong. The day was hotting up, even at 06.00hrs. Must put on some sun cream. In the early morning light, the rugged beauty of the South West Coast path was plain to see, and we had it all to ourselves. I was even enjoying the steps! Portscatho loomed. By this point last year, I was done in. I wanted to quit. In my head, I had quit. I carried on to the St Anthony's Head, but stopped on the way back . Not this year. Oh, no. Stop for food, drink, put on sun cream and head out. Get to St. Anthony's head before the Black RAT starts. This few miles is the easiest running of the whole course, undulating, only a few sets of steps, wide paths and actually, well, run-able. Pity it only lasts about 4miles!! Passing more Plague runners who were on the return. High five those i know. Vicky. Martin. Shaun. I made it at the turn around, grabbed a drink, and back; before the Black RAT started. Oh yes! Race plan going well. The Black RATS shouted words of encouragement as they past and I picked up my pace, chatting to a few along the way.  One guy ran with me for mile, really helped. A mud crew runner (Mike?). I may be shit with names, but I remember you running with me! Spirits were high. Back in to Portscatho. Drink bottles filled. Quick chat with Mud Crews' Justin and Lloyd, who saw me broken person last year, and cheered me on my progress this year. More words of encouragement and out I went. Further than last year. Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress.


The way back was hot. I remember that much. There was a brief reprieve from the heat with some light rain and cloud, but that didn't last long. The sun was back out soon enough. My feet hurt, but my determination to finish never wavered. The soft flasks of my Salomon S Lab vest (which is a very comfortable and great piece of kit overall) were now really irritating me. Soft, floppy, flaccid, useless things. Disappearing into the pockets, sliding to the bottom. Hard to get to. Never the less, one must maintain a positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress.

Melon and cups of coke. Freshness and rocket fuel. That's all you need. Oh, and water and electrolytes. Words of encouragement at every check point. Feet sore. Carry on. Chat to random runners. The day got hotter and the steps were beginning to hurt, going down more than up! Somewhere along the way, around Portloe I think, I ran into Vicky, which was a surprise as she was way ahead of me at one point. She'd had a bit of hard time over the past few miles, and we ran and chatted for several miles. Scrambled over the rocks at Portholand and there was a little shop. Ice lolly time. Thank you Vicky. Feeling much better. Almost forgot to run! Run. Don't loose track of cut offs with idle chit chat, however fun it might be. Sorry I couldn't sing any Queen songs Vicky. Up through some woods. Cool reprieve. I don't why I swallowed a fly, but it made me cry. And puke. And almost lose my false tooth. Disaster. Come to a halt. Retch. Recover. Pick up tooth and put in pocket. Drink. Walk. It took me a while to get over that, as I watched once close runners, disappear up the coast line. It was some time before i caught Vicky up again. Remember the mantra:  Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. Let's do the ultra shuffle!

Goran Haven. Tourists enjoying themselves in seaside cafes. Sweaty tired ultra runners shuffling past. Taking longer to get in and out of check points. Only 11miles to go. When I leave here, it will be the furthest I've ever run. Ever. My feet hurt. Do I stop and get them sorted, or carry on for the 11 miles? I mean it's only 11 miles. Mr Chair is not your friend, Do not sit down. Do not sit down. So I didn't. Mistake. Big mistake. Not getting my feet seen to by the medics would cause me much pain. Oh well, too late now. Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. Let's do the ultra shuffle!

The coast line is stunning. The sea, a crystal clear turquoise green. I'm hot, tired and sweaty. My feet hurt. The sea looks so inviting. The voices pop up again.

" Can we just pop in for a little swim. It's so inviting . You don't really need to carry on. Loooook, clear, refreshing water"

" I suppose i could.....NO! Stop it. Just Stop it. Shut up. I'm not listening"

Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. Let's do the ultra shuffle!

It was somewhere around Portmellon I crossed paths with Kensa. I was tired. Kensa's conversation kept me going.  Not far now. Keep going to the end. Let's grind this out. Chat. Shuffle. Run. Mevagissey. Late afternoon now, Still full of tourists. Let's run a little to show off. Ouch. it hurts. Whose idea was this to run? Oh, mine! My feet hurt. Smile! We do this for fun. Smile. I am smiling. Look!
Mevagissey: Kendra & myself.
I am smiling. Look.
 It's only about 6 miles to go. Fuck, I wish I had my blisters seen to. I can feel them growing by the second. Swelling on the bottom of my feet, squishing with every footfall. It is like running on a water bed. But more painful. Not long to go. Nearly there. Talk more rubbish. Encourage each other. Let's do this.

Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. Let's do the ultra shuffle!

Pentewan. Beer festival and final check point. 5 miles to go. Miss out the beer for now. A quarter of an Orange and a melted ice pop. Water top up. Took tooth out of pocket. Washed false tooth and slotted it back in. Must keep up appearances. Now contemplate the 5 miles of steps. This is the worst of the course.  I hate the coat path now, but am still over an hour inside the cut off. Keep moving, but plenty of time. Don't mess up now. My feet hurt. Despite my Hokas', I was now feeling every stone and lump and bump on the path, to painful effect. I could manage uphill and up steps OK, but my right knee was now threatening to give way going down steps- and there were some mighty steep steps to negotiate. Ouch. Ooohhh. Ahhh. Knee hurts. Squishy blister feet. Don't fall down the steps. it will hurt. A lot. 

Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. Let's do the ultra shuffle!

Almost there. Suck up the pain
Almost there. Suck up the pain
Almost there. Suck up the pain
Almost there.
Almost there.

Then I saw Vicky again. Ouch. Struggling for a minute, like I was. Lets finish this together. I was hardly able to walk down the steps any more. There was a real danger I could fall, and they were steep, long stretches of steps at this point. Don't fall. Don't fall. I could, however, easily run up the steps. Vicky was skipping down the steps with slight of foot and a big smile, yet barely making the uphill. We made an odd sight together.

Round the corner, along the coast. Almost there.

Positive mental attitude. Eat  & drink. One foot in front of the other. Relentless forward progress. Let's do the ultra shuffle!

Shall we finish this together?
Yes, let's do it.

Round the corner, up the hill, and there's the finish. Fellow Bere Alston Trekkers shouting encouragement. All of them having run their own various RAT routes. Orla (my wife) runs to meet me. Very emotional. Big hugs. Big sweaty hugs!

Orla meeting me at the finish

And then it was over. Crossed the line in tandem with Vicky. Job done. Thank you Vicky, it was a pleasure running with you. A hug from Jane Stephens of Mud Crew who gave me my medal. My hard earned medal.  I had finished the Plague. 100km of Cornish Coast Path, in a little over 19hrs. My feet hurt, I was tired, but my spirit was not broken. In fact I was elated. I'd done it. It wasn't fast, but I'd comfortably finished inside the cut offs. 

Mine. All Mine.
RAT Plague 2016
Beer. Now for beer.  I want beer. Thank you David Garcia. That beer washed the dust from my throat! Your advice after last years DNF was invaluable as well.

I hobbled. I could barely walk now, but I didn't care. My wife was at the finish to share with me longest Ultra to date (Love you!). Many of my club mates were also at the finish (Thank you!). I had my medal, and I had beer.
One of my many blisters.

And after a year of plotting, and hard training, I conquered The Plague. I am no longer infected. 

Thank you Mud Crew. Thank you Jane. Thank you Justine. Thank you Lloyd. Thank you to all at the Aid Stations.
You all looked after me.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Plague: Still infected

The Plague: Still infected!

Oh, I'm going to be sick. " Bleugh" . Bugger, stomach turning inside out, but nothing coming out. I'm tired, sick, hungry and thirsty; and it's only mile 20. It's going to be a long night. Maybe I really am infected! My demise at the Plague was swift. Everything unravelled with breathtaking speed. Unfortunately, everything didn't turn out in the long run. In fact my long run - my first attempt at a 100km - didn't last more than 36miles. How did everything go so wrong, so quickly?

I have had a whole day to reflect and analyse on everything that could have contributed to my demise, and the list is long. Maybe they all contributed, maybe none did. Maybe it just wasn't my day or maybe I just wasn't good enough.

Anyway,  let me go back to beginning. As far back as last year. My place this year was deferred, as last year I had an undiagnosed sharp,intense, shooting pain, along the base of my right foot whenever I went above 20ish miles. GP's, X-ray, ultra sound, podiatrists all failed to pin point the exact problem. The best guess by a podiatrist was an inflammation in soft tissue between 3rd and 4th Metatarsal. Advice: rest for 6weeks and roll your foot on an iced bottle of water or tin. Which I have done post run ever since, and no pain since. There is permanently a frozen tin of soup in the freezer! That's that problem solved.

So, that meant I have waited a year to do The Plague. For those of you not in the South West of England, The Plague is a 100km of Cornish Coast Path, organised by Mudcrew. Their tag line is "we don't do easy".  No shit, Batman. You start at Porthpean, St Austell, at 5mins past midnight, run 32 miles through the night to St Anthony Head, turn round and run back. Simples.

My training had gone well. I was confident. I had mixed it up, adding cycling, circuit training and yoga to my routine, in addition to my long back-back runs. I completed the Ham to Lyme 50km. I felt strong. Until about 3wks before the event. I had a disastrous training run. It was one of my last scheduled long runs and I ran out of energy. It knocked my confidence. I rested then and only ran once before the Plague. The days before I was nervous as hell.  My guts were in turmoil. I packed, unpacked, packed again. Checked the kit list again. And again. And again. Calm down dear, it's only a race.

Maybe the writing was on the wall when, on the morning of the race I was doing the last bits of washing up before leaving home, when I sliced my finger on a shard of broken glass. Omen? So, we get to Porthpean by 17.00hrs on Friday {'We', being my friend, training partner and fellow runner, Rachel}, put the tent up, ate  and chilled. The weather was good and the vibe around the site even better. Mudcrew run exceptionally well organised events and this was no different. Once the tent was up and last minute food and hydration was taken care of, I felt a sense of zen like calm. There was a surprising lack of nerves or even excitement. Just zen. Or maybe it was denial of the pain ahead, I'm not sure. Whatever the feeling was, this was it. Nothing left to do but run.

Time for safety briefing: watch out for badger holes. Stay safe. We are there to look after you and get you through. Miss the cut offs and you will be pulled off the course. Be nice to the marshalls, they are there for you. Look after yourselves and have fun.

Things went wrong from the start. Lost a good few minutes at the first kissing gate, only a few hundred metres in, which caused a bottle neck. Didn't start near enough at the front. Rookie error. Ten minutes gone within first few metres. The cut off times are fairly tight. Porthpean to CP2 at Gorran Haven is a total of 11miles with cut off at 02.45hrs. A running time of 2hrs 40mns. Not as easy as it sounds, on the coast path, in the dark. Dodging the badger holes, I was slowly getting in my running vibe, but Rachel wasn't feeling too good. But we made it OK, grabbed some food and water, and left. Now, Rachel completed the SDW100 recently, so knows what she is doing; she was meant to be getting me round this. So what happened next was not in our race plan. Not able to shake her stomach pains, we were losing time. Many times she told me go, she would be alright she said. I wouldn't. She would get through this, run it off. It would pass. I tried my best motivational pep talks . I think that even made her feel worse, but I was trying.

Eventually, I had to make a choice. Stay with Rachel and be timed out at CP3, or leave her. She knew this and was getting increasingly frustrated with me for not going on. But how could I?  Now, the S.W. Coast path is not easy terrain, but it is not remote. It was a balmy summers evening and she wasn't seriously ill or injured, just not feeling the love for this event right now. She was still moving, just not very fast! There were also sweepers not too far behind. I realised I had to make that choice. It was 04.00hrs and we had only done 14miles.  There were 6miles to CP4 at Portloe and that had to be reached by 05.15hrs. Mudcrew are lovely people- but they are strict with their cut offs. And for very good reason. I gave Rachel  a big hug and legged it. I had just over an hour on the coast path to cover 6miles. It was a very stressful hour. My race plan was in shreds, I was against the clock, alone, in the dark, and feeling incredibly guilty about leaving my friend and race buddy. My mind began, ever so slowly, to turn against me.

I made it. Just. The volunteers were great, helped me fill water and a flask, took some electrolytes - but all I remember was the cute little dog asleep in amongst the chaos! Got some supplies and went. Then my race really went pear shaped. Minutes out of Portloe  I started to retch badly. Dehydrated, I was unable to eat or drink. I was in bits. I had 8miles to Portscatho. It was a long, long, long 8 miles. I have read many tales of the dark places you go in Ultra's, how Ultra's are in large part a mental challenge and how you have to be ready for it when it happens. Well it was happening. And I was not ready. My mind was turning against me. It was not my friend any more. I had barely done a marathon at this point and knowing that made me feel worse. I was unable to cope. I was not ready. I mentally quite at that point. As I shuffled towards Portscatho, I started to mentally compose my Ultra running obituary; he tried, but he failed.

As the sun came up, I tried to gain some solace from the spectacular beauty of the universe. I was, at least in my line of vision, alone on the coast path and the scenery was quite spectacular. The sea was calm and the rhythmic sounds of the waves a soothing soundscape to the vibrant orange sunrise. A new day dawns. I even ran for a bit. It didn't last. Failure. You are not going to do this. Failure. What will everyone say?. Failure. I wanted to cry. SHUT UP HEAD. Twentyish miles? What has gone wrong? I can easily do 50km. Problems weren't meant to start until the return leg. Bumping into a friend and another fellow Plague sufferer, Ken, helped for a bit. But not much. We chatted and shuffled. Then even he was gone! FAILURE.

My new master plan was to get to Portscatho, just past the cut off at 07.45hrs. I would be timed out. I would be pulled off the course and it wouldn't be my decision to quit. But the bastards wouldn't let me stop. The conversation with aid station volunteers and medics went something like this {although I may have imagined some of it!}

Anything physically wrong with you?
Not really. Stomach issues. Probably dehydrated. Just not my day. My head's fucked. Can I curl up in the corner please.
Why not?
You don't really want to stop.
Oh, but I do.
If you drink this magic potion {said the medic, I think}, and leave with these people here, you can make it to half way.
But I don't want to. Please let me stop.
I drank the water with the fizzy tablet in.
Get up, put your pack on and go. Or else.
I don't want to. I want a pint of Proper Job. {CP4 was in a pub, I could see the bar!}
I was too tired to argue further, got up and went. Bastards, wouldn't even let me quit.

Leaving Portscatho, it was only 4miles to the half way point. I wasn't alone now, with Andrea and Steve, fellow strugglers, who actually seemed in a more positive frame of mind. It started to rub off on me {thank you!}I felt better. Then came the tsunami of Black Runners {RAT also had Black 32milers / Red 20miles / White 11milers starting at different points on Saturday}. So about 08.45hrs we were suddenly running into a few hundred fresh faced and eager runners, all, and I mean ALL, shouting encouragement and clapping as they swarmed around us. They knew how far we had come, but I also knew how far they had to run. Poor bastards. You will suffer. But thank you for your support. For the second time that day I nearly cried- but I was too dehydrated! Quite emotional this running lark. The support from fellow runners really did mean a huge amount.

Newly enthused, the 'last' 2 miles were quite pleasant. St Anthony's Head. Half way. YIPPEEEEEEEEEEE.
I was, for the first time in about 4hrs, feeling positive again. The sun was out, the day was hotting up, and I was feeling hungry again. About time! But my legs were not responding to my new positivity. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. One foot in front of the other.

Mudcrew did all they could to get us to at least the half way point, but on the return leg, they needed to make a decision. They even came out onto the route to check on us. But I was done. So were Steve and Andrea. We were also after the cut off {10.10hrs}. Decision made for us. Stop. Relief. But more importantly for me at least, was that I was in a much better frame of mind. Yes, my race was over, but at 36miles, and not 28miles. Psychologically,  that made a huge difference. I had gone through a dark place, and still made it over halfway. With a bit of time to spare, if I could have stopped for some real food, I know I could have carried on. But I was already chasing cut offs, time was not something I had on the day. However, I ended happy, and mentally in a significantly better place than just a few hours previously. Today was just not my day. I did not have the experience, or the strength, to continue. I know that now. But I am also happy with that knowledge now. If I had been allowed to quite at 28miles, I would still be in that dark place. As it is, I'm raring to go again. Thank you Mudcrew and medic.

Back at Porthpean, I met up with Rachel again, and she was OK. Dehydration apparently. We chatted, debriefed and the very nice Dan made me a cup of tea. Rachel was sorry she held me up. Don't be silly. Running with friends is a pleasure. Did my race unravel due to Rachel? NO. I know not what happened to my race, but it wasn't anyone else's fault, that I do know. I would stay with her {or any other friend or ill runner} again. My only regret is that I didn't stay with her- my suffering would have been over sooner then as well  :-)

After food and fluid, I was a new man. Ready for pizza and beer! Meeting other friends and watching runners come in from completing various distances was uplifting and inspiring. I was well pleased for all of them. Their kind words and support for me also made me feel less and less like a failure. I started to feel vaguely normal again, almost wanting to do it again. BATs are a pretty amazing lot. Rachel, Dan, Mel, Emma, Fran {both of you!}, Sarah, Sam, Martin, Hilary, Mathew, Sam, Andrew. I salute you!

I still don't really know why everything unravelled so very, very quickly. It was scary actually. I know the coast path is brutal, but after 20miles. Really? I know I can do at least 32miles. Maybe that's what completely threw me into a tail spin. Knowing I could do more, but unable to. Maybe I need to do some more reflection. But what I do know is- I WILL BE BACK.

So what have I learned? Well:

  • Dark times do not last for ever; they will pass. 
  • Other runners are awesome. I know we all know that, but the support from all the 32milers made me feel like a champion- even though I was last.
  • My friends and fellow club runners are awesome. You may not know that. I do!
  • Constant eating / grazing / fluid intake IS REALLY IMPORTANT. However you feel, eat and drink. However bad you feel, not eating and drinking will make you feel worse.
  • Marshalls and check point volunteers are nice people. Even if they wont let you stop.
  • If you feel like quiring? DON'T!! Not at first anyway. I did another 8 more miles; it gave me the confidence to know that next year, I can, and will, complete the Plague. 
  • Oh, and Mudcrew, you know how to put on an event!


Saturday, 6 June 2015

Piccolo Sportive. Fun, but could do better

Gran Fondo: Piccolo (60km). 
Plymouth, May 31st 2015

(L-R) David, Mel, Me, Julian

There is a saying around around here, 
that really early mornings are 'sparrow fart o'clock'. 
The time we had to get up to travel to Plymouth for the  Gran Fondo , there were no
sparrows up. It was that early. Myself [Murray], Mel & Julian parked up in a multi story in 
Plymouth at 06.30hrs. Putting our bikes together and assembling our kit, I asked, 
"Butt cream anyone?" An innocent question for a cyclist just about to embark on a sportive. 
Maybe not so in a city car park early on a Sunday morning. 
We all made it down to Sutton Harbour, Plymouth , for the start of the inaugural 
'Rockets&Rascals' Sportive. 

The weather forecast for today, the last day of May, was not good. Fantastic.
 But the salty sea air, combined with the smell of fresh coffee in the shop was comforting. I
 wanted to have some coffee, I really did, but I had already had enough caffeine and 
did not want to chance it. Anyway, I digress. We registered, posed for a few photo's 
and were all set to go. Adrenaline was pumping, despite the early hour [or maybe that was 
the caffeine?], but then I realised something was not right. I had a puncture- and we 
hadn't evenstarted yet!

A quick inner tube change, with help from the nifty hands of Julian, and all was good. 
Breath and Relax. Now we can start. Let's hope nothing else goes wrong!.Quite sensibly, 
the timing was not started until we had gone through the centre of Plymouth. 
We snaked through town, through Saltram , and then off. But Sportives are not races, are they? 
The weather so far, held off. It was damp, but it was not raining. Passing through the suburbs, we 
were warming up, literally. It was too warm. Starting at sea level, it was inevitable we would be going up. 
And up, we did. Sparkwell, Lutton, Cornwood. Up, Up, Up! 
We were also dressed for wet weather, and were getting hot. Stop to take off jacket? 
Decisions. However, we were soon up on the Moors and the choice of clothing was vindicated;
 it started to drizzle. It was also slightly misty, so the stunning vistas of Dartmoor were not declaring 

But the cycling was good and Mel [her first Sportive] was still strong. The climb from Cornwood 
to Lee Moor was something special. It was long. 
Not as relentless as some of the classic climbs in the cycling world, 
but uphill for a long way, none the less!

Pootling across the moors from Lee Moor to Sheepstor, there was some remittance 
from the climbing and the weather. Both had eased off. A nifty decent to 
Burrator Reservoir and an almost flat, semi circuit of the 
reservoir, raised spirits. Out towards Dousland and then the rain really did begin to fall. 
Proper Dartmoor rain. Rain that showed no respect towards Gortex. Basically, we got wet. 
Very wet.    Our hope, was that we were almost at the feed station. 
The thought of cake kept us going. Dousland, 
Yelverton. Crapstone, Buckland Abbey. FOOD. Oh, how disappointing. No cake. 
Fruit only; Banana or orange. Water or sports drink. That was it. Quite poor really. 
Not impressed at all. Wanted cake. Or at least something more than fruit.

Buckland Abbey back to Plymouth was , apart from a cheeky uphill soon after the feed stop, 
mostly downhill, on the Plym Valley cycle path. Quite a lovely way to finish, 
especially since the rain had now stopped. 
But all that changed when we got back into Plymouth. 
Joining up with the SkyRide was part of the route, 
and quite pleasant, on account of the road closures. 
But then as we turned towards the finish, it appeared a 
lack of marshals and signage caused more than us to go the wrong way 
and end up in city traffic. 
Again, quite poor.

The finish itself, once we found it, was OK. A good medal and a packet of Burts lentil crisps. 
There was some consternation amongst riders, as there was one medal for all distances, 
the 60km, 100km 
and 100mile, all got the same medal, and there was no time categories, as there is 
in many sportives. 
Or any T-shirts. Or a goody bag.

As an inaugural sportive, it was OK. But nothing more. The organisation was Ok.
 The signage and marshalling was OK- until the return into Plymouth when it was poor / non existent. 
Feed station was poor. Ok, we only did the 60km, but I still think a feed station should have more 
than a banana & orange. The medal was nice- but if I had done the 100mile, 
I would be really peeved that there were no time 
categories and different medals.

I had a nice day out with my friends Mel, Julian and David and the atmosphere of the event 
was really good. 
But it could do better for next year. 

Murray Turner