First ultra

Previously I threatened to bore everyone stupid with a day-by-day account of my week in the mountains. Fortunately, I completely forgot that inbetween that post and the next planned post, I took part in my first trail ultra marathon.

For my first attempt, I chose the second longest distance available for the weekend, which was 45 miles. It was a beautifully scenic out and back course, with the middle section being the hills that make up the highest ground of my home county. The whole trail followed a long county-wide path that carries the county’s name, so it was quite special to compete on home soil.

It was as much about fact finding as it was about running, having never ran that distance before, it was all unknown – distance, elevation, nutrition – so it was a kind of suck it and see exercise.

It generally went well, I ate to plan, little, often and regularly. Kept hydrated, walked the hills, ran the flat bits. Inevitably, the pace dropped somewhat in the last third. By that point however I had acquired a running pal who was running a shorter distance than me and had fresher legs, but insisted in staying with me. It was nice to have the company, and being honest, he probably indirectly pushed me to run many sections towards the end that I may not have attempted on my own owing to fatigue. On the other hand, as we were chatting most of the time, I wasn’t keeping an eye on the time and missed a few vital feeding slots. As I continued to slow, I instructed him a few times to carry on without me, although he refused, and we finished in tandem, crossing the finish line together.

The worst part, as with most endurance runs, was the end. Dealing with the need to lie down, but knowing that stretching and keeping moving is best. Feeling ravenous but feeling sick at the thought and sight of most foods. Being completely knackered and wanting to sleep but being unable to due to excess sugar consumed in energy foods, muscle fasciculations, and the buzzing of adrenaline still pumping. It’s probably the only time I would happily take a sleeping tablet.

I did manage to finish 12th, although at times I thought I was last. I have another slightly longer, yet more hilly, ultra in a month’s time. I couldn’t bring myself to think about running again until yesterday. Let’s hope I can put what I’ve learned this weekend to good use for the next ultra.

With ultra runs, especially trail ones, the main element for me is enjoyment. Enjoy it, complete it, make friends, learn from it, and come back again, and again.

The tide.

I went back to the rough ground today for the first time since autumn. Very much like last time it was very sunny and bright, with a piercing blue sky, and shades of yellows and browns. The one noticeable absence however was the greenery. Back in the autumn there was still a fair amount of leaf cover and the whole area still felt quite private, but today, there were none to shield the outside world away. It felt very open and exposed.

As well as the world’s eyes creeping in, so too were the sounds of the urban surroundings – a cacophony of emergency service sirens, the hum of the motorway passing overhead nearby, the clang of lorries as their wheels find the weathered potholes on the carriage way. The increased noise, combined with being able to see more cars and people whizzing by, makes me feel, I notice, vulnerable. The rough ground isn’t the hidden sanctuary it once was. A guy wobbles by on a push bike that is far too small for him, weaving through the abandoned shopping trolleys, burned out car, and dumped boiler. People walk by going about their business. It just feels…less private.

But this area is not mine. I don’t own it. Is that what we want from the world? A place just for ourselves and a select group of people that we hand pick? No riff raff. No undesirables. No strangers. By doing that, we cease to grow as people and our horizons begin to shrink. We become set in our ways and spoilt by routine. If this rough space were mine, and only mine, who would join me to fight for it if the need rose up? Nobody would see it like I do because they would never be given the chance. Like a walled secret garden.

In amongst all this, I could actually hear a hive of bird song. Very spring-like. A volery of long tailed tits fluttered overhead from leafless branch to leafless branch, taking me completely by surprise. I would have expected them to be blue tits, or something equally as common. Back in the summer, I noted how quiet it was here for birds. Now it’s coming to life.

I start to make my way back to the pretty much pointless exercise that some would call my career. I note the old pavements I am walking along, revealing, beneath all the growth, the rough ground’s urban heritage. The samsara of ruralisation, urbanisation and then ruralisation. How quickly nature reclaims what man sees as a waste.┬áThe decaying fallen branches lying around, releasing their carbon back into the atmosphere shows that everything is a cycle. Birth, death, prosperity, decay. The tide giving and taking. What goes up, comes down. And every dog, always has its day.

Out in the cold

Opening the curtains this morning brought no surprise but a test all the same. Ever had that feeling of having a monumental task looming over your head? That’s what I felt today.

The sky was grey, and it was snowing. It was the snow that surprised me. Straight away, the task in front of me grew in stature, like a playground bully. The task I’m talking about was an 18 mile run. The first ‘proper’ run on the road to my ultra marathon running goals for this year. I knew I was definitely going to go, I just wasn’t relishing the thought of it.

I thought it might be a huge mental victory to get my arse out of the door, but soon came to the conclusion that it might be the opposite. I had set my alarm early so I could fuel up and get out and back before mid-morning. This romantic notion of being up and out before anybody else, with the elements bashing me, shot in grainy black and white with (what the youth call) ‘grimy’ soundtrack playing over the top. In reality, the grimy music was snuffed out when I switched the alarm off and went back to sleep, shot in glorious Technicolor, with a decidedly un-grimy Rodgers and Hammerstein ditty floating over it.

Two hours later than advertised, I got out of the door. Not so mentally strong after all, but still strong enough to leave the warmth of the house and get soaked.

The run itself was good until the 14 mile point where my gloves got so wet it was warmer to take them off. A mile later, my hands froze. A mile after that I had lost all feeling and dexterity in them. Luckily for me it was only confined to my hands, and not my bodily functions. Wetting myself would have iced the cake. I did end up doing a mile more than planned, so not too bad. Out of the blocks. Bring on the challenges of 2018.