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.

Roaring dreams take place in a perfectly silent mind.

Sit down children, today’s subject is mindfulness.

For various reasons close to my shrivelled, unworthy heart, I chose mindfulness as a cause for 2018. It is a topic I touched upon in studying Buddhism over the years but didn’t truly embrace it or appreciate its importance. I find the word ‘mindfulness’ everywhere now – mindfulness cafés, mindfulness colouring books for adults, mindfulness potty training for children, mindfulness chocolate bars. I exaggerate of course, but hopefully you get the idea. It seems to be ‘trending’ which is something I hear and tend to switch off from because it usually means as many money-makers as possible hitch up to it and distort it. Protein is another one. Protein this, protein that. I’m ranting, I apologise.

Anyway, where was I? Mindfulness! Yes. I’ve began to work mindfulness in to my outdoor life. Maybe I’m guilty of distorting mindfulness too, because in my pursuits I am trying to live for the moment while doing them. Paying attention to sensations while running is one. The feel of rain on your face, the warm sensation of being two miles in and finally thawing out. The wind in your hair. It is probably best illustrated while hiking, especially if I take my camera. Paying attention to minute details like dewdrops on grass, ripples in streams, or listening to bird song. I love listening to bird song of common birds. Even though you hear them every day, it is important to never take them for granted for one day them or you will be gone. Watching sunsets and the like tend to be cliché but they’re simple and free to access. The other day, I stopped in the street to appreciate a murmuration of starlings. Who knows if and when you’ll see one again.

Mindfulness, when completely mastered is a kind of meditation, tuning in to the moment, and sounding out the everyday noise in our consciousness. There are health benefits too. Combining this with outdoor pursuits therefore seems to me to be ideal. Just got to keep practicing!

Does anyone out there have any experiences to share, or tips, or ideas? Please share!

The quote in the headline of this blog might not be completely appropriate, but the thinking is, if you can silence the thoughts whizzing through your mind, your real dreams might speak a little louder.

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.