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.

Reconsideration. Reconciliation.

After a couple of weeks despairing over losing what we have, I thought I’d lighten the mood a little today by writing about my weekend where I got out and enjoyed what we have instead. After all, if I spent all my life fighting for something I’d probably neglect to enjoy it during the process too, leading to an awkward paradox.

In preparation for my ultra marathon in a few weeks time I went and ran some of the route on Sunday morning. It was the best day weather wise of the long Easter weekend, a little chilly but bright.

The route is a hilly one, but the paths, trees and views help you forget all of that in no time.

The woodland that I ran through were flooded with spring sunlight and birdsong. The brown woodland floor starting to turn green in the glades and a few wildflowers popping up, such as the Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). 

Among the many highlights were hearing the woodpeckers drilling, seeing buzzards soaring and seeing the first bees of the year. My favourite part was glimpsing a fox across the field as it nonchalantly trotted away, occasionally pausing to glance back at me as if he were daring me to pursue him.

It truly is a beautiful part of the county, if not the country altogether. After considering the countryside we have lost, I’m proud we’ve managed to keep hold of some – and may it always be so.

 

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.

Winter walk

It has been radio silence on the blog front for a number of weeks now. I’m not sure why. I suppose it is down to being busy ‘living’ as we call it nowadays. In other words, losing yourself in work and trivial matters, forgetting the way.

Life is like a winter walk in the woods: occasionally losing the path, having to brave the elements, trying to find beauty amongst so much monotony. So very much like a winter walk, I have lost my path recently. I had been planning some wild camping trips, which I will need to crack on with in the new year, as well as some ultra marathons.

Today was all about getting out and getting some fresh air and getting back to nature. A six mile slog through the muddy woods on the hills ticked the boxes. I have found myself feeling a bit restless recently, getting the feeling I should be getting outdoors more despite the weather. Its the only way to survive winter. Get out and face the elements, don’t become a prisoner to them. See winter as an occupation not a season. The more you can get and do everything you plan to do, the more you grow accustomed to it and its normal. Unless you have a chronic health condition, sitting in all winter with the heating turned up full is not good. Wrap up, waterproof yourself and go!

Small things. Baby steps.

Fresh off the back of the weekend came the inevitable Monday morning blues. The mental kicking and screaming tantrum informing me it’s time to go to the circus again.

How many of us genuinely love our jobs? I’d guess it’s a minority. My job is OK. Tolerable. Maybe I take it for granted. If I did find a job that I loved, however, would I still seek the physical and mental escapes to balance it out?

The dangerous thinking is that (assuming we live to current life expectancy) we spend about 80% of our life at work. Add on all the time we spend asleep, and we’re left with…well…not a lot.

I went running yesterday. It was a long run. I just set myself a time target to see how much distance I could cover in three hours. I enjoyed being out; the weather, the scenery, the solitude. I also loved the challenge. A fair way in to it, I began to tire and it became a case of putting one foot in front of the other. I began to think of how each step, although small, was part of something massive and the end goal wasn’t possible without the smaller parts. Just like moving a mountain. It’s done pebble by pebble. Or a beach, grain by grain.

This led me to wonder. The time spent at work, coping with stress, hoping for better days, more money, ‘clean desk’ policies, unjust promotions, coffee break gossip et al, is worthless. But we all need a job. Filling your marathon-length life with lots of small things adds up to a happy life. Making the most of the the small things. Small things add up to big things. Do more small things. I’m hoping to do some voluntary work, picking up litter. What I pick up will be a minute segment of the litter in my town, not to mention the planet. But it’s a little step towards a much bigger goal. Baby steps. Not just for babies after all.

Between a bivvy and a great place

Cutting a very long story short, I’m currently trying to plan my first solo walking/wild camping trip – just as winter is drawing near!

There is a lot more to consider, due to the time of year, the remoteness (and therefore lower number of other walkers) of the area and I guess the strangeness of being completely and utterly alone. It’s a bit like my birthday every year: looking forward to it and terrified of it at the same time.

The main word today is bivvy. Which type to get. What size. A lowland one or Alpine one. I spent an hour at lunchtime today ping-ponging from site to site, forum to forum. And I still couldn’t come up with the goods. A bivvy, by the way, is a sleeping bag. But a more weather resistant one. Effectively a one man tent, but small enough and light enough to carry in a backpack. Cost is a big thing too. A top of the range bivvy will set you back three hundred quid. A cheap one might not be suitable for most weather types and could put you at risk. It is only really the rock of the bivvy that is between me and adventure. Once the equation is solved, that’s it. Gone.

 

Fun time camping with friends

My weekend started early. I left work at lunchtime, with the car already packed, and drove 80 miles up the road to go camping with a bunch of friends. We have been planning this trip for a few months and it felt great to get there. The campsite was like a festival; burger vans, music, beer tent, pop-up bars, and masseuses. It’s probably a good time now to mention that the festival is actually a 24 hour endurance running event. A couple of thousand people turn up and run on their own, or as part of various sized teams on a hilly, cross-country 10km (6.2 miles) course as many times as they can in 24 hours. And camp.

We graced this event last year, so we knew what to expect and where and how much to push ourselves. We set a target of 31 laps, worked out a strategy and started strong. It is starting to sound very serious and technical, but the main aim above all else was to enjoy our time together, working towards a common goal, sharing the experience. We didn’t sit around talking endlessly about heart rate zones, negative splits and rivalry. We did laugh a lot, live a lot and made memories. We also fell short of our target – but only by three laps. Next year, we kept saying. Next year.

It goes to show that we had a great time without ruining it by being overly competitive. Everybody suffered, but it was part of the fun.

I find competition a healthy aspect of improving. It’s important though to compete with the clock, or yourself. If you do pick out a rival, hopefully it’s a mutually respected rivalry. I have had rivalries in the past, most of them unspoken, but still oppressive. They took away the enjoyment and purpose of what I was doing. A negative strategy. Now my main rival is myself. My own worst critic too, thankfully. So just get out there and do what you enjoy doing, because one day you might no longer be able to do it, and taking away positive memories should really be the goal.